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Title: The Double Four
Author: Oppenheim, E. Phillips (Edward Phillips), 1866-1946
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 Double Four" ***

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                              THE DOUBLE FOUR

                         By E. Phillips Oppenheim


CASSELL AND COMPANY, LTD
London, New York, Toronto & Melbourne
First published _September 1911_.
_Reprinted October 1911_.
Shilling Edition _April 1913_.
_Reprinted February 1917_.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED



CONTENTS


 1. THE DESIRE OF MADAME

 2. THE AMBASSADOR'S WIFE

 3. THE MAN FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT

 4. THE FIRST SHOT

 5. THE SEVEN SUPPERS OF ANDREA KORUST

 6. THE MISSION OF MAJOR KOSUTH

 7. THE GHOSTS OF HAVANA HARBOUR

 8. AN ALIEN SOCIETY

 9. THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN

10. THE THIRTEENTH ENCOUNTER



THE DOUBLE FOUR



CHAPTER I

THE DESIRE OF MADAME


     "_It is the desire of Madame that you should join our circle here
     on Thursday evening next, at ten o'clock._--SOGRANGE."

The man looked up from the sheet of notepaper which he held in his hand,
and gazed through the open French windows before which he was standing.
It was a very pleasant and very peaceful prospect. There was his croquet
lawn, smooth-shaven, the hoops neatly arranged, the chalk mark firm and
distinct upon the boundary. Beyond, the tennis court, the flower
gardens, and to the left the walled fruit garden. A little farther away
was the paddock and orchard, and a little farther still the farm, which
for the last four years had been the joy of his life. His meadows were
yellow with buttercups; a thin line of willows showed where the brook
wound its lazy way through the bottom fields. It was a home, this, in
which a man could well lead a peaceful life, could dream away his days
to the music of the west wind, the gurgling stream, the song of birds,
and the low murmuring of insects. Peter Ruff stood like a man turned to
stone, for even as he looked these things passed away from before his
eyes, the roar of the world beat in his ears--the world of intrigue, of
crime, the world where the strong man hewed his way to power, and the
weaklings fell like corn before the sickle.

       *       *       *       *       *

"_It is the desire of Madame!_"

Peter Ruff clenched his fists as he read the words once more. It was a
message from a world every memory of which had been deliberately
crushed--a world, indeed, in which he had seemed no longer to hold any
place. He was Peter Ruff, Esquire, of Aynesford Manor, in the County of
Somerset. It could not be for him, this strange summons.

The rustle of a woman's soft draperies broke in upon his reverie. He
turned round with his usual morning greeting upon his lips. She was,
without doubt, a most beautiful woman: petite, and well moulded, with
the glow of health in her eyes and on her cheeks. She came smiling to
him--a dream of muslin and pink ribbons.

"Another forage bill, my dear Peter?" she demanded, passing her arm
through his. "Put it away and admire my new morning gown. It came
straight from Paris, and you will have to pay a great deal of money for
it."

He pulled himself together--he had no secrets from his wife.

"Listen," he said, and read aloud:

     "_Rue de St. Quintaine, Paris._

     "DEAR MR. RUFF,--_It is a long time since we had the
     pleasure of a visit from you. It is the desire of Madame that you
     should join our circle here on Thursday evening next, at ten
     o'clock._--SOGRANGE."

Violet was a little perplexed. She failed, somehow, to recognise the
sinister note underlying those few sentences.

"It sounds friendly enough," she remarked. "You are not obliged to go,
of course."

Peter Ruff smiled grimly.

"Yes, it sounds all right," he admitted.

"They won't expect you to take any notice of it, surely?" she continued.
"When you bought this place, Peter, you gave them definitely to
understand that you had retired into private life, that all these things
were finished with you."

"There are some things," Peter Ruff said slowly, "which are never
finished."

"But you resigned," she reminded him. "I remember your letter
distinctly."

"From the Double Four," he answered, "no resignation is recognised save
death. I did what I could, and they accepted my explanations gracefully
and without comment. Now that the time has come, however, when they
need, or think they need, my help, you see they do not hesitate to claim
it."

"You will not go, Peter? You will not think of going?" she begged.

He twisted the letter between his fingers and sat down to his breakfast.

"No," he said, "I shall not go."

       *       *       *       *       *

That morning Peter Ruff spent upon his farm, looking over his stock,
examining some new machinery, and talking crops with his bailiff. In the
afternoon he played his customary round of golf. It was the sort of day
which, as a rule, he found completely satisfactory, yet, somehow or
other, a certain sense of weariness crept in upon him towards its close.
The agricultural details in which he was accustomed to take so much
interest had fallen a little flat. He even found himself wondering,
after one of his best drives, whether it was well for the mind of a man
to be so utterly engrossed by the flight of that small white ball
towards its destination. More than once lately, despite his half-angry
rejection of them, certain memories, half-wistful, half-tantalising,
from the world of which he now saw so little, had forced their way in
upon his attention. This morning the lines of that brief note seemed to
stand out before him all the time with a curious vividness. In a way he
played the hypocrite to himself. He professed to have found that summons
disturbing and unwelcome, yet his thoughts were continually occupied
with it. He knew well that what would follow was inevitable, but he made
no sign.

Two days later he received another letter. This time it was couched in
different terms. On a square card, at the top of which was stamped a
small coronet, he read as follows:

     "_Madame de Maupassim at home, Saturday evening, May 2nd, at ten
     o'clock._"

In small letters at the bottom left-hand corner were added the words:

     "_To meet friends._"

Peter Ruff put the card upon the fire and went out for a morning's
rabbit shooting with his keeper. When he returned, luncheon was ready,
but Violet was absent. He rang the bell.

"Where is your mistress, Jane?" he asked the parlourmaid.

The girl had no idea. Mrs. Ruff had left for the village several hours
ago. Since then she had not been seen.

Peter Ruff ate his luncheon alone and understood. The afternoon wore on,
and at night he travelled up to London. He knew better than to waste
time by purposeless inquiries. Instead he took the nine o'clock train
the next morning to Paris.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a chamber of death into which he was ushered--dismal, yet, of its
sort, unique, marvellous. The room itself might have been the sleeping
apartment of an Empress--lofty, with white panelled walls adorned simply
with gilded lines; with high windows, closely curtained now so that
neither sound nor the light of day might penetrate into the room. In the
middle of the apartment, upon a canopy bedstead which had once adorned a
king's palace, lay Madame de Maupassim. Her face was already touched
with the finger of death, yet her eyes were undimmed and her lips
unquivering. Her hands, covered with rings, lay out before her upon the
lace coverlid. Supported by many pillows, she was issuing her last
instructions with the cold precision of the man of affairs who makes the
necessary arrangements for a few days' absence from his business.

