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Title: The Dark Star
Author: Chambers, Robert W. (Robert William), 1865-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Dark Star" ***

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THE DARK STAR



[Illustration: "My darling Rue--my little Rue Carew----"]



THE DARK STAR

By ROBERT W. CHAMBERS

Author of "The Girl Philippa," "Who Goes There,"
"The Hidden Children," Etc.

[Illustration]

WITH FRONTISPIECE

By W. D. STEVENS

A. L. BURT COMPANY

Publishers--New York

Published by Arrangement with D. Appleton & Company



Copyright, 1917, by

ROBERT W. CHAMBERS

Copyright, 1916, 1917, by the International Magazine Company

Printed in the United States of America



TO MY FRIEND
EDGAR SISSON



                 Dans c'métier-là, faut
                   rien chercher à comprendre.
                                     RENÉ BENJAMIN



 ALAK'S SONG

 Where are you going,
           Naïa?
 Through the still noon--
 Where are you going?

 To hear the thunder of the sea
 And the wind blowing!--
 To find a stormy moon to comfort me
   Across the dune!

 ----

 Why are you weeping,
           Naïa?
 Through the still noon--
 Why are you weeping?

 Because I found no wind, no sea,
 No white surf leaping,
 Nor any flying moon to comfort me
   Upon the dune.

 ----

 What did you see there,
           Naïa?
 In the still noon--
 What did you see there?

 Only the parched world drowsed in drought,
 And a fat bee, there,
 Prying and probing at a poppy's mouth
   That drooped a-swoon.

 ----

 What did you hear there,
           Naïa?
 In the still noon--
 What did you hear there?

 Only a kestrel's lonely cry
 From the wood near there--
 A rustle in the wheat as I passed by--
   A cricket's rune.

 ----

 Who led you homeward,
           Naïa?
 Through the still noon--
 Who led you homeward?

 My soul within me sought the sea,
 Leading me foam-ward:
 But the lost moon's ghost returned with me
   Through the high noon.

 ----

 Where is your soul then,
           Naïa?
 Lost at high noon--
 Where is your soul then?

 It wanders East--or West--I think--
 Or near the Pole, then--
 Or died--perhaps there on the dune's dry brink
   Seeking the moon.



THE DARK STAR

"The dying star grew dark; the last light faded from it; went out.
Prince Erlik laughed.

"And suddenly the old order of things began to pass away more
swiftly.

"Between earth and outer space--between Creator and created, confusing
and confounding their identities,--a rushing darkness grew--the
hurrying wrack of immemorial storms heralding whirlwinds through which
Truth alone survives.

"Awaiting the inevitable reëstablishment of such temporary conventions
as render the incident of human existence possible, the brooding Demon
which men call Truth stares steadily at Tengri under the high stars
which are passing too, and which at last shall pass away and leave the
Demon watching all alone amid the ruins of eternity."

                                    The Prophet of the Kiot Bordjiguen



CONTENTS

Preface. Children of the Star

 CHAPTER                                                          PAGE

      I.  The Wonder-Box                                             1

     II.  Brookhollow                                               18

    III.  In Embryo                                                 30

     IV.  The Trodden Way                                           38

      V.  Ex Machina                                                47

     VI.  The End of Solitude                                       60

    VII.  Obsession                                                 71

   VIII.  A Change Impends                                          80

     IX.  Nonresistance                                             88

      X.  Driving Head-on                                          102

     XI.  The Breakers                                             112

    XII.  A Life Line                                              122

   XIII.  Letters from a Little Girl                               137

    XIV.  A Journey Begins                                         157

     XV.  The Locked House                                         162

    XVI.  Scheherazade                                             180

   XVII.  A White Skirt                                            193

  XVIII.  By Radio                                                 202

    XIX.  The Captain of the Volhynia                              216

     XX.  The Drop of Irish                                        223

    XXI.  Method and Foresight                                     239

   XXII.  Two Thirteen                                             246

  XXIII.  On His Way                                               253

   XXIV.  The Road to Paris                                        261

    XXV.  Cup and Lip                                              280

   XXVI.  Rue Soleil d'Or                                          290

  XXVII.  From Four to Five                                        305

 XXVIII.  Together                                                 312

   XXIX.  En Famille                                               325

    XXX.  Jardin Russe                                             337

   XXXI.  The Café des Bulgars                                     347

  XXXII.  The Cercle Extranationale                                358

 XXXIII.  A Rat Hunt                                               377

  XXXIV.  Sunrise                                                  395

   XXXV.  The First Day                                            410



THE DARK STAR



THE DARK STAR

PREFACE

CHILDREN OF THE STAR


Not the dark companion of Sirius, brightest of all stars--not our own
chill and spectral planet rushing toward Vega in the constellation of
Lyra--presided at the birth of millions born to corroborate a bloody
horoscope.

But a Dark Star, speeding unseen through space, known to the ancients,
by them called Erlik, after the Prince of Darkness, ruled at the birth
of those myriad souls destined to be engulfed in the earthquake of the
ages, or flung by it out of the ordered pathway of their lives into
strange byways, stranger highways--into deeps and deserts never
dreamed of.

Also one of the dozen odd temporary stars on record blazed up on that
day, flared for a month or two, dwindled to a cinder, and went out.

But the Dark Star Erlik, terribly immortal, sped on through space to
complete a two-hundred-thousand-year circuit of the heavens, and begin
anew an immemorial journey by the will of the Most High.

What spectroscope is to horoscope, destiny is to chance. The black
star Erlik rushed through interstellar darkness unseen; those born
under its violent augury squalled in their cradles, or, thumb in
mouth, slumbered the dreamless slumber of the newly born.

One of these, a tiny girl baby, fussed and fidgeted in her mother's
arms, tortured by prickly heat when the hot winds blew through
Trebizond.

Overhead vultures circled; a _stein-adler_, cleaving the blue, looked
down where the surf made a thin white line along the coast, then set
his lofty course for China.

Thousands of miles to the westward, a little boy of eight gazed out
across the ruffled waters of the mill pond at Neeland's Mills, and
wondered whether the ocean might not look that way.

And, wondering, with the salt sea effervescence working in his
inland-born body, he fitted a cork to his fishing line and flung the
baited hook far out across the ripples. Then he seated himself on the
parapet of the stone bridge and waited for monsters of the deep to
come.

                  *       *       *       *       *

And again, off Seraglio Point, men were rowing in a boat; and a corded
sack lay in the stern, horridly and limply heavy.

There was also a box lying in the boat, oddly bound and clamped with
metal which glistened like silver under the Eastern stars when the
waves of the Bosporus dashed high, and the flying scud rained down on
box and sack and the red-capped rowers.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In Petrograd a little girl of twelve was learning to eat other things
than sour milk and cheese; learning to ride otherwise than like a
demon on a Cossack saddle; learning deportment, too, and languages,
and social graces and the fine arts. And, most thoroughly of all, the
little girl was learning how deathless should be her hatred for the
Turkish Empire and all its works; and how only less perfect than our
Lord in Paradise was the Czar on his throne amid that earthly paradise
known as "All the Russias."

Her little brother was learning these things, too, in the Corps of
Officers. Also he was already proficient on the balalaika.

                  *       *       *       *       *

And again, in the mountains of a conquered province, the little
daughter of a gamekeeper to nobility was preparing to emigrate with
her father to a new home in the Western world, where she would learn
to perform miracles with rifle and revolver, and where the beauty of
the hermit thrush's song would startle her into comparing it to the
beauty of her own untried voice. But to her father, and to her, the
most beautiful thing in all the world was love of Fatherland.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Over these, and millions of others, brooded the spell of the Dark
Star. Even the world itself lay under it, vaguely uneasy, sometimes
startled to momentary seismic panic. Then, ere mundane self-control
restored terrestrial equilibrium, a few mountains exploded, an island
or two lay shattered by earthquake, boiling mud and pumice blotted out
one city; earth-shock and fire another; a tidal wave a third.

But the world settled down and balanced itself once more on the edge
of the perpetual abyss into which it must fall some day; the invisible
shadow of the Dark Star swept it at intervals when some far and
nameless sun blazed out unseen; days dawned; the sun of the solar
system rose furtively each day and hung around the heavens until that
dusky huntress, Night, chased him once more beyond the earth's
horizon.

The shadow of the Dark Star was always there, though none saw it in
sunshine or in moonlight, or in the silvery lustre of the planets.

A boy, born under it, stood outside the fringe of willow and alder,
through which moved two English setters followed and controlled by the
boy's father.

"Mark!" called the father.

Out of the willows like a feathered bomb burst a big grouse, and the
green foliage that barred its flight seemed to explode as the strong
bird sheered out into the sunshine.

The boy's gun, slanting upward at thirty degrees, glittered in the sun
an instant, then the left barrel spoke; and the grouse, as though
struck by lightning in mid-air, stopped with a jerk, then slanted
swiftly and struck the ground.

"Dead!" cried the boy, as a setter appeared, leading on straight to
the heavy mass of feathers lying on the pasture grass.

"Clean work, Jim," said his father, strolling out of the willows. "But
wasn't it a bit risky, considering the little girl yonder?"

"Father!" exclaimed the boy, very red. "I never even saw her. I'm
ashamed."

They stood looking across the pasture, where a little girl in a pink
gingham dress lingered watching them, evidently lured by her curiosity
from the old house at the crossroads just beyond.

Jim Neeland, still red with mortification, took the big cock-grouse
from the dog which brought it--a tender-mouthed, beautifully trained
Belton, who stood with his feathered offering in his jaws, very
serious, very proud, awaiting praise from the Neelands, father and
son.

Neeland senior "drew" the bird and distributed the sacrifice
impartially between both dogs--it being the custom of the country.

Neeland junior broke his gun, replaced the exploded shell, content
indeed with his one hundred per cent performance.

"Better run over and speak to the little girl, Jim," suggested old
Dick Neeland, as he motioned the dogs into covert again.

So Jim ran lightly across the stony, clover-set ground to where the
little girl roamed along the old snake fence, picking berries
sometimes, sometimes watching the sportsmen out of shy, golden-grey
eyes.

"Little girl," he said, "I'm afraid the shot from my gun came rattling
rather close to you that time. You'll have to be careful. I've noticed
you here before. It won't do; you'll have to keep out of range of
those bushes, because when we're inside we can't see exactly where
we're firing."

The child said nothing. She looked up at the boy, smiled shyly, then,
with much composure, began her retreat, not neglecting any tempting
blackberry on the way.

The sun hung low over the hazy Gayfield hills; the beeches and oaks of
Mohawk County burned brown and crimson; silver birches supported their
delicate canopies of burnt gold; and imperial white pines clothed hill
and vale in a stately robe of green.

Jim Neeland forgot the child--or remembered her only to exercise
caution in the Brookhollow covert.

The little girl Ruhannah, who had once fidgeted with prickly heat in
her mother's arms outside the walls of Trebizond, did not forget this
easily smiling, tall young fellow--a grown man to her--who had come
across the pasture lot to warn her.

But it was many a day before they met again, though these two also had
been born under the invisible shadow of the Dark Star. But the shadow
of Erlik is always passing like swift lightning across the Phantom
Planet which has fled the other way since Time was born.

_Allahou Ekber, O Tchinguiz Khagan!_

A native Mongol missionary said to Ruhannah's father:

"As the chronicles of the Eighurs have it, long ago there fell metal
from the Black Racer of the skies; the first dagger was made of it;
and the first image of the Prince of Darkness. These pass from Kurd to
Cossack by theft, by gift, by loss; they pass from nation to nation by
accident, which is Divine design.

"And where they remain, war is. And lasts until image and dagger are
carried to another land where war shall be. But where there is war,
only the predestined suffer--those born under Erlik--children of the
Dark Star."

"I thought," said the Reverend Wilbour Carew, "that my brother had
confessed Christ."

"I am but repeating to you what my father believed; and Temujin before
him," replied the native convert, his remote gaze lost in reflection.

His eyes were quite little and coloured like a lion's; and sometimes,
in deep reverie, the corners of his upper lip twitched.

This happened when Ruhannah lay fretting in her mother's arms, and the
hot wind blew on Trebizond.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Under the Dark Star, too, a boy grew up in Minetta Lane, not less
combative than other ragged boys about him, but he was inclined to
arrange and superintend fist fights rather than to participate in
battle, except with his wits.

His name was Eddie Brandes; his first fortune of three dollars was
amassed at craps; he became a hanger-on in ward politics, at
race-tracks, stable, club, squared ring, vaudeville, burlesque. Long
Acre attracted him--but always the gambling end of the operation.

Which predilection, with its years of ups and downs, landed him one
day in Western Canada with an "Unknown" to match against an Athabasca
blacksmith, and a training camp as the prospect for the next six
weeks.

There lived there, gradually dying, one Albrecht Dumont, lately head
gamekeeper to nobility in the mountains of a Lost Province, and
wearing the Iron Cross of 1870 on the ruins of a gigantic and bony
chest, now as hollow as a Gothic ruin.

And if, like a thousand fellow patriots, he had been ordered to the
Western World to watch and report to his Government the trend and
tendency of that Western, English-speaking world, only his Government
and his daughter knew it--a child of the Dark Star now grown to early
womanhood, with a voice like a hermit thrush and the skill of a
sorceress with anything that sped a bullet.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Before the Unknown was quite ready to meet the Athabasca blacksmith,
Albrecht Dumont, dying faster now, signed his last report to the
Government at Berlin, which his daughter Ilse had written for
him--something about Canadian canals and stupid Yankees and their
greed, indifference, cowardice, and sloth.

Dumont's mind wandered:

"After the well-born Herr Gott relieves me at my post," he whispered,
"do thou pick up my burden and stand guard, little Ilse."

"Yes, father."

"Thy sacred promise?"

"My promise."

                  *       *       *       *       *

The next day Dumont felt better than he had felt for a year.

"Ilse, who is the short and broadly constructed American who comes now
already every day to see thee and to hear thee sing?"

"His name is Eddie Brandes."

"He is of the fight _gesellschaft_, not?"

"He should gain much money by the fight. A theatre in Chicago may he
willingly control, in which light opera shall be given."

"Is it for that he hears so willingly thy voice?"

"It is for that.... And love."

"And what of Herr Max Venem, who has asked of me thy little hand in
marriage?"

The girl was silent.

"Thou dost not love him?"

"No."

                  *       *       *       *       *

Toward sunset, Dumont, lying by the window, opened his eyes of a dying
_Lämmergeier_:

"My Ilse."

"Father?"

"What has thou to this man said?"

"That I will be engaged to him if thou approve."

"He has gained the fight?"

"Today.... And many thousand dollars. The theatre in Chicago is his
when he desires. Riches, leisure, opportunity to study for a career
upon his stage, are mine if I desire."

"Dost thou desire this, little Ilse?"

"Yes."

"And the man Venem who has followed thee so long?"

"I cannot be what he would have me--a _Hausfrau_--to mend his linen
for my board and lodging."

"And the Fatherland which placed me here on outpost?"

"I take thy place when God relieves thee."

"_So ist's recht!... Grüs Gott_--Ilse----"

                  *       *       *       *       *

Among the German settlers a five-piece brass band had been organised
the year before.

It marched at the funeral of Albrecht Dumont, lately head gamekeeper
to nobility in the mountains of a long-lost province.

Three months later Ilse Dumont arrived in Chicago to marry Eddie
Brandes. One Benjamin Stull was best man. Others present included
"Captain" Quint, "Doc" Curfoot, "Parson" Smawley, Abe Gordon--friends
of the bridegroom.

Invited by the bride, among others were Theodor Weishelm, the Hon.
Charles Wilson, M. P., and Herr Johann Kestner, a wealthy gentleman
from Leipsic seeking safe and promising investments in Canada and the
United States.

                  *       *       *       *       *

A year later Ilse Dumont Brandes, assuming the stage name of Minna
Minti, sang the rôle of _Bettina_ in "The Mascotte," at the Brandes
Theatre in Chicago.

A year later, when she created the part of _Kathi_ in "The White
Horse," Max Venem sent word to her that she would live to see her
husband lying in the gutter under his heel. Which made the girl
unhappy in her triumph.

But Venem hunted up Abe Grittlefeld and told him very coolly that he
meant to ruin Brandes.

And within a month the latest public favourite, Minna Minti, sat in
her dressing-room, wet-eyed, enraged, with the reports of Venem's
private detectives locked in the drawer of her dressing table, and the
curtain waiting.

                  *       *       *       *       *

So complex was life already becoming to these few among the million
children of the Dark Star Erlik--to everyone, from the child that
fretted in its mother's arms under the hot wind near Trebizond, to a
deposed Sultan, cowering behind the ivory screen in his zenana,
weeping tears that rolled like oil over his fat jowl to which still
adhered the powdered sugar of a Turkish sweetmeat.

Allahou Ekber, _Khodja_; God is great. Great also, _Ande_, is Ali, the
Fourth Caliph, cousin-companion of Mahomet the Prophet. But, _O
tougtchi_, be thy name Niaz and thy surname Baï, for Prince Erlik
speeds on his Dark Star, and beneath the end of the argument between
those two last survivors of a burnt-out world--behold! The sword!



THE DARK STAR



CHAPTER I

THE WONDER-BOX


As long as she could remember she had been permitted to play with the
contents of the late Herr Conrad Wilner's wonder-box. The programme on
such occasions varied little; the child was permitted to rummage among
the treasures in the box until she had satisfied her perennial
curiosity; conversation with her absent-minded father ensued, which
ultimately included a personal narrative, dragged out piecemeal from
the reticent, dreamy invalid. Then always a few pages of the diary
kept by the late Herr Wilner were read as a bedtime story. And bath
and bed and dreamland followed. That was the invariable routine, now
once more in full swing.

Her father lay on his invalid's chair, reading; his rubber-shod
crutches rested against the wall, within easy reach. By him, beside
the kerosene lamp, her mother sat, mending her child's stockings and
underwear.

Outside the circle of lamplight the incandescent eyes of the stove
glowed steadily through the semi-dusk; and the child, always
fascinated by anything that aroused her imagination, lifted her gaze
furtively from time to time to convince herself that it really was the
big, familiar stove which glared redly back at her, and not a dragon
into which her creative fancy had so often transformed it.

Reassured, she continued to explore the contents of the wonder-box--a
toy she preferred to her doll, but not to her beloved set of
water-colours and crayon pencils.

Some centuries ago Pandora's box let loose a world of troubles; Herr
Wilner's box apparently contained only pleasure for a little child
whose pleasures were mostly of her own invention.

It was a curious old box, made of olive wood and bound with bands of
some lacquered silvery metal to make it strong--rupee silver,
perhaps--strangely wrought with Arabic characters engraved and in
shallow relief. It had handles on either side, like a sea-chest; a
silver-lacquered lock and hasp which retained traces of violent usage;
and six heavy strap hinges of the same lacquered metal.

Within it the little child knew that a most fascinating collection of
articles was to be discovered, taken out one by one with greatest
care, played with discreetly, and, at her mother's command, returned
to their several places in Herr Wilner's box.

There were, in this box, two rather murderous-looking Kurdish daggers
in sheaths of fretted silver--never to be unsheathed, it was solemnly
understood, except by the child's father.

There was a pair of German army revolvers of the pattern of 1900, the
unexploded cartridges of which had long since been extracted and
cautiously thrown into the mill pond by the child's mother, much to
the surprise, no doubt, of the pickerel and sunfish.

There were writing materials of sandalwood, a few sea shells, a dozen
books in German with many steel plate engravings; also a red Turkish
fez with a dark blue tassel; two pairs of gold-rimmed spectacles;
several tobacco pipes of Dresden porcelain, a case full of instruments
for mechanical drawing, a thick blank book bound in calf and
containing the diary of the late Herr Wilner down to within a few
minutes before his death.

Also there was a figure in bronze, encrusted with tarnished gold and
faded traces of polychrome decoration.

Erlik, the Yellow Devil, as Herr Wilner called it, seemed too heavy to
be a hollow casting, and yet, when shaken, something within rattled
faintly, as though when the molten metal was cooling a fissure formed
inside, into which a few loose fragments of bronze had fallen.

It apparently had not been made to represent any benign Chinese god;
the aspect of the yellow figure was anything but benevolent. The
features were terrific; scowls infested its grotesque countenance;
threatening brows bent inward; angry eyes rolled in apparent fury; its
double gesture with sword and javelin was violent and almost
humorously menacing. And Ruhannah adored it.

For a little while the child played her usual game of frightening her
doll with the Yellow Devil and then rescuing her by the aid of a fairy
prince which she herself had designed, smeared with water-colours, and
cut out with scissors from a piece of cardboard.

After a time she turned to the remaining treasures in the wonder-box.
These consisted of several volumes containing photographs, others full
of sketches in pencil and water-colour, and a thick roll of glazed
linen scrolls covered with designs in India ink.

The photographs were of all sorts--landscapes, rivers, ships in dock,
dry dock, and at sea; lighthouses, forts, horses carrying soldiers
armed with lances and wearing the red fez; artillery on the march,
infantry, groups of officers, all wearing the same sort of fez which
lay there in Herr Wilner's box of olive wood.

There were drawings, too--sketches of cannon, of rifles, of swords;
drawings of soldiers in various gay uniforms, all carefully coloured
by hand. There were pictures of ships, from the sterns of which the
crescent flag floated lazily; sketches of great, ugly-looking objects
which her father explained were Turkish ironclads. The name "ironclad"
always sounded menacing and formidable to the child, and the
forbidding pictures fascinated her.

Then there were scores and scores of scrolls made out of slippery
white linen, on which had been drawn all sorts of most amazing
geometrical designs in ink.

"Plans," her father explained vaguely. And, when pressed by reiterated
questions: "Plans for military works, I believe--forts, docks,
barracks, fortified cuts and bridges. You are not yet quite old enough
to understand, Ruhannah."

"Who did draw them, daddy?"

"A German friend of mine, Herr Conrad Wilner."

"What for?"

"I think his master sent him to Turkey to make those pictures."

"For the Sultan?"

"No; for his Emperor."

"Why?"

"I don't exactly know, Rue."

At this stage of the conversation her father usually laid aside his
book and composed himself for the inevitable narrative soon to be
demanded of him.

Then, although having heard the story many times from her crippled
father's lips, but never weary of the repetition, the child's eyes
would grow round and very solemn in preparation for her next and
inevitable question:

"And did Herr Wilner _die_, daddy?"

"Yes, dear."

"Tell me!"

"Well, it was when I was a missionary in the Trebizond district, and
your mother and I went----"

"And _me_, daddy? And _me_, too!"

"Yes; you were a little baby in arms. And we all went to Gallipoli to
attend the opening of a beautiful new school which was built for
little Mohammedan converts to Christianity----"

"Did I see those little Christian children, daddy?"

"Yes, you saw them. But you are too young to remember."

"Tell me. Don't stop!"

"Then listen attentively without interrupting, Rue: Your mother and
you and I went to Gallipoli; and my friend, Herr Wilner, who had been
staying with us at a town called Tchardak, came along with us to
attend the opening of the American school.

"And the night we arrived there was trouble. The Turkish people, urged
on by some bad officials in the Sanjak, came with guns and swords and
spears and set fire to the mission school.

"They did not offer to harm us. We had already collected our converts
and our personal baggage. Our caravan was starting. The mob might not
have done anything worse than burn the school if Herr Wilner had not
lost his temper and threatened them with a dog whip. Then they killed
him with stones, there in the walled yard."

At this point in the tragedy, the eagerly awaited and ardently desired
shivers passed up and down the child's back.

"O--oh! Did they kill him _dead_?"

"Yes, dear."

"Was he a martyr?"

"In a way he was a martyr to his duty, I suppose. At least I gather so
from his diary and from what he once told me of his life."

"And then what happened? Tell me, daddy."

"A Greek steamer took us and our baggage to Trebizond."

"And what then?"

"And then, a year later, the terrible massacre at our Trebizond
mission occurred----"

That was what the child was waiting for.

"I know!" she interrupted eagerly. "The wicked Turks and the cruel
Kurds did come galloping and shouting 'Allah!' And all the poor,
converted people became martyrs. And God loves martyrs, doesn't He?"

"Yes, dear----"

"And then they did kill all the poor little Christian children!"
exclaimed the child excitedly. "And they did cut you with swords and
guns! And then the kind sailors with the American flag took you and
mamma and me to a ship and saved us by the grace of our Lord Jesus!"

"Yes, dear----"

"Tell me!"

"That is all----"

"No; you walk on two crutches, and you cannot be a missionary any
more because you are sick all the time! Tell me, daddy!"

"Yes. And that is all, Rue----"

"Oh, no! Please! Tell me!... And then, don't you remember how the
brave British sailors and our brave American sailors pointed their
cannon at the _I_-ronclads, and they said, 'Do not shoot or we shall
shoot you to pieces.' And then the brave American sailors went on
shore and brought back some poor little wounded converted children,
and your baggage and the magic box of Herr Wilner!"

"Yes, dear. And now that is enough tonight----"

"Oh, daddy, you must first read in the di-a-ry which Herr Wilner
made!"

"Bring me the book, Rue."

With an interest forever new, the Carew family prepared to listen to
the words written by a strange man who had died only a few moments
after he had made the last entry in the book--before even the ink was
entirely dry on the pages.

The child, sitting cross-legged on the floor, clasped her little hands
tightly; her mother laid aside her sewing, folded it, and placed it in
her lap; her father searched through the pencilled translation which
he had written in between the lines of German script, found where he
had left off the time before, then continued the diary of Herr Conrad
Wilner, deceased:

_March 3._ My original plans have been sent to the Yildiz Palace.
    My duplicates are to go to Berlin when a messenger from our
    Embassy arrives. Murad Bey knows this. I am sorry he knows it. But
    nobody except myself is aware that I have a third set of plans
    carefully hidden.

_March 4._ All day with Murad's men setting wire entanglements
    under water; two Turkish destroyers patrolling the entrance to the
    bay, and cavalry patrols on the heights to warn away the curious.

_March 6._ Forts Alamout and Shah Abbas are being reconstructed
    from the new plans. Wired areas under water and along the coves
    and shoals are being plotted. Murad Bey is unusually polite and
    effusive, conversing with me in German and French. A spidery man
    and very dangerous.

_March 7._ A strange and tragic affair last night. The heat being
    severe, I left my tent about midnight and went down to the dock
    where my little sailboat lay, with the object of cooling myself on
    the water. There was a hot land breeze; I sailed out into the bay
    and cruised north along the coves which I have wired. As I rounded
    a little rocky point I was surprised to see in the moonlight, very
    near, a steam yacht at anchor, carrying no lights. The longer I
    looked at her the more certain I became that I was gazing at the
    Imperial yacht. I had no idea what the yacht might be doing here;
    I ran my sailboat close under the overhanging rocks and anchored.
    Then I saw a small boat in the moonlight, pulling from the yacht
    toward shore, where the crescent cove had already been thoroughly
    staked and the bottom closely covered with barbed wire as far as
    the edge of the deep channel which curves in here like a
    scimitar.

    It must have been that the people in the boat miscalculated the
    location of the channel, for they were well over the sunken barbed
    wire when they lifted and threw overboard what they had come there
    to get rid of--two dark bulks that splashed.

    I watched the boat pull back to the Imperial yacht. A little later
    the yacht weighed anchor and steamed northward, burning no lights.
    Only the red reflection tingeing the smoke from her stacks was
    visible. I watched her until she was lost in the moonlight,
    thinking all the while of those weighted sacks so often dropped
    overboard along the Bosporus and off Seraglio Point from that same
    Imperial yacht.

    When the steamer had disappeared, I got out my sweeps and rowed
    for the place where the dark objects had been dropped overboard. I
    knew that they must be resting somewhere on the closely
    criss-crossed mesh of wires just below the surface of the water;
    but I probed for an hour before I located anything. Another hour
    passed in trying to hook into the object with the little
    three-fluked grapnel which I used as an anchor. I got hold of
    something finally; a heavy chest of olive wood bound with metal;
    but I had to rig a tackle before I could hoist it aboard.

    Then I cast out again; and very soon my grapnel hooked into what I
    expected--a canvas sack, weighted with a round shot. When I got it
    aboard, I hesitated a long while before opening it. Finally I made
    a long slit in the canvas with my knife....

    She was very young--not over sixteen, I think, and she was really
    beautiful, even under her wet, dark hair. She seemed to be a
    Caucasian girl--maybe a Georgian. She wore a small gold cross
    which hung from a gold cord around her neck. There was another,
    and tighter, cord around her neck, too. I cut the silk bowstring
    and closed and bound her eyes with my handkerchief before I rowed
    out a little farther and lowered her into the deep channel which
    cuts eastward here like the scimitar of that true believer, Abdul
    Hamid.

    Then I hoisted sail and beat up slowly toward my little dock under
    a moon which had become ghastly under the pallid aura of a
    gathering storm----

"A poor dead young lady!" interrupted the child, clasping her hands
more tightly. "Did the Sultan kill her, daddy?"

"It seems so, Ruhannah."

"Why?"

"I don't know. He was a very cruel and wicked Sultan."

"I don't see why he killed the beautiful poor dead lady."

"If you will listen and not interrupt, you shall learn why."

"And was the chest that Herr Wilner pulled up the very same chest that
is here on the floor beside me?" insisted the child.

"The very same. Now listen, Rue, and I shall read a little more in
Herr Wilner's diary, and then you must have your bath and be put to
bed----"

"Please read, daddy!"

The Reverend Wilbour Carew turned the page and quietly continued:

_March 20._ In my own quarters at Trebizond again, and rid of
    Murad for a while.

    A canvas cover and rope handles concealed the character of my
    olive wood chest. I do not believe anybody suspects it to be
    anything except one of the various boxes containing my own
    personal effects. I shall open it tonight with a file and chisel,
    if possible.

_March 21._ The contents of the chest reveal something of the
    tragedy. The box is full of letters written in Russian, and full
    of stones which weigh collectively a hundred pounds at least.
    There is nothing else in the chest except a broken Ikon and a
    bronze figure of Erlik, a Yildiz relic, no doubt, of some Kurdish
    raid into Mongolia, and probably placed beside the dead girl by
    her murderers in derision. I am translating the letters and
    arranging them in sequence.

_March 25._ I have translated the letters. The dead girl's name
    was evidently Tatyana, one of several children of some Cossack
    chief or petty prince, and on the eve of her marriage to a young
    officer named Mitya the Kurds raided the town. They carried poor
    Tatyana off along with her wedding chest--the chest fished up with
    my grapnel.

    In brief, the chest and the girl found their way into Abdul's
    seraglio. The letters of the dead girl--which were written and
    entrusted probably to a faithless slave, but which evidently never
    left the seraglio--throw some light on the tragedy, for they
    breathe indignation and contempt of Islam, and call on her
    affianced, on her parents, and on her people to rescue her and
    avenge her.

    And after a while, no doubt Abdul tired of reading fierce,
    unreconciled little Tatyana's stolen letters, and simply ended the
    matter by having her bowstrung and dumped overboard in a sack,
    together with her marriage chest, her letters, and the Yellow
    Devil in bronze as a final insult.

    She seems to have had a sister, Naïa, thirteen years old,
    betrothed to a Prince Mistchenka, a cavalry officer in the Terek
    Cossacks. Her father had been Hetman of the Don Cossacks before
    the Emperor Nicholas reserved that title for Imperial use. And
    _she_ ended in a sack off Gallipoli! That is the story of Tatyana
    and her wedding chest.

_March 29._ Murad arrived, murderously bland and assiduous in his
    solicitude for my health and comfort. I am almost positive he
    knows that I fished up something from Cove No. 37 under the
    theoretical guns of theoretical Fort Osman, both long plotted out
    but long delayed.

_April 5._ My duplicate plans for Gallipoli have been stolen. I
    have a third set still. Colonel Murad Bey is not to be trusted. My
    position is awkward and is becoming serious. There is no faith to
    be placed in Abdul Hamid. My credentials, the secret agreement
    with my Government, are no longer regarded even with toleration in
    the Yildiz Kiosque. A hundred insignificant incidents prove it
    every day. And if Abdul dare not break with Germany it is only
    because he is not yet ready to defy the Young Turk party. The
    British Embassy is very active and bothers me a great deal.

_April 10._ My secret correspondence with Enver Bey has been
    discovered, and my letters opened. This is a very bad business. I
    have notified my Government that the Turkish Government does not
    want me here; that the plan of a Germanised Turkish army is
    becoming objectionable to the Porte; that the duplicate plans of
    our engineers for the Dardanelles and the Gallipoli Peninsula have
    been stolen.

_April 13._ A secret interview with Enver Bey, who promises that
    our ideas shall be carried out when his party comes into power.
    Evidently he does not know that my duplicates have been stolen.

    Troubles threaten in the Vilayet of Trebizond, where is an
    American Mission. I fear that our emissaries and the emissaries of
    Enver Bey are deliberately fomenting disorders because Americans
    are not desired by our Government. Enver denies this; but it is
    idle to believe anyone in this country.

_April 16._ Another interview with Enver Bey. His scheme is flatly
    revolutionary, namely, the deposition of Abdul, a secret alliance,
    offensive and defensive, with us; the Germanisation of the Turkish
    army and navy; the fortification of the Gallipoli district
    according to our plans; a steadily increasing pressure on Serbia;
    a final reckoning with Russia which is definitely to settle the
    status of Albania and Serbia and leave the Balkan grouping to be
    settled between Austria, Germany, and Turkey.

    I spoke several times about India and Egypt, but he does not
    desire to arouse England unless she interferes.

    I spoke also of Abdul Hamid's secret and growing fear of Germany,
    and his increasing inclination toward England once more.

    No trace of my stolen plans. The originals are in the Yildiz
    Palace. I have a third set secreted, about which nobody knows.

_April 21._ I have been summoned to the Yildiz Palace. It possibly
    means my assassination. I have confided my box of data,
    photographs, and plans, to the Reverend Wilbour Carew, an American
    missionary in the Trebizond sanjak.

    There are rumours that Abdul has become mentally unhinged through
    dread of assassination. One of his own aides-de-camp, while being
    granted an audience in the Yildiz, made a sudden and abrupt
    movement to find his handkerchief; and Abdul Hamid whipped out a
    pistol and shot him dead. This is authentic.

_April 30._ Back at Tchardak with my good missionary and his wife.
    A strange interview with Abdul. There were twenty French clocks in
    the room, all going and all striking at various intervals. The
    walls were set with French mirrors.

    Abdul's cordiality was terrifying; the full original set of my
    Gallipoli plans was brought in. After a while, the Sultan reminded
    me that the plans were in duplicate, and asked me where were these
    duplicates. What duplicity! But I said pleasantly that they were
    to be sent to General Staff Headquarters in Berlin.

    He pretended to understand that this was contrary to the
    agreement, and insisted that the plans should first be sent to him
    for comparison. I merely referred him to his agreement with my
    Government. But all the while we were talking I was absolutely
    convinced that the stolen duplicates were at that moment in the
    Yildiz Kiosque. Abdul must have known that I believed it. Yet we
    both merely smiled our confidence in each other.

    He seemed to be unusually good-natured and gracious, saying that
    no doubt I was quite right in sending the plans to Berlin. He
    spoke of Enver Bey cordially, and said he hoped to be reconciled
    to him and his friends very soon. When Abdul Hamid becomes
    reconciled to anybody who disagrees with him, the latter is
    _always_ dead.

    He asked me where I was going. I told him about the plans I was
    preparing for the Trebizond district. He offered me an escort of
    Kurdish cavalry, saying that he had been told the district was not
    very safe. I thanked him and declined his escort of assassins.

    I saw it all very plainly. Like a pirate captain, Abdul orders his
    crew to dig a secret hole for his treasure, and when the hole is
    dug and the treasure hidden, he murders the men who hid it for
    him, so that they shall never betray its location. I am one of
    those men. That is what he means for me, who have given him his
    Gallipoli plans. No wonder that in England they call him Abdul the
    Damned!

_May 3._ In the Bazaar at Tchardak yesterday two men tried to stab
    me. I got their daggers, but they escaped in the confusion. Murad
    called to express horror and regret. Yes; regret that I had not
    been murdered.

_May 5._ I have written to my Government that my usefulness here
    seems to be ended; that my life is in hourly danger; that I desire
    to be more thoroughly informed concerning the relations between
    Berlin and the Yildiz Palace.

_May 6._ I am in disgrace. My Government is furious because my
    correspondence with Enver Bey has been stolen. The Porte has
    complained about me to Berlin; Berlin disowns me, disclaims all
    knowledge of my political activities outside of my engineering
    work.

    This is what failure to carry out secret instructions invariably
    brings--desertion by the Government from which such instructions
    are received. In diplomacy, failure is a crime never forgiven.
    Abandoned by my Government I am now little better than an outlaw
    here. Two courses remain open to me--to go back in disgrace and
    live obscurely for the remainder of my life, or to risk my life by
    hanging on desperately here with an almost hopeless possibility
    before me of accomplishing something to serve my Government and
    rehabilitate myself.

    The matter of the stolen plans is being taken up by our Ambassador
    at the Sublime Porte. The British Embassy is suspected. What
    folly! I possess a third set of plans. Our Embassy ought to send
    to Trebizond for them. I don't know what to do.

_May 12._ A letter I wrote May 10 to the German Embassy has been
    stolen. I am now greatly worried about the third set of plans. It
    seems safest to include the box containing them among the baggage
    of the American missionary, the Reverend Wilbour Carew; and, too,
    for me to seek shelter with him.

    As I am now afraid that an enemy may impersonate an official of
    the German Embassy, I have the missionary's promise that he will
    retain and conceal the contents of my box until I instruct him
    otherwise. I am practically in hiding at his house, and in actual
    fear of my life.

_May 15._ The missionary and his wife and baby travel to
    Gallipoli, where an American school for girls is about to be
    opened.

    Today, in a café, I noticed that the flies, swarming on the edge
    of my coffee cup, fell into the saucer dead. I did not taste my
    coffee.

_May 16._ Last night a shot was fired through my door. I have
    decided to travel to Gallipoli with the missionary.

_May 18._ My groom stole and ate an orange from my breakfast tray.
    He is dead.

_May 20._ The Reverend Mr. Carew and his wife are most kind and
    sympathetic. They are good people, simple, kindly, brave,
    faithful, and fearlessly devoted to God's service in this vile
    land of treachery and lies.

_May 21._ I have confessed to the Reverend Mr. Carew as I would
    confess to a priest in holy orders. I have told him all under
    pledge of secrecy. I told him also that the sanctuary he offers
    might be violated with evil consequences to him; and that I would
    travel as far as Gallipoli with him and then leave. But the kind,
    courageous missionary and his wife insist that I remain under the
    protection which he says the flag of his country affords me. If I
    could only get my third set of plans out of the country!

_May 22._ Today my coffee was again poisoned. I don't know what
    prevented me from tasting it--some vague premonition. A pariah dog
    ate the bread I soaked in it, and died before he could yelp.

    It looks to me as though my end were inevitable. Today I gave my
    bronze figure of Erlik, the Yellow Devil, to Mrs. Carew to keep as
    a dowry for her little daughter, now a baby in arms. If it is
    hollow, as I feel sure, there are certain to be one or two jewels
    in it. And the figure itself might bring five hundred marks at an
    antiquary's.

_May 30._ Arrived at the Gallipoli mission. Three Turkish
    ironclads lying close inshore. A British cruiser, the _Cobra_, and
    an American cruiser, the _Oneida_, appeared about sunset and
    anchored near the ironclads. The bugles on deck were plainly
    audible. If a German warship appears I shall carry my box on
    board. My only chance to rehabilitate myself is to get the third
    set of plans to Berlin.

_June 1._ In the middle of the religious exercises with which the
    new school is being inaugurated, cries of "Allah" come from a
    great crowd which has gathered. From my window where I am writing
    I can see how insolent the attitude of this Mohammedan riffraff is
    becoming. They spit upon the ground--a pebble is tossed at a
    convert--a sudden shout of "Allah"--pushing and jostling--a
    lighted torch blazes! I take my whip of rhinoceros hide and go
    down into the court to put a stop to this insolence----

Her father slowly closed the book.

"Daddy! Is that where poor Herr Wilner died?"

"Yes, dear."

After a silence his wife said thoughtfully:

"I have always considered it very strange that the German Government
did not send for Herr Wilner's papers."

"Probably they did, Mary. And very probably Murad Bey told them that
the papers had been destroyed."

"And you never believed it to be your duty to send the papers to the
German Government?"

"No. It was an unholy alliance that Germany sought with that monster
Abdul. And when Enver Pasha seized the reins of government such an
alliance would have been none the less unholy. You know and so do I
that if Germany did not actually incite the Armenian massacres she at
least was cognisant of preparations made to begin them. Germany is
still hostile to all British or American missions, all Anglo-Saxon
influence in Turkey.

"No; I did not send Herr Wilner's papers to Berlin; and the events of
the last fifteen years have demonstrated that I was right in
withholding them."

His wife nodded, laid aside her work basket, and rose.

"Come, Ruhannah," she said with decision; "put everything back into
the wonder-box."

And, stooping, she lifted and laid away in it the scowling, menacing
Yellow Devil.

                  *       *       *       *       *

And so, every month or two, the wonder-box was opened for the child to
play with, the same story told, extracts from the diary read; but
these ceremonies, after a while, began to recur at lengthening
intervals as the years passed and the child grew older.

And finally it was left to her to open the box when she desired, and
to read for herself the pencilled translation of the diary, which her
father had made during some of the idle and trying moments of his
isolated and restricted life. And, when she had been going to school
for some years, other and more vivid interests replaced her dolls and
her wonder-box; but not her beloved case of water-colours and crayon
pencils.



CHAPTER II

BROOKHOLLOW


The mother, shading the candle with her work-worn hand, looked down at
the child in silence. The subdued light fell on a freckled cheek where
dark lashes rested, on a slim neck and thin shoulders framed by a mass
of short, curly chestnut hair.

Though it was still dark, the mill whistle was blowing for six
o'clock. Like a goblin horn it sounded ominously through Ruhannah's
dream. She stirred in her sleep; her mother stole across the room,
closed the window, and went away carrying the candle with her.

At seven the whistle blew again; the child turned over and unclosed
her eyes. A brassy light glimmered between leafless apple branches
outside her window. Through the frosty radiance of sunrise a blue jay
screamed.

Ruhannah cuddled deeper among the blankets and buried the tip of her
chilly nose. But the grey eyes remained wide open and, under the faded
quilt, her little ears were listening intently.

Presently from the floor below came the expected summons:

"Ruhannah!"

"Oh, _please_, mother!"

"It's after seven----"

"I know: I'll be ready in time!"

"It's after seven, Rue!"

"I'm so cold, mother dear!"

"I closed your window. You may bathe and dress down here."

"B-r-r-r! I can see my own breath when I breathe!"

"Come down and dress by the kitchen range," repeated her mother. "I've
warm water all ready for you."

The brassy light behind the trees was becoming golden; slim bluish
shadows already stretched from the base of every tree across frozen
fields dusted with snow.

As usual, the lank black cat came walking into the room, its
mysterious crystal-green eyes brilliant in the glowing light.

Listening, the child heard her father moving heavily about in the
adjoining room.

Then, from below again:

"Ruhannah!"

"I'm going to get up, mother!"

"Rue! Obey me!"

"I'm _up_! I'm on my way!" She sprang out amid a tempest of
bedclothes, hopped gingerly across the chilly carpet, seized her
garments in one hand, comb and toothbrush in the other, ran into the
hallway and pattered downstairs.

The cat followed leisurely, twitching a coal-black tail.

"Mother, could I have my breakfast first? I'm so hungry----"

Her mother turned from the range and kissed her as she huddled close
to it. The sheet of zinc underneath warmed her bare feet delightfully.
She sighed with satisfaction, looked wistfully at the coffeepot
simmering, sniffed at the biscuits and sizzling ham.

"Could I have one little taste before I----"

"Come, dear. There's the basin. Bathe quickly, now."

Ruhannah frowned and cast a tragic glance upon the tin washtub on the
kitchen floor. Presently she stole over, tested the water with her
finger-tip, found it not unreasonably cold, dropped the night-dress
from her frail shoulders, and stepped into the tub with a perfunctory
shiver--a thin, overgrown child of fifteen, with pipestem limbs and
every rib anatomically apparent.

Her hair, which had been cropped to shoulder length, seemed to turn
from chestnut to bronze fire, gleaming and crackling under the comb
which she hastily passed through it before twisting it up.

"Quickly but thoroughly," said her mother. "Hasten, Rue."

Ruhannah seized soap and sponge, gasped, shut her grey eyes tightly,
and fell to scrubbing with the fury of despair.

"Don't splash, dear----"

"Did you warm my towel, mother?"--blindly stretching out one thin and
dripping arm.

Her mother wrapped her in a big crash towel from head to foot.

Later, pulling on stockings and shoes by the range, she managed to
achieve a buttered biscuit at the same time, and was already betraying
further designs upon another one when her mother sent her to set the
table in the sitting-room.

Thither sauntered Ruhannah, partly dressed, still dressing.

By the nickel-trimmed stove she completed her toilet, then hastily
laid the breakfast cloth and arranged the china and plated tableware,
and filled the water pitcher.

Her father came in on his crutches; she hurried from the table, syrup
jug in one hand, cruet in the other, and lifted her face to be kissed;
then she brought hot plates, coffeepot, and platters, and seated
herself at the table where her father and mother were waiting in
silence.

When she was seated her father folded his large, pallid, bony hands;
her mother clasped hers on the edge of the table, bowing her head; and
Ruhannah imitated them. Between her fingers she could see the cat
under the table, and she watched it arch its back and gently rub
against her chair.

"For what we are about to receive, make us grateful, Eternal Father.
This day we should go hungry except for Thy bounty. Without presuming
to importune Thee, may we ask Thee to remember all who awake hungry on
this winter day.... Amen."

Ruhannah instantly became very busy with her breakfast. The cat beside
her chair purred loudly and rose at intervals on its hind legs to
twitch her dress; and Ruhannah occasionally bestowed alms and
conversation upon it.

"Rue," said her mother, "you should try to do better with your algebra
this week."

"Yes, I do really mean to."

"Have you had any more bad-conduct marks?"

"Yes, mother."

Her father lifted his mild, dreamy eyes of an invalid. Her mother
asked:

"What for?"

"For wasting my time in study hour," said the girl truthfully.

"Were you drawing?"

"Yes, mother."

"Rue! Again! Why do you persist in drawing pictures in your copy
books when you have an hour's lesson in drawing every week? Besides,
you may draw pictures at home whenever you wish."

"I don't exactly know why," replied the girl slowly. "It just happens
before I notice what I am doing.... Of course," she explained, "I do
recollect that I oughtn't to be drawing in study hour. But that's
after I've begun, and then it seems a pity not to finish."

Her mother looked across the table at her husband:

"Speak to her seriously, Wilbour."

The Reverend Mr. Carew looked solemnly at his long-legged and rapidly
growing daughter, whose grey eyes gazed back into her father's sallow
visage.

"Rue," he said in his colourless voice, "try to get all you can out of
your school. I haven't sufficient means to educate you in drawing and
in similar accomplishments. So get all you can out of your school.
Because, some day, you will have to help yourself, and perhaps help us
a little."

He bent his head with a detached air and sat gazing mildly at
vacancy--already, perhaps, forgetting what the conversation was
about.

"Mother?"

"What, Rue?"

"What am I going to do to earn my living?"

"I don't know."

"Do you mean I must go into the mill like everybody else?"

"There are other things. Girls work at many things in these days."

"What kind of things?"

"They may learn to keep accounts, help in shops----"

"If father could afford it, couldn't I learn to do something more
interesting? What do girls work at whose fathers can afford to let
them learn how to work?"

"They may become teachers, learn stenography and typewriting; they
can, of course, become dressmakers; they can nurse----"

"Mother!"

"Yes?"

"Could I choose the business of drawing pictures? I know how!"

"Dear, I don't believe it is practical to----"

"Couldn't I draw pictures for books and magazines? Everybody says I
draw very nicely. You say so, too. Couldn't I earn enough money to
live on and to take care of you and father?"

Wilbour Carew looked up from his reverie:

"To learn to draw correctly and with taste," he said in his gentle,
pedantic voice, "requires a special training which we cannot afford to
give you, Ruhannah."

"Must I wait till I'm twenty-five before I can have my money?" she
asked for the hundredth time. "I do so need it to educate myself. Why
did grandma do such a thing, mother?"

"Your grandmother never supposed you would need the money until you
were a grown woman, dear. Your father and I were young, vigorous, full
of energy; your father's income was ample for us then."

"Have I got to marry a man before I can get enough money to take
lessons in drawing with?"

Her mother's drawn smile was not very genuine. When a child asks such
questions no mother finds it easy to smile.

"If you marry, dear, it is not likely you'll marry in order to take
lessons in drawing. Twenty-five is not old. If you still desire to
study art you will be able to do so."

"Twenty-five!" repeated Rue, aghast. "I'll be an old woman."

"Many begin their life's work at an older age----"

"Mother! I'd rather marry somebody and begin to study art. Oh, _don't_
you think that even now I could support myself by making pictures for
magazines? Don't you, mother dear?"

"Rue, as your father explained, a special course of instruction is
necessary before one can become an artist----"

"But I _do_ draw very nicely!" She slipped from her chair, ran to the
old secretary where the accumulated masterpieces of her brief career
were treasured, and brought them for her parents' inspection, as she
had brought them many times before.

Her father looked at them listlessly; he did not understand such
things. Her mother took them one by one from Ruhannah's eager hands
and examined these grimy Records of her daughter's childhood.

There were drawings of every description in pencil, in crayon, in
mussy water-colours, done on scraps of paper of every shape and size.
The mother knew them all by heart, every single one, but she examined
each with a devotion and an interest forever new.

There were many pictures of the cat; many of her parents, too--odd,
shaky, smeared portraits all out of proportion, but usually
recognisable.

A few landscapes varied the collection--a view or two of the stone
bridge opposite, a careful drawing of the ruined paper mill. But the
majority of the subjects were purely imaginary; pictures of demons and
angels, of damsels and fairy princes--paragons of beauty--with
castles on adjacent crags and swans adorning convenient ponds.

Her mother rose after a few moments, laid aside the pile of drawings,
went to the kitchen and returned with her daughter's schoolbooks and
lunch basket.

"Rue, you'll be late again. Get on your rubbers immediately."

The child's shabby winter coat was already too short in skirt and
sleeve, and could be lengthened no further. She pulled the blue
toboggan cap over her head, took a hasty osculatory leave of her
father, seized books and lunch basket, and followed her mother to the
door.

Below the house the Brookhollow road ran south across an old stone
bridge and around a hill to Gayfield, half a mile away.

Rue, drawing on her woollen gloves, looked up at her mother. Her lip
trembled very slightly. She said:

"I shouldn't know what to do if I couldn't draw pictures.... When I
draw a princess I mean her for myself.... It is pleasant--to pretend
to live with swans."

She opened the door, paused on the step; the frosty breath drifted
from her lips. Then she looked back over her shoulder; her mother
kissed her, held her tightly for a moment.

"If I'm to be forbidden to draw pictures," repeated the girl, "I don't
know what will become of me. Because I really live there--in the
pictures I make."

"We'll talk it over this evening, darling. Don't draw in study hour
any more, will you?"

"I'll try to remember, mother."

                  *       *       *       *       *

When the spindle-limbed, boyish figure had sped away beyond sight,
Mrs. Carew shut the door, drew her wool shawl closer, and returned
slowly to the sitting-room. Her husband, deep in a padded
rocking-chair by the window, was already absorbed in the volume which
lay open on his knees--the life of the Reverend Adoniram Judson--one
of the world's good men. Ruhannah had named her cat after him.

His wife seated herself. She had dishes to do, two bedrooms,
preparations for noonday dinner--the usual and unchangeable routine.
She turned and looked out of the window across brown fields thinly
powdered with snow. Along a brawling, wintry-dark stream, fringed with
grey alders, ran the Brookhollow road. Clumps of pines and elms
bordered it. There was nothing else to see except a distant crow in a
ten-acre lot, walking solemnly about all by himself.

... Like the vultures that wandered through the compound that dreadful
day in May ... she thought involuntarily.

But it was a far cry from Trebizond to Brookhollow. And her husband
had been obliged to give up after the last massacre, when every
convert had been dragged out and killed in the floating shadow of the
Stars and Stripes, languidly brilliant overhead.

For the Sublime Porte and the Kurds had had their usual way at last;
there was nothing left of the Mission; school and converts were gone;
her wounded husband, her baby, and herself refugees in a foreign
consulate; and the Turkish Government making apologies with its fat
tongue in its greasy cheek.

The Koran says: "Woe to those who pray, and in their prayers are
careless."

The Koran also says: "In the name of God the Compassionate, the
Merciful: What thinkest thou of him who treateth our religion as a
lie?"

Mrs. Carew and her crippled husband knew, now, what the Sublime Porte
thought about it, and what was the opinion of the Kurdish cavalry
concerning missionaries and converts who treated the Moslem religion
as a lie.

She looked at her pallid and crippled husband; he was still reading;
his crutches lay beside him on the floor. She turned her eyes to the
window. Out there the solitary crow was still walking busily about in
the frozen pasture. And again she remembered the vultures that hulked
and waddled amid the débris of the burned Mission.

Only that had been in May; and above the sunny silence in that place
of death had sounded the unbroken and awful humming of a million
million flies....

                  *       *       *       *       *

And so, her husband being now hopelessly broken and useless, they had
come back with their child, Ruhannah, to their home in Brookhollow.

Here they had lived ever since; here her grey life was passing; here
her daughter was already emerging into womanhood amid the stark,
unlovely environments of a country crossroads, arid in summer, iron
naked in winter, with no horizon except the Gayfield hills, no outlook
save the Brookhollow road. And that led to the mill.

She had done what she could--was still doing it. But there was nothing
to save. Her child's destiny seemed to be fixed.

Her husband corresponded with the Board of Missions, wrote now and
then for the _Christian Pioneer_, and lived on the scanty pension
allowed to those who, like himself, had become incapacitated in line
of duty. There was no other income.

There was, however, the six thousand dollars left to Ruhannah by her
grandmother, slowly accumulating interest in the Mohawk Bank at
Orangeville, the county seat, and not to be withdrawn, under the terms
of the will, until the day Ruhannah married or attained, unmarried,
her twenty-fifth year.

Neither principal nor interest of this legacy was available at
present. Life in the Carew family at Brookhollow was hard sledding,
and bid fair to continue so indefinitely.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The life of Ruhannah's father was passed in reading or in gazing
silently from the window--a tall, sallow, bearded man with the eyes of
a dreaming martyr and the hands of an invalid--who still saw in the
winter sky, across brown, snow-powdered fields, the minarets of
Trebizond.

In reading, in reflection, in dreaming, in spiritual acquiescence,
life was passing in sombre shadows for this middle-aged man who had
been hopelessly crushed in Christ's service; and who had never
regretted that service, never complained, never doubted the wisdom and
the mercy of his Leader's inscrutable manoeuvres with the soldiers who
enlist to follow Him. As far as that is concerned, the Reverend
Wilbour Carew had been born with a believing mind; doubt of divine
goodness in Deity was impossible for him; doubt of human goodness
almost as difficult.

Such men have little chance in a brisk, busy, and jaunty world; but
they prefer it should be that way with them. And of these few
believers in the goodness of God and man are our fools and gentlemen
composed.

On that dreadful day, the Kurd who had mangled him so frightfully that
he recovered only to limp through life on crutches bent over him and
shouted in his face:

"Now, you Christian dog, before I cut your throat show me how this
Christ of yours can be a god!"

"Is it necessary," replied the missionary faintly, "to light a candle
in order to show a man the midday sun?"

Which was possibly what saved his life, and the lives of his wife and
child. Your Moslem adores and understands such figurative answers. So
he left the Reverend Mr. Carew lying half dead in the blackened
doorway and started cheerfully after a frightened convert praying
under the compound wall.



CHAPTER III

IN EMBRYO


A child on the floor, flat on her stomach in the red light of the
stove, drawing pictures; her mother by the shaded lamp mending
stockings; her father reading; a faint odour of kerosene from the
glass lamp in the room, and the rattle of sleet on roof and window;
this was one of her childhood memories which never faded through all
the years of Ruhannah's life.

Of her waking hours she preferred that hour after supper when, lying
prone on the worn carpet, with pencil and paper, just outside the
lamp's yellow circle of light, her youthful imagination kindled and
caught fire.

For at that hour the magic of the stove's glowing eyes transformed the
sitting-room chairs to furtive watchers of herself, made of her
mother's work-table a sly and spidery thing on legs, crouching in
ambush; bewitched the ancient cottage piano so that its ivory keys
menaced her like a row of monstrous teeth.

She adored it all. The tall secretary stared at her with owlish
significance. Through that neutral veil where lamplight and shadow
meet upon the wall, the engraved portrait of a famous and godly
missionary peered down at her out of altered and malicious eyes; the
claw-footed, haircloth sofa was a stealthy creature offering to entrap
her with wide, inviting arms; three folded umbrellas leaned over the
edge of their shadowy stand, looking down at her like scrawny and
baleful birds, ready to peck at her with crooked handles. And as for
Adoniram, her lank black cat, the child's restless creative fancy was
ever transforming him from goblin into warlock, from hydra to
hippogriff, until the earnestness of pretence sent agreeable shivers
down her back, and she edged a trifle nearer to her mother.

But when pretence became a bit too real and too grotesque she had
always a perfect antidote. It was merely necessary to make a quick
picture of an angel or two, a fairy prince, a swan, and she felt
herself in their company, and delightfully protected.

                  *       *       *       *       *

There was a night when the flowing roar of the gale outside filled the
lamplit silence; when the snow was drifting level with the window
sills; when Adoniram, unable to prowl abroad, lay curled up tight and
sound asleep beside her where she sat on the carpet in the stove
radiance. Wearied of drawing castles and swans, she had been listening
to her father reading passages aloud from the book on his knees to her
mother who was sewing by the lamp.

Presently he continued his reading:

"I asked Alaro the angel: 'Which place is this, and which people are
these?'

"And he answered: 'This place is the star-track; and these are they
who in the world offered no prayers and chanted no liturgies. Through
other works they have attained felicity.'"

Her mother nodded, continuing to sew. Ruhannah considered what her
father had read, then:

"Father?"

"Yes----" He looked down at her absently.

"What were you reading?"

"A quotation from the Sacred Anthology."

"Isn't prayer really necessary?"

Her mother said:

"Yes, dear."

"Then how did those people who offered no prayers go to Heaven?"

Her father said:

"Eternal life is not attained by praise or prayer alone, Ruhannah.
Those things which alone justify prayer are also necessary."

"What are they?"

"What we really _think_ and what we _do_--both only in Christ's name.
Without these nothing else counts very much--neither form nor
convention nor those individual garments called creed and
denomination, which belief usually wears throughout the world."

Her mother, sewing, glanced gravely down at her daughter:

"Your father is very tolerant of what other people believe--as long as
they really do believe. Your father thinks that Christ would have
found friends in Buddha and Mahomet."

"Do such people go to Heaven?" asked Ruhannah, astonished.

"Listen," said her father, reading again:

"'I came to a place and I saw the souls of the liberal, adorned above
all other souls in splendour. And it seemed to me sublime.

"'I saw the souls of the truthful who walked in lofty splendour. And
it seemed to me sublime.

"'I saw the souls of teachers and inquirers; I saw the friendly souls
of interceders and peacemakers; and these walked brilliantly in the
light. And it seemed to me sublime----'"

He turned to his wife:

"To see and know _is_ sublime. We know, Mary; and Ruhannah is
intelligent. But in spite of her faith in what she has learned from
us, like us she must one day travel the common way, seeking for
herself the reasons and the evidences of immortality."

"Perhaps her faith, Wilbour----"

"Perhaps. But with the intelligent, faith, which is emotional, usually
follows belief; and belief comes only from reasoning. I think that
Ruhannah is destined to travel the way of all intelligence when she is
ready to think for herself."

"I am ready now," said the girl. "I have faith in our Lord Jesus, and
in my father and mother."

Her father looked at her:

"It is good building material. Some day, God willing, you shall build
a very lofty temple with it. But the foundation of the temple must
first be certain. Intelligence ultimately requires reasons for belief.
You will have to seek them for yourself, Ruhannah. Then, on them build
your shrine of faith; and nothing shall shake it down."

"I don't understand."

"And I cannot explain. Only this; as you grow older, all around you in
the world you will become aware of people, countless millions and
millions of people, asking themselves--ready with the slightest
encouragement, or without it, to ask you the question which is the
most vital of all questions to them. And whatever way it is answered
always they ask for evidence. You, too, will one day ask for evidence.
All the world asks for it. But few recognise it as evidence when it is
offered."

He closed his book and dropped a heavy hand upon it.

"Amid the myriad pursuits and interests and trades and professions of
the human race, amid their multitudinous aspirations, perplexities,
doubts, passions, endeavours, deep within every intelligent man
remains one dominant desire, one persistent question to be answered if
possible."

"What desire, father?"

"The universal desire for another chance--for immortality. Man's
never-ending demand for evidence of an immortality which shall
terminate for him the most tremendous of all uncertainties, which
shall solve for him the most vital of all questions: What is to become
of him after physical death? Is he to live again? Is he to see once
more those whom he loved the best?"

Ruhannah sat thinking in the red stove light, cross-legged, her slim
ankles clasped in either hand.

"But our souls are immortal," she said at last.

"Yes."

"Our Lord Jesus has said it."

"Yes."

"Then why should anybody not believe it?"

"Try to believe it always. Particularly after your mother and I are no
longer here, try to believe it.... You are unusually intelligent; and
if some day your intelligence discovers that it requires evidence for
belief seek for that evidence. It is obtainable. Try to recognise it
when you encounter it.... Only, in any event, remember this: never
alter your early faith, never destroy your childhood's belief until
evidence to prove the contrary convinces you."

"No.... There is no such evidence, is there, father?"

"I know of none."

"Then," said the girl calmly, "I shall take Christ's evidence that I
shall live again if I do no evil.... Father?"

"Yes."

"Is there any evidence that Adoniram has no soul?"

"I know of none."

"Is there any that he has a soul?"

"Yes, I think there is."

"Are you sure?"

"Not entirely."

"I wonder," mused the girl, looking gravely at the sleeping cat.

It was the first serious doubt that Ruhannah had ever entertained in
her brief career.

That night she dreamed of the Yellow Devil in Herr Wilner's box, and,
awaking, remembered her dream. It seemed odd, too, because she had not
even thought of the Yellow Devil for over a year.

But the menacing Mongol figure seemed bound to intrude into her life
once more and demand her attention as though resentful of long
oblivion and neglect; for, a week later, an old missionary from
Indo-China--a native Chinese--who had lectured at the Baptist Church
in Gayfield the evening previous, came to pay his respects to the
Reverend Wilbour Carew. And Rue had taken the Yellow Devil from the
olive-wood box that day and was busily making a pencil drawing of it.

At sight of the figure the native missionary's narrow almond eyes
opened extremely wide, and he leaned on the table and regarded the
bronze demon very intently.

Then he took from his pocket and adjusted to his button nose a pair of
large, horn spectacles; and he carefully examined the Chinese
characters engraved on the base of the ancient bronze, following them
slowly with a yellow and clawlike forefinger.

"Can you read what is written there?" inquired the Reverend Mr.
Carew.

"Yes, brother. This is what is written: 'I am Erlik, Ruler of Chaos
and of All that Was. The old order passes when I arrive. I bring
confusion among the peoples; I hurl down emperors; kingdoms crumble
where I pass; the world begins to rock and tip, spilling nations into
outer darkness. When there are no more kingdoms and no more kings; no
more empires and no emperors; and when only the humble till, the
blameless sow, the pure reap; and when only the teachers teach in the
shadow of the Tree, and when the Thinker sits unstirring under the
high stars, then, from the dark edges of the world I let go my grasp
and drop into those immeasurable deeps from which I came--I, Erlik,
Ruler of All that Was.'"

After a silence the Reverend Mr. Carew asked whether the figure was a
very old one.

"It is before the period called 'Han'--a dynasty during which the
Mongols were a mighty people. This inscription is Mongol. Erlik was
the Yellow Devil of the Mongols."

"Not a heathen god, then?"

"No, a heathen devil. Their Prince of Darkness."

Ruhannah, pencil in hand, looked curiously at this heathen Prince of
Darkness, arrived out of the dark ages to sit to her for his scowling
portrait.

"I wonder what he thinks of America," she said, partly to herself.

The native missionary smiled, picked up the Yellow Devil, shook the
figure, listening.

"There is something inside," he said; "perhaps jewels. If you drilled
a hole in him you could find out."

The Reverend Mr. Carew nodded absently:

"Yes; it might be worth while," he said.

"If there is a jewel," repeated the missionary, "you had better take
it, then cast away the figure. Erlik brings disaster to the land where
his image is set up."

The Reverend Mr. Carew smiled at his Chinese and Christian confrère's
ineradicable vein of superstition.



CHAPTER IV

THE TRODDEN WAY


There came the indeterminate year when Ruhannah finished school and
there was no money available to send her elsewhere for further
embellishment, no farther horizon than the sky over the Gayfield
hills, no other perspective than the main street of Gayfield with the
knitting mill at the end of it.

So into Gayfield Mill the girl walked, and found a place immediately
among the unskilled. And her career appeared to be predetermined now,
and her destiny a simple one--to work, to share the toil and the
gaieties of Gayfield with the majority of the other girls she knew; to
marry, ultimately, some boy, some clerk in one of the Gayfield stores,
some farmer lad, perhaps, possibly a school teacher or a local lawyer
or physician, or possibly the head of some department in the mill, or
maybe a minister--she was sufficiently well bred and educated for any
one of these.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The winter of her seventeenth year found her still very much a child
at heart, physically backward, a late adolescent, a little shy,
inclined to silences, romantic, sensitive to all beauty, and
passionately expressing herself only when curled up by the stove with
her pencil and the red light of the coals falling athwart the slim
hand that guided it.

She went sometimes to village parties, learned very easily to dance,
had no preferences among the youths of Gayfield, no romances. For
that matter, while she was liked and even furtively admired, her
slight shyness, reticence, and a vague, indefinite something about her
seemed to discourage familiar rustic gallantry. Also, she was as thin
and awkward as an overgrown lad, not thought to be pretty, known to be
poor. But for all that more than one young man was vaguely haunted at
intervals by some memory of her grey eyes and the peculiar sweetness
of her mouth, forgetting for the moment several freckles on the
delicate bridge of her nose and several more on her sun-tanned
cheeks.

She had an agreeable time that winter, enchanted to learn dancing,
happy at "showers" and parties, at sleigh rides and "chicken suppers,"
and the various species of village gaiety which ranged from moving
pictures every Thursday and Saturday nights to church entertainments,
amateur theatricals at the town hall, and lectures under the auspices
of the aristocratic D. O. F.--Daughters of the Old Frontier.

But she never saw any boy she preferred to any other, never was
conscious of being preferred, excepting once--and she was not quite
certain about that.

It was old Dick Neeland's son, Jim--vaguely understood to have been
for several years in Paris studying art--and who now turned up in
Gayfield during Christmas week.

Ruhannah remembered seeing him on several occasions when she was a
little child. He was usually tramping across country with his sturdy
father, Dick Neeland of Neeland's Mills--an odd, picturesque pair with
their setter dogs and burnished guns, and old Dick's face as red as a
wrinkled winter apple, and his hair snow-white.

There was six years' difference between their ages, Jim Neeland's and
hers, and she had always considered him a grown and formidable man in
those days. But that winter, when somebody at the movies pointed him
out to her, she was surprised to find him no older than the other
youths she skated with and danced with.

Afterward, at a noisy village party, she saw him dancing with every
girl in town, and the drop of Irish blood in this handsome, careless
young fellow established him at once as a fascinating favourite.

Rue became quite tremulous over the prospect of dancing with him.
Presently her turn came; she rose with a sudden odd loss of
self-possession as he was presented, stood dumb, shy, unresponsive,
suffered him to lead her out, became slowly conscious that he danced
rather badly. But awe of him persisted even when he trod on her
slender foot.

He brought her an ice afterward, and seated himself beside her.

"I'm a clumsy dancer," he said. "How many times did I spike you?"

She flushed and would have found a pleasant word to reassure him, but
discovered nothing to say, it being perfectly patent to them both that
she had retired from the floor with a slight limp.

"I'm a steam roller," he repeated carelessly. "But you dance very
well, don't you?"

"I have only learned to dance this winter."

"I thought you an expert. Do you live here?"

"Yes.... I mean I live at Brookhollow."

"Funny. I don't remember you. Besides, I don't know your name--people
mumble so when they introduce a man."

"I'm Ruhannah Carew."

"Carew," he repeated, while a crease came between his eyebrows. "Of
Brookhollow---- Oh, I know! Your father is the retired missionary--red
house facing the bridge."

"Yes."

"Certainly," he said, taking another look at her; "you're the little
girl daddy and I used to see across the fields when we were shooting
woodcock in the willows."

"I remember you," she said.

"I remember _you_!"

She coloured gratefully.

"Because," he added, "dad and I were always afraid you'd wander into
range and we'd pepper you from the bushes. You've grown a lot, haven't
you?" He had a nice, direct smile though his speech and manners were a
trifle breezy, confident, and _sans façon_. But he was at that
age--which succeeds the age of bumptiousness--with life and career
before him, attainment, realisation, success, everything the mystery
of life holds for a young man who has just flung open the gates and
who takes the magic road to the future with a stride instead of his
accustomed pace.

He was already a man with a profession, and meant that she should
become aware of it.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Later in the evening somebody told her what a _personage_ he had
become, and she became even more deeply thrilled, impressed, and
tremulously desirous that he should seek her out again, not venturing
to seek him, not dreaming of encouraging him to notice her by glance
or attitude--not even knowing, as yet, how to do such things. She
thought he had already forgotten her existence.

But that this thin, freckled young thing with grey eyes ought to
learn how much of a man he was remained somewhere in the back of
Neeland's head; and when he heard his hostess say that somebody would
have to see Rue Carew home, he offered to do it. And presently went
over and asked the girl if he might--not too patronisingly.

In the cutter, under fur, with the moonlight electrically brilliant
and the world buried in white, she ventured to speak of his art,
timidly, as in the presence of the very great.

"Oh, yes," he said. "I studied in Paris. Wish I were back there. But
I've got to draw for magazines and illustrated papers; got to make a
living, you see. I teach at the Art League, too."

"How happy you must be in your career!" she said, devoutly meaning it,
knowing no better than to say it.

"It's a business," he corrected her, kindly.

"But--yes--but it is art, too."

"Oh, art!" he laughed. It was the fashion that year to shrug when art
was mentioned--reaction from too much gabble.

"We don't busy ourselves with art; we busy ourselves with business.
When they use my stuff I feel I'm getting on. You see," he admitted
with reluctant honesty, "I'm young at it yet--I haven't had very much
of my stuff in magazines yet."

After a silence, cursed by an instinctive truthfulness which always
spoiled any little plan to swagger:

"I've had several--well, about a dozen pictures reproduced."

One picture accepted by any magazine would have awed her sufficiently.
The mere fact that he was an artist had been enough to impress her.

"Do you care for that sort of thing--drawing, painting, I mean?" he
inquired kindly.

She drew a quick breath, steadied her voice, and said she did.

"Perhaps you may turn out stuff yourself some day."

She scarcely knew how to take the word "stuff." Vaguely she surmised
it to be professional vernacular.

She admitted shyly that she cared for nothing so much as drawing, that
she longed for instruction, but that such a dream was hopeless.

At first he did not comprehend that poverty barred the way to her; he
urged her to cultivate her talent, bestowed advice concerning the Art
League, boarding houses, studios, ways, means, and ends, until she
felt obliged to tell him how far beyond her means such magic
splendours lay.

He remained silent, sorry for her, thinking also that the chances were
against her having any particular talent, consoling a heart that was
unusually sympathetic and tender with the conclusion that this girl
would be happier here in Brookhollow than scratching around the
purlieus of New York to make both ends meet.

"It's a tough deal," he remarked abruptly. "--I mean this art stuff.
You work like the dickens and kick your heels in ante-rooms. If they
take your stuff they send you back to alter it or redraw it. _I_ don't
know how anybody makes a living at it--in the beginning."

"Don't _you_?"

"I? No." He reddened; but she could not notice it in the moonlight.
"No," he repeated; "I have an allowance from my father. I'm new at it
yet."

"Couldn't a man--a girl--support herself by drawing pictures for
magazines?" she inquired tremulously.

"Oh, well, of course there are some who have arrived--and they manage
to get on. Some even make wads, you know."

"W-wads?" she repeated, mystified.

"I mean a lot of money. There's that girl on the _Star_, Jean
Throssel, who makes all kinds of wealth, they say, out of her spidery,
filmy girls in ringlets and cheesecloth dinner gowns."

"Oh!"

"Yes, Jean Throssel, and that Waythorne girl, Belinda Waythorne, you
know--does all that stuff for _The Looking Glass_--futurist graft, no
mouths on her people--she makes _hers_, I understand."

It was rather difficult for Rue to follow him amid the vernacular
mazes.

"Then, of course," he continued, "men like Alexander Fairless and
Philip Lightwood who imitates him, make fortunes out of their drawing.
I could name a dozen, perhaps. But the rest--hard sledding, Miss
Carew!"

"Is it _very_ hard?"

"Well, I don't know what on earth I'd do if dad didn't back me as his
fancy."

"A father ought to, if he can afford it."

"Oh, I'll pay my way some day. It's in me. I feel it; I know it. I'll
make plenty of money," he assured her confidently.

"I'm sure you will."

"Thank you," he smiled. "My friends tell me I've got it in me. I have
one friend in particular--the Princess Mistchenka--who has all kinds
of confidence in my future. When I'm blue she bolsters me up. She's
quite wonderful. I owe her a lot for asking me to her Sunday nights
and for giving me her friendship."

"A--a princess?" whispered the girl, who had drawn pictures of
thousands but was a little startled to realise that such fabled
creatures really exist.

"Is she _very_ beautiful?" she added.

"She's tremendously pretty."

"Her--clothes are very beautiful, I suppose," ventured Rue.

"Well--they're very--smart. Everything about her is smart. Her Sunday
night suppers are wonderful. You meet people who do things--all
sorts--everybody who is somebody."

He turned to her frankly:

"I think myself very lucky that the Princess Mistchenka should be my
friend, because, honestly, Miss Carew, I don't see what there is in me
to interest such a woman."

Rue thought she could see, but remained silent.

"If I had my way," said Neeland, a few moments later, "I'd drop
illustrating and paint battle scenes. But it wouldn't pay, you see."

"Couldn't you support yourself by painting battles?"

"Not yet," he said honestly. "Of course I have hopes--intentions----"
he laughed, drew his reins; the silvery chimes clashed and jingled and
flashed in the moonlight; they had arrived.

At the door he said:

"I hope some day you'll have a chance to take lessons. Thank you for
dancing with me.... If you ever do come to New York to study, I hope
you'll let me know."

"Yes," she said, "I will."

He was halfway to his sleigh, looked back, saw her looking back as she
entered the lighted doorway.

"Good night, Rue," he said impulsively, warmly sorry for her.

"Good night," she said.

The drop of Irish blood in him prompted him to go back to where she
stood framed in the lighted doorway. And the same drop was no doubt
responsible for his taking her by the waist and tilting back her head
in its fur hood and kissing her soft, warm lips.

She looked up at him in a flushed, bewildered sort of way, not
resisting; but his eyes were so gay and mischievous, and his quick
smile so engaging that a breathless, uncertain smile began to edge her
lips; and it remained stamped there, stiffening even after he had
jumped into his cutter and had driven away, jingling joyously out into
the dazzling moonshine.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In bed, the window open, and the covers pulled to her chin, Rue lay
wakeful, living over again the pleasures of the evening; and Neeland's
face was always before her open eyes, and his pleasant voice seemed to
be sounding in her ears. As for the kiss, it did not trouble her.
Girls she went with were not infrequently so saluted by boys. That,
being her own first experience, was important only in that degree. And
she shyly thought the experience agreeable. And, as she recalled,
revived, and considered all that Neeland had said, it seemed to her
that this young man led an enchanted life and that such as he were
indeed companions fit for princesses.

"Princess Mistchenka," she repeated aloud to herself. And somehow it
sounded vaguely familiar to the girl, as though somewhere, long ago,
she had heard another voice pronounce the name.



CHAPTER V

EX MACHINA


After she had become accustomed to the smell of rancid oil and
dyestuffs and the interminable racket of machinery she did not find
her work at the knitting mill disagreeable. It was like any work, she
imagined, an uninteresting task which had to be done.

The majority of the girls and young men of the village worked there in
various capacities; wages were fair, salaries better, union
regulations prevailed. There was nothing to complain of.

And nothing to expect except possible increase in wages, holidays, and
a disquieting chance of getting caught in the machinery, which
familiarity soon discounted.

As for the social status of the mill workers, the mill _was_ Gayfield;
and Gayfield was a village where the simpler traditions of the
Republic still survived; where there existed no invidious distinction
in vocations; a typical old-time community harbouring the remains of a
Grand Army Post and too many churches of too many denominations; where
the chance metropolitan stranger was systematically "done"; where
distrust of all cities and desire to live in them was equalled only by
a passion for moving pictures and automobiles; where the school
trustees used double negatives and traced their ancestry to Colonial
considerables--who, however, had signed their names in "lower case" or
with a Maltese cross--the world in miniature, with its due proportion
of petty graft, petty squabbles, envy, kindness, jealousy, generosity,
laziness, ambition, stupidity, intelligence, honesty, hypocrisy,
hatred, affection, badness and goodness, as standardised by the code
established according to folk-ways on earth--in brief, a perfectly
human community composed of the usual ingredients, worthy and
unworthy--that was Gayfield, Mohawk County, New York.

Before spring came--before the first robin appeared, and while icy
roads still lay icy under sunlit pools of snow-water--a whole winter
indoors, and a sedentary one, had changed the smoothly tanned and
slightly freckled cheeks of Rue Carew to a thinner and paler oval.
Under her transparent skin a tea-rose pink came and went; under her
grey eyes lay bluish shadows. Also, floating particles of dust, fleecy
and microscopic motes of cotton and wool filling the air in the room
where Ruhannah worked, had begun to irritate her throat and bronchial
tubes; and the girl developed an intermittent cough.

When the first bluebird arrived in Gayfield the cough was no longer
intermittent; and her mother sent her to the village doctor. So Rue
Carew was transferred to the box factory adjoining, in which the mill
made its own paper boxes, where young women sat all day at intelligent
machines and fed them with squares of pasteboard and strips of gilt
paper; and the intelligent and grateful machines responded by turning
out hundreds and hundreds of complete boxes, all neatly gilded,
pasted, and labelled. And after a little while Ruhannah was able to
nourish one of these obliging and responsive machines. And by July her
cough had left her, and two delicate freckles adorned the bridge of
her nose.

The half-mile walk from and to Brookhollow twice a day was keeping her
from rapid physical degeneration. Yet, like all northern American
summers, the weather became fearfully hot in July and August, and the
half-mile even in early morning and at six in the evening left her
listless, nervously dreading the great concrete-lined room, the reek
of glue and oil, the sweaty propinquity of her neighbours, and the
monotonous appetite of the sprawling machine which she fed all day
long with pasteboard squares.

She went to her work in early morning, bareheaded, in a limp pink
dress very much open at the throat, which happened to be the merciful
mode of the moment--a slender, sweet-lipped thing, beginning to move
with grace now--and her chestnut hair burned gold-pale by the sun.

                  *       *       *       *       *

There came that movable holiday in August, when the annual shutdown
for repairs closed the mill and box factory during forty-eight
hours--a matter of prescribing oil and new bearings for the overfed
machines so that their digestions should remain unimpaired and their
dispositions amiable.

It was a hot August morning, intensely blue and still, with that slow,
subtle concentration of suspended power in the sky, ominous of thunder
brooding somewhere beyond the western edges of the world.

Ruhannah aided her mother with the housework, picked peas and a squash
and a saucer full of yellow pansies in the weedy little garden, and,
at noon, dined on the trophies of her husbandry, physically and
æsthetically.

After dinner, dishes washed and room tidied, she sat down on the
narrow, woodbine-infested verandah with pencil and paper, and
attempted to draw the stone bridge and the little river where it
spread in deeps and shallows above the broken dam.

Perspective was unknown to her; of classic composition she was also
serenely ignorant, so the absence of these in her picture did not
annoy her. On the contrary, there was something hideously modern and
recessional in her vigorous endeavour to include in her drawing
everything her grey eyes chanced to rest on. She even arose and gently
urged a cow into the already overcrowded composition, and, having
accomplished its portrait with Cezanne-like fidelity, was beginning to
look about for Adoniram to include him also, when her mother called to
her, holding out a pair of old gloves.

"Dear, we are going to save a little money this year. Do you think you
could catch a few fish for supper?"

The girl nodded, took the gloves, laid aside her pencil and paper,
picked up the long bamboo pole from the verandah floor, and walked
slowly out into the garden.

A trowel was sticking in the dry earth near the flower bed, where
poppies, and pansies, and petunias, and phlox bordered the walk.

Under a lilac the ground seemed moister and more promising for
vermicular investigation; she drew on her gloves, dug a few holes with
the trowel, extracted an angleworm, frowned slightly, holding it
between gloved fingers, regarding its contortions with pity and
aversion.

To bait a hook was not agreeable to the girl; she managed to do it,
however, then shouldering her pole she walked across the road and down
to the left, through rank grasses and patches of milkweed, bergamot,
and queen's lace, scattering a cloud of brown and silver-spotted
butterflies.

Alder, elder, and Indian willow barred her way; rank thickets of
jewelweed hung vivid blossoming drops across her path; woodbine and
clematis trailed dainty snares to catch her in their fairy nets; a
rabbit scurried out from behind the ruined paper mill as she came to
the swift, shallow water below the dam.

Into this she presently plumped her line, and the next instant jerked
it out again with a wriggling, silvery minnow flashing on the hook.

Carrying her pole with its tiny, glittering victim dangling aloft, Rue
hastily retraced her steps to the road, crossed the bridge to the
further end, seated herself on the limestone parapet, and, swinging
her pole with both hands, cast line and hook and minnow far out into
the pond. It was a business she did not care for--this extinguishing
of the life-spark in anything. But, like her mill work, it appeared to
be a necessary business, and, so regarding it, she went about it.

The pond above the half-ruined dam lay very still; her captive minnow
swam about with apparently no discomfort, trailing on the surface of
the pond above him the cork which buoyed the hook.

Rue, her pole clasped in both hands between her knees, gazed with
preoccupied eyes out across the water. On the sandy shore, a pair of
speckled tip-ups ran busily about, dipping and bobbing, or spread
their white, striped wings to sheer the still surface of the pond,
swing shoreward with bowed wings again, and resume their formal,
quaint, and busy manners.

From the interstices of the limestone parapet grew a white
bluebell--the only one Rue had ever seen. As long as she could
remember it had come up there every year and bloomed, snow-white amid
a world of its blue comrades in the grass below. She looked for it
now, saw it in bud--three sturdy stalks sprouting at right angles
from the wall and curving up parallel to it. Somehow or other she had
come to associate this white freak of nature with herself--she
scarcely knew why. It comforted her, oddly, to see it again, still
surviving, still delicately vigorous, though where among those stone
slabs it found its nourishment she never could imagine.

The intense blue of the sky had altered since noon; the west became
gradually duller and the air stiller; and now, over the Gayfield
hills, a tall cloud thrust up silvery-edged convolutions toward a
zenith still royally and magnificently blue.

                  *       *       *       *       *

She had been sitting there watching her swimming cork for over an hour
when the first light western breeze arrived, spreading a dainty ripple
across the pond. Her cork danced, drifted; beneath it she caught the
momentary glimmer of the minnow; then the cork was jerked under; she
clasped the pole with all her strength, struck upward; and a heavy
pickerel, all gold and green, sprang furiously from the water and fell
back with a sharp splash.

Under the sudden strain of the fish she nearly lost her balance,
scrambled hastily down from the parapet, propping the pole desperately
against her body, and stood so, unbending, unyielding, her eyes fixed
on the water where the taut line cut it at forty-five degrees.

At the same time two men in a red runabout speeding westward caught
sight of the sharp turn by the bridge which the ruins of the paper
mill had hidden. The man driving the car might have made it even then
had he not seen Ruhannah in the centre of the bridge. It was instantly
all off; so were both mud-guards and one wheel. So were driver and
passenger, floundering on their backs among the rank grass and wild
flowers. Ruhannah, petrified, still fast to her fish, gazed at the
catastrophe over her right shoulder.

A broad, short, squarely built man of forty emerged from the weeds,
went hastily to the car and did something to it. Noise ceased; clouds
of steam continued to ascend from the crumpled hood.

The other man, even shorter, but slimmer, sauntered out of a bed of
milkweed whither he had been catapulted. He dusted with his elbow a
grey felt hat as he stood looking at the wrecked runabout; his
comrade, still clutching a cigar between his teeth, continued to
examine the car.

"Hell!" remarked the short, thickset man.

"It's going to rain like it, too," added the other. The thunder boomed
again beyond Gayfield hills.

"What do you know about this!" growled the thickset man, in utter
disgust. "Do we hunt for a garage, or what?"

"It's up to you, Eddie. And say! What was the matter with you? Don't
you know a bridge when you see one?"

"That damn girl----" He turned and looked at Ruhannah, who was
dragging the big flapping pickerel over the parapet by main strength.

The men scowled at her in silence, then the one addressed as Eddie
rolled his cigar grimly into the left corner of his jaw.

"Damn little skirt," he observed briefly. "It seems to worry her a lot
what she's done to us."

"I wonder does she know she wrecked us," suggested the other. He was a
stunted, wiry little man of thirty-five. His head seemed slightly too
large; he had a pasty face with the sloe-black eyes, button nose, and
the widely chiselled mouth of a circus clown.

The eyes of the short, thickset man were narrow and greyish green in a
round, smoothly shaven face. They narrowed still more as the thunder
broke louder from the west.

Ruhannah, dragging her fish over the grass, was coming toward them;
and the man called Eddie stepped forward to bar her progress.

"Say, girlie," he began, the cigar still tightly screwed into his
cheek, "is there a juice mill anywhere near us, d'y'know?"

"What?" said Rue.

"A garage."

"Yes; there is one at Gayfield."

"How far, girlie?"

Rue flushed, but answered:

"It is half a mile to Gayfield."

The other man, noticing the colour in Ruhannah's face, took off his
pearl-grey hat. His language was less grammatical than his friend's,
but his instincts were better.

"Thank you," he said--his companion staring all the while at the girl
without the slightest expression. "Is there a telephone in any of them
houses, miss?"--glancing around behind him at the three edifices which
composed the crossroads called Brookhollow.

"No," said Rue.

It thundered again; the world around had become very dusky and silent
and the flash veined a rapidly blackening west.

"It's going to rain buckets," said the man called Eddie. "If you live
around here, can you let us come into your house till it's over,
gir--er--miss?"

"Yes."

"I'm Mr. Brandes--Ed Brandes of New York----" speaking through
cigar-clutching teeth. "This is Mr. Ben Stull, of the same.... It's
raining already. Is that your house?"

"I live _there_," said Rue, nodding across the bridge. "You may go
in."

She walked ahead, dragging the fish; Stull went to the car, took two
suitcases from the boot; Brandes threw both overcoats over his arm,
and followed in the wake of Ruhannah and her fish.

"No Saratoga and no races today, Eddie," remarked Stull. But Brandes'
narrow, grey-green eyes were following Ruhannah.

"It's a pity," continued Stull, "somebody didn't learn you to drive a
car before you ask your friends joy-riding."

"Aw--shut up," returned Brandes slowly, between his teeth.

They climbed the flight of steps to the verandah, through a rapidly
thickening gloom which was ripped wide open at intervals by
lightning.

So Brandes and his shadow, Bennie Stull, came into the home of
Ruhannah Carew.

Her mother, who had observed their approach from the window, opened
the door.

"Mother," said Ruhannah, "here is the fish I caught--and two
gentlemen."

With which dubious but innocent explanation she continued on toward
the kitchen, carrying her fish.

Stull offered a brief explanation to account for their plight and
presence; Brandes, listening and watching the mother out of greenish,
sleepy eyes, made up his mind concerning her.

While the spare room was being prepared by mother and daughter, he and
Stull, seated in the sitting-room, their hats upon their knees,
exchanged solemn commonplaces with the Reverend Mr. Carew.

Brandes, always the gambler, always wary and reticent by nature, did
all the listening before he came to conclusions that relaxed the
stiffness of his attitude and the immobility of his large, round
face.

Then, at ease under circumstances and conditions which he began to
comprehend and have an amiable contempt for, he became urbane and
conversational, and a little amused to find navigation so simple, even
when out of his proper element.

From the book on the invalid's knees, Brandes took his cue; and the
conversation developed into a monologue on the present condition of
foreign missions--skilfully inspired by the respectful attention and
the brief and ingenious questions of Brandes.

"Doubtless," concluded the Reverend Mr. Carew, "you are familiar with
the life of the Reverend Adoniram Judson, Mr. Brandes."

It turned out to be Brandes' favourite book.

"You will recollect, then, the amazing conditions in India which
confronted Dr. Judson and his wife."

Brandes recollected perfectly--with a slow glance at Stull.

"All that is changed," said the invalid. "--God be thanked. And
conditions in Armenia are changing for the better, I hope."

"Let us hope so," returned Brandes solemnly.

"To doubt it is to doubt the goodness of the Almighty," said the
Reverend Mr. Carew. His dreamy eyes became fixed on the rain-splashed
window, burned a little with sombre inward light.

"In Trebizond," he began, "in my time----"

His wife came into the room, saying that the spare bedchamber was
ready and that the gentlemen might wish to wash before supper, which
would be ready in a little while.

                  *       *       *       *       *

On their way upstairs they encountered Ruhannah coming down. Stull
passed with a polite grunt; Brandes ranged himself for the girl to
pass him.

"Ever so much obliged to you, Miss Carew," he said. "We have put you
to a great deal of trouble, I am sure."

Rue looked up surprised, shy, not quite understanding how to reconcile
his polite words and pleasant voice with the voice and manner in which
he had addressed her on the bridge.

"It is no trouble," she said, flushing slightly. "I hope you will be
comfortable."

And she continued to descend the stairs a trifle more hastily, not
quite sure she cared very much to talk to that kind of man.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In the spare bedroom, whither Stull and Brandes had been conducted,
the latter was seated on the big and rather shaky maple bed, buttoning
a fresh shirt and collar, while Stull took his turn at the basin. Rain
beat heavily on the windows.

"Say, Ben," remarked Brandes, "you want to be careful when we go
downstairs that the old guy don't spot us for sporting men. He's a
minister, or something."

Stull lifted his dripping face of a circus clown from the basin.

"What's that?"

"I say we don't want to give the old people a shock. You know what
they'd think of us."

"What do I care what they think?"

"Can't you be polite?"

"I can be better than that; I can be honest," said Stull, drying his
sour visage with a flimsy towel.

After Brandes had tied his polka-dotted tie carefully before the
blurred mirror:

"What do you mean by that?" he asked stolidly.

"Ah--I know what I mean, Eddie. So do you. You're a smooth talker, all
right. You can listen and look wise, too, when there's anything in it
for you. Just see the way you got Stein to put up good money for you!
And all you done was to listen to him and keep your mouth shut."

Brandes rose with an air almost jocular and smote Stull upon the
back.

"Stein thinks he's the greatest manager on earth. Let him tell you so
if you want anything out of him," he said, walking to the window.

The volleys of rain splashing on the panes obscured the outlook;
Brandes flattened his nose against the glass and stood as though lost
in thought.

Behind him Stull dried his features, rummaged in the suitcase,
produced a bathrobe and slippers, put them on, and stretched himself
out on the bed.

"Aren't you coming down to buzz the preacher?" demanded Brandes,
turning from the drenched window.

"So you can talk phony to the little kid? No."

"Ah, get it out of your head that I mean phony."

"Well, what do you mean?"

"Nothing."

Stull gave him a contemptuous glance and turned over on the pillow.

"Are you coming down?"

"No."

So Brandes took another survey of himself in the glass, used his comb
and brushes again, added a studied twist to his tie, shot his cuffs,
and walked out of the room with the solid deliberation which
characterised his carriage at all times.



CHAPTER VI

THE END OF SOLITUDE


A rain-washed world, smelling sweet as a wet rose, a cloudless sky
delicately blue, and a swollen stream tumbling and foaming under the
bridge--of these Mr. Eddie Brandes was agreeably conscious as he
stepped out on the verandah after breakfast, and, unclasping a large
gold cigar case, inserted a cigar between his teeth.

He always had the appearance of having just come out of a Broadway
barber shop with the visible traces of shave, shampoo, massage, and
manicure patent upon his person.

His short, square figure was clothed in well-cut blue serge; a smart
straw hat embellished his head, polished russet shoes his remarkably
small feet. On his small fat fingers several heavy rings were
conspicuous. And the odour of cologne exhaled from and subtly pervaded
the ensemble.

Across the road, hub-deep in wet grass and weeds, he could see his
wrecked runabout, glistening with raindrops.

He stood for a while on the verandah, both hands shoved deep into his
pockets, his cigar screwed into his cheek. From time to time he
jingled keys and loose coins in his pockets. Finally he sauntered down
the steps and across the wet road to inspect the machine at closer
view.

Contemplating it tranquilly, head on one side and his left eye closed
to avoid the drifting cigar smoke, he presently became aware of a
girl in a pink print dress leaning over the grey parapet of the
bridge. And, picking his way among the puddles, he went toward her.

"Good morning, Miss Carew," he said, taking off his straw hat.

She turned her head over her shoulder; the early sun glistened on his
shiny, carefully parted hair and lingered in glory on a diamond scarf
pin.

"Good morning," she said, a little uncertainly, for the memory of
their first meeting on the bridge had not entirely been forgotten.

"You had breakfast early," he said.

"Yes."

He kept his hat off; such little courtesies have their effect; also it
was good for his hair which, he feared, had become a trifle thinner
recently.

"It is beautiful weather," said Mr. Brandes, squinting at her through
his cigar smoke.

"Yes." She looked down into the tumbling water.

"This is a beautiful country, isn't it, Miss Carew?"

"Yes."

With his head a little on one side he inspected her. There was only
the fine curve of her cheek visible, and a white neck under the
chestnut hair; and one slim, tanned hand resting on the stone
parapet.

"Do you like motoring?" he asked.

She looked up:

"Yes.... I have only been out a few times."

"I'll have another car up here in a few days. I'd like to take you
out."

She was silent.

"Ever go to Saratoga?" he inquired.

"No."

"I'll take you to the races--with your mother. Would you like to go?"

She remained silent so long that he became a trifle uneasy.

"With your mother," he repeated, moving so he could see a little more
of her face.

"I don't think mother would go," she said.

"Would she let you go?"

"I don't think so."

"There's nothing wrong with racing," he said, "if you don't bet money
on the horses."

But Rue knew nothing about sport, and her ignorance as well as the
suggested combination of Saratoga, automobile, and horse racing left
her silent again.

Brandes sat down on the parapet of the bridge and held his straw hat
on his fat knees.

"Then we'll make it a family party," he said, "your father and mother
and you, shall we? And we'll just go off for the day."

"Thank you."

"Would you like it?"

"Yes."

"Will you go?"

"I--work in the mill."

"Every day?"

"Yes."

"How about Sunday?"

"We go to church.... I don't know.... Perhaps we might go in the
afternoon."

"I'll ask your father," he said, watching the delicately flushed face
with odd, almost sluggish persistency.

His grey-green eyes seemed hypnotised; he appeared unable to turn them
elsewhere; and she, gradually becoming conscious of his scrutiny,
kept her own eyes averted.

"What were you looking at in the water?" he asked.

"I was looking for our boat. It isn't there. I'm afraid it has gone
over the dam."

"I'll help you search for it," he said, "when I come back from the
village. I'm going to walk over and find somebody who'll cart that
runabout to the railroad station.... You're not going that way, are
you?" he added, rising.

"No."

"Then----" he lifted his hat high and put it on with care--"until a
little later, Miss Carew.... And I want to apologise for speaking so
familiarly to you yesterday. I'm sorry. It's a way we get into in New
York. Broadway isn't good for a man's manners.... Will you forgive me,
Miss Carew?"

Embarrassment kept her silent; she nodded her head, and finally turned
and looked at him. His smile was agreeable.

She smiled faintly, too, and rose.

"Until later, then," he said. "This is the Gayfield road, isn't it?"

"Yes."

She turned and walked toward the house; and as though he could not
help himself he walked beside her, his hat in his hand once more.

"I like this place," he said. "I wonder if there is a hotel in
Gayfield."

"The Gayfield House."

"Is it _very_ bad?" he asked jocosely.

She seemed surprised. It was considered good, she thought.

With a slight, silent nod of dismissal she crossed the road and went
into the house, leaving him standing beside his wrecked machine once
more, looking after her out of sluggish eyes.

Presently, from the house, emerged Stull, his pasty face startling in
its pallor under the cloudless sky, and walked slowly over to
Brandes.

"Well, Ben," said the latter pleasantly, "I'm going to Gayfield to
telegraph for another car."

"How soon can they get one up?" inquired Stull, inserting a large
cigar into his slitted mouth and lighting it.

"Oh, in a couple of days, I guess. I don't know. I don't care much,
either."

"We can go on to Saratoga by train," suggested Stull complacently.

"We can stay here, too."

"What for?"

Brandes said in his tight-lipped, even voice:

"The fishing's good. I guess I'll try it." He continued to contemplate
the machine, but Stull's black eyes were turned on him intently.

"How about the races?" he asked. "Do we go or not?"

"Certainly."

"When?"

"When they send us a car to go in."

"Isn't the train good enough?"

"The fishing here is better."

Stull's pasty visage turned sourer:

"Do you mean we lose a couple of days in this God-forsaken dump
because you'd rather go to Saratoga in a runabout than in a train?"

"I tell you I'm going to stick around for a while."

"For how long?"

"Oh, I don't know. When we get our car we can talk it over and----"

"Ah," ejaculated Stull in disgust, "what the hell's the matter with
you? Is it that little skirt you was buzzing out here like you never
seen one before?"

"How did you guess, Ben?" returned Brandes with the almost
expressionless jocularity that characterised him at times.

"_That_ little red-headed, spindling, freckled, milk-fed
mill-hand----"

"Funny, ain't it? But there's no telling what will catch the tired
business man, is there, Ben?"

"Well, what does catch him?" demanded Stull angrily. "What's the
answer?"

"I guess she's the answer, Ben."

"Ah, leave the kid alone----"

"I'm going to have the car sent up here. I'm going to take her out. Go
on to Saratoga if you want to. I'll meet you there----"

"When?"

"When I'm ready," replied Brandes evenly. But he smiled.

Stull looked at him, and his white face, soured by dyspepsia, became
sullen with wrath. At such times, too, his grammar suffered from
indigestion.

"Say, Eddie," he began, "can't no one learn you nothin' at all? How
many times would you have been better off if you'd listened to me?
Every time you throw me you hand yourself one. Now that you got a
little money again and a little backing, don't do anything like
_that_----"

"Like what?"

"Like chasin' dames! Don't act foolish like you done in Chicago last
summer! You wouldn't listen to me then, would you? And that Denver
business, too! Say, look at all the foolish things you done against
all I could say to save you--like backing that cowboy plug against
Battling Jensen!--Like taking that big hunk o' beef, Walstein, to San
Antonio, where Kid O'Rourke put him out in the first! And everybody's
laughing at you yet! Ah----" he exclaimed angrily, "somebody tell me
why I don't quit you, you big dill pickle! I wish someone would tell
me why I stand for you, because I don't know.... And look what you're
doing now; you got some money of your own and plenty of syndicate
money to put on the races and a big comish! You got a good theayter in
town with Morris Stein to back you and everything--and look what
you're doing!" he ended bitterly.

Brandes tightened his dental grip on his cigar and squinted at him
good-humouredly.

"Say, Ben," he said, "would you believe it if I told you I'm stuck on
her?"

"Ah, you'd fall for anything. I never seen a skirt you wouldn't
chase."

"I don't mean that kind."

"What kind, then?"

"This is on the level, Ben."

"What! Ah, go on! _You_ on the level?"

"All the same, I am."

"You can't be on the level! You don't know how."

"Why?"

"You got a wife, and you know damn well you have."

"Yes, and she's getting her divorce."

Stull regarded him with habitual and sullen distrust.

"She hasn't got it yet."

"She'll get it. Don't worry."

"I thought you was for fighting it."

"I was going to fight it; but----" His slow, narrow, greenish eyes
stole toward the house across the road.

"Just like that," he said, after a slight pause; "that's the way the
little girl hit me. I'm on the level, Ben. First skirt I ever saw that
I wanted to find waiting dinner for me when I come home. Get me?"

"I don't know whether I do or not."

"Get this, then; she isn't all over paint; she's got freckles, thank
God, and she smells sweet as a daisy field. Ah, what the hell----" he
burst out between his parted teeth "--when every woman in New York
smells like a chorus girl! Don't I get it all day? The whole city
stinks like a star's dressing room. And I married one! And I'm
through. I want to get my breath and I'm getting it."

Stull's white features betrayed merely the morbid suffering of
indigestion; he said nothing and sucked his cigar.

"I'm through," repeated Brandes. "I want a home and a wife--the kind
that even a fly cop won't pinch on sight--the kind of little thing
that's over there in that old shack. Whatever I am, I don't want a
wife like me--nor kids, either."

Stull remained sullenly unresponsive.

"Call her a hick if you like. All right, I want that kind."

No comment from Stull, who was looking at the wrecked car.

"Understand, Ben?"

"I tell you I don't know whether I do or not!"

"Well, what don't you understand?"

"Nothin'.... Well, then, your falling for a kid like that, first crack
out o' the box. I'm honest; I don't understand it."

"She hit me that way--so help me God!"

"And you're on the level?"

"Absolutely, Ben."

"What about the old guy and the mother? Take 'em to live with you?"

"If she wants 'em."

Stull stared at him in uneasy astonishment:

"All right, Eddie. Only don't act foolish till Minna passes you up.
And get out of here or you will. If you're on the level, as you say
you are, you've got to mark time for a good long while yet----"

"Why?"

"You don't have to ask me that, do you?"

"Yes, I do. Why? I want to marry her, I tell you. I mean to. I'm
taking no chances that some hick will do it while I'm away. I'm going
to stay right here."

"And when the new car comes?"

"I'll keep her humming between here and Saratoga."

"And then what?"

Brandes' greenish eyes rested on the car and he smoked in silence for
a while. Then:

"Listen, Ben. I'm a busy man. I got to be back in town and I got to
have a wedding trip too. You know me, Ben. You know what I mean.
That's me. When I do a thing I do it. Maybe I make plenty of mistakes.
Hell! I'd rather make 'em than sit pat and do nothing!"

"You're crazy."

"Don't bet on it, Ben. I know what I want. I'm going to make money.
Things are going big with me----"

"You tinhorn! You always say that!"

"Watch me. I bet you I make a killing at Saratoga! I bet you I make
good with Morris Stein! I bet you the first show I put on goes big! I
bet----"

"Ah, can it!"

"Wait! I bet you I marry that little girl in two weeks and she stands
for it when I tell her later we'd better get married again!"

"Say! Talk sense!"

"I am."

"What'll they do to you if your wife makes a holler?"

"Who ever heard of her or me in the East?"

"You want to take a chance like that?"

"I'll fix it. I haven't got time to wait for Minna to shake me loose.
Besides, she's in Seattle. I'll fix it so she doesn't hear until she
gets her freedom. I'll get a license right here. I guess I'll use your
name----"

"What!" yelled Stull.

"Shut your face!" retorted Brandes. "What do you think you're going to
do, squeal?"

"You think I'm going to stand for that?"

"Well, then, I won't use your name. I'll use my own. Why not? I mean
honest. It's dead level. I'll remarry her. I want her, I tell you. I
want a wedding trip, too, before I go back----"

"With the first rehearsal called for September fifteenth! What's the
matter with you? Do you think Stein is going to stand for----"

"_You'll_ be on hand," said Brandes pleasantly. "I'm going to Paris
for four weeks--two weeks there, two on the ocean----"

"You----"

"Save your voice, Ben. That's settled."

Stull turned upon him a dead white visage distorted with fury:

"I hope she throws you out!" he said breathlessly. "You talk about
being on the level! Every level's crooked with you. You don't know
what square means; a square has got more than four corners for you! Go
on! Stick around. I don't give a damn what you do. Go on and do it.
But I quit right here."

Both knew that the threat was empty. As a shadow clings to a man's
heels, as a lost soul haunts its slayer, as damnation stalks the
damned, so had Stull followed Brandes; and would follow to the end.
Why? Neither knew. It seemed to be their destiny, surviving
everything--their bitter quarrels, the injustice and tyranny of
Brandes, his contempt and ridicule sometimes--enduring through
adversity, even penury, through good and bad days, through abundance
and through want, through shame and disgrace, through trickery,
treachery, and triumph--nothing had ever broken the occult bond which
linked these two. And neither understood why, but both seemed to be
vaguely conscious that neither was entirely complete without the
other.

"Ben," said Brandes affably, "I'm going to walk over to Gayfield. Want
to come?"

They went off, together.



CHAPTER VII

OBSESSION


By the end of the week Brandes had done much to efface any unpleasant
impression he had made on Ruhannah Carew.

The girl had never before had to do with any mature man. She was
therefore at a disadvantage in every way, and her total lack of
experience emphasised the odds.

Nobody had ever before pointedly preferred her, paid her undivided
attention; no man had ever sought her, conversed with her, deferred to
her, interested himself in her. It was entirely new to her, this
attention which Brandes paid her. Nor could she make any comparisons
between this man and other men, because she knew no other men. He was
an entirely novel experience to her; he had made himself interesting,
had proved amusing, considerate, kind, generous, and apparently
interested in what interested her. And if his unfeigned preference for
her society disturbed and perplexed her, his assiduous civilities
toward her father and mother were gradually winning from her far more
than anything he had done for her.

His white-faced, odd little friend had gone; he himself had taken
quarters at the Gayfield House, where a car like the wrecked one was
stabled for his use.

He had already taken her father and mother and herself everywhere
within motoring distance; he had accompanied them to church; he
escorted her to the movies; he walked with her in the August evenings
after supper, rowed her about on the pond, fished from the bridge,
told her strange stories in the moonlight on the verandah, her father
and mother interested and attentive.

For the career of Mr. Eddie Brandes was capable of furnishing material
for interesting stories if carefully edited, and related with
discretion and circumspection. He had been many things to many
men--and to several women--he had been a tinhorn gambler in the
Southwest, a miner in Alaska, a saloon keeper in Wyoming, a fight
promoter in Arizona. He had travelled profitably on popular ocean
liners until requested to desist; Auteuil, Neuilly, Vincennes, and
Longchamps knew him as tout, bookie, and, when fitfully prosperous, as
a plunger. Epsom knew him once as a welcher; and knew him no more.

He had taken a comic opera company through the wheat-belt--one way; he
had led a burlesque troupe into Arizona and had traded it there for a
hotel.

"When Eddie _wants_ to talk," Stull used to say, "that smoke,
_Othello_, hasn't got nothing on him."

However, Brandes seldom chose to talk. This was one of his rare
garrulous occasions; and, with careful self-censorship, he was making
an endless series of wonder-tales out of the episodes and _faits
divers_ common to the experience of such as he.

So, of moving accidents by flood and field this man had a store, and
he contrived to make them artistically innocuous and perfectly fit for
family consumption.

Further, two of his friends motored over from Saratoga to see him,
were brought to supper at the Carews'; and they gave him a clean bill
of moral health. They were, respectively, "Doc" Curfoot--suave haunter
of Peacock Alley and gentleman "capper"--whom Brandes introduced as
the celebrated specialist, Doctor Elbert Curfoot--and Captain Harman
Quint, partner in "Quint's" celebrated temple of chance--introduced as
the distinguished navigating officer which he appeared to be. The
steering for their common craft, however, was the duty of the eminent
Doc.

They spent the evening on the verandah with the family; and it was
quite wonderful what a fine fellow each turned out to be--information
confidentially imparted to the Reverend Mr. Carew by each of the three
distinguished gentlemen in turn.

Doc Curfoot, whose business included the ability to talk convincingly
on any topic, took the Reverend Mr. Carew's measure and chose
literature; and his suave critique presently became an interesting
monologue listened to in silence by those around him.

Brandes had said, "Put me in right, Doc," and Doc was accomplishing
it, partly to oblige Brandes, partly for practice. His agreeable voice
so nicely pitched, so delightfully persuasive, recapitulating all the
commonplaces and cant phrases concerning the literature of the day,
penetrated gratefully the intellectual isolation of these humble
gentlepeople, and won very easily their innocent esteem. With the
Reverend Mr. Carew Doc discussed such topics as the influence on
fiction of the ethical ideal. With Mrs. Carew Captain Quint exchanged
reminiscences of travel on distant seas. Brandes attempted to maintain
low-voiced conversation with Rue, who responded in diffident
monosyllables to his advances.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Brandes walked down to their car with them after they had taken their
leave.

"What's the idea, Eddie?" inquired Doc Curfoot, pausing before the
smart little speeder.

"It's straight."

"Oh," said Doc, softly, betraying no surprise--about the only thing he
never betrayed. "Anything in it for you, Eddie?"

"Yes. A good girl. The kind you read about. Isn't that enough?"

"Minna chucked you?" inquired Captain Quint.

"She'll get her decree in two or three months. Then I'll have a home.
And everything that you and I are keeps out of that home, Cap. See?"

"Certainly," said Quint. "Quite right, Eddie."

Doc Curfoot climbed in and took the wheel; Quint followed him.

"Say," he said in his pleasant, guarded voice, "watch out that Minna
don't double-cross you, Eddie."

"How?"

"--Or shoot you up. She's some _schutzen-fest_, you know, when she
turns loose----"

"Ah, I tell you she _wants_ the divorce. Abe Grittlefeld's crazy about
her. He'll get Abe Gordon to star her on Broadway; and that's enough
for her. Besides, she'll marry Maxy Venem when she can afford to keep
him."

"_You_ never understood Minna Minti."

"Well, who ever understood any German?" demanded Brandes. "She's one
of those sour-blooded, silent Dutch women that make me ache."

Doc pushed the self-starter; there came a click, a low humming.
Brandes' face cleared and he held out his square-shaped hand:

"You fellows," he said, "have put me right with the old folks here.
I'll do the same for you some day. Don't talk about this little girl
and me, that's all."

"All the same," repeated Doc, "don't take any chances with Minna.
She's on to you, and she's got a rotten Dutch disposition."

"That's right, Doc. And say, Harman,"--to Quint--"tell Ben he's doing
fine. Tell him to send me what's mine, because I'll want it very soon
now. I'm going to take a month off and then I'm going to show Stein
how a theatre can be run."

"Eddie," said Quint, "it's a good thing to think big, but it's a damn
poor thing to talk big. Cut out the talk and you'll be a big man some
day."

The graceful car moved forward into the moonlight; his two friends
waved an airy adieu; and Brandes went slowly back to the dark verandah
where sat a young girl, pitifully immature in mind and body--and two
old people little less innocent for all their experience in the ranks
of Christ, for all the wounds that scarred them both in the over-sea
service which had broken them forever.

"A very handsome and distinguished gentleman, your friend Dr.
Curfoot," said the Reverend Mr. Carew. "I imagine his practice in New
York is not only fashionable but extensive."

"Both," said Brandes.

"I assume so. He seems to be intimately acquainted with people whose
names for generations have figured prominently in the social columns
of the New York press."

"Oh, yes, Curfoot and Quint know them all."

Which was true enough. They had to. One must know people from whom one
accepts promissory notes to liquidate those little affairs peculiar to
the temple of chance. And New York's best furnished the neophytes for
these rites.

"I thought Captain Quint very interesting," ventured Ruhannah. "He
seems to have sailed over the entire globe."

"Naval men are always delightful," said her mother. And, laying her
hand on her husband's arm in the dark: "Do you remember, Wilbour, how
kind the officers from the cruiser _Oneida_ were when the rescue party
took us aboard?"

"God sent the _Oneida_ to us," said her husband dreamily. "I thought
it was the end of the world for us--for you and me and baby Rue--that
dreadful flight from the mission to the sea."

His bony fingers tightened over his wife's toilworn hand. In the long
grass along the creek fireflies sparkled, and their elfin lanterns,
waning, glowing, drifted high in the calm August night.

The Reverend Mr. Carew gathered his crutches; the night was a trifle
damp for him; besides, he desired to read. Brandes, as always, rose to
aid him. His wife followed.

"Don't stay out long, Rue," she said in the doorway.

"No, mother."

Brandes came back. Departing from his custom, he did not light a
cigar, but sat in silence, his narrow eyes trying to see Ruhannah in
the darkness. But she was only a delicate shadow shape to him,
scarcely detached from the darkness that enveloped her.

He meant to speak to her then. And suddenly found he could not,
realised, all at once, that he lacked the courage.

This was the more amazing and disturbing to him because he could not
remember the time or occasion when the knack of fluent speech had ever
failed him.

He had never foreseen such a situation; it had never occurred to him
that he would find the slightest difficulty in saying easily and
gracefully what he had determined to say to this young girl.

Now he sat there silent, disturbed, nervous, and tongue-tied. At first
he did not quite comprehend what was making him afraid. After a long
while he understood that it was some sort of fear of her--fear of her
refusal, fear of losing her, fear that she might have--in some occult
way--divined what he really was, that she might have heard things
concerning him, his wife, his career. The idea turned him cold.

And all at once he realised how terribly in earnest he had become; how
deeply involved; how vital this young girl had become to him.

Never before had he really wanted anything as compared to this desire
of his for her. He was understanding, too, in a confused way, that
such a girl and such a home for him as she could make was going not
only to give him the happiness he expected, but that it also meant
betterment for himself--straighter living, perhaps straighter
thinking--the birth of something resembling self-respect, perhaps even
aspiration--or at least the aspiration toward that respect from others
which honest living dare demand.

He wanted her; he wanted her now; he wanted to marry her whether or
not he had the legal right; he wanted to go away for a month with her,
and then return and work for her, for them both--build up a fortune
and a good reputation with Stein's backing and Stein's theatre--stand
well with honest men, stand well with himself, stand always, with
her, for everything a man should be.

If she loved him she would forgive him and quietly remarry him as soon
as Minna kicked him loose. He was confident he could make her happy,
make her love him if once he could find courage to speak--if once he
could win her. And suddenly the only possible way to go about it
occurred to him.

His voice was a trifle husky and unsteady from the nervous tension
when he at last broke the silence:

"Miss Rue," he said, "I have a word to say to your father and mother.
Would you wait here until I come back?"

"I think I had better go in, too----"

"Please don't."

"Why?" She stopped short, instinctively, but not surmising.

"You will wait, then?" he asked.

"I was going in.... But I'll sit here a little while."

He rose and went in, rather blindly.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Ruhannah, dreaming there deep in her splint armchair, slim feet
crossed, watched the fireflies sailing over the alders. Sometimes she
thought of Brandes, pleasantly, sometimes of other matters. Once the
memory of her drive home through the wintry moonlight with young
Neeland occurred to her, and the reminiscence was vaguely agreeable.

Listless, a trifle sleepy, dreamily watching the fireflies, the
ceaseless noise of the creek in her ears, inconsequential thoughts
flitted through her brain--the vague, aimless, guiltless thoughts of a
young and unstained mind.

She was nearly asleep when Brandes came back, and she looked up at
him where he stood beside her porch chair in the darkness.

"Miss Rue," he said, "I have told your father and mother that I am in
love with you and want to make you my wife."

The girl lay there speechless, astounded.



CHAPTER VIII

A CHANGE IMPENDS


The racing season at Saratoga drew toward its close, and Brandes had
appeared there only twice in person, both times with a very young
girl.

"If you got to bring her here to the races, can't you get her some
clothes?" whispered Stull in his ear. "That get-up of hers is
something fierce."

Late hours, hot weather, indiscreet nourishment, and the feverish
anxiety incident to betting other people's money had told on Stull.
His eyes were like two smears of charcoal on his pasty face; sourly he
went about the business which Brandes should have attended to, nursing
resentment--although he was doing better than Brandes had hoped to
do.

Their joint commission from his winnings began to assume considerable
proportions; at track and club and hotel people were beginning to turn
and stare when the little man with the face of a sick circus clown
appeared, always alone, greeting with pallid indifference his
acquaintances, ignoring overtures, noticing neither sport, nor
fashion, nor political importance, nor yet the fair and frail whose
curiosity and envy he was gradually arousing.

Obsequiousness from club, hotel, and racing officials made no
impression on him; he went about his business alone, sullen,
preoccupied, deathly pale, asking no information, requesting no
favours, conferring with nobody, doing no whispering and enduring
none.

After a little study of that white, sardonic, impossible face, people
who would have been glad to make use of him became discouraged. And
those who first had recognised him in Saratoga found, at the end of
the racing month, nothing to add to their general identification of
him as "Ben Stull, partner of Eddie Brandes--Western sports."

                  *       *       *       *       *

Stull, whispering in Brandes' ear again, where he sat beside him in
the grand stand, added to his earlier comment on Ruhannah's
appearance:

"Why don't you fix her up, Eddie? It looks like you been robbing a
country school."

Brandes' slow, greenish eyes marked sleepily the distant dust, where
Mr. Sanford's Nick Stoner was leading a brilliant field, steadily
overhauling the favourite, Deborah Glenn.

"When the time comes for me to fix her up," he said between thin lips
which scarcely moved, "she'll look like Washington Square in May--not
like Fifth Avenue and Broadway."

Nick Stoner continued to lead. Stull's eyes resembled two holes burnt
in a sheet; Brandes yawned. They were plunging the limit on the
Sanford favourite.

As for Ruhannah, she sat with slender gloved hands tightly clasped,
lips parted, intent, fascinated with the sunlit beauty of the scene.

Brandes looked at her, and his heavy, expressionless features altered
subtly:

"Some running!" he said.

A breathless nod was her response. All around them repressed
excitement was breaking out; men stood up and shouted; women rose, and
the club house seemed suddenly to blossom like a magic garden of
wind-tossed flowers.

Through the increasing cheering Stull looked on without a sign of
emotion, although affluence or ruin, in the Sanford colours, sat
astride the golden roan.

Suddenly Ruhannah stood up, one hand pressed to the ill-fitting blue
serge over her wildly beating heart. Brandes rose beside her. Not a
muscle in his features moved.

                  *       *       *       *       *

"Gawd!" whispered Stull in his ear, as they were leaving.

"Some killing, Ben!" nodded Brandes in his low, deliberate voice. His
heavy, round face was deeply flushed; Fortune, the noisy wanton, had
flung both arms around his neck. But his slow eyes were continually
turned on the slim young girl whom he was teaching to walk beside him
without taking his arm.

"Ain't she on to us?" Stull had enquired. And Brandes' reply was
correct; Ruhannah never dreamed that it made a penny's difference to
Brandes whether Nick Stoner won or whether it was Deborah Glenn which
the wild-voiced throng saluted.

                  *       *       *       *       *

They did not remain in Saratoga for dinner. They took Stull back to
his hotel on the rumble of the runabout, Brandes remarking that he
thought he should need a chauffeur before long and suggesting that
Stull look about Saratoga for a likely one.

Halted in the crush before the United States Hotel, Stull decided to
descend there. Several men in the passing crowds bowed to Brandes;
one, Norton Smawley, known to the fraternity as "Parson" Smawley, came
out to the curb to shake hands. Brandes introduced him to Rue as
"Parson" Smawley--whether with some sinister future purpose already
beginning to take shape in his round, heavy head, or whether a
perverted sense of humour prompted him to give Rue the idea that she
had been in godly company, it is difficult to determine.

He added that Miss Carew was the daughter of a clergyman and a
missionary. And the Parson took his cue. At any rate Rue, leaning from
her seat, listened to the persuasive and finely modulated voice of
Parson Smawley with pleasure, and found his sleek, graceful presence
and courtly manners most agreeable. There were no such persons in
Gayfield.

She hoped, shyly, that if he were in Gayfield he would call on her
father. Once in a very long while clergymen called on her father, and
their rare visits remained a pleasure to the lonely invalid for
months.

The Parson promised to call, very gravely. It would not have
embarrassed him to do so; it was his business in life to have a
sufficient knowledge of every man's business to enable him to converse
convincingly with anybody.

He took polished leave of her; took leave of Brandes with the faintest
flutter of one eyelid, as though he understood Brandes' game. Which he
did not; nor did Brandes himself, entirely.

                  *       *       *       *       *

They had thirty miles to go in the runabout. So they would not remain
to dinner. Besides, Brandes did not care to make himself conspicuous
in public just then. Too many people knew more or less about him--the
sort of people who might possibly be in communication with his wife.
There was no use slapping chance in the face. Two quiet visits to the
races with Ruhannah was enough for the present. Even those two visits
were scarcely discreet. It was time to go.

Stull and Brandes stood consulting together beside the runabout; Rue
sat in the machine watching the press of carriages and automobiles on
Broadway, and the thronged sidewalks along which brilliant, animated
crowds were pouring.

"I'm not coming again, Ben," said Brandes, dropping his voice. "No use
to hunt the limelight just now. You can't tell what some of these
people might do. I'll take no chances that some fresh guy might try to
start something."

"Stir up Minna?" Stull's lips merely formed the question, and his eyes
watched Ruhannah.

"They couldn't. What would she care? All the same, I play safe, Ben.
Well, be good. Better send me mine on pay day. I'll need it."

Stull's face grew sourer:

"Can't you wait till she gets her decree?"

"And lose a month off? No."

"It's all coming your way, Eddie. Stay wise and play safe. Don't start
anything now----"

"It's safe. If I don't take September off I wait a year for
my--honeymoon. And I won't. See?"

They both looked cautiously at Ruhannah, who sat motionless, absorbed
in the turmoil of vehicles and people.

Brandes' face slowly reddened; he dropped one hand on Stull's shoulder
and said, between thin lips that scarcely moved:

"She's all I'm interested in. You don't think much of her, Ben. She
isn't painted. She isn't dolled up the way you like 'em. But there
isn't anything else that matters very much to me. All I want in the
world is sitting in that runabout, looking out of her kid eyes at a
thousand or two people who ain't worth the pair of run-down shoes
she's wearing."

But Stull's expression remained sardonic and unconvinced.

So Brandes got into his car and took the wheel; and Stull watched them
threading a tortuous path through the traffic tangle of Broadway.

They sped past the great hotels, along crowded sidewalks, along the
park, and out into an endless stretch of highway where hundreds of
other cars were travelling in the same direction.

"Did you have a good time?" he inquired, shifting his cigar and
keeping his narrow eyes on the road.

"Yes; it was beautiful--exciting."

"Some horse, Nick Stoner! Some race, eh?"

"I was so excited--with everybody standing up and shouting. And such
beautiful horses--and such pretty women in their wonderful dresses!
I--I never knew there were such things."

He swung the car, sent it rushing past a lumbering limousine, slowed a
little, gripped his cigar between his teeth, and watched the road,
both hands on the wheel.

Yes, things were coming his way--coming faster and faster all the
while. He had waited many years for this--for material fortune--for
that chance which every gambler waits to seize when the psychological
second ticks out. But he never had expected that the chance was to
include a very young girl in a country-made dress and hat.

As they sped westward the freshening wind from distant pine woods
whipped their cheeks; north, blue hills and bluer mountains beyond
took fairy shape against the sky; and over all spread the tremendous
heavens where fleets of white clouds sailed the uncharted wastes, and
other fleets glimmered beyond the edges of the world, hull down, on
vast horizons.

"I want to make you happy," said Brandes in his low, even voice. It
was, perhaps, the most honest statement he had ever uttered.

Ruhannah remained silent, her eyes riveted on the far horizon.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was a week later, one hot evening, that he telegraphed to Stull in
Saratoga:

"Find me a chauffeur who will be willing to go abroad. I'll give you
twenty-four hours to get him here."

The next morning he called up Stull on the telephone from the drug
store in Gayfield:

"Get my wire, Ben?"

"Yes. But I----"

"Wait. Here's a postscript. I also want Parson Smawley. I want him to
get a car and come over to the Gayfield House. Tell him I count on
him. And he's to wear black and a white tie."

"Yes. But about that chauffeur you want----"

"Don't argue. Have him here. Have the Parson, also. Tell him to bring
a white tie. Understand?"

"Oh, yes, I understand you, Eddie! You don't want anything of me, do
you! Go out and get that combination? Just like that! What'll I do?
Step into the street and whistle?"

"It's up to you. Get busy."

"_As_ usual," retorted Stull in an acrid voice. "All the same. I'm
telling you there ain't a chauffeur you'd have in Saratoga. Who handed
you that dope?"

"Try. I need the chauffeur part of the combine, anyway. If he won't
go abroad, I'll leave him in town. Get a wiggle on, Ben. How's
things?"

"All right. We had War-axe and Lady Johnson. Some killing, eh? That
stable is winning all along. We've got Adriutha and Queen Esther
today. The Ocean Belle skate is scratched. Doc and Cap and me is thick
with the Legislature outfit. We'll trim 'em tonight. How are you
feeling, Eddie?"

"Never better. I'll call you up in the morning. Ding-dong!"

"Wait! Are you really going abroad?" shouted Stull.

But Brandes had already hung up.

He walked leisurely back to Brookhollow through the sunshine. He had
never been as happy in all his life.



CHAPTER IX

NONRESISTANCE


"Long distance calling you, Mr. Stull. One moment, please.... Here's
your party," concluded the operator.

Stull, huddled sleepily on his bed, picked up the transmitter from the
table beside him with a frightful yawn.

"Who is it?" he inquired sourly.

"It's me--Ben!"

"Say, Eddie, have a heart, will you! I need the sleep----"

Brandes' voice was almost jovial:

"Wake up, you poor tout! It's nearly noon----"

"Well, wasn't I singing hymns with Doc and Cap till breakfast time?
And believe _me_, we trimmed the Senator's bunch! They've got their
transportation back to Albany, and that's about all----"

"Careful what you say. I'm talking from the Gayfield House. The Parson
got here all right. He's just left. He'll tell you about things.
Listen, Ben, the chauffeur you sent me from Saratoga got here last
evening, too. I went out with him and he drives all right. Did you
look him up?"

"Now, how could I look him up when you gave me only a day to get him
for you?"

"Did he have references?"

"Sure, a wad of them. But I couldn't verify them."

"Who is he?"

"I forget his name. You ought to know it by now."

"How did you get him?"

"Left word at the desk. An hour later he came to my room with a couple
of bums. I told him about the job. I told him you wanted a chauffeur
willing to go abroad. He said he was all that and then some. So I sent
him on. Anything you don't fancy about him?"

"Nothing, I guess. He seems all right. Only I like to know about a
man----"

"How can I find out if you don't give me time?"

"All right, Ben. I guess he'll do. By the way, I'm starting for town
in ten minutes."

"What's the idea?"

"Ask the Parson. Have you any other news except that you killed that
Albany bunch of grafters?"

"No.... _Yes_! But it ain't good news. I was going to call you soon as
I waked up----"

"What's the trouble?"

"There ain't any trouble--_yet_. But a certain party has showed up
here--a very smooth young man whose business is hunting trouble. Get
me?"

After a silence Stull repeated:

"Get me, Eddie?"

"No."

"Listen. A certain slippery party----"

"Who, damn it? Talk out. I'm in a hurry."

"Very well, then. Maxy Venem is here!"

The name of his wife's disbarred attorney sent a chill over Brandes.

"What's he doing in Saratoga?" he demanded.

"I'm trying to find out. He was to the races yesterday. He seen Doc.
Of course Doc hadn't laid eyes on you for a year. Oh, no, indeed!
Heard you was somewhere South, down and out. I don't guess Maxy was
fooled none. What we done here in Saratoga is growing too big to hush
up----"

"What _we've_ done? Whad'ye mean, _we_? I told you to work by yourself
quietly, Ben, and keep me out of it."

"That's what I done. Didn't I circulate the news that you and me had
quit partnership? And even then you wouldn't take my advice. Oh, no.
You must show up here at the track with a young lady----"

"How long has Maxy Venem been in Saratoga?" snapped Brandes.

"He told Doc he just come, but Cap found out he'd been here a week.
All I hope is he didn't see you with the Brookhollow party----"

"Do you think he _did_?"

"Listen, Eddie. Max is a smooth guy----"

"Find out what he knows! Do you hear?"

"Who? Me? Me try to make Maxy Venem talk? That snake? If he isn't on
to you now, that would be enough to put him wise. Act like you had
sense, Eddie. Call that _other matter_ off and slide for town----"

"I can't, Ben."

"You got to!"

"I _can't_, I tell you."

"You're nutty in the head! Don't you suppose that Max is wise to what
I've been doing here? And don't you suppose he knows damn well that
you're back of whatever I do? If you ain't crazy you'll call that
party off for a while."

Brandes' even voice over the telephone sounded a trifle unnatural,
almost hoarse:

"I can't call it off. _It's done._"

"What's done?"

"What I told you I was going to do."

"_That!_"

"The Parson married us."

"Oh!"

"Wait! Parson Smawley married us, in church, assisted by the local
dominie. I didn't count on the dominie. It was her father's idea. He
butted in."

"Then is it--is it----?"

"That's what I'm not sure about. You see, the Parson did it, but the
dominie stuck around. Whether he got a half nelson on me I don't know
till I ask. Anyway, I expected to clinch things--later--so it doesn't
really matter, unless Max Venem means bad. Does he, do you think?"

"He _always_ does, Eddie."

"Yes, I know. Well, then, I'll wait for a cable from you. And if I've
got to take three months off in Paris, why I've got to--that's all."

"Good God! What about Stein? What about the theaytre?"

"_You'll_ handle it for the first three months.... Say, I've got to
go, now. I think she's waiting----"

"Who?"

"My--wife."

"Oh!"

"Yes. The chauffeur took her back to the house in the car to put
something in her suitcase that she forgot. I'm waiting for her here at
the Gayfield House. We're on our way to town. Going to motor in. Our
trunks have gone by rail."

After a silence, Stull's voice sounded again, tense, constrained:

"You better go aboard tonight."

"That's right, too."

"What's your ship?"

"_Lusitania._"

"What'll I tell Stein?"

"Tell him I'll be back in a month. You look out for my end. I'll be
back in time."

"Will you cable me?"

"Sure. And if you get any later information about Max today, call me
at the Knickerbocker. We'll dine there and then go aboard."

"I get you.... Say, Eddie, I'm that worried! If this break of yours
don't kill our luck----"

"Don't you believe it! I'm going to fight for what I got till someone
hands me the count. She's the first thing I ever wanted. I've got her
and I guess I can keep her.... And listen: there's nothing like her in
all God's world!"

"When did you do--it?" demanded Stull, coldly.

"This morning at eleven. I just stepped over here to the garage. I'm
talking to you from the bar. She's back by this time and waiting, I
guess. So take care of yourself till I see you."

"Same to you, Eddie. And be leery of Max. He's _bad_. When they disbar
a man like that he's twice as dangerous as he was. His ex-partner, Abe
Grittlefeld, is a certain party's attorney of record. Ask yourself
what you'd be up against if that pair of wolves get started after you!
You know what Max would do to you if he could. And Minna, too!"

"Don't worry."

"I _am_ worrying! And you ought to. You know what you done to Max.
Don't think he ever forgets. He'll do you if he can, same as Minna
will."

Brandes' stolid face lost a little of its sanguine colour, where he
stood in the telephone box behind the bar of the Gayfield House.

Yes, he knew well enough what he had once done to the disbarred lawyer
out in Athabasca when he was handling the Unknown and Venem, the
disbarred, was busy looking out for the Athabasca Blacksmith,
furnishing the corrupt brains for the firm of Venem and Grittlefeld,
and paying steady court to the prettiest girl in Athabasca, Ilse
Dumont.

And Brandes' Unknown had almost killed Max Venem's blacksmith; Brandes
had taken all Venem's money, and then his girl; more than that, he had
"made" this girl, in the theatrical sense of the word; and he had
gambled on her beauty and her voice and had won out with both.

Then, while still banking her salary to reimburse himself for his
trouble with her, he had tired of her sufficiently to prove unfaithful
to his marriage vows at every opportunity. And opportunities were
many. Venem had never forgiven him; Ilse Dumont could not understand
treachery; and Venem's detectives furnished her with food for thought
that presently infuriated her.

And now she was employing Max Venem, once senior partner in the firm
of Venem and Grittlefeld, to guide her with his legal advice. She
wanted Brandes' ruin, if that could be accomplished; she wanted her
freedom anyway.

Until he had met Rue Carew he had taken measures to fight the
statutory charges, hoping to involve Venem and escape alimony. Then he
met Ruhannah, and became willing to pay for his freedom. And he was
still swamped in the vile bog of charges and countercharges, not yet
free from it, not yet on solid ground, when the eternal gambler in him
suggested to him that he take the chance of marrying this young girl
before he was legally free to do so.

Why on earth did he want to take such a chance? He had only a few
months to wait. He had never before really cared for any woman. He
loved her--as he understood love--as much as he was capable of loving.
If in all the world there was anything sacred to him, it was his
sentiment regarding Rue Carew. Yet, he was tempted to take the chance.
Even she could not escape his ruling passion; at the last analysis,
even she represented to him a gambler's chance. But in Brandes there
was another streak. He wanted to take the chance that he could marry
her before he had a right to, and get away with it. But his nerve
failed. And, at the last moment, he had hedged, engaging Parson
Smawley to play the lead instead of an ordained clergyman.

All these things he now thought of as he stood undecided, worried, in
the telephone booth behind the bar at the Gayfield House. Twice Stull
had spoken, and had been bidden to wait and to hold the wire.

Finally, shaking off the premonition of coming trouble, Brandes called
again:

"Ben?"

"Yes, I'm listening."

"I'll stay in Paris if there's trouble."

"And throw Stein down?"

"What else is there to do?"

"Well, you can wait, can't you? You don't seem to be able to do that
any more, but you better learn."

"All right. What next?"

"Make a quick getaway. _Now!_"

"Yes, I'm going at once. Keep me posted, Ben. Be good!"

He hung up and went out to the wide, tree-shaded street where Ruhannah
sat in the runabout awaiting him, and the new chauffeur stood by the
car.

He took off his straw hat, pulled a cap and goggles from his pocket.
His man placed the straw hat in the boot.

"Get what you wanted, Rue?"

"Yes, thank you."

"Been waiting long?"

"I--don't think so."

"All right," he said cheerily, climbing in beside her. "I'm sorry I
kept you waiting. Had a business matter to settle. Hungry?"

Rue, very still and colourless, said no, with a mechanical smile. The
chauffeur climbed to the rumble.

"I'll jam her through," nodded Brandes as the car moved swiftly
westward. "We'll lunch in Albany on time."

Half a mile, and they passed Neeland's Mills, where old Dick Neeland
stood in his boat out on the pond and cast a glittering lure for
pickerel.

She caught a glimpse of him--his sturdy frame, white hair, and ruddy
visage--and a swift, almost wistful memory of young Jim Neeland passed
through her mind.

But it was a very confused mind--only the bewildered mind of a very
young girl--and the memory of the boy flashed into its confusion and
out again as rapidly as the landscape sped away behind the flying
car.

Dully she was aware that she was leaving familiar and beloved things,
but could not seem to realise it--childhood, girlhood, father and
mother, Brookhollow, the mill, Gayfield, her friends, all were
vanishing in the flying dust behind her, dwindling, dissolving into an
infinitely growing distance.

They took the gradual slope of a mile-long hill as swallows take the
air; houses, barns, woods, orchards, grain fields, flew by on either
side; other cars approaching passed them like cannon balls; the
sunlit, undulating world flowed glittering away behind; only the
stainless blue ahead confronted them immovably--a vast, magnificent
goal, vague with the mystery of promise.

"On this trip," said Brandes, "we may only have time to see the Loove
and the palaces and all like that. Next year we'll fix it so we can
stay in Paris and you can study art."

Ruhannah's lips formed the words, "Thank you."

"Can't you learn to call me Eddie?" he urged.

The girl was silent.

"You're everything in the world to me, Rue."