Peter Ruff, who had not even been allowed sufficient time to change his
travelling clothes, was brought without hesitation to her bedside. She
looked at him in silence for a moment with a cold glitter in her eyes.

"You are four days late, Monsieur Peter Ruff," she remarked. "Why did
you not obey your first summons?"

"Madame," he answered, "I thought that there must be a misunderstanding.
Four years ago I gave notice to the council that I had married and
retired into private life. A country farmer is of no further use to the
world."

The woman's thin lip curled.

"From death and the Double Four," she said, "there is no resignation
which counts. You are as much our creature to-day as I am the creature
of the disease which is carrying me across the threshold of death."

Peter Ruff remained silent. The woman's words seemed full of dread
significance. Besides, how was it possible to contradict the dying?

"It is upon the unwilling of the world," she continued, speaking slowly,
yet with extraordinary distinctness, "that its greatest honours are
often conferred. The name of my successor has been balloted for
secretly. It is you, Peter Ruff, who have been chosen."

This time he was silent, because he was literally bereft of words. This
woman was dying, and fancying strange things! He looked from one to the
other of the stern, pale faces of those who were gathered around her
bedside. Seven of them there were--the same seven. At that moment their
eyes were all focused upon him. Peter Ruff shrank back.

"Madame," he murmured, "this cannot be."

Her lips twitched as though she would have smiled.

"What we have decided," she said, "we have decided. Nothing can alter
that--not even the will of Mr. Peter Ruff."

"I have been out of the world for four years," Peter Ruff protested. "I
have no longer ambitions, no longer any desire----"

"You lie!" the woman interrupted. "You lie, or you do yourself an
injustice! We gave you four years, and, looking into your face, I think
that it has been enough. I think that the weariness is there already. In
any case, the charge which I lay upon you in these, my last moments, is
one which you can escape by death only!"

A low murmur of voices from those others repeated her words.

"By death only!"

Peter Ruff opened his lips, but closed them again without speech. A wave
of emotion seemed passing through the room. Something strange was
happening. It was Death itself which had come amongst them.

       *       *       *       *       *

A morning journalist wrote of the death of Madame eloquently and with
feeling. She had been a broadminded aristocrat, a woman of brilliant
intellect and great friendships, a woman of whose inner life during the
last ten or fifteen years little was known, yet who, in happier times,
might well have played a great part in the history of her country.

       *       *       *       *       *

Peter Ruff drove back from the cemetery with the Marquis de Sogrange,
and for the first time since the death of Madame serious subjects were
spoken of.

"I have waited patiently," he declared, "but there are limits. I want my
wife."

Sogrange took him by the arm and led him into the library of the house
in the Rue de St. Quintaine. The six men who were already there waiting
rose to their feet.

"Gentlemen," the Marquis said, "is it your will that I should be
spokesman?"

There was a murmur of assent. Then Sogrange turned towards his
companion, and something new seemed to have crept into his manner--a
solemn, almost threatening note.

"Peter Ruff," he continued, "you have trifled with the one organisation
in this world which has never allowed itself to have liberties taken
with it or to be defied. Men who have done greater service than you have
died for the disobedience of a day. You have been treated leniently,
accordingly to the will of Madame. According to her will, and in
deference to the position which you must now take up amongst us, we
still treat you as no other has ever been treated by us. The Double Four
admits your leadership and claims you for its own."

"I am not prepared to discuss anything of the sort," Peter Ruff declared
doggedly, "until my wife is restored to me."

The Marquis smiled.

"The traditions of your race, Mr. Ruff," he said, "are easily manifest
in you. Now, hear our decision. Your wife shall be restored to you on
the day when you take up this position to which you have become
entitled. Sit down and listen."

Peter Ruff was a rebel at heart, but he felt the grip of iron.

"During these four years when you, my friend, have been growing turnips
and shooting your game, events in the world have marched, new powers
have come into being, a new page of history has been opened. As
everything which has good at the heart evolves toward the good, so we of
the Double Four have lifted our great enterprise on to a higher plane.
The world of criminals is still at our beck and call, we still claim the
right to draw the line between moral theft and immoral honesty; but
to-day the Double Four is concerned with greater things. Within the four
walls of this room, within the hearing of these my brothers, whose
fidelity is as sure as the stones of Paris, I tell you a splendid
secret. The Government of our country has craved for our aid and the aid
of our organisation. It is no longer the wealth of the world alone which
we may control, but the actual destinies of nations."

"What I suppose you mean to say is," Peter Ruff remarked, "that you've
been going in for politics?"

"You put it crudely, my English bulldog," Sogrange answered, "but you
are right. We are occupied now by affairs of international importance.
More than once during the last few months ours has been the hand which
has changed the policy of an empire."

"Most interesting," Peter Ruff declared, "but so far as I personally am
concerned----"

"Listen," the Marquis interrupted. "Not a hundred yards from the French
Embassy in London there is waiting for you a house and servants no less
magnificent than the Embassy itself. You will become the ambassador in
London of the Double Four, titular head of our association, a personage
whose power is second to none in your marvellous city. I do not address
words of caution to you, my friend, because we have satisfied ourselves
as to your character and capacity before we consented that you should
occupy your present position. But I ask you to remember this: the will
of Madame lives even beyond the grave. The spirit which animated her
when alive breathes still in all of us. In London you will wield a great
power. Use it for the common good. And remember this: the Double Four
has never failed, the Double Four can never fail."

"I am glad to hear you are so confident," Peter Ruff said. "Of course,
if I have to take this thing on I shall do my best; but, if I might
venture to allude for a moment to anything so trifling as my own
domestic affairs, I am very anxious to know about my wife."

Sogrange smiled.

"You will find Mrs. Ruff awaiting you in London," he announced. "Your
address is Merton House, Berkeley Square."

"When do I go there?" Peter Ruff asked.

"To-night," was the answer.

"And what do I do when I get there?" he persisted.

"For three days," the Marquis told him, "you will remain indoors and
give audience to whomever may come to you. At the end of that time, you
will understand a little more of our purpose and our objects--perhaps
even of our power."

"I see difficulties," Peter Ruff remarked. "My name, you see, is
uncommon."

Sogrange drew a document from the breast pocket of his coat.

"When you leave this house to-night," he proclaimed, "we bid good-bye
for ever to Mr. Peter Ruff. You will find in this envelope the
title-deeds of a small property which is our gift to you. Henceforth you
will be known by the name and the title of your estates."

"Title!" Peter Ruff gasped.

"You will reappear in London," Sogrange continued, "as the Baron de
Grost."

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"It won't do," he declared. "People will find me out."

"There is nothing to be found out," the Marquis went on, a little
wearily. "Your country life has dulled your wits, Baron. The title and
the name are justly yours--they go with the property. For the rest, the
history of your family, and of your career up to the moment when you
enter Merton House to-night, will be inside this packet. You can peruse
it upon the journey, and remember that we can at all times bring a
hundred witnesses, if necessary, to prove that you are whom you declare
yourself to be. When you get to Charing Cross, do not forget that it
will be the carriage and servants of the Baron de Grost which await
you."