The same little mechanical smile fixed itself on her lips, and she
looked straight ahead of her.

"Haven't you begun to love me just a little bit, Rue?"

"I like you. You are very kind to us."

"Don't your affection seem to grow a little stronger now?" he urged.

"You are so kind to us," she repeated gratefully; "I like you for
it."

The utterly unawakened youth of her had always alternately fascinated
and troubled him. Gambler that he was, he had once understood that
patience is a gambler's only stock in trade. But now for the first
time in his career he found himself without it.

"You said," he insisted, "that you'd love me when we were married."

She turned her child's eyes on him in faint surprise:

"A wife loves her husband always, doesn't she?"

"Do _you_?"

"I suppose I shall.... I haven't been married very long--long enough
to feel as though I am really married. When I begin to realise it I
shall understand, of course, that I love you."

It was the calm and immature reply of a little girl playing house. He
knew it. He looked at her pure, perplexed profile of a child and knew
that what he had said was futile--understood that it was meaningless
to her, that it was only confusing a mind already dazed--a mind of
which too much had been expected, too much demanded.

He leaned over and kissed the cold, almost colourless cheek; her
little mechanical smile came back. Then they remembered the chauffeur
behind them and Brandes reddened. He was unaccustomed to a man on the
rumble.

"Could I talk to mother on the telephone when we get to New York?" she
asked presently, still painfully flushed.

"Yes, darling, of course."

"I just want to hear her voice," murmured Rue.

"Certainly. We can send her a wireless, too, when we're at sea."

That interested her. She enquired curiously in regard to wireless
telegraphy and other matters concerning ocean steamers.

                  *       *       *       *       *

In Albany her first wave of loneliness came over her in the stuffy
dining-room of the big, pretentious hotel, when she found herself
seated at a small table alone with this man whom she seemed, somehow
or other, to have married.

As she did not appear inclined to eat, Brandes began to search the
card for something to tempt her. And, glancing up presently, saw tears
glimmering in her eyes.

For a moment he remained dumb as though stunned by some sudden and
terrible accusation--for a moment only. Then, in an unsteady voice:

"Rue, darling. You must not feel lonely and frightened. I'll do
anything in the world for you. Don't you know it?"

She nodded.

"I tell you," he said in that even, concentrated voice of his which
scarcely moved his narrow lips, "I'm just crazy about you. You're my
own little wife. You're all I care about. If I can't make you happy
somebody ought to shoot me."

She tried to smile; her full lips trembled; a single tear, brimming,
fell on the cloth.

"I--don't mean to be silly.... But--Brookhollow seems--ended--forever...."

"It's only forty miles," he said with heavy joviality. "Shall we turn
around and go back?"

She glanced up at him with an odd expression, as though she hoped he
meant it; then her little mechanical smile returned, and she dried her
eyes naïvely.

"I don't know why I cannot seem to get used to being married," she
said. "I never thought that getting married would make me
so--so--lonely."

"Let's talk about art," he suggested. "You're crazy about art and
you're going to Paris. Isn't that fine."

"Oh, yes----"

"Sure, it's fine. That's where art grows. Artville is Paris' other
name. It's all there, Rue--the Loove, the palaces, the Latin Quarter,
the statues, the churches, and all like that."

"What is the Louvre like?" she asked, tremulously, determined to be
brave.

As he had seen the Louvre only from the outside, his imaginary
description was cautious, general, and brief.

After a silence, Rue asked whether he thought that their suitcases
were quite safe.

"Certainly," he smiled. "I checked them."

"And you're sure they are safe?"

"Of course, darling. What worries you?"

And, as she hesitated, he remembered that she had forgotten to put
something into her suitcase and that the chauffeur had driven her back
to the house to get it while he himself went into the Gayfield House
to telephone Stull.

"What was it you went back for, Rue?" he asked.

"One thing I went back for was my money."

"Money? What money?"

"Money my grandmother left me. I was to have it when I married--six
thousand dollars."

"You mean you have it in your suitcase?" he asked, astonished.

"Yes, half of it."

"A cheque?"

"No, in hundreds."

"Bills?"

"Yes. I gave father three thousand. I kept three thousand."

"In bills," he repeated, laughing. "Is your suitcase locked?"

"Yes. I insisted on having my money in cash. So Mr. Wexall, of the
Mohawk Bank, sent a messenger with it last evening."

"But," he asked, still immensely amused, "why do you want to travel
about with three thousand dollars in bills in your suitcase?"

She flushed a little, tried to smile:

"I don't know why. I never before had any money. It is--pleasant to
know I have it."

"But I'll give you all you want, Rue."

"Thank you.... I have my own, you see."

"Of course. Put it away in some bank. When you want pin money, ask
me."

She shook her head with a troubled smile.

"I couldn't ask anybody for money," she explained.

"Then you don't have to. We'll fix your allowance."

"Thank you, but I have my money, and I don't need it."

This seemed to amuse him tremendously; and even Rue laughed a little.

"You are going to take your money to Paris?" he asked.

"Yes."

"To buy things?"

"Oh, no. Just to have it with me."

His rather agreeable laughter sounded again.

"So _that_ was what you forgot to put in your suitcase," he said. "No
wonder you went back for it."

"There was something else very important, too."

"What, darling?"

"My drawings," she explained innocently.

"Your drawings! Do you mean you've got them, too?"

"Yes. I want to take them to Paris and compare them with the pictures
I shall see there. It ought to teach me a great deal. Don't you think
so?"

"Are you crazy to study?" he asked, touched to the quick by her utter
ignorance.

"It's all I dream about. If I could work that way and support myself
and my father and mother----"

"But, Rue! Wake up! We're married, little girl. You don't have to work
to support anybody!"

"I--forgot," said the girl vaguely, her confused grey eyes resting on
his laughing, greenish ones.

Still laughing, he summoned the waiter, paid the reckoning; Ruhannah
rose as he did; they went slowly out together.

On the sidewalk beside their car stood the new chauffeur, smoking a
cigarette which he threw away without haste when he caught sight of
them. However, he touched the peak of his cap civilly, with his
forefinger.

Brandes, lighting a cigar, let his slow eyes rest on the new man for a
moment. Then he helped Rue into the tonneau, got in after her, and
thoughtfully took the wheel, conscious that there was something or
other about his new chauffeur that he did not find entirely to his
liking.



CHAPTER X

DRIVING HEAD-ON


It was mid-afternoon when they began to pass through that series of
suburbs which the city has flung like a single tentacle northward for
a hundred miles along the eastern banks of the Hudson.

A smooth road of bluestone with a surface like velvet, rarely broken
by badly paved or badly worn sections, ran straight south. Past
mansions standing amid spacious lawns all ablaze with late summer and
early autumn flowers they sped; past parks, long stretches of walls,
high fences of wrought iron through which brief glimpses of woodlands
and splendid gardens caught Rue's eye. And, every now and then,
slowing down to traverse some village square and emerging from the
further limits, the great river flashed into view, sometimes glassy
still under high headlands or along towering parapets of mountains,
sometimes ruffled and silvery where it widened into bay or inland sea,
with a glimmer of distant villages on the further shore.

Over the western bank a blinding sun hung in a sky without a cloud--a
sky of undiluted azure; but farther south, and as the sun declined,
traces of vapours from the huge but still distant city stained the
heavens. Gradually the increasing haze changed from palest lavender
and lemon-gold to violet and rose with smouldering undertones of fire.
Beneath it the river caught the stains in deeper tones, flowing in
sombre washes of flame or spreading wide under pastel tints of
turquoise set with purple.

Now, as the sun hung lower, the smoke of every river boat, every
locomotive speeding along the shores below, lay almost motionless
above the water, tinged with the delicate enchantment of declining
day.

And into this magic veil Rue was passing already through the calm of a
late August afternoon, through tree-embowered villages and towns, the
names of which she did not know--swiftly, inexorably passing into the
iris-grey obscurity where already the silvery points of arc-lights
stretched away into intricate geometrical designs--faint traceries as
yet sparkling with subdued lustre under the sunset heavens.

Vast shadowy shapes towered up ahead--outlying public buildings,
private institutions, industrial plants, bridges of iron and steel,
the ponderous bowed spans of which crossed wildernesses of railroad
tracks or craft-crowded waters.

Two enormous arched viaducts of granite stretched away through
sparkling semi-obscurity--High Bridge and Washington Bridge. Then it
became an increasing confusion of phantom masses against a fading
sky--bridges, towers, skyscrapers, viaducts, boulevards, a wilderness
of streets outlined by the growing brilliancy of electric lamps.

Brandes, deftly steering through the swarming maze of twilight
avenues, turned east across the island, then swung south along the
curved parapets and spreading gardens of Riverside Drive.

Perhaps Brandes was tired; he had become uncommunicative, inclined to
silence. He did point out to her the squat, truncated mass where the
great General slept; called her attention to the river below, where
three grey battleships lay. A bugle call from the decks came faintly
to her ears.

If Rue was tired she did not know it as the car swept her steadily
deeper amid the city's wonders.

On her left, beyond the trees, the great dwellings and apartments of
the Drive were already glimmering with light in every window; to the
right, under the foliage of this endless necklace of parks and
circles, a summer-clad throng strolled and idled along the river wall;
and past them moved an unbroken column of automobiles, taxicabs, and
omnibuses.

At Seventy-second Street they turned to the east across the park, then
into Fifth Avenue south once more. She saw the name of the celebrated
avenue on the street corner, turned to glance excitedly at Brandes;
but his preoccupied face was expressionless, almost forbidding, so she
turned again in quest of other delightful discoveries. But there was
nothing to identify for her the houses, churches, hotels, shops, on
this endless and bewildering avenue of grey stone; as they swung west
into Forty-second Street, she caught sight of the great marble mass of
the Library, but had no idea what it was.

Into this dusky cañon, aflame with light, they rolled, where street
lamps, the lamps of vehicles, and electric signs dazzled her
unaccustomed eyes so that she saw nothing except a fiery vista filled
with the rush and roar of traffic.

When they stopped, the chauffeur dropped from the rumble and came
around to where a tall head porter in blue and silver uniform was
opening the tonneau door.

Brandes said to his chauffeur:

"Here are the checks. Our trunks are at the Grand Central. Get them
aboard, then come back here for us at ten o'clock."

The chauffeur lifted his hand to his cap, and looked stealthily
between his fingers at Brandes.

"Ten o'clock," he repeated; "very good, sir."

Rue instinctively sought Brandes' arm as they entered the crowded
lobby, then remembered, blushed, and withdrew her hand.

Brandes had started toward the desk with the intention of registering
and securing a room for the few hours before going aboard the steamer;
but something halted him--some instinct of caution. No, he would not
register. He sent their luggage to the parcels room, found a maid who
took Rue away, then went on through into the bar, where he took a
stiff whisky and soda, a thing he seldom did.

In the toilet he washed and had himself brushed. Then, emerging, he
took another drink _en passant_, conscious of an odd, dull sense of
apprehension for which he could not account.

At the desk they told him there was no telephone message for him. He
sauntered over to the news stand, stared at the display of
periodicals, but had not sufficient interest to buy even an evening
paper.

So he idled about the marble-columned lobby, now crowded with a
typical early-autumn throng in quest of dinner and the various
nocturnal amusements which the city offers at all times to the
frequenters of its thousand temples.

Rue came out of the ladies' dressing room, and he went to her and
guided her into the dining-room on the left, where an orchestra was
playing. In her blue, provincial travelling gown the slender girl
looked oddly out of place amid lace and jewels and the delicate tints
of frail evening gowns, but her cheeks were bright with colour and her
grey eyes brilliant, and the lights touched her thick chestnut hair
with a ruddy glory, so that more than one man turned to watch her
pass, and the idly contemptuous indifference of more than one woman
ended at her neck and chin.

What Rue ate she never afterward remembered. It was all merely a
succession of delicious sensations for the palate, for the eye, for
the ear when the excellent orchestra was playing some gay overture
from one of the newer musical comedies or comic operas.

Brandes at times seemed to shake off a growing depression and rouse
himself to talk to her, even jest with her. He smoked cigarettes
occasionally during dinner, a thing he seldom did, and, when coffee
was served, he lighted one of his large cigars.

Rue, excited under an almost childishly timid manner, leaned on the
table with both elbows and linked fingers, listening, watching
everything with an almost breathless intelligence which strove to
comprehend.

People left; others arrived; the music continued. Several times people
passing caught Brandes' eye, and bowed and smiled. He either
acknowledged such salutes with a slight and almost surly nod, or
ignored them altogether.

One of his short, heavy arms lay carelessly along the back of his
chair, where he was sitting sideways looking at the people in the
lobby--watching with that same odd sensation of foreboding of which he
had been conscious from the first moment he had entered the city
line.

What reason for apprehension he had he could not understand. Only an
hour lay between him and the seclusion of the big liner; a few hours
and he and this girl beside him would be at sea.

Once he excused himself, went out to the desk, and made an inquiry.
But there was no telephone or telegraph message for him; and he came
back chewing his cigar.

Finally his uneasiness drew him to his feet again:

"Rue," he said, "I'm going out to telephone to Mr. Stull. It may take
some little time. You don't mind waiting, do you?"

"No," she said.

"Don't you want another ice or something?"

She confessed that she did.

So he ordered it and went away.

As she sat leisurely tasting her ice and watching with unflagging
interest the people around her, she noticed that the dining-room was
already three-quarters empty. People were leaving for café, theatre,
or dance; few remained.

Of these few, two young men in evening dress now arose and walked
toward the lobby, one ahead of the other. One went out; the other, in
the act of going, glanced casually at her as he passed, hesitated,
halted, then, half smiling, half inquiringly, came toward her.

"Jim Neeland!" she exclaimed impulsively. "--I mean _Mr._ Neeland----"
a riot of colour flooding her face. But her eager hand remained
outstretched. He took it, pressed it lightly, ceremoniously, and,
still standing, continued to smile down at her.

Amid all this strange, infernal glitter; amid a city of six million
strangers, suddenly to encounter a familiar face--to see
somebody--anybody--from Gayfield--seemed a miracle too delightful to
be true.

"You are Rue Carew," he said. "I was not certain for a moment. You
know we met only once before."

Rue, conscious of the startled intimacy of her first greeting, blushed
with the memory. But Neeland was a tactful young man; he said easily,
with his very engaging smile:

"It was nice of you to remember me so frankly and warmly. You have no
idea how pleasant it was to hear a Gayfield voice greet me as 'Jim.'"

"I--didn't intend to----"

"Please intend it in future, Rue. You don't mind, do you?"

"No."

"And will you ever forget that magnificent winter night when we drove
to Brookhollow after the party?"

"I have--remembered it."

"So have I.... Are you waiting for somebody? Of course you are," he
added, laughing. "But may I sit down for a moment?"

"Yes, I wish you would."

So he seated himself, lighted a cigarette, glanced up at her and
smiled.

"When did you come to New York?" he asked.

"Tonight."

"Well, isn't that a bit of luck to run into you like this! Have you
come here to study art?"

"No.... Yes, I think, later, I am to study art here."

"At the League?"

"I don't know."

"Better go to the League," he said. "Begin there anyway. Do you know
where it is?"

"No," she said.

He called a waiter, borrowed pencil and pad, and wrote down the
address of the Art Students' League. He had begun to fold the paper
when a second thought seemed to strike him, and he added his own
address.

"In case I can do anything for you in any way," he explained.

Rue thanked him, opened her reticule, and placed the folded paper
there beside her purse.

"I do hope I shall see you soon again," he said, looking gaily, almost
mischievously into her grey eyes. "This certainly resembles fate.
Don't you think so, Rue--this reunion of ours?"

"Fate?" she repeated.

"Yes. I should even call it romantic. Don't you think our meeting this
way resembles something very much like romance?"

She felt herself flushing, tried to smile:

"It couldn't resemble anything," she explained with quaint honesty,
"because I am sailing for Europe tomorrow morning; I am going on board
in less than an hour. And also--also, I----"

"Also?"--he prompted her, amused, yet oddly touched by her childishly
literal reply.

"I am--married."

"Good Lord!" he said.

"This morning," she added, tasting her ice.

"And you're sailing for Europe on your honeymoon!" he exclaimed.
"Well, upon my word! And what is your ship?"

"The _Lusitania_."

"Really! I have a friend who is sailing on her--a most charming woman.
I sent flowers to her only an hour ago."

"Did you?" asked Rue, interested.

"Yes. She is a widow--the Princess Mistchenka--a delightful and pretty
woman. I am going to send a note to the steamer tonight saying
that--that my very _particular_ friend, Ruhannah Carew, is on board,
and won't she ask you to tea. You'd love her, Rue. She's a regular
woman."

"But--oh, dear!--a Princess!"

"You won't even notice it," he said reassuringly. "She's a corker;
she's an artist, too. I couldn't begin to tell you how nice she has
been to me. By the way, Rue, whom did you marry?"

"Mr. Brandes."

"Brandes? I don't remember--was he from up-state?"

"No; New York--I think----"

As she bent forward to taste her ice again he noticed for the first
time the childlike loveliness of her throat and profile; looked at her
with increasing interest, realising that she had grown into a most
engaging creature since he had seen her.

Looking up, and beyond him toward the door, she said:

"I think your friend is waiting for you. Had you forgotten him?"

"Oh, that's so!" he exclaimed. Then rising and offering his hand: "I
wish you happiness, Rue. You have my address. When you return, won't
you let me know where you are? Won't you let me know your husband?"

"Yes."

"Please do. You see you and I have a common bond in art, another in
our birthplace. Gayfield folk are your own people and mine. Don't
forget me, Rue."

"No, I won't."

So he took his leave gracefully and went away through the enthralling,
glittering unreality of it all leaving a young girl thrilled,
excited, and deeply impressed with his ease and bearing amid
awe-inspiring scenes in which she, too, desired most ardently to find
herself at ease.

Also she thought of his friend, the Princess Mistchenka. And again, as
before, the name seemed to evoke within her mind a recollection of
having heard it before, very long ago.

She wondered whether Neeland would remember to write, and if he did
she wondered whether a real princess would actually condescend to
invite her to take tea.



CHAPTER XI

THE BREAKERS


The east dining-room was almost empty now, though the lobby and the
café beyond still swarmed with people arriving and departing. Brandes,
chafing at the telephone, had finally succeeded in getting Stull on
the wire, only to learn that the news from Saratoga was not agreeable;
that they had lost on every horse. Also, Stull had another disquieting
item to detail; it seemed that Maxy Venem had been seen that morning
in the act of departing for New York on the fast express; and with him
was a woman resembling Brandes' wife.

"Who saw her?" demanded Brandes.

"Doc. He didn't get a good square look at her. You know the hats women
wear."

"All right. I'm off, Ben. Good-bye."

The haunting uneasiness which had driven him to the telephone
persisted when he came out of the booth. He cast a slow, almost sleepy
glance around him, saw no familiar face in the thronged lobby, then he
looked at his watch.

The car had been ordered for ten; it lacked half an hour of the time;
he wished he had ordered the car earlier.

For now his uneasiness was verging on that species of superstitious
inquietude which at times obsesses all gamblers, and which is known as
a "hunch." He had a hunch that he was "in wrong" somehow or other; an
overpowering longing to get on board the steamer assailed him--a
desire to get out of the city, get away quick.

The risk he had taken was beginning to appear to him as an unwarranted
piece of recklessness; he was amazed with himself for taking such a
chance--disgusted at his foolish and totally unnecessary course with
this young girl. All he had had to do was to wait a few months. He
could have married in safety then. And even now he didn't know whether
or not the ceremony performed by Parson Smawley had been an illegally
legal one; whether it made him a bigamist for the next three months or
only something worse. What on earth had possessed him to take such a
risk--the terrible hazard of discovery, of losing the only woman he
had ever really cared for--the only one he probably could ever care
for? Of course, had he been free he would have married her. When he
got his freedom he would insist on another ceremony. He could persuade
her to that on some excuse or other. But in the meanwhile!

He entered the deserted dining-room, came over to where Rue was
waiting, and sat down, heavily, holding an unlighted cigar between his
stubby fingers.

"Well, little girl," he said with forced cheerfulness, "was I away
very long?"

"Not very."

"You didn't miss me?" he inquired, ponderously playful.

His heavy pleasantries usually left her just a little doubtful and
confused, for he seldom smiled when he delivered himself of them.

He leaned across the cloth and laid a hot, cushiony hand over both of
hers, where they lay primly clasped on the table edge:

"Don't you ever miss me when I'm away from you, Rue?" he asked.

"I think--it is nice to be with you," she said, hotly embarrassed by
the publicity of his caress.

"I don't believe you mean it." But he smiled this time. At which the
little rigid smile stamped itself on her lips; but she timidly
withdrew her hands from his.

"Rue, I don't believe you love me." This time there was no smile.

She found nothing to answer, being without any experience in
give-and-take conversation, which left her always uncertain and
uncomfortable.

For the girl was merely a creature still in the making--a soft,
pliable thing to be shaped to perfection only by the light touch of
some steady, patient hand that understood--or to be marred and ruined
by a heavy hand which wrought at random or in brutal haste.

Brandes watched her for a moment out of sleepy, greenish eyes. Then he
consulted his watch again, summoned a waiter, gave him the
parcels-room checks, and bade him have a boy carry their luggage into
the lobby.

As they rose from the table, a man and a woman entering the lobby
caught sight of them, halted, then turned and walked back toward the
street door which they had just entered.

Brandes had not noticed them where he stood by the desk, scratching
off a telegram to Stull:

"All O. K. Just going aboard. Fix it with Stein."

He rejoined Rue as the boy appeared with their luggage; an under
porter took the bags and preceded them toward the street.

"There's the car!" said Brandes, with a deep breath of relief. "He
knows his business, that chauffeur of mine."

Their chauffeur was standing beside the car as they emerged from the
hotel and started to cross the sidewalk; the porter, following, set
their luggage on the curbstone; and at the same instant a young and
pretty woman stepped lightly between Rue and Brandes.

"Good evening, Eddie," she said, and struck him a staggering blow in
the face with her white-gloved hand.

Brandes lost his balance, stumbled sideways, recovered himself, turned
swiftly and encountered the full, protruding black eyes of Maxy Venem
staring close and menacingly into his.

From Brandes' cut lip blood was running down over his chin and collar;
his face remained absolutely expressionless. The next moment his eyes
shifted, met Ruhannah's stupefied gaze.

"Go into the hotel," he said calmly. "Quick----"

"Stay where you are!" interrupted Maxy Venem, and caught the
speechless and bewildered girl by the elbow.

Like lightning Brandes' hand flew to his hip pocket, and at the same
instant his own chauffeur seized both his heavy, short arms and held
them rigid, pinned behind his back.

"Frisk him!" he panted; Venem nimbly relieved him of the dull black
weapon.

"Can the fake gun-play, Eddie," he said, coolly shoving aside the
porter who attempted to interfere. "You're double-crossed. We got the
goods on you; come on; who's the girl?"

The woman who had struck Brandes now came up again beside Venem. She
was young, very pretty, but deathly white except for the patches of
cosmetic on either cheek. She pointed at Brandes. There was blood on
her soiled and split glove:

"You dirty dog!" she said unsteadily. "You'll marry this girl before
I've divorced you, will you? And you think you are going to get away
with it! You dog! You dirty dog!"

The porter attempted to interfere again, but Venem shoved him out of
the way. Brandes, still silently struggling to free his imprisoned
arms, ceased twisting suddenly and swung his heavy head toward Venem.
His hat had fallen off; his face, deeply flushed with exertion, was
smeared with blood and sweat.

"What's the idea, you fool!" he said in a low voice. "I'm not married
to her."

But Ruhannah heard him say it.

"You claim that you haven't married this girl?" demanded Venem loudly,
motioning toward Rue, who stood swaying, half dead, held fast by the
gathering crowd which pushed around them from every side.

"Did you marry her or did you fake it?" repeated Venem in a louder
voice. "It's jail one way; maybe both!"

"He married her in Gayfield at eleven this morning!" said the
chauffeur. "Parson Smawley turned the trick."

Brandes' narrow eyes glittered; he struggled for a moment, gave it up,
shot a deadly glance at Maxy Venem, at his wife, at the increasing
throng crowding closely about him. Then his infuriated eyes met Rue's,
and the expression of her face apparently crazed him.

Frantic, he hurled himself backward, jerking one arm free, tripped,
fell heavily with the chauffeur on top, twisting, panting, struggling
convulsively, while all around him surged the excited crowd, shouting,
pressing closer, trampling one another in eagerness to see.

Rue, almost swooning with fear, was pushed, jostled, flung aside.
Stumbling over her own suitcase, she fell to her knees, rose, and,
scarce conscious of what she was about, caught up her suitcase and
reeled away into the light-shot darkness.

She had no idea of what she was doing or where she was going; the
terror of the scene still remained luridly before her eyes; the
shouting of the crowd was in her ears; an indescribable fear of
Brandes filled her--a growing horror of this man who had denied that
he had married her. And the instinct of a frightened and bewildered
child drove her into blind flight, anywhere to escape this hideous,
incomprehensible scene behind her.

Hurrying on, alternately confused and dazzled in the patches of
darkness and flaring light, clutched at and followed by a terrible
fear, she found herself halted on the curbstone of an avenue through
which lighted tramcars were passing. A man spoke to her, came closer;
and she turned desperately and hurried across a street where other
people were crossing.

From overhead sounded the roaring dissonance of an elevated train; on
either side of her phantom shapes swarmed--figures which moved
everywhere around her, now illumined by shop windows, now silhouetted
against them. And always through the deafening confusion in her brain,
the dismay, the stupefaction, one dreadful fear dominated--the fear of
Brandes--the dread and horror of this Judas who had denied her.

She could not drive the scene from her mind--the never-to-be forgotten
picture where he stood with blood from his cut lip striping his fat
chin. She heard his voice denying her through swollen lips that
scarcely moved--denying that he had married her.

And in her ears still sounded the other voice--the terrible words of
the woman who had struck him--an unsteady, unreal voice accusing him;
and her brain throbbed with the horrible repetition: "Dirty dog--dirty
dog--dirty dog----" until, almost out of her mind, she dropped her bag
and clapped both hands over her ears.

One or two men stared at her. A taxi driver came from beside his car
and asked her if she was ill. But she caught up her suitcase and
hurried on without answering.

                  *       *       *       *       *

She was very tired. She had come to the end of the lighted avenue.
There was darkness ahead, a wall, trees, and electric lights sparkling
among the foliage.

Perhaps the sudden glimpse of a wide and star-set sky quieted her,
calmed her. Freed suddenly from the cañon of the city's streets, the
unreasoning panic of a trapped thing subsided a little.

Her arm ached; she shifted the suitcase to her other hand and looked
across at the trees and at the high stars above, striving desperately
for self-command.

Something had to be done. She must find some place where she could sit
down. Where was she to find it?

For a while she could feel her limbs trembling; but gradually the
heavy thudding of her pulses quieted; nobody molested her; nobody had
followed her. That she was quite lost did not matter; she had also
lost this man who had denied her, somewhere in the depths of the
confusion behind her. That was all that mattered--escape from him,
from the terrible woman who had struck him and reviled him.

With an effort she checked her thoughts and struggled for
self-command. Somewhere in the city there must be a railroad station
from which a train would take her home.

With the thought came the desperate longing for flight, and a rush of
tears that almost choked her. Nothing mattered now except her mother's
arms; the rest was a nightmare, the horror of a dream which still
threatened, still clutched at her with shadowy and spectral menace.

For a moment or two she stood there on the curb, her eyes closed,
fighting for self-control, forcing her disorganized brain to duty.

Somebody must help her to find a railroad station and a train. That
gradually became clear to her. But when she realised that, a young man
sauntered up beside her and looked at her so intently that her
calmness gave way and she turned her head sharply to conceal the
starting tears.

"Hello, girlie," he said. "Got anythin' on tonight?"

With head averted, she stood there, rigid, dumb, her tear-drenched
eyes fixed on the park; and after one or two jocose observations the
young man became discouraged and went away. But he had thrust the fear
of strangers deep into her heart; and now she dared not ask any man
for information. However, when two young women passed she found
sufficient courage to accost them, asking the direction of the
railroad station from which trains departed for Gayfield.

The women, who were young and brightly coloured in plumage, displayed
a sympathetic interest at once.

"Gayfield?" repeated the blonder of the two. "Gee, dearie, I never
heard of that place."

"Is it on Long Island?" inquired the other.

"No. It is in Mohawk County."

"That's a new one, too. Mohawk County? Never heard of it; did you,
Lil?"

"Search me!"

"Is it up-state, dearie?" asked the other. "You better go over to
Madison Avenue and take a car to the Grand Central----"

"Wait," interrupted her friend; "she better take a taxi----"

"Nix on a taxi you pick up on Sixth Avenue!" And to Rue, curiously
sympathetic: "Say, you've got friends here, haven't you, little one?"

"No."

"What! You don't know anyone in New York!"

Rue looked at her dumbly; then, of a sudden, she remembered Neeland.

"Yes," she said, "I know one person."

"Where does your friend live?"

In her reticule was the paper on which he had written the address of
the Art Students' League, and, as an afterthought, his own address.

Rue lifted the blue silk bag, opened it, took out her purse and found
the paper.

"One Hundred and Six, West Fifty-fifth Street," she read; "Studio No.
10."

"Why, that isn't far!" said the blonder of the two. "We are going that
way. We'll take you there."

"I don't know--I don't know him very well----"

"Is it a man?"

"Yes. He comes from my town, Gayfield."

"Oh! I guess that's all right," said the other woman, laughing. "You
got to be leery of these men, little one. Come on; we'll show you."

It was only four blocks; Ruhannah presently found herself on the steps
of a house from which dangled a sign, "Studios and Bachelor
Apartments to Let."

"What's his name?" said the woman addressed as Lil.

"Mr. Neeland."

By the light of the vestibule lantern they inspected the letter boxes,
found Neeland's name, and pushed the electric button.

After a few seconds the door clicked and opened.

"Now, you're all right!" said Lil, peering into the lighted hallway.
"It's on the fourth floor and there isn't any elevator that I can see,
so you keep on going upstairs till your friend meets you."

"Thank you so much for your great kindness----"

"Don't mention it. Good luck, dearie!"

The door clicked behind her, and Rue found herself alone.

The stairs, flanked by a massive balustrade of some dark, polished
wood, ascended in spirals by a short series of flights and landings.
Twice she rested, her knees almost giving way, for the climb upward
seemed interminable. But at last, just above her, she saw a skylight,
and a great stair-window giving on a court; and, as she toiled up and
stood clinging, breathless, to the banisters on the top landing, out
of an open door stepped Neeland's shadowy figure, dark against the
hall light behind him.

"For heaven's sake!" he said. "What on earth----"

The suitcase fell from her nerveless hand; she swayed a little where
she stood.

The next moment he had passed his arm around her, and was half
leading, half carrying her through a short hallway into a big,
brilliantly lighted studio.



CHAPTER XII

A LIFE LINE


She had told him her story from beginning to end, as far as she
herself comprehended it. She was lying sideways now, in the depths of
a large armchair, her cheek cushioned on the upholstered wings.

Her hat, with its cheap blue enamel pins sticking in the crown, lay on
his desk; her hair, partly loosened, shadowed a young face grown
pinched with weariness; and the reaction from shock was already making
her grey eyes heavy and edging the under lids with bluish shadows.

She had not come there with the intention of telling him anything. All
she had wanted was a place in which to rest, a glass of water, and
somebody to help her find the train to Gayfield. She told him this;
remained reticent under his questioning; finally turned her haggard
face to the chairback and refused to answer.

For an hour or more she remained obstinately dumb, motionless except
for the uncontrollable trembling of her body; he brought her a glass
of water, sat watching her at intervals; rose once or twice to pace
the studio, his well-shaped head bent, his hands clasped behind his
back, always returning to the corner-chair before the desk to sit
there, eyeing her askance, waiting for some decision.

But it was not the recurrent waves of terror, the ever latent fear of
Brandes, or even her appalling loneliness that broke her down; it was
sheer fatigue--nature's merciless third degree--under which mental
and physical resolution disintegrated--went all to pieces.

And when at length she finally succeeded in reconquering
self-possession, she had already stammered out answers to his gently
persuasive questions--had told him enough to start the fuller
confession to which he listened in utter silence.

And now she had told him everything, as far as she understood the
situation. She lay sideways, deep in the armchair, tired, yet vaguely
conscious that she was resting mind and body, and that calm was
gradually possessing the one, and the nerves of the other were growing
quiet.

Listlessly her grey eyes wandered around the big studio where shadowy
and strangely beautiful but incomprehensible things met her gaze, like
iridescent, indefinite objects seen in dreams.

These radiantly unreal splendours were only Neeland's rejected Academy
pictures and studies; a few cheap Japanese hangings, cheaper Nippon
porcelains, and several shaky, broken-down antiques picked up for a
song here and there. All the trash and truck and dust and junk
characteristic of the conventional artist's habitation were there.

But to Ruhannah this studio embodied all the wonders and beauties of
that magic temple to which, from her earliest memory, her very soul
had aspired--the temple of the unknown God of Art.

Vaguely she endeavoured to realise that she was now inside one of its
myriad sanctuaries; that here under her very tired and youthful eyes
stood one of its countless altars; that here, also, near by, sat one
of those blessed acolytes who aided in the mysteries of its wondrous
service.

"Ruhannah," he said, "are you calm enough to let me tell you what I
think about this matter?"

"Yes. I am feeling better."

"Good work! There's no occasion for panic. What you need is a cool
head and a clear mind."

She said, without stirring from where she lay resting her cheek on the
chairback:

"My mind has become quite clear again."

"That's fine! Well, then, I think the thing for you to do is----" He
took out his watch, examined it, replaced it--"Good Lord!" he said.
"It is three o'clock!"

She watched him but offered no comment. He went to the telephone,
called the New York Central Station, got General Information, inquired
concerning trains, hung up, and came back to the desk where he had
been sitting.

"The first train out leaves at six three," he said. "I think you'd
better go into my bedroom and lie down. I'm not tired; I'll call you
in time, and I'll get a taxi and take you to your train. Does that
suit you, Ruhannah?"

She shook her head slightly.

"Why not?" he asked.

"I've been thinking. I can't go back."

"Can't go back! Why not?"

"I can't."

"You mean you'd feel too deeply humiliated?"

"I wasn't thinking of my own disgrace. I was thinking of mother and
father." There was no trace of emotion in her voice; she stated the
fact calmly.

"I can't go back to Brookhollow. It's ended. I couldn't bear to let
them know what has happened to me."

"What did you think of doing?" he asked uneasily.

"I must think of mother--I must keep my disgrace from touching
them--spare them the sorrow--humiliation----" Her voice became
tremulous, but she turned around and sat up in her chair, meeting his
gaze squarely. "That's as far as I have thought," she said.

Both remained silent for a long while. Then Ruhannah looked up from
her pale preoccupation:

"I told you I had three thousand dollars. Why can't I educate myself
in art with that? Why can't I learn how to support myself by art?"

"Where?"

"Here."

"Yes. But what are you going to say to your parents when you write?
They suppose you are on your way to Paris."

She nodded, looking at him thoughtfully.

"By the way," he added, "is your trunk on board the _Lusitania_?"

"Yes."

"That won't do! Have you the check for it?"

"Yes, in my purse."

"We've got to get that trunk off the ship," he said. "There's only one
sure way. I'd better go down now, to the pier. Where's your steamer
ticket?"

"I--I have _both_ tickets and both checks in my bag. He--let me have
the p-pleasure of carrying them----" Again her voice broke childishly,
but the threatened emotion was strangled and resolutely choked back.

"Give me the tickets and checks," he said. "I'll go down to the dock
now."

She drew out the papers, sat holding them for a few moments without
relinquishing them. Then she raised her eyes to his, and a bright
flush stained her face:

"Why should I not go to Paris by myself?" she demanded.

"You mean now? On this ship?"

"Yes. Why not? I have enough money to go there and study, haven't I?"

"Yes. But----"

"Why not!" she repeated feverishly, her grey eyes sparkling. "I have
three thousand dollars; I can't go back to Brookhollow and disgrace
them. What does it matter where I go?"

"It would be all right," he said, "if you'd ever had any
experience----"

"Experience! What do you call what I've had today!" She exclaimed
excitedly. "To lose in a single day my mother, my home--to go through
in this city what I have gone through--what I am going through now--is
not that enough experience? Isn't it?"

He said:

"You've had a rotten awakening, Rue--a perfectly devilish experience.
Only--you've never travelled alone----" Suddenly it occurred to him
that his lively friend, the Princess Mistchenka, was sailing on the
_Lusitania_; and he remained silent, uncertain, looking with vague
misgivings at this girl in the armchair opposite--this thin, unformed,
inexperienced child who had attained neither mental nor physical
maturity.

"I think," he said at length, "that I told you I had a friend sailing
on the _Lusitania_ tomorrow."

She remembered and nodded.

"But wait a moment," he added. "How do you know that this--this fellow
Brandes will not attempt to sail on her, also----" Something checked
him, for in the girl's golden-grey eyes he saw a flame glimmer;
something almost terrible came into the child's still gaze; and
slowly died out like the afterglow of lightning.

And Neeland knew that in her soul something had been born under his
very eyes--the first emotion of maturity bursting from the
chrysalis--the flaming consciousness of outrage, and the first, fierce
assumption of womanhood to resent it.

She had lost her colour now; her grey eyes still remained fixed on
his, but the golden tinge had left them.

"_I_ don't know why you shouldn't go," he said abruptly.

"I _am_ going."

"All right! And if _he_ has the nerve to go--if he bothers you--appeal
to the captain."

She nodded absently.

"But I don't believe he'll try to sail. I don't believe he'd dare,
mixed up as he is in a dirty mess. He's afraid of the law, I tell you.
That's why he denied marrying you. It meant bigamy to admit it.
Anyway, I don't think a fake ceremony like that is binding; I mean
that it isn't even real enough to put him in jail. Which means that
you're not married, Rue."

"Does it?"

"I think so. Ask a lawyer, anyway. There may be steps to take--I don't
know. All the same--do you really want to go to France and study art?
Do you really mean to sail on this ship?"

"Yes."

"You feel confidence in yourself? You feel sure of yourself?"

"Yes."

"You've got the backbone to see it through?"

"Yes. It's got to be done."

"All right, if you feel that way." He made no move, however, but sat
there watching her. After a while he looked at his watch again:

"I'm going to ring up a taxi," he said. "You might as well go on board
and get some sleep. What time does she sail?"

"At five thirty, I believe."

"Well, we haven't so very long, then. There's my bedroom--if you want
to fix up."

She rose wearily.

When she emerged from his room with her hat and gloves on, the taxicab
was audible in the street below.

Together they descended the dark stairway up which she had toiled with
trembling knees. He carried her suitcase, aided her into the taxi.

"Cunard Line," he said briefly, and entered the cab.

Already in the darkness of early morning the city was awake; workmen
were abroad; lighted tramcars passed with passengers; great wains,
trucks, and country wagons moved slowly toward markets and ferries.

He had begun to tell her almost immediately all that he knew about
Paris, the life there in the students' quarters, methods of living
economically, what to seek and what to avoid--a homily rather hurried
and condensed, as they sped toward the pier.

She seemed to be listening; he could not be sure that she understood
or that her mind was fixed at all on what he was saying. Even while
speaking, numberless objections to her going occurred to him, but as
he had no better alternatives to suggest he did not voice them.

In his heart he really believed she ought to go back to Brookhollow.
It was perfectly evident she would not consent to go there. As for her
remaining in New York, perhaps the reasons for her going to Paris were
as good. He was utterly unable to judge; he only knew that she ought
to have the protection of experience, and that was lacking.

"I'm going to remain on board with you," he said, "until she sails.
I'm going to try to find my very good friend, the Princess Mistchenka,
and have you meet her. She has been very kind to me, and I shall ask
her to keep an eye on you while you are crossing, and to give you a
lot of good advice."

"A--princess," said Rue in a tired, discouraged voice, "is not very
likely to pay any attention to me, I think."

"She's one of those Russian or Caucasian princesses. You know they
don't rank very high. She told me herself. She's great fun--full of
life and wit and intelligence and wide experience. She knows a lot
about everything and everybody; she's been everywhere, travelled all
over the globe."

"I don't think," repeated Rue, "that she would care for me at all."

"Yes, she would. She's young and warm-hearted and human. Besides, she
is interested in art--knows a lot about it--even paints very well
herself."

"She must be wonderful."

"No--she's just a regular woman. It was because she was interested in
art that she came to the League, and I was introduced to her. That is
how I came to know her. She comes sometimes to my studio."

"Yes, but you are already an artist, and an interesting man----"

"Oh, Rue, I'm just beginning. She's kind, that's all--an energetic,
intelligent woman, full of interest in life. I _know_ she'll give you
some splendid advice--tell you how to get settled in Paris--Lord! You
don't even know French, do you?"

"No."

"Not a word?"

"No.... I don't know anything, Mr. Neeland."

He tried to laugh reassuringly:

"I thought it was to be Jim, not Mister," he reminded her.

But she only looked at him out of troubled eyes.

In the glare of the pier's headlights they descended. Passengers were
entering the vast, damp enclosure; porters, pier officers, ship's
officers, sailors, passed to and fro as they moved toward the gangway
where, in the electric glare of lamps, the clifflike side of the
gigantic liner loomed up.

At sight of the monster ship Rue's heart leaped, quailed, leaped
again. As she set one slender foot on the gangway such an
indescribable sensation seized her that she caught at Neeland's arm
and held to it, almost faint with the violence of her emotion.

A steward took the suitcase, preceded them down abysmal and gorgeous
stairways, through salons, deep into the dimly magnificent bowels of
the ocean giant, then through an endless white corridor twinkling with
lights, to a stateroom, where a stewardess ushered them in.

There was nobody there; nobody had been there.

"He dare not come," whispered Neeland in Ruhannah's ear.

The girl stood in the centre of the stateroom looking silently about
her.

"Have you any English and French money?" he asked.

"No."

"Give me--well, say two hundred dollars, and I'll have the purser
change it."

She went to her suitcase, where it stood on the lounge; he unstrapped
it for her; she found the big packet of treasury notes and handed them
to him.

"Good heavens!" he muttered. "This won't do. I'm going to have the
purser lock them in the safe and give me a receipt. Then when you meet
the Princess Mistchenka, tell her what I've done and ask her advice.
Will you, Rue?"

"Yes, thank you."

"You'll wait here for me, won't you?"

"Yes."

So he noted the door number and went away hastily in search of the
purser, to do what he could in the matter of foreign money for the
girl. And on the upper companionway he met the Princess Mistchenka
descending, preceded by porters with her luggage.

"James!" she exclaimed. "Have you come aboard to elope with me?
Otherwise, what are you doing on the _Lusitania_ at this very ghastly
hour in the morning?"

She was smiling into his face and her daintily gloved hand retained
his for a moment; then she passed her arm through his.

"Follow the porter," she said, "and tell me what brings you here, my
gay young friend. You see I am wearing the orchids you sent me. Do you
really mean to add yourself to this charming gift?"

He told her the story of Ruhannah Carew as briefly as he could; at her
stateroom door they paused while he continued the story, the Princess
Mistchenka looking at him very intently while she listened, and never
uttering a word.

She was a pretty woman, not tall, rather below middle stature,
perhaps, beautifully proportioned and perfectly gowned. Hair and eyes
were dark as velvet; her skin was old ivory and rose; and always her
lips seemed about to part a little in the faint and provocative smile
which lay latent in the depths of her brown eyes.

"_Mon Dieu!_" she said, "what a history of woe you are telling me, my
friend James! What a tale of innocence and of deception and outraged
trust is this that you relate to me! _Allons! Vite!_ Let us find this
poor, abandoned infant--this unhappy victim of your sex's well-known
duplicity!"

"She isn't a victim, you know," he explained.

"I see. Only almost--a--victim. Yes? Where is this child, then?"

"May I bring her to you, Princess?"

"But of course! Bring her. I am not afraid--so far--to look any woman
in the face at five o'clock in the morning." And the threatened smile
flashed out in her fresh, pretty face.

                  *       *       *       *       *

When he came back with Rue Carew, the Princess Mistchenka was
conferring with her maid and with her stewardess. She turned to look
at Rue as Neeland came up--continued to scrutinise her intently while
he was presenting her.

There ensued a brief silence; the Princess glanced at Neeland, then
her dark eyes returned directly to the young girl before her, and she
held out her hand, smilingly:

"Miss Carew--I believe I know exactly what your voice is going to be
like. I think I have heard, in America, such a voice once or twice.
Speak to me and prove me right."

Rue flushed:

"What am I to say?" she asked naïvely.

"I knew I was right," exclaimed the Princess Mistchenka gaily. "Come
into my stateroom and let each one of us discover how agreeable is the
other. Shall we--my dear child?"

                  *       *       *       *       *

When Neeland returned from a visit to the purser with a pocket full of
British and French gold and silver for Ruhannah, he knocked at the
stateroom door of the Princess Mistchenka.

That lively personage opened it, came out into the corridor holding
the door partly closed behind her.

"She's almost dead with fatigue and grief. I undressed her myself.
She's in my bed. She has been crying."

"Poor little thing," said Neeland.

"Yes."

"Here's her money," he said, a little awkwardly.

The Princess opened her wrist bag and he dumped in the shining
torrent.

"Shall I--call good-bye to her?" he asked.

"You may go in, James."

They entered together; and he was startled to see how young she seemed
there on the pillows--how pitifully immature the childish throat, the
tear-flushed face lying in its mass of chestnut hair.

"Good-bye, Rue," he said, still awkward, offering his hand.

Slowly she held out one slim hand from the covers.

"Good voyage, good luck," he said. "I wish you would write a line to
me."

"I will."

"Then----" He smiled; released her hand.

"Thank you for--for all you have done," she said. "I shall not
forget."

Something choked him slightly; he forced a laugh:

"Come back a famous painter, Rue. Keep your head clear and your heart
full of courage. And let me know how you're getting on, won't you?"

"Yes.... Good-bye."

So he went out, and at the door exchanged adieux with the smiling
Princess.

"Do you--like her a little?" he whispered.

"I do, my friend. Also--I like you. I am old enough to say it safely,
am I not?"

"If you think so," he said, a funny little laugh in his eyes, "you are
old enough to let me kiss you good-bye."

But she backed away, still smiling:

"On the brow--the hair--yes; if you promise discretion, James."

"What has tottering age like yours to do with discretion, Princess
Naïa?" he retorted impudently. "A kiss on the mouth must of itself be
discreet when bestowed on youth by such venerable years as are
yours."

But the Princess, the singularly provocative smile still edging her
lips, merely looked at him out of dark and slightly humorous eyes,
gave him her hand, withdrew it with decision, and entered her
stateroom, closing the door rather sharply behind her.

                  *       *       *       *       *

When Neeland got back to the studio he took a couple of hours' sleep,
and, being young, perfectly healthy, and perhaps not unaccustomed to
the habits of the owl family, felt pretty well when he went out to
breakfast.

Over his coffee cup he propped up his newspaper against a carafe; and
the heading on one of the columns immediately attracted his
attention.

                       ROW BETWEEN SPORTING MEN

                  EDDIE BRANDES, FIGHT PROMOTER AND
                    THEATRICAL MAN, MIXES IT WITH
                              MAXY VENEM

              A WOMAN SAID TO BE THE CAUSE: AFFRAY DRAWS
                  A BIG CROWD IN FRONT OF THE HOTEL
                            KNICKERBOCKER

            BOTH MEN, BADLY BATTERED, GET AWAY BEFORE THE
                            POLICE ARRIVE

Breakfasting leisurely, he read the partly humorous, partly
contemptuous account of the sordid affair. Afterward he sent for all
the morning papers. But in none of them was Ruhannah Carew mentioned
at all, nobody, apparently, having noticed her in the exciting affair
between Venem, Brandes, the latter's wife, and the chauffeur.

Nor did the evening papers add anything material to the account,
except to say that Brandes had been interviewed in his office at the
Silhouette Theatre and that he stated that he had not engaged in any
personal encounter with anybody, had not seen Max Venem in months, had
not been near the Hotel Knickerbocker, and knew nothing about the
affair in question.

He also permitted a dark hint or two to escape him concerning possible
suits for defamation of character against irresponsible newspapers.

The accounts in the various evening editions agreed, however, that
when interviewed, Mr. Brandes was nursing a black eye and a badly
swollen lip, which, according to him, he had acquired in a playful
sparring encounter with his business manager, Mr. Benjamin Stull.

And that was all; the big town had neither time nor inclination to
notice either Brandes or Venem any further; Broadway completed the
story for its own edification, and, by degrees, arrived at its own
conclusions. Only nobody could discover who was the young girl
concerned, or where she came from or what might be her name. And,
after a few days, Broadway, also, forgot the matter amid the tarnished
tinsel and raucous noises of its own mean and multifarious
preoccupations.



CHAPTER XIII

LETTERS FROM A LITTLE GIRL


Neeland had several letters from Ruhannah Carew that autumn and
winter. The first one was written a few weeks after her arrival in
Paris:

                  *       *       *       *       *

Dear Mr. Neeland:

Please forgive me for writing to you, but I am homesick.

I have written every week to mother and have made my letters read as
though I were still married, because it would almost kill her if she
knew the truth.

Some day I shall have to tell her, but not yet. Could you tell me how
you think the news ought to be broken to her and father?

_That man_ was not on the steamer. I was quite ill crossing the ocean.
But the last two days I went on deck with the Princess Mistchenka and
her maid, and I enjoyed the sea.

The Princess has been so friendly. I should have died, I think,
without her, what with my seasickness and homesickness, and brooding
over my terrible fall. I know it is immoral to say so, but I did not
want to live any longer, truly I didn't. I even asked to be taken. I
am sorry now that I prayed that way.

Well, I have passed through the most awful part of my life, I think. I
feel strange and different, as though I had been very sick, and had
died, and as though it were another girl sitting here writing to you,
and not the girl who was in your studio last August.

I had always expected happiness some day. Now I know I shall never
have it. Girls dream many foolish things about the future. They have
such dear, silly hopes.

All dreams are ended for me; all that remains in life for me is to
work very hard so that I can learn to support myself and my parents. I
should like to make a great deal of money so that when I die I can
leave it to charity. I desire to be remembered for my good works. But
of course I shall first have to learn how to take care of myself and
mother and father before I can aid the poor. I often think of becoming
a nun and going out to nurse lepers. Only I don't know where there are
any. Do you?

Paris is very large and a sort of silvery grey colour, full of trees
with yellowing leaves--but Oh, it is _so_ lonely, Mr. Neeland! I am
determined not to cry every day, but it is quite difficult not to. And
then there are so many, many people, and they all talk French! They
talk very fast, too, even the little children.

This seems such an ungrateful letter to write you, who were so good
and kind to me in my dreadful hour of trial and disgrace. I am afraid
you won't understand how full of gratitude I am, to you and to the
Princess Mistchenka.

I have the prettiest little bedroom in her house. There is a pink
shade on my night lamp. She insisted that I go home with her, and I
had to, because I didn't know where else to go, and she wouldn't tell
me. In fact, I can't go anywhere or find any place because I speak no
French at all. It's humiliating, isn't it, for even the very little
children speak French in Paris.

But I have begun to learn; a cheerful old lady comes for an hour every
day to teach me. Only it is very hard for me, because she speaks no
English and I am forbidden to utter one word of my own language. And
so far I understand nothing that she says, which makes me more lonely
than I ever was in all my life. But sometimes it is so absurd that we
both laugh.

I am to study drawing and painting at a studio for women. The kind
Princess has arranged it. I am also to study piano and voice culture.
This I did not suppose would be possible with the money I have, but
the Princess Mistchenka, who has asked me to let her take charge of my
money and my expenses, says that I can easily afford it. She knows, of
course, what things cost, and what I am able to afford; and I trust
her willingly because she is so dear and sweet to me, but I am a
little frightened at the dresses she is having made for me. They
_can't_ be inexpensive!--Such lovely clothes and shoes and hats--and
other things about which I never even heard in Brookhollow.

I ought to be happy, Mr. Neeland, but everything is so new and
strange--even Sunday is not restful; and how different is Nôtre Dame
de Paris and Saint Eustache from our church at Gayfield! The high
arches and jewelled windows and the candles and the dull roar of the
organ drove from my mind those quiet and solemn thoughts of God which
always filled my mind so naturally and peacefully in our church at
home. I couldn't think of Him; I couldn't even try to pray; it was as
though an ocean were rolling and thundering over me where I lay
drowned in a most deep place.

Well, I must close, because _déjeuner_ is ready--you see I know _one_
French word, after all! And one other--"_Bonjour, monsieur!_"--which
counts _two_, doesn't it?--or three in all.

It has made me feel better to write to you. I hope you will not think
it a presumption.

And now I shall say thank you for your great kindness to me in your
studio on that most frightful night of my life. It is one of those
things that a girl can never, never forget--your aid in my hour of
need. Through all my shame and distress it was your help that
sustained me; for I was so stunned by my disgrace that I even forgot
God himself.

But I _will_ prove that I am thankful to Him, and worthy of your
goodness to me; I _will_ profit by this dreadful humiliation and
devote my life to a more worthy and lofty purpose than merely getting
married just because a man asked me so persistently and I was too
young and ignorant to continue saying no! Also, I _did_ want to study
art. How stupid, how immoral I was!

And now nobody would ever want to marry me again after this--and also
it's against the law, I imagine. But I don't care; I never, never
desire to marry another man. All I want is to learn how to support
myself by art; and some day perhaps I shall forget what has happened
to me and perhaps find a little pleasure in life when I am very old.

With every wish and prayer for your happiness and success in this
world of sorrow, believe me your grateful friend,

                                                            Rue Carew.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Every naïve and laboured line of the stilted letter touched and amused
and also flattered Neeland; for no young man is entirely insensible to
a young girl's gratitude. An agreeable warmth suffused him; it pleased
him to remember that he had been associated in the moral and social
rehabilitation of Rue Carew.

He meant to write her some kind, encouraging advice; he had every
intention of answering her letter. But in New York young men are very
busy; or think they are. For youth days dawn and vanish in the space
of a fire-fly's lingering flash; and the moments swarm by like a
flight of distracted golden butterflies; and a young man is ever at
their heels in breathless chase with as much chance of catching up
with the elusive moment as a squirrel has of outstripping the wheel in
which he whirls.

So he neglected to reply--waited a little too long. Because, while her
childish letter still remained unanswered, came a note from the
Princess Mistchenka, enclosing a tremulous line from Rue:

                  *       *       *       *       *

_Mon cher_ James:

Doubtless you have already heard of the sad death of Ruhannah's
parents--within a few hours of each other--both stricken with
pneumonia within the same week. The local minister cabled her as Mrs.
Brandes in my care. Then he wrote to the child; the letter has just
arrived.

My poor little _protégée_ is prostrated--talks wildly of going back at
once. But to what purpose now, _mon ami_? Her loved ones will have
been in their graves for days before Ruhannah could arrive.

No; I shall keep her here. She is young; she shall be kept busy every
instant of the day. That is the only antidote for grief; youth and
time its only cure.

Please write to the Baptist minister at Gayfield, James, and find out
what is to be done; and have it done. Judge Gary, at Orangeville, had
charge of the Reverend Mr. Carew's affairs. Let him send the necessary
papers to Ruhannah here. I enclose a paper which she has executed,
conferring power of attorney. If a guardian is to be appointed, I
shall take steps to qualify through the good offices of Lejeune
Brothers, the international lawyers whom I have put into communication
with Judge Gary through the New York representatives of the firm.

There are bound to be complications, I fear, in regard to this mock
marriage of hers. I have consulted my attorneys here and they are not
very certain that the ceremony was not genuine enough to require
further legal steps to free her entirely. A suit for annulment is
possible.

Please have the house at Brookhollow locked up and keep the keys in
your possession for the present. Judge Gary will have the keys sent to
you.

James, dear, I am very deeply indebted to you for giving to me my
little friend, Ruhannah Carew. Now, I wish to make her entirely mine
by law until the inevitable day arrives when some man shall take her
from me.

Write to her, James; don't be selfish.

                                                 Yours always,
                                                                 Naïa.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The line enclosed from Ruhannah touched him deeply:

                  *       *       *       *       *

I cannot speak of it yet. Please, when you go to Brookhollow, have
flowers planted. You know where our plot is. Have it made pretty for
them.

                                                                  Rue.

                  *       *       *       *       *

He wrote at once exactly the sort of letter that an impulsive,
warm-hearted young man might take time to write to a bereaved friend.
He was genuinely grieved and sorry for her, but he was glad when his
letter was finished and mailed, and he could turn his thoughts into
other and gayer channels.

To this letter she replied, thanking him for what he had written and
for what he had done to make the plot in the local cemetery "pretty."

She asked him to keep the keys to the house in Brookhollow. Then
followed a simple report of her quiet and studious daily life in the
home of the Princess Mistchenka; of her progress in her studies; of
her hopes that in due time she might become sufficiently educated to
take care of herself.

It was a slightly dull, laboured, almost emotionless letter. Always
willing to shirk correspondence, he persuaded himself that the letter
called for no immediate answer. After all, it was not to be expected
that a very young girl whom a man had met only twice in his life could
hold his interest very long, when absent. However, he meant to write
her again; thought of doing so several times during the next twelve
months.

It was a year before another letter came from her. And, reading it, he
was a little surprised to discover how rapidly immaturity can mature
under the shock of circumstances and exotic conditions which tend
toward forced growth.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Mon cher ami:

I was silly enough to hope you might write to me. But I suppose you
have far more interesting and important matters to occupy you.

Still, don't you sometimes remember the girl you drove home with in a
sleigh one winter night, ages ago? Don't you sometimes think of the
girl who came creeping upstairs, half dead, to your studio door? And
don't you sometimes wonder what has become of her?

Why is it that a girl is always more loyal to past memories than a
man ever is? Don't answer that it is because she has less to occupy
her than a man has. You have no idea how busy I have been during this
long year in which you have forgotten me.

Among other things I have been busy growing. I am taller by two inches
than when last I saw you. Please be impressed by my five feet eight
inches.

Also, I am happy. The greatest happiness in the world is to have the
opportunity to learn about that same world.

I am happy because I now have that opportunity. During these many
months since I wrote to you I have learned a little French; I read
some, write some, understand pretty well, and speak a little. What a
pleasure, _mon ami_!

Piano and vocal music, too, occupy me; I love both, and I am told
encouraging things. But best and most delightful of all I am learning
to draw and compose and paint from life in the Académie Julian! Think
of it! It is difficult, it is absorbing, it requires energy,
persistence, self-denial; but it is fascinating, satisfying,
glorious.

Also, it is very trying, _mon ami_; and I descend into depths of
despair and I presently soar up out of those depressing depths into
intoxicating altitudes of aspiration and self-confidence.

You yourself know how it is, of course. At the criticism today I was
lifted to the seventh heaven. "_Pas mal_," he said; "_continuez,
mademoiselle_." Which is wonderful for him. Also my weekly sketch was
chosen from among all the others, and I was given number one. That
means my choice of _tabourets_ on Monday morning, _voyez vous_? So do
you wonder that I came home with Suzanne, walking on air, and that as
soon as _déjeuner_ was finished I flew in here to write to you about
it?

Suzanne is our maid--the maid of Princess Naïa, of course--who walks
to and from school with me. I didn't wish her to follow me about at
first, but the Princess insisted, and I'm resigned to it now.

The Princess Mistchenka is such a darling! I owe her more than I owe
anybody except mother and father. She simply took me as I was, a
young, stupid, ignorant, awkward country girl with no experience, no
_savoir-faire_, no clothes, and even no knowledge of how to wear
them; and she is trying to make out of me a fairly intelligent and
presentable human being who will not offend her by _gaucheries_ when
with her, and who will not disgrace her when in the circle of her
friends.

Oh, of course I still make a _faux pas_ now and then, _mon ami_; there
are dreadful pitfalls in the French language into which I have fallen
more than once. And at times I have almost died of mortification. But
everybody is so amiable and patient, so polite, so gay about my
mistakes. I am beginning to love the French. And I am learning so
much! I had no idea what a capacity I had for learning things. But
then, with Princess Naïa, and with my kind and patient teachers and my
golden opportunities, even a very stupid girl must learn _something_.
And I am not really very stupid; I've discovered that. On the
contrary, I really seem to learn quite rapidly; and all that annoys me
is that there is so much to learn and the days are not long enough, so
anxious am I, so ambitious, so determined to get out of this wonderful
opportunity everything I possibly can extract.

I have lived in these few months more years than my own age adds up! I
am growing old and wise very fast. Please hasten to write to me before
I have grown so old that you would not recognize me if you met me.

                                                  Your friend,
                                                             Ruhannah.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The letter flattered him. He was rather glad he had once kissed the
girl who could write such a letter.

He happened to be engaged, at that time, in drawing several
illustrations for a paper called the _Midweek Magazine_. There was a
heroine, of course, in the story he was illustrating. And, from
memory, and in spite of the model posing for him, he made the face
like the face of Ruhannah Carew.

But the days passed, and he did not reply to her letter. Then there
came still another letter from her:

Why don't you write me just one line? Have you _really_ forgotten me?
You'd like me if you knew me now, I think. I am really quite grown up.
And I am _so_ happy!

The Princess is simply adorable. Always we are busy, Princess Naïa and
I; and now, since I have laid aside mourning, we go to concerts; we go
to plays; we have been six times to the opera, and as many more to the
Théâtre Français; we have been to the Louvre and the Luxembourg many
times; to St. Cloud, Versailles, Fontainebleau.

Always, when my studies are over, we do something interesting; and I
am beginning to know Paris, and to care for it with real affection; to
feel secure and happy and at home in this dear, glittering,
silvery-grey city--full of naked trees and bridges and palaces. And,
sometimes when I feel homesick, and lonely, and when Brookhollow seems
very, very far away, it troubles me a little to find that I am not
nearly so homesick as I think I ought to be. But I think it must be
like seasickness; it is too frightful to last.

The Princess Mistchenka has nursed me through the worst. All I can say
is that she is very wonderful.

On her day, which is Thursday, her pretty _salon_ is thronged. At
first I was too shy and embarrassed to be anything but frightened and
self-conscious and very miserable when I sat beside her on her
Thursdays. Besides, I was in mourning and did not appear on formal
occasions.

Now it is different; I take my place beside her; I am not
self-conscious; I am interested; I find pleasure in knowing people who
are so courteous, so considerate, so gay and entertaining.

Everybody is agreeable and gay, and I am sorry that I miss so much
that is witty in what is said; but I am learning French very rapidly.

The men are polite to me! At first I was so _gauche_, so stupid and
provincial, that I could not bear to have anybody kiss my hand and pay
me compliments. I've made a lot of other mistakes, too, but I never
make the same mistake twice.

So many interesting men come to our Thursdays; and some women. I
prefer the men, I think. There is one old French General who is a
dear; and there are young officers, too; and yesterday two cabinet
ministers and several people from the British and Russian embassies.
And the Turkish Chargé, whom I dislike.

The women seem to be agreeable, and they all are most beautifully
gowned. Some have titles. But all seem to be a little too much made
up. I don't know any of them except formally. But I feel that I know
some of the men better--especially the old General and a young
military attaché of the Russian Embassy, whom everybody likes and
pets, and whom everybody calls Prince Erlik--such a handsome boy! And
his real name is Alak, and I think he is very much in love with
Princess Naïa.

Now, something very odd has happened which I wish to tell you about.
My father, as you know, was missionary in the Vilayet of Trebizond
many years ago. While there he came into possession of a curious sea
chest belonging to a German named Conrad Wilner, who was killed in a
riot near Gallipoli.

In this chest were, and still are, two very interesting things--an old
bronze Chinese figure which I used to play with when I was a child. It
was called the Yellow Devil; and a native Chinese missionary once read
for us the inscription on the figure which identified it as a Mongol
demon called Erlik, the Prince of Darkness.

The other object of interest in the box was the manuscript diary kept
by this Herr Wilner to within a few moments of his death. This I have
often heard read aloud by my father, but I forget much of it now, and
I never understood it all, because I was too young. Now, here is the
curious thing about it all. The first time you spoke to me of the
Princess Naïa Mistchenka, I had a hazy idea that her name seemed
familiar to me. And ever since I have known her, now and then I found
myself trying to recollect where I had heard that name, even before I
heard it from you.

Suddenly, one evening about a week ago, it came to me that I had heard
both the names, Naïa and Mistchenka, when I was a child. Also the name
Erlik. The two former names occur in Herr Wilner's diary; the latter
I heard from the Chinese missionary years ago; and that is why they
seemed so familiar to me.

It is so long since I have read the diary that I can't remember the
story in which the names Naïa and Mistchenka are concerned. As I
recollect, it was a tragic story that used to thrill me.

At any rate, I didn't speak of this to Princess Naïa; but about a week
ago there were a few people dining here with us--among others an old
Turkish Admiral, Murad Pasha, who took me out. And as soon as I heard
_his_ name I thought of that diary; and I am sure it was mentioned in
it.

Anyway, he happened to speak of Trebizond; and, naturally, I said that
my father had been a missionary there many years ago.

As this seemed to interest him, and because he questioned me, I told
him my father's name and all that I knew in regard to his career as a
missionary in the Trebizond district. And, somehow--I don't exactly
recollect how it came about--I spoke of Herr Wilner, and his death at
Gallipoli, and how his effects came into my father's possession.

And because the old, sleepy-eyed Admiral seemed so interested and
amused, I told him about Herr Wilner's box and his diary and the plans
and maps and photographs with which I used to play as a little child.

After dinner, Princess Naïa asked me what it was I had been telling
Murad Pasha to wake him up so completely and to keep him so amused. So
I merely said that I had been telling the Admiral about my childhood
in Brookhollow.

Naturally neither she nor I thought about the incident any further.
Murad did not come again; but a few days later the Turkish Chargé
d'Affaires was present at a very large dinner given by Princess Naïa.

And two curious conversations occurred at that dinner:

The Turkish Chargé suddenly turned to me and asked me in English
whether I were not the daughter of the Reverend Wilbour Carew who once
was in charge of the American Mission near Trebizond. I was so
surprised at the question; but I answered yes, remembering that Murad
must have mentioned me to him.

He continued to ask me about my father, and spoke of his efforts to
establish a girls' school, first at Brusa, then at Tchardak, and
finally near Gallipoli. I told him I had often heard my father speak
of these matters with my mother, but that I was too young to remember
anything about my own life in Turkey.

All the while we were conversing, I noticed that the Princess kept
looking across the table at us as though some chance word had
attracted her attention.

After dinner, when the gentlemen had retired to the smoking room, the
Princess took me aside and made me repeat everything that Ahmed Mirka
had asked me.

I told her. She said that the Turkish Chargé was an old busybody,
always sniffing about for all sorts of information; that it was safer
to be reticent and let him do the talking; and that almost every scrap
of conversation with him was mentally noted and later transcribed for
the edification of the Turkish Secret Service.

I thought this very humorous; but going into the little _salon_ where
the piano was and where the music was kept, while I was looking for an
old song by Messager, from "La Basoche," called "Je suis aimé de la
plus belle--" Ahmed Mirka's handsome attaché, Colonel Izzet Bey, came
up to where I was rummaging in the music cabinet.

He talked nonsense in French and in English for a while, but somehow
the conversation led again toward my father and the girls' school at
Gallipoli which had been attacked and burned by a mob during the first
month after it had been opened, and where the German, Herr Wilner, had
been killed.

"Monsieur, your reverend father, must surely have told you stories
about the destruction of the Gallipoli school, mademoiselle," he
insisted.

"Yes. It happened a year before the mission at Trebizond was destroyed
by the Turks." I said maliciously.

"So I have heard. What a pity! Our Osmanli--our peasantry are so
stupid! And it was such a fine school. A German engineer was killed
there, I believe."

"Yes, my father said so."

"A certain Herr Conrad Wilner, was it not?"

"Yes. How did you hear of him, Colonel Izzet?"

"It was known in Stamboul. He perished by mistake, I believe--at
Gallipoli."

"Yes; my father said that Herr Wilner was the only man hurt. He went
out all alone into the mob and began to cut them with his riding whip.
My father tried to save him, but they killed Herr Wilner with
stones."

"Exactly." He spread his beautifully jewelled hands deprecatingly and
seemed greatly grieved.

"And Herr Wilner's--property?" he inquired. "Did you ever hear what
became of it?"

"Oh, yes," I said. "My father took charge of it."

"Oh! It was supposed at the time that all of Herr Wilner's personal
property was destroyed when the school and compound burned. Do you
happen to know just what was saved, mademoiselle?"

Of course I immediately thought of the bronze demon, the box of
instruments, and the photographs and papers at home with which I used
to play as a child. I remembered my father had said that these things
were taken on board the _Oneida_ when he, my mother, and I were
rescued by marines and sailors from our guard vessel which came
through the Bosporus to the Black Sea, and which escorted us to the
_Oneida_. And I was just going to tell this to Izzet Bey when I also
remembered what the Princess had just told me about giving any
information to Ahmed Pasha. So I merely opened my eyes very innocently
and gazed at Colonel Izzet and shook my head as though I did not
understand his question.

The next instant the Princess came in to see what I was about so long,
and she looked at Izzet Bey with a funny sort of smile, as though she
had surprised him in mischief and was not angry, only amused. And when
Colonel Izzet bowed, I saw how red his face had grown--as red as his
fez.

The Princess laughed and said in French: "That is the difference
between professional and amateur--between Nizam and Redif--between
Ahmed Pasha and our esteemed but very youthful attaché--who has much
yet to learn about that endless war called Peace!"

I didn't know what she meant, but Izzet Bey turned a bright scarlet,
bowed again, and returned to the smoking room.

And that night, while Suzanne was unhooking me, Princess Naïa came
into my bedroom and asked me some questions, and I told her about the
box of instruments and the diary, and the slippery linen papers
covered with drawings and German writing, with which I used to play.

She said never to mention them to anybody, and that I should never
permit anybody to examine those military papers, because it might be
harmful to America.

How odd and how thrilling! I am most curious to know what all this
means. It seems like an exciting story just beginning, and I wonder
what such a girl as I has to do with secrets which concern the Turkish
Chargé in Paris.

Don't you think it promises to be romantic? Do you suppose it has
anything to do with spies and diplomacy and kings and thrones, and
terrible military secrets? One hears a great deal about the embassies
here being hotbeds of political intrigue. And of course France is
always thinking of Alsace and Lorraine, and there is an ever-present
danger of war in Europe.

Mr. Neeland, it thrills me to pretend to myself that I am actually
living in the plot of a romance full of mystery and diplomacy and
dangerous possibilities. I _hope_ something will develop, as something
always does in novels.

And alas, my imagination, which always has been vivid, needed almost
nothing to blaze into flame. It is on fire now; I dream of courts and
armies, and ambassadors, and spies; I construct stories in which I am
the heroine always--sometimes the interesting and temporary victim of
wicked plots; sometimes the all-powerful, dauntless, and adroit
champion of honour and righteousness against treachery and evil!

Did you ever suppose that I still could remain such a very little
girl? But I fear that I shall never outgrow my imagination. And it
needs almost nothing to set me dreaming out stories or drawing
pictures of castles and princes and swans and fairies. And even this
letter seems a part of some breathlessly interesting plot which I am
not only creating but actually a living part of and destined to act
in.

Do you want a part in it? Shall I include you? Rather late to ask your
permission, for I have already included you. And, somehow, I think the
Yellow Devil ought to be included, too.

Please write to me, just once. But don't speak of the papers which
father had, and don't mention Herr Conrad Wilner's box if you write.
The Princess says your letter might be stolen.

I am very happy. It is rather cold tonight, and presently Suzanne will
unhook me and I shall put on such a pretty negligée, and then curl up
in bed, turn on my reading light with the pink shade, and continue to
read the new novel recommended to me by Princess Naïa, called "Le
Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard." It is a perfectly darling story, and
Anatole France, who wrote it, must be a darling, too. The Princess
knows him and promises that he shall dine with us some day. I expect
to fall in love with him immediately.

Good night, dear Mr. Neeland. I _hope_ you will write to me.

                           Your little Gayfield friend grown up,
                                                       Ruhannah Carew.

This letter he finally did answer, not voluminously, but with all
cordiality. And, in a few days, forgot about it and about the girl to
whom it was written. And there was nothing more from her until early
summer.

Then came the last of her letters--an entirely mature missive, firm in
writing, decisive, concise, self-possessed, eloquent with an
indefinite something which betrayed a calmly ordered mind already
being moulded by discipline _mondaine_:

                  *       *       *       *       *

My dear Mr. Neeland:

I had your very kind and charming letter in reply to mine written last
January. My neglect to answer it, during all these months, involves
me in explanations which, if you like, are perhaps due you. But if you
require them at all, I had rather surrender them to you personally
when we meet.

Possibly that encounter, so happily anticipated on my part, may occur
sooner than you believe likely. I permit myself to hope so. The note
which I enclose to you from the lady whom I love very dearly should
explain why I venture to entertain a hope that you and I are to see
each other again in the near future.

As you were kind enough to inquire about myself and what you describe
so flatteringly as my "amazing progress in artistic and worldly
wisdom," I venture to reply to your questions in order:

They seem to be pleased with me at the school. I have a life-drawing
"on the wall," a composition sketch, and a "_concours_" study in oil.
That I have not burst to atoms with pride is a miracle inexplicable.

I have been told that my progress at the piano is fair. But I am very
certain I shall do no more with vocal and instrumental music than to
play and sing acceptably for such kind and uncritical friends as do
not demand much of an amateur. Without any unusual gifts, with a
rather sensitive ear, and with a very slightly cultivated and
perfectly childish voice--please do not expect anything from me to
please you.

In French I am already becoming fluent. You see, except for certain
lessons in it, I have scarcely heard a word of English since I came
here; the Princess will not use it to me nor permit its use by me. And
therefore, my ear being a musical one and rather accurate, I find--now
that I look back upon my abysmal ignorance--a very decided progress.

Also let me admit to you--and I have already done so, I see--that,
since I have been here, I have had daily lessons in English with a
cultivated English woman; and in consequence I have been learning to
enlarge a very meagre vocabulary, and have begun to appreciate
possibilities in my own language of which I never dreamed.

About my personal appearance--as long as you ask me--I think perhaps
that, were I less thin, I might be rather pretty. Dress makes such a
vast difference in a plain girl. Also, intelligent care of one's
person improves mediocrity. Of course everybody says such gracious
things to a girl over here that it would not do to accept any pretty
compliment very literally. But I really believe that you might think
me rather nice to look at.

As for the future, the truth is that I feel much encouraged. I made
some drawings in wash and in pen and ink--just ideas of mine. And
Monsieur Bonvard, who is editor of _The Grey Cat_--a very clever
weekly--has accepted them and has paid me twenty-five francs each for
them! I was so astonished that I could not believe it. One has been
reproduced in last week's paper. I have cut it out and pasted it in my
scrapbook.

I think, take it all in all, that seeing my first illustrations
printed has given me greater joy than I shall ever again experience on
earth.

My daily intercourse with the Princess Mistchenka continues to comfort
me, inspire me, and fill me with determination so to educate myself
that when the time comes I shall be ready and able to support myself
with pen and pencil.

And now I must bring my letter to its end. The prospect of seeing you
very soon is agreeable beyond words. You have been very kind to me. I
do not forget it.

                                         Yours very sincerely,
                                                       Ruhannah Carew.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The enclosure was a note from the Princess Mistchenka:

                  *       *       *       *       *

Dear Jim:

If in the past it has been my good fortune to add anything to yours,
may I now invoke in you the memory of our very frank and delightful
friendship?

When you first returned to America from Paris I found it possible to
do for you a few favours in the way of making you known to certain
editors. It was, I assure you, merely because I liked you and believed
in your work, not because I ever expected to ask from you any favour
in return.

Now, Fate has thrown an odd combination from her dice-box; and Destiny
has veiled herself so impenetrably that nobody can read that awful
visage to guess what thoughts possess her.

You, in America, have heard of the murder of the Austrian Archduke, of
course. But--have you, in America, any idea what the consequences of
that murder may lead to?

Enough of that. Now for the favour I ask.

Will you go _at once_ to Brookhollow, go to Ruhannah's house, open it,
take from it a chest made of olive wood and bound with some metal
which looks like silver, lock the box, take it to New York, place it
in a safe deposit vault until you can sail for Paris on the first
steamer that leaves New York?

Will you do this--get the box I have described and bring it to me
yourself on the first steamer that sails?

And, Jim, keep your eye on the box. Don't trust anybody near it. Rue
says that, as she recollects, the box is about the size and shape of a
suitcase and that it has a canvas and leather cover with a handle
which buttons over it.

Therefore, you can carry it yourself exactly as though it were your
suitcase, keep it with you in the train and on shipboard.

Will you do this, Jim? It is much to ask of you. I break in upon your
work and cause you great inconvenience and trouble and expense.
But--will you do it for me?

Much depends upon your doing this. I think that possibly the welfare
of your own country might depend on your doing this for me.

If you find yourself embarrassed financially, cable me just one word,
"Black," and I shall arrange matters through a New York bank.

If you feel that you do not care to do me this favour, cable the
single word, "White."

If you have sufficient funds, and are willing to bring the box to me
yourself, cable the word, "Blue."

In case that you undertake this business for me, be careful of the
contents of the box. Let nobody see it open. Be certain that the
contents are absolutely secure. I dare not tell you how vitally
important to civilisation these papers already are--how much they may
mean to the world; what powers of evil they might encourage if in any
way they fall into other hands than the right ones.

Jim, I have seldom taken a very serious tone with you since we have
known each other. I am very serious now. And if our friendship means
anything to you, prove it!

                                                        Yours,
                                                                 Naïa.

                  *       *       *       *       *

As he sat there in his studio, perplexed, amazed, annoyed, yet
curious, trying to think out what he ought to do--what, in fact, must
be done somehow or other--there came a ring at his door bell. A
messenger with a cable despatch stood there; Neeland signed, tore open
the envelope, and read:

                  *       *       *       *       *

Please go at once to Brookhollow and secure an olive-wood box bound
with silver, containing military maps, plans, photographs, and papers
written in German, property of Ruhannah Carew. Lose no time, I implore
you, as an attempt to rob the house and steal the papers is likely.
Beware of anybody resembling a German. Have written, but beg you not
to wait for letter.

                                                                 Naïa.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Twice he reread the cablegram. Then, with a half-bewildered,
half-disgusted glance around at his studio, his belongings, the
unfinished work on his easel, he went to the telephone.

It being July he had little difficulty in reserving a good stateroom
on the Cunarder _Volhynia_, sailing the following day. Then, summoning
the janitor, he packed a steamer trunk and gave order to have it taken
aboard that evening.

On his way downtown to his bank he stopped at a telegraph and cable
office and sent a cable message to the Princess Mistchenka. The text
consisted of only one word: "Blue."

He departed for Gayfield on the five o'clock afternoon train, carrying
with him a suitcase and an automatic pistol in his breast pocket.



CHAPTER XIV

A JOURNEY BEGINS


It was a five-hour trip. He dined aboard the train with little desire
for food, the July evening being oppressive, and a thunder storm
brewing over the Hudson. It burst in the vicinity of Fishkill with a
lively display of lightning, deluging the Catskills with rain. And
when he changed to a train on the Mohawk division the cooler air was
agreeably noticeable.

He changed trains again at Orangeville, and here the night breeze was
delightful and the scent of rain-soaked meadows came through the open
car window.

It was nearly ten o'clock and already, ahead, he caught sight of the
lights of Neeland's Mills. Always the homecoming was a keen delight to
him; and now, as he stepped off the train, the old familiar odours
were in his nostrils--the unique composite perfume of the native place
which never can be duplicated elsewhere.

All the sweet and aromatic and homely smells of earth and land and
water came to him with his first deep-drawn breath. The rank growth of
wild flowers and weeds were part of it--the flat atmosphere of the
mill pond, always redolent of water weed and lily pads, tinctured it;
distant fields of buckwheat added heavier perfume.

Neither in the quaint brick feed mill nor in the lumber mill were
there any lights, but in his own home, almost buried among tall trees
and vines, the light streamed from the sitting-room windows.

From the dark yard two or three dogs barked at him, then barked again
in a different key, voicing an excited welcome; and he opened the
picket gate and went up the path surrounded by demonstrative setters
and pointers, leaping and wagging about him and making a vast amount
of noise on the vine-covered verandah as he opened the door, let
himself into the house, and shut them out.

"Hello, dad!" he said, crossing swiftly to where his father sat by the
reading lamp.

Their powerful grip lingered. Old Dick Neeland, ruddy, white-haired,
straight as a pine, stood up in his old slippers and quilted smoking
coat, his brier pipe poised in his left hand.

"Splendid, Jim. I've been thinking about you this evening." He might
have added that there were few moments when his son was not in his
thoughts.

"Are you all right, dad?"

"Absolutely. You are, too, I see."

They seated themselves.

"Hungry, Jim?"

"No; I dined aboard."

"You didn't telegraph me."

"No; I came at short notice."

"Can't you stay?"

"Dad, I have a drawing-room reserved for the midnight tonight, and I
am sailing on the _Volhynia_ tomorrow at nine in the morning!"

"God bless me! Why, Jim?"

"Dad, I'll tell you all I know about it."

His father sat with brier pipe suspended and keen blue eyes fixed on
his son, while the son told everything he knew about the reason for
his flying trip to Paris.

"You see how it is, don't you, dad?" he ended. "The Princess has been
a good and loyal friend to me. She has used her influence; I have met,
through her, the people I ought to know, and they have given me work
to do. I'm in her debt; I'm under real obligation to her. And I've got
to go, that's all."

Old Dick Neeland's clear eyes of a sportsman continued to study his
son's face.

"Yes, you've got to go," he said. He smoked for a few moments, then:
"What the devil does it mean, anyway? Have you any notion, Jim?"

"No, I haven't. There seems to be some military papers in this box
that is mentioned. Evidently they are of value to somebody. Evidently
other people have got wind of that fact and desire to obtain them for
themselves. It almost seems as though something is brewing over
there--trouble of some sort between Germany and some other nation. But
I haven't heard of anything."

His father continued to smoke for a while, then:

"There _is_ something brewing over there, Jim."

"I hadn't heard," repeated the young man.

"I haven't either, directly. But in my business some unusual orders
have come through--from abroad. Both France and Germany have been
making inquiries through agents in regard to shipments of grain and
feed and lumber. I've heard of several very heavy rush orders."

"What on earth could cause war?"

"I can't see, Jim. Of course Austria's attitude toward Servia is very
sullen. But outside of that I can see no trouble threatening.

"And yet, the Gayfield woollen mill has just received an enormous
order for socks and underwear from the French Government. They're
running all night now. And another thing struck me: there has been a
man in this section buying horses for the British Government. Of
course it's done now and then, but, taking this incident with the
others which have come to my personal knowledge, it would seem as
though something were brewing over in Europe."

Jim's perplexed eyes rested on his father; he shook his youthful head
slightly:

"I can't see why," he said. "But if it's to be France and Germany
again, why my sympathy is entirely for France."

"Naturally," nodded his father.

Their Irish ancestors had fought for Bonaparte, and for the Bourbons
before him. And, cursed with cousins, like all Irish, they were aware
of plenty of Neelands in France who spoke no English.

Jim rose, glanced at his watch:

"Dad, I'll just be running over to Brookhollow to get that box. I
haven't such a lot of time, if I'm to catch the midnight train at
Orangeville."

"I should say you hadn't," said his father.

He was disappointed, but he smiled as he exchanged a handclasp with
his only son.

"You're coming right back from Paris?"

"Next steamer. I've a lot of work on hand, thank goodness! But that
only puts me under heavier obligations to the Princess Mistchenka."

"Yes, I suppose so. Anything but ingratitude, Jim. It's the vilest
vice of 'em all. They say it's in the Irish blood--ingratitude. They
must never prove it by a Neeland. Well, my boy--I'm not lonesome, you
understand; busy men have no time to be lonesome--but run up, will
you, when you get back?"

"You bet I will."

"I'll show you a brace of promising pups. They stand rabbits, still,
but they won't when the season is over."

"Blue Bird's pups?"

"Yes. They take after her."

"Fine! I'll be back for the shooting, anyway. Many broods this
season?"

"A fair number. It was not too wet."

For a moment they lingered, smiling at each other, then Jim gave his
father's hand a quick shake, picked up his suitcase, turned.

"I'll take the runabout, dad. Someone from the Orangeville garage will
bring it over in the morning."

He went out, pushed his way among the leaping dogs to the garage,
threw open the doors, and turned on the electric light.

A slim and trim Snapper runabout stood glistening beside a larger car
and two automobile trucks. He exchanged his straw hat for a cap;
placed hat and suitcase in the boot; picked up a flash light from the
work-table, and put it into his pocket, cranked the Snapper, jumped
in, ran it to the service entrance, where his father stood ready to
check the dogs and close the gates after him.

"Good-bye, dad!" he called out gaily.

"Good-bye, my son."

The next instant he was speeding through the starry darkness,
following the dazzling path blazed out for him by his headlights.



CHAPTER XV

THE LOCKED HOUSE


From the road, just before he descended to cross the bridge into
Brookhollow, he caught a gleam of light straight ahead. For a moment
it did not occur to him that there was anything strange in his seeing
a light in the old Carew house. Then, suddenly, he realised that a
light ought not to be burning behind the lowered shades of a house
which was supposed to be empty and locked.

His instant impulse was to put on his brakes then and there, but the
next moment he realised that his car must already have been heard and
seen by whoever had lighted that shaded lamp. The car was already on
the old stone bridge; the Carew house stood directly behind the
crossroads ahead; and he swung to the right into the creek road and
sped along it until he judged that neither his lights nor the sound of
his motor could be distinguished by the unknown occupant of the Carew
house.

Then he ran his car out among the tall weeds close to the line of
scrub willows edging the creek; extinguished his lights, including the
tail-lamp; left his engine running; stood listening a moment to the
whispering whirr of his motor; then, taking the flash light from his
pocket, he climbed over the roadside wall and ran back across the
pasture toward the house.

As he approached the old house from the rear, no crack of light was
visible, and he began to think he might have been mistaken--that
perhaps the dancing glare of his own acetylenes on the windows had
made it seem as though they were illuminated from within.

Cautiously he prowled along the rear under the kitchen windows, turned
the corner, and went to the front porch.

He had made no mistake; a glimmer was visible between the edge of the
lowered shade and the window casing.

Was it some impudent tramp who had preëmpted this lonely house for a
night's lodging? Was it, possibly, a neighbour who had taken charge in
return for a garden to cultivate and a place to sleep in? Yet, how
could it be the latter when he himself had the keys to the house?
Moreover, such an arrangement could scarcely have been made by Rue
Carew without his being told of it.

Then he remembered what the Princess Mistchenka had said in her cable
message, that somebody might break into the house and steal the
olive-wood box unless he hastened to Brookhollow and secured it
immediately.

Was this what was being done now? Had somebody broken in for that
purpose? And who might it be?

A slight chill, not entirely agreeable, passed over Neeland. A rather
warm sensation of irritation succeeded it; he mounted the steps,
crossed the verandah, went to the door and tried the knob very
cautiously. The door was locked; whoever might be inside either
possessed a key that fitted or else must have entered by forcing a
window.

But Neeland had neither time nor inclination to prowl around and
investigate; he had a duty to fulfil, a train to catch, and a steamer
to connect with the next morning. Besides, he was getting madder every
second.

So he fitted his key to the door, careless of what noise he made,
unlocked and pushed it open, and started to cross the threshold.

Instantly the light in the adjoining room grew dim. At the same moment
his quick ear caught a sound as though somebody had blown out the
turned-down flame; and he found himself facing total darkness.

"Who the devil's in there!" he called, flashing his electric pocket
lamp. "Come out, whoever you are. You've no business in this house,
and you know it!" And he entered the silent room.

His flash light revealed nothing except dining-room furniture in
disorder, the doors of a cupboard standing open--one door still gently
swinging on its hinges.

The invisible hand that had moved it could not be far away. Neeland,
throwing his light right and left, caught a glimpse of another door
closing stealthily, ran forward and jerked it open. His lamp
illuminated an empty passageway; he hurried through it to the door
that closed the farther end, tore it open, and deluged the
sitting-room with his blinding light.

Full in the glare, her face as white as the light itself, stood a
woman. And just in time his eyes caught the glitter of a weapon in her
stiffly extended hand; and he snapped off his light and ducked as the
level pistol-flame darted through the darkness.

The next second he had her in his grasp; held her writhing and
twisting; and, through the confused trample and heavy breathing, he
noticed a curious crackling noise as though the clothing she wore were
made of paper.

The struggle in pitch darkness was violent but brief; she managed to
fire again as he caught her right arm and felt along it until he
touched the desperately clenched pistol. Then, still clutching her
closed fingers, he pulled the flash light from his side pocket and
threw its full radiance straight into her face.

"Let go your pistol," he breathed.

She strove doggedly to retain it, but her slender fingers slowly
relaxed under his merciless grip; the pistol fell; and he kicked the
pearl-handled, nickel-plated weapon across the dusty board floor.

They both were panting; her right arm, rigid, still remained in his
powerful clutch. He released it presently, stepped back, and played
the light over her from head to foot.

She was deathly white. Under her smart straw hat, which had been
pushed awry, the contrast between her black hair and eyes and her
chalky skin was startling.

"What are you doing in this house?" he demanded, still breathing
heavily from exertion and excitement.

She made an effort:

"Is it your house?" she gasped.

"It isn't yours, is it?" he retorted.

She made no answer.

"Why did you shoot at me?"

She lifted her black eyes and stared at him. Her breast rose and fell
with her rapid breathing, and she placed both hands over it as though
to quiet it.

"Come," he said, "I'm in a hurry. I want an explanation from you----"

The words died on his lips as she whipped a knife out of her bosom and
flew at him. Through the confusion of flash light and darkness they
reeled, locked together, but he caught her arm again, jerking it so
violently into the air that he lifted her off her feet.

"That's about all for tonight," he panted, twisting the knife out of
her helpless hand and flinging it behind him. Without further
ceremony, he pulled out his handkerchief, caught her firmly, reached
for her other arm, jerked it behind her back, and tied both wrists.
Then he dragged a chair up and pushed her on it.

Her hat had fallen off, and her hair sagged to her neck. The frail
stuff of which her waist was made had been badly torn, too, and hung
in rags from her right shoulder.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

As she made no reply, he went over and picked up the knife and the
pistol. The knife was a silver-mounted Kurdish dagger; the engraved
and inlaid blade appeared to be dull and rusty. He examined it for a
few moments, glanced inquiringly at her where she sat, pale and mute
on the chair, with both wrists tied behind her.

"You seem to be a connoisseur of antiques," he said. "Your dagger is
certainly a collector's gem, and your revolver is equally out of date.
I recommend an automatic the next time you contemplate doing murder."

Walking up to her he looked curiously into her dark eyes, but he could
detect no expression in them.

"Why did you come here?" he demanded.

No answer.

"Did you come to get an olive-wood box bound with silver?"

A slight colour tinted the ashy pallor under her eyes.

He turned abruptly and swept the furniture with his searchlight, and
saw on a table her coat, gloves, wrist bag, and furled umbrella; and
beside them what appeared to be her suitcase, open. It had a canvas
and leather cover: he walked over to the table, turned back the cover
of the suitcase and revealed a polished box of olive wood, heavily
banded by some metal resembling silver.

Inside the box were books, photographs, a bronze Chinese figure, which
he recognised as the Yellow Devil, a pair of revolvers, a dagger very
much like the one he had wrested from her. _But there were no military
plans there._

He turned to his prisoner:

"Is everything here?" he asked sharply.

"Yes."

He picked up her wrist bag and opened it, but discovered only some
money, a handkerchief, a spool of thread and packet of needles.

There was a glass lamp on the table. He managed to light it finally;
turned off his flash light, and examined the contents of the box again
thoroughly. Then he came back to where she was seated.

"Get up," he said.

She looked at him sullenly without moving.

"I'm in a hurry," he repeated; "get up. I'm going to search you."

At that she bounded to her feet.

"What!" she exclaimed furiously.

But he caught hold of her, held her, untied the handkerchief, freeing
her wrists.

"Now, pull out those papers you have concealed under your clothing,"
he said impatiently. And, as she made no motion to comply: "If you
don't, I'll do it for you!"

"You dare lay your hand on me!" she flamed.

"You treacherous little cat, do you think I'll hesitate?" he retorted.
"Do you imagine I retain any respect for you or your person? Give me
those papers!"

"I have no papers!"

"You are lying. Listen to me once for all; I've a train to catch and a
steamer to catch, and I'm going to do both. And if you don't instantly
hand out those papers you've concealed I'll have no more compunction
in taking them by force than I'd have in stripping an ear of corn!
Make up your mind and make it up quick!"

"You mean you'd strip--_me_!" she stammered, scarlet to her hair.

"That's what I mean, you lying little thief. That's just what I mean.
Kick and squall as you like, I'll take those papers with me if I have
to take your clothing too!"

Breathless, infuriated, she looked desperately around her, caught
sight of the Kurdish dagger, leaped at it; and for the third time
found herself struggling in his arms.

"Don't!" she gasped. "Let me go! I--I'll give you what you want----"

"Do you mean it?"

"Yes."

He released the dishevelled girl, who shrank away from him. But the
devil himself glowed in her black eyes.

"Go out of the room," she said, "if I'm to get the papers for you!"

"I can't trust you," he answered. "I'll turn my back." And he walked
over to the olive-wood box, where the weapons lay.

Standing there he heard, presently, the rustle of crumpling papers,
heard a half-smothered sob, waited, listening, alert for further
treachery on her part.

"Hurry!" he said.

A board creaked.

"Don't move again!" he cried. The floor boards creaked once more; and
he turned like a flash to find her in her stocking feet, already
halfway to where he stood. In either hand she held out a bundle of
papers; and, as they faced each other, she took another step toward
him.

"Stand where you are," he warned her. "Throw those papers on the
floor!"

"I----"

"Do you hear!"

Looking him straight in the eyes she opened both hands; the papers
fell at her feet, and with them dropped the two dagger-like steel pins
which had held her hat.

"Now, go and put on your shoes," he said contemptuously, picking up
the papers and running over them. When he had counted them, he came
back to where she was standing.

"Where are the others?"

"What others?"

"The remainder of the papers! You little devil, they're wrapped around
your body! Go into that pantry! Go quick! Undress and throw out every
rag you wear!"

She drew a deep, quivering breath, turned, entered the pantry and
closed the door. Presently the door opened a little and her clothing
dropped outside in a heap.

There were papers in her stockings, papers stitched to her stays,
basted inside her skirts. A roll of drawings traced on linen lay on
the floor, still retaining the warmth of her body around which they
had been wrapped.

He pulled the faded embroidered cover from the old piano and knocked
at the pantry door.

"Put that on," he said, "and come out."

She emerged, swathed from ankle to chin, her flushed face shadowed by
her fallen mass of dark hair. He turned his flash light on the
cupboard, but discovered nothing more. Then he picked up her hat,
clothes, and shoes, laid them on the pantry shelf, and curtly bade her
go back and dress.

"May I have the lamp and that looking glass?"

"If you like," he said, preoccupied with the papers.

While she was dressing, he repacked the olive-wood box. She emerged
presently, carrying the lamp, and he took it from her hurriedly, not
knowing whether she might elect to throw it at his head.

While she was putting on her jacket he stood watching her with
perplexed and sombre gaze.

"I think," he remarked, "that I'll take you with me and drop you at
the Orangeville jail on my way to town. Be kind enough to start toward
the door."

As she evinced no inclination to stir he passed one arm around her and
lifted her along a few feet; and she turned on him, struggling, her
face convulsed with fury.

"Keep your insolent hands off me," she said. "Do you hear?"

"Oh, yes, I hear." He nodded again toward the door. "Come," he
repeated impatiently; "move on!"

She hesitated; he picked up the olive-wood box, extinguished the lamp,
opened his flash, and motioned with his head, significantly. She
walked ahead of him, face lowered.

Outside he closed and locked the door of the house.

"This way," he said coldly. "If you refuse, I'll pick you up and
carry you under my arm. I think by this time you realise I can do it,
too."

Halfway across the dark pasture she stopped short in her tracks.

"Have I _got_ to carry you?" he demanded sharply.

"Don't have me locked up."

"Why not?"

"I'm not a--a thief."

"Oh! Excuse me. What are you?"

"You know. Don't humiliate me."

"Answer my question! What are you if you're not a lady crook?"

"I'm employed--as _you_ are! Play the game fairly." She halted in the
dark pasture, but he motioned her to go forward.

"If you don't keep on walking," he said, "I'll pick you up as I would
a pet cat and carry you. Now, then, once more, who are you working
for? By whom are you employed, if you're not a plain thief?"

"The--Turkish Embassy."

"What!"

"You knew it," she said in a low voice, walking through the darkness
beside him.

"What is your name?" he insisted.

"Dumont."

"What else?"

"Ilse Dumont."

"That's French."

"It's Alsatian German."

"All right. Now, why did you break into that house?"

"To take what you took."

"To steal these papers for the Turkish Embassy?"

"To _take_ them."

"For the Turkish Ambassador!" he repeated incredulously.

"No; for his military attaché."

"What are you, a spy?"

"You knew it well enough. You are one, also. But you have treated me
as though I were a thief. You'll be killed for it, I hope."

"You think I'm a spy?" he asked, astonished.

"What else are you?"

"A spy?" he repeated. "Is _that_ what _you_ are? And you suppose me to
be one, too? That's funny. That's extremely----" He checked himself,
looked around at her. "What are you about?" he demanded. "What's that
in your hand?"

"A cigarette."

They had arrived at the road. He got over the wall with the box; she
vaulted it lightly.

In the darkness he caught the low, steady throbbing of his engine, and
presently distinguished the car standing where he had left it.

"Get in," he said briefly.

"I am not a thief! Are you going to lay that charge against me?"

"I don't know. Is it worse than charging you with three separate
attempts to murder me?"

"Are you going to take me to jail?"

"I'll see. You'll go as far as Orangeville with me, anyhow."

"I don't care to go."

"I don't care whether you want to go or not. Get into the car!"

She climbed to the seat beside the wheel; he tossed in the olive-wood
box, turned on his lamps, and took the wheel.

"May I have a match for my cigarette?" she asked meekly.

He found one, scratched it; she placed a very thick and long cigarette
between her lips and he lighted it for her.

Just as he threw in the clutch and the car started, the girl blew a
shower of sparks from the end of her cigarette, rose in her seat, and
flung the lighted cigarette high into the air. Instantly it burst into
a flare of crimson fire, hanging aloft as though it were a fire
balloon, and lighting up road and creek and bushes and fields with a
brilliant strontium glare.

Then, far in the night, he heard a motor horn screech three times.

"You young devil!" he said, increasing the speed. "I ought to have
remembered that every snake has its mate.... If you offer to touch
me--if you move--if you as much as lift a finger, I'll throw you into
the creek!"

The car was flying now, reeling over the dirt road like a drunken
thing. He hung grimly to the wheel, his strained gaze fixed on the
shaft of light ahead, through which the road streamed like a torrent.

A great wind roared in his ears; his cap was gone. The car hurled
itself forward through an endless tunnel of darkness lined with
silver. Presently he began to slow down; the furious wind died away;
the streaking darkness sped by less swiftly.

"Have you gone mad?" she cried in his ear. "You'll kill us both!"

"Wait," he shouted back; "I'll show you and your friends behind us
what speed really is."

The car was still slowing down as they passed over a wooden bridge
where a narrow road, partly washed out, turned to the left and ran
along a hillside. Into this he steered.

"Who is it chasing us?" he asked curiously, still incredulous that any
embassy whatever was involved in this amazing affair.

"Friends."

"More Turks?"

She did not reply.

He sat still, listening for a few moments, then hastily started his
car down the hill.

"Now," he said, "I'll show you what this car of mine really can do!
Are you afraid?"

She said between her teeth:

"I'd be a fool if I were not. All I pray for is that you'll kill
yourself, too."

"We'll chance it together, my murderous little friend."

The wind began to roar again as they rushed downward over a hill that
seemed endless. She clung to her seat and he hung to his wheel like
grim death; and, for one terrible instant, she almost lost
consciousness.

Then the terrific pace slackened; the car, running swiftly, was now
speeding over a macadam road; and Neeland laughed and cried in her
ear:

"Better light another of your hell's own cigarettes if you want your
friends to follow us!"

Slowing, he drove with one hand on the wheel.

"Look up there!" he said, pointing high at a dark hillside. "See their
lights? They're on the worst road in the Gayfield hills. We cut off
three miles this way."

Still driving with one hand, he looked at his watch, laughed
contentedly, and turned to her with the sudden and almost friendly
toleration born of success and a danger shared in common.

"That was rather a reckless bit of driving," he admitted. "Were you
frightened?"

"Ask yourself how you'd feel with a fool at the wheel."

"We're all fools at times," he retorted, laughing. "You were when you
shot at me. Suppose I'd been seized with panic. I might have turned
loose on you, too."

For a while she remained silent, then she looked at him curiously:

"Were you armed?"

"I carry an automatic pistol in my portfolio pocket."

She shrugged.

"You were a fool to come into that house without carrying it in your
hand."

"Where would you be now if I had done that?"

"Dead, I suppose," she said carelessly.... "What _are_ you going to do
with me?"

He was in excellent humour with himself; exhilaration and excitement
still possessed him, keyed him up.

"Fancy," he said, "a foreign embassy being mixed up in a plain case of
grand larceny!--robbing with attempt to murder! My dear but
bloodthirsty young lady, I can hardly comprehend it."

She remained silent, looking straight in front of her.

"You know," he said, "I'm rather glad you're not a common thief.
You've lots of pluck--plenty. You're as clever as a cobra. It isn't
every poisonous snake that is clever," he added, laughing.

"What do you intend to do with me?" she repeated coolly.

"I don't know. You are certainly an interesting companion. Maybe I'll
take you to New York with me. You see I'm beginning to like you."

She was silent.

He said:

"I never before met a real spy. I scarcely believed they existed in
time of peace, except in novels. Really, I never imagined there were
any spies working for embassies, except in Europe. You are, to me,
such a rare specimen," he added gaily, "that I rather dread parting
with you. Won't you come to Paris with me?"

"Does what you say amuse you?"

"What _you_ say does. Yes, I think I'll take you to New York, anyway.
And as we journey toward that great metropolis together you shall tell
me all about your delightful profession. You shall be a Scheherazade
to me! Is it a bargain?"

She said in a pleasant, even voice:

"I might as well tell you now that what you've been stupid enough to
do tonight is going to cost you your life."

"What!" he exclaimed laughingly. "More murder? Oh, Scheherazade! Shame
on your naughty, naughty behaviour!"

"Do you expect to reach Paris with those papers?"

"I do, fair houri! I do, Rose of Stamboul!"

"You never will."

"No?"

"No." She sat staring ahead of her for a few moments, then turned on
him with restrained impatience:

"Listen to me, now! I don't know who you are. If you're employed by
any government you are a novice----"

"Or an artist!"

"Or a consummate artist," she admitted, looking at him uncertainly.

"I _am_ an artist," he said.

"You have an excellent opinion of yourself."

"No. I'm telling you the truth. My name is Neeland--James Neeland. I
draw little pictures for a living--nice little pictures for newspapers
and magazines."

His frankness evidently perplexed her.

"If that is so," she said, "what interests you in the papers you took
from me?"

"Nothing at all, my dear young lady! _I'm_ not interested in them. But
friends of mine are."

"Who?"

He merely laughed at her.

"_Are_ you an agent for any government?"

"Not that I know of."

She said very quietly:

"You make a terrible mistake to involve yourself in this affair. If
you are not paid to do it--if you are not interested from patriotic
motives--you had better keep aloof."

"But it's too late. I _am_ mixed up in it--whatever it may mean. Why
not tell me, Scheherazade?"

His humorous badinage seemed only to make her more serious.

"Mr. Neeland," she said quietly, "if you really are what you say you
are, it is a dangerous and silly thing that you have done tonight."

"Don't say that! Don't consider it so tragically. I'm enjoying it all
immensely."

"Do you consider it a comedy when a woman tries to kill you?"

"Maybe you are fond of murder, gentle lady."

"Your sense of humour seems a trifle perverted. I am more serious than
I ever was in my life. And I tell you very solemnly that you'll be
killed if you try to take those papers to Paris. Listen!"--she laid
one hand lightly on his arm--"Why should you involve yourself--you, an
American? This matter is no concern of yours----"

"What matter?"

"The matter concerning those papers. I tell you it does not concern
you; it is none of your business. Let me be frank with you: the papers
are of importance to a foreign government--to the German Government.
And in no way do they threaten your people or your country's welfare.
Why, then, do you interfere? Why do you use violence toward an agent
of a foreign and friendly government?"

"Why does a foreign and friendly government employ spies in a friendly
country?"

"All governments do."

"Is that so?"

"It is. America swarms with British and French agents."

"How do you know?"

"It's my business to know, Mr. Neeland."

"Then that _is_ your profession! You really are a spy?"

"Yes."

"And you pursue this ennobling profession with an enthusiasm which
does not stop short of murder!"

"I had no choice."

"Hadn't you? Your business seems to be rather a deadly one, doesn't
it, Scheherazade?"

"Yes, it might become so.... Mr. Neeland, I have no personal feeling
of anger for you. You offered me violence; you behaved brutally,
indecently. But I want you to understand that no petty personal
feeling incites me. The wrong you have done me is nothing; the injury
you threaten to do my country is very grave. I ask you to believe that
I speak the truth. It is in the service of my country that I have
acted. Nothing matters to me except my country's welfare. Individuals
are nothing; the Fatherland everything.... Will you give me back my
papers?"

"No. I shall return them to their owner."

"Is that final?"

"It is."

"I am sorry," she said.

A moment later the lights of Orangeville came into distant view across
the dark and rolling country.



CHAPTER XVI

SCHEHERAZADE


At the Orangeville garage Neeland stopped his car, put on his straw
hat, got out carrying suitcase and box, entered the office, and turned
over the care of the machine to an employee with orders to drive it
back to Neeland's Mills the next morning.

Then he leisurely returned to his prisoner who had given him her name
as Ilse Dumont and who was standing on the sidewalk beside the car.

"Well, Scheherazade," he said, smiling, "teller of marvellous tales, I
don't quite believe your stories, but they were extremely
entertaining. So I won't bowstring you or cut off your unusually
attractive head! No! On the contrary, I thank you for your
wonder-tales, and for not murdering me. And, furthermore, I bestow
upon you your liberty. Have you sufficient cash to take you where you
desire to waft yourself?"

All the time her dark, unsmiling eyes remained fixed on him, calmly
unresponsive to his badinage.

"I'm sorry I had to be rough with you, Scheherazade," he continued,
"but when a young lady sews her clothes full of papers which don't
belong to her, what, I ask you, is a modest young man to do?"

She said nothing.

"It becomes necessary for that modest young man to can his
modesty--and the young lady's. Is there anything else he could do?" he
repeated gaily.

"He had better return those papers," she replied in a low voice.

"I'm sorry, Scheherazade, but it isn't done in ultra-crooked circles.
Are you sure you have enough money to go where destiny and booty call
you?"

"I have what I require," she answered dryly.

"Then good-bye, Pearl of the Harem! Without rancour, I offer you the
hand that reluctantly chastened you."

They remained facing each other in silence for a moment; his
expression was mischievously amused; hers inscrutable. Then, as he
patiently and good-humouredly continued to offer her his hand, very
slowly she laid her own in it, still looking him directly in the
eyes.

"I'm sorry," she said in a low voice.

"For what? For not shooting me?"

"I'm sorry for _you_, Mr. Neeland.... You're only a boy, after all.
You know nothing. And you refuse to learn.... I'm sorry....
Good-bye."

"Could I take you anywhere? To the Hotel Orange? I've time. The
station is across the street."

"No," she said.

She walked leisurely along the poorly lighted street and turned the
first corner as though at hazard. The next moment her trim and
graceful figure had disappeared.

With his heart still gay from the night's excitement, and the drop of
Irish blood in him lively as champagne, he crossed the square briskly,
entered the stuffy station, bought a ticket, and went out to the
wooden platform beside the rails.

Placing box and suitcase side by side, he seated himself upon them and
lighted a cigarette.

Here was an adventure! Whether or not he understood it, here
certainly was a real, story-book adventure at last. And he began to
entertain a little more respect for those writers of romance who have
so persistently attempted to convince an incredulous world that
adventures are to be had anywhere and at any time for the mere effort
entailed in seeking them.

In his case, however, he had not sought adventure. It had been thrust
upon him by cable.

And now the drop of Irish in him gratefully responded. He was much
obliged to Fate for his evening's entertainment; he modestly ventured
to hope for favours to come. And, considering the coolly veiled
threats of this young woman whom he had treated with scant ceremony,
he had some reason to expect a sequel to the night's adventure.

"She," he thought to himself, "had nothing on Godiva--except a piano
cover!"

Recollection of the absurd situation incited his reprehensible
merriment to the point of unrestrained laughter; and he clasped his
knees and rocked to and fro, where he sat on his suitcase, all alone
under the stars.

The midnight express was usually from five to forty minutes late at
Orangeville; but from there east it made up time on the down grade to
Albany.

And now, as he sat watching, far away along the riverside a star came
gliding into view around an unseen curve--the headlight of a distant
locomotive.

A few moments later he was in his drawing-room, seated on the edge of
the couch, his door locked, the shade over the window looking on the
corridor drawn down as far as it would go; and the train rushing
through the starry night on the down grade toward Albany.

He could not screen the corridor window entirely; the shade seemed to
be too short; but it was late, the corridor dark, all the curtains in
the car closed tightly over the berths, and his privacy was not likely
to be disturbed. And when the conductor had taken both tickets and the
porter had brought him a bottle of mineral water and gone away, he
settled down with great content.

Neeland was in excellent humour. He had not the slightest inclination
to sleep. He sat on the side of his bed, smoking, the olive-wood box
lying open beside him, and its curious contents revealed.

But now, as he carefully examined the papers, photographs, and
drawings, he began to take the affair a little more seriously. And the
possibility of further trouble raised his already high spirits and
caused that little drop of Irish blood to sing agreeably in his
veins.

Dipping into Herr Wilner's diary added a fillip to the increasing
fascination that was possessing him.

"Well, I'm damned," he thought, "if it doesn't really look as though
the plans of these Turkish forts might be important! I'm not very much
astonished that the Kaiser and the Sultan desire to keep for
themselves the secrets of these fortifications. They really belong to
them, too. They were drawn and planned by a German." He shrugged. "A
rotten alliance!" he muttered, and picked up the bronze Chinese figure
to examine it.

"So you're the Yellow Devil I've heard about!" he said. "Well, you
certainly are a pippin!"

Inspecting him with careless curiosity, he turned the bronze over and
over between his hands, noticing a slight rattling sound that seemed
to come from within but discovering no reason for it. And, as he
curiously considered the scowling demon, he hummed an old song of his
father's under his breath:

  "Wan balmy day in May
  Th' ould Nick come to the dure;
  Sez I 'The divil's to pay,
  An' the debt comes harrd on the poor!'
  His eyes they shone like fire
  An' he gave a horrid groan;
  Sez I to me sister Suke,
                  'Suke!!!!
  Tell him I ain't at home!'

  "He stood forninst the dure,
  His wings were wings of a bat,
  An' he raised his voice to a roar,
  An' the tail of him switched like a cat,
  'O wirra the day!' sez I,
  'Ochone I'll no more roam!'
  Sez I to me brother Luke,
                  'Luke!!!!
  Tell him I ain't at home!'"

As he laid the bronze figure away and closed, locked and strapped the
olive-wood box, an odd sensation crept over him as though somebody
were overlooking what he was doing. Of course it could not be true,
but so sudden and so vivid was the impression that he rose, opened the
door, and glanced into the private washroom--even poked under the bed
and the opposite sofa; and of course discovered that only a living
skeleton could lie concealed in such spaces.

His courage, except moral courage, had never been particularly tested.
He was naturally quite fearless, even carelessly so, and whether it
was the courage of ignorance or a constitutional inability to be
afraid never bothered his mind because he never thought about it.

Now, amused at his unusual fit of caution, he stretched himself out on
his bed, still dressed, debating in his mind whether he should undress
and try to sleep, or whether it were really worth while before he
boarded the steamer.

And, as he lay there, a cigarette between his lips, wakeful, his
restless gaze wandering, he suddenly caught a glimpse of something
moving--a human face pressed to the dark glass of the corridor window
between the partly lowered shade and the cherry-wood sill.

So amazed was he that the face had disappeared before he realised that
it resembled the face of Ilse Dumont. The next instant he was on his
feet and opening the door of the drawing-room; but the corridor
between the curtained berths was empty and dark and still; not a
curtain fluttered.

He did not care to leave his doorway, either, with the box lying there
on his bed; he stood with one hand on the knob, listening, peering
into the dusk, still excited by the surprise of seeing her on the same
train that he had taken.

However, on reflection, he quite understood that she could have had no
difficulty in boarding the midnight train for New York without being
noticed by him; because he was not expecting her to do such a thing
and he had paid no attention to the group of passengers emerging from
the waiting room when the express rolled in.

"This is rather funny," he thought. "I wish I could find her. I wish
she'd be friendly enough to pay me a visit. Scheherazade is certainly
an entertaining girl. And it's several hours to New York."

He lingered a while longer, but seeing and hearing nothing except
darkness and assorted snores, he stepped into his stateroom and locked
the door again.

Sleep was now impossible; the idea of Scheherazade prowling in the
dark corridor outside amused him intensely, and aroused every atom of
his curiosity. Did the girl really expect an opportunity to steal the
box? Or was she keeping a sinister eye on him with a view to summoning
accomplices from vasty metropolitan deeps as soon as the train
arrived? Or, having failed at Brookhollow, was she merely going back
to town to report "progress backward"?

He finished his mineral water, and, still feeling thirsty, rang, on
the chance that the porter might still be awake and obliging.

Something about the entire affair was beginning to strike him as
intensely funny, and the idea of foreign spies slinking about
Brookhollow; the seriousness with which this young girl took herself
and her mission; her amateur attempts at murder; her solemn mention of
the Turkish Embassy--all these excited his sense of the humorous. And
again incredulity crept in; and presently he found himself humming
Irwin's immortal Kaiser refrain:

                         "Hi-lee! Hi-lo!
                   Der vinds dey blow
                   Joost like die wacht am Rhine!
                   Und vot iss mine belongs to me,
                   Und vot iss yours iss mine!"

There came a knock at his door; he rose and opened it, supposing it to
be the porter; and was seized in the powerful grasp of two men and
jerked into the dark corridor.

One of them had closed his mouth with a gloved hand, crushing him
with an iron grip around the neck; the other caught his legs and
lifted him bodily; and, as they slung him between them, his startled
eyes caught sight of Ilse Dumont entering his drawing-room.

It was a silent, fierce struggle through the corridor to the front
platform of the vestibule train; it took both men to hold, overpower,
and completely master him; but they tried to do this and, at the same
time, lift the trap that discloses the car steps. And could not manage
it.

The instant Neeland realised what they were trying to do, he divined
their shocking intention in regard to himself, and the struggle became
terrible there in the swaying vestibule. Twice he nearly got at the
automatic pistol in his breast pocket, but could not quite grasp it.
They slammed him and thrashed him around between them, apparently
determined to open the trap, fling him from the train, and let him
take his chances with the wheels.

Then, of a sudden, came a change in the fortunes of war; they were
trying to drag him over the chain sagging between the forward mail-car
and the Pullman, when one of them caught his foot on it and stumbled
backward, releasing Neeland's right arm. In the same instant he drove
his fist into the face of his other assailant so hard that the man's
head jerked backward as though his neck were broken, and he fell flat
on his back.

Already the train was slowing down for the single stop between Albany
and New York--Hudson. Neeland got out his pistol and pointed it
shakily at the man who had fallen backward over the chain.

"Jump!" he panted. "Jump quick!"

The man needed no other warning; he opened the trap, scrambled and
wriggled down the mail-car steps, and was off the train like a snake
from a sack.

The other man, bloody and ghastly white, crept under the chain after
his companion. He was a well-built, good-looking man of forty, with
blue eyes and a golden beard all over blood. He seemed sick from the
terrific blow dealt him; but as the train had almost stopped, Neeland
pushed him off with the flat of his foot.

Drenched in perspiration, dishevelled, bruised, he slammed both traps
and ran back into the dark corridor, and met Ilse Dumont coming out of
his stateroom carrying the olive-wood box.

His appearance appeared to stupefy her; he took the box from her
without resistance, and, pushing her back into the stateroom, locked
the door.

Then, still savagely excited, and the hot blood of battle still
seething in his veins, he stood staring wickedly into her dazed eyes,
the automatic pistol hanging from his right fist.

But after a few moments something in her naïve astonishment--her
amazement to see him alive and standing there before her--appealed to
him as intensely ludicrous; he dropped on the edge of the bed and
burst into laughter uncontrolled.

"Scheherazade! Oh, Scheherazade!" he said, weak with laughter, "if you
could only see your face! If you could only _see_ it, my dear child!
It's too funny to be true! It's too funny to be a real face! Oh, dear,
I'll die if I laugh any more. You'll assassinate me with your face!"

She seated herself on the lounge opposite, still gazing blankly at him
in his uncontrollable mirth.

After a while he put back the automatic into his breast pocket, took
off coat and waistcoat, without paying the slightest heed to her or to
convention; opened his own suitcase, selected a fresh shirt, tie, and
collar, and, taking with him his coat and the olive-wood box, went
into the little washroom.

He scarcely expected to find her there when he emerged, cooled and
refreshed; but she was still there, seated as he had left her on the
lounge.

"I wanted to ask you," she said in a low voice, "did you _kill_
them?"

"Not at all, Scheherazade," he replied gaily. "The Irish don't kill;
they beat up their friends; that's all. Fist and blackthorn, my pretty
lass, but nix for the knife and gun."

"How--did you do it?"

"Well, I got tired having a ham-fisted Dutchman pawing me and closing
my mouth with his big splay fingers. So I asked him to slide overboard
and shoved his friend after him."

"Did you shoot them?"

"No, I tell you!" he said disgustedly. "I hadn't a chance in hot
blood, and I couldn't do it in cold. No, Scheherazade, I didn't shoot.
I pulled a gun for dramatic effect, that's all."

After a silence she asked him in a low voice what he intended to do
with her.

"Do? Nothing! Chat affably with you until we reach town, if you don't
mind. Nothing more violent than that, Scheherazade."

The girl, sitting sideways on the sofa, leaned her head against the
velvet corner as though very tired. Her small hands lay in her lap
listlessly, palms up-turned.

"Are you really tired?" he asked.

"Yes, a little."

He took the two pillows from his bed and placed them on the sofa.

"You may lie down if you like, Scheherazade."

"Won't you need them?"

"Sunburst of my soul, if I pillow my head on anything while you are in
the vicinity, it will be on that olive-wood box!"

For the first time the faintest trace of a smile touched her lips. She
turned, settled the pillows to her liking, and stretched out her
supple figure on the sofa with a slight sigh.

"Shall I talk to you, Scheherazade, or let you snuggle into the chaste
arms of Morpheus?"

"I can't sleep."

"Is it a talk-fest, then?"

"I am listening."

"Then, were the two recent gentlemen who so rudely pounced upon me the
same gentlemen who so cheerfully chased me in an automobile when you
made red fire?"

"Yes."

"I was betting on it. Nice-looking man--the one with the classical map
and the golden Frick."

She said nothing.

"Scheherazade," he continued with smiling malice, "do you realise that
you are both ornamental and young? Why so young and murderous, fair
houri? Why delight in manslaughter in any degree? Why cultivate
assault and battery? Why swipe the property of others?"

She closed her eyes on the pillow, but, as he remained silent,
presently opened them again.

"I asked them not to hurt you," she said irrelevantly.

"Who? Oh, your strenuous friends with the footpad technique? Well,
they obeyed you unwillingly."

"Did they hurt you?"

"Oh, no. But the car-wheels might have."

"The car-wheels?"

"Yes. They were all for dumping me down the steps of the vestibule.
But I've got a nasty disposition, Scheherazade, and I kicked and bit
and screamed so lustily that I disgusted them and they simply left the
train and concluded to cut my acquaintance."

It was evident that his good-humoured mockery perplexed her. Once or
twice the shadow of a smile passed over her dark eyes, but they
remained uncertain and watchful.

"You really were astonished to see me alive again, weren't you?" he
asked.

"I was surprised to see you, of course."

"Alive?"

"I told you that I asked them not to really hurt you."

"Do you suppose I believe _that_, after your pistol practice on me?"

"It is true," she replied, her eyes resting on him.

"You wished to reserve me for more pistol practice?"

"I have no--enmity--for you."

"Oh, Scheherazade!" he protested, laughing.

"You are wrong, Mr. Neeland."

"After all I did to you?"

To his surprise a bright blush spread over her face where it lay
framed by the pillows; she turned her head abruptly and lay without
speaking.

He sat thinking for a few minutes, then leaning forward from where he
sat on the bed's edge:

"After a man's been shot at and further intimidated with a large,
unpleasantly rusty Kurdish dagger, he is likely to proceed without
ceremony. All the same, I am sorry I had to humiliate you,
Scheherazade."

She lay silent, unstirring.

"A girl would never forgive that, I know," he said. "So I shall look
for a short shrift from you if your opportunity ever comes."

The girl appeared to be asleep. He stood up and looked down at her.
The colour had faded from the one cheek visible. For a while he
listened to her quiet breathing, then, the imp of perversity seizing
him, and intensely diverted by the situation, he bent over her,
touched her cheek with his lips, put on his hat, took box and
suitcase, and went out to spend the remaining hour or two in the
smoking room, leaving her to sleep in peace.

But no sooner had he closed the door on her than the girl sat straight
up on the sofa, her face surging in colour, and her eyes brilliant
with starting tears.

When the train arrived at the Grand Central Station, in the grey of a
July morning, Neeland, finding the stateroom empty, lingered to watch
for her among the departing passengers.

But he lingered in vain; and presently a taxicab took him and his box
to the Cunard docks, and deposited him there. And an hour later he was
in his cabin on board that vast ensemble of machinery and luxury, the
Cunarder _Volhynia_, outward bound, and headed straight at the
dazzling disc of the rising sun.

And thought of Scheherazade faded from his mind as a tale that is
told.



CHAPTER XVII

A WHITE SKIRT


It was in mid-ocean that Neeland finally came to the conclusion that
nobody on board the _Volhynia_ was likely to bother him or his box.

The July weather had been magnificent--blue skies, a gentle wind, and
a sea scarcely silvered by a comber.

Assorted denizens of the Atlantic took part in the traditional
vaudeville performance for the benefit of the _Volhynia_ passengers;
gulls followed the wake to mid-ocean; Mother Carey's chickens skimmed
the baby billows; dolphins turned watery flip-flaps under the bows;
and even a distant whale consented to oblige.

Everybody pervaded the decks morning, noon, and evening; the most
squeamish recovered confidence in twenty-four hours; and every
constitutional lubber concluded he was a born sailor.

Neeland really was one; no nausea born from the bad adjustment of that
anatomical auricular gyroscope recently discovered in man ever
disturbed his abdominal nerves. Short of shipwreck, he enjoyed any
entertainment the Atlantic offered him.

So he was always on deck, tranquilly happy and with nothing in the
world to disturb him except his responsibility for the olive-wood
box.

He dared not leave it in his locked cabin; he dared not entrust it to
anybody; he lugged it about with him wherever he went. On deck it
stood beside his steamer chair; it dangled from his hand when he
promenaded, exciting the amazement and curiosity of others; it
reposed on the floor under the table and beneath his attentive feet
when he was at meals.

These elaborate precautions indicated his wholesome respect for the
persistence of Scheherazade and her friends; he was forever scanning
his fellow-voyagers at table, in the smoking room, and as they
strolled to and fro in front of his steamer chair, trying to make up
his mind concerning them.

But Neeland, a clever observer of externals, was no reader of
character. The passenger list never seemed to confirm any conclusions
he arrived at concerning any of the passengers on the _Volhynia_. A
gentleman he mistook for an overfed broker turned out to be a popular
clergyman with outdoor proclivities; a slim, poetic-looking youth who
carried a copy of "Words and Wind" about the deck travelled for the
Gold Leaf Lard Company.

Taking them all in all, Neeland concluded that they were as harmless a
collection of _reconcentrados_ as he had ever observed; and he was
strongly tempted to leave the box in his locked stateroom.

He decided to do so one afternoon after luncheon, and, lugging his
box, started to return to his stateroom with that intention, instead
of going on deck, as usual, for a postprandial cigarette.

There was nobody in the main corridor as he passed, but in the short,
carpeted passage leading to his stateroom he caught a glimpse of a
white serge skirt vanishing into the stateroom opposite to his, and
heard the door close and the noise of a key turned quickly.

His steward, being questioned on the first day out, had told him that
this stateroom was occupied by an invalid gentleman travelling alone,
who preferred to remain there instead of trusting to his crutches on
a temperamental deck.

Neeland, passing the closed and curtained door, wondered whether the
invalid had made a hit, or whether he had a relative aboard who wore a
white serge skirt, white stockings and shoes, and was further endowed
with agreeable ankles.

He fitted his key to his door, turned it, withdrew the key to pocket
it; and immediately became aware that the end of the key was sticky.

He entered the stateroom, however, and bolted the door, then he sat
down on his sofa and examined his fingers and his door key
attentively. There was wax sticking to both.

When he had fully digested this fact he wiped and pocketed his key and
cast a rather vacant look around the little stateroom. And immediately
his eye was arrested by a white object lying on the carpet between the
bed and the sofa--a woman's handkerchief, without crest or initials,
but faintly scented.

After he became tired of alternately examining it and sniffing it, he
put it in his pocket and began an uneasy tour of his room.

If it had been entered and ransacked, everything had been replaced
exactly as he had left it, as well as he could remember. Nothing
excepting this handkerchief and the wax on the key indicated
intrusion; nothing, apparently, had been disturbed; and yet there was
the handkerchief; and there was the wax on the end of his door key.

"Here's a fine business!" he muttered to himself; and rang for his
steward.

The man came--a cockney, dense as his native fog--who maintained that
nobody could have entered the stateroom without his knowledge or the
knowledge of the stewardess.

"Do you think _she's_ been in my cabin?"

"No, sir."

"Call her."

The stewardess, an alert, intelligent little woman with a trace of
West Indian blood in her, denied entering his stateroom. Shown the
handkerchief and invited to sniff it, she professed utter ignorance
concerning it, assured him that no lady in her section used that
perfume, and offered to show it to the stewardesses of other sections
on the chance of their identifying the perfume or the handkerchief.

"All right," said Neeland; "take it. But bring it back. And here's a
sovereign. And--one thing more. If anybody pays you to deceive me,
come to me and I'll outbid them. Is that a bargain?"

"Yes, sir," she said unblushingly.

When she had gone away with the handkerchief, Neeland closed the door
again and said to the steward:

"Keep an eye on my door. I am positive that somebody has taken a wax
impression of the keyhole. What I said to that stewardess also holds
good with you. I'll outbid anybody who bribes you."

"Very good, sir."

"Sure it's good! It's devilish good. Here's a beautiful and newly
minted gold sovereign. Isn't it artistic? It's yours, steward."

"Thanky, sir."

"Not at all. And, by the way, what's that invalid gentleman's name?"

"'Awks, sir."

"Hawks?"

"Yes, sir; Mr. 'Erbert 'Awks."

"American?"

"I don't know, sir."

"British?"

"Shall I inquire, sir?" starting to go.

"Not of _him_! Don't be a lunatic, steward! Please try to understand
that I want nothing said about this matter or about my inquiries."

"Yes, sir."

"Very well, then! Find out, if you can, who Mr. Herbert Hawks is. Find
out all you can concerning him. It's easy money, isn't it?"

"Oh, yes, sir----"

"Wait a moment. Has he any friends or relatives on board?"

"Not that I know, sir."

"Oh, no friends, eh? No ladies who wear white serge skirts and white
shoes and stockings?"

"No, sir, not as I knows of."

"Oh! Suppose you step across to his door, knock, and ask him if he
rang. And, if the door is opened, take a quick slant at the room."

"Very good, sir."

Neeland, his door at the crack, watched the steward cross the corridor
and knock at the door of Mr. Herbert Hawks.

"Well, what iss it?" came a heavy voice from within.

"Mr. 'Awks, sir, did you ring?"

"No, I did not."

"Oh, beg pardon, sir----"

The steward was starting to return to Neeland, but that young man
motioned him violently away from his door and closed it. Then,
listening, his ear against the panel, he presently heard a door in the
passage creak open a little way, then close again, stealthily.

He possessed his soul in patience, believing that Mr. Hawks or his
fair friend in the white skirt had merely taken a preliminary survey
of the passage and perhaps also of his closed door. But the vigil was
vain; the door did not reopen; no sound came from the stateroom across
the passageway.

To make certain that the owner of the white shoes and stockings did
not leave that stateroom without his knowledge, he opened his door
with many precautions and left it on the crack, stretching a rubber
band from knob to bolt, so that the wind from the open port in the
passage should not blow it shut. Then, drawing his curtain, he sat
down to wait.

He had a book, one of those slobbering American novels which serve up
falsehood thickly buttered with righteousness and are consumed by the
morally sterilised.

And, as he smoked he read; and, as he read he listened. One eye always
remained on duty; one ear was alert; he meant to see who was the owner
of the white shoes if it took the remainder of the voyage to find
out.

The book aided him as a commonplace accompaniment aids a
soloist--alternately boring and exasperating him.

It was an "uplift" book, where the heroine receives whacks with
patient smiles. Fate boots her from pillar to post and she blesses
Fate and is much obliged. That most deadly reproach to degenerate
human nature--the accidental fact of sex--had been so skilfully
extirpated from those pages that, like chaste amoebæ, the characters
merely multiplied by immaculate subdivision; and millions of lineal
descendants of the American Dodo were made gleeful for $1.50 net.

It was hard work waiting, harder work reading, but between the two and
a cigarette now and then Neeland managed to do his sentry go until
dinner time approached and the corridors resounded with the trample of
the hungry.

The stewardess reappeared a little later and returned to him his
handkerchief and the following information:

Mr. Hawks, it appeared, travelled with a trained nurse, whose
stateroom was on another deck. That nurse was not in her stateroom,
but a similar handkerchief was, scented with similar perfume.

"You're a wonder," said Neeland, placing some more sovereigns in her
palm and closing her fingers over them. "What is the nurse's name?"

"Miss White."

"Very suitable name. Has she ever before visited Herr--I mean
_Mr._--Hawks in his stateroom?"

"Her stewardess says she has been indisposed since we left New York."

"Hasn't been out of her cabin?"

"No."

"I see. Did you inquire what she looked like?"

"Her stewardess couldn't be certain. The stateroom was kept dark and
the tray containing her meals was left at the bedside. Miss White
smokes."

"Yes," said Neeland reflectively, "she smokes Red Light cigarettes, I
believe. Thank you, very much. More sovereigns if you are discreet.
And say to my steward that I'll dine in my stateroom. Soup, fish,
meat, any old thing you can think of. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly, sir."

When she had withdrawn he kneeled down on his sofa and looked out
through the port at the sunset sea.

There was a possibility that Scheherazade and her friends might be on
board the _Volhynia_. Who else would be likely to take wax impressions
of his keyhole and leave a scented scrap of a handkerchief on his
stateroom floor?

That they had kept themselves not only out of sight but off the
passenger list merely corroborated suspicion. That's what they'd be
likely to do.

And now there was no question in his mind of leaving the box in his
cabin. He'd cling to it like a good woman to alimony. Death alone
could separate his box from him.

As he knelt there, sniffing the salt perfume of the sea, his ears on
duty detected the sound of a tray in the corridor.

"Leave it on the camp-table outside my door!" he said over his
shoulder.

"Very good, sir."

He was not hungry; he was thinking too hard.

"Confound it," he thought to himself, "am I to squat here in ambush
for the rest of the trip?"

The prospect was not agreeable for a man who loved the sea. All day
and most of the starry night the hurricane deck called to him, and his
whole anatomy responded. And now to sit hunched up here like a rat in
the hold was not to his taste. Suppose he should continue to frequent
the deck, carrying with him his box, of course. He might never
discover who owned the white serge skirt or who owned the voice which
pronounced is as "iss."

Meanwhile, it occurred to him that for a quarter of an hour or more
his dinner outside his door had been growing colder and colder. So he
slid from the sofa, unstrapped the rubber band, opened the door,
lifted table and tray into his stateroom with a sharp glance at the
opposite door, and, readjusting the rubber band, composed himself to
eat.



CHAPTER XVIII

BY RADIO


Perhaps it was because he did not feel particularly hungry that his
dinner appeared unappetising; possibly because it had been standing in
the corridor outside his door for twenty minutes, which did not add to
its desirability.

The sun had set and the air in the room had grown cold. He felt
chilly; and, when he uncovered the silver tureen and discovered that
the soup was still piping hot, he drank some of it to warm himself.

He had swallowed about half a cupful before he discovered that the
seasoning was not agreeable to his palate. In fact, the flavour of the
hot broth was so decidedly unpleasant that he pushed aside the cup and
sat down on the edge of his bunk without any further desire to eat
anything.

A glass of water from the carafe did not seem to rid him of the
subtle, disagreeable taste lingering in his mouth--in fact, the water
itself seemed to be tainted with it.

He sat for a few moments fumbling for his cigarette case, feeling
curiously uncomfortable, as though the slight motion of the ship were
affecting his head.

As he sat there looking at the unlighted cigarette in his hand, it
fell to the carpet at his feet. He started to stoop for it, caught
himself in time, pulled himself erect with an effort.

Something was wrong with him--very wrong. Every uneven breath he drew
seemed to fill his lungs with the odour of that strange and volatile
flavour he had noticed. It was beginning to make him giddy; it seemed
to affect his vision, too.

Suddenly a terrible comprehension flashed through his confused mind,
clearing it for a moment.

He tried to stand up and reach the electric bell; his knees seem
incapable of sustaining him. Sliding to the floor, he attempted to
crawl toward the olive-wood box; managed to get one arm around it,
grip the handle. Then, with a last desperate effort, he groped in his
breast pocket for the automatic pistol, freed it, tried to fire it.
But the weapon and the unnerved hand that held it fell on the carpet.
A muscular paralysis set in like the terrible rigidity of death; he
could still see and hear as in a thickening dream.

A moment later, from the corridor, a slim hand was inserted between
the door and jamb; the supple fingers became busy with the rubber band
for a moment, released it. The door opened very slowly.

For a few seconds two dark eyes were visible between door and curtain,
regarding intently the figure lying prone upon the floor. Then the
curtain was twitched noiselessly aside; a young woman in the garb of a
trained nurse stepped swiftly into the stateroom on tip-toe, followed
by a big, good-looking, blue-eyed man wearing a square golden beard.

The man, who carried with him a pair of crutches, but who did not
appear to require their aid, hastily set the dinner-tray and
camp-table outside in the corridor, then closed and bolted the door.

Already the nurse was down on her knees beside the fallen man, trying
to loosen his grasp on the box. Then her face blanched.

"It's like the rigor of death itself," she whispered fearfully over
her shoulder. "Could I have given him enough to kill him?"

"He took only half a cup and a swallow of water. No."

"I can't get his hand free----"

"Wait! I try!" He pulled a big, horn-handled clasp-knife from his
pocket and deliberately opened the eight-inch blade.

"What are you doing?" she whispered, seizing his wrist. "Don't do
that!"

The man with the golden beard hesitated, then shrugged, pocketed his
knife, and seized Neeland's rigidly clenched hand.

"You are right. It makes too much muss!" tugging savagely at the
clenched and unconscious hand. "Sacreminton! What for a death-grip is
this _Kerls_? If I cut his hand off so iss there blood and gossip
right away already. No--too much muss. Wait! I try another way----"

Neeland groaned.

"Oh, don't! Don't!" faltered the girl. "You're breaking his
wrist----"

"Ugh!" grunted her companion; "I try; I can it not accomplish. See
once if the box opens!"

"It is locked."

"Search this pig-dog for the key!"