Peter shrugged his shoulders.

"Well," he said thoughtfully, "I suppose I shall get used to it."

"Naturally," Sogrange answered. "For the moment, we are passing through
a quiet time, necessitated by the mortal illness of Madame. You will be
able to spend the next few weeks in getting used to your new position.
You will have a great many callers, inspired by us, who will see that
you make the right acquaintances and that you join the right clubs. At
the same time, let me warn you always to be ready. There is trouble
brooding just now all over Europe. In one way or another we may become
involved at any moment. The whole machinery of our society will be
explained to you by your secretary. You will find him already installed
at Merton House. A glass of wine, Baron, before you leave?"

Peter Ruff glanced at the clock.

"There are my things to pack," he began.

Sogrange smiled.

"Your valet is already on the front seat of the automobile which is
waiting," he remarked. "You will find him attentive and trustworthy. The
clothes which you brought with you we have taken the liberty of
dispensing with. You will find others in your trunk, and at Merton House
you can send for any tailor you choose. One toast, Baron. We drink to
the Double Four--to the great cause!"

There was a murmur of voices. Sogrange lifted once more his glass.

"May Peter Ruff rest in peace!" he said. "We drink to his ashes. We
drink long life and prosperity to the Baron de Grost!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The Marquis alone attended his guest to the station. They walked up and
down the long platform of the Gare du Nord, Sogrange talking most of the
time in an undertone, for there were many things which he yet had to
explain. There came a time, however, when his grip upon his companion's
arm suddenly tightened. They were passing a somewhat noticeable little
group--a tall, fair man, with close-shaven hair and military moustache,
dressed in an English travelling suit and Homburg hat, and by his side a
very brilliant young woman, whose dark eyes, powdered face, and
marvellous toilette rendered her a trifle conspicuous. In the background
were a couple of servants.

"The Count von Hern-Bernadine!" the Marquis whispered.

Peter glanced at him for a moment as they passed.

"Bernadine, without a doubt!" he exclaimed. "And his companion?"

"Mademoiselle Delucie, from the _Comédie Française_," the Marquis
replied. "It is just like Bernadine to bring her here. He likes to
parade the ostensible cause for his visit to Paris. It is all bluff. He
cares little for the ladies of the theatre, or any other woman, except
when he can make tools of them. He is here just now----"

The Marquis paused. Peter looked at him interrogatively.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because you are here," the Marquis affirmed. "Baron, I meant to speak
to you about that man before we parted. There is no great work done
without difficulties. The greatest difficulty you will have to face in
your new life is that man. It is very possible that you may find within
the course of a few months that your whole career, your very life, has
developed into a duel _à outrance_ with him."

They had turned again, and were once more in sight of the little group.
Bernadine had thrown a loose overcoat over his tweed travelling clothes,
and with a cigarette between his fingers was engaged in deferential
conversation with the woman by his side. His servant stood discreetly in
the background, talking to the other domestic--a sombrely clad young
person carrying a flat jewel-case, obviously the maid of the young
Frenchwoman.

"He is taking her across," the Marquis remarked. "It is not often that
he travels like this. Perhaps he has heard that you are susceptible, my
friend."

Peter shrugged his shoulders.

"The game is too young yet!" he declared.

"It is never too young for Bernadine to take a hand," the Marquis
replied grimly. "Listen, de Grost. Bernadine will probably try to make
friends with you. You may think it wise to accept his advances, you may
believe that you can guard your own secrets in his company; perhaps,
even, that you may learn his. Do not try it, my friend. You have
received the best proof possible that we do not underrate your
abilities, but there is no other man like Bernadine. I would not trust
myself alone with him."

"You are taking it for granted," Peter interposed, "that our interests
must be at all times inimical."

The Marquis laid his hand upon the other's arm.

"My friend," he said, "there are interests which are sometimes elastic,
_rapprochements_ which may vary between chilly friendliness and a
certain intimacy. But between the interests of the Double Four and the
interests represented by that young man there yawns the deepest gulf
which you or any other man could conceive. Bernadine represents the
Teuton--muscle and bone and sinew. He is German to the last drop of his
heart's blood. Never undervalue him, I beseech you. He is not only a
wonderful politician: he is a man of action, grim, unbending, unswerving
as a man may be whose eyes are steadfastly fixed upon one goal. The
friendships of France may sometimes change, but her one great enmity
never. Bernadine represents that enmity. According to the measure of
your success, so you will find him placid or venomous. Think of yourself
as a monk, dear Baron, and Bernadine as the Devil Incarnate. From him
there is safety only in absence."

Peter smiled as he shook hands with his companion and climbed into the
train.

"At any rate," he said, "I have been warned."

       *       *       *       *       *

During the journey to Boulogne, at least, the repeated warnings of the
Marquis seemed quite unnecessary. Bernadine and his companion remained
in their engaged carriage, and de Grost, who dined in the restaurant car
and sauntered once or twice along the corridors, saw nothing of them. At
Boulogne they stayed in their carriage until the rush on to the boat was
over, and it was not until they were half-way across the Channel that
Peter felt suddenly an arm thrust through his as he leaned over the rail
on the upper deck. He moved instinctively away from the vessel's side, a
proceeding which seemed to afford some amusement to the man who had
accosted him.

"Monsieur le Baron," said Bernadine, "let me be the first to
congratulate you upon your new dignity."

"Very kind of you, I am sure, Count von Hern," Peter answered.

"Bernadine to you, my friend," the other protested. "So you have come
once more into the great game?"

Peter remained silent. His features had assumed an expression of gentle
inquiry.

"Once more I congratulate you," Bernadine continued. "In the old days
you were shrewd and successful in your small undertakings, but you were,
after all, little more than a policeman. To-day you stand for other
things."

"Monsieur le Comte talks in enigmas," Peter murmured.

Bernadine smiled.

"Cautious as ever!" he exclaimed. "Ah, my dear Baron, you amuse me, you
and the elegant Sogrange--Sogrange, who will pull the strings to which
you must dance. Do you think that I did not see you both upon the
platform, gazing suspiciously at me? Do you think that I did not hear
the words of warning you received as clearly as though I had been
standing by your side? 'It is Bernadine!' Sogrange whispers. 'Bernadine
and Mademoiselle Delucie--a dangerous couple! Have a care, Monsieur le
Baron!' Oh, that is what passed, without a doubt! So when you take your
place in the train you wrap yourself in an armour of isolation; you are
ready all the time to repel some deep-laid scheme, you are relieved to
discover that, so far, at any rate, this terrible Bernadine and his
beautiful travelling companion have not forced themselves upon you. Is
it not so?"