She began a hurried search of Neeland's clothing; presently discovered
her own handkerchief; thrust it into her apron pocket, and continued
rummaging while the bearded man turned his attention to the automatic
pistol. This he finally succeeded in disengaging, and he laid it on
the wash basin.

"Here are his keys," whispered the nurse feverishly, holding them up
against the dim circle of evening sky framed by the open port. "You
had better light the stateroom; I can't see. Hurry! I think he is
beginning to recover."

When the bearded man had switched on the electric light he returned to
kneel once more beside the inert body on the floor, and began to pull
and haul and tug at the box and attempt to insert the key in the lock.
But the stiffened clutch of the drugged man made it impossible either
to release the box or get at the keyhole.

"_Ach, was! Verflüchtete' schwein-hund----!_" He seized the rigid hand
and, exerting all the strength of a brutally inflamed fury, fairly
ripped loose the fingers.

"_Also!_" he panted, seizing the stiffened body from the floor and
lifting it. "Hold you him by the long and Yankee legs once, _und_ I
push him out----"

"Out of the port?"

"_Gewiss!_ Otherwise he recovers to raise some hell!"

"It is not necessary. How shall this man know?"

"You left your handkerchief. He iss no fool. He makes a noise. No, it
iss safer we push him overboard."

"I'll take the papers to Karl, and then I can remain in my
stateroom----"

"_No!_ Lift his legs, I tell you! You want I hold him in my arms all
day while you talk, talk, talk! You take his legs right away
quick----!"

He staggered a few paces forward with his unwieldy burden and, setting
one knee on the sofa, attempted to force Neeland's head and shoulders
through the open port. At the same moment a rapid knocking sounded
outside the stateroom door.

"Quick!" breathed the nurse. "Throw him on his bed!"

The blue-eyed, golden-bearded man hesitated, then as the knocking
sounded again, imperative, persistent, he staggered to the bed with
his burden, laid it on the pillows, seized his crutches, rested on
them, breathing heavily, and listening to the loud and rapid knocking
outside the door.

"We've got to open," she whispered. "Don't forget that we found him
unconscious in the corridor!" And she slid the bolt noiselessly,
opened the stateroom door, and stepped outside the curtain into the
corridor.

The cockney steward stood there with a messenger.

"Wireless for Mr. Neeland----" he began; but his speech failed and his
jaw fell at sight of the nurse in her cap and uniform. And when, on
his crutches, the bearded man emerged from behind the curtain, the
steward's eyes fairly protruded.

"The young gentleman is ill," explained the nurse coolly. "Mr. Hawks
heard him fall in the corridor and came out on his crutches to see
what had happened. I chanced to be passing through the main corridor,
fortunately. I am doing what I can for the young gentleman."

"Ow," said the steward, staring over her shoulder at the bearded man
on crutches.

"There iss no need of calling the ship's doctor," said the man on
crutches. "This young woman iss a hospital nurse _und_ she iss so
polite and obliging to volunteer her service for the poor young
gentleman."

"Yes," she said carelessly, "I can remain here for an hour or two with
him. He requires only a few simple remedies--I've already given him a
sedative, and he is sleeping very nicely."

"Yess, yess; it iss not grave. Pooh! It is notting. He slip and knock
his head. Maybe too much tchampagne. He sleep, and by and by he feel
better. It iss not advisable to make a fuss. So! We are not longer
needed, steward. I return to my room."

And, nodding pleasantly, the bearded man hobbled out on his crutches
and entered his own stateroom across the passage.

"Steward," said the nurse pleasantly, "you may leave the wireless
telegram with me. When Mr. Neeland wakes I'll read it to him----"

"Give that telegram to _me_!" burst out a ghostly voice from the
curtained room behind her.

Every atom of colour left her face, and she stood there as though
stiffened into marble. The steward stared at her. Still staring, he
passed gingerly in front of her and entered the curtained room.

Neeland was lying on his bed as white as death; but his eyes fluttered
open in a dazed way:

"Steward," he whispered.

"Yes, sir, Mr. Neeland."

"My--box." His eyes closed.

"Box, sir?"

"Where--is--it?"

"Which box, sir? Is it this one here on the floor?"--lifting the
olive-wood box in its case. The key was in the lock; the other keys
hung from it, dangling on a steel ring.

The nurse stepped calmly into the room.

"Steward," she said in her low, pleasant voice, "the sedative I gave
him has probably confused his mind a little----"

"Put that box--under--my head," interrupted Neeland's voice like a
groan.

"I tell you," whispered the nurse, "he doesn't know what he is
saying."

"I got to obey him, ma'am----"

"I forbid you----"

"Steward!" gasped Neeland.

"Sir?"

"My box. I--want it."

"Certainly, sir----"

"Here, beside my--pillow."

"Yes, sir." He laid the box beside the sick man.

"Is it locked, steward?"

"Key sticking in it, sir. Yes, it's locked, sir."

"Open."

The nurse, calm, pale, tight-lipped, stood by the curtain looking at
the bed over which the steward leaned, opening the box.

"'Ere you are, sir," he said, lifting the cover. "I say, nurse, give
'im a lift, won't you?"

The nurse coolly stepped to the bedside, stooped, raised the head and
shoulders of the prostrate man. After a moment his eyes unclosed; he
looked at the contents of the box with a perceptible effort.

"Lock it, steward. Place it beside me.... Next the wall.... So....
Place the keys in my pocket.... Thank you.... I had a--pistol."

"Sir?"

"A pistol. Where is it?"

The steward's roving glance fell finally upon the washbasin. He walked
over, picked up the automatic, and, with an indescribable glance at
the nurse, laid it across Neeland's up-turned palm.

The young man's fingers fumbled it, closed over the handle; and a
ghost of a smile touched his ashen face.

"Do you feel better, sir?"

"I'm tired.... Yes, I feel--better."

"Can I do anything for you, Mr. Neeland?"

"Stay outside--my door."

"Do you wish the doctor, sir?"

"No.... No!... Don't call him; do you hear?"

"I won't call him, sir."

"No, don't call him."

"No, sir.... Mr. Neeland, there is a--a trained nurse here. You will
not want her, will you, sir?"

Again the shadow of a smile crept over Neeland's face.

"Did she come for--her handkerchief?"

There was a silence; the steward looked steadily at the nurse; the
nurse's dark eyes were fixed on the man lying there before her.

"You shan't be wanting her any more, shall you, sir?" repeated the
steward, not shifting his gaze.

"Yes; I think I shall want her--for a little while."... Neeland slowly
opened his eyes, smiled up at the motionless nurse: "How are you,
Scheherazade?" he said weakly. And, to the steward, with an effort:
"Miss White and I are--old friends.... However--kindly remain
outside--my door.... And throw what remains of my dinner--out of--the
port.... And be ready--at all times--to look after the--gentleman on
crutches.... I'm--fond of him.... Thank you, steward."

                  *       *       *       *       *

Long after the steward had closed the stateroom door, Ilse Dumont
stood beside Neeland's bed without stirring. Once or twice he opened
his eyes and looked at her humorously. After a while he said:

"Please be seated, Scheherazade."

She calmly seated herself on the edge of his couch.

"Horrid soup," he murmured. "You should attend a cooking school, my
dear."

She regarded him absently, as though other matters absorbed her.

"Yes," he repeated, "as a cook you're a failure, Scheherazade. That
broth which you seasoned for me has done funny things to my eyes, too.
But they're recovering. I see much better already. My vision is
becoming sufficiently clear to observe how pretty you are in your
nurse's cap and apron."

A slow colour came into her face and he saw her eyebrows bend inward
as though she were annoyed.

"You _are_ pretty, Scheherazade," he repeated. "You know you are,
don't you? But you're a poor cook and a rotten shot. You can't be
perfection, you know. Cheer up!"

She ignored the suggestion, her dark eyes brooding and remote again;
and he lay watching her with placid interest in which no rancour
remained. He was feeling decidedly better every minute now. He lifted
the automatic pistol and shoved it under his pillow, then cautiously
flexed his fingers, his arms, and finally his knees, with increasing
pleasure and content.

"Such dreadful soup," he said. "But I'm a lot better, thank you. Was
it to have been murder this time, too, Scheherazade? Would the entire
cupful have made a pretty angel of me? Oh, fie! Naughty
Scheherazade!"

She remained mute.

"Didn't you mean manslaughter with intent to exterminate?" he
insisted, watching her.

Perhaps she was thinking of her blond and bearded companion, and the
open port, for she made no reply.

"Why didn't you let him heave me out?" inquired Neeland. "Why did you
object?"

At that she reddened to the roots of her hair, understanding that what
she feared had been true--that Neeland, while physically helpless, had
retained sufficient consciousness to be aware of what was happening to
him and to understand at least a part of the conversation.

"What was the stuff with which you flavoured that soup,
Scheherazade?"

He was merely baiting her; he did not expect any reply; but, to his
surprise, she answered him:

"Threlanium--Speyer's solution is what I used," she said with a sort
of listless effrontery.

"Don't know it. Don't like it, either. Prefer other condiments."

He lifted himself on one elbow, remained propped so, tore open his
wireless telegram, and, after a while, contrived to read it:

                  *       *       *       *       *

"James Neeland,
"S. S. Volhynia.

"Spies aboard. Be careful. If trouble threatens captain has
instructions British Government to protect you and order arrests on
your complaint.

                                                               "Naïa."

                  *       *       *       *       *

With a smile that was almost a grin, Neeland handed the telegram to
Ilse Dumont.

"Scheherazade," he said, "you'll be a good little girl, now, won't
you? Because it would be a shocking thing for you and your friend
across the way to land in England wearing funny bangles on your wrists
and keeping step with each other, wouldn't it?"

She continued to hold the slip of paper and stare at it long after she
had finished reading it and the words became a series of parallel
blurs.

"Scheherazade," he said lightly, "what on earth am I going to do with
you?"

"I suppose you will lodge a charge with the captain against me," she
replied in even tones.

"Why not? You deserve it, don't you? You and your humorous friend with
the yellow beard?"

She looked at him with a vague smile.

"What can you prove?" said she.

"Perfectly true, dear child. Nothing. I don't want to prove anything,
either."

She smiled incredulously.

"It's quite true, Scheherazade. Otherwise, I shouldn't have ordered my
steward to throw the remains of my dinner out of the corridor
porthole. No, dear child. I should have had it analysed, had your
stateroom searched for more of that elusive seasoning you used to
flavour my dinner; had a further search made for a certain sort of
handkerchief and perfume. Also, just imagine the delightful evidence
which a thorough search of your papers might reveal!" He laughed. "No,
Scheherazade; I did not care to prove you anything resembling a menace
to society. Because, in the first place, I am absurdly grateful to
you."

Her face became expressionless under the slow flush mounting.

"I'm not teasing you," he insisted. "What I say is true. I'm grateful
to you for violently injecting romance into my perfectly commonplace
existence. You have taken the book of my life and not only extra
illustrated it with vivid and chromatic pictures, but you have unbound
it, sewed into its prosaic pages several chapters ripped bodily from a
penny-dreadful, and you have then rebound the whole thing and pasted
your own pretty picture on the cover! Come, now! Ought not a man to
be grateful to any philanthropic girl who so gratuitously obliges
him?"

Her face burned under his ridicule; her clasped hands in her lap were
twisted tight as though to maintain her self-control.

"What do you want of me?" she asked between lips that scarcely moved.

He laughed, sat up, stretched out both arms with a sigh of
satisfaction. The colour came back to his face; he dropped one leg
over the bed's edge; and she stood erect and stepped aside for him to
rise.

No dizziness remained; he tried both feet on the floor, straightened
himself, cast a gaily malicious glance at her, and slowly rose to his
feet.

"Scheherazade," he said, "_isn't_ it funny? I ask you, did you ever
hear of a would-be murderess and her escaped victim being on such
cordial terms? Did you?"

He was going through a few calisthenics, gingerly but with increasing
abandon, while he spoke.

"I feel fine, thank you. I am enjoying the situation extremely, too.
It's a delightful paradox, this situation. It's absurd, it's
enchanting, it's incredible! There is only one more thing that could
make it perfectly impossible. And I'm going to do it!" And he
deliberately encircled her waist and kissed her.

She turned white at that, and, as he released her, laughing, took a
step or two blindly, toward the door; stood there with one hand
against it as though supporting herself.

After a few moments, and very slowly, she turned and looked at him;
and that young man was scared for the first time since their encounter
in the locked house in Brookhollow.

Yet in her face there was no anger, no menace, nothing he had ever
before seen in any woman's face, nothing that he now comprehended.
Only, for the moment, it seemed to him that something terrible was
gazing at him out of this girl's fixed eyes--something that he did not
recognise as part of her--another being hidden within her, staring out
through her eyes at him.

"For heaven's sake, Scheherazade----" he faltered.

She opened the door, still watching him over her shoulder, shrank
through it, and was gone.

He stood for a full five minutes as though stupefied, then walked to
the door and flung it open. And met a ship's officer face to face,
already lifting his hand to knock for admittance.

"Mr. Neeland?" he asked.

"Yes."

"Captain West's compliments, and he would be glad to see you in his
cabin."

"Thank you. My compliments and thanks to Captain West, and I shall
call on him immediately."

They exchanged bows; the officer turned, hesitated, glanced at the
steward who stood by the port.

"Did you bring a radio message to Mr. Neeland?"

"Yes, sir."

"Yes, I received the message," said Neeland.

"The captain requests you to bring the message with you."

"With pleasure," said Neeland.

So the officer went away down the corridor, and Neeland sat down on
his bed, opened the box, went over carefully every item of its
contents, relocked it with a grin of satisfaction, and, taking it with
him, went off to pay a visit to the captain of the _Volhynia_.

The bearded gentleman in the stateroom across the passage had been
listening intently to the conversation, with his ear flat against his
keyhole.

And now, without hesitating, he went to a satchel which stood on the
sofa in his stateroom, opened it, took from it a large bundle of
papers and a ten-pound iron scale-weight.

Attaching the weight to the papers by means of a heavy strand of
copper wire, he mounted the sofa and hurled the weighted package into
the Atlantic Ocean.

"Pig-dogs of British," he muttered in his golden beard, "you may go
and dive for them when The Day dawns."

Then he filled and lighted a handsome porcelain pipe, and puffed it
with stolid satisfaction, leaving the pepper-box silver cover open.

"_Der Tag_," he muttered in his golden beard; and his clear eyes swept
the starlit ocean with the pensive and terrifying scrutiny of a
waiting eagle.



CHAPTER XIX

THE CAPTAIN OF THE VOLHYNIA


The captain of the _Volhynia_ had just come from the bridge and was
taking a bite of late supper in his cabin when the orderly announced
Neeland. He rose at once, offering a friendly hand:

"Mr. Neeland, I am very glad to see you. I know you by name and
reputation already. There were some excellent pictures by you in the
latest number of the _Midweek Magazine_."

"I'm so glad you liked them, Captain West."

"Yes, I did. There was a breeze in them--a gaiety. And such a fetching
girl you drew for your heroine!"

"You think so! It's rather interesting. I met a young girl once--she
comes from up-state where I come from. There was a peculiar and rather
subtle attraction about her face. So I altered the features of the
study I was making from my model, and put in hers as I remembered
them."

"She must be beautiful, Mr. Neeland."

"It hadn't struck me so until I drew her from memory. And there's more
to the story. I never met her but twice in my life--the second time
under exceedingly dramatic circumstances. And now I'm crossing the
Atlantic at a day's notice to oblige her. It's an amusing story, isn't
it?"

"Mr. Neeland, I think it is going to be what you call a 'continued'
story."

"No. Oh, no. It ought to be, considering its elements. But it isn't.
There's no further romance in it, Captain West."

The captain's smile was pleasant but sceptical.

They seated themselves, Neeland declining an invitation to supper, and
the captain asking his indulgence if he talked while eating.

"Mr. Neeland," he said, "I'm about to talk rather frankly with you. I
have had several messages by wireless today from British sources,
concerning you."

Neeland, surprised, said nothing. Captain West finished his bite of
supper; the steward removed the dishes and went out, closing the door.
The captain glanced at the box which Neeland had set on the floor by
his chair.

"May I ask," he said, "why you brought your suitcase with you?"

"It's valuable."

The captain's keen eyes were on his.

"Why are you followed by spies?" he asked.

Neeland reddened.

"Yes," continued the captain of the _Volhynia_, "my Government
instructs me, by wireless, to offer you any aid and protection you may
desire. I am informed that you carry papers of military importance to
a certain foreign nation with which neither England nor France are on
what might be called cordial terms. I am told it is likely that agents
of this foreign country have followed you aboard my ship for the
purpose of robbing you of these papers. Now, Mr. Neeland, what do you
know about this business?"

"Very little," said Neeland.

"Have you had any trouble?"

"Oh, yes."

The captain smiled:

"Evidently you have wriggled out of it," he said.

"Yes, wriggled is the literal word."

"Then you do not think that you require any protection from me?"

"Perhaps I do. I've been a singularly innocent and lucky ass. It's
merely chance that my papers have not been stolen, even before I
started in quest of them."

"Have you been troubled aboard my ship?"

Neeland waved his hand carelessly:

"Nothing to speak of, thank you."

"If you have any charge to make----"

"Oh, no."

The captain regarded him intently:

"Let me tell you something," he said. "Since we sailed, have you
noticed the bulletins posted containing our wireless news?"

"Yes, I've read them."

"Did they interest you?"

"Yes. You mean that row between Austria and Servia over the Archduke's
murder?"

"I mean exactly that, Mr. Neeland. And now I am going to tell you
something else. Tonight I had a radio message which I shall not post
on the bulletins for various reasons. But I shall tell you under the
seal of confidence."

"I give you my word of honour," said Neeland quietly.

"I accept it, Mr. Neeland. And this is what has happened: Austria has
decided on an ultimatum to Servia. And probably will send it."

They remained silent for a moment, then the captain continued:

"Why should we deceive ourselves? This is the most serious thing that
has happened since the Hohenzollern incident which brought on the
Franco-Prussian War."

Neeland nodded.

"You see?" insisted the captain. "Suppose the humiliation is too
severe for Servia to endure? Suppose she refuses the Austrian terms?
Suppose Austria mobilises against her? What remains for Russia to do
except to mobilise? And, if Russia does that, what is going to happen
in Germany? And then, instantly and automatically, what will follow in
France?" His mouth tightened grimly. "England," he said, "is the ally
of France. Ask yourself, Mr. Neeland, what are the prospects of this
deadly combination and deadlier situation."

After a few moments the young man looked up from his brown study:

"I'd like to ask you a question--perhaps not germane to the subject.
May I?"

"Ask it."

"Then, of what interest are Turkish forts to any of the various allied
nations--to the Triple Entente or the Triple Alliance?"

"Turkish fortifications?"

"Yes--plans for them."

The captain glanced instinctively at the box beside Neeland's chair,
but his features remained incurious.

"Turkey is supposed to be the ally of Germany," he said.

"I've heard so. I know that the Turkish army is under German officers.
But--if war should happen, is it likely that this ramshackle nation
which was fought to a standstill by the Balkan Alliance only a few
months ago would be likely to take active sides?"

"Mr. Neeland, it is not only likely, it is absolutely certain."

"You believe Germany would count on her?"

"There is not a doubt of it. Enver Pasha holds the country in his
right hand; Enver Pasha is the Kaiser's jackal."

"But Turkey is a beaten, discredited nation. She has no modern guns.
Her fleet is rusting in the Bosporus."

"The Dardanelles bristle with Krupp cannon, Mr. Neeland, manned by
German gunners. Von der Goltz Pasha has made of a brave people a
splendid army. As for ships, the ironclads and gunboats off Seraglio
Point are rusting at anchor, as you say; but there are today enough
German and Austrian armored ships within running distance of the
Dardanelles to make for Turkey a powerful defensive squadron. Didn't
you know any of these facts?"

"No."

"Well, they _are_ facts.... You see, Mr. Neeland, we English sailors
of the merchant marine are also part of the naval reserve. And we are
supposed to know these things."

Neeland was silent.

"Mr. Neeland," he said, "in case of war between the various powers of
Europe as aligned today, where do you imagine your sympathy would
lie--and the sympathies of America?"

"Both with France and England," said Neeland bluntly.

"You think so?"

"Yes, I do--unless they are the aggressors."

The captain nodded:

"I feel rather that way myself. I feel very sure of the friendliness
of your country. Because of course we--France and England--never would
dream of attacking the Central Powers unless first assailed." He
smiled, nodded toward the box on the floor: "Don't you think, Mr.
Neeland, that it might be safer to entrust those--that box, I mean--to
the captain of the Royal Mail steamer, _Volhynia_?"

"Yes, I do," said Neeland quietly.

"And--about these spies. Do you happen to entertain any particular
suspicions concerning any of the passengers on my ship?" urged the
captain.

"Indeed, I entertain lively suspicions, and even a few certainties,"
replied the young fellow, laughing.

"You appear to enjoy the affair?"

"I do. I've never had such a good time. I'm not going to spoil it by
suggesting that you lock up anybody, either."

"I'm sorry you feel that way," said the captain seriously.

"But I do. They're friends of mine. They've given me the time of my
life. A dirty trick I'd be serving myself as well as them if I came to
you and preferred charges against them!"

The captain inspected him curiously for a few moments, then, in a soft
voice:

"By any chance, Mr. Neeland, have you any Irish blood in your veins?"

"Yes, thank God!" returned the young fellow, unable to control his
laughter. "And I'll bet there isn't a drop in you, Captain West."

"Not a drop, thank G--I'm sorry!--I ask your pardon, Mr. Neeland!"
added the captain, very red in the face.

But Neeland laughed so hard that, after a moment, the red died out in
the captain's face and a faint grin came into it.

So they shook hands and said good night; and Neeland went away,
leaving his box on the floor of the captain's cabin as certain of its
inviolability as he was of the Bank of England.



CHAPTER XX

THE DROP OF IRISH


The usual signs of land greeted Neeland when he rose early next
morning and went out on deck for the first time without his olive-wood
box--first a few gulls, then puffins, terns, and other sea fowl in
increasing numbers, weed floating, fishing smacks, trawlers tossing on
the rougher coast waters.

After breakfast he noticed two British torpedo boat destroyers, one to
starboard, the other on the port bow, apparently keeping pace with the
_Volhynia_. They were still there at noon, subjects of speculation
among the passengers; and at tea-time their number was increased to
five, the three new destroyers appearing suddenly out of nowhere, dead
ahead, dashing forward through a lively sea under a swirling vortex of
gulls.

The curiosity of the passengers, always easily aroused, became more
thoroughly stirred up by the bulletins posted late that afternoon,
indicating that the tension between the several European chancelleries
was becoming acute, and that emperors and kings were exchanging
personal telegrams.

There was all sorts of talk on deck and at the dinner table, wild
talk, speculative talk, imaginative discussions, logical and
illogical. But, boiled down to its basic ingredients, the wildest
imagination on board the _Volhynia_ admitted war to be an
impossibility of modern times, and that, ultimately, diplomacy would
settle what certainly appeared to be the ugliest international
situation in a hundred years.

At the bottom of his heart Neeland believed this, too; wished for it
when his higher and more educated spiritual self was flatly
interrogated; and yet, in the everyday, impulsive ego of James
Neeland, the drop of Irish had begun to sing and seethe with the
atavistic instinct for a row.

War? He didn't know what it meant, of course. It made good poetry and
interesting fiction; it rendered history amusing; made dry facts
succulent.

Preparations for war in Europe, which had been going on for fifty
years, were most valuable, too, in contributing the brilliant hues of
uniforms to an otherwise sombre civilian world, and investing
commonplace and sober cities with the omnipresent looming mystery of
fortifications.

To a painter, war seemed to be a dramatic and gorgeous affair; to a
young man it appealed as all excitement appeals. The sportsman in him
desired to witness a scrap; his artist's imagination was aroused; the
gambler in him speculated as to the outcome of such a war. And the
seething, surging drop of Irish fizzed and purred and coaxed for a
chance to edge sideways into any fight which God in His mercy might
provide for a decent gossoon who had never yet had the pleasure of a
broken head.

"Not," thought Neeland to himself, "that I'll go trailing my coat
tails. I'll go about my own business, of course--but somebody may hit
me a crack at that!"

He thought of Ilse Dumont and of the man with the golden beard,
realising that he had had a wonderful time, after all; sorry in his
heart that it was all over and that the _Volhynia_ was due to let go
her mudhooks in the Mersey about three o'clock the next morning.

As he leaned on the deck rail in the soft July darkness, he could see
the lights of the destroyers to port and starboard, see strings of
jewel-like signals flash, twinkle, fade, and flash again.

All around him along the deck passengers were promenading, girls in
evening gowns or in summer white; men in evening dress or reefed in
blue as nautically as possible; old ladies toddling, swathed in veils,
old gentlemen in dinner coats and sporting headgear--every weird or
conventional combination infested the decks of the _Volhynia_.

Now, for the first time during the voyage, Neeland felt free to lounge
about where he listed, saunter wherever the whim of the moment
directed his casual steps. The safety of the olive-wood box was no
longer on his mind, the handle no longer in his physical clutch. He
was at liberty to stroll as carelessly as any boulevard _flâneur_; and
he did so, scanning the passing throng for a glimpse of Ilse Dumont or
of the golden-bearded one, but not seeing either of them.

In fact, he had not laid eyes on them since he had supped not wisely
but too well on the soup that Scheherazade had flavoured for him.

The stateroom door of the golden-bearded man had remained closed. His
own little cockney steward, who also looked out for Golden Beard,
reported that gentleman as requiring five meals a day, with beer in
proportion, and the porcelain pipe steaming like Ætna all day long.

His little West Indian stewardess also reported the gossip from her
friend on another corridor, which was, in effect, that Miss White, the
trained nurse, took all meals in her room and had not been observed
to leave that somewhat monotonous sanctuary.

How many more of the band there might be Neeland did not know. He
remembered vaguely, while lying rigid under the grip of the drug, that
he had heard Ilse Dumont's voice mention somebody called Karl. And he
had an idea that this Karl might easily be the big, ham-fisted German
who had tried so earnestly to stifle him and throw him from the
vestibule of the midnight express.

However, it did not matter now. The box was safe in the captain's
care; the _Volhynia_ would be lying at anchor off Liverpool before
daylight; the whole exciting and romantic business was ended.

With an unconscious sigh, not entirely of relief, Neeland opened his
cigarette case, found it empty, turned and went slowly below with the
idea of refilling it.

They were dancing somewhere on deck; the music of the ship's orchestra
came to his ears. He paused a moment on the next deck to lean on the
rail in the darkness and listen.

Far beneath him, through a sea as black as onyx, swept the reflections
of the lighted ports; and he could hear the faint hiss of foam from
the curling flow below.

As he turned to resume his quest for cigarettes, he was startled to
see directly in front of him the heavy figure of a man--so close to
him, in fact, that Neeland instinctively threw up his arm, elbow out,
to avoid contact.

But the man, halting, merely lifted his hat, saying that in the dim
light he had mistaken Neeland for a friend; and they passed each other
on the almost deserted deck, saluting formally in the European
fashion, with lifted hats.

His spirits a trifle subdued, but still tingling with the shock of
discovering a stranger so close behind him where he had stood leaning
over the ship's rail, Neeland continued on his way below.

Probably the big man had made a mistake in good faith; but the man
certainly had approached very silently; was almost at his very elbow
when discovered. And Neeland remembered the light-shot depths over
which, at that moment, he had been leaning; and he realised that it
would have been very easy for a man as big as that to have flung him
overboard before he had wit to realise what had been done to him.

Neither could he forget the curious gleam in the stranger's eyes when
a ray from a deck light fell across his shadowy face--unusually small
eyes set a little too close together to inspire confidence. Nor had
the man's slight accent escaped him--not a Teutonic accent, he
thought, but something fuller and softer--something that originated
east of Scutari, suggesting the Eurasian, perhaps.

But Neeland's soberness was of volatile quality; before he arrived at
his stateroom he had recovered his gaiety of spirit. He glanced
ironically at the closed door of Golden Beard as he fitted his key
into his own door.

"A lively lot," he thought to himself, "what with Scheherazade, Golden
Beard, and now Ali Baba--by jinx!--he certainly did have an Oriental
voice!--and he looked the part, too, with a beak for a nose and a
black moustache à la Enver Pasha!"

Much diverted by his own waxing imagination, he turned on the light
in his stateroom, filled the cigarette case, turned to go out, and saw
on the carpet just inside his door a bit of white paper folded
cocked-hat fashion and addressed to him.

Picking it up and unfolding it, he read:

                  *       *       *       *       *

May I see you this evening at eleven? My stateroom is 623. If there is
anybody in the corridor, knock; if not, come in without knocking.

I mean no harm to you. I give my word of honour. Please accept it for
as much as your personal courage makes it worth to you--its face
value, or nothing.

Knowing you, I may say without flattery that I expect you. If I am
disappointed, I still must bear witness to your courage and to a
generosity not characteristic of your sex.

You have had both power and provocation to make my voyage on this ship
embarrassing. You have not done so. And self-restraint in a man is a
very deadly weapon to use on a woman.

I hope you will come. I desire to be generous on my part. Ask yourself
whether you are able to believe this. You don't know women, Mr.
Neeland. Your conclusion probably will be a wrong one.

But I think you'll come, all the same. And you will be right in
coming, whatever you believe.

                                                          Ilse Dumont.

                  *       *       *       *       *

It was a foregone conclusion that he would go. He knew it before he
had read half the note. And when he finished it he was certain.

Amused, his curiosity excited, grateful that the adventure had not yet
entirely ended, he lighted a cigarette and looked impatiently at his
watch.

It lacked half an hour of the appointed time and his exhilaration was
steadily increasing.

He stuck the note into the frame of his mirror over the washstand with
a vague idea that if anything happened to him this would furnish a
clue to his whereabouts.

Then he thought of the steward, but, although he had no reason to
believe the girl who had written him, something within him made him
ashamed to notify the steward as to where he was going. He ought to
have done it; common prudence born of experience with Ilse Dumont
suggested it. And yet he could not bring himself to do it; and exactly
why, he did not understand.

One thing, however, he could do; and he did. He wrote a note to
Captain West giving the Paris address of the Princess Mistchenka, and
asked that the olive-wood box be delivered to her in case any accident
befell him. This note he dropped into the mailbox at the end of the
main corridor as he went out. A few minutes later he stood in an empty
passageway outside a door numbered 623. He had a loaded automatic in
his breast pocket, a cigarette between his fingers, and, on his
agreeable features, a smile of anticipation--a smile in which
amusement, incredulity, reckless humour, and a spice of malice were
blended--the smile born of the drop of Irish sparkling like champagne
in his singing veins.

And he turned the knob of door No. 623 and went in.

She was reading, curled up on her sofa under the electric bulb, a
cigarette in one hand, a box of bonbons beside her.

She looked up leisurely as he entered, gave him a friendly nod, and,
when he held out his hand, placed her own in it. With delighted
gravity he bent and saluted her finger tips with lips that twitched to
control a smile.

"Will you be seated, please?" she said gently.

The softness of her agreeable voice struck him as he looked around
for a seat, then directly at her; and saw that she meant him to find a
seat on the lounge beside her.

"Now, indeed you are Scheherazade of the Thousand and One Nights," he
said gaily, "with your cigarette and your bonbons, and cross-legged on
your divan----"

"Did Scheherazade smoke cigarettes, Mr. Neeland?"

"No," he admitted; "that is an anachronism, I suppose. Tell me, how
are you, dear lady?"

"Thank you, quite well."

"And--busy?" His lips struggled again to maintain their gravity.

"Yes, I have been busy."

"Cooking something up?--I mean soup, of course," he added.

She forced a smile, but reddened as though it were difficult for her
to accustom herself to his half jesting sarcasms.

"So you've been busy," he resumed tormentingly, "but not with cooking
lessons! Perhaps you've been practising with your pretty little
pistol. You know you really need a bit of small arms practice,
Scheherazade."

"Because I once missed you?" she inquired serenely.

"Why so you did, didn't you?" he exclaimed, delighted to goad her into
replying.

"Yes," she said, "I missed you. I needn't have. I am really a dead
shot, Mr. Neeland."

"Oh, Scheherazade!" he protested.

She shrugged:

"I am not bragging; I could have killed you. I supposed it was
necessary only to frighten you. It was my mistake and a bad one."

"My dear child," he expostulated, "you meant murder and you know it.
Do you suppose I believe that you know how to shoot?"

"But I do, Mr. Neeland," she returned with good-humoured indifference.
"My father was head _jäger_ to Count Geier von Sturmspitz, and I was
already a dead shot with a rifle when we emigrated to Canada. And when
he became an Athabasca trader, and I was only twelve years old, I
could set a moose-hide shoe-lace swinging and cut it in two with a
revolver at thirty yards. And I can drive a shingle nail at that
distance and drive the bullet that drove it, and the next and the
next, until my revolver is empty. You don't believe me, do you?"

"You know that the beautiful Scheherazade----"

"Was famous for her fantastic stories? Yes, I know that, Mr. Neeland.
I'm sorry you don't believe I fired only to frighten you."

"I'm sorry I don't," he admitted, laughing, "but I'll practise trying,
and maybe I shall attain perfect credulity some day. Tell me," he
added, "what _have_ you been doing to amuse yourself?"

"I've been amusing myself by wondering whether you would come here to
see me tonight."

"But your note said you were sure I'd come."

"You _have_ come, haven't you?"

"Yes, Scheherazade, I'm here at your bidding, spirit and flesh. But I
forgot to bring one thing."

"What?"

"The box which--you have promised yourself."

"Yes, the captain has it, I believe," she returned serenely.

"Oh, Lord! Have you even found out _that_? I don't know whether I'm
much flattered by this surveillance you and your friends maintain
over me. I suppose you even know what I had for dinner. Do you?"

"Yes."

"Come, I'll call that bluff, dear lady! What did I have?"

When she told him, carelessly, and without humour, mentioning
accurately every detail of his dinner, he lost his gaiety of
countenance a little.

"Oh, I say, you know," he protested, "that's going it a trifle too
strong. Now, why the devil should your people keep tabs on me to that
extent?"

She looked up directly into his eyes:

"Mr. Neeland, I want to tell you why. I asked you here so that I may
tell you. The people associated with me are absolutely pledged that
neither the French nor the British Government shall have access to the
contents of your box. That is why nothing that you do escapes our
scrutiny. We are determined to have the papers in that box, and we
shall have them."

"You have come to that determination too late," he began; but she
stopped him with a slight gesture of protest:

"Please don't interrupt me, Mr. Neeland."

"I won't; go on, dear lady!"

"Then, I'm trying to tell you all I may. I am trying to tell you
enough of the truth to make you reflect very seriously.

"This is no ordinary private matter, no vulgar attempt at robbery and
crime as you think--or pretend to think--for you are very intelligent,
Mr. Neeland, and you know that the contrary is true.

"This affair concerns the secret police, the embassies, the
chancelleries, the rulers themselves of nations long since grouped
into two formidable alliances radically hostile to one another.

"I don't think you have understood--perhaps even yet you do not
understand why the papers you carry are so important to certain
governments--why it is impossible that you be permitted to deliver
them to the Princess Mistchenka----"

"Where did _you_ ever hear of _her_!" he demanded in astonishment.

The girl smiled:

"Dear Mr. Neeland, I know the Princess Mistchenka better, perhaps,
than you do."

"Do you?"

"Indeed I do. What do you know about her? Nothing at all except that
she is handsome, attractive, cultivated, amusing, and apparently
wealthy.

"You know her as a traveller, a patroness of music and the fine
arts--as a devotee of literature, as a graceful hostess, and an
amiable friend who gives promising young artists letters of
introduction to publishers who are in a position to offer them
employment."

That this girl should know so much about the Princess Mistchenka and
about his own relations with her amazed Neeland. He did not pretend to
account for it; he did not try; he sat silent, serious, and surprised,
looking into the pretty and almost smiling face of a girl who
apparently had been responsible for three separate attempts to kill
him--perhaps even a fourth attempt; and who now sat beside him talking
in a soft and agreeable voice about matters concerning which he had
never dreamed she had heard.

For a few moments she sat silent, observing in his changing expression
the effects of what she had said to him. Then, with a smile:

"Ask me whatever questions you desire to ask, Mr. Neeland. I shall do
my best to answer them."

"Very well," he said bluntly; "how do you happen to know so much about
me?"

"I know something about the friends of the Princess Mistchenka. I have
to."

"Did you know who I was there in the house at Brookhollow?"

"No."

"When, then?"

"When you yourself told me your name, I recognised it."

"I surprised you by interrupting you in Brookhollow?"

"Yes."

"You expected no interruption?"

"None."

"How did you happen to go there? Where did you ever hear of the
olive-wood box?"

"I had advices by cable from abroad--directions to go to Brookhollow
and secure the box."

"Then somebody must be watching the Princess Mistchenka."

"Of course," she said simply.

"Why 'of course'?"

"Mr. Neeland, the Princess Mistchenka and her youthful _protégée_,
Miss Carew----"

"_What!!!_"

The girl smiled wearily:

"Really," she said, "you are such a boy to be mixed in with matters of
this colour. I think that's the reason you have defeated us--the
trained fencer dreads a left-handed novice more than any classic
master of the foils.

"And that is what you have done to us--blundered--if you'll forgive
me--into momentary victory.

"But such victories are only momentary, Mr. Neeland. Please believe
it. Please try to understand, too, that this is no battle with masks
and plastrons and nicely padded buttons. No; it is no comedy, but a
grave and serious affair that must inevitably end in tragedy--for
somebody."

"For me?" he asked without smiling.

She turned on him abruptly and laid one hand lightly on his arm with a
pretty gesture, at once warning, appealing, and protective.

"I asked you to come here," she said, "because--because I want you to
escape the tragedy."

"You want _me_ to escape?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"I--am sorry for you."

He said nothing.

"And--I like you, Mr. Neeland."

The avowal in the soft, prettily modulated voice, lost none of its
charm and surprise because the voice was a trifle tremulous, and the
girl's face was tinted with a delicate colour.

"I like to believe what you say, Scheherazade," he said pleasantly.
"Somehow or other I never did think you hated me personally--except
once----"

She flushed, and he was silent, remembering her humiliation in the
Brookhollow house.

"I don't know," she said in a colder tone, "why I should feel at all
friendly toward you, Mr. Neeland, except that you are personally
courageous, and you have shown yourself generous under a severe
temptation to be otherwise.

"As for--any personal humiliation--inflicted upon me----" She looked
down thoughtfully and pretended to sort out a bonbon to her taste,
while the hot colour cooled in her cheeks.

"I know," he said, "I've also jeered at you, jested, nagged you,
taunted you, kiss----" He checked himself and he smiled and
ostentatiously lighted a cigarette.

"Well," he said, blowing a cloud of aromatic smoke toward the ceiling,
"I believe that this is as strange a week as any man ever lived. It's
like a story book--like one of your wonderful stories, Scheherazade.
It doesn't seem real, now that it is ended----"

"_It is not ended_," she interrupted in a low voice.

He smiled.

"You know," he said, "there's no use trying to frighten such an idiot
as I am."

She lifted her troubled eyes:

"That is what frightens _me_," she said. "I am afraid you don't know
enough to be afraid."

He laughed.

"But I want you to be afraid. A really brave man knows what fear is. I
want _you_ to know."

"What do you wish me to do, Scheherazade?"

"Keep away from that box."

"I can't do that."

"Yes, you can. You can leave it in charge of the captain of this ship
and let him see that an attempt is made to deliver it to the Princess
Mistchenka."

She was in deadly earnest; he saw that. And, in spite of himself, a
slight thrill that was almost a chill passed over him, checked
instantly by the hot wave of sheer exhilaration at the hint of actual
danger.

"Oho!" he said gaily. "Then you and your friends are not yet finished
with me?"

"Yes, if you will consider your mission accomplished."

"And leave the rest to the captain of the _Volhynia_?"

"Yes."

"Scheherazade," he said, "did you suppose me to be a coward?"

"No. You have done all that you can. A reserve officer of the British
Navy has the box in his charge. Let him, protected by his Government,
send it toward its destination."

In her even voice the implied menace was the more sinister for her
calmness.

He looked at her, perplexed, and shook his head.

"I ask you," she went on, "to keep out of this affair--to disassociate
yourself from it. I ask it because you have been considerate and
brave, and because I do not wish you harm."

He turned toward her, leaning a little forward on the lounge:

"No use," he said, smiling. "I'm in it until it ends----"

"Let it end then!" said a soft, thick voice directly behind him. And
Neeland turned and found the man he had seen on deck standing beside
him. One of his fat white hands held an automatic pistol, covering
him; the other was carefully closing the door which he had noiselessly
opened to admit him.

"Karl!" exclaimed Ilse Dumont.

"It is safaire that you do not stir, either, to interfere," he said,
squinting for a second at her out of his eyes set too near together.

"Karl!" she cried. "I asked him to come in order to persuade him! I
gave him my word of honour!"

"Did you do so? Then all the bettaire. I think we shall persuade him.
Do not venture to move, young man; I shoot veree willingly."

And Neeland, looking at him along the blunt barrel of the automatic
pistol, was inclined to believe him.

His sensations were not agreeable; he managed to maintain a calm
exterior; choke back the hot chagrin that reddened his face to the
temples; and cast a half humorous, half contemptuous glance at Ilse
Dumont.

"You prove true, don't you?" he said coolly. "--True to your trade of
story-telling, Scheherazade!"

"I knew--nothing--of this!" she stammered.

But Neeland only laughed disagreeably.

Then the door opened again softly, and Golden Beard came in without
his crutches.



CHAPTER XXI

METHOD AND FORESIGHT


Without a word--with merely a careless glance at Neeland, who remained
seated under the level threat of Ali Baba's pistol, the big, handsome
German removed his overcoat. Under it was another coat. He threw this
off in a brisk, businesslike manner, unbuckled a brace of pistols,
laid them aside, unwound from his body a long silk rope ladder which
dropped to the floor at Ilse Dumont's feet.

The girl had turned very pale. She stooped, picked up the silk ladder,
and, holding it in both hands, looked hard at Golden Beard.

"Johann," she said, "I gave my word of honour to this young man that
if he came here no harm would happen to him."

"I read the note you have shoved under his door," said Golden Beard.
"That iss why we are here, Karl and I."

Neeland remembered the wax in the keyhole then. He turned his eyes on
Ilse Dumont, curiously, less certain of her treachery now.

Meanwhile, Golden Beard continued busily unwinding things from his
apparently too stout person, and presently disengaged three
life-belts.

One of these he adjusted to his own person, then, putting on his
voluminous overcoat, took the pistol from Ali Baba, who, in turn,
adjusted one of the remaining life-belts to his body.

Neeland, deeply perplexed and uncomfortable, watched these operations
in silence, trying to divine some reason for them.

"Now, then!" said Golden Beard to the girl; and his voice sounded cold
and incisive in the silence.

"This is not the way to do it," she said in a low tone. "I gave him my
word of honour."

"You will be good enough to buckle on that belt," returned Golden
Beard, staring at her.

Slowly she bent over, picked up the life-belt, and, looping the silk
rope over her arm, began to put on the belt. Golden Beard, impatient,
presently came to her assistance; then he unhooked from the wall a
cloak and threw it over her shoulders.

"Now, Karl!" he said. "Shoot him dead if he stirs!" And he snatched a
sheet from the bed, tore it into strips, walked over to Neeland, and
deftly tied him hand and foot and gagged him.

Then Golden Beard and Ali Baba, between them, lifted the young man and
seated him on the iron bed and tied him fast to it.

"Go out on deck!" said Golden Beard to Ilse Dumont.

"Let me stay----"

"No! You have acted like a fool. Go to the lower deck where is our
accustomed rendezvous."

"I wish to remain, Johann. I shall not interfere----"

"Go to the lower deck, I tell you, and be ready to tie that rope
ladder!"

Ali Baba, down on his knees, had pulled out a steamer trunk from under
the bed, opened it, and was lifting out three big steel cylinders.

These he laid on the bed in a row beside the tied man; and Golden
Beard, still facing Ilse Dumont, turned his head to look.

The instant his head was turned the girl snatched a pistol from the
brace of weapons on the washstand and thrust it under her cloak.
Neither Golden Beard nor Ali Baba noticed the incident; the latter was
busy connecting the three cylinders with coils of wire; the former,
deeply interested, followed the operation for a moment or two, then
walking over to the trunk, he lifted from it a curious little clock
with two dials and set it on the railed shelf of glass above the
washstand.

"Karl, haf you ship's time?"

Ali Baba paused to fish out his watch, and the two compared
timepieces. Then Golden Beard wound the clock, set the hands of one
dial at the time indicated by their watches; set the hands of the
other dial at 2:13; and Ali Baba, carrying a reel of copper wire from
the bed to the washstand, fastened one end of it to the mechanism of
the clock.

Golden Beard turned sharply on Ilse Dumont:

"I said go on deck! Did you not understand?"

The girl replied steadily:

"I understood that we had abandoned this idea for a better one."

"There iss no better one!"

"There _is_! Of what advantage would it be to blow up the captain's
cabin and the bridge when it is not certain that the papers will be
destroyed?"

"Listen once!" returned Golden Beard, wagging his finger in her face:

"Cabin and bridge are directly above us and there remains not a
splinter large like a pin! I know. I know my bombs! I know----"

The soft voice of Ali Baba interrupted, and his shallow, lightish eyes
peered around at them:

"Eet ees veree excellent plan, Johann. We do not require these papers;
eet ees to destroy them we are mooch anxious"--he bent a deathly stare
on Neeland--"and this yoong gentleman who may again annoy us." He
nodded confidently to himself and continued to connect the wires.
"Yes, yes," he murmured absently, "eet ees veree good plan--veree good
plan to blow him into leetle pieces so beeg as a pin."

"It is a clumsy plan!" said the girl, desperately. "There is no need
for wanton killing like this, when we can----"

"Killing?" repeated Golden Beard. "That makes nothing. This English
captain he iss of the naval reserve. _Und_ this young man"--nodding
coolly toward Neeland--"knows too much already. That iss not wanton
killing. _Also!_ You talk too much. Do you hear? We are due to drop
anchor about 2:30. God knows there will be enough rushing to and fro
at 2:13.

"Go on deck, I say, and fasten that rope ladder! Weishelm's fishing
smack will be watching; _und_ if we do not swim for it we are caught
on board! _Und_ that iss the end of it all for us!"

"Johann," she began tremulously, "listen to me----"

"_Nein! Nein!_ What for a _Frauenzimmer_ haff we here!" retorted
Golden Beard, losing his patience and catching her by the arm. "Go out
und fix for us our ladder und keep it coiled on the rail und lean ofer
it like you was looking at those stars once!"

He forced her toward the door; she turned, struggling, to confront
him:

"Then for God's sake, give this man a chance! Don't leave him tied
here to be blown to atoms! Give him a chance--anything except this!
Throw him out of the port, there!" She pointed at the closed port,
evaded Golden Beard, sprang upon the sofa, unscrewed the glass cover,
and swung it open.

The port was too small even to admit the passage of her own body; she
realised it; Golden Beard laughed and turned to examine the result of
Ali Baba's wiring.

For a second the girl gazed wildly around her, as though seeking some
help in her terrible dilemma, then she snatched up a bit of the torn
sheeting, tied it to the screw of the porthole cover, and flung the
end out where it fluttered in the darkness.

As she sprang to the floor Golden Beard swung round in renewed anger
at her for still loitering.

"Sacreminton!" he exclaimed. "It is time you do your part! Go to your
post then! We remain here until five minutes is left us. Then we join
you."

The girl nodded, turned to the door.

"Wait! You understand the plan?"

"Yes."

"You understand that you do not go overboard until we arrive, no
matter what happens?"

"Yes."

He stood looking at her for a moment, then with a shrug he went over
and patted her shoulder.

"That's my brave girl! I also do not desire to kill anybody. But when
the Fatherland is in danger, then killing signifies nothing--is of no
consequence--pouf!--no lives are of importance then--not even our
own!" He laughed in a fashion almost kindly and clapped her lightly
once more on her shoulder: "Go, my child. The Fatherland is in
danger!"

She went, not looking back. He closed and locked the door behind her
and calmly turned to aid Ali Baba who was still fussing with the
wires. Presently, however, he mounted the bed where Neeland sat tied
and gagged; pulled from his pockets an auger with its bit, a
screw-eye, and block and tackle; and, standing on the bed, began to
bore a hole in the ceiling.

In a few moments he had fastened the screw-eye, rigged his block, made
a sling for his bombs out of a blanket, and had hoisted the three
cylinders up flat against the ceiling from whence the connecting wires
sagged over the foot of the bedstead to the alarm clock on the
washstand.

To give the clock more room on the glass shelf, Ali Baba removed the
toilet accessories and set them on the washstand; but he had no room
for a large jug of water, and, casting about for a place to set it,
noticed a railed bracket over the head of the bed, and placed it
there.

Then, apparently satisfied with his labours, he sat down Turk fashion
on the sofa, lighted a cigarette, selected a bonbon from the box
beside him, and calmly regaled himself.

Presently Golden Beard tied the cord which held up the sling in which
the bombs were slung against the ceiling. He fastened it tightly to
the iron frame of the bed, stepped back to view the effect, then
leisurely pulled out and filled his porcelain pipe, and seated himself
on the sofa beside Ali Baba.

Neither spoke; twice Golden Beard drew his watch from his waistcoat
pocket and compared it carefully with the dial of the alarm clock on
the washstand shelf. The third time he did this he tapped Ali Baba on
the shoulder, rose, knocked out his pipe and flung it out of the open
port.

Together they walked over to Neeland, examined the gag and ligatures
as impersonally as though the prisoner were not there, nodded their
satisfaction, turned off the electric light, and, letting themselves
out, locked the door on the outside.

It lacked five minutes of the time indicated on the alarm dial.



CHAPTER XXII

TWO THIRTEEN


To Neeland, the entire affair had seemed as though it were some rather
obvious screen-picture at which he was looking--some photo-play too
crudely staged, and in which he himself was no more concerned than any
casual spectator.

Until now, Neeland had not been scared; Ali Baba and his automatic
pistol were only part of this unreality; his appearance on the scene
had been fantastically classical; he entered when his cue was given by
Scheherazade--this oily, hawk-nosed Eurasian with his pale eyes set
too closely and his moustache hiding under his nose à la Enver
Pasha--a faultless make-up, an entry properly timed and prepared. And
then, always well-timed for dramatic effect, Golden Beard had
appeared. Everything was _en règle_, every unity nicely preserved.
Scheherazade had protested; and her protest sounded genuine. Also
entirely convincing was the binding and gagging of himself at the
point of an automatic pistol; and, as for the rest of the business, it
was practically all action and little dialogue--an achievement really
in these days of dissertation.

All, as he looked on at it over the bandage which closed his mouth,
had seemed unreal, impersonal, even when his forced attitude had
caused him inconvenience and finally pain.

But now, with the light extinguished and the closing of the door
behind Golden Beard and Ali Baba, he experienced a shock which began
to awaken him to the almost incredible and instant reality of things.

It actually began to look as though these story-book conspirators--these
hirelings of a foreign government who had not been convincing because
they were too obvious, too well done--actually intended to expose him to
serious injury.

In spite of their sinister intentions in regard to him, in spite of
their attempts to harm him, he had not, so far, been able to take them
seriously or even to reconcile them and their behaviour with the
commonplaces of the twentieth century in which he lived.

But now, in the darkness, with the clock on the washstand shelf
ticking steadily, he began to take the matter very seriously. The gag
in his mouth hurt him cruelly; the bands of linen that held it in
began to stifle him so that his breath came in quick gasps through his
nostrils; sweat started at the roots of his hair; his heart leaped,
beat madly, stood still, and leaped again; and he threw himself
against the strips that held him and twisted and writhed with all his
strength.

Suddenly fear pierced him like a poignard; for a moment panic seized
him and chaos reigned in his bursting brain. He swayed and strained
convulsively; he strove to hurl all the inward and inert reserve of
strength against the bonds that held him.

After what seemed an age of terrible effort he found himself breathing
fast and heavily as though his lungs would burst through his
straining, dilating nostrils, seated exactly as he had been without a
band loosened, and the icy sweat pouring over his twitching face.

He heard himself trying to shout--heard the imprisoned groan shattered
in his own throat, dying there within him.

Suddenly a key rattled; the door was torn open; the light switched on.
Golden Beard stood there, his blue eyes glaring furious inquiry. He
gave one glance around the room, caught sight of the clock, recoiled,
shut off the light again, and slammed and locked the door.

But in that instant Neeland's starting eyes had seen the clock. The
fixed hands on one of the dials still pointed to 2:13; the moving
hands on the other lacked three minutes of that hour.

And, seated there in the pitch darkness, he suddenly realised that he
had only three minutes more of life on earth.

All panic was gone; his mind was quite clear. He heard every tick of
the clock and knew what each one meant.

Also he heard a sudden sound across the room, as though outside the
port something was rustling against the ship's side.

Suddenly there came a click and the room sprang into full light; an
arm, entering the open port from the darkness outside, let go the
electric button, was withdrawn, only to reappear immediately clutching
an automatic pistol. And the next instant the arm and the head of Ilse
Dumont were thrust through the port into the room.

Her face was pale as death as her eyes fell on the dial of the clock.
With a gasp she stretched out her arm and fired straight at the clock,
shattering both dials and knocking the timepiece into the washbasin
below.

For a moment she struggled to force her other shoulder and her body
through the port, but it was too narrow. Then she called across to the
bound figure seated on the bed and staring at her with eyes that
fairly started from their sockets:

"Mr. Neeland, can't you move? Try! Try to break loose----"

Her voice died away in a whisper as a flash of bluish flame broke out
close to the ceiling overhead, where the three bombs were slung.

"Oh, God!" she faltered. "The fuses are afire!"

For an instant her brain reeled; she instinctively recoiled as though
to fling herself out into the darkness. Then, in a second, her
extended arm grew rigid, slanted upward; the pistol exploded once,
twice, the third time; the lighted bombs in their sling, released by
the severed rope, fell to the bed, the fuses sputtering and fizzling.

Instantly the girl fired again at the big jug of water on the bracket
over the head of the bed; a deluge drenched the bed underneath; two
fuses were out; one still snapped and glimmered and sent up little
jets and rings of vapour; but as the water soaked into the match the
cinder slowly died until the last spark fell from the charred wet end
and went out on the drenched blanket.

She waited a little longer, then with an indescribable look at the
helpless man below, she withdrew her head, pushed herself free, hung
to the invisible rope ladder for a moment, swaying against the open
port. His eyes were fastened on her where she dangled there against
the darkness betwixt sky and sea, oscillating with the movement of the
ship, her pendant figure now gilded by the light from the room, now
phantom dim as she swung outward.

As the roll of the ship brought her head to the level of the port once
more, she held up her pistol, shook it, and laughed at him:

"Now do you believe that I can shoot?" she called out. "Answer me some
time when that mocking tongue of yours is free!"

Then, climbing slowly upward into darkness, the light, falling now
across her body, now athwart her skirt, gilded at last the heels of
her shoes; suddenly she was gone; then stars glittered through the
meshes of the shadowy, twitching ladder which still barred the open
port. And finally the ladder was pulled upward out of sight.

He waited. After a little while--an interminable interval to him--he
heard somebody stealthily trying the handle of the door; then came a
pause, silence, followed by a metallic noise as though the lock were
being explored or picked.

For a while the scraping, metallic sounds continued steadily, then
abruptly ceased as though the unseen meddler had been interrupted.

A voice--evidently the voice of the lock-picker--pitched to a cautious
key, was heard in protest as though objecting to some intentions
evident in the new arrival. Whispered expostulations continued for a
while, then the voices became quarrelsome and louder; and somebody
suddenly rapped on the door.

Then a thick, soft voice that he recognised with a chill, grew angrily
audible:

"I say to you, steward, that I forbid you to entaire that room. I
forbid you to disturb thees yoong lady. Do you know who I am?"

"I don't care who you are----"

"I have authority. I shall employ it. You shall lose your berth! Thees
yoong lady within thees room ees my fiancée! I forbid you to enter
forcibly----"

"Haven't I knocked? Wot's spilin' you? I am doing my duty. Back away
from this 'ere door, I tell you!"

"You spik thees-a-way, so impolite----"

"Get out o' my way! Blime d'you think I'll stand 'ere jawin' any
longer?"

"I am membaire of Parliament----"

And the defiant voice of Jim's own little cockney steward retorted,
interrupting:

"Ahr, stow it! Don't I tell you as how a lydy telephones me just now
that my young gentleman is in there? Get away from that door, you
blighter, or I'll bash your beak in!"

The door trembled under a sudden and terrific kick; the wordy quarrel
ceased; hurried steps retreated along the corridor; a pass key rattled
in the lock, and the door was flung wide open:

"Mr. Neeland, sir--oh, my Gawd, wot ever 'ave they gone and done, sir,
to find you 'ere in such a 'orrid state!"

But the little cockney lost no time; fingers and pen-knife flew;
Neeland, his arms free, tore the bandage from his mouth and spat out
the wad of cloth.

"I'll do the rest," he gasped, forcing the words from his bruised and
distorted lips; "follow that man who was outside talking to you! Find
him if you can. He had been planning to blow up this ship!"

"_That_ man, sir!"

"Yes! Did you know him?"

"Yes, sir; but I darsn't let on to him I knew him--what with 'earing
that you was in here----"

"You _did_ know him?"

"Yes, sir."

"Who is he?"

"Mr. Neeland, sir, that there cove is wot he says he is, a member of
Parliament, and his name is Wilson----"

"You're mad! He's an Eurasian, a spy; his name is Karl Breslau--I
heard it from the others--and he tried to blow up the captain's cabin
and the bridge with those three bombs lying there on the bed!"

"My God, sir--what you tell me may be so, but what I say is true, sir;
that gentleman you heard talking outside the door to me is Charles
Wilson, member of Parliament, representing Glebe and Wotherness; and I
knew it w'en I 'anded 'im the 'ot stuff!--'strewth I did, sir--and
took my chance you'd 'elp me out if I got in too rotten with the
company!"

Neeland said:

"Certainly you may count on me. You're a brick!" He continued to rub
and slap and pinch his arms and legs to restore the circulation, and
finally ventured to rise to his shaky feet. The steward offered an
arm; together they hobbled to the door, summoned another steward,
placed him in charge of the room, and went on in quest of Captain
West, to whom an immediate report was now imperative.



CHAPTER XXIII

ON HIS WAY


The sun hung well above the river mists and threw long, cherry-red
beams across the choppy channel where clotted jets of steam and smoke
from tug and steamer drifted with the fog; and still the captain of
the _Volhynia_ and young Neeland sat together in low-voiced conference
in the captain's cabin; and a sailor, armed with cutlass and pistol,
stood outside the locked and bolted door.

Off the port bow, Liverpool spread as far as the eye could see through
the shredded fog; to starboard, off Birkenhead, through a haze of
pearl and lavender, the tall phantom of an old-time battleship loomed.
She was probably one of Nelson's ships, now only an apparition; but to
Neeland, as he caught sight of her dimly revealed, still dominating
the water, the old ship seemed like a menacing ghost, never to be laid
until the sceptre of sea power fell from an enervated empire and the
glory of Great Britain departed for all time. And in his Yankee heart
he hoped devoutly that such disaster to the world might never come
upon it.

Few passengers were yet astir; the tender had not yet come alongside;
the monstrous city beyond had not awakened.

But a boat manned by Liverpool police lay off the _Volhynia's_ port;
Neeland's steamer trunk was already in it; and now the captain
accompanied him to the ladder, where a sailor took his suitcase and
the olive-wood box and ran down the landing stairs like a monkey.

"Good luck," said the captain of the _Volhynia_. "And keep it in your
mind every minute that those two men and that woman probably are at
this moment aboard some German fishing craft, and headed for France.

"Remember, too, that they are merely units in a vast system; that they
are certain to communicate with other units; that between you and
Paris are people who will be notified to watch for you, follow you,
rob you."

Neeland nodded thoughtfully.

The captain said again:

"Good luck! I wish you were free to turn over that box to us. But if
you've given your word to deliver it in person, the whole matter
involves, naturally, a point of honour."

"Yes. I have no discretion in the matter, you see." He laughed.
"You're thinking, Captain West, that I haven't much discretion
anyway."

"I don't think you have very much," admitted the captain, smiling and
shaking the hand which Neeland offered. "Well, this is merely one
symptom of a very serious business, Mr. Neeland. That an attempt
should actually have been made to murder you and to blow me to pieces
in my cabin is a slight indication of what a cataclysmic explosion may
shatter the peace of the entire world at any moment now.... Good-bye.
And I warn you very solemnly to take this affair as a deadly serious
one and not as a lark."

They exchanged a firm clasp; then Neeland descended and entered the
boat; the Inspector of Police took the tiller; the policemen bent to
the oars, and the boat shot away through a mist which was turning to a
golden vapour.

It was within a few boat-lengths of the landing stairs that Neeland,
turning for a last look into the steaming golden glory behind him, saw
the most splendid sight of his life. And that sight was the British
Empire assuming sovereignty.

For there, before his eyes, militant, magnificent, the British fleet
was taking the sea, gliding out to accept its fealty, moving
majestically in mass after mass of steel under flowing torrents of
smoke, with the phantom battle flags whipping aloft in the blinding
smother of mist and sun and the fawning cut-water hurrying too, as
though even every littlest wave were mobilised and hastening seaward
in the service of its mistress, Ruler of all Waters, untroubled by a
man-made Kiel.

And now there was no more time to be lost; no more stops until he
arrived in Paris. A taxicab rushed him and his luggage across the
almost empty city; a train, hours earlier than the regular steamer
train, carried him to London where, as he drove through the crowded,
sunlit streets, in a hansom cab, he could see news-venders holding up
strips of paper on which was printed in great, black letters:

                       THE BRITISH FLEET SAILS

                     SPY IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS

                    CHARLES WILSON, M. P., ACCUSED

             MISSING MEMBER SUPPOSED TO BE KARL BRESLAU,
                          INTERNATIONAL SPY

And he noticed knots of people pausing to buy the latest editions of
the papers offered.

But Neeland had no time to see much more of London than that--glimpses
of stately grey buildings and green trees; of monuments and palaces
where soldiers in red tunics stood guard; the crush of traffic in the
city; trim, efficient police, their helmets strapped to their heads,
disentangling the streams of vehicles, halting, directing everything
with calm and undisturbed precision; a squadron of cavalry in
brilliant uniforms leisurely emerging from some park between iron
railings under stately trees; then the crowded confusion of a railroad
station, but not the usual incidents of booking and departure, because
he was to travel by a fast goods train under telegraphed authority of
the British Government.

And that is about all that Neeland saw of the mightiest city in the
world on the eve of the greatest conflict among the human races that
the earth has ever witnessed, or ever shall, D. V.

The flying goods train that took him to the Channel port whence a
freight packet was departing, offered him the luxury of a leather
padded armchair in a sealed and grated mail van.

Nobody disturbed him; nobody questioned him; the train officials were
civil and incurious, and went calmly about their business with all the
traditional stolidity of official John Bull.

Neeland had plenty of leisure to think as he sat there in his heavy
chair which vibrated but did not sway very much; and his mind was
fully occupied with his reflections, for, so far, he had not had time
to catalogue, index, and arrange them in proper order, so rapid and so
startling had been the sequence of events since he had left his studio
in New York for Paris, via Brookhollow, London, and other points
east.

One thing in particular continued to perplex and astonish him: the
identity of a member of Parliament, known as Charles Wilson, suddenly
revealed as Karl Breslau, an international spy.

The wildest flight of fancy of an irresponsible novelist had never
created such a character in penny-dreadful fiction. It remained
incomprehensible, almost incredible to Neeland that such a thing could
be true.

Also, the young man had plenty of food for reflection, if not for
luncheon, in trying to imagine exactly how Golden Beard and Ali Baba,
and that strange, illogical young girl, Ilse Dumont, had escaped from
the _Volhynia_.

Probably, in the darkness, the fishing boat which they expected had
signalled in some way or other. No doubt the precious trio had taken
to the water in their life-jackets and had been picked up even before
armed sailors on the _Volhynia_ descended to their empty state-rooms
and took possession of what luggage could be discovered, and of the
three bombs with their charred wicks still soaking on the sopping
bed.

And now the affair had finally ended, Neeland believed, in spite of
Captain West's warnings. For how could three industrious conspirators
in a fishing smack off the Lizard do him any further damage?

If they had managed to relay information concerning him to their
friends ashore by some set of preconcerted signals, possibly the
regular steamer train to and out of London might be watched.

Thinking of this, it presently occurred to Neeland that friends in
France, also, might be stirred up in time to offer him their marked
attentions. This, no doubt, was what Captain West meant; and Neeland
considered the possibility as the flying train whirled him toward the
Channel.

He asked if he might smoke, and was informed that he might; and he
lighted a cigarette and stretched out on his chair, a little hungry
from lack of luncheon, a trifle tired from lack of sleep, but, in
virtue of his vigorous and youthful years, comfortable, contented, and
happy.

Never, he admitted, had he had such a good time in all his life,
despite the fact that chance alone, and not his own skill and
alertness and perspicacity, had saved his neck.

No, he could not congratulate himself on his cleverness and wisdom;
sheer accident had saved his skin--and once the complex and
unaccountable vagary of a feminine mind had saved him from
annihilation so utter that it slightly sickened him to remember his
position in Ilse Dumont's stateroom as she lifted her pistol and
coolly made good her boast as a dead-shot. But he forced himself to
take it lightly.

"Good Lord!" he thought to himself. "Was ever a man in such a hellish
position, except in melodrama? And _what_ a movie that would have
made! And what a shot that girl proved herself to be! Certainly she
could have killed me there at Brookhollow! She could have riddled me
before I ducked, even with that nickel-plated affair about which I was
ass enough to taunt her!"

Lying in his chair, cheek on arm, he continued to ponder on what had
happened, until the monotonous vibration no longer interfered with his
inclination for a nap. On the contrary, the slight, rhythmic jolting
soothed him and gradually induced slumber; and he slept there on the
rushing train, his feet crossed and resting on the olive-wood box.

                  *       *       *       *       *

A hand on his arm aroused him; the sea wind blowing through the open
doors of the mail-van dashed in his face like a splash of cool water
as he sat up and looked around him.

As he descended from the van an officer of the freight packet greeted
him by name; a sailor piled his luggage on a barrow; and Neeland
walked through the vista of covered docks to the pier.

There was a lively wind whipping that notoriously bad-mannered streak
of water known as the English Channel. Possibly, had it been
christened the French Channel its manners might have been more polite.
But there was now nothing visible about it to justify its sentimental
pseudonym of Silver Streak.

It was a dirty colour, ominous of ill-temper beyond the great
breakwater to the northward; and it fretted and fumed inshore and made
white and ghastly faces from the open sea.

But Neeland, dining from a tray in a portholed pit consecrated to the
use of a casual supercargo, rejoiced because he adored the sea, inland
lubber that he had been born and where the tides of fate had stranded
him. For, to a New Yorker, the sea seems far away--as far as it seems
to the Parisian. And only when chance business takes him to the
Battery does a New Yorker realise the nearness of the ocean to that
vast volume of ceaseless dissonance called New York.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Neeland ate cold meat and bread and cheese, and washed it down with
bitters.

He was nearly asleep on his sofa when the packet cast off.

He was sound asleep when, somewhere in the raging darkness of the
Channel, he was hurled from the sofa against the bunk opposite--into
which he presently crawled and lay, still half asleep, mechanically
rubbing a maltreated shin.

Twice more the bad-mannered British Channel was violently rude to him;
each time he crawled back to stick like a limpet in the depths of his
bunk.

Except when the Channel was too discourteous, he slept as a sea bird
sleeps afloat, tossing outside thundering combers which batter basalt
rocks.

Even in his deep, refreshing sea sleep, the subtle sense of
exhilaration--of well-being--which contact with the sea always brought
to him, possessed him. And, deep within him, the drop of Irish seethed
and purred as a kettle purrs through the watches of the night over a
banked but steady fire.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE ROAD TO PARIS


Over the drenched sea wall gulls whirled and eddied above the spouting
spray; the grey breakwater was smothered under exploding combers;
_quai_, docks, white-washed lighthouse, swept with spindrift, appeared
and disappeared through the stormy obscurity as the tender from the
Channel packet fought its way shoreward with Neeland's luggage lashed
in the cabin, and Neeland himself sticking to the deck like a fly to a
frantic mustang, enchanted with the whole business.