Peter shrugged his shoulders.

"It is the south wind," he remarked, "which carries us across so quickly
to-night."

"The south wind, without a doubt," Bernadine assented politely. "Dear
Baron, my congratulations are sincere. No one can come into the
battlefield, the real battlefield of life, without finding enemies there
waiting for him. You and I represent different causes. When our
interests clash, I shall not try to throw you off a Channel boat, or to
buy you with a cheque, or to hand you over to the tender mercies of the
beautiful Mademoiselle Delucie. Until then, have no fear, my British
friend. I shall not even ask you to drink with me, for I know that you
would look suspiciously into the tumbler. _Au revoir_, and good
fortune!"

Bernadine passed into the shadows and sank into a steamer chair by the
side of his travelling companion. Peter continued his lonely walk, his
hands thrust deep into the pockets of his overcoat, his eyes fixed upon
the Folkestone lights, becoming every moment clearer and clearer.

       *       *       *       *       *

At Charing Cross all was as Sogrange had indicated. His servant remained
to look after the luggage, a tall footman conducted him towards a
magnificent automobile. Then, indeed, he forgot Bernadine and all this
new stir of life--forgot everything in a sudden rush of joy. It was
Violet who leaned forward to greet him--Violet, looking her best, and
altogether at her ease amongst this new splendour.

"Welcome, Monsieur le Baron!" she whispered as he took his place by her
side.

He took her hands and held them tightly, closely.

"I always knew," he murmured, "that you hankered after a title."

"Such a snob, aren't I!" she exclaimed. "Never mind, you wait!"

They were moving rapidly westward now. A full moon was shining down upon
the city, the streets were thronged with pedestrians and a block of
vehicles. The Carlton was all ablaze. In the softening light Pall Mall
had become a stately thoroughfare, the Haymarket and Regent Street
picturesque with moving throngs, a stream of open cabs, women in cool
evening dresses, men without hats or overcoats, on their way from the
theatres. It was a vivid, almost a fascinating little picture. Peter
caught a glimpse of his wife's face as she looked upon it.

"I believe," he whispered, "that you are glad."

She turned upon him with a wonderful smile, the light flashing in her
eyes.

"Glad! Oh, Peter, of course I am glad! I hated the country; I pined and
longed for life. Couldn't you see it, dear? Now we are back in it
again--back amongst the big things. Peter, dear, you were never meant to
shoot rabbits and play golf, to grow into the likeness of those awful
people who think of nothing but sport and rural politics and their
neighbours' weaknesses! The man who throws life away before he has done
with it, dear, is a wastrel. Be thankful that it's back again in your
hands--be thankful, as I am!"

He sighed, and with that sigh went all his regrets for the life which
had once seemed to him so greatly to be desired. He recognised in those
few seconds the ignominy of peace.

"There is not the slightest doubt about it," he admitted, "I do make
mistakes."

The automobile came to a standstill before the portico of an imposing
mansion at the corner of Berkeley Square.

"We are home!" Violet whispered. "Try to look as though you were used to
it all!"

A grave-faced major-domo was already upon the steps. In the hall was a
vision of more footmen in quiet but impressive livery. Violet entered
with an air of familiarity. Peter, with one last sigh, followed her.
There was something significant to him in that formal entrance into his
new and magnificent home. Outside, Peter Ruff seemed somewhere to have
vanished into thin air. It was the Baron de Grost who had entered into
his body--the Baron de Grost with a ready-made present, a fictitious
past, a momentous future.



CHAPTER II

THE AMBASSADOR'S WIFE


Alone in his study, with fast-locked door, Baron de Grost sat reading
word by word with zealous care the dispatch from Paris which had just
been delivered into his hands. From the splendid suite of
reception-rooms which occupied the whole of the left-hand side of the
hall, came the faint sound of music. The street outside was filled with
automobiles and carriages setting down their guests. Madame was
receiving to-night a gathering of very distinguished men and women, and
it was only on very urgent business indeed that her husband had dared to
leave her side.

The room in which he sat was in darkness except for the single heavily
shaded electric lamp which stood by his elbow. Peter was wearing Court
dress, with immaculate black silk stockings, and diamond buckles upon
his shoes. A red ribbon was in his button-hole and a French order hung
from his neck. His passion for clothes was certainly amply ministered to
by the exigencies of his new position. Once more he read those last few
words of this unexpectedly received dispatch--read them with a frown
upon his forehead and the light of trouble in his eyes. For three months
he had done nothing but live the life of an ordinary man of fashion and
wealth. His first task--for which, to tell the truth, he had been
anxiously waiting--was here before him, and he found it little to his
liking. Again he read slowly to himself the last paragraph of Sogrange's
letter:--

     "_As ever, dear friend, one of the greatest sayings which the men
     of my race have ever perpetrated, once more justifies itself,
     'Cherchez la femme!' Of monsieur we have no manner of doubt; we
     have tested him in every way. And, to all appearance, madame should
     also be above suspicion. Yet those things of which I have spoken
     have happened. For two hours this morning I was closeted with Picon
     here. Very reluctantly he has placed the matter in my hands. I pass
     it on to you. It is your first undertaking, cher Baron, and I wish
     you bon fortune. A man of gallantry, as I know you are, you may
     regret that it should be a woman--and a beautiful woman,
     too--against whom the finger must be pointed. Yet, after all, the
     fates are strong and the task is yours._--SOGRANGE."

The music from the reception-rooms grew louder and more insistent. Peter
rose to his feet, and, moving to the fireplace, struck a match and
carefully destroyed the letter which he had been reading. Then he
straightened himself, glanced for a moment at the mirror, and left the
room to join his guests.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Monsieur le Baron jests," the lady murmured. Peter shook his head.

"Indeed, no, madame!" he answered earnestly. "France has offered us
nothing more delightful in the whole history of our _entente_ than the
loan of yourself and your brilliant husband. Monsieur de Lamborne makes
history amongst us politically, whilst madame----"

Peter sighed, and his companion leaned a little towards him. Her dark
eyes were full of sentimental regard.

"Yes?" she whispered. "Continue. It is my wish."

"I am the good friend of Monsieur de Lamborne," Peter said, and in his
tone there seemed to lurk some far-away touch of regret, "yet madame
knows that her conquests here have been many."

The ambassador's wife fanned herself and remained silent for a moment, a
faint smile playing at the corners of her full, curving lips. She was
indeed a very beautiful woman--elegant, a Parisian to the finger-tips,
with pale cheeks but eyes dark and soft; eyes trained to her service,
whose flash was an inspiration, whose very droop had set beating the
hearts of men less susceptible than the Baron de Grost. Her gown was
magnificent, of amber satin--a colour daring but splendid; the outline
of her figure as she leaned slightly back in her seat might indeed have
been traced by the inspired finger of some great sculptor. Peter, whose
reputation as a man of gallantry was well established, felt the whole
charm of her presence--felt, too, the subtle indications of preference
which she seemed inclined to accord to him. There was nothing which eyes
could say which hers were not saying during those few minutes. Peter,
indeed, glanced around a little nervously. His wife had still her
moments of unreasonableness; it was just as well that she was engaged
with a party of her guests at the farther end of the apartments!

"You are trying to turn my head," his beautiful companion whispered.
"You flatter me."

"It is not possible," he answered.

Again the fan fluttered.

"Ah, monsieur," she continued, dropping her voice until it scarcely rose
above a whisper, "there are not many men like you. You speak of my
husband and his political gifts. Yet, what, after all, do they amount
to? What is his position, indeed, if one glanced behind the scenes,
compared with yours?"

The face of the Baron de Grost became like a mask. It was as though
suddenly he had felt the thrill of danger close at hand--danger even in
that scented atmosphere wherein he sat.

"Alas, madame!" he answered, "it is you now who are pleased to jest.
Your husband is a great and powerful ambassador. I, unfortunately, have
no career, no place in life, save the place which the possession of a
few millions gives to a successful financier."

She laughed very softly, and again her eyes spoke to him.

"Monsieur," she murmured, "you and I together could make a great
alliance; is it not so?"

"Madame," he faltered doubtfully, "if one dared hope----"

Once more the fire of her eyes, this time not only voluptuous. Was the
man stupid or only cautious?

"If that alliance were once concluded," she said softly, "one might hope
for everything."

"If it rests only with me," he began seriously, "oh, madame!"

He seemed overcome. Madame was gracious; but was he really stupid or
only very much in earnest?

"To be one of the world's money kings," she whispered, "it is wonderful,
that. It is power--supreme, absolute power! There is nothing
beyond--there is nothing greater."

Then Peter, who was watching her closely, caught another gleam in her
eyes, and he began to understand. He had seen it before amongst a
certain type of her countrywomen--the greed of money. He looked at her
jewels, and he remembered that, for an ambassador, her husband was
reputed to be a poor man. The cloud of misgiving passed away from him;
he settled down to the game.

"If money could only buy the desire of one's heart!" he murmured.
"Alas!"

His eyes seemed to seek out Monsieur de Lamborne amongst the moving
throngs. She laughed softly, and her hand brushed his.

"Money and one other thing, Monsieur le Baron," she whispered in his
ear, "can buy the jewels from a crown--can buy even the heart of a
woman."

A movement of approaching guests caught them up and parted them for a
time. The Baroness de Grost was at home from ten till one, and her rooms
were crowded. Peter found himself drawn on one side a few minutes later
by Monsieur de Lamborne himself.

"I have been looking for you, de Grost," the latter declared. "Where can
we talk for a moment?"

His host took the ambassador by the arm and led him into a retired
corner. Monsieur de Lamborne was a tall, slight man, somewhat
cadaverous-looking, with large features, hollow eyes, thin but carefully
arranged grey hair, and a pointed grey beard. He wore a frilled shirt,
and an eyeglass suspended by a broad, black ribbon hung down upon his
chest. His face, as a rule, was imperturbable enough, but he had the air
just now of a man greatly disturbed.

"We cannot be overheard here," Peter remarked. "It must be an affair of
a few words only, though."

Monsieur de Lamborne wasted no time in preliminaries.

"This afternoon," he said, "I received from my Government papers of
immense importance, which I am to hand over to your Foreign Minister at
eleven o'clock to-morrow morning."

Peter nodded.

"Well?"

De Lamborne's thin fingers trembled as they played nervously with the
ribbon of his eyeglass.

"Listen," he continued, dropping his voice a little. "Bernadine has
undertaken to send a copy of their contents to Berlin by to-morrow
night's mail."

"How do you know that?"

The ambassador hesitated.

"We, too, have spies at work," he remarked grimly. "Bernadine wrote and
sent a messenger with the letter to Berlin. The man's body is drifting
down the Channel, but the letter is in my pocket."

"The letter from Bernadine?"

"Yes."

"What does he say?"

"Simply that a verbatim copy of the document in question will be
dispatched to Berlin to-morrow evening without fail," replied the
ambassador.

"There are no secrets between us," Peter declared, smoothly. "What is
the special importance of this document?"

De Lamborne shrugged his shoulders.

"Since you ask," he said, "I tell you. You know of the slight coolness
which there has been between our respective Governments? Our people have
felt that the policy of your Ministers in expending all their energies
and resources in the building of a great fleet, to the utter neglect of
your army, is a wholly one-sided arrangement, so far as we are
concerned. In the event of a simultaneous attack by Germany upon France
and England, you would be utterly powerless to render us any measure of
assistance. If Germany should attack England alone, it is the wish of
your Government that we should be pledged to occupy Alsace-Lorraine.
You, on the other hand, could do nothing for us if Germany's first move
were made against France."

Peter was deeply interested, although the matter was no new one to him.

"Go on," he directed. "I am waiting for you to tell me the specific
contents of this document."

"The English Government has asked us two questions; first, how many
complete army corps we consider she ought to place at our disposal in
this eventuality; and, secondly, at what point should we expect them to
be concentrated? The dispatch which I received to-night contains the
reply to these questions."

"Which Bernadine has promised to forward to Berlin to-morrow night,"
Peter remarked softly.

De Lamborne nodded.

"You perceive," he said, "the immense importance of the affair. The very
existence of that document is almost a _casus belli_."

"At what time did the dispatch arrive," Peter asked, "and what has been
its history since?"

"It arrived at six o'clock," the ambassador declared. "It went straight
into the inner pocket of my coat; it has not been out of my possession
for a single second. Even whilst I talk to you I can feel it."

"And your plans? How are you intending to dispose of it to-night?"

"On my return to the Embassy I shall place it in the safe, lock it up,
and remain watching it until morning."

"There doesn't seem to be much chance for Bernadine," Peter remarked.

"But there must be no chance--no chance at all," Monsieur de Lamborne
asserted, with a note of passion in his thin voice. "It is incredible,
preposterous, that he should even make the attempt. I want you to come
home with me and share my vigil. You shall be my witness in case
anything happens. We will watch together."

Peter reflected for a moment.

"Bernadine makes few mistakes," he said thoughtfully.

Monsieur de Lamborne passed his hand across his forehead.

"Do I not know it?" he muttered. "In this instance, though, it seems
impossible for him to succeed. The time is so short and the conditions
so difficult. I may count upon your assistance, Baron?"

Peter drew from his pocket a crumpled piece of paper.

"I received a telegram from headquarters this evening," he said, "with
instructions to place myself entirely at your disposal."

"You will return with me, then, to the Embassy?" Monsieur de Lamborne
asked eagerly.