For the sea, at last, was satisfying this young man; he savoured now
what he had longed for as a little boy, guiding a home-made raft on
the waters of Neeland's mill pond in the teeth of a summer breeze.
Before he had ever seen the ocean he wanted all it had to give short
of shipwreck and early decease. He had experienced it on the Channel
during the night.

There was only one other passenger aboard--a tall, lean, immaculately
dressed man with a ghastly pallor, a fox face, and ratty eyes, who
looked like an American and who had been dreadfully sick. Not caring
for his appearance, Neeland did not speak to him. Besides, he was
having too good a time to pay attention to anybody or anything except
the sea.

A sailor had lent Neeland some oilskins and a sou'-wester; and he
hated to put them off--hated the calmer waters inside the basin where
the tender now lay rocking; longed for the gale and the heavy seas
again, sorry the crossing was ended.

He cast a last glance of regret at the white fury raging beyond the
breakwater as he disembarked among a crowd of porters, _gendarmes_,
soldiers, and assorted officials; then, following his porter to the
customs, he prepared to submit to the unvarying indignities incident
to luggage examination in France.

He had leisure, while awaiting his turn, to buy a novel, "Les
Bizarettes," of Maurice Bertrand; time, also, to telegraph to the
Princess Mistchenka. The fox-faced man, who looked like an American,
was now speaking French like one to a perplexed official, inquiring
where the Paris train was to be found. Neeland listened to the fluent
information on his own account, then returned to the customs bench.

But the unusually minute search among his effects did not trouble him;
the papers from the olive-wood box were buttoned in his breast pocket;
and after a while the customs officials let him go to the train which
stood beside an uncovered concrete platform beyond the _quai_, and
toward which the fox-faced American had preceded him on legs that
still wobbled with seasickness.

There were no Pullmans attached to the train, only the usual first,
second, and third class carriages with compartments; and a new style
corridor car with central aisle and lettered doors to compartments
holding four.

Into one of these compartments Neeland stepped, hoping for seclusion,
but backed out again, the place being full of artillery officers
playing cards.

In vain he bribed the guard, who offered to do his best; but the human
contents of a Channel passenger steamer had unwillingly spent the
night in the quaint French port, and the Paris-bound train was already
full.

The best Neeland could do was to find a seat in a compartment where he
interrupted conversation between three men who turned sullen heads to
look at him, resenting in silence the intrusion. One of them was the
fox-faced man he had already noticed on the packet, tender, and
customs dock.

But Neeland, whose sojourn in a raw and mannerless metropolis had not
blotted out all memory of gentler cosmopolitan conventions, lifted his
hat and smilingly excused his intrusion in the fluent and agreeable
French of student days, before he noticed that he had to do with men
of his own race.

None of the men returned his salute; one of them merely emitted an
irritated grunt; and Neeland recognised that they all must be his own
delightful country-men--for even the British are more dignified in
their stolidity.

A second glance satisfied him that all three were undoubtedly
Americans; the cut of their straw hats and apparel distinguished them
as such; the nameless grace of Mart, Haffner and Sharx marked the
tailoring of the three; only Honest Werner could have manufactured
such headgear; only New York such footwear.

And Neeland looked at them once more and understood that Broadway
itself sat there in front of him, pasty, close-shaven, furtive,
sullen-eyed, the _New York Paris Herald_ in its seal-ringed fingers;
its fancy waistcoat pockets bulging with cigars.

"Sports," he thought to himself; and decided to maintain incognito and
pass as a Frenchman, if necessary, to escape conversation with the
three tired-eyed ones.

So he hung up his hat, opened his novel, and settled back to endure
the trip through the rain, now beginning to fall from a low-sagging
cloud of watery grey.

After a few minutes the train moved. Later the guard passed and
accomplished his duties. Neeland inquired politely of him in French
whether there was any political news, and the guard replied politely
that he knew of none. But he looked very serious when he said it.

Half an hour from the coast the rain dwindled to a rainbow and ceased;
and presently a hot sun was gilding wet green fields and hedges and
glistening roofs which steamed vapour from every wet tile.

Without asking anybody's opinion, one of the men opposite raised the
window. But Neeland did not object; the rain-washed air was
deliciously fragrant; and he leaned his elbow on his chair arm and
looked out across the loveliest land in Europe.

"Say, friend," said an East Side voice at his elbow, "does smoking
go?"

He glanced back over his shoulder at the speaker--a little, pallid,
sour-faced man with the features of a sick circus clown and eyes like
two holes burnt in a lump of dough.

"_Pardon, monsieur?_" he said politely.

"Can't you even pick a Frenchman, Ben?" sneered one of the men
opposite--a square, smoothly shaven man with slow, heavy-lidded eyes
of a greenish tinge.

The fox-faced man said:

"He had me fooled, too, Eddie. If Ben Stull didn't get his number it
don't surprise me none, becuz he was on the damn boat I crossed in,
and I certainly picked him for New York."

"Aw," said the pasty-faced little man referred to as Ben Stull, "Eddie
knows it all. He never makes no breaks, of course. You make 'em, Doc,
but he doesn't. That's why me and him and you is travelling here--this
minute--because the great Eddie Brandes never makes no breaks----"

"Go on and smoke and shut up," said Brandes, with a slow, sidewise
glance at Neeland, whose eyes remained fastened on the pages of "Les
Bizarettes," but whose ears were now very wide open.

"Smoke," repeated Stull, "when this here Frenchman may make a
holler?"

"Wait till I ask him," said the man addressed as Doc, with dignity.
And to Neeland:

"_Pardong, musseer, permitty vous moi de fumy ung cigar?_"

"_Mais comment, donc, monsieur! Je vous en prie----_"

"He says politely," translated Doc, "that we can smoke and be damned
to us."

They lighted three obese cigars; Neeland, his eyes on his page,
listened attentively and stole a glance at the man they called
Brandes.

So this was the scoundrel who had attempted to deceive the young girl
who had come to him that night in his studio, bewildered with what she
believed to be her hopeless disgrace!

This was the man--this short, square, round-faced individual with his
minutely shaven face and slow greenish eyes, and his hair combed back
and still reeking with perfumed tonic--this shiny, scented, and
overgroomed sport with rings on his fat, blunt fingers and the silk
laces on his tan oxfords as fastidiously tied as though a valet had
done it!

Ben Stull began to speak; and presently Neeland discovered that the
fox-faced man's name was Doc Curfoot; that he had just arrived from
London on receipt of a telegram from them; and that they themselves
had landed the night before from a transatlantic liner to await him
here.

Doc Curfoot checked the conversation, which was becoming general now,
saying that they'd better be very sure that the man opposite
understood no English before they became careless.

"_Musseer_," he added suavely to Neeland, who looked up with a polite
smile, "_parly voo Anglay_?"

"_Je parle Français, monsieur._"

"I get him," said Stull, sourly. "I knew it anyway. He's got the sissy
manners of a Frenchy, even if he don't look the part. No white man
tips his lid to nobody except a swell skirt."

"I seen two dudes do it to each other on Fifth Avenue," remarked
Curfoot, and spat from the window.

Brandes, imperturbable, rolled his cigar into the corner of his mouth
and screwed his greenish eyes to narrow slits.

"You got our wire, Doc?"

"Why am I here if I didn't!"

"Sure. Have an easy passage?"

Doc Curfoot's foxy visage still wore traces of the greenish pallor; he
looked pityingly at Brandes--_self_-pityingly:

"Say, Eddie, that was the worst I ever seen. A freight boat, too. God!
I was that sick I hoped she'd turn turtle! And nab it from me; if you
hadn't wired me S O S, I'd have waited over for the steamer train and
the regular boat!"

"Well, it's S O S all right, Doc. I got a cable from Quint this
morning saying our place in Paris is ready, and we're to be there and
open up tonight----"

"_What_ place?" demanded Curfoot.

"Sure, I forgot. You don't know anything yet, do you?"

"Eddie," interrupted Stull, "let me do the talking _this_ time, if
_you_ please."

And, to Curfoot:

"Listen, Doc. We was up against it. You heard. Every little thing has
went wrong since Eddie done what he done--every damn thing! Look
what's happened since Maxy Venem got sore and he and Minna started out
to get him! Morris Stein takes away the Silhouette Theatre from us and
we can't get no time for 'Lilith' on Broadway. We go on the road and
bust. All our Saratoga winnings goes, also what we got invested with
Parson Smawley when the bulls pulled Quint's----!"

"Ah, f'r the lov' o' Mike!" began Brandes. "Can that stuff!"

"All right, Eddie. I'm tellin' Doc, that's all. I ain't aiming to be
no crape-hanger; I only want you both to listen to me _this_ time. If
_you'd_ listened to me before, we'd have been in Saratoga today in our
own machines. But no; you done what you done--God! Did anyone ever
hear of such a thing!--taking chances with that little rube from
Brookhollow--that freckled-faced mill-hand--that yap-skirt! And Minna
and Max having you watched all the time! You big boob! No--don't
interrupt! Listen to _me_! Where are you now? You had good money; you
had a theaytre, you had backing! Quint was doing elegant; Doc and
Parson and you and me had it all our way and comin' faster every day.
Wait, I tell you! This ain't a autopsy. This is business. I'm tellin'
you two guys all this becuz I want you to realise that what Eddie done
was against my advice. Come on, now; wasn't it?"

"It sure was," admitted Curfoot, removing his cigar from his lean,
pointed visage of a greyhound, and squinting thoughtfully at the smoke
eddying in the draught from the open window.

"Am I right, Eddie?" demanded Stull, fixing his black, smeary eyes on
Brandes.

"Well, go on," returned the latter between thin lips that scarcely
moved.

"All right, then. Here's the situation, Doc. We're broke. If Quint
hadn't staked us to this here new game we're playin', where'd we be, I
ask you?

"We got no income now. Quint's is shut up; Maxy Venem and Minna Minti
fixed us at Saratoga so we can't go back there for a while. They won't
let us touch a card on the liners. Every pug is leery of us since
Eddie flimflammed that Battling Smoke; and I told you he'd holler,
too! Didn't I?" turning on Brandes, who merely let his slow eyes rest
on him without replying.

"Go on, Ben," said Curfoot.

"I'm going on. We guys gotta do something----"

"We ought to have fixed Max Venem," said Curfoot coolly.

There was a silence; all three men glanced stealthily at Neeland, who
quietly turned the page of his book as though absorbed in his story.

"That squealer, Max," continued Curfoot with placid ferocity blazing
in his eyes, "ought to have been put away. Quint and Parson wanted us
to have it done. Was it any stunt to get that dirty little shyster in
some roadhouse last May?"

Brandes said:

"I'm not mixing with any gunmen after the Rosenthal business."

"Becuz a lot of squealers done a amateur job like that, does it say
that a honest job can't be pulled?" demanded Curfoot. "Did Quint and
me ask you to go to Dopey or Clabber or Pete the Wop, or any of them
cheap gangsters?"

"Ah, can the gun-stuff," said Brandes. "I'm not for it. It's punk."

"What's punk?"

"Gun-play."

"Didn't you pull a pop on Maxy Venem the night him and Hyman Adams and
Minna beat you up in front of the Knickerbocker?"

"Eddie was stalling," interrupted Stull, as Brandes' face turned a
dull beef-red. "You talk like a bad actor, Doc. There's other ways of
getting Max in wrong. Guns ain't what they was once. Gun-play is old
stuff. But listen, now. Quint has staked us and we gotta make good.
And this is a big thing, though it looks like it was out of our
line."

"Go on; what's the idea?" inquired Curfoot, interested.

Brandes, the dull red still staining his heavy face, watched the
flying landscape from the open window.

Stull leaned forward; Curfoot bent his lean, narrow head nearer;
Neeland, staring fixedly at his open book, pricked up his ears.

"Now," said Stull in a low voice, "I'll tell you guys all Eddie and I
know about this here business of Captain Quint's. It's like this,
Doc: Some big feller comes to Quint after they close him up--he won't
tell who--and puts up this here proposition: Quint is to open a
elegant place in Paris on the Q. T. In fact, it's ready now. There'll
be all the backing Quint needs. He's to send over three men he can
trust--three men who can shoot at a pinch! He picks us three and
stakes us. Get me?"

Doc nodded.

Brandes said in his narrow-eyed, sleepy way:

"There was a time when they called us gunmen--Ben and me. But, so help
me God, Doc, we never did any work like that ourselves. We never fired
a shot to croak any living guy. Did we, Ben?"

"All right," said Stull impatiently. And, to Curfoot: "Eddie and I
know what we're to do. If it's on the cards that we shoot--well, then,
we'll shoot. The place is to be small, select, private, and first
class. Doc, you act as capper. You deal, too. Eddie sets 'em up. I
deal or spin. All right. We three guys attend to anything American
that blows our way. Get that?"

Curfoot nodded.

"Then for the foreigners, there's to be a guy called Karl Breslau."

Neeland managed to repress a start, but the blood tingled in his
cheeks, and he turned his head a trifle as though seeking better light
on the open pages in his hands.

"This here man Breslau," continued Stull, "speaks all kinds of
languages. He is to have two friends with him, a fellow named Kestner
and one called Weishelm. They trim the foreigners, they do; and----"

"Well, I don't see nothing new about this----" began Curfoot; but
Stull interrupted:

"Wait, can't you! This ain't the usual. We run a place for Quint. The
place is like Quint's. We trim guys same as he does--or did. _But
there's more to it._"

He let his eyes rest on Neeland, obliquely, for a full minute. The
others watched him, too. Presently the young man cut another page of
his book with his pen-knife and turned it with eager impatience, as
though the story absorbed him.

"Don't worry about Frenchy," murmured Brandes with a shrug. "Go ahead,
Ben."

Stull laid one hand on Curfoot's shoulder, drawing that gentleman a
trifle nearer and sinking his voice:

"Here's the new stuff, Doc," he said. "And it's brand new to us, too.
There's big money into it. Quint swore we'd get ours. And as we was on
our uppers we went in. It's like this: We lay for Americans from the
Embassy or from any of the Consulates. They are our special game. It
ain't so much that we trim them; we also get next to them; we make 'em
talk right out in church. Any political dope they have we try to get.
We get it any way we can. If they'll accelerate we accelerate 'em; if
not, we dope 'em and take their papers. The main idee is to get a holt
on 'em!

"That's what Quint wants; that's what he's payin' for and gettin' paid
for--inside information from the Embassy and Consulates----"

"What does Quint want of that?" demanded Curfoot, astonished.

"How do I know? Blackmail? Graft? I can't call the dope. But listen
here! Don't forget that it ain't Quint who wants it. It's the big
feller behind him who's backin' him. It's some swell guy higher up
who's payin' Quint. And Quint, he pays us. So where's the squeal
coming?"

"Yes, but----"

"Where's the holler?" insisted Stull.

"I ain't hollerin', am I? Only this here is new stuff to me----"

"Listen, Doc. I don't know what it is, but all these here European
kings is settin' watchin' one another like toms in a back alley. I
think that some foreign political high-upper wants dope on what our
people are finding out over here. Like this, he says to himself: 'I
hear this Kink is building ten sooper ferry boats. If that's right, I
oughta know. And I hear that the Queen of Marmora has ordered a
million new nifty fifty-shot bean-shooters for the boy scouts! That is
indeed serious news!' So he goes to his broker, who goes to a big
feller, who goes to Quint, who goes to us. Flag me?"

"Sure."

"That's all. There's nothing to it, Doc. Says Quint to us: 'Trim a few
guys for me and get their letters,' says Quint; 'and there's somethin'
in it for me and you!' And _that's_ the new stuff, Doc."

"You mean we're spies?"

"Spies? I don't know. We're on a salary. We get a big bonus for every
letter we find on the carpet----" He winked at Curfoot and relighted
his cigar.

"Say," said the latter, "it's like a creeping joint. It's a panel
game, Ben----"

"It's politics like they play 'em in Albany, only it's ambassadors and
kinks we trim, not corporations."

"_We_ can't do it! What the hell do we know about kinks and
attachés?"

"No; Weishelm, Breslau and Kestner do that. We lay for the attachés or
spin or deal or act handy at the bar and buffet with homesick
Americans. No; the fine work--the high-up stuff, is done by Breslau
and Weishelm. And I guess there's some fancy skirts somewhere in the
game. But they're silent partners; and anyway Weishelm manages that
part."

Curfoot, one lank knee over the other, swung his foot thoughtfully to
and fro, his ratty eyes lost in dreamy revery. Brandes tossed his
half-consumed cigar out of the open window and set fire to another.
Stull waited for Curfoot to make up his mind. After several minutes
the latter looked up from his cunning abstraction:

"Well, Ben, put it any way you like, but we're just plain political
spies. And what the hell do they hand us over here if we're pinched?"

"I don't know. What of it?"

"Nothing. If there's good money in it, I'll take a chance."

"There is. Quint backs us. When we get 'em coming----"

"Ah," said Doc with a wry face, "that's all right for the cards or the
wheel. But this pocket picking----"

"Say; that ain't what I mean. It's like this: Young Fitznoodle of the
Embassy staff gets soused and starts out lookin' for a quiet game. We
furnish the game. We don't go through his pockets; we just pick up
whatever falls out and take shorthand copies. Then back go the letters
into Fitznoodle's pocket----"

"Yes. Who reads 'em first?"

"Breslau. Or some skirt, maybe."

"What's Breslau?"

"Search _me_. He's a Dutchman or a Rooshian or some sort of Dodo. What
do you care?"

"I don't. All right, Ben. You've got to show me; that's all."

"Show you what?"

"Spot cash!"

"You're in when you handle it?"

"If you show me real money--yes."

"You're on. I'll cash a cheque of Quint's for you at Monroe's soon as
we hit the asphalt! And when you finish counting out your gold nickels
put 'em in your pants and play the game! Is that right?"

"Yes."

They exchanged a wary handshake; then, one after another, they leaned
back in their seats with the air of honest men who had done their
day's work.

Curfoot blinked at Brandes, at his excessively groomed person, at his
rings.

"You _look_ prosperous, Eddie."

"It's his business to," remarked Stull.

Brandes yawned:

"It would be a raw deal if there's a war over here," he said
listlessly.

"Ah," said Curfoot, "there won't be none."

"Why?"

"The Jews and bankers won't let these kinks mix it."

"That's right, too," nodded Brandes.

But Stull said nothing and his sour, pasty visage turned sourer. It
was the one possibility that disturbed him--the only fly in the
amber--the only mote that troubled his clairvoyance. Also, he was the
only man among the three who didn't think a thing was certain to
happen merely because he wanted it to happen.

There was another matter, too, which troubled him. Brandes was
unreliable. And who but little Stull should know how unreliable?

For Brandes had always been that. And now Stull knew him to be more
than that--knew him to be treacherous.

Whatever in Brandes had been decent, or had, blindly perhaps, aspired
toward decency, was now in abeyance. Something within him had gone to
smash since Minna Minti had struck him that night in the frightened
presence of Rue Carew.

And from that night, when he had lost the only woman who had ever
stirred in him the faintest aspiration to better things, the man had
gradually changed. Whatever in his nature had been unreliable became
treacherous; his stolidity became sullenness. A slow ferocity burned
within him; embers of a rage which no brooding ever quenched slumbered
red in his brain until his endless meditation became a monomania. And
his monomania was the ruin of this woman who had taken from him in the
very moment of consummation all that he had ever really loved in the
world--a thin, awkward, freckled, red-haired country girl, in whom,
for the first and only time in all his life, he saw the vague and
phantom promise of that trinity which he had never known--a wife, a
child, and a home.

He sat there by the car window glaring out of his dull green eyes at
the pleasant countryside, his thin lips tightening and relaxing on his
cigar.

Curfoot, still pondering over the "new stuff" offered him, brooded
silently in his corner, watching the others out of his tiny, bright
eyes.

"Do anything in London?" inquired Stull.

"No."

"Who was you working for?"

"A jock and a swell skirt. But Scotland Yard got next and chased the
main guy over the water."

"What was your lay?"

"Same thing. I dealt for the jock and the skirt trimmed the squabs."

"Anybody holler?"

"Aw--the kind we squeezed was too high up to holler. Them young lords
take their medicine like they wanted it. They ain't like the home
bunch that is named after swell hotels."

After a silence he looked up at Brandes:

"What ever become of Minna Minti?" he asked.

Brandes' heavy features remained stolid.

"She got her divorce, didn't she?" insisted Curfoot.

"Yes."

"Alimony?"

"No. She didn't ask any."

"How about Venem?"

Brandes remained silent, but Stull said:

"I guess she chucked him. She wouldn't stand for that snake. I got to
hand it to her; she ain't that kind."

"What kind is she?"

"I tell you I got to hand it to her. I can't complain of her. She
acted white all right until Venem stirred her up. Eddie's got himself
to blame; he got in wrong and Venem had him followed and showed him up
to Minna."

"You got tired of her, didn't you?" said Curfoot to Brandes. But Stull
answered for him again:

"Like any man, Eddie needed a vacation now and then. But no skirt
understands."

Brandes said slowly:

"I'll live to fix Minna yet."

"What fixed you," snapped Stull, "was that there Brookhollow
stuff----"

"Can it!" retorted Brandes, turning a deep red.

"Aw--don't hand me the true-love stuff, Eddie! If you'd meant it with
that little haymaker you'd have respected her----"

Brandes' large face became crimson with rage:

"You say another word about her and I'll push your block off--you
little dough-faced kike!"

Stull shrugged and presently whispered to Curfoot:

"That's the play he always makes. I've waited two years, but he won't
ring down on the love stuff. I guess he was hit hard that trip. It
took a little red-headed, freckled country girl to stop him. But it
was comin' to Eddie Brandes, and it certainly looks like it was there
to stay a while."

"He's still stuck on her?"

"I guess she's still the fly paper," nodded Stull.

Suddenly Brandes turned on Stull such a look of concentrated hatred
that the little gambler's pallid features stiffened with surprise:

"Ben," said Brandes in a low voice, which was too indistinct for
Neeland to catch, "I'll tell you something now that you don't know. I
saw Quint alone; I talked with him. Do you know who is handling the
big stuff in this deal?"

"Who?" asked Stull, amazed.

"The Turkish Embassy in Paris. And do you know who plays the fine
Italian hand for that bunch of Turks?"

"No."

"Minna!"

"You're crazy!"

Brandes took no notice, but went on with a sort of hushed ferocity
that silenced both Stull and Curfoot:

"That's why I went in. To get Minna. And I'll get her if it costs
every cent I've got or ever hope to get. That's why I'm in this deal;
that's why I came; that's why I'm here telling you this. I'm in it to
get Minna, not for the money, not for anything in all God's world
except to get the woman who has done what Minna did to me."

Neeland listened in vain to the murmuring voice; he could not catch a
word.

Stull whispered:

"Aw, f'r God's sake, Eddie, that ain't the game. Do you want to
double-cross Quint?"

"I _have_ double-crossed him."

"What! Do you mean to sell him out?"

"I _have_ sold him out."

"Jesus! Who to?"

"To the British Secret Service. And there's to be one hundred thousand
dollars in it, Doc, for you and me to divide. And fifty thousand more
when we put the French bulls on to Minna and Breslau. Now, how does
one hundred and fifty thousand dollars against five thousand apiece
strike you two poor, cheap guys?"

But the magnitude of Brandes' treachery and the splendour of the deal
left the two gamblers stunned.

Only by their expressions could Neeland judge that they were
discussing matters of vital importance to themselves and probably to
him. He listened; he could not hear what they were whispering. And
only at intervals he dared glance over his book in their direction.

"Well," said Brandes under his breath, "go on. Spit it out. What's the
squeal?"

"My God!" whispered Stull. "Quint will kill you."

Brandes laughed unpleasantly:

"Not me, Ben. I've got that geezer where I want him on a dirty deal he
pulled off with the police."

Curfoot turned his pointed muzzle toward the window and sneered at the
sunny landscape.

A few minutes later, far across the rolling plain set with villas and
farms, and green with hedgerows, gardens, bouquets of trees and
cultivated fields, he caught sight of a fairy structure outlined
against the sky. Turning to Brandes:

"There's the Eiffel Tower," remarked Curfoot. "Where are we stopping,
Eddie?"

"Caffy des Bulgars."

"Where's that?"

"It's where we go to work--Roo Vilna."

Stull's smile was ghastly, but Curfoot winked at Brandes.

Neeland listened, his eyes following the printed pages of his book.



CHAPTER XXV

CUP AND LIP


Through the crowded Paris terminal Neeland pushed his way, carrying
the olive-wood box in his hand and keeping an eye on his porter, who
preceded him carrying the remainder of his luggage and repeating:

"_Place, s'il vous plaît, m'sieu', dames!_"

To Neeland it was like a homecoming after many years' exile; the
subtle but perfectly specific odour of Paris assailed his nostrils
once again; the rapid, emphatic, lively language of France sounded
once more delightfully in his eager ears; vivacity and intelligence
sparkled in every eye that met his own. It was a throng of rapid
movement, of animated speech, of gesticulation. And, as it was in the
beginning when he first arrived there as a student, he fell in love
with it at first sight and contact.

All around him moved porters, passengers, railroad officials; the red
_képis_ of soldiers dotted the crowd; a priest or two in shovel hat
and buckled shoes, a Sister of Charity from the Rue de Bac lent graver
accents to the throng; and everywhere were the pretty bourgeois women
of the capital gathered to welcome relatives or friends, or themselves
starting on some brief summer voyage so dear to those who seldom find
it in their hearts to leave Paris for longer than a fortnight at a
time.

As he pressed onward he witnessed characteristic reunions between
voyagers and friends who awaited them--animated, cordial, gay scenes
complicated by many embraces on both cheeks.

And, of a sudden, he noticed the prettiest girl he had ever seen in
his life. She was in white, with a black straw hat, and her face and
figure were lovely beyond words. Evidently she was awaiting friends;
there was a charming expectancy on her fresh young face, a slight
forward inclination of her body, as though expectancy and happy
impatience alone controlled her.

Her beauty almost took his breath away.

"Lord!" he thought to himself. "If such a girl as that ever stood
waiting for me----"

At the same moment her golden-grey eyes, sweeping the passing crowd,
met his; a sharp thrill of amazement passed through him as she held
out both gloved hands with a soft exclamation of recognition:

"Jim! Jim Neeland!"

"Rue Carew!" He could scarcely credit his eyesight, where he stood,
hat in hand, holding both her little hands in one of his.

No, there was no use in trying to disguise his astonishment. He looked
into the face of this tall young girl, searched it for familiar
features, recognised a lovely paraphrase of the freckled face and thin
figure he remembered, and remained dumb before this radiant
reincarnation of that other unhappy, shabby, and meagre child he had
known two years ago.

Ruhannah, laughing and flushed, withdrew her hands.

"Have I changed? You haven't. And I always thought you the most
wonderful and ornamental young man on this planet. I knew you at once,
Jim Neeland. Would you have passed without recognising me?"

"Perhaps I wouldn't have passed after seeing you----"

"Jim Neeland! What a remark!" She laughed. "Anyway, it's nice to
believe myself attractive enough to be noticed. And I'm _so_ glad to
see you. Naïa is here, somewhere, watching for you"--turning her
pretty, eager head to search for the Princess Mistchenka. "Oh, there
she is! She doesn't see us----"

They made their way between the passing ranks of passengers and
porters; the Princess caught sight of them, came hastily toward them.

"Jim! It's nice to see you. Thank you for coming! So _you_, found him,
Rue? How are you, Jim? And where is the olive-wood box?"

"I'm well, and there's that devilish box!" he replied, laughing and
lifting it in his hand to exhibit it. "Naïa, the next time you want
it, send an escort of artillery and two battleships!"

"Did you have trouble?"

"Trouble? I had the time of my life. No moving picture can ever again
excite me; no best seller. I've been both since I had your cable to
get this box and bring it to you."

He laughed as he spoke, but the Princess continued to regard him very
seriously, and Rue Carew's smile came and waned like sunlight in a
wood, for she was not quite sure whether he had really encountered any
dangers on this mission which he had fulfilled so well.

"Our car is waiting outside," said the Princess. "Where is your
porter, Jim?"

Neeland glanced about him, discovered the porter, made a sign for him
to follow, and they moved together toward the entrance to the huge
terminal.

"I haven't decided where to stop yet," began Neeland, but the Princess
checked him with a pretty gesture:

"You stop with us, Jim."

"Thank you so much, but----"

"Please. Must I beg of you?"

"Do you really wish it?"

"Certainly," she replied absently, glancing about her. She added: "I
don't see my car. I don't see my footman. I told him to wait here.
Rue, do you see him anywhere?"

"No, I don't," said the girl.

"How annoying!" said the Princess. "He's a new man. My own footman was
set upon and almost killed by Apaches a week ago. So I had to find a
substitute. How stupid of him! Where on earth can he be waiting?"

They traversed the court of the terminal. Many automobiles were parked
there or just leaving; liveried footmen stood awaiting masters and
mistresses; but nowhere was the car of the Princess Mistchenka in
sight.

They stood there, Neeland's porter behind with his suitcase and
luggage, not knowing whether to wait longer or summon a taxicab.

"I don't understand," repeated the Princess impatiently. "I explained
very carefully what I desired. That new groom is stupid. Caron, my
chauffeur, would never have made a mistake unless that idiot groom
misunderstood his instructions."

"Let me go and make some inquiries," said Neeland. "Do you mind
waiting here? I'll not be long----"

He went off, carrying the olive-wood box, which his grasp never
quitted now; and presently the Princess and Ruhannah saw him disappear
among the ranks of automobiles and cabs.

"I don't like it, Rue," repeated the Princess in a low voice. "I
neither understand nor relish this situation."

"Have you any idea----"

"Hush, child! I don't know. That new groom, Verdier, was recommended
by the Russian Embassy. I don't know what to think of this."

"It _can't_ be anything--queer, can it, dear?" asked Rue.

"Anything _can_ have happened. Nothing is likely to have occurred,
however--unless--unless those Apaches were----"

"Naïa!"

"It's possible, I suppose. They may have attacked Picard as part of a
conspiracy. The Russian Embassy may have been deceived in Verdier. All
this may be part of a plan. But--I scarcely believe it.... All the
same, I dislike to take a taxicab----"

She caught sight of Neeland returning; both women moved forward to
meet him.

"I've solved the mystery," he said. "Naïa, your car was run into
outside the station a few minutes after you left it. And I'm sorry to
say that your chauffeur was badly enough hurt to require an
ambulance."

"Where on earth did you learn that?"

"The official at the taxicab control told me. I went to him because
that is where one is likely to receive information."

"Caron hurt!" murmured the Princess. "What a shame! Where did they
take him, Jim?"

"To the Charité."

"I'll go this afternoon. But where is that imbecile groom of mine?"

"It appears that he and a policeman went to a garage on the repair
truck that took your car."

"Was he arrested?"

"I believe so."

"What a _contretemps_!" exclaimed the Princess Mistchenka. "We shall
have to take a taxicab after all!"

"I've ordered one from the control. There it comes now," said Neeland,
as a brand new taxicab, which looked like a private car, drew up at
the curb, and a smiling and very spick and span chauffeur saluted.

Neeland's porter hoisted trunk and suitcase on top; the Princess
stepped into the limousine, followed by Rue and Neeland; the chauffeur
took the order, started his car, wheeled out into the square, circled
the traffic policeman, and whizzed away into the depths of the most
beautiful city in the world.

Neeland, seated with his back to the driver, laid the olive-wood box
on his knees, unlocked it, drew from his breast pocket the papers he
carried; locked them in the box once more, and looked up laughingly at
the Princess and Ruhannah as he placed it at his feet.

"There you are!" he said. "Thank heaven my task and your affair have
been accomplished. All the papers are there--and," to Ruhannah, "that
pretty gentleman you call the Yellow Devil is inside, along with some
assorted firearms, drawing instruments, and photographs. The whole
business is here, intact--and so am I--if that irrelevant detail
should interest you."

Rue smiled her answer; the Princess scrutinised him keenly:

"Did you have trouble, Jim?"

"Yes, I did."

"Serious trouble?"

"I tell you it was like a movie in five reels. Never before did I
believe such things happened outside a Yonkers studio. But they do,
Naïa. And I've learned that the world is full of more excitingly
melodramatic possibilities than any novel or scenario ever
contained."

"You're not serious, of course," began Rue Carew, watching the varying
expressions on his animated features; but the Princess Mistchenka
said, unsmiling:

"A film melodrama is a crude and tawdry thing compared to the real
drama so many of us play in every moment of our lives."

Neeland said to Rue, lightly:

"That is true as far as I have been concerned with that amazing box.
It's full of the very devil--of that Yellow Devil! When I pick it up
now I seem to feel a premonitory tingling all over me--not entirely
disagreeable," he added to the Princess, "but the sort of half-scared
exhilaration a man feels who takes a chance and is quite sure he'll
not have another chance if he loses. Do you understand what I mean?"

"Yes," said the Princess unsmilingly, her clear, pleasant eyes fixed
on him.

In her tranquil, indefinite expression there was something which made
him wonder how many such chances this pretty woman had taken in her
life of intellectual pleasure and bodily ease.

And now he remembered that Ilse Dumont apparently knew about
her--about Ruhannah, too. And Ilse Dumont was the agent of a foreign
government.

Was the Princess Mistchenka, patron and amateur of the arts, another
such agent? If not, why had he taken this journey for her with this
box of papers?

The passage of the Boulevard was slow; at every square traffic was
halted; all Paris crowded the streets in the early afternoon sunshine,
and the taxicab in which they sat made little speed until the Place de
la Concorde opened out and the great Arc--a tiny phantom of lavender
and pearl--spanned the vanishing point of a fairy perspective between
parallel and endless ramparts of tender green.

"There was a lot of war talk on the _Volhynia_," said Neeland, "but I
haven't heard any since I landed, nor have I seen a paper. I suppose
the Chancelleries have come to some agreement."

"No," said the Princess.

"You don't expect trouble, do you? I mean a general European
free-for-all fight?"

"I don't know, Jim."

"Haven't you," he asked blandly, "any means of acquiring inside
information?"

She did not even pretend to evade the good-humoured malice of his
smile and question:

"Yes; I have sources of private information. I have learned nothing,
so far."

He looked at Rue, but the smile had faded from her face and she
returned his questioning gaze gravely.

"There is great anxiety in Europe," she said in a low voice, "and the
tension is increasing. When we arrive home we shall have a chance to
converse more freely." She made the slightest gesture with her head
toward the chauffeur--a silent reminder and a caution.

The Princess nodded slightly:

"One never knows," she remarked. "We shall have much to say to one
another when we are safely home."

But Neeland could not take it very seriously here in the sunshine,
with two pretty women facing him--here speeding up the Champs Elysées
between the endless green of chestnut trees and the exquisite
silvery-grey façades of the wealthy--with motors flashing by on every
side and the cool, leafy alleys thronged with children and
nurse-maids, and Monsieur Guignol squeaking and drumming in his
red-curtained box!

How could a young man believe in a sequel to the almost incredible
melodrama in which he had figured, with such a sane and delightful
setting, here in the familiar company of two charming women he had
known?

Besides, all Paris and her police were at his elbow; the olive-wood
box stood between his knees; a smartly respectable taxi and its driver
drove them with the quiet _éclat_ and precision of a private
_employé_; the Arc de Triomphe already rose splendidly above them, and
everything that had once been familiar and reassuring and delightful
lay under his grateful eyes on every side.

And now the taxicab turned into the rue Soleil d'Or--a new street to
Neeland, opened since his student days, and only one square long, with
a fountain in the middle and young chestnut trees already thickly
crowned with foliage lining both sides of the street.

But although the rue Soleil d'Or was a new street to him, Paris
construction is also a rapid affair. The street was faced by charming
private houses built of grey Caen stone; the fountain with its golden
sun-dial, with the seated figure--a life-size replica of Manship's
original in the Metropolitan Museum--serenely and beautifully holding
its place between the Renaissance façades and rows of slender trees.

Summer had not yet burned foliage or flowers; the freshness of spring
itself seemed still to reign there.

Three blue-bloused street-sweepers with hose and broom were washing
the asphalt as their cab slowed down, sounding its horn to warn them
out of the way. And, the spouting hose still in their hands, the
street-cleaners stepped out of the gutter before the pretty private
hotel of Madame la Princesse.

Already a butler was opening the _grille_; already the chauffeur had
swung Neeland's steamer trunk and suitcase to the sidewalk; already
the Princess and Rue were advancing to the house, while Neeland
fumbled in his pocket for the fare.

The butler, bowing, relieved him of the olive-wood box. At the same
instant the blue-bloused man with the hose turned the powerful stream
of water directly into the butler's face, knocking him flat on the
sidewalk; and his two comrades tripped up Neeland, passed a red sash
over his head, and hurled him aside, blinded, half strangled,
staggering at random, tearing furiously at the wide band of woollen
cloth which seemed to suffocate him.

Already the chauffeur had tossed the olive-wood box into the cab; the
three blue-bloused men sprang in after it; the chauffeur slipped into
his seat, threw in the clutch, and, driving with one hand, turned a
pistol on the half drowned butler, who had reeled to his feet and was
lurching forward to seize the steering wheel.

The taxicab, gathering speed, was already turning the corner of the
rue de la Lune when Neeland managed to free throat and eyes from the
swathe of woollen.

The butler, checked by the levelled pistol, stood dripping, still
almost blinded by the force of the water from the hose; but he had
plenty of pluck, and he followed Neeland on a run to the corner of the
street.

The street was absolutely empty, except for the sparrows, and the big,
fat, slate-coloured pigeons that strutted and coo-cooed under the
shadow of the chestnut trees.



CHAPTER XXVI

RUE SOLEIL D'OR


Marotte, the butler, in dry clothes, had served luncheon--a silent,
respectable, self-respecting man, calm in his fury at the incredible
outrage perpetrated upon his person.

And now luncheon was over; the Princess at the telephone in her
boudoir; Rue in the music-room with Neeland, still excited, anxious,
confused.

Astonishment, mortification, anger, had left Neeland silent; and the
convention known as luncheon had not appealed to him.

But very little was said during that formality; and in the silence the
serious nature of the episode which so suddenly had deprived the
Princess of the olive-wood box and the papers it contained impressed
Neeland more and more deeply.

The utter unexpectedness of the outrage--the helpless figure he had
cut--infuriated him. And the more he reflected the madder he grew when
he realised that all he had gone through meant nothing now--that every
effort had been sterile, every hour wasted, every step he had taken
from Brookhollow to Paris--to the very doorstep where his duty
ended--had been taken in vain.

It seemed to him in his anger and humiliation that never had any man
been so derided, so heartlessly mocked by the gods.

And now, as he sat there behind lowered blinds in the cool half-light
of the music-room, he could feel the hot blood of resentment and
chagrin in his cheeks.

"Nobody could have foreseen it," repeated Rue Carew in a pretty,
bewildered voice. "And if the Princess Naïa had no suspicions, how
could I harbour any--or how could you?"

"I've been sufficiently tricked--or I thought I had been--to be on my
guard. But it seems not. I ought never to have been caught in such a
disgusting trap--such a simple, silly, idiotic cage! But--good Lord!
How on earth was a man to suspect anything so--so naturally planned
and executed--so simply done. It was an infernal masterpiece, Rue.
But--that is no consolation to a man who has been made to appear like
a monkey!"

The Princess, entering, overheard; and she seated herself and looked
tranquilly at Neeland as he resumed his place on the sofa.

"You were not to blame, Jim," she said. "It was my fault. I had
warning enough at the railroad terminal when an accident to my car was
reported to me by the control through you." She added, calmly: "There
was no accident."

"No accident?" exclaimed Neeland, astonished.

"None at all. My new footman, who followed us to the waiting salon for
incoming trains, returned to my chauffeur, Caron, saying that he was
to go back to the garage and await orders. I have just called the
garage and I had Caron on the wire. There was no accident; he has not
been injured; and--the new footman has disappeared!"

"It was a clear case of treachery?" exclaimed Neeland.

"Absolutely a plot. The pretended official at the terminal control
was an accomplice of my footman, of the taxicab driver, of the
pretended street-cleaners--and of whom else I can, perhaps, imagine."

"Did you call the terminal control?"

"I did. The official in charge and the starter had seen no such
accident; had given no such information. Some masquerader in uniform
must have intercepted you, Jim."

"I found him coming toward me on the sidewalk not far from the
kiosque. He was in uniform; I never dreamed he was not the genuine
thing."

"There is no blame attached to you----"

"Naïa, it actually sickens me to discover how little sense I possess.
I've been through enough to drive both suspicion and caution into this
wooden head of mine----"

"What have you been through, Jim?" asked the Princess calmly.

"I'll tell you. I didn't play a brilliant rôle, I'm sorry to admit.
Not common sense but sheer luck pulled me through as far as your own
doorstep. And there," he added disgustedly, "the gods no doubt grew
tired of such an idiot, and they handed me what was coming to me."

He was so thoroughly and so boyishly ashamed and angry with himself
that a faint smile flitted over the Princess Naïa's lips.

"Proceed, James," she said.

"All right. Only first may I ask--who is Ilse Dumont?"

For a moment the Princess sat silent, expressionless, intent on the
man whose clear, inquiring eyes still questioned her.

The Princess finally answered with a question:

"Did _she_ cause you any trouble, Jim?"

"Every bit I had was due to her. Also--and here's a paradox--I
shouldn't be here now if Ilse Dumont had not played square with me.
Who is she?"

The Princess Naïa did not reply immediately. Instead, she dropped one
silken knee over the other, lighted a cigarette, and sat for a few
moments gazing into space. Then:

"Ilse Dumont," she said, "is a talented and exceedingly pretty young
woman who was born in Alsace of one German and one thoroughly
Germanised parent.

"She played two seasons in Chicago in light opera under another name.
She had much talent, an acceptable voice and she became a local
favourite."

The Princess looked at her cigarette; continued speaking as though
addressing it:

"She sang at the Opéra Comique here in Paris the year before last and
last year. Her rôles were minor ones. Early this spring she abruptly
broke her contract with the management and went to New York."

Neeland said bluntly:

"Ilse Dumont is an agent in the service of the Turkish Government."

The Princess nodded.

"Did you know it, Naïa?"

"I began to suspect it recently."

"May I ask how?"

The Princess glanced at Rue and smiled:

"Ruhannah's friend, Colonel Izzet Bey, was very devoted to Minna
Minti----"

"To _whom_!" exclaimed Neeland, astounded.

"To Ilse Dumont. Minna Minti is her stage name," said the Princess.

Neeland turned and looked at Rue, who, conscious of his excitement,
flushed brightly, yet never suspecting what he was about to say.

The Princess said quietly:

"Yes, tell her, Jim. It is better she should know. Until now it has
not been necessary to mention the matter, or I should have done so."

Rue, surprised, still prettily flushed with expectancy, looked with
new curiosity from one to the other.

Neeland said:

"Ilse Dumont, known on the stage as Minna Minti, is the divorced wife
of Eddie Brandes."

At the mention of a name so long hidden away, buried in her memory,
and almost forgotten, the girl quivered and straightened up, as though
an electric shock had passed through her body.

Then a burning colour flooded her face as at the swift stroke of a
lash, and her grey eyes glimmered with the starting tears.

"You'll have to know it, darling," said the Princess in a low voice.
"There is no reason why you should not; it no longer can touch you.
Don't you know that?"

"Y-yes----" Ruhannah's slowly drooping head was lifted again; held
high; and the wet brilliancy slowly dried in her steady eyes.

"Before I tell you," continued Neeland, "what happened to me through
Ilse Dumont, I must tell you what occurred in the train on my way to
Paris.... May I have a cigarette, Princess Naïa?"

"At your elbow in that silver box."

Rue Carew lighted it for him with a smile, but her hand still
trembled.

"First," he said, "tell me what particular significance those papers
in the olive-wood box have. Then I can tell you more intelligently
what happened to me since I went to Brookhollow to find them."

"They are the German plans for the fortification of the mainland
commanding the Dardanelles, and for the forts dominating the Gallipoli
peninsula."

"Yes, I know that. But of what interest to England or France or
Russia----"

"If there is to be war, can't you understand the importance to us of
those plans?" asked the Princess in a low, quiet voice.

"To--'us'?" he repeated.

"Yes, to _us_. I am Russian, am I not?"

"Yes. I now understand how very Russian you are, Princess. But what
has Turkey----"

"What _is_ Turkey?"

"An empire----"

"No. A German province."

"I did not know----"

"That is what the Ottoman Empire is today," continued the Princess
Mistchenka, "a Turkish province fortified by Berlin, governed from
Berlin through a Germanised Turk, Enver Pasha; the army organised,
drilled, equipped, officered, and paid by the Kaiser Wilhelm; every
internal resource and revenue and development and projected
development mortgaged to Germany and under German control; and the
Sultan a nobody!"

"I did not know it," repeated Neeland.

"It is the truth, _mon ami_. It is inevitable that Turkey fights if
Germany goes to war. England, France, Russia know it. Ask yourself,
then, how enormous to us the value of those plans--tentative, sketchy,
perhaps, yet the inception and foundation of those German-made and
German-armed fortifications which today line the Dardanelles and the
adjacent waters within the sphere of Ottoman influence!"

"So _that_ is why you wanted them," he said with an unhappy glance at
Rue. "What idiotic impulse prompted me to put them back in the box I
can't imagine. You saw me do it, there in the taxicab."

Ruhannah said:

"The chauffeur saw you, too. He was looking at you in his steering
mirror; I saw his face. But it never entered my mind that anything
except idle curiosity possessed him."

"Perhaps," said the Princess to Neeland, "what you did with the papers
saved your life. Had that chauffeur not seen you place them in the
box, he might have shot and robbed you as you left the cab, merely on
the chance of your having them on your person."

There was a silence; then Neeland said:

"This is a fine business! As far as I can see murder seems to be the
essence of the contract."

"It is often incidental to it," said the Princess Mistchenka serenely.
"But you and Ruhannah will soon be out of this affair."

"I?" said the girl, surprised.

"I think so."

"Why, dear?"

"I think there is going to be war. And if there is, France will be
concerned. And that means that you and Ruhannah, too, will have to
leave France."

"But you?" asked the girl, anxiously.

"I expect to remain. How long can you stay here, Jim?"

Neeland cast an involuntary glance at Rue as he replied:

"I intended to take the next steamer. Why? Can I be of any service to
you, Princess Naïa?"

The Princess Mistchenka let her dark eyes rest on him for a second,
then on Rue Carew.

"I was thinking," she said, "that you might take Ruhannah back with
you if war is declared."

"Back to America!" exclaimed the girl. "But where am I to go in
America? What am I to do there? I--I didn't think I was quite ready to
earn my own living"--looking anxiously at the Princess Naïa--"do you
think so, dear?"

The Princess said:

"I wanted you to remain. And you must not worry, darling. Some day I
shall want you back---- But if there is to be war in Europe you cannot
remain here."

"Why not?"

"In the first place, only useful people would be wanted in Paris----"

"But, Naïa, darling! Couldn't I be useful to you?" The girl jumped up
from the sofa and came and knelt down by the Princess Mistchenka,
looking up into her face.

The Princess laid aside her cigarette and put both hands on Rue's
shoulders, looking her gravely, tenderly in the eyes.

"Dear," she said, "I want James Neeland to hear this, too. For it is
partly a confession.

"When I first saw you, Rue, I was merely sorry for you, and willing to
oblige Jim Neeland by keeping an eye on you until you were settled
somewhere here in Paris.

"Before we landed I liked you. And, because I saw wonderful
possibilities in the little country girl who shared my stateroom, I
deliberately made up my mind to develop you, make use of your
excellent mind, your quick intelligence, your amazing capacity for
absorbing everything that is best, and your very unusual attractions
for my own purposes. I meant--to train you--educate you--to aid me."

There was a silence; the girl looked up at her, flushed, intent,
perplexed; the Princess Mistchenka, her hands on the girl's shoulders,
looked back at her out of grave and beautiful dark eyes.

"That is the truth," said the Princess. "My intention was to develop
you along the lines which I follow as a--profession; teach you to
extract desirable information through your wit, intelligence, and
beauty--using your youth as a mask. But I--I can't do it----" She
shook her head slightly. "Because I've lost my heart to you.... And
the business I follow is a--a rotten game."

Again silence fell among those three; Rue, kneeling at the elder
woman's feet, looked up into her face in silence; Neeland, his elbows
resting on his knees, leaned slightly forward from the sofa, watching
them.

"I'll help you, if you wish," said Rue Carew.

"Thank you, dear. No."

"Let me. I owe you everything since I have been here----"

"No, dear. What I said to you--and to James--is true. It's a
merciless, stealthy, treacherous business; it's dangerous to a woman,
body and soul. It is one long lifetime of experience with treachery,
with greed, with baser passions, with all that is ignoble in mankind.

"There is no reason for you to enter such a circle; no excuse for it;
no duty urges you; no patriotism incites you to such self-sacrifice;
no memory of wrong done to your nearest and dearest inspires you to
dedicate your life to aiding--if only a little, in the downfall and
destruction of the nation and the people who encompassed it!"

The Princess Mistchenka's dark eyes began to gleam, and her beautiful
face lost its colour; and she took Rue's little hands in both of hers
and held them tightly against her breast.

"Had I not lost my heart to you, perhaps I should not have hesitated
to develop and make use of you.

"You are fitted for the rôle I might wish you to play. Men are
fascinated by you; your intelligence charms; your youth and innocence,
worn as a mask, might make you invaluable to the Chancellerie which is
interested in the information I provide for it.

"But, Rue, I have come to understand that I cannot do this thing. No.
Go back to your painting and your clever drawing and your music; any
one of these is certain to give you a living in time. And in that
direction alone your happiness lies."

She leaned forward and kissed the girl's hair where it was fine and
blond, close to the snowy forehead.

"If war comes," she said, "you and James will have to go home, like
two good children when the curfew rings."

She laughed, pushed Rue away, lighted another cigarette, and, casting
a glance partly ironical, partly provocative, at the good-looking
young man on the sofa, said:

"As for you, James, I don't worry about you. Impudence will always
carry you through where diplomacy fails you. Now, tell me all about
these three unpleasant sporting characters who occupied the train with
you."

Neeland laughed.

"It seems that a well-known gambler in New York, called Captain Quint,
is backing them; and somebody higher up is backing Quint----"

"Probably the Turkish Embassy at Washington," interposed the Princess,
coolly. "I'm sorry, Jim; pray go on."

"The Turkish Embassy?" he repeated, surprised that she should guess.

"Yes; and the German Embassy is backing that. There you are, Jim. That
is the sequence as far as your friend, Captain Quint. Now, who comes
next in the scale?"

"This man--Brandes--and the little chalk-faced creature, Stull; and
the other one, with the fox face--Doc Curfoot."

"I see. And then?"

"Then, as I gathered, there are several gentlemen wearing Teutonic
names--who are to go into partnership with them--one named Kestner,
one called Theodore Weishelm, and an exceedingly oily Eurasian
gentleman with whom I became acquainted on the _Volhynia_--one Karl
Breslau----"

"Breslau!" exclaimed the Princess. "_Now_ I understand."

"Who is he, Princess?"

"He is the most notorious international spy in the world--a protean
individual with aliases, professions, and experiences sufficient for
an entire jail full of criminals. His father was a German Jew; his
mother a Circassian girl; he was educated in Germany, France, Italy,
and England. He has been a member of the socialist group in the
Reichstag under one name, a member of the British Parliament under
another; he did dirty work for Abdul Hamid; dirtier for Enver Bey.

"He is here, there, everywhere; he turns up in Brazil one day, and is
next in evidence in Moscow. What he is so eternally about God only
knows: what Chancellery he serves, which he betrays, is a question
that occupies many uneasy minds this very hour, I fancy.

"But of this I, personally, am now satisfied; Karl Breslau is
responsible for the robbery of your papers today, and the entire
affair was accomplished under his direction!"

"And yet I know," said Neeland, "that after he and Kestner tried to
blow up the captain's cabin and the bridge aboard the _Volhynia_
yesterday morning at a little after two o'clock, he and Kestner must
have jumped overboard in the Mersey River off Liverpool."

"Without doubt a boat was watching your ship."

"Yes; Weishelm had a fishing smack to pick them up. Ilse Dumont must
have gone with them, too."

"All they had to do was to touch at some dock, go ashore, and
telegraph to their men here," said the Princess.

"That, evidently, is what they did," admitted Neeland ruefully.

"Certainly. And by _this_ time they may be here, too. They could do
it. I haven't any doubt that Breslau, Kestner, and Ilse Dumont are
here in Paris at this moment."

"Then I'll wager I know where they are!"

"Where?"

"In the Hôtel des Bulgars, rue Vilna. That's where they are to operate
a gaming house. That is where they expect to pluck and fleece the
callow and the aged who may have anything of political importance
about them worth stealing. That is their plan. Agents, officials,
employees of all consulates, legations, and embassies are what they're
really after. I heard them discussing it there in the train today."

The Princess had fallen very silent, musing, watching Neeland's
animated face as he detailed his knowledge of what had occurred.

"Why not notify the police?" he added. "There might be a chance to
recover the box and the papers."

The Princess shook her pretty head.

"We have to be very careful how we use the police, James. It seems
simple, but it is not. I can't explain the reasons, but we usually pit
spy against spy, and keep very clear of the police. Otherwise," she
added, smiling, "there would be the deuce to pay among the embassies
and legations." She added: "It's a most depressing situation; I don't
exactly know what to do.... I have letters to write, anyway----"

She rose, turned to Rue and took both her hands:

"No; you must go back to New York and to your painting and music if
there is to be war in Europe. But you have had a taste of what goes on
in certain circles here; you have seen what a chain of consequences
ensue from a chance remark of a young girl at a dinner table."

"Yes."

"It's amusing, isn't it? A careless and innocent word to that old
busybody, Ahmed Mirka Pasha, at my table--that began it. Then another
word to Izzet Bey. And I had scarcely time to realise what had
happened--barely time to telegraph James in New York--before their
entire underground machinery was set in motion to seize those wretched
papers in Brookhollow!"

Neeland said:

"You don't know even yet, Princess, how amazingly fast that machinery
worked."

"Tell me now, James. I have time enough to write my warning since it
is already too late." And she seated herself on the sofa and drew
Ruhannah down beside her.

"Listen, dear," she said with pretty mockery, "here is a most worthy
young man who is simply dying to let us know how picturesque a man can
be when he tries to."

Neeland laughed:

"The only trouble with me," he retorted, "is that I've a rather
hopeless habit of telling the truth. Otherwise there'd be some chance
for me as a hero in what I'm going to tell you."

And he began with his first encounter with Ilse Dumont in Rue Carew's
house at Brookhollow. After he had been speaking for less than a
minute, Rue Carew's hands tightened in the clasp of the Princess Naïa,
who glanced at the girl and noticed that she had lost her colour.

And Neeland continued his partly playful, partly serious narrative of
"moving accidents by flood and field," aware of the girl's deep,
breathless interest, moved by it, and, conscious of it, the more
inclined to avoid the picturesque and heroic, and almost ashamed to
talk of himself at all under the serious beauty of the girl's clear
eyes.

But he could scarcely tell his tale and avoid mentioning himself; he
was the centre of it all, the focus of the darts of Fate, and there
was no getting away from what happened to himself.

So he made the melodrama a comedy, and the moments of deadly peril he
treated lightly. And one thing he avoided altogether, and that was
how he had kissed Ilse Dumont.

When he finished his account of his dreadful situation in the
stateroom of Ilse Dumont, and how at the last second her unerring
shots had shattered the bomb clock, cut the guy-rope, and smashed the
water-jug which deluged the burning fuses, he added with a very
genuine laugh:

"If only some photographer had taken a few hundred feet of film for me
I could retire on an income in a year and never do another stroke of
honest work!"

The Princess smiled, mechanically, but Rue Carew dropped her white
face on the Princess Naïa's shoulder as though suddenly fatigued.



CHAPTER XXVII

FROM FOUR TO FIVE


The Princess Mistchenka and Rue Carew had retired to their respective
rooms for that hour between four and five in the afternoon, which the
average woman devotes to cat-naps or to that aimless feminine fussing
which must ever remain a mystery to man.

The afternoon had turned very warm; Neeland, in his room, lay on the
lounge in his undershirt and trousers, having arrived so far toward
bathing and changing his attire.

No breeze stirred the lattice blinds hanging over both open windows;
the semi-dusk of the room was pierced here and there by slender shafts
of sunlight which lay almost white across the carpet and striped the
opposite wall; the rue Soleil d'Or was very silent in the July
afternoon.

And Neeland lay there thinking about all that had happened to him and
trying to bring it home to himself and make it seem plausible and
real; and could not.

For even now the last ten days of his life seemed like a story he had
read concerning someone else. Nor did it seem to him that he
personally had known all those people concerned in this wild,
exaggerated, grotesque story. They, too, took their places on the
printed page, appearing, lingering, disappearing, reappearing, as
chapter succeeded chapter in a romance too obvious, too palpably
sensational to win the confidence and credulity of a young man of
today.

Fed to repletion on noisy contemporary fiction, his finer perception
blunted by the daily and raucous yell of the New York press, his
imagination too long over-strained by Broadway drama and now flaccid
and incapable of further response to its leering or shrieking appeal,
the din of twentieth-century art fell on nerveless ears and on a brain
benumbed and sceptical.

And so when everything that he had found grotesque, illogical,
laboured, obvious, and clamorously redundant in literature and the
drama began to happen and continued to happen in real life to him--and
went on happening and involving himself and others all around him in
the pleasant July sunshine of 1914, this young man, made
intellectually _blasé_, found himself without sufficient capacity to
comprehend it.

There was another matter with which his mind was struggling as he lay
there, his head cradled on one elbow, watching the thin blue spirals
from his cigarette mount straight to the ceiling, and that was the
metamorphosis of Rue Carew.

Where was the thin girl he remembered--with her untidy chestnut hair
and freckles, and a rather sweet mouth--dressed in garments the only
mission of which was to cover a flat chest and frail body and limbs
whose too rapid growth had outstripped maturity?

To search for her he went back to the beginning, where a little girl
in a pink print dress, bare-legged and hatless, loitered along an
ancient rail fence and looked up shyly at him as he warned her to keep
out of range of the fusillade from the bushes across the pasture.

He thought of her again at the noisy party in Gayfield on that white
night in winter; visualised the tall, shy, overgrown girl who danced
with him and made no complaint when her slim foot was trodden on. And
again he remembered the sleigh and the sleighbells clashing and
tinkling under the moon; the light from her doorway, and how she stood
looking back at him; and how, on the mischievous impulse of the
moment, he had gone back and kissed her----

At the memory an odd sensation came over him, scaring him a little.
How on earth had he ever had the temerity to do such a thing to her!

And, as he thought of this exquisite, slender, clear-eyed young girl
who had greeted him at the Paris terminal--this charming embodiment of
all that is fresh and sweet and fearless--in her perfect hat and gown
of _mondaine_ youth and fashion, the memory of his temerity appalled
him.

Imagine his taking an unencouraged liberty now!

Nor could he dare imagine encouragement from the Rue Carew so
amazingly revealed to him.

Out of what, in heaven's name, had this lovely girl developed? Out of
a shy, ragged, bare-legged child, haunting the wild blackberry tangles
in Brookhollow?

Out of the frail, charmingly awkward, pathetic, freckled mill-hand in
her home-made party clothes, the rather sweet expression of whose
mouth once led him to impudent indiscretion?

Out of what had she been evolved--this young girl whom he had left
just now standing beside her boudoir door with the Princess Naïa's arm
around her waist? Out of the frightened, white-lipped, shabby girl who
had come dragging her trembling limbs and her suitcase up the dark
stairway outside his studio? Out of the young thing with sagging hair,
crouched in an armchair beside his desk, where her cheap hat lay with
two cheap hatpins sticking in the crown? Out of the fragile figure
buried in the bedclothes of a stateroom berth, holding out to him a
thin, bare arm in voiceless adieu?

And Neeland lay there thinking, his head on his elbow, the other arm
extended--from the fingers of which the burnt-out cigarette presently
fell to the floor.

He thought to himself:

"She is absolutely beautiful; there's no denying that. It's not her
clothes or the way she does her hair, or her voice, or the way she
moves, or how she looks at a man; it's the whole business. And the
whole bally business is a miracle, that's all. Good Lord! And to think
I ever had the nerve--the _nerve_!"

He swung himself to a sitting posture, sat gazing into space for a few
moments, then continued to undress by pulling off one shoe, lighting a
cigarette, and regarding his other foot fixedly.

That is the manner in which the vast majority of young men do their
deepest thinking.

However, before five o'clock he had scrubbed himself and arrayed his
well constructed person in fresh linen and outer clothing; and now he
sauntered out through the hallway and down the stairs to the rear
drawing-room, where a tea-table had been brought in and tea
paraphernalia arranged. Although the lamp under the kettle had been
lighted, nobody was in the room except a West Highland terrier curled
up on a lounge, who, without lifting his snow-white head, regarded
Neeland out of the wisest and most penetrating eyes the young man had
ever encountered.

Here was a personality! Here was a dog not to be approached lightly or
with flippant familiarity. No! That small, long, short-legged body
with its thatch of wiry white hair was fairly instinct with dignity,
wisdom, and uncompromising self-respect.

"That dog," thought Neeland, venturing to seat himself on a chair
opposite, "is a Presbyterian if ever there was one. And I, for one,
haven't the courage to address him until he deigns to speak to me."

He looked respectfully at the dog, glanced at the kettle which had
begun to sizzle a little, then looked out of the long windows into the
little walled garden where a few slender fruit trees grew along the
walls in the rear of well-kept flower beds, now gay with phlox,
larkspur, poppies, and heliotrope, and edged with the biggest and
bluest pansies he had ever beheld.

On the wall a Peacock butterfly spread its brown velvet and gorgeously
eyed wings to the sun's warmth; a blackbird with brilliant yellow bill
stood astride a peach twig and poured out a bubbling and incessant
melody full of fluted grace notes. And on the grass oval a kitten
frisked with the ghosts of last month's dandelions, racing after the
drifting fluff and occasionally keeling over to attack its own tail,
after the enchanting manner of all kittens.

A step behind him and Neeland turned. It was Marotte, the butler, who
presented a thick, sealed envelope to him on his salver, bent to turn
down the flame under the singing silver kettle, and withdrew without a
sound.

Neeland glanced at the letter in perplexity, opened the envelope and
the twice-folded sheets of letter paper inside, and read this odd
communication:

                  *       *       *       *       *

Have I been fair to you? Did I keep my word? Surely you must now, in
your heart, acquit me of treachery--of any premeditated violence
toward you.

I never dreamed that those men would come to my stateroom. That plan
_had_ been discussed, but was abandoned because it appeared impossible
to get hold of you.

And also--may I admit it without being misunderstood?--I absolutely
refused to permit any attempt involving your death.

When the trap shut on you, there in my stateroom, it shut also on me.
I was totally unprepared; I was averse to murder; and also I had given
you my word of honour.

Judge, then, of my shame and desperation--my anger at being entrapped
in a false position involving the loss in your eyes of my personal
honour!

It was unbearable: and I did what I could to make it clear to you that
I had not betrayed you. But my comrades do not yet know that I had any
part in it; do not yet understand why the ship was not blown to
splinters. They are satisfied that I made a mistake in the rendezvous.
And, so far, no suspicion attaches to me; they believe the mechanism
of the clock failed them. And perhaps it is well for me that they
believe this.

It is, no doubt, a matter of indifference to you how the others and I
reached safety. I have no delusions concerning any personal and kindly
feeling on your part toward me. But one thing you can not--dare
not--believe, and that is that I proved treacherous to you and false
to my own ideas of honour.

And now let me say one more thing to you--let me say it out of
a--friendship--for which you care nothing--could not care anything.
And that is this: your task is accomplished. You could not possibly
have succeeded. There is no chance for recovery of those papers. Your
mission is definitely ended.

Now, I beg of you to return to America. Keep clear of entanglement in
these events which are beginning to happen in such rapid succession in
Europe. They do not concern you; you have nothing to do with them, no
interest in them. Your entry into affairs which can not concern you
would be insulting effrontery and foolish bravado.

I beg you to heed this warning. I know you to be personally
courageous; I suppose that fear of consequences would not deter you
from intrusion into any affair, however dangerous; but I dare hope
that perhaps in your heart there may have been born a little spark of
friendliness--a faint warmth of recognition for a woman who took some
slight chance with death to prove to you that her word of honour is
not lightly given or lightly broken.

So, if you please, our ways part here with this letter sent to you by
hand.

I shall not forget the rash but generous boy I knew who called me

                                                         Scheherazade.



CHAPTER XXVIII

TOGETHER


He sat there, holding the letter and looking absently over it at the
little dog who had gone to sleep again. There was no sound in the room
save the faint whisper of the tea-kettle. The sunny garden outside was
very still, too; the blackbird appeared to doze on his peach twig; the
kitten had settled down with eyes half closed and tail tucked under
flank.

The young man sat there with his letter in his hand and eyes lost in
retrospection for a while.

In his hand lay evidence that the gang which had followed him, and
through which he no longer doubted that he had been robbed, was now in
Paris.

And yet he could not give this information to the Princess Naïa. Here
was a letter which he could not show. Something within him forbade it,
some instinct which he did not trouble to analyse.

And this instinct sent the letter into his breast pocket as a light
sound came to his ears; and the next instant Rue Carew entered the
further drawing-room.

The little West Highland terrier looked up, wagged that section of him
which did duty as a tail, and watched her as Neeland rose to seat her
at the tea-table.

"Sandy," she said to the little dog, "if you care to say 'Down with
the Sultan,' I shall bestow one lump of sugar upon you."

"Yap-yap!" said the little dog.

"Give it to him, please----" Rue handed the sugar to Neeland, who
delivered it gravely.

"That's because I want Sandy to like you," she added.

Neeland regarded the little dog and addressed him politely:

"I shouldn't dare call you Sandy on such brief acquaintance," he said;
"but may I salute you as Alexander? Thank you, Alexander."

He patted the dog, whose tail made a slight, sketchy motion of
approval.

"Now," said Rue Carew, "you are friends, and we shall all be very
happy together, I'm sure.... Princess Naïa said we were not to wait.
Tell me how to fix your tea."

He explained. About to begin on a buttered _croissant_, he desisted
abruptly and rose to receive the Princess, who entered with the light,
springy step characteristic of her, gowned in one of those Parisian
afternoon creations which never are seen outside that capital, and
never will be.

"Far too charming to be real," commented Neeland. "You are a pretty
fairy story, Princess Naïa, and your gown is a miracle tale which
never was true."

He had not dared any such flippancy with Rue Carew, and the girl, who
knew she was exquisitely gowned, felt an odd little pang in her heart
as this young man's praise of the Princess Mistchenka fell so easily
and gaily from his lips. He might have noticed her gown, as it had
been chosen with many doubts, much hesitation, and anxious
consideration, for him.

She flushed a little at the momentary trace of envy:

"You _are_ too lovely for words," she said, rising. But the Princess
gently forced her to resume her seat.

"If this young man has any discrimination," she said, "he won't
hesitate with the golden apple, Ruhannah."

Rue laughed and flushed:

"He hasn't noticed my gown, and I wore it for him to notice," she
said. "But he was too deeply interested in Sandy and in tea and
_croissants_----"

"I _did_ notice it!" said Neeland. And, to that young man's surprise
and annoyance, his face grew hot with embarrassment. What on earth
possessed him to blush like a plow-boy! He suddenly felt like one,
too, and turned sharply to the little dog, perplexed, irritated with
himself and his behaviour.

Behind him the Princess was saying:

"The car is here. I shan't stop for tea, dear. In case anything
happens, I am at the Embassy."

"The Russian Embassy," repeated Rue.

"Yes. I may be a little late. We are to dine here _en famille_ at
eight. You will entertain James----

"James!" she repeated, addressing him. "Do you think Ruhannah
sufficiently interesting to entertain you while I am absent?"

But all his aplomb, his lack of self-consciousness, seemed to be gone;
and Neeland made some reply which seemed to him both obvious and dull.
And hated himself because he found himself so unaccountably abashed,
realising that he was afraid of the opinions that this young girl
might entertain concerning him.

"I'm going," said the Princess. "_Au revoir_, dear; good-bye,
James----"

She looked at him keenly when he turned to face her, smiled, still
considering him as though she had unexpectedly discovered a new
feature in his expressive face.

Whatever it was she discovered seemed to make her smile a trifle more
mechanical; she turned slowly to Rue Carew, hesitated, then, nodding
a gay adieu, turned and left the room with Neeland at her elbow.

"I'll tuck you in," he began; but she said:

"Thanks; Marotte will do that." And left him at the door.

When the car had driven away down the rue Soleil d'Or, Neeland
returned to the little drawing-room where Rue was indulging Sandy with
small bits of sugar.

He took up cup and buttered _croissant_, and for a little while
nothing was said, except to Sandy who, upon invitation, repeated his
opinion of the Sultan and snapped in the offered emolument with
unsatiated satisfaction.

To Rue Carew as well as to Neeland there seemed to be a slight
constraint between them--something not entirely new to her since they
had met again after two years.

In the two years of her absence she had been very faithful to the
memory of his kindness; constant in the friendship which she had given
him unasked--given him first, she sometimes thought, when she was a
little child in a ragged pink frock, and he was a wonderful young man
who had taken the trouble to cross the pasture and warn her out of
range of the guns.

He had always held his unique place in her memory and in her innocent
affections; she had written to him again and again, in spite of his
evident lack of interest in the girl to whom he had been kind. Rare,
brief letters from him were read and reread, and laid away with her
best-loved treasures. And when the prospect of actually seeing him
again presented itself, she had been so frankly excited and happy that
the Princess Mistchenka could find in the girl's unfeigned delight
nothing except a young girl's touching and slightly amusing
hero-worship.

But with her first exclamation when she caught sight of him at the
terminal, something about her preconceived ideas of him, and her
memory of him, was suddenly and subtly altered, even while his name
fell from her excited lips.

Because she had suddenly realised that he was even more wonderful than
she had expected or remembered, and that she did not know him at
all--that she had no knowledge of this tall, handsome, well-built
young fellow with his sunburnt features and his air of smiling
aloofness and of graceful assurance, almost fascinating and a trifle
disturbing.

Which had made the girl rather grave and timid, uncertain of the
estimation in which he might hold her; no longer so sure of any
encouragement from him in her perfectly obvious attitude of a friend
of former days.

And so, shyly admiring, uncertain, inclined to warm response at any
advance from this wonderful young man, the girl had been trying to
adjust herself to this new incarnation of a certain James Neeland who
had won her gratitude and who had awed her, too, from the time when,
as a little girl, she had first beheld him.

She lifted her golden-grey eyes to him; a little unexpected sensation
not wholly unpleasant checked her speech for a moment.

This was odd, even unaccountable. Such awkwardness, such disquieting
and provincial timidity wouldn't do.

"Would you mind telling me a little about Brookhollow?" she ventured.

Certainly he would tell her. He laid aside his plate and tea cup and
told her of his visits there when he had walked over from Neeland's
Mills in the pleasant summer weather.

Nothing had changed, he assured her; mill-dam and pond and bridge, and
the rushing creek below were exactly as she knew them; her house stood
there at the crossroads, silent and closed in the sunshine, and under
the high moon; pickerel and sunfish still haunted the shallow pond;
partridges still frequented the alders and willows across her pasture;
fireflies sailed through the summer night; and the crows congregated
in the evening woods and talked over the events of the day.

"And my cat? You wrote that you would take care of Adoniram."

"Adoniram is an aged patriarch and occupies the place of honour in my
father's house," he said.

"He is well?"

"Oh, yes. He prefers his food cut finely, that is all."

"I don't suppose he will live very long."

"He's pretty old," admitted Neeland.

She sighed and looked out of the window at the kitten in the garden.
And, after an interval of silence:

"Our plot in the cemetery--is it--pretty?"

"It is beautiful," he said, "under the great trees. It is well cared
for. I had them plant the shrubs and flowers you mentioned in the list
you sent me."

"Thank you." She lifted her eyes again to him. "I wonder if you
realise how--how splendid you have always been to me."

Surprised, he reddened, and said awkwardly that he had done nothing.
Where was the easy, gay and debonaire assurance of this fluent young
man? He was finding nothing to say to Rue Carew, or saying what he
said as crudely and uncouthly as any haymaker in Gayfield.

He looked up, exasperated, and met her eyes squarely. And Rue Carew
blushed.

They both looked elsewhere at once, but in the girl's breast a new
pulse beat; a new instinct stirred, blindly importuning her for
recognition; a new confusion threatened the ordered serenity of her
mind, vaguely menacing it with unaccustomed questions.

Then the instinct of self-command returned; she found composure with
an effort.

"You haven't asked me," she said, "about my work. Would you like to
know?"

He said he would; and she told him--chary of self-praise, yet eager
that he should know that her masters had spoken well of her.

"And you know," she said, "every week, now, I contribute a drawing to
the illustrated paper I wrote to you about. I sent one off yesterday.
But," and she laughed shyly, "my nostrils are no longer filled with
pride, because I am not contented with myself any more. I wish to
do--oh, so much better work!"

"Of course. Contentment in creative work means that we have nothing
more to create."

She nodded and smiled:

"The youngest born is the most tenderly cherished--until a new one
comes. It is that way with me; I am all love and devotion and
tenderness and self-sacrifice while fussing over my youngest. Then a
still younger comes, and I become like a heartless cat and drive away
all progeny except the newly born."

She sighed and smiled and looked up at him:

"It can't be helped, I suppose--that is, if one's going to have more
progeny."

"It's our penalty for producing. Only the newest counts. And those to
come are to be miracles. But they never are."

She nodded seriously.

"When there is a better light I should like to show you some of my
studies," she ventured. "No, not now. I am too vain to risk anything
except the kindest of morning lights. Because I do hope for your
approval----"

"I know they're good," he said. And, half laughingly: "I'm beginning
to find out that you're a rather wonderful and formidable and
overpowering girl, Ruhannah."

"You don't think so!" she exclaimed, enchanted. "_Do_ you? Oh, dear!
Then I feel that I ought to show you my pictures and set you right
immediately----" She sprang to her feet. "I'll get them; I'll be only
a moment----"

She was gone before he discovered anything to say, leaving him to walk
up and down the deserted room and think about her as clearly as his
somewhat dislocated thoughts permitted, until she returned with both
arms full of portfolios, boards, and panels.

"Now," she said with a breathless smile, "you may mortify my pride and
rebuke my vanity. I deserve it; I need it; but Oh!--don't be too
severe----"

"Are you serious?" he asked, looking up in astonishment from the first
astonishing drawing in colour which he held between his hands.

"Serious? Of course----" She met his eyes anxiously, then her own
became incredulous and the swift colour dyed her face.

"Do you _like_ my work?" she asked in a fainter voice.

"_Like_ it!" He continued to stare at the bewildering grace and colour
of the work, turned to another and lifted it to the light:

"What's this?" he demanded.

"A monotype."

"_You_ did it?"

"Y-yes."

He seemed unable to take his eyes from it--from the exquisite figures
there in the sun on the bank of the brimming river under an
iris-tinted April sky.

"What do you call it, Rue?"

"Baroque."

He continued to scrutinise it in silence, then drew another carton
prepared for oil from the sheaf on the sofa.

Over autumn woods, in a windy sky, high-flying crows were buffeted and
blown about. From the stark trees a few phantom leaves clung,
fluttering; and the whole scene was possessed by sinuous, whirling
forms--mere glimpses of supple, exquisite shapes tossing, curling,
flowing through the naked woodland. A delicate finger caught at a dead
leaf here; there frail arms clutched at a bending, wind-tossed bough;
grey sky and ghostly forest were obsessed, bewitched by the winnowing,
driving torrent of airy, half seen spirits.

"The Winds," he said mechanically.

He looked at another--a sketch of the Princess Naïa. And somehow it
made him think of vast skies and endless plains and the tumult of
surging men and rattling lances.

"A Cossack," he said, half to himself. "I never before realised it."
And he laid it aside and turned to the next.

"I haven't brought any life studies or school drawings," she said. "I
thought I'd just show you the--the results of them and of--of whatever
is in me."

"I'm just beginning to understand what is in you," he said.

"Tell me--what is it?" she asked, almost timidly.

"Tell _you_?" He rose, stood by the window looking out, then turned to
her:

"What can _I_ tell you?" he added with a short laugh. "What have I to
say to a girl who can do--_these_--after two years abroad?"

Sheer happiness kept her silent. She had not dared hope for such
approval. Even now she dared not permit herself to accept it.

"I have so much to say," she ventured, "and such an appalling amount
of work before I can learn to say it----"

"Your work is--stunning!" he said bluntly.

"You don't think so!" she exclaimed incredulously.

"Indeed I do! Look at what you have done in two years. Yes, grant all
your aptitude and talents, just look what you've _accomplished_ and
where you _are_! Look at you yourself, too--what a stunning,
bewildering sort of girl you've developed into!"

"Jim Neeland!"

"Certainly, Jim Neeland, of Neeland's Mills, who has had years more
study than you have, more years of advantage, and who now is an
illustrator without anything in particular to distinguish him from the
several thousand other American illustrators----"

"Jim! Your work is charming!"

"How do _you_ know?"

"Because I have everything you ever did! I sent for the magazines and
cut them out; and they are in my scrapbook----"

She hesitated, breathless, smiling back at him out of her beautiful
golden-grey eyes as though challenging him to doubt her loyalty or her
belief in him.

It was rather curious, too, for the girl was unusually intelligent and
discriminating; and Neeland's work was very, very commonplace.

His face had become rather sober, but the smile still lurked on his
lips.

"Rue," he said, "you are wonderfully kind. But I'm afraid I know about
my work. I can draw pretty well, according to school standards; and I
approach pretty nearly the same standards in painting. Probably that
is why I became an instructor at the Art League. But, so far, I
haven't done anything better than what is called 'acceptable.'"

"I don't agree with you," she said warmly.

"It's very kind of you not to." He laughed and walked to the window
again, and stood there looking out across the sunny garden. "Of
course," he added over his shoulder, "I expect to get along all right.
Mediocrity has the best of chances, you know."

"You are _not_ mediocre!"

"No, I don't think I am. But my work is. And, do you know," he
continued thoughtfully, "that is very often the case with a man who is
better equipped to act than to tell with pen or pencil how others act.
I'm beginning to be afraid that I'm that sort, because I'm afraid that
I get more enjoyment out of doing things than in explaining with
pencil and paint how they are done."

But Rue Carew, seated on the arm of her chair, slowly shook her head:

"I don't think that those are the only alternatives; do you?"

"What other is there?"

She said, a little shyly:

"I think it is all right to _do_ things if you like; make exact
pictures of how things are done if you choose; but it seems to me that
if one really has anything to say, one should show in one's pictures
how things _might_ be or _ought_ to be. Don't you?"

He seemed surprised and interested in her logic, and she took courage
to speak again in her pretty, deprecating way:

"If the function of painting and literature is to reflect reality, a
mirror would do as well, wouldn't it? But to reflect what might be or
what ought to be requires something more, doesn't it?"

"Imagination. Yes."

"A mind, anyway.... That is what I have thought; but I'm not at all
sure I am right."

"I don't know. The mind ought to be a mirror reflecting only the
essentials of reality."

"And _that_ requires imagination, doesn't it?" she asked. "You see you
have put it much better than I have."

"Have I?" he returned, smiling. "After a while you'll persuade me that
I possess your imagination, Rue. But I don't."

"You do, Jim----"

"I'm sorry; I don't. You construct, I copy; you create, I ring changes
on what already is; you dissect, I skate over the surface of
things--Oh, Lord! I don't know what's lacking in me!" he added with
gay pretence of despair which possibly was less feigned than real.
"But I know this, Rue Carew! I'd rather experience something
interesting than make a picture of it. And I suppose that confession
is fatal."

"Why, Jim?"

"Because with me the pleasures of reality are substituted for the
pleasures of imagination. Not that I don't like to draw and paint. But
my ambition in painting is and always has been bounded by the visible.
And, although that does not prevent me from appreciation--from
understanding and admiring your work, for example--it sets an
impregnable limit to any such aspiration on my part----"

His mobile and youthful features had become very grave; he stood a
moment with lowered head as though what he was thinking of depressed
him; then the quick smile came into his face and cleared it, and he
said gaily:

"I'm an artistic _Dobbin_; a reliable, respectable sort of Fido on
whom editors can depend; that's all. Don't feel sorry for me," he
added, laughing; "my work will be very much in demand."



CHAPTER XXIX

EN FAMILLE


The Princess Mistchenka came leisurely and gracefully downstairs a
little before eight that evening, much pleased with her hair,
complexion, and gown.

She found Neeland alone in the music-room, standing in the attitude of
the conventional Englishman with his back to the fireless grate and
his hands clasped loosely behind him, waiting to be led out and fed.

The direct glance of undisguised admiration with which he greeted the
Princess Naïa confirmed the impression she herself had received from
her mirror, and brought an additional dash of colour into her delicate
brunette face.

"Is there any doubt that you are quite the prettiest _objet d'art_ in
Paris?" he enquired anxiously, taking her hand; and her dark eyes were
very friendly as he saluted her finger-tips with the reverent and
slightly exaggerated appreciation of a connoisseur in sculpture.

"You hopeless Irishman," she laughed. "It's fortunate for women that
you're never serious, even with yourself."

"Princess Naïa," he remonstrated, "can nothing short of kissing you
convince you of my sincerity and----"

"Impudence?" she interrupted smilingly. "Oh, yes, I'm convinced,
James, that, lacking other material, you'd make love to a hitching
post."

His hurt expression and protesting gesture appealed to the universe
against misinterpretation, but the Princess Mistchenka laughed again
unfeelingly, and seated herself at the piano.

"Some day," she said, striking a lively chord or two, "I hope you'll
catch it, young man. You're altogether too free and easy with your
feminine friends.... What do you think of Rue Carew?"

"An astounding and enchanting transformation. I haven't yet recovered
my breath."

"When you do, you'll talk nonsense to the child, I suppose."

"Princess! Have I ever----"

"You talk little else, dear friend, when God sends a pretty fool to
listen!" She looked up at him from the keyboard over which her hands
were nervously wandering. "I ought to know," she said; "_I_ also have
listened." She laughed carelessly, but her glance lingered for an
instant on his face, and her mirth did not sound quite spontaneous to
either of them.

Two years ago there had been an April evening after the opera, when,
in taking leave of her in her little _salon_, her hand had perhaps
retained his a fraction of a second longer than she quite intended;
and he had, inadvertently, kissed her.

He had thought of it as a charming and agreeable incident; what the
Princess Naïa Mistchenka thought of it she never volunteered. But she
so managed that he never again was presented with a similar
opportunity.

Perhaps they both were thinking of this rather ancient episode now,
for his face was touched with a mischievously reminiscent smile, and
she had lowered her head a trifle over the keyboard where her slim,
ivory-tinted hands still idly searched after elusive harmonies in the
subdued light of the single lamp.

"There's a man dining with us," she remarked, "who has the same
irresponsible and casual views on life and manners which you
entertain. No doubt you'll get along very well together."

"Who is he?"

"A Captain Sengoun, one of our attachés. It's likely you'll find a
congenial soul in this same Cossack whom we all call Alak." She added
maliciously: "His only logic is the impulse of the moment, and he is
known as Prince Erlik among his familiars. Erlik was the Devil, you
know----"

He was announced at that moment, and came marching in--a dark,
handsome, wiry young man with winning black eyes and a little black
moustache just shadowing his short upper lip--and a head shaped to
contain the devil himself--the most reckless looking head, Neeland
thought, that he ever had beheld in all his life.

But the young fellow's frank smile was utterly irresistible, and his
straight manner of facing one, and of looking directly into the eyes
of the person he addressed in his almost too perfect English, won any
listener immediately.

He bowed formally over Princess Naïa's hand, turned squarely on
Neeland when he was named to the American, and exchanged a firm clasp
with him. Then, to the Princess:

"I am late? No? Fancy, Princess--that great booby, Izzet Bey, must
stop me at the club, and I exceedingly pressed to dress and entirely
out of humour with all Turks. '_Eh bien, mon vieux!_' said he in his
mincing manner of a nervous pelican, 'they're warming up the Balkan
boilers with Austrian pine. But I hear they're full of snow.' And I
said to him: 'Snow boils very nicely if the fire is sufficiently
persistent!' And I think Izzet Bey will find it so!"--with a quick
laugh of explanation to Neeland: "He meant Russian snow, you see; and
that boils beautifully if they keep on stoking the boiler with
Austrian fuel."

The Princess shrugged:

"What schoolboy repartée! Why did you answer him at all, Alak?"

"Well," explained the attaché, "as I was due here at eight I hadn't
time to take him by the nose, had I?"

Rue Carew entered and went to the Princess to make amends:

"I'm so sorry to be late!"--turned to smile at Neeland, then offered
her hand to the Russian. "How do you do, Prince Erlik?" she said with
the careless and gay cordiality of old acquaintance. "I heard you say
something about Colonel Izzet Bey's nose as I came in."

Captain Sengoun bowed over her slender white hand:

"The Mohammedan nose of Izzet Bey is an admirable bit of Oriental
architecture, Miss Carew. Why should it surprise you to hear me extol
its bizarre beauty?"

"Anyway," said the girl, "I'm contented that you left devilry for
revelry." And, Marotte announcing dinner, she took the arm of Captain
Sengoun as the Princess took Neeland's.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Like all Russians and some Cossacks, Prince Alak ate and drank as
though it were the most delightful experience in life; and he did it
with a whole-souled heartiness and satisfaction that was flattering to
any hostess and almost fascinating to anybody observing him.

His teeth were even and very white; his appetite splendid: when he
did his goblet the honour of noticing it at all, it was to drain it;
when he resumed knife and fork he used them as gaily, as gracefully,
and as thoroughly as he used his sabre on various occasions.

He had taken an instant liking to Neeland, who seemed entirely
inclined to return it; and he talked a great deal to the American but
with a nice division of attention for the two ladies on either side.

"You know, Alak," said the Princess, "you need not torture yourself by
trying to converse with discretion; because Mr. Neeland knows about
many matters which concern us all."

"Ah! That is delightful! And indeed I was already quite assured of Mr.
Neeland's intelligent sympathy in the present state of European
affairs."

"He's done a little more than express sympathy," remarked the
Princess; and she gave a humorous outline of Neeland's part in the
affair of the olive-wood box.

"Fancy!" exclaimed Captain Sengoun. "That impudent _canaille_! Yes; I
heard at the Embassy what happened to that accursed box this morning.
Of course it is a misfortune, but as for me, personally, I don't
care----"

"It doesn't happen to concern you personally, Prince Erlik," said
Princess Naïa dryly.

"No," he admitted, unabashed by the snub, "it does not touch me.
Cavalry cannot operate on the Gallipoli Peninsula. Therefore, God be
thanked, I shall be elsewhere when the snow boils."

Rue tuned to Neeland:

"His one idea of diplomacy and war is a thousand Kuban Cossacks at
full speed."

"And that is an excellent idea, is it not, Kazatchka?" he said,
smiling impudently at the Princess, who only laughed at the
familiarity.

"I hope," added Captain Sengoun, "that I may live to gallop through a
few miles of diplomacy at full speed before they consign me to the
Opolchina." Turning to Neeland, "The reserve--the old man's home, you
know. God forbid!" And he drained his goblet and looked defiantly at
Rue Carew.

"A Cossack is a Cossack," said the Princess, "be he Terek or Kuban,
Don or Astrachan, and they all know as much about diplomacy as Prince
Erlik--or Izzet Bey's nose.... James, you are unusually silent, dear
friend. Are you regretting those papers?"

"It's a pity," he said. But he had not been thinking of the lost
papers; Rue Carew's beauty preoccupied him. The girl was in black,
which made her skin dazzling, and reddened the chestnut colour of her
hair.

Her superb young figure revealed an unsuspected loveliness where the
snowy symmetry of neck and shoulders and arms was delicately accented
by the filmy black of her gown.

He had never seen such a beautiful girl; she seemed more wonderful,
more strange, more aloof than ever. And this was what preoccupied and
entirely engaged his mind, and troubled it, so that his smile had a
tendency to become indefinite and his conversation mechanical at
times.

Captain Sengoun drained one more of numerous goblets; gazed
sentimentally at the Princess, then with equal sentiment at Rue
Carew.

"As for me," he said, with a carelessly happy gesture toward the
infinite, "plans are plans, and if they're stolen, _tant pis_! But
there are always Tartars in Tartary and Turks in Turkey. And, while
there are, there's hope for a poor devil of a Cossack who wants to
say a prayer in St. Sophia before he's gathered to his ancestors."

"Have any measures been taken at your Embassy to trace the plans?"
asked Neeland of the Princess.

"Of course," she said simply.

"Plans," remarked Sengoun, "are not worth the _tcherkeske_ of an
honest Caucasian! A Khirgize pony knows more than any diplomat; and my
_magaika_ is better than both!"

"All the same," said Rue Carew, "with those stolen plans in your
Embassy, Prince Erlik, you might even gallop a _sotnia_ of your
Cossacks to the top of Achi-Baba."

"By heaven! I'd like to try!" he exclaimed, his black eyes ablaze.

"There are _dongas_," observed the Princess dryly.

"I know it. There are _dongas_ every twenty yards; and Turkish gorse
that would stop a charging bull! My answer is, mount! trot! gallop!
and hurrah for Achi-Baba!"

"Very picturesque, Alak. But wouldn't it be nicer to be able to come
back again and tell us all about it?"

"As for that," he said with his full-throated, engaging laugh, "no
need to worry, Princess, for the newspapers would tell the story. What
is this Gallipoli country, anyway, that makes our Chancellery wag its
respected head and frown and whisper in corners and take little notes
on its newly laundered cuffs?

"I know the European and Asiatic shores with their forts--Kilid Bahr,
Chimilik, Kum Kale, Dardanos. I know what those Germans have been
about with their barbed wire and mobile mortar batteries. What do we
want of their plans, then----"

"Nothing, Prince Erlik!" said Rue, laughing. "It suffices that you be
appointed adviser in general to his majesty the Czar."

Sengoun laughed with all his might.

"And an excellent thing that would be, Miss Carew. What we need in
Russia," he added with a bow to the Princess, "are, first of all, more
Kazatchkee, then myself to execute any commands with which my
incomparable Princess might deign to honour me."

"Then I command you to go and smoke cigarettes in the music-room and
play some of your Cossack songs on the piano for Mr. Neeland until
Miss Carew and I rejoin you," said the Princess, rising.

At the door there was a moment of ceremony; then Sengoun, passing his
arm through Neeland's with boyish confidence that his quickly given
friendship was welcome, sauntered off to the music-room where
presently he was playing the piano and singing some of the entrancing
songs of his own people in a voice that, cultivated, might have made a
fortune for him:

  "We are but horsemen,
  And God is great.
  We hunt on hill and fen
  The fierce Kerait,
  Naiman and Eighur,
  Tartar and Khiounnou,
  Leopard and Tiger
  Flee at our view-halloo;
  We are but horsemen
  Cleansing the hill and fen
  Where wild men hide--
  Wild beasts abide,
  Mongol and Baïaghod,
  Turkoman, Taïdjigod,
  Each in his den.
  The skies are blue,
  The plains are wide,
  Over the fens the horsemen ride!"

Still echoing the wild air, and playing with both hands in spite of
the lighted cigarette between his fingers, he glanced over his
shoulder at Neeland:

"A very old, old song," he explained, "made in the days of the great
invasion when all the world was fighting anybody who would fight back.
I made it into English. It's quite nice, I think."

His naïve pleasure in his own translation amused Neeland immensely,
and he said that he considered it a fine piece of verse.

"Yes," said Sengoun, "but you ought to hear a love song I made out of
odd fragments I picked up here and there. I call it '_Samarcand_'; or
rather '_Samarcand Mahfouzeh_,' which means, 'Samarcand the Well
Guarded':

  "'Outside my guarded door
  Whose voice repeats my name?'
  'The voice thou hast heard before
  Under the white moon's flame!
  And thy name is my song; and my song is ever the same!'

  "'How many warriors, dead,
  Have sung the song you sing?
  Some by an arrow were sped;
  Some by a dagger's sting.'
  'Like a bird in the night is my song--a bird on the wing!'

  "'Ahmed and Yucouf bled!
  A dead king blocks my door!'
  'If thy halls and walls be red,
  Shall Samarcand ask more?
  Or my song shall cleanse thy house or my heart's blood
      foul thy floor!'

  "'Now hast thou conquered me!
  Humbly thy captive, I.
  My soul escapes to thee;
  My body here must lie;
  Ride!--with thy song, and my soul in thy arms; and let me die.'"

Sengoun, still playing, flung over his shoulder:

"A Tartar song from the Turcoman. I borrowed it and put new clothes on
it. Nice, isn't it?"

"Enchanting!" replied Neeland, laughing in spite of himself.

Rue Carew, with her snowy shoulders and red-gold hair, came drifting
in, consigning them to their seats with a gesture, and giving them to
understand that she had come to hear the singing.

So Sengoun continued his sketchy, haphazard recital, waving his
cigarette now and then for emphasis, and conversing frequently over
his shoulder while Rue Carew leaned on the piano and gravely watched
his nimble fingers alternately punish and caress the keyboard.

After a little while the Princess Mistchenka came in saying that she
had letters to write. They conversed, however, for nearly an hour
before she rose, and Captain Sengoun gracefully accepted his _congé_.

"I'll walk with you, if you like," suggested Neeland.

"With pleasure, my dear fellow! The night is beautiful, and I am just
beginning to wake up."

"Ask Marotte to give you a key, then," suggested the Princess, going.
At the foot of the stairs, however, she paused to exchange a few words
with Captain Sengoun in a low voice; and Neeland, returning with his
latchkey, went over to where Rue stood by the lamplit table absently
looking over an evening paper.

As he came up beside her, the girl lifted her beautiful, golden-grey
eyes.

"Are you going out?"

"Yes, I thought I'd walk a bit with Captain Sengoun."

"It's rather a long distance to the Russian Embassy. Besides----" She
hesitated, and he waited. She glanced absently over the paper for a
moment, then, not raising her eyes: "I'm--I--the theft of that box
today--perhaps my nerves have suffered a little--but do you think it
quite prudent for you to go out alone at night?"

"Why, I am going out with Captain Sengoun!" he said, surprised at her
troubled face.

"But you will have to return alone."

He laughed, but they both had flushed a little.

Had it been any other woman in the world, he had not hesitated gaily
to challenge the shy and charming solicitude expressed in his
behalf--make of it his capital, his argument to force that pretty duel
to which one day, all youth is destined.

He found himself now without a word to say, nor daring to entertain
any assumption concerning the words she had uttered.

Dumb, awkward, afraid, he became conscious that something in this
young girl had silenced within him any inclination to gay effrontery,
any talent for casual gallantry. Her lifted eyes, with their clear,
half shy regard, had killed all fluency of tongue in him--slain
utterly that light good-humour with which he had encountered women
heretofore.

He said:

"I hadn't thought myself in any danger whatever. Is there any reason
for me to expect further trouble?"

Rue raised her troubled eyes:

"Has it occurred to you that _they_ might think you capable of
redrawing parts of the stolen plans from memory?"

"It had never occurred to me," he admitted, surprised. "But I believe
I could remember a little about one or two of the more general maps."

"The Princess means to ask you, tomorrow, to draw for her what you can
remember. And that made me think about you now--whether the _others_
might not suspect you capable of remembering enough to do them
harm.... And so--do you think it prudent to go out tonight?"

"Yes," he replied, quite sincerely, "it is all right. You see I know
Paris very well."

She did not look convinced, but Sengoun came up and she bade them both
good night and went away with the Princess Mistchenka.

As, arm in arm, the two young men sauntered around the corner of the
rue Soleil d'Or, two men who had been sitting on a marble bench beside
the sun-dial fountain rose and strolled after them.



CHAPTER XXX

JARDIN RUSSE


At midnight the two young men had not yet parted. For, as Sengoun
explained, the hour for parting was already past, and it was too late
to consider it now. And Neeland thought so, too, what with the
laughter and the music, and the soft night breezes to counsel folly,
and the city's haunting brilliancy stretching away in bewitching
perspectives still unexplored.

From every fairy lamp the lustrous capital signalled to youth her
invitation, her challenge, and her menace. Like some jewelled
sorceress--some dreaming Circe by the river bank, pondering new
spells--so Paris lay in all her mystery and beauty under the July
stars.

Sengoun, his arm through Neeland's, had become affectionately
confidential. He explained that he really was a nocturnal creature;
that now he had completely waked up; that his habits were due to a
passion for astronomy, and that the stars he had discovered at odd
hours of the early morning were more amazing than any celestial bodies
ever before identified.

But Neeland, whose head and heart were already occupied, declined to
study any constellations; and they drifted through the bluish lustre
of white arc-lights and the clustered yellow glare of incandescent
lamps toward a splash of iridescent glory among the chestnut trees,
where music sounded and tables stood amid flowers and grass and little
slender fountains which balanced silver globes upon their jets.

The waiters were in Russian peasant dress; the orchestra was Russian
gipsy; the bill of fare was Russian; and there was only champagne to
be had.

Balalaika orchestra and spectators were singing some evidently
familiar song--one of those rushing, clattering, clashing choruses of
the Steppes; and Sengoun sang too, with all his might, when he and
Neeland were seated, which was thirsty work.

Two fascinating Russian gipsy girls were dancing--slim, tawny, supple
creatures in their scarlet and their jingling bangles. After a
deafening storm of applause, their flashing smiles swept the audience,
and, linking arms, they sauntered off between the tables under the
trees.

"I wish to dance," remarked Sengoun. "My legs will kick over something
if I don't."

They were playing an American dance--a sort of skating step; people
rose; couple after couple took the floor; and Sengoun looked around
for a partner. He discovered no eligible partner likely to favour him
without a quarrel with her escort; and he was debating with Neeland
whether a row would be worth while, when the gipsy girls sauntered
by.

"Oh," he said gaily, "a pretty Tzigane can save my life if she will!"

And the girls laughed and Sengoun led one of them out at a reckless
pace.

The other smiled and looked at Neeland, and, seating herself, leaned
on the table watching the whirl on the floor.

"Don't you dance?" she asked, with a sidelong glance out of her
splendid black eyes.

"Yes; but I'm likely to do most of my dancing on your pretty feet."

"_Merci!_ In that case I prefer a cigarette."

She selected one from his case, lighted it, folded her arms on the
table, and continued to gaze at the dancers.

"I'm tired tonight," she remarked.

"You dance beautifully."

"Thank you."

Sengoun, flushed and satisfied, came back with his gipsy partner when
the music ceased.

"Now I hope we may have some more singing!" he exclaimed, as they
seated themselves and a waiter filled their great, bubble-shaped
glasses.

And he did sing at the top of his delightful voice when the balalaikas
swept out into a ringing and familiar song, and the two gipsy girls
sang, too--laughed and sang, holding the frosty goblets high in the
sparkling light.

It was evident to Neeland that the song was a favourite one with
Russians. Sengoun was quite overcome; they all touched goblets.

"Brava, my little Tziganes!" he said with happy emotion. "My little
compatriots! My little tawny panthers of the Caucasus! What do you
call yourselves in this bandbox of a country where two steps backward
take you across any frontier?"

His dancing partner laughed till her sequins jingled from throat to
ankle:

"They call us Fifi and Nini," she replied. "Ask yourself why!"

"For example," added the other girl, "we rise from this table and
thank you. There is nothing further. _C'est fini--c'est
Fifi--Nini--comprenez-vous, Prince Erlik?_"

"Hi! What?" exclaimed Sengoun. "I'm known, it appears, even to that
devilish name of mine!"

Everybody laughed.

"After all," he said, more soberly, "it's a gipsy's trade to know
everybody and everything. _Tiens!_" He slapped a goldpiece on the
table. "A kiss apiece against a louis that you don't know my comrade's
name and nation!"

The girl called Nini laughed:

"We're quite willing to kiss you, Prince Erlik, but a _louis d'or_ is
not a copper penny. And your comrade is American and his name is
Tchames."

"James!" exclaimed Sengoun.

"I said so--Tchames."

"What else?"

"Nilan."

"Neeland?"

"I said so."

Sengoun placed the goldpiece in Nini's hand and looked at Neeland with
an uncomfortable laugh.

"I ought to know a gipsy, but they always astonish me, these Tziganes.
Tell us some more, Nini----" He beckoned a waiter and pointed
indignantly at the empty goblets.

The girls, resting their elbows on the tables, framed their faces with
slim and dusky hands, and gazed at Sengoun out of humorous,
half-veiled eyes.

"What do you wish to know, Prince Erlik?" they asked mockingly.

"Well, for example, is my country really mobilising?"

"Since the twenty-fifth."

"_Tiens!_ And old Papa Kaiser and the Clown Prince Footit--what do
they say to that?"

"It must be stopped."

"What! _Sang dieu!_ We must stop mobilising against the Austrians?
But we are not going to stop, you know, while Francis Joseph continues
to pull faces at poor old Servian Peter!"

Neeland said:

"The evening paper has it that Austria is more reasonable and that the
Servian affair can be arranged. There will be no war," he added
confidently.

"There will be war," remarked Nini with a shrug of her bare, brown
shoulders over which her hair and her gilded sequins fell in a bright
mass.

"Why?" asked Neeland, smiling.

"Why? Because, for one thing, you have brought war into Europe!"

"Come, now! No mystery!" said Sengoun gaily. "Explain how my comrade
has brought war into Europe, you little fraud!"

Nini looked at Neeland:

"What else except papers was in the box you lost?" she asked coolly.

Neeland, very red and uncomfortable, gazed back at the girl without
replying; and she laughed at him, showing her white teeth.

"You brought the Yellow Devil into Europe, M'sieu Nilan! Erlik, the
Yellow Demon. When he travels there is unrest. Where he rests there is
war!"

"You're very clever," retorted Neeland, quite out of countenance.

"Yes, we are," said Fifi, with her quick smile. "And who but M'sieu
Nilan should admit it?"

"Very clever," repeated Neeland, still amazed and profoundly uneasy.
"But this Yellow Devil you say I brought into Europe must have been
resting in America, then. And, if so, why is there no war there?"

"There would have been--with Mexico. You brought the Yellow Demon
here, but just in time!"

"All right. Grant that, then. But--perhaps he was a long time resting
in America. What about that, pretty gipsy?"

The girl shrugged again:

"Is your memory so poor, M'sieu Nilan? What has your country done but
fight since Erlik rested among your people? You fought in Samoa; in
Hawaii; your warships went to Chile, to Brazil, to San Domingo; the
blood of your soldiers and sailors was shed in Hayti, in Cuba, in the
Philippines, in China----"

"Good Lord!" exclaimed Neeland. "That girl is dead right!"

Sengoun threw back his handsome head and laughed without restraint;
and the gipsies laughed, too, their beautiful eyes and teeth flashing
under their black cascades of unbound hair.

"Show me your palms," said Nini, and drew Sengoun's and Neeland's
hands across the table, holding them in both of hers.

"See," she added, nudging Fifi with her shoulder, "both of them born
under the Dark Star! It is war they shall live to see--war!"

"Under the Dark Star, Erlik," repeated the other girl, looking closely
into the two palms, "and there is war there!"

"And death?" inquired Sengoun gaily. "I don't care, if I can lead a
_sotnia_ up Achi-Baba and twist the gullet of the Padisha before I say
Fifi--Nini!"

The gipsies searched his palm with intent and brilliant gaze.

"_Zut!_" said Fifi. "_Je ne vois rien que d'l'amour et la guerre aux
dames!_"

"_T'en fais pas!_" laughed Sengoun. "I ask no further favour of
Fortune; I'll manage my regiment myself. And, listen to me, Fifi," he
added with a frightful frown, "if the war you predict doesn't arrive,
I'll come back and beat you as though you were married to a Turk!"

While they still explored his palm, whispering together at intervals,
Sengoun caught the chorus of the air which the orchestra was playing,
and sang it lustily and with intense pleasure to himself.

Neeland, unquiet to discover how much these casual strangers knew
about his own and intimate affairs, had become silent and almost
glum.

But the slight gloom which invaded him came from resentment toward
those people who had followed him from Brookhollow to Paris, and who,
in the very moment of victory, had snatched that satisfaction from
him.

He thought of Kestner and of Breslau--of Scheherazade, and the
terrible episode in her stateroom.

Except that he had seized the box in the Brookhollow house, there was
nothing in his subsequent conduct on which he could plume himself. He
could not congratulate himself on his wisdom; sheer luck had carried
him through as far as the rue Soleil d'Or--mere chance, and that
capricious fortune which sometimes convoys the stupid, fatuous, and
astigmatic.

Then he thought of Rue Carew. And, in his bosom, an intense desire to
distinguish himself began to burn.

If there were any way on earth to trace that accursed box----

He turned abruptly and looked at the two gipsies, who had relinquished
Sangoun's hand and who were still conversing together in low tones
while Sangoun beat time on the jingling table top and sang joyously
at the top of his baritone voice:

                            "Eh, zoum--zoum--zoum!
                            Boum--boum--boum!
                    Here's to the Artillery
                      Gaily riding by!
                    Fetch me a distillery,
                      Let me drink it dry--
                    Fill me full of sillery!
                    Here's to the artillery!
                            Zoum--zoum--zoum!
                            Boum--boum--boum!"

"Fifi!"

"_M'sieu?_"

"You're so clever! Where is that Yellow Devil now?"

"Pouf!" giggled Fifi. "On its way to Berlin, _pardie_!"

"That's easy to say. Tell me something else more expensive."

Nini said, surprised:

"What we know is free to Prince Erlik's friend. Did you think we sell
to Russians?"

"I don't know anything about you or where you get your information,"
said Neeland. "I suppose you're in the Secret Service of the Russian
Government."

"_Mon ami_, Nilan," said Fifi, smiling, "we should feel lonely
_outside_ the Secret Service. Few in Europe are outside--few in the
world, fewer in the half-world. As for us Tziganes, who belong to
neither, the business of everybody becomes our secret to sell for a
silver piece--but _not_ to Russians in the moment of peril!... Nor to
their comrades.... What do you desire to know, _comrade_?"

"Anything," he said simply, "that might help me to regain what I have
lost."

"And what do you suppose!" exclaimed Fifi, opening her magnificent
black eyes very wide. "Did you imagine that nobody was paying any
attention to what happened in the rue Soleil d'Or this noon?"

Nini laughed.

"The word flew as fast as the robber's taxicab. How many thousand
secret friends to the Triple Entente do you suppose knew of it half an
hour after it happened? From the Trocadero to Montparnasse, from the
Point du Jour to Charenton, from the Bois to the Bièvre, the word
flew. Every taxicab, omnibus, _sapin_, every _bateau-mouche_, every
train that left any terminal was watched.

"Five embassies and legations were instantly under redoubled
surveillance; hundreds of cafés, bars, restaurants, _hôtels_; all the
theatres, gardens, cabarets, _brasseries_.

"Your pigs of Apaches are not neglected, _va_! But, to my idea, they
got out of Paris before we watchers knew of the affair at all--in an
automobile, perhaps--perhaps by rail. God knows," said the girl,
looking absently at the dancing which had begun again. "But if we ever
lay our eyes on Minna Minti, we wear toys in our garters which will
certainly persuade her to take a little stroll with us."

After a silence, Neeland said:

"Is Minna Minti then so well known?"

"Not at the Opéra Comique," replied Fifi with a shrug, "but _since_
then."

"An _artiste_, that woman!" added Nini. "Why deny it? It appears that
she has twisted more than one red button out of a broadcloth coat."

"She'll get the Seraglio medal for this day's work," said Fifi.

"Or the _croix-de-fer_," added Nini. "Ah, _zut_! She annoys me."

"Did you ever hear of a place called the Café des Bulgars?" asked
Neeland, carelessly.

"Yes."

"What sort of place is it?"

"Like any other."

"Quite respectable?"

"Perfectly," said Nini, smiling. "One drinks good beer there."

"Munich beer," added Fifi.

"Then it is watched?" asked Neeland.

"All German cafés are watched. Otherwise, it is not suspected."

Sengoun, who had been listening, shook his head. "There's nothing to
interest us at the Café des Bulgars," he said. Then he summoned a
waiter and pointed tragically at the empty goblets.



CHAPTER XXXI

THE CAFÉ DES BULGARS


Their adieux to Fifi and Nini were elaborate and complicated by bursts
of laughter. The Tziganes recommended Captain Sengoun to go home and
seek further adventures on his pillow; and had it not been for the gay
babble of the fountain and the persistent perfume of flowers, he might
have followed their advice.

It was after the two young men had left the Jardin Russe that Captain
Sengoun positively but affectionately refused to relinquish possession
of Neeland's arm.

"Dear friend," he explained, "I am just waking up and I do not wish to
go to bed for days and days."

"But I do," returned Neeland, laughing. "Where do you want to go now,
Prince Erlik?"

The champagne was singing loudly in the Cossack's handsome head; the
distant brilliancy beyond the Place de la Concorde riveted his roving
eyes.

"Over there," he said joyously. "Listen, old fellow, I'll teach you
the skating step as we cross the Place! Then, in the first _Bal_, you
shall try it on the fairest form since Helen fell and Troy burned--or
Troy fell and Helen burned--it's all the same, old fellow--what you
call fifty-fifty, eh?"

Neeland tried to free his arm--to excuse himself; two policemen
laughed; but Sengoun, linking his arm more firmly in Neeland's,
crossed the Place in a series of Dutch rolls and outer edges, in which
Neeland was compelled to join. The Russian was as light and graceful
on his feet as one of the dancers of his own country; Neeland's
knowledge of skating aided his own less agile steps. There was
sympathetic applause from passing taxis and _fiacres_; and they might,
apparently, have had any number of fair partners for the asking, along
the way, except for Sengoun's headlong dive toward the brightest of
the boulevard lights beyond.

In the rue Royal, however, Sengoun desisted with sudden access of
dignity, remarking that such gambols were not worthy of the best
traditions of his Embassy; and he attempted to bribe the drivers of a
couple of hansom cabs to permit him and his comrade to take the reins
and race to the Arc de Triomphe.

Failing in this, he became profusely autobiographical, informing
Neeland of his birth, education, aims, aspirations.

"When I was twelve," he said, "I had known already the happiness of
the battle-shock against Kurd, Mongol, and Tartar. At eighteen my
ambition was to slap the faces of three human monsters. I told
everybody that I was making arrangements to do this, and I started for
Brusa after my first monster--Fehim Effendi--but the Vali telegraphed
to the Grand Vizier, and the Grand Vizier ran to Abdul the Damned, and
Abdul yelled for Sir Nicholas O'Connor; and they caught me in the Pera
Palace and handed me over to my Embassy."

Neeland shouted with laughter:

"Who were the other monsters?" he asked.

"The other two whose countenances I desired to slap? Oh, one was Abdul
Houda, the Sultan's star-reader, who chattered about my Dark Star
horoscope in the Yildiz. And the other was the Sultan."

"Who?"

"Abdul Hamid."

"What? You wished to slap _his_ face?"

"Certainly. But Kutchuk Saïd and Kiamil Pasha requested me not
to--accompanied by gendarmes."

"You'd have lost your life," remarked Neeland.

"Yes. But then war would surely have come, and today my Emperor would
have held the Dardanelles where the Turkish flag is now flying over
German guns and German gunners."

He shook his head:

"Great mistake on my part," he muttered. "Should have pulled Abdul's
lop ears. Now, everything in Turkey is 'Yasak' except what Germans do
and say; and God knows we are farther than ever from St. Sophia....
I'm very thirsty with thinking so much, old fellow. Did you ever drink
German champagne?"

"I believe not----"

"Come on, then. You shall drink several gallons and never feel it.
It's the only thing German I could ever swallow."

"Prince Erlik, you have had considerable refreshment already."

"_Copain, t'en fais pas!_"

The spectacle of two young fellows in evening dress, in a friendly
tug-of-war under the lamp-posts of the Boulevard, amused the passing
populace; and Sengoun, noticing this, was inclined to mount a
boulevard bench and address the wayfarers, but Neeland pulled him down
and persuaded him into a quieter street, the rue Vilna.

"There's a German place, now!" exclaimed Sengoun, delighted.

And Neeland, turning to look, perceived the illuminated sign of the
Café des Bulgars.

German champagne had now become Sengoun's fixed idea; nothing could
dissuade him from it, nothing persuade him into a homeward bound taxi.
So Neeland, with a rather hazy idea that he ought not to do it,
entered the café with Senguon; and they seated themselves on a leather
wall-lounge before one of the numerous marble-topped tables.

"Listen," he said in a low voice to his companion, "this is a German
café, and we must be careful what we say. I'm not any too prudent and
I may forget this; but don't _you_!"

"Quite right, old fellow!" replied Sengoun, giving him an owlish look.
"I must never forget I'm a diplomat among these _sales Boches_----"

"Be careful, Sengoun! That expression is not diplomatic."

"Careful is the word, _mon vieux_," returned the other loudly and
cheerfully. "I'll bet you a dollar, three kopeks, and two sous that I
go over there and kiss the cashier----"

"No! Be a real diplomat, Sengoun!"

"I'm sorry you feel that way, Neeland, because she's unusually pretty.
And we might establish a triple entente until you find some Argive
Helen to quadruple it. Aha! Here is our German champagne! Positively
the only thing German a Russian can----"

"Listen! This won't do. People are looking at us----"

"Right, old fellow--always right! You know, Neeland, this friendship
of ours is the most precious, most delightful, and most inspiring
experience of my life. Here's a full goblet to our friendship! Hurrah!
As for Enver Pasha, may Erlik seize him!"

After they had honoured the toast, Sengoun looked about him
pleasantly, receptive, ready for any eventuality. And observing no
symptoms of any eventuality whatever, he suggested creating one.

"Dear comrade," he said, "I think I shall arise and make an incendiary
address----"

"No!"

"Very well, if you feel that way about it. But there is another way to
render the evening agreeable. You see that sideboard?" he continued,
pointing to a huge carved buffet piled to the ceiling with porcelain
and crystal. "What will you wager that I can not push it over with one
hand?"

But Neeland declined the wager with an impatient gesture, and kept his
eyes riveted on a man who had just entered the café. He could see only
the stranger's well-groomed back, but when, a moment later, the man
turned to seat himself, Neeland was not surprised to find himself
looking at Doc Curfoot.

"Sengoun," he said under his breath, "that _type_ who just came in is
an American gambler named Doc Curfoot; and he is here with other
gamblers for the purpose of obtaining political information for some
government other than my own."

Sengoun regarded the new arrival with amiable curiosity:

"That worm? Oh, well, every city in Europe swarms with such maggots,
you know. It would be quite funny if he tries any blandishments on us,
wouldn't it?"

"He may. He's a capper. He's looking at us now. I believe he remembers
having seen me in the train."

"As for an hour or two at chemin-de-fer, baccarat, or roulette,"
remarked Sengoun, "I am not averse to a----"

"Watch him! The waiter who is taking his order may know who you
are--may be telling that gambler.... I believe he _did_! Now, let us
see what happens...."

Sengoun, delighted at the prospect of an eventuality, blandly emptied
his goblet and smiled generally upon everybody.

"I hope he will make our acquaintance and ask us to play," he said.
"I'm very lucky at chemin-de-fer. And if I lose I shall conclude that
there is trickery. Which would make it very lively for everybody," he
added with a boyish smile. But his dark eyes began to glitter and he
showed his beautiful, even teeth when he laughed.

"Ha!" he said. "A little what you call a mix-up might not come amiss!
That gives one an appetite; that permits one to perspire; that does
good to everybody and makes one sleep soundly! Shall we, as you say in
America, start something?"

Neeland, thinking of Ali-Baba and Golden Beard and of their undoubted
instigation by telegraph of the morning's robbery, wondered whether
the rendezvous of the robbers might not possibly be here in the Café
des Bulgars.

The gang of Americans in the train had named Kestner, Breslau, and
Weishelm--the one man of the gang whom he had never seen--as
prospective partners in this enterprise.

Here, somewhere in this building, were their gambling headquarters.
Was there any possible chance that the stolen box and its contents
might have been brought here for temporary safety?

Might it not now be hidden somewhere in this very building by men too
cunning to risk leaving the city when every train and every road would
be watched within an hour of the time that the robbery was
committed?

Leaning back carelessly on the lounge and keeping his eyes on the
people in the café, Neeland imparted these ideas to Sengoun in a low
voice--told him everything he knew in regard to the affair, and asked
his opinion.

"My opinion," said Sengoun, who was enchanted at any prospect of
trouble, "is that this house is 'suspect' and is worth searching. Of
course the Prefect could be notified, arrangements made, and a search
by the secret police managed. But, Neeland, my friend, think of what
pleasure _we_ should be deprived!"

"How do you mean?"

"Why not search the place ourselves?"

"How?"

"Well, of course, we could be picturesque, go to my Embassy, and fill
our pockets with automatic pistols, and come back here and--well, make
them stand around and see how high they could reach with both hands."

Neeland laughed.

"That would be a funny jest, wouldn't it?" said Sengoun.

"Very funny. But----" He nudged Sengoun and directed his attention
toward the terrace outside, where waiters were already removing the
little iron tables and the chairs, and the few lingering guests were
coming inside the café.

"I see," muttered Sengoun; "it is already Sunday morning, and they're
closing. It's too late to go to the Embassy. They'd not let us in here
when we returned."

Neeland summoned a waiter with a nod:

"When do you close up inside here?"

"Tomorrow being Sunday, the terrace closes now, monsieur; but the café
remains open all night," explained the waiter with a noticeable German
accent.

"Thank you." And, to Sengoun: "I'd certainly like to go upstairs. I'd
like to see what it looks like up there--take a glance around."

"Very well, let us go up----"

"We ought to have some excuse----"

"We'll think of several on the way," rising with alacrity, but Neeland
pulled him back.

"Wait a moment! It would only mean a fight----"

"All fights," explained Sengoun seriously, "are agreeable--some more
so. So if you are ready, dear comrade----"

"But a row will do us no good----"

"Pardon, dear friend, I have been in serious need of one for an hour
or two----"

"I don't mean that sort of 'good,'" explained Neeland, laughing. "I
mean that I wish to look about up there--explore----"

"Quite right, old fellow--always right! But--here's an idea! I could
stand at the head of the stairs and throw them down as they mounted,
while you had leisure to look around for your stolen box----"

"My dear Prince Erlik, we've nothing to shoot with, and it's likely
they have. There's only one way to get upstairs with any chance of
learning anything useful. And that is to start a row between
ourselves." And, raising his voice as though irritated, he called for
the reckoning, adding in a tone perfectly audible to anybody in the
vicinity that he knew where roulette was played, and that he was going
whether or not his friend accompanied him.

Sengoun, delighted, recognised his cue and protested in loud, nasal
tones that the house to which his comrade referred was suspected of
unfair play; and a noisy dispute began, listened to attentively by the
pretty but brightly painted cashier, the waiters, the _gérant_, and
every guest in the neighbourhood.

"As for me," cried Sengoun, feigning to lose his temper, "I have no
intention of being tricked. I was not born yesterday--not I! If there
is to be found an honest wheel in Paris that would suit me. Otherwise,
I go home to bed!"

"It _is_ an honest wheel, I tell you----"

"It is not! I know that place!"

"Be reasonable----"

"Reasonable!" repeated Sengoun appealingly to the people around them.
"Permit me to ask these unusually intelligent gentlemen whether it is
reasonable to play roulette in a place where the wheel is notoriously
controlled and the management a dishonest one! Could a gentleman be
expected to frequent or even to countenance places of evil repute?
_Messieurs_, I await your verdict!" And he folded his arms
dramatically.

Somebody said, from a neighbouring table:

"_Vous avez parfaitement raison, monsieur!_"

"I thank you," cried Sengoun, with an admirably dramatic bow.
"Therefore, I shall now go home to bed!"

Neeland, maintaining his gravity with difficulty, followed Sengoun
toward the door, still pretending to plead with him; and the _gérant_,
a tall, blond, rosy and unmistakable German, stepped forward to unlock
the door.

As he laid his hand on the bolt he said in a whisper:

"If the gentlemen desire the privilege of an exclusive club where
everything is unquestionably conducted----"

"Where?" demanded Neeland, abruptly.

"On the third floor, _monsieur_."

"Here?"

"Certainly, sir. If the gentlemen will honour me with their names, and
will be seated for one little moment, I shall see what can be
accomplished."

"Very well," said Sengoun, with a short, incredulous laugh. "I'm
Prince Erlik, of the Mongol Embassy, and my comrade is Mr. Neeland,
Consul General of the United States of America in the Grand Duchy of
Gerolstein!"

The _gérant_ smiled. After he had gone away toward the further room in
the café, Neeland remarked to Sengoun that doubtless their real names
were perfectly well known, and Sengoun disdainfully shrugged his
indifference:

"What can one expect in this dirty rat-nest of Europe? Abdul the
Damned employed one hundred thousand spies in Constantinople alone!
And William the Sudden admired him. Why, Neeland, _mon ami_, I never
take a step in the streets without being absolutely certain that I am
watched and followed. What do I care! Except that towns make me sick.
But the only cure is a Khirgiz horse and a thousand lances. God send
them. I'm sick of cities."

A few moments later the _gérant_ returned and, in a low voice,
requested them to accompany him.

They passed leisurely through the café, between tables where lowered
eyes seemed to deny any curiosity; but guests and waiters looked after
them after they had passed, and here and there people whispered
together--particularly two men who had followed them from the
sun-dial fountain in the rue Soleil d'Or to the Jardin Russe, across
the Place de la Concorde, and into the Café des Bulgars in the rue
Vilna.

On the stairs Neeland heard Sengoun still muttering to himself:

"Certainly I am sick of cities and narrow strips of sky. What I need
is a thousand lances at a gallop, and a little Kirghiz horse between
my knees."



CHAPTER XXXII

THE CERCLE EXTRANATIONALE


The suite of rooms into which they were ushered appeared to be
furnished in irreproachable taste. Except for the _salon_ at the
further end of the suite, where play was in progress, the charming
apartment might have been a private one; and the homelike simplicity
of the room, where books, flowers, and even a big, grey cat confirmed
the first agreeable impression, accented the lurking smile on
Sengoun's lips.

Doc Curfoot, in evening dress, came forward to receive them, in
company with another man, young, nice-looking, very straight, and with
the high, square shoulders of a Prussian.

"_Bong soire, mussoors_," said Curfoot genially. "_J'ai l'honnoor de
vous faire connaitre mong ami, Mussoor Weishelm._"

They exchanged very serious bows with "Mussoor" Weishelm, and Curfoot
retired.

In excellent French Weishelm inquired whether they desired supper; and
learning that they did not, bowed smilingly and bade them welcome:

"You are at home, gentlemen; the house is yours. If it pleases you to
sup, we offer you our hospitality; if you care to play, the _salon_ is
at your disposal, or, if you prefer, a private room. Yonder is the
buffet; there are electric bells at your elbow. You are at home," he
repeated, clicked his heels together, bowed, and took his leave.

Sengoun dropped into a comfortable chair and sent a waiter for caviar,
toast, and German champagne.

Neeland lighted a cigarette, seated himself, and looked about him
curiously.

Over in a corner on a sofa a rather pretty woman, a cigarette between
her jewelled fingers, was reading an evening newspaper. Two others in
the adjoining room, young and attractive, their feet on the fireplace
fender, conversed together over a sandwich, a glass of the widely
advertised Dubonnet, and another of the equally advertised Bon Lait
Maggi--as serenely and as comfortably as though they were by their own
firesides.

"Perhaps they are," remarked Sengoun, plastering an oblong of hot
toast with caviar. "Birds of this kind nest easily anywhere."

Neeland continued to gaze toward the _salon_ where play was in
progress. There did not seem to be many people there. At a small table
he recognised Brandes and Stull playing what appeared to be bridge
whist with two men whom he had never before seen. There were no women
playing.

As he watched the round, expressionless face of Brandes, who was
puffing a long cigar screwed tightly into the corner of his
thin-lipped mouth, it occurred to him somewhat tardily what Rue Carew
had said concerning personal danger to himself if any of these people
believed him capable of reconstructing from memory any of the stolen
plans.

He had not thought about that specific contingency; instinct alone had
troubled him a little when he first entered the Café des Bulgars.

However, his unquiet eyes could discover nothing of either Kestner or
Breslau; and, somehow, he did not even think of encountering Ilse
Dumont in such a place. As for Brandes and Stull, they did not
recognise him at all.

So, entirely reassured once more by the absence of Ali-Baba and Golden
Beard, and of Scheherazade whom he had no fear of meeting, Neeland ate
his caviar with a relish and examined his surroundings.

Of course it was perfectly possible that the stolen papers had been
brought here. There were three other floors in the building, too, and
he wondered what they were used for.

Sengoun's appetite for conflict waned as he ate and drank; and a
violent desire to gamble replaced it.

"You poke about a bit," he said to Neeland. "Talk to that girl over
there and see what you can learn. As for me, I mean to start a little
flirtation with Mademoiselle Fortuna. Does that suit you?"

If Sengoun wished to play it was none of Neeland's business.

"Do you think it an honest game?" he asked, doubtfully.

"With negligible stakes all first-class gamblers are honest."

"If I were you, Sengoun, I wouldn't drink anything more."

"Excellent advice, old fellow!" emptying his goblet with satisfaction.
And, rising to his firm and graceful height, he strolled away toward
the _salon_ where play progressed amid the most decorous and edifying
of atmospheres.

Neeland watched him disappear, then he glanced curiously at the girl
on the sofa who was still preoccupied with her newspaper.

So he rose, sauntered about the room examining the few pictures and
bronzes, modern but excellent. The carpet under foot was thick and
soft, but, as he strolled past the girl who seemed to be so intently
reading, she looked up over her paper and returned his civil
recognition of her presence with a slight smile.

As he appeared inclined to linger, she said with pleasant
self-possession:

"These newspaper rumours, monsieur, are becoming too persistent to
amuse us much longer. War talk is becoming _vieux jeu_."

"Why read them?" inquired Neeland with a smile.

"Why?" She made a slight gesture. "One reads what is printed, I
suppose."

"Written and printed by people who know no more about the matter in
question than you and I, mademoiselle," he remarked, still smiling.

"That is perfectly true. Why is it worth while for anyone to search
for truth in these days when everyone is paid to conceal it?"

"Oh," he said, "not everyone."

"No; some lie naturally and without pay," she admitted indifferently.

"But there are still others. For example, mademoiselle, yourself."

"I?" She laughed, not troubling to refute the suggestion of her
possible truthfulness.

He said:

"This--club--is furnished in excellent taste."

"Yes; it is quite new."

"Has it a name?"

"I believe it is called the Cercle Extranationale. Would monsieur also
like to know the name of the club cat?"

They both laughed easily, but he could make nothing of her.

"Thank you," he said; "and I fear I have interrupted your
reading----"

"I have read enough lies; I am quite ready to tell you a few. Shall
I?"

"You are most amiable. I have been wondering what the other floors in
this building are used for."

"Private apartments," she replied smiling, looking him straight in the
eyes. "Now you don't know whether I've told you the truth or not; do
you?"

"Of course I know."

"Which, then?"

"The truth."

She laughed and indicated a chair; and he seated himself.

"Who is the dark, nice-looking gentleman accompanying you?" she
enquired.

"How could you see him at all through your newspaper?"

"I poked a hole, of course."

"To look at him or at me?"

"Your mirror ought to reassure you. However, as an afterthought, who
is he?"

"Prince Erlik, of Mongolia," replied Neeland solemnly.

"I supposed so. We of the infernal aristocracy belong together. I am
the Contessa Diabletta d'Enfer."

He inclined gravely:

"I'm afraid I don't belong here," he said. "I'm only a Yankee."

"Hell is full of them," she said, smiling. "All Yankees belong where
Prince Erlik and I are at home.... Do you play?"

"No. Do you?"

"It depends on chance."

"It would give me much pleasure----"

"Thank you, not tonight." And in the same, level, pleasant voice:
"Don't look immediately, but from where you sit you can see in the
mirror opposite two women seated in the next room."

After a moment he nodded.

"Are they watching us?"

"Yes."

"Mr. Neeland?"

He reddened with surprise.

"Get Captain Sengoun and leave," she said, still smiling. "Do it
carelessly, convincingly. Neither of you needs courage; both of you
lack common sense. Get up, take leave of me nicely but regretfully, as
though I had denied you a rendezvous. You will be killed if you remain
here."

For a moment Neeland hesitated, but curiosity won:

"Who is likely to try anything of that sort?" he asked. And a tingling
sensation, not wholly unpleasant, passed over him.

"Almost anyone here, if you are recognised," she said, as gaily as
though she were imparting delightful information.

"But _you_ recognise us. And I'm certainly not dead yet."

"Which ought to tell you more about me than I am likely to tell
anybody. Now, when I smile at you and shake my head, make your adieux
to me, find Captain Sengoun, and take your departure. Do you
understand?"

"Are you really serious?"

"It is you who should be serious. Now, I give you your signal,
Monsieur Neeland----"

But the smile stiffened on her pretty face, and at the same moment he
was aware that somebody had entered the room and was standing directly
behind him.

He turned on his chair and looked up into the face of Ilse Dumont.

There was a second's hesitation, then he was on his feet, greeting her
cordially, apparently entirely at ease and with nothing on his mind
except the agreeable surprise of the encounter.

"I had your note," he said. "It was charming of you to write, but very
neglectful of you not to include your address. Tell me, how have you
been since I last saw you?"

Ilse Dumont's red lips seemed to be dry, for she moistened them
without speaking. In her eyes he saw peril--knowledge of something
terrible--some instant menace.

Then her eyes, charged with lightning, slowly turned from him to the
girl on the sofa who had not moved. But in her eyes, too, a little
flame began to flicker and play, and the fixed smile relaxed into an
expression of cool self-possession.

Neeland's pleasant, careless voice broke the occult tension:

"This is a pretty club," he said; "everything here is in such
excellent taste. You might have told me about it," he added to Ilse
with smiling reproach; "but you never even mentioned it, and I
discovered it quite by accident."

Ilse Dumont seemed to find her voice with an effort:

"May I have a word with you, Mr. Neeland?" she asked.

"Always," he assured her promptly. "I am always more than happy to
listen to you----"

"Please follow me!"

He turned to the girl on the sofa and made his adieux with
conventional ceremony and a reckless smile which said:

"You were quite right, mademoiselle; I'm in trouble already."

Then he followed Ilse Dumont into the adjoining room, which was lined
with filled bookcases and where the lounges and deep chairs were
covered with leather.

Halting by the library table, Ilse Dumont turned to him--turned on him
a look such as he never before had encountered in any living woman's
eyes--a dead gaze, dreadful, glazed, as impersonal as the fixed regard
of a corpse.

She said:

"I came.... They sent for me.... I did not believe they had the right
man.... I could not believe it, Neeland."

A trifle shaken, he said in tones which sounded steady enough:

"What frightens you so, Scheherazade?"

"Why did you come? Are you absolutely mad?"

"Mad? No, I don't think so," he replied with a forced smile. "What
threatens me here, Scheherazade?"--regarding her pallid face
attentively.

"Death.... You must have known it when you came."

"Death? No, I didn't know it."

"Did you suppose that if they could get hold of you they'd let you
go?--A man who might carry in his memory the plans for which they
tried to kill you? I wrote to you--I wrote to you to go back to
America! And--_this_ is what you have done instead!"

"Well," he said in a pleasant but rather serious voice, "if you
really believe there is danger for me if I remain here, perhaps I'd
better go."

"You _can't_ go!"

"You think I'll be stopped?"

"Yes. Who is your crazy companion? I heard that he is Alak
Sengoun--the headlong fool--they call Prince Erlik. Is it true?"

"Where did you hear all these things?" he demanded. "Where were you
when you heard them?"

"At the Turkish Embassy. Word came that they had caught you. I did not
believe it; others present doubted it.... But as the rumour concerned
_you_, I took no chances; I came instantly. I--I had rather be dead
than see you here----" Her voice became unsteady, but she controlled
it at once:

"Neeland! Neeland! Why did you come? Why have you undone all I tried
to do for you----?"

He looked intently at Ilse Dumont, then his gaze swept the handsome
suite of rooms. No one seemed to notice him; in perspective, men moved
leisurely about the further _salon_, where play was going on; and
there seemed to be no one else in sight. And, as he stood there, free,
in full pride and vigour of youth and strength, he became incredulous
that anything could threaten him which he could not take care of.

A smile grew in his eyes, confident, humorous, a little hint of
tenderness in it:

"Scheherazade," he said, "you are a dear. You pulled me out of a
dreadful mess on the _Volhynia_. I offer you gratitude, respect, and
the very warm regard for you which I really cherish in my heart."

He took her hands, kissed them, looked up half laughing, half in
earnest.

"If you're worried," he said, "I'll find Captain Sengoun and we'll
depart----"

She retained his hands in a convulsive clasp:

"Oh, Neeland! Neeland! There are men below who will never let you
pass! And Breslau and Kestner are coming here later. And that devil,
Damat Mahmud Bey!"

"Golden Beard and Ali Baba and the whole Arabian Nights!" exclaimed
Neeland. "Who is Damat Mahmud Bey, Scheherazade dear?"

"The shadow of Abdul Hamid."

"Yes, dear child, but Abdul the Damned is shut up tight in a
fortress!"

"His shadow dogs the spurred heels of Enver Pasha," she said, striving
to maintain her composure. "Oh, Neeland!--A hundred thousand Armenians
are yet to die in that accursed shadow! And do you think Mahmud Damat
will hesitate in regard to _you_!"

"Nonsense! Does a murderous Moslem go about Paris killing people he
doesn't happen to fancy? Those things aren't done----"

"Have you and Sengoun any weapons at all?" she interrupted
desperately, "Anything!--A sword cane----?"

"No. What the devil does all this business mean?" he broke out
impatiently. "What's all this menace of lawlessness--this impudent
threat of interference----"

"It is _war_!"

"War?" he repeated, not quite understanding her.

She caught him by the arm:

"War!" she whispered; "War! Do you understand? They don't care what
they do now! They mean to kill you here in this place. They'll be out
of France before anybody finds you."

"Has war actually been declared?" he asked, astounded.

"Tomorrow! It is known in certain circles!" She dropped his arm and
clasped her hands and stood there twisting them, white, desperate,
looking about her like a hunted thing.

"Why did you do this?" she repeated in an agonised voice. "What can I
do? I'm no traitor!... But I'd give you a pistol if I had one----" She
checked herself as the girl who had been reading an evening newspaper
on a sofa, and to whom Neeland had been talking when Ilse Dumont
entered, came sauntering into the room.

The eyes of both women met; both turned a trifle paler. Then Ilse
Dumont walked slowly up to the other:

"I overheard your warning," she said with a deadly stare.

"Really?"

Ilse stretched out her bare arm, palm upward, and closed the fingers
tightly:

"I hold your life in my hand. I have only to speak. Do you
understand?"

"No."

"You are lying. You _do_ understand. You take double wages; but it is
not France you betray! Nor Russia!"

"Are you insane?"

"Almost. _Where do you carry them?_"

"What?"

"Answer quickly. _Where?_ I tell you, I'll expose you in another
moment if you don't answer me! Speak quickly!"

The other woman had turned a ghastly white; for a second or two she
remained dumb, then, dry-lipped:

"Above--the knee," she stammered; but there was scarcely a sound from
the blanched lips that formed the words.

"Pistols?"

"Yes."

"Loaded? Both of them?"

"Yes."

"Clips?"

"No."

"Unstrap them!"

The woman turned, bent almost double, twisting her supple body
entirely around; but Ilse Dumont was at her side like a flash and
caught her wrist as she withdrew her hand from the hem of her fluffy
skirt.

"Now--_take_ your life!" said Ilse Dumont between her teeth. "There's
the door! Go out!"--following her with blazing eyes--"Stop! Stand
where you are until I come!"

Then she came quickly to where Neeland stood, astonished; and thrust
two automatic pistols into his hands.

"Get Sengoun," she whispered. "Don't go _down_-stairs, for God's sake.
Get to the roof, if you can. Try--oh, try, try, Neeland, my friend!"
Her voice trembled; she looked into his eyes--gave him, in that swift
regard, all that a woman withholds until the right man asks.