Peter did not at once reply. He was standing in one of his
characteristic attitudes, his hands clasped behind him, his head a
little thrust forward, watching with every appearance of courteous
interest the roomful of guests, stationary just now, listening to the
performance of a famous violinist. It was, perhaps, by accident that his
eyes met those of Madame de Lamborne, but she smiled at him
subtly--more, perhaps, with her wonderful eyes than with her lips
themselves. She was the centre of a very brilliant group, a most
beautiful woman holding court, as was only right and proper, amongst her
admirers. Peter sighed.

"No," he said, "I shall not return with you, de Lamborne. I want you to
follow my suggestions, if you will."

"But, assuredly----"

"Leave here early and go to your club. Remain there until one, then come
to the Embassy. I shall be there awaiting your arrival."

"You mean that you will go there alone? I do not understand," the
ambassador protested. "Why should I go to my club? I do not at all
understand!"

"Nevertheless, do as I say," Peter insisted. "For the present, excuse
me. I must look after my guests."

The music had ceased, there was a movement towards the supper room.
Peter offered his arm to Madame de Lamborne, who welcomed him with a
brilliant smile. Her husband, although, for a Frenchman, he was by no
means of a jealous disposition, was conscious of a vague feeling of
uneasiness as he watched them pass out of the room together. A few
minutes later he made his excuses to his wife, and, with a reluctance
for which he could scarcely account, left the house. There was something
in the air, he felt, which he did not understand. He would not have
admitted it to himself, but he more than half divined the truth. The
vacant seat in his wife's carriage was filled that night by the Baron de
Grost.

       *       *       *       *       *

At one o'clock precisely Monsieur de Lamborne returned to his house, and
found de Grost gazing with obvious respect at the ponderous safe let
into the wall.

"A very fine affair--this," he remarked, motioning with his head towards
it.

"The best of its kind," Monsieur de Lamborne admitted. "No burglar yet
has ever succeeded in opening one of its type. Here is the packet," he
added, drawing the document from his pocket. "You shall see me place it
in safety."

Peter stretched out his hand and examined the sealed envelope for a
moment closely. Then he moved to the writing-table, and, placing it upon
the letter scales, made a note of its exact weight. Finally he watched
it deposited in the ponderous safe, suggested the word to which the lock
was set, and closed the door. Monsieur de Lamborne heaved a sigh of
relief.

"I fancy this time," he said, "that our friends at Berlin will be
disappointed. Couch or easy-chair, Baron?"

"The couch, if you please," Peter replied, "a strong cigar, and a long
whisky and soda. So! Now for our vigil."

The hours crawled away. Once Peter sat up and listened.

"Any rats about?" he inquired.

The ambassador was indignant.

"I have never heard one in my life," he answered. "This is quite a
modern house."

Peter dropped his match-box and stooped to pick it up.

"Any lights on anywhere except in this room?" he asked.

"Certainly not," Monsieur de Lamborne answered. "It is past three
o'clock, and every one has gone to bed."

Peter rose and softly unbolted the door. The passage outside was in
darkness. He listened intently for a moment, and returned yawning.

"One fancies things," he murmured apologetically.

"For example?" de Lamborne demanded.

Peter shook his head.

"One mistakes," he said. "The nerves become over-sensitive."

The dawn broke, and the awakening hum of the city grew louder and
louder. Peter rose and stretched himself.

"Your servants are moving about in the house," he remarked. "I think
that we might consider our vigil at an end."

Monsieur de Lamborne rose with alacrity.

"My friend," he said, "I feel that I have made false pretences to you.
With the day I have no fear. A thousand pardons for your sleepless
night."

"My sleepless night counts for nothing," Peter assured him; "but before
I go, would it not be as well that we glance together inside the safe?"

De Lamborne shook out his keys.

"I was about to suggest it," he replied.

The ambassador arranged the combination and pressed the lever. Slowly
the great door swung back. The two men peered in.

"Untouched!" de Lamborne exclaimed, a little note of triumph in his
tone.

Peter said nothing, but held out his hand.

"Permit me," he interposed.

De Lamborne was conscious of a faint sense of uneasiness. His companion
walked across the room and carefully weighed the packet.

"Well?" de Lamborne cried. "Why do you do that? What is wrong?"

Peter turned and faced him.

"My friend," he said, "this is not the same packet."

The ambassador stared at him incredulously.

"This packet can scarcely have gained two ounces in the night," Peter
went on. "Besides, the seal is fuller. I have an eye for these details."

De Lamborne leaned against the back of the table. His eyes were a little
wild, but he laughed hoarsely.

"We fight, then, against the creatures of another world," he declared.
"No human being could have opened that safe last night."

Peter hesitated.

"Monsieur de Lamborne," he said, "the room adjoining is your wife's?"

"It is the salon of madame," the Ambassador admitted.

"What are the electrical appliances doing there?" Peter demanded. "Don't
look at me like that, de Lamborne. Remember that I was here before you
arrived."

"My wife takes an electric massage every day," Monsieur de Lamborne
answered in a hard, unnatural voice. "In what way is Monsieur le Baron
concerned in my wife's doings?"

"I think that there need be no answer to that question," Peter said
quietly. "It is a greater tragedy which we have to face. I maintain that
your safe was entered from that room. A search will prove it."

"There will be no search there," de Lamborne declared fiercely. "I am
the ambassador of France, and my power under this roof is absolute. I
say that you shall not cross that threshold."

Peter's expression did not change. Only his hands were suddenly
outstretched with a curious gesture--the four fingers were raised, the
thumbs depressed. Monsieur de Lamborne collapsed.

"I submit," he muttered. "It is you who are the master. Search where you
will."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Monsieur has arrived?" the woman demanded breathlessly.

The proprietor of the restaurant himself bowed a reply. His client was
evidently well known to him.

"Monsieur has ascended some few minutes ago."

The woman drew a little sigh of relief. A vague misgiving had troubled
her during the last few hours. She raised her veil as she mounted the
narrow staircase which led to the one private room at the Hôtel de
Lorraine. Here she was safe; one more exploit accomplished, one more
roll of notes for the hungry fingers of her dress-maker.

She entered, without tapping, the room at the head of the stairs,
pushing open the ill-varnished door with its white-curtained top. At
first she thought that the little apartment was empty.

"Are you there?" she exclaimed, advancing a few steps.

The figure of a man glided from behind the worn screen close by her side
and stood between her and the door.

"Madame!" Peter said, bowing low.

Even then she scarcely realised that she was trapped.

"You!" she cried. "You, Baron! But I do not understand. You have
followed me here?"

"On the contrary, madame," he answered; "I have preceded you."

Her colossal vanity triumphed over her natural astuteness. The man had
employed spies to watch her! He had lost his head. It was an awkward
matter, this, but it was to be arranged. She held out her hands.