Her lips quivered; she turned sharply on her heel, went to the outer
hallway, where the other woman stood motionless.

"What am I to do with _you_?" demanded Ilse Dumont. "Do you think you
are going out of here to summon the police? Mount those stairs!"

The woman dropped her hand on the banisters, heavily, set foot on the
first stair, then slowly mounted as though her little feet in their
dainty evening slippers were weighted with ball and chain.

Ilse Dumont followed her, opened a door in the passage, motioned her
to enter. It was a bedroom that the electric light revealed. The woman
entered and stood by the bed as though stupefied.

"I'll keep my word to you," said Ilse Dumont. "When it becomes too
late for you to do us any mischief, I'll return and let you go."

And she stepped back across the threshold and locked the door on the
outside.

As she did so, Neeland and Sengoun came swiftly up the stairs, and she
beckoned them to follow, gathered the skirts of her evening gown into
one hand, and ran up the stairs ahead of them to the fifth floor.

In the dim light Neeland saw that the top floor was merely a vast
attic full of débris from the café on the ground floor--iron tables
which required mending or repainting, iron chairs, great jars of
artificial stone with dead baytrees standing in them, parts of rusty
stoves and kitchen ranges, broken cutlery in boxes, cracked table
china and heavier kitchen crockery in tubs which once had held
flowers.

The only windows gave on a court. Through their dirty panes already
the grey light of that early Sunday morning glimmered, revealing the
contents of the shadowy place, and the position of an iron ladder
hooked to two rings under the scuttle overhead.

Ilse Dumont laid her finger on her lips, conjuring silence, then,
clutching her silken skirts, she started up the iron ladder, reached
the top, and, exerting all her strength, lifted the hinged scuttle
leading to the leads outside.

Instantly somebody challenged her in a guttural voice. She stood there
a few moments in whispered conversation, then, from outside, somebody
lowered the scuttle cover; the girl locked it, descended the iron
ladder backwards, and came swiftly across to where Neeland and Sengoun
were standing, pistols lifted.

"They're guarding the roof," she whispered, "--two men. It is
hopeless, that way."

"The proper way," said Sengoun calmly, "is for us to shoot our way out
of this!"

The girl turned on him in a passion:

"Do you suppose I care what happens to _you_?" she said. "If there
were no one else to consider you might do as you pleased, for all it
concerns me!"

Sengoun reddened:

"Be silent, you treacherous little cat!" he retorted. "Do you imagine
your riffraff are going to hold _me_ here when I'm ready to depart!
_Me!_ A free Cossack! Bah!"

"Don't talk that way, Sengoun," said Neeland sharply. "We owe these
pistols to her."

"Oh," muttered Sengoun, shooting a menacing glance at her. "I didn't
understand that." Then his scowl softened and a sudden laugh cleared
his face.

"I'm sorry, mademoiselle," he said. "You're quite welcome to your low
opinion of me. But if anyone should ask me, I'd say that I don't
understand what is happening to us. And after a while I'll become
angry and go downstairs for information."

"They know nothing about you in the _salle de jeu_," she said, "but on
the floor below they're waiting to kill you."

Neeland, astonished, asked her whether the American gamblers in the
_salon_ where Sengoun had been playing were ignorant of what was going
on in the house.

"What Americans?" she demanded, incredulously. "Do you mean
Weishelm?"

"Didn't you know there were Americans employed in the _salle de jeu_?"
asked Neeland, surprised.

"No. I have not been in this house for a year until I came tonight.
This place is maintained by the Turkish Government--" She flashed a
glance at Sengoun--"_you're_ welcome to the information now," she
added contemptuously. And then, to Neeland: "There was, I believe,
some talk in New York about adding one or two Americans to the
personnel, but I opposed it."

"They're here," said Neeland drily.

"Do you know who they are?"

"Yes. There's a man called Doc Curfoot----"

"_Who!!_"

And suddenly, for the first time, Neeland remembered that she had been
the wife of one of the men below.

"Brandes and Stull are the others," he said mechanically.

The girl stared at him as though she did not comprehend, and she
passed one hand slowly across her forehead and eyes.

"Eddie Brandes? _Here?_ And Stull? Curfoot? _Here in this house!_"

"In the _salon_ below."

"They _can't_ be!" she protested in an odd, colourless voice. "They
were bought soul and body by the British Secret Service!"

All three stood staring at one another; the girl flushed, clenched her
hand, then let it fall by her side as though utterly overcome.

"All this espionage!" cried Sengoun, furiously. "--It makes me sick, I
tell you! Where everybody betrays everybody is no place for a free
Cossack!----"

The terrible expression on the girl's face checked him; she said,
slowly:

"It is we others who have been betrayed, it seems. It is _we_ who are
trapped here. They've got us all--every one of us. Oh, my God!--every
one of us--at last!"

She lifted her haggard face and stared at the increasing light which
was turning the window panes a sickly yellow.

"With sunrise comes war," she said in a stunned voice, as though to
convince herself. "We are caught here in this house. And Kestner and
Weishelm and Breslau and I----" she trembled, framing her burning face
in slim hands that were like ice. "Do you understand that Brandes and
Curfoot, bought by England, have contracted to deliver us to a French
court martial?"

The men looked at her in silence.

"Kestner and Breslau knew they had been bought. One of our own people
witnessed that treachery. But we never dreamed that these traitors
would venture into this house tonight. We should have come here
ourselves instead of going to the Turkish Embassy. That was Mahmud
Damat's meddling! His messenger insisted. God! What a mistake! What a
deathly mistake for all of us!"

She leaned for a moment against one of the iron pillars which
supported the attic roof, and covered her face with her hands.

After a moment, Neeland said:

"I don't understand why you can't leave this house if you are in
danger. You say that there are men downstairs who are waiting to kill
us--waiting only for Kestner and Breslau and Mahmud Damat to arrive."

She said faintly:

"I did not before understand Mahmud's delay. Now, I understand. He has
been warned. Breslau and Kestner will not come. Otherwise, you now
would be barricaded behind that breastwork of rubbish, fighting for
your lives."

"But you say there are men on the stairs below who are ready to kill
us if we try to leave the house."

"They, too, are trapped without knowing it. War will come with
sunrise. This house has been under surveillance since yesterday
afternoon. They have not closed in on us yet, because they are leaving
the trap open in hopes of catching us all. They are waiting for
Breslau and Kestner and Mahmud Damat.... But they'll never come,
now.... They are out of the city by this time.... I know them. They
are running for their lives at this hour.... And we--we lesser
ones--caught here--trapped--reserved for a French court martial and a
firing squad in a barrack square!"

She shuddered and pressed her hands over her temples.

Neeland said:

"I am going to stand by you. Captain Sengoun will do the same."

She shook her head:

"No use," she said with a shiver. "I am too well known. They have my
_dossier_ almost complete. My _procès_ will be a brief one."

"Can't you get away by the roof? There are two of your men up
there."

"They themselves are caught, and do not even know it. They too will
face a squad of execution before the sun rises tomorrow. And they
never dream of it up there----"

She made a hopeless gesture:

"What is the use! When I came here from the Turkish Embassy, hearing
that you were here but believing the information false, I discovered
you conversing with a Russian spy--overheard her warn you to leave
this house.

"And there, all the while, unknown to me, in the _salle de jeu_ were
Curfoot and that unspeakable scoundrel Brandes! Why, the place was
swarming with enemies--and I never dreamed it!... Yet--I might have
feared some such thing--I might have feared that the man, Brandes, who
had betrayed me once, would do it again if he ever had the chance....
And he's done it."

There was a long silence. Ilse stood staring at the melancholy greyish
light on the window panes.

She said as though to herself:

"I shall never see another daybreak."... After a moment she turned and
began to pace the attic, a strange, terrible figure of haggard youth
in the shadowy light. "How horribly still it is at daybreak!" she
breathed, halting before Neeland. "How deathly quiet----"

The dry crack of a pistol cut her short. Then, instantly, in the dim
depths of the house, shot followed shot in bewildering succession,
faster, faster, filling the place with a distracting tumult.

Neeland jerked up his pistol as a nearer volley rattled out on the
landing directly underneath.

Sengoun, exasperated, shouted:

"Well, what the devil is all this!" and ran toward the head of the
stairs, his pistol lifted for action.

Then, in the garret doorway, Weishelm appeared, his handsome face
streaming blood. He staggered, turned mechanically toward the stairs
again with wavering revolver; but a shot drove him blindly backward
and another hurled him full length across the floor, where he lay with
both arms spread out, and the last tremors, running from his feet to
his twitching face.



CHAPTER XXXIII

A RAT HUNT


The interior of the entire house was now in an uproar; shots came fast
from every landing; the semi-dusk of stair-well and corridor was
lighted by incessant pistol flashes and the whole building echoed the
deafening racket.

"What do you make of it?" shouted Sengoun furiously, standing like a
baited and perplexed bull. "Who's fighting who in this fool of a
place? By Erlik! I'd like to know whom I'm to fire at!"

Ilse Dumont, creeping along the wall, looked fearfully down at
Weishelm who no longer moved where he lay on the dusty floor, with
eyes and mouth open and his distorted face already half covered by a
wet and crawling scarlet mask.

"Brandes and Stull are betraying us," she whispered. "They are killing
my comrades--on the stairs down there----"

"If that is true," called out Neeland in a low, cautious voice, "you'd
better wait a moment, Sengoun!"

But Sengoun's rage for combat had already filled him to overflowing,
and the last rag of patience left him.

"I don't care who is fighting!" he bellowed. "It's all one to me! Now
is the time to shoot our way out of this. Come on, Neeland! Hurrah for
the Terek Cossacks! Another town taken! Hurrah!"

Neeland caught Ilse by the wrist:

"You'd better get free of this house while you can!" he said, dragging
her with him after Sengoun, who had already reached the head of the
stairs and was starting down, peering about for a target.

Suddenly, on the landing below, Golden Beard and Ali Baba appeared,
caught sight of Sengoun and Neeland above, and opened fire on them
instantly, driving them back from the head of the staircase flat
against the corridor wall. But Golden Beard, seeming to realise now
that the garret landing was held and the way to the roof cut off,
began to retreat from the foot of the garret stairs with Ali Baba
following, their restless, upward-pointed pistols searching for the
slightest movement in the semi-obscurity of the hallway above.

Sengoun, fuming and fretting, had begun to creep toward the head of
the stairs again, when there came a rattling hail of shots from below,
a rush, the trample of feet, the crash of furniture and startling slam
of a door.

Downstairs straight toward the uproar ran Sengoun with Neeland beside
him. The halls were swimming in acrid fumes; the floors trembled and
shook under the shock as a struggling, fighting knot of men went
tumbling down the stairway below, reached the landing and burst into
the rooms of the Cercle Extranationale.

Leaning over the banisters, Neeland saw Golden Beard turn on Doc
Curfoot, raging, magnificent as a Viking, his blue eyes ablaze. He
hurled his empty pistol at the American; seized chairs, bronzes,
andirons, the clock from the mantel, and sent a storm of heavy
missiles through the doorway among the knot of men who were pressing
him and who had already seized Ali Baba.

Then, from the banisters above, Neeland and Sengoun saw Brandes,
moving stealthily, swiftly, edge his way to a further door.

Steadying the elbow of his pistol hand in the hollow cup of his left
palm, his weapon level, swerving as his quarry moved, he presently
fired at Golden Beard and got him through the back. And then he shot
him again deliberately, through the body, as the giant turned, made a
menacing gesture toward him; took an uncertain step in his direction;
another step, wavering, blindly grotesque; then stood swaying there
under the glare of the partly shattered chandelier from which hung
long shreds of crystal prisms.

And Brandes, aiming once more with methodical and merciless precision,
and taking what time he required to make a bull's-eye on this great,
reeling, golden-crowned bull, fired the third shot at his magnificent
head.

The bronze Barye lion dropped from Golden Beard's nerveless fist; the
towering figure, stiffening, fell over rather slowly and lay across
the velvet carpet as rigid as a great tree.

Brandes went into the room, leaned over the dying man and fired into
his body until his pistol was empty. Then he replaced the exhausted
clip leisurely, leering down at his victim.

There was a horrid sound from the stairs, where Curfoot and another
man were killing a waiter. Strange, sinister faces appeared everywhere
from the smoke-filled club rooms; Stull came out into the hallway
below and shouted up through the stair-well:

"Say, Eddie! For Christ's sake come down here! There's a mob outside
on the street and they're tearing the iron shutters off the café!"

Curfoot immediately started downstairs; Brandes, pistol in hand, came
slowly out of the club rooms, still leering, his slitted, greenish
eyes almost phosphorescent in the semi-obscurity.

Suddenly he caught sight of Ilse Dumont standing close behind Sengoun
and Neeland on the landing above.

"By God!" he shouted to Curfoot. "Here she is, Doc! Tell your men!
Tell them she's up here on the next floor!"

Sengoun immediately fired at Brandes, who did not return the shot but
went plunging downstairs into the smoky obscurity below.

"Come on!" roared Sengoun to Neeland, starting forward with levelled
weapon. "They've all gone crazy and it's time we were getting out of
this!"

"Quick!" whispered Neeland to Ilse Dumont. "Follow me downstairs! It's
the only chance for you now!"

But the passageway was blocked by a struggling, cursing, panting
crowd, and they were obliged to retreat into the club rooms.

In the _salle de jeu_, Ali Baba, held fast by three men dressed as
waiters, suddenly tripped up two of them, turned, and leaped for the
doorway. The two men who had been tripped scrambled to their feet and
tore after him. When they reached the hallway the Eurasian was gone;
but all of a sudden there came the crash of a splintered door from the
landing above; and the dim corridor rang with the frightful screaming
of a woman.

"It's--that--that--Russian girl!" stammered Ilse Dumont; "--The girl I
locked in! Oh, my God!--my God! Karl Breslau is killing her!"

Neeland sprang into the hall and leaped up the stairs; but the three
men disguised as waiters had arrived before him.

And there, across the threshold of the bedroom, backed up flat against
the shattered door, Ali Baba was already fighting for his life; and
the frightened Russian girl crept out from the bedroom behind him and
ran to Neeland for protection.

Twice Neeland aimed at Ali Baba, but could not bring himself to fire
at the bleeding, rabid object which snarled and slavered and bit and
kicked, regardless of the blows raining on him. At last one of his
assailants broke the half demented creature's arm with a chair; and
the bloody, battered thing squeaked like a crippled rat and darted
away amid the storm of blows descending, limping and floundering up
the attic stairs, his broken arm flapping with every gasping bound.

After him staggered his sweating and exhausted assailants, reeling
past Neeland and Ilse Dumont and the terrified Russian girl who
crouched behind them. But, halfway up the stairs all three halted and
stood clinging to the banisters as though listening to something on
the floor above them.

Neeland heard it, too: from the roof came a ripping, splintering
sound, as though people on the slates were prying up the bolted
scuttle. The three men on the stairs hesitated a moment longer; then
turned to flee, too late; a hail of pistol shots swept the attic
stairs; all three men came pitching and tumbling down to the landing.

Two of them lay still; one rose immediately and limped on again down
the hallway, calling over the banisters to those below:

"The Germans on the leads 'ave busted into the garret! Breslau is up
'ere! Send along those American gunmen, or somebody what can shoot!"

He was a grey-haired Englishman, smooth shaven and grim; and, as he
stood there at the head of the further stairs, breathing heavily,
awaiting aid from below, he said to Neeland coolly enough:

"You'd better go below, sir. We 'ad our orders to take this Breslau
rat alive, but we can't do it now, and there's like to be a 'orrid
mess 'ere directly."

"Can we get through below?"

"_You_ can," said the man significantly, "but they'll be detaining one
o' them ladies at the door."

"Do you mean me?" said Ilse Dumont.

"Yes, ma'am, I do----"

She sprang toward the attic stairway, but the British agent whipped
out a pistol and covered her.

"No," he said grimly. "You're wanted below. Go down!"

She came slowly back to where Neeland was standing.

"You'll have to take your chance below," he said under his breath.
"I'll stand by you to the end."

She smiled and continued on toward the stairs where the English agent
stood. Neeland and the Russian girl followed her.

The agent said:

"There's 'ell to pay below, sir."

The depths of the house rang with the infernal din of blows falling on
iron shutters. A deeper, more sinister roar rose from the mob outside.
There was a struggle going on inside the building, too; Neeland could
hear the trampling and surging of men on every floor--voices calling
from room to room, shouts of anger, the terrible outcry of a man in
agony.

"Wot a rat's nest, then, there was in this here blessed 'ouse, sir!"
said the British agent, coolly. "If we get Breslau and the others on
the roof we've bagged 'em all."

The Russian girl was trembling so violently that Neeland took her by
the arm. But Ilse Dumont, giving her a glance of contempt, moved
calmly past the British agent to the head of the stairway.

"Come," she said to Neeland.

The agent, leaning over the banisters, shouted to a man on the next
floor:

"Look sharp below there! I'm sendin' Miss Dumont down with Mr.
Neeland, the American! Take her in charge, Bill!"

"Send her along!" bawled the man, framing his face with both hands.
"Keep Breslau on the roof a bit and we'll 'ave the beggar in a few
moments!"

Somebody else shouted up from the tumult below:

"It's war, 'Arry! 'Ave you 'eard? It's war this morning! Them 'Uns 'as
declared war! And the perlice is a-killin' of the Apaches all over
Paris!"

Ilse Dumont looked curiously at the agent, calmly at Neeland, then,
dropping one hand on the banisters, she went lightly down the stairs
toward the uproar below, followed by Neeland and the Russian girl
clinging to his arm with both desperate little hands.

The British agent hung far over the banisters until he saw his
colleague join them on the floor below; then, reassured, and on guard
again, he leaned back against the corridor wall, his pistol resting on
his thigh, and fixed his cold grey eyes on the attic stairs once
more.

The secret agent who now joined Neeland and Ilse Dumont on the fourth
floor had evidently been constructing a barricade across the hallway
as a precaution in case of a rush from the Germans on the roof.

Chairs and mattresses, piled shoulder high, obstructed the passageway,
blocking the stairs; and the secret agent--a very young man with red
hair and in the garb of a waiter--clambered over it, revolver in one
hand, a pair of handcuffs in the other. He lost his balance on top of
the shaky heap; strove desperately to recover it, scrambled like a cat
in a tub, stumbled, rolled over on a mattress.

And there Neeland pinned him, closing his mouth with one hand and his
throat with the other, while Ilse Dumont tore weapon and handcuffs
from his grasp, snapped the latter over his wrists, snatched the case
from a bedroom pillow lying among the mattresses, and, with Neeland's
aid, swathed the struggling man's head in it.

"Into that clothes-press!" whispered Ilse, pointing along the hallway
where a door swung open.

"Help me lift him!" motioned Neeland.

Together they got him clear of the shaky barricade and, lugging him
between them, deposited him on the floor of the clothes-press and
locked the door.

So silent had they been that, listening, they heard no movement from
the watcher on the floor above, who stood guard at the attic stairs.
And it was evident he had heard nothing to make him suspicious.

The Russian girl, dreadfully pale, leaned against the wall as though
her limbs scarcely supported her. Neeland passed his arm under hers,
nodded to Ilse Dumont, and started cautiously down the carpeted
stairs, his automatic pistol in one hand, and the revolver taken from
the imprisoned secret agent clutched tightly in the other.

Down the stairs they crept, straight toward the frightful tumult still
raging below--down past the wrecked club rooms; past a dead man
sprawling on the landing across the blood-soaked carpet--down into the
depths of the dusky building toward the lighted café floor whence came
the uproar of excited men, while, from the street outside, rose the
frantic yelling of the mob mingled with the crash of glass and the
clanging dissonance of iron grilles and shutters which were being
battered into fragments.

"It's my chance, now!" whispered Ilse Dumont, slipping past him like a
shadow.

For a moment he saw her silhouetted against the yellow electric glare
on the stairs below, then, half carrying the almost helpless Russian
girl, he stumbled down the last flight of stairs and pushed his way
through a hurrying group of men who seemed to be searching for
something, for they were tearing open cupboards and buffets, dragging
out table drawers and tumbling linen, crockery, and glassware all over
the black and white marble floor.

The whole place was ankle deep in shattered glass and broken bottles,
and the place reeked with smoke and the odour of wine and spirits.

Neeland forced his way forward into the café, looked around for
Sengoun, and saw him almost immediately.

The young Russian, flushed, infuriated, his collar gone and his coat
in tatters, was struggling with some men who held both his arms but
did not offer to strike him.

Behind him, crowded back into a corner near the cashier's
steel-grilled desk, stood Ilse Dumont, calm, disdainful, confronted by
Brandes, whose swollen, greenish eyes, injected with blood, glared
redly at her. Stull had hold of him and was trying to drag him away:

"For God's sake, Eddie, shut your mouth," he pleaded in English. "You
can't do _that_ to her, whatever she done to you!"

But Brandes, disengaging himself with a jerk, pushed his way past
Sengoun to where Ilse stood.

"I've got the goods on _you_!" he said in a ferocious voice that
neither Stull nor Curfoot recognised. "You know what you did to me,
don't you! You took my wife from me! Yes, my _wife_! She _was_ my
wife! She _is_ my wife!--For all you did, you lying, treacherous
slut!--For all you've done to break me, double-cross me, ruin me,
drive me out of every place I went! And now I've got you! I've sold
you out! Get that? And you know what they'll do to you, don't you?
Well, you'll see when----"

Curfoot and Stull threw themselves against him, but Brandes, his round
face pasty with fury, struggled back again to confront Ilse Dumont.

"Ruined me!" he repeated. "Took away from me the only thing God ever
gave me for my own! Took my wife!"

"You dog!" said Ilse Dumont very slowly. "You dirty dog!"

A frightful spasm crossed Brandes' features, and Stull snatched at the
pistol he had whipped out. There was a struggle; Brandes wrenched the
weapon free; but Neeland tore his way past Curfoot and struck Brandes
in the face with the butt of his heavy revolver.

Instantly the group parted right and left; Sengoun suddenly twisted
out of the clutches of the men who held him, sprang upon Curfoot, and
jerked the pistol from his fist. At the same moment the entire front
of the café gave way and the mob crashed inward with a roar amid the
deafening din of shattered metal and the clash of splintering glass.

Through the dust and falling shower of débris, Brandes fired at Ilse
Dumont, reeled about in the whirl of the inrushing throng engulfing
him, still firing blindly at the woman who had been his wife.

Neeland put a bullet into his pistol arm, and it fell. But Brandes
stretched it out again with a supreme effort, pointing at Ilse Dumont
with jewelled and bloody fingers:

"That woman is a German spy! A spy!" he screamed. "You damn French
mutts, do you understand what I say! Oh, my God! Will someone who
speaks French tell them! Will somebody tell them she's a spy! _La
femme! Cette femme!_" he shrieked. "_Elle est espion! Esp----!_" He
fired again, with his left hand. Then Sengoun shot him through the
head; and at the same moment somebody stabbed Curfoot in the neck; and
the lank American gambler turned and cried out to Stull in a voice
half strangled with pain and fury:

"Look out, Ben. There are apaches in this mob! That one in the striped
jersey knifed me----"

"_Tiens, v'la pour toi, sale mec de malheur!_" muttered a voice at his
elbow, and a blow from a slung-shot crushed the base of his skull.

As Curfoot crumpled up, Stull caught him; but the tall gambler's dead
weight bore Stull to his knees among the fierce apaches.

And there, fighting in silence to the end, his chalky face of a sick
clown meeting undaunted the overwhelming odds against him, Stull was
set upon by the apaches and stabbed and stabbed until his clothing was
a heap of ribbons and the watch and packet of French bank-notes which
the assassins tore from his body were dripping with his blood.

Sengoun and Neeland, their evening clothes in tatters, hatless,
dishevelled, began shooting their way out of the hell of murder and
destruction raging around them.

Behind them crept Ilse Dumont and the Russian girl: dust and smoke
obscured the place where the mob raged from floor to floor in a frenzy
of destruction, tearing out fixtures, telephones, window-sashes,
smashing tables, bar fixtures, mirrors, ripping the curtains from the
windows and the very carpets from the floor in their overwhelming rage
against this German café.

That apaches had entered with them the mob cared nothing; the red lust
of destruction blinded them to everything except their terrible
necessity for the annihilation of this place.

If they saw murder done, and robbery--if they heard shots in the
tumult and saw pistol flashes through the dust and grey light of
daybreak, they never turned from their raging work.

Out of the frightful turmoil stormed Neeland and Sengoun, their
pistols spitting flame, the two women clinging to their ragged
sleeves. Twice the apaches barred their way with bared knives,
crouching for a rush; but Sengoun fired into them and Neeland's
bullets dropped the ruffian in the striped jersey where he stood over
Stull's twitching body; and the sinister creatures leaped back from
the levelled weapons, turned, and ran.

Through the gaping doorway sprang Sengoun, his empty pistol menacing
the crowd that choked the shadowy street; Neeland flung away his
pistol and turned his revolver on those in the café behind him, as
Ilse Dumont and the Russian girl crept through and out into the
street.

The crowd was cheering and shouting:

"Down with the Germans! To the Brasserie Schwarz!"

An immense wave of people surged suddenly across the rue Vilna, headed
toward the German cafés on the Boulevard; and then, for the first
time, Neeland caught sight of policemen standing in little groups,
coolly watching the destruction of the Café des Bulgars.

Either they were too few to cope with the mob, or they were
indifferent as to what was being done to a German café, but one thing
was plain; the police had not the faintest idea that murder had been
rampant in the place. For, when suddenly a dead body was thrown from
the door out on the sidewalk, their police whistles shrilled through
the street, and they started for the mob, resolutely, pushing,
striking with white-gloved fists, shouting for right of way.

Other police came running, showing that they had been perfectly aware
that German cafés were being attacked and wrecked. A mounted inspector
forced his horse along the swarming sidewalk, crying:

"_Allons! Circulez! C'est défendu de s'attrouper dans la rue! Mais
fichez-moi le camp, nom de Dieu! Les Allemands ne sont pas encore dans
la place!_"

Along the street and on the Boulevard mobs were forming and already
storming three other German cafés; a squadron of Republican Guard
cavalry arrived at a trot, their helmets glittering in the increasing
daylight, driving before them a mob which had begun to attack a café
on the corner.

A captain, superbly mounted, rode ahead of the advancing line of
horses, warning the throng back into the rue Vilna, up which the mob
now recoiled, sullenly protesting.

Neeland and Sengoun and the two women were forced back with the crowd
as a double rank of steel-helmeted horsemen advanced, sweeping
everybody into the rue Vilna.

Up the street, through the vague morning light, they retired between
ranks of closed and silent houses, past narrow, evil-looking streets
and stony alleys still dark with the shadows of the night.

Into one of these Neeland started with Ilse Dumont, but Sengoun drew
him back with a sharp exclamation of warning. At the same time the
crowd all around them became aware of what was going on in the maze of
dusky lanes and alleys past which they were being driven by the
cavalry; and the people broke and scattered like rabbits, darting
through the cavalry, dodging, scuttling under the very legs of the
horses.

The troop, thrown into disorder, tried to check the panic-stricken
flight; a brigadier, spurring forward to learn the cause of the
hysterical stampede, drew bridle sharply, then whipped his pistol out
of the saddle-holster, and galloped into an _impasse_.

The troop captain, pushing his horse, caught sight of Sengoun and
Neeland in the remains of their evening dress; and he glanced
curiously at them, and at the two young women clad in the rags of
evening gowns.

"_Nom de Dieu!_" he cried. "What are such people as you doing here? Go
back! This is no quarter for honest folk!"

"What are those police doing in the alleys?" demanded Sengoun; but the
captain cantered his horse up the street, pistol lifted; and they saw
him fire from his saddle at a man who darted out of an alley and who
started to run across the street.

The captain missed every shot, but a trooper, whose horse had come up
on the sidewalk beside Neeland, fired twice more after the running
man, and dropped him at the second shot.

"A good business, too," he said calmly, winking at Neeland. "You
_bourgeois_ ought to be glad that we're ordered to clean up Paris for
you. And now is the time to do it," he added, reloading his weapon.

Sengoun said in a low voice to Neeland:

"They're ridding the city of apaches. It's plain enough that they have
orders to kill them where they find them! Look!" he added, pointing to
the dead wall across the street; "It's here at last, and Paris is
cleaning house and getting ready for it! This is war, Neeland--war at
last!"

Neeland looked across the street where, under a gas lamp on a rusty
iron bracket, was pasted the order for general mobilisation. And on
the sidewalk at the base of the wall lay a man, face downward, his
dusty shoes crossed under the wide flaring trousers, the greasy
_casquet_ still crowding out his lop ears; his hand clenched beside a
stiletto which lay on the stone flagging beside him.

"An apache," said Sengoun coolly. "That's right, too. It's the way we
do in Russia when we clean house for war----"

His face reddened and lighted joyously.

"Thank God for my thousand lances!" he said, lifting his eyes to the
yellowing sky between the houses in the narrow street. "Thank God!
Thank God!"

Now, across the intersections of streets and alleys beyond where they
stood, policemen and Garde cavalry were shooting into doorways,
basements, and up the sombre, dusky lanes, the dry crack of their
service revolvers re-echoing noisily through the street.

Toward the Boulevard below, a line of police and of cavalrymen
blocked the rue Vilna; and, beyond them, the last of the mob was being
driven from the Café des Bulgars, where the first ambulances were
arriving and the police, guarding the ruins, were already looking out
of windows on the upper floors.

A cavalryman came clattering down the rue Vilna, gesticulating and
calling out to Sengoun and Neeland to take their ladies and depart.

"Get us a taxicab--there's a good fellow!" cried Sengoun in high
spirits; and the cavalryman, looking at their dishevelled attire,
laughed and nodded as he rode ahead of them down the rue Vilna.

There were several taxicabs on the Boulevard, their drivers staring up
at the wrecked café. As Neeland spoke to the driver of one of the
cabs, Ilse Dumont stepped back beside the silent girl whom she had
locked in the bedroom.

"I gave _you_ a chance," she said under her breath. "What may I expect
from you? Answer me quickly!--What am I to expect?"

The girl seemed dazed:

"N-nothing," she stammered. "The--the horror of that place--the
killing--has sickened me. I--I want to go home----"

"You do not intend to denounce me?"

"No--Oh, God! No!"

"Is that the truth? If you are lying to me it means my death."

The girl gazed at her in horror; tears sprang to her eyes:

"I couldn't--I couldn't!" she stammered in a choking voice. "I've
never before seen death--never seen how it came--how men die!
This--this killing is horrible, revolting!" She had laid one trembling
little hand on Ilse Dumont's bare shoulder. "I don't want to have you
killed; the idea of death makes me ill! I'm going home--that is all I
ask for--to go home----"

She dropped her pretty head and began to sob hysterically, standing
there under the growing daylight of the Boulevard, in her tattered
evening gown.

Suddenly Ilse Dumont threw both arms around her and kissed the
feverish, tear-wet face:

"You weren't meant for this!" she whispered. "You do it for money. Go
home. Do anything else for wages--anything except this!--_Anything_, I
tell you----"

Neeland's hand touched her arm:

"I have a cab. Are you going home with her?"

"I dare not," she said.

"Then will you take this Russian girl to her home, Sengoun?" he asked.
And added in a low voice: "She is one of your own people, you know."

"All right," said Sengoun blissfully. "I'd take the devil home if you
asked me! Besides, I can talk to her about my regiment on the way.
That will be wonderful, Neeland! That will be quite wonderful! I can
talk to her in Russian about my regiment all the way home!"

He laughed and looked at his friend, at Ilse Dumont, at the drooping
figure he was to take under his escort. He glanced down at his own
ragged attire where he stood hatless, collarless, one sleeve of his
evening coat ripped open to the shoulder.

"Isn't it wonderful!" he cried, bursting out into uncontrollable
laughter. "Neeland, my dear comrade, this has been the most
delightfully wonderful night of my entire life! But the great miracle
is still to come! Hurrah for a thousand lances! Hurrah! Town taken by
Prince Erlik! Hurrah!"

And he seized the young girl whom he was to escort to her
home--wherever that hazy locality might be--and carried her in his
arms to the taxicab, amid encouraging shouts of laughter from the line
of cavalrymen who had been watching the proceedings from the corner of
the rue Vilna.

That shout of Gallic appreciation inflamed Sengoun: he reached for his
hat, to lift and wave it, but found no hat on his head. So he waved
his tattered sleeve instead:

"Hurrah for France!" he shouted. "Hurrah for Russia! I'm Sengoun, of
the Terek!--And I am to have a thousand lances with which to explain
to the Germans my opinion of them and of their Emperor!"

The troopers cheered him from their stirrups, in spite of their
officers, who pretended to check their men.

"_Vive la France! Vive la Russie!_" they roared. "Forward the Terek
Cossacks!"

Sengoun turned to Ilse Dumont:

"Madame," he said, "in gratitude and admiration!"--and he gracefully
saluted her hand. Then, to his comrade: "Neeland!"--seizing both the
American's hands. "Such a night and such a comrade I shall never
forget! I adore our night together; I love you as a brother. I shall
see you before I go?"

"Surely, Sengoun, my dear comrade!"

"_Alors--au revoir!_" He sprang into the taxicab. "To the Russian
Embassy!" he called out; and turned to the half fainting girl on the
seat beside him.

"Where do you live, my dear?" he asked very gently, taking her icy
hand in his.



CHAPTER XXXIV

SUNRISE


When the taxicab carrying Captain Sengoun and the unknown Russian girl
had finally disappeared far away down the Boulevard in the thin grey
haze of early morning, Neeland looked around him; and it was a scene
unfamiliar, unreal, that met his anxious eyes.

The sun had not yet gilded the chimney tops; east and west, as far as
he could see, the Boulevard stretched away under its double line of
trees between ranks of closed and silent houses, lying still and
mysterious in the misty, bluish-grey light.

Except for police and municipal guards, and two ambulances moving
slowly away from the ruined café, across the street, the vast
Boulevard was deserted; no taxicabs remained; no omnibuses moved; no
early workmen passed, no slow-moving farm wagons and milk wains from
the suburbs; no _chiffoniers_ with scrap-filled sacks on their curved
backs, and steel-hooked staves, furtively sorting and picking among
the night's débris on sidewalk and in gutter.

Here and there in front of half a dozen wrecked cafés little knots of
policemen stood on the glass-littered sidewalk, in low-voiced
consultation; far down the Boulevard, helmets gleamed dully through
the haze where municipal cavalry were quietly riding off the mobs and
gradually pushing them back toward the Montmartre and Villette
quarters, whence they had arrived.

Mounted Municipals still sat their beautiful horses in double line
across the corner of the rue Vilna and parallel streets, closing that
entire quarter where, to judge from a few fitful and far-away pistol
shots, the methodical apache hunt was still in progress.

And it was a strange and sinister phase of Paris that Neeland now
gazed upon through the misty stillness of early morning. For there was
something terrible in the sudden quiet, where the swift and shadowy
fury of earliest dawn had passed: and the wrecked buildings sagged
like corpses, stark and disembowelled, spilling out their dead
intestines indecently under the whitening sky.

Save for the echoes of distant shots, no louder than the breaking of a
splinter--save for the deadened stamp and stir of horses, a low-voiced
order, the fainter clash of spurs and scabbards--an intense stillness
brooded now over the city, ominously prophetic of what fateful
awakening the coming sunrise threatened for the sleeping capital.

Neeland turned and looked at Ilse Dumont. She stood motionless on the
sidewalk, in the clear, colourless light, staring fixedly across the
street at the débris of the gaping, shattered Café des Bulgars. Her
evening gown hung in filmy tinted shreds; her thick, dark hair in
lustrous disorder shadowed her white shoulders; a streak of dry blood
striped one delicate bare arm.

To see her standing there on the sidewalk in the full, unshadowed
morning light, silent, dishevelled, scarcely clothed, seemed to him
part of the ghastly unreality of this sombre and menacing vision, from
which he ought to rouse himself.

She turned her head slowly; her haggard eyes met his without
expression; and he found his tongue with the effort of a man who
strives for utterance through a threatening dream:

"We can't stay here," he said. The sound of his own voice steadied and
cleared his senses. He glanced down at his own attire, blood-stained,
and ragged; felt for the loose end of his collar, rebuttoned it, and
knotted the draggled white tie with the unconscious indifference of
habit.

"What a nightmare!" he muttered to himself. "The world has been turned
upside down over night." He looked up at her: "We can't stay here," he
repeated. "Where do you live?"

She did not appear to hear him. She had already started to move toward
the rue Vilna, where the troopers barring that street still sat their
restive horses. They were watching her and her dishevelled companion
with the sophisticated amusement of men who, by clean daylight,
encounter fagged-out revellers of a riotous night.

Neeland spoke to her again, then followed her and took her arm.

"Where are you going?" he repeated, uneasily.

"I shall give myself up," she replied in a dull voice.

"To whom?"

"To the Municipals over there."

"Give yourself up!" he repeated. "Why?"

She passed a slender hand over her eyes as though unutterably weary:

"Neeland," she said, "I am lost already.... And I am very tired."

"What do you mean?" he demanded, drawing her back under a
_porte-cochère_. "You live somewhere, don't you? If it's safe for you
to go back to your lodgings, I'll take you there. Is it?"

"No."

"Well, then, I'll take you somewhere else. I'll find somewhere to take
you----"

She shook her head:

"It is useless, Neeland. There is no chance of my leaving the city
now--no chance left--no hope. It is simpler for me to end the matter
this way----"

"Can't you go to the Turkish Embassy!"

She looked up at him in a surprised, hopeless way:

"Do you suppose that any Embassy ever receives a spy in trouble? Do
you really imagine that any government ever admits employing secret
agents, or stirs a finger to aid them when they are in need?"

"I told you I'd stand by you," he reminded her bluntly.

"You have been--kind--Neeland."

"And you have been very loyal to me, Scheherazade. I shall not abandon
you."

"How can you help me? I can't get out of this city. Wherever I go,
now, it will be only a matter of a few hours before I am arrested."

"The American Embassy. There is a _man_ there," he reminded her.

She shrugged her naked shoulders:

"I cannot get within sight of the Trocadero before the secret police
arrest me. Where shall I go? I have no passport, no papers, not even
false ones. If I go to the lodgings where I expected to find shelter
it means my arrest, court martial, and execution in a _caserne_ within
twenty-four hours. And it would involve others who trust me--condemn
them instantly to a firing squad--if I am found by the police in
their company!... No, Neeland. There's no hope for me. Too many know
me in Paris. I took a risk in coming here when war was almost certain.
I took my chances, and lost. It's too late to whimper now."

As he stared at her something suddenly brightened above them; and he
looked up and saw the first sunbeam painting a chimney top with palest
gold.

"Come," he said, "we've got to get out of this! We've got to go
somewhere--find a taxicab and get under shelter----"

She yielded to the pressure of his arm and moved forward beside him.
He halted for a moment on the curb, looking up and down the empty
streets for a cab of any sort, then, with the instinct of a man for
whom the Latin Quarter had once been a refuge and a home, he started
across the Boulevard, his arm clasping hers.

All the housetops were glittering with the sun as they passed the
ranks of the Municipal cavalry.

A young officer looked down mischievously as they traversed the
Boulevard--the only moving objects in that vast and still
perspective.

"_Mon Dieu!_" he murmured. "A night like that is something to remember
in the winter of old age!"

Neeland heard him. The gay, bantering, irresponsible Gallic wit awoke
him to himself; the rising sun, tipping the city's spires with fire,
seemed to relight a little, long-forgotten flame within him. His
sombre features cleared; he said confidently to the girl beside him:

"Don't worry; we'll get you out of it somehow or other. It's been a
rather frightful dream, Scheherazade, nothing worse----"

Her arm suddenly tightened against his and he turned to look at the
shattered Café des Bulgars which they were passing, where two
policemen stood looking at a cat which was picking its way over the
mass of débris, mewing dismally.

One of the policemen, noticing them, smiled sympathetically at their
battered appearance.

"Would you like to have a cat for your lively _ménage_?" he said,
pointing to the melancholy animal which Neeland recognised as the
dignified property of the Cercle Extranationale.

The other policeman, more suspicious, eyed Ilse Dumont closely as she
knelt impulsively and picked up the homeless cat.

"Where are you going in such a state?" he asked, moving over the heaps
of splintered glass toward her.

"Back to the Latin Quarter," said Neeland, so cheerfully that
suspicion vanished and a faint grin replaced the official frown.

"_Allons, mes enfants_," he muttered. "_Faut pas s'attrouper dans la
rue_. Also you both are a scandal. _Allons! Filez! Houp!_ The sun is
up already!"

They went out across the rue Royale toward the Place de la Concorde,
which spread away before them in deserted immensity and beauty.

There were no taxicabs in sight. Ilse, carrying the cat in her arms,
moved beside Neeland through the deathly stillness of the city, as
though she were walking in a dream. Everywhere in the pale blue sky
above them steeple and dome glittered with the sun; there were no
sounds from _quai_ or river; no breeze stirred the trees; nothing
moved on esplanade or bridge; the pale blue August sky grew bluer; the
gilded tip of the obelisk glittered like a living flame.

Neeland turned and looked up the Champs Elysées.

Far away on the surface of the immense avenue a tiny dark speck was
speeding--increasing in size, coming nearer.

"A taxi," he said with a quick breath of relief. "We'll be all right
now."

Nearer and nearer came the speeding vehicle, rushing toward them
between the motionless green ranks of trees. Neeland walked forward
across the square to signal it, waited, watching its approach with a
slight uneasiness.

Now it sped between the rearing stone horses, and now, swerving, swung
to the left toward the rue Royale. And to his disgust and
disappointment he saw it was a private automobile.

"The devil!" he muttered, turning on his heel.

At the same moment, as though the chauffeur had suddenly caught an
order from within the limousine, the car swung directly toward him
once more.

As he rejoined Ilse, who stood clasping the homeless cat to her
breast, listlessly regarding the approaching automobile, the car swept
in a swift circle around the fountain where they stood, stopped short
beside them; and a woman flung open the door and sprang out to the
pavement.

And Ilse Dumont, standing there in the rags of her frail gown,
cuddling to her breast the purring cat, looked up to meet her doom in
the steady gaze of the Princess Naïa Mistchenka.

Every atom of colour left her face, and her ashy lips parted.
Otherwise, she made no sign of fear, no movement.

There was a second's absolute silence; then the dark eyes of the
Princess turned on Neeland.

"Good heavens, James!" she said. "What has happened to you?"

"Nothing," he said gaily, "thanks to Miss Dumont----"

"To _whom_?" interrupted the Princess sharply.

"To Miss Dumont. We got into a silly place where it began to look as
though we'd get our heads knocked off, Sengoun and I. I'm really quite
serious, Princess. If it hadn't been for Miss Dumont--" he shrugged;
"--and that is twice she has saved my idiotic head for me," he added
cheerfully.

The Princess Naïa's dark eyes reverted to Ilse Dumont, and the pallid
girl met them steadily enough. There was no supplication in her own
eyes, no shrinking, only the hopeless tranquillity that looks Destiny
in the face--the gaze riveted unflinchingly upon the descending blow.

"What are _you_ doing in Paris at such a time as this?" said the
Princess.

The girl's white lips parted stiffly:

"Do you need to ask?"

For a full minute the Princess bent a menacing gaze on her in silence;
then:

"What do you expect from _me_?" she demanded in a low voice. And,
stepping nearer: "What have you to expect from anyone in France on
such a day as this?"

Ilse Dumont did not answer. After a moment she dropped her head and
fumbled with the rags of her bodice, as though trying to cover the
delicately rounded shoulders. A shaft of sunlight, reflected from the
obelisk to the fountain, played in golden ripples across her hair.

Neeland looked at the Princess Naïa:

"What you do is none of my business," he said pleasantly, "but--" he
smiled at her and stepped back beside Ilse Dumont, and passed his arm
through hers: "I'm a grateful beast," he added lightly, "and if I've
nine lives to lose, perhaps Miss Dumont will save seven more of them
before I'm entirely done for."

The girl gently disengaged his arm.

"You'll only get yourself into serious trouble," she murmured, "and
you can't help me, dear Neeland."

The Princess Naïa, flushed and exasperated, bit her lip.

"James," she said, "you are behaving absurdly. That woman has nothing
to fear from me now, and she ought to know it!" And, as Ilse lifted
her head and stared at her: "Yes, you ought to know it!" she repeated.
"Your work is ended. It ended today at sunrise. And so did mine. War
is here. There is nothing further for you to do; nothing for me. The
end of everything is beginning. What would your death or mine signify
now, when the dawn of such a day as this is the death warrant for
millions? What do we count for now, Mademoiselle Minna Minti?"

"Do you not mean to give me up, madame?"

"Give you up? No. I mean to get you out of Paris if I can. Give me
your cat, mademoiselle. Please help her, James----"

"You--offer me your limousine?" stammered Ilse.

"Give that cat to me. Of course I do! Do you suppose I mean to leave
you in rags with your cat on the pavement here?" And, to Neeland:
"Where is Alak?"

"Gone home as fit as a fiddle. Am I to receive the hospitality of your
limousine also, dear lady? Look at the state I'm in to travel with two
ladies!"

The Princess Naïa's dark eyes glimmered; she tucked the cat
comfortably against her shoulder and motioned Ilse into the car.

"I'm afraid I'll have to take you, James. What on earth has happened
to you?" she added, as he put her into the car, nodded to the
chauffeur, and, springing in beside her, slammed the door.

"I'll tell you in two words," he explained gaily. "Prince Erlik and I
started for a stroll and landed, ultimately, in the Café des Bulgars.
And presently a number of gentlemen began to shoot up the place, and
Miss Dumont stood by us like a brick."

The Princess Mistchenka lifted the cat from her lap and placed it in
the arms of Ilse Dumont.

"That ought to win our gratitude, I'm sure," she said politely to the
girl. "We Russians never forget such pleasant obligations. There is a
Cossack jingle:

  "To those who befriend our friends
  Our duty never ends."

Ilse Dumont bent low over the purring cat in her lap; the Princess
watched her askance from moment to moment, and Neeland furtively noted
the contrast between these women--one in rags and haggard disorder;
the other so trim, pretty, and fresh in her morning walking suit.

"James," she said abruptly, "we've had a most horrid night, Ruhannah
and I. The child waited up for you, it seems--I thought she'd gone to
bed--and she came to my room about two in the morning--the little
goose--as though men didn't stay out all night!"

"I'm terribly sorry," he said contritely.

"You ought to be.... And Ruhannah was so disturbed that I put on
something and got out of bed. And after a while"--the Princess glanced
sardonically at Ilse Dumont--"I telephoned to various sources of
information and was informed concerning the rather lively episodes of
your nocturnal career with Sengoun. And when I learned that you and he
had been seen to enter the Café des Bulgars, I became sufficiently
alarmed to notify several people who might be interested in the
matter."

"One of those people," said Neeland, smiling, "was escorted to her
home by Captain Sengoun, I think."

The Princess glanced out of the window where the early morning sun
glimmered on the trees as the car flew swiftly through the Champs
Elysées.

"I heard that there were some men killed there last night," she said
without turning.

"Several, I believe," admitted Neeland.

"Were _you_ there, then?"

"Yes," he replied, uncomfortably.

"Did you know anybody who was killed, James?"

"Yes, by sight."

She turned to him:

"Who?"

"There was a man named Kestner; another named Weishelm. Three American
gamblers were killed also."

"And Karl Breslau?" inquired the Princess coolly.

There was a moment's silence.

"No. I think he got away across the roofs of the houses," replied
Neeland.

Ilse Dumont, bent over the cat in her lap, stared absently into its
green eyes where it lay playfully patting the rags that hung from her
torn bodice.

Perhaps she was thinking of the dead man where he lay in the crowded
café--the dead man who had confronted her with bloodshot eyes and
lifted pistol--whose voice, thick with rage, had denounced her--whose
stammering, untaught tongue stumbled over the foreign words with which
he meant to send her to her death--this dead man who once had been
_her_ man--long ago--very, very long ago when there was no bitterness
in life, no pain, no treachery--when life was young in the Western
World, and Fate gaily beckoned her, wearing a smiling mask and crowned
with flowers.

"I hope," remarked the Princess Mistchenka, "that it is sufficiently
early in the morning for you to escape observation, James."

"I'm a scandal; I know it," he admitted, as the car swung into the rue
Soleil d'Or.

The Princess turned to the drooping girl beside her and laid a gloved
hand lightly on her shoulder.

"My dear," she said gently, "there is only one chance for you, and if
we let it pass it will not come again--under military law."

Ilse lifted her head, held it high, even tilted back a little.

The Princess said:

"Twenty-four hours will be given for all Germans to leave France.
But--you took your nationality from the man you married. You are
American."

The girl flushed painfully:

"I do not care to take shelter under his name," she said.

"It is the only way. And you must get to the coast in my car. There is
no time to lose. Every vehicle, private and public, will be seized for
military uses this morning. Every train will be crowded; every foot of
room occupied on the Channel boats. There is only one thing for you to
do--travel with me to Havre as my American maid."

"Madame--would you do that--for me?"

"Why, I've got to," said the Princess Mistchenka with a shrug. "I am
not a barbarian to leave you to a firing squad, I hope."

The car had stopped; the chauffeur descended and came around to open
the door.

"Caron," said the Princess, "no servants are stirring yet. Take my
key, find a cloak and bring it out--and a coat for Monsieur
Neeland--the one that Captain Sengoun left the other evening. Have you
plenty of gasoline?"

"Plenty, madame."

"Good. We leave for Havre in five minutes. Bring the cloak and coat
quickly."

The chauffeur hastened to the door, unlocked it, disappeared, then
came out carrying a voluminous wrap and a man's opera cloak. The
Princess threw the one over Ilse Dumont; Neeland enveloped himself in
the other.

"Now," murmured the Princess Naïa, "it will look more like a late
automobile party than an ambulance after a free fight--if any early
servants are watching us."

She descended from the car; Ilse Dumont followed, still clasping the
cat under her cloak; and Neeland followed her.

"Be very quiet," whispered the Princess. "There is no necessity for
servants to observe what we do----"

A small and tremulous voice from the head of the stairs interrupted
her:

"Naïa! Is it you?"

"Hush, Ruhannah! Yes, darling, it is I. Everything is all right and
you may go back to bed----"

"Naïa! Where is Mr. Neeland?" continued the voice, fearfully.

"He is here, Rue! He is all right. Go back to your room, dear. I have
a reason for asking you."

Listening, she heard a door close above; then she touched Ilse on the
shoulder and motioned her to follow up the stairs. Halfway up the
Princess halted, bent swiftly over the banisters:

"James!" she called softly.

"Yes?"

"Go into the pantry and find a fruit basket and fill it with whatever
food you can find. Hurry, please."

He discovered the pantry presently, and a basket of fruit there.
Poking about he contrived to disinter from various tins and ice-boxes
some cold chicken and biscuits and a bottle of claret. These he
wrapped hastily in a napkin which he found there, placed them in the
basket of fruit, and came out into the hall just as Ilse Dumont, in
the collar and cuffs and travelling coat of a servant, descended,
carrying a satchel and a suitcase.

"Good business!" he whispered, delighted. "You're all right now,
Scheherazade! And for heaven's sake, keep out of France hereafter. Do
you promise?"

He had taken the satchel and bag from her and handed both, and the
fruit basket, to Caron, who stood outside the door.

In the shadowy hall those two confronted each other now, probably for
the last time. He took both her hands in his.

"Good-bye, Scheherazade dear," he said, with a new seriousness in his
voice which made the tone of it almost tender.

"G-good-bye----" The girl's voice choked; she bent her head and rested
her face on the hands he held clasped in his.

He felt her hot tears falling, felt the slender fingers within his
own tighten convulsively; felt her lips against his hand--an instant
only; then she turned and slipped through the open door.

A moment later the Princess Naïa appeared on the stairs, descending
lightly and swiftly, her motor coat over her arm.

"Jim," she said in a low voice, "it's the wretched girl's only chance.
They know about her; they're looking for her now. But I am trusted by
my Ambassador; I shall have what papers I ask for; I shall get her
through to an American steamer."

"Princess Naïa, you are splendid!"

"You don't think so, Jim; you never did.... Be nice to Rue. The child
has been dreadfully frightened about you.... And," added the Princess
Mistchenka with a gaily forced smile, resting her hand on Neeland's
shoulder for an instant, "don't ever kiss Rue Carew unless you mean it
with every atom of your heart and soul.... I know the child.... And I
know you. Be generous to her, James. All women need it, I think, from
such men as you--such men as you," she added laughingly, "who know not
what they do."

If there was a subtle constraint in her pretty laughter, if her gay
gesture lacked spontaneity, he did not perceive it. His face had
flushed a trifle under her sudden badinage.

"Good-bye," he said. "You _are_ splendid, and I _do_ think so. I know
you'll win through."

"I shall. I always do--except with you," she added audaciously. And
"Look for me tomorrow!" she called back to him through the open door;
and slammed it behind her, leaving him standing there alone in the
dark and curtained house.



CHAPTER XXXV

THE FIRST DAY


Neeland had undressed, bathed his somewhat battered body, and had then
thrown himself on the bed, fully intending to rise in a few moments
and await breakfast.

But it was a very weary young man who stretched himself out for ten
minutes' repose. And, when again he unclosed his eyes, the austere
clock on the mantel informed him that it was five--not five in the
morning either.

He had slept through the first day of general mobilisation.

Across the lowered latticed blinds late afternoon sunshine struck red.
The crests of the chestnut trees in the rue Soleil d'Or had turned
rosy; and a delicate mauve sky, so characteristic of Paris in early
autumn, already stretched above the city like a frail tent of silk
from which fragile cobweb clouds hung, tinted with saffron and palest
rose.

Hoisting the latteen shades, he looked out through lace curtains into
the most silent city he had ever beheld. Not that the streets and
avenues were deserted: they swarmed with hurrying, silent people and
with taxicabs.

Never had he seen so many taxicabs; they streamed by everywhere,
rushing at high speed. They passed through the rue Soleil d'Or; the
rue de la Lune fairly whizzed with them; the splendid avenue was
merely a vista of flying taxis; and in every one of them there was a
soldier.

Otherwise, except for cyclists, there seemed to be very few soldiers
in Paris--an odd fact immediately noticeable.

Also there were no omnibuses to be seen, no private automobiles, no
electric vehicles of any sort except great grey army trucks trundling
by with a sapper at the wheel.

And, except for the whiz and rush of the motors and the melancholy
siren blasts from their horns, an immense silence reigned in the
streets.

There was no laughter to be heard, no loud calling, no gay and
animated badinage. People who met and stopped conversed in undertones;
gestures were sober and rare.

And everywhere, in the intense stillness, Red Cross flags hung
motionless in the late afternoon sunshine; everywhere were posted
notices warning the Republic of general mobilisation--on dead walls,
on tree-boxes, on kiosques, on bulletin boards, on the façades of
public and ecclesiastical buildings.

Another ordinance which Neeland could read from where he stood at the
window warned all citizens from the streets after eight o'clock in the
evening; and on the closed iron shutters of every shop in sight of his
window were pasted white strips of paper bearing, in black letters,
the same explanation:

"_Fermé à cause de la mobilisation._"

Nowhere could he see the word "war" printed or otherwise displayed.
The conspiracy of silence concerning it seemed the more ominous.

Nor, listening, could he hear the sinister voices of men and boys
calling extra editions of the papers. There seemed to be no need for
the raising of hoarse and threatening voices in the soundless capital.
Men and youths of all ages traversed the avenues and streets with
sheafs of fresh, damp newspapers over their ragged arms, but it was
the populace who crowded after and importuned them, not they the
people; and no sooner did a paper-seller appear than he was stripped
of his wares and was counting his coppers under the trees before
hurrying away for a fresh supply.

Neeland dressed himself in sections, always returning to the window to
look out; and in this manner he achieved his toilet.

Marotte, the old butler, was on the floor below, carrying a tea tray
into the wide, sunny sitting-room as Neeland descended.

"I overslept," explained the young American, "and I'm nearly starved.
Is Mademoiselle Carew having tea?"

"Mademoiselle requested tea for two, sir, in case you should awake,"
said the old man solemnly.

Neeland watched him fussing about with cloth and table and silver.

"Have you any news?" he asked after a moment.

"Very little, Monsieur Neeland. The police have ordered all Germans
into detention camps--men, women, and children. It is said that there
are to be twelve great camps for these unfortunates who are to
assemble in the Lycée Condorcet for immediate transportation."

Neeland thought of Ilse Dumont. Presently he asked whether any message
had been received from the Princess Mistchenka.

"Madame the Princess telephoned from Havre at four o'clock this
afternoon. Mademoiselle Carew has the message."

Neeland, reassured, nodded:

"No other news, Marotte?"

"The military have taken our automobiles from the garage, and have
requisitioned the car which Madame la Princess is now using, ordering
us to place it at their disposal as soon as it returns from Havre.
Also, Monsieur le Capitaine Sengoun has telephoned from the Russian
Embassy, but Mademoiselle Carew would not permit Monsieur to be
awakened."

"What did Captain Sengoun say?"

"Mademoiselle Carew received the message."

"And did anyone else call me up?" asked Neeland, smiling.

"_Il y avait une fe--une espèce de dame_," replied the old man
doubtfully, "--who named herself Fifi la Tzigane. I permitted myself
to observe to her," added the butler with dignity, "that she had the
liberty of writing to you what she thought necessary to communicate."

He had arranged the tea-table. Now he retired, but returned almost
immediately to decorate the table with Cloth of Gold roses.

Fussing and pottering about until the mass of lovely blossoms suited
him, he finally presented himself to Neeland for further orders, and,
learning that there were none, started to retire with a
self-respecting dignity that was not at all impaired by the tears
which kept welling up in his aged eyes, and which he always winked
away with a _demi-tour_ and a discreet cough correctly stifled by his
dry and wrinkled hand.

As he passed out the door Neeland said:

"Are you in trouble, Marotte?"

The old man straightened up, and a fierce pride blazed for a moment
from his faded eyes:

"Not trouble, monsieur; but--when one has three sons departing for the
front--_dame!_--that makes one reflect a little----"

He bowed with the unconscious dignity of a wider liberty, a subtler
equality which, for a moment, left such as he indifferent to
circumstances of station.

Neeland stepped forward extending his hand:

"_Bonne chance!_ God be with France--and with us all who love our
liberty. Luck to your three sons!"

"I thank monsieur----" He steadied his voice, bowed in the faultless
garments which were his badge of service, and went his way through the
silence in the house.

Neeland had walked to the long windows giving on the pretty balcony
with its delicate, wrought-iron rails and its brilliant masses of
geraniums.

Outside, along the Avenue, in absolute silence, a regiment of
cuirassiers was passing, the level sun blazing like sheets of crimson
fire across their helmets and breastplates. And now, listening, the
far clatter of their horses came to his ears in an immense, unbroken,
rattling resonance.

Their gold-fringed standard passed, and the sunlight on the naked
sabres ran from point to hilt like liquid blood. Sons of the
Cuirassiers of Morsbronn, grandsons of the Cuirassiers of
Waterloo--what was their magnificent fate to be?--For splendid it
could not fail to be, whether tragic or fortunate.

The American's heart began to hammer in his breast and throb in his
throat, closing it with a sudden spasm that seemed to confuse his
vision for a moment and turn the distant passing regiment to a
glittering stream of steel and flame.

Then it had passed; the darkly speeding torrent of motor cars alone
possessed the Avenue; and Neeland turned away into the room again.

And there, before him, stood Rue Carew.

A confused sense of unreasoning, immeasurable happiness rushed over
him, and, in that sudden, astounding instant of self-revelation,
self-amazement left him dumb.

She had given him both her slim white hands, and he held to them as
though to find his bearings. Both were a trifle irrelevant and
fragmentary.

"Do you c-care for tea, Jim?... What a night! What a fright you gave
us.... There are _croissants_, too, and caviar.... I would not permit
anybody to awaken you; and I was dying to see you----"

"I am so sorry you were anxious about me. And I'm tremendously
hungry.... You see, Sengoun and I did not mean to remain out all
night.... I'll help you with that tea; shall I?..."

He still retained her hands in his; she smiled and flushed in a
breathless sort of way, and looked sometimes at the tea-kettle as
though she never before had seen such an object; and looked up at him
as though she had never until that moment beheld any man like him.

"The Princess Naïa has left us quite alone," she said, "so I must give
you some tea." She was nervous and smiling and a little frightened and
confused with the sense of their contact.

"So--I shall give you your tea, now," she repeated.

She did not mention her manual inability to perform her promise, but
presently it occurred to him to release her hands, and she slid
gracefully into her chair and took hold of the silver kettle with
fingers that trembled.

He ate everything offered him, and then took the initiative. And he
talked--Oh, heaven! How he talked! Everything that had happened to him
and to Sengoun from the moment they left the rue Soleil d'Or the night
before, this garrulous young man detailed with a relish for humorous
circumstance and a disregard for anything approaching the tragic,
which left her with an impression that it had all been a tremendous
lark--indiscreet, certainly, and probably reprehensible--but a lark,
for all that.

Fireworks, shooting, noise, and architectural destruction he admitted,
but casualties he skimmed over, and of death he never said a word. Why
should he? The dead were dead. None concerned this young girl
now--and, save one, no death that any man had died there in the
shambles of the Café des Bulgars could ever mean anything to Rue
Carew.

Some day, perhaps, he might tell her that Brandes was dead--not where
or how he had died--but merely the dry detail. And she might docket
it, if she cared to, and lay it away among the old, scarcely
remembered, painful things that had been lived, and now were to be
forgotten forever.

The silence of intensest interest, shy or excited questions, and the
grey eyes never leaving his--this was her tribute.

Grey eyes tinged with golden lights, now clear with suspense, now
brilliant at a crisis, now gentle, wondering, troubled, as he spoke of
Ilse Dumont and the Russian girl, now charmingly vague as her mind
outstripped his tongue and she divined something of the sturdy part he
had played--golden-grey eyes that grew exquisite with her pride in
him, tender with solicitude for him in dangers already passed
away--this was her tribute

Engaging grey eyes of a girl with the splendour and mystery of
womanhood possessing her--attracting him, too, fascinating him,
threatening, conquering, possessing him--this, the Greek gift of Rue
Carew, her tribute.

And he took all, forgetting that the Greeks bore gifts; or, perhaps,
remembering, rejoicing, happy in his servitude, he took into his heart
and soul the tribute this young girl offered, a grateful, thankful
captive.

The terrible cataclysm impending, menacing the world, they seemed
powerless, yet, to grasp and comprehend and understand.

Outside, the street rippled and roared with the interminable clatter
of passing cavalry: the girl looked into the eyes of the boy across
the tea-table, and her young eyes, half fearful yet enchanted, scarce
dared divine what his eyes were telling her while his hurrying tongue
chattered irrelevancies.

Three empires, two kingdoms, and a great republic resounded with the
hellish din of arming twenty million men. Her soft lips were touched
with the smile of youth that learns for the first time it is beloved;
her eyes of a child, exquisite, brooding, rested with a little more
courage now on his--were learning, little by little, to sustain his
gaze, endure the ardour that no careless, laughing speech of his could
hide or dim or quench.

In the twilight of the streets there was silence, save for the rush of
motors and the recurrent trample of armed men. But the heart of Rue
Carew was afire with song--and every delicate vein in her ran singing
to her heart.

There was war in the Eastern world; and palace and chancellery were
ablaze. But they spoke of the West--of humble places and lowly homes;
of still woodlands where mosses edged the brooks; of peaceful
villages they both had known, where long, tree-shaded streets slept in
the dappled shadow under the sun of noon.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Marotte came, silent, self-respecting, very grey and tranquil in his
hour of trial.

There were two letters for Neeland, left by hand. And, when the old
man had gone away bearing his silver tray among his heavier burdens:

"Read them," nodded Rue Carew.

He read them both aloud to her: the first amused them a little--not
without troubling them a little, too:

                  *       *       *       *       *

Monsieur Neeland:

It is the Tzigane, Fifi, who permits herself the honour of addressing
you.

Breslau escaped. With him went the plans, it seems. You behaved
admirably in the Café des Bulgars. A Russian comrade has you and
Prince Erlik to remember in her prayers.

You have done well, monsieur. Now, your task is ended. Go back to the
Western World and leave us to end this battle between ourselves.

It is written and confirmed by the stars that what the Eastern World
has sown it shall now reap all alone.

We Tziganes know. You should not mock at our knowledge. For there is a
dark star, Erlik, named from the Prince of Hell. And last night it was
in conjunction with the red star, Mars. None saw it; none has ever
beheld the dark star, Erlik.

But we Tziganes know. We have known for five thousand years that Erlik
hung aloft, followed by ten black moons. Ask your astronomers. But we
Tziganes knew this before there ever were astronomers!

Therefore, go home to your own land, monsieur. The Prince of Hell is
in the heavens. The Yellow Devil shall see the Golden Horn again.
Empires shall totter and fall. Little American, stand from under.

Adieu! We Tziganes wish you well--Fifi and Nini of the Jardin Russe.

"Adieu, _beau jeune homme_! And--_to her whom you shall take with
you_--homage, good wishes, good augury, and adieux!"

                  *       *       *       *       *

"'To her whom you shall take with you,'" he repeated, looking at Rue
Carew.

The girl blushed furiously and bent her head, and her slender fingers
grew desperately busy with her handkerchief.

Neeland, as nervous as she, fumbled with the seal of the remaining
letter, managed finally to break it, glanced at the writing, then
laughed and read:

                  *       *       *       *       *

My dear Comrade Neeland:

I get my thousand lances! Congratulate me! Were you much battered by
that _canaille_ last night? I laugh until I nearly burst when I think
of that absurd _bousculade_!

That girl I took with me is all right. I'm going to Petrograd! I'm
going on the first opportunity by way of Switzerland.

What happiness, Neeland! No more towns for me, except those I take. No
more politics, no more diplomacy! I shall have a thousand lances to do
my talking for me. Hurrah!

Neeland, I love you as a brother. Come to the East with me. You shall
make a splendid trooper! Not, of course, a Terek Cossack. A Cossack is
God's work. A Terek Cossack is born, not made.

But, good heavens! There is other most excellent cavalry in the world,
I hope! Come with me to Russia. Say that you will come, my dear
comrade Neeland, and I promise you we shall amuse ourselves when the
world's dance begins----

                  *       *       *       *       *

"Oh!" breathed the girl, exasperated. "Sengoun is a fool!"

Neeland looked up quickly from his letter; then his face altered, and
he rose; but Rue Carew was already on her feet; and she had lost most
of her colour--and her presence of mind, too, it seemed, for Neeland's
arms were half around her, and her hands were against his shoulders.

Neither of them spoke; and he was already amazed and rather scared at
his own incredible daring--already terribly afraid of this slender,
fragrant creature who stood rigid and silent within the circle of his
arm, her head lowered, her little, resisting hands pressed
convulsively against his breast.

And after a long time the pressure against his breast slowly relaxed;
her restless fingers moved nervously against his shoulders, picked at
the lapels of his coat, clung there as he drew her head against his
breast.

The absurd beating of his heart choked him as he stammered her name;
he dropped his head beside her hot and half hidden cheek. And, after a
long, long time, her face stirred on his breast, turned a very little
toward him, and her young lips melted against his.

So they stood through the throbbing silence in the slowly darkening
room, while the street outside echoed with the interminable trample of
passing cavalry, and the dim capital lay like a phantom city under the
ghostly lances of the searchlights as though probing all Heaven to the
very feet of God in search of reasons for the hellish crime now
launched against the guiltless Motherland.

And high among the planets sped the dark star, Erlik, unseen by men,
rushing through viewless interstellar space, hurled out of nothing by
the Prince of Hell into the nothing toward which all Hell is speeding,
too; and whither it shall one day fade and disappear and pass away
forever.

                  *       *       *       *       *

"My darling----"

"Oh, Jim--I have loved you all my life," she whispered. And her young
arms crept up and clung around his neck.

"My darling Rue--my little Rue Carew----"

Outside the window an officer also spoke through the unbroken clatter
of passing horsemen which filled the whole house with a hollow roar.
But she heard her lover's voice alone as in a hushed and magic world;
and in her girl's enchanted ears his words were the only sounds that
stirred a heavenly quiet that reigned between the earth and stars.



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