"Monsieur," she said, "let me beg you now to go away. If you care to,
come and see me this evening. I will explain everything. It is a little
family affair which brings me here."

"A family affair, madame, with Bernadine, the enemy of France," Peter
declared gravely.

She collapsed miserably, her fingers grasping at the air; the cry which
broke from her lips harsh and unnatural. Before he could tell what was
happening, she was on her knees before him.

"Spare me!" she begged, trying to seize his hands.

"Madame," Peter answered, "I am not your judge. You will kindly hand
over to me the document which you are carrying."

She took it from the bosom of her dress. Peter glanced at it and placed
it in his breast-pocket.

"And now?" she faltered.

Peter sighed--she was a very beautiful woman.

"Madame," he said, "the career of a spy is, as you have doubtless
sometimes realised, a dangerous one."

"It is finished!" she assured him breathlessly. "Monsieur le Baron, you
will keep my secret? Never again, I swear it, will I sin like this. You
will not tell my husband?"

"Your husband already knows, madame," was the quiet reply. "Only a few
hours ago I proved to him whence had come the leakage of so many of our
secrets lately."

She swayed upon her feet.

"He will never forgive me!" she cried.

"There are others," Peter declared, "who forgive more rarely even than
husbands."

A sudden illuminating flash of horror told her the truth. She closed her
eyes and tried to run from the room.

"I will not be told!" she screamed. "I will not hear. I do not know who
you are. I will live a little longer!"

"Madame," Peter said, "the Double Four wages no war with women, save
with spies only. The spy has no sex. For the sake of your family, permit
me to send you back to your husband's house."

       *       *       *       *       *

That night two receptions and a dinner party were postponed. All London
was sympathising with Monsieur de Lamborne, and a great many women swore
never again to take a sleeping draught. Madame de Lamborne lay dead
behind the shelter of those drawn blinds, and by her side an empty
phial.



CHAPTER III

THE MAN FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT


Bernadine, sometimes called the Count von Hern, was lunching at the
Savoy with the pretty wife of a Cabinet Minister, who was just
sufficiently conscious of the impropriety of her action to render the
situation interesting.

"I wish you would tell me, Count von Hern," she said, soon after they
had settled down in their places, "why my husband seems to object to you
so much. I simply dared not tell him that we were going to lunch
together; and, as a rule, he doesn't mind what I do in that way."

Bernadine smiled slowly.

"Ah, well," he remarked, "your husband is a politician and a very
cautious man. I dare say he is like some of those others, who believe
that because I am a foreigner and live in London, that therefore I am a
spy."

"You a spy!" she laughed. "What nonsense!"

"Why nonsense?"

She shrugged her shoulders. She was certainly a very pretty woman, and
her black gown set off to its fullest advantage her deep red hair and
fair complexion.

"I suppose because I can't imagine you anything of the sort," she
declared. "You see, you hunt and play polo, and do everything which the
ordinary Englishmen do. Then one meets you everywhere. I think, Count
von Hern, that you are much too spoilt, for one thing, to take life
seriously."

"You do me an injustice," he murmured.

"Of course," she chattered on, "I don't really know what spies do. One
reads about them in these silly stories, but I have never felt sure that
as live people they exist at all. Tell me, Count von Hern, what could a
foreign spy do in England?"

Bernadine twirled his fair moustache and shrugged his shoulders.

"Indeed, my dear lady," he admitted, "I scarcely know what a spy could
do nowadays. A few years ago you English people were all so trusting.
Your fortifications, your battleships, not to speak of your country
itself, were wholly at the disposal of the enterprising foreigner who
desired to acquire information. The party who governed Great Britain
then seemed to have some strange idea that these things made for peace.
To-day, however, all that is changed."

"You seem to know something about it," she remarked.

"I am afraid that mine is really only the superficial point of view," he
answered; "but I do know that there is a good deal of information which
seems absolutely insignificant in itself, for which some foreign
countries are willing to pay. For instance, there was a Cabinet Council
yesterday, I believe, and someone was going to suggest that a secret but
official visit be paid to your new harbour works up at Rosyth. An
announcement will probably be made in the papers during the next few
days as to whether the visit is to be undertaken or not. Yet there are
countries who are willing to pay for knowing even such an insignificant
item of news as that a few hours before the rest of the world."

Lady Maxwell laughed.

"Well, I could earn that little sum of money," she declared gaily, "for
my husband has just made me cancel a dinner-party for next Thursday
because he has to go up to the stupid place."

Bernadine smiled. It was really a very unimportant matter, but he loved
to feel, even in his idle moments, that he was not altogether wasting
his time.

"I am sorry," he said, "that I am not myself acquainted with one of
these mythical personages, that I might return you the value of your
marvellous information. If I dared think, however, that it would be in
any way acceptable, I could offer you the diversion of a restaurant
dinner-party for that night. The Duchess of Castleford has kindly
offered to act as hostess for me, and we are all going on to the Gaiety
afterwards."

"Delightful!" Lady Maxwell exclaimed. "I should love to come."

Bernadine bowed.

"You have, then, dear lady, fulfilled your destiny," he said. "You have
given secret information to a foreign person of mysterious identity, and
accepted payment."

Now Bernadine was a man of easy manners and unruffled composure. To the
natural _insouciance_ of his aristocratic bringing-up he had added the
steely reserve of a man moving in the large world, engaged more often
than not in some hazardous enterprise. Yet, for once in his life, and in
the midst of the idlest of conversations, he gave himself away so
utterly that even this woman with whom he was lunching--a very butterfly
lady indeed--could not fail to perceive it. She looked at him in
something like astonishment. Without the slightest warning his face had
become set in a rigid stare, his eyes were filled with the expression of
a man who sees into another world. The healthy colour faded from his
cheeks; he was white even to the parted lips; the wine dripped from his
raised glass on to the tablecloth.

"Why, whatever is the matter with you?" she demanded. "Is it a ghost
that you see?"

Bernadine's effort was superb, but he was too clever to deny the shock.

"A ghost indeed," he answered, "the ghost of a man whom every newspaper
in Europe has declared to be dead."

Her eyes followed his. The two people who were being ushered to a seat
in their immediate vicinity were certainly of somewhat unusual
appearance. The man was tall and thin as a lath, and he wore the clothes
of the fashionable world without awkwardness, and yet with the air of
one who was wholly unaccustomed to them. His cheek-bones were remarkably
high, and receded so quickly towards his pointed chin that his cheeks
were little more than hollows. His eyes were dry and burning, flashing
here and there, as though the man himself were continually oppressed by
some furtive fear. His thick black hair was short-cropped, his forehead
high and intellectual. He was a strange figure indeed in such a
gathering, and his companion only served to accentuate the anachronisms
of his appearance. She was, above all things, a woman of the
moment--fair, almost florid, a little thick-set, with tightly laced yet
passable figure. Her eyes were blue, her hair light-coloured. She wore
magnificent furs, and as she threw aside her boa she disclosed a mass of
jewellery around her neck and upon her bosom, almost barbaric in its
profusion and setting.

"What an extraordinary couple!" Lady Maxwell whispered.

Bernadine smiled.

"The man looks as though he had stepped out of the Old Testament," he
murmured.

Lady Maxwell's interest was purely feminine, and was riveted now upon
the jewellery worn by the woman. Bernadine, under the mask of his
habitual indifference, which he had easily reassumed, seemed to be
looking away out of the restaurant into the great square of a
half-savage city, looking at that marvellous crowd, numbered by their
thousands, even by their hundreds of thousands, of men and women whose
arms flashed out toward the snow-hung heavens, whose lips were parted in
one chorus of rapturous acclamation; looking beyond them to the tall,
emaciated form of the bare-headed priest in his long robes, his
wind-tossed hair and wild eyes, standing alone before that multitude in
danger of death, or worse, at any moment--their idol, their hero. And
again, as the memories came flooding into his brain, the scene passed
away, and he saw the bare room, with its whitewashed walls and
blocked-up windows; he felt the darkness, lit only by those flickering
candles. He saw the white, passion-wrung faces of the men who clustered
together around the rude table, waiting; he heard their murmurs; he saw
the fear born in their eyes. It was the night when their leader did not
come!

Bernadine poured out another glass of wine and drank it slowly. The
mists were clearing away now. He was in London, at the Savoy Restaurant,
and within a few yards of him sat the man with whose name all Europe
once had rung--the man hailed by some as martyr, and loathed by others
as the most fiendish Judas who ever drew breath. Bernadine was not
concerned with the moral side of this strange encounter. How best to use
his knowledge of this man's identity was the question which beat upon
his brain. What use could be made of him, what profit for his country
and himself? And then a fear--a sudden, startling fear. Little profit,
perhaps, to be made, but the danger--the danger of this man alive with
such secrets locked in his bosom! The thought itself was terrifying, and
even as he realised it a significant thing happened--he caught the eye
of the Baron de Grost, lunching alone at a small table just inside the
restaurant.

"You are not at all amusing," his guest declared. "It is nearly five
minutes since you have spoken."

"You, too, have been absorbed," he reminded her.

"It is that woman's jewels," she admitted. "I never saw anything more
wonderful. The people are not English, of course. I wonder where they
come from."

"One of the Eastern countries, without a doubt," he replied carelessly.

Lady Maxwell sighed.

"He is a peculiar-looking man," she said, "but one could put up with a
good deal for jewels like that. What are you doing this
afternoon--picture galleries or your club?"

"Neither, unfortunately," Bernadine answered. "I have promised to go
with a friend to look at some polo ponies."

"Do you know," she remarked, "that we have never been to see those
Japanese prints yet?"

"The gallery is closed until Monday," he assured her, falsely. "If you
will honour me then, I shall be delighted."

She shrugged her shoulders, but said nothing. She had an idea that she
was being dismissed, but Bernadine, without the least appearance of
hurry, gave her no opportunity for any further suggestions. He handed
her into her automobile, and returned at once into the restaurant. He
touched Baron de Grost upon the shoulder.

"My friend the enemy!" he exclaimed, smiling.

"At your service in either capacity," the baron replied.

Bernadine made a grimace and accepted the chair which de Grost had
indicated.

"If I may, I will take my coffee with you," he said. "I am growing old.
It does not amuse me so much to lunch with a pretty woman. One has to
entertain, and one forgets the serious business of lunching. I will take
my coffee and cigarette in peace."

De Grost gave an order to the waiter and leaned back in his chair.

"Now," he suggested, "tell me exactly what it is that has brought you
back into the restaurant."

Bernadine shrugged his shoulders.

"Why not the pleasure of this few minutes' conversation with you?" he
asked.

The baron carefully selected a cigar and lit it.

"That," he said, "goes well, but there are other things."

"As, for instance?"

De Grost leaned back in his chair and watched the smoke of his cigar
curl upwards.

"One talks too much," he remarked. "Before the cards are upon the table
it is not wise."

They chatted upon various matters. De Grost himself seemed in no hurry
to depart, nor did his companion show any signs of impatience. It was
not until the two people whose entrance had had such a remarkable effect
upon Bernadine, rose to leave, that the mask was for a moment lifted. De
Grost had called for his bill and paid it. The two men strolled out
together.

"Baron," Bernadine said suavely, linking his arm through the other man's
as they passed into the foyer, "there are times when candour even
amongst enemies becomes an admirable quality."

"Those times, I imagine," de Grost answered grimly, "are rare. Besides,
who is to tell the real thing from the false?"

"You do less than justice to your perceptions, my friend," Bernadine
declared, smiling.

De Grost merely shrugged his shoulders. Bernadine persisted.

"Come," he continued, "since you doubt me, let me be the first to give
you a proof that on this occasion, at any rate, I am candour itself. You
had a purpose in lunching at the Savoy to-day. That purpose I have
discovered by accident. We are both interested in those people."

The Baron de Grost shook his head slowly.

"Really----" he began.

"Let me finish," Bernadine insisted. "Perhaps when you have heard all
that I have to say you may change your attitude. We are interested in
the same people, but in different ways. If we both move from opposite
directions our friend will vanish. He is clever enough at disappearing,
as he has proved before. We do not want the same thing from him, I am
convinced of that. Let us move together and make sure that he does not
evade us."

"Is it an alliance which you are proposing?" de Grost asked, with a
quiet smile.

"Why not?" Bernadine answered. "Enemies have united before to-day
against a common foe."

De Grost looked across the palm court to where the two people who formed
the subject of their discussion were sitting in a corner, both smoking,
both sipping some red-coloured liqueur.

"My dear Bernadine," he said, "I am much too afraid of you to listen any
more. You fancy because this man's presence here was an entire surprise
to you, and because you find me already on his track, that I know more
than you do, and that an alliance with me would be to your advantage.
You would try to persuade me that your object with him would not be my
object. Listen! I am afraid of you--you are too clever for me. I am
going to leave you in sole possession."

De Grost's tone was final and his bow valedictory. Bernadine watched him
stroll in a leisurely way through the foyer, exchanging greetings here
and there with friends; watched him enter the cloak-room, from which he
emerged with his hat and overcoat; watched him step into his automobile
and leave the restaurant. He turned back with a clouded face and threw
himself into an easy-chair.

Ten minutes passed uneventfully. People were passing backwards and
forwards all the time; but Bernadine, through his half-closed eyes, did
little save watch the couple in whom he was so deeply interested. At
last the man rose and, with a word of farewell to his companion, came
out from the lounge and made his way up the foyer, turning toward the
hotel. He walked with quick, nervous strides, glancing now and then
restlessly about him. In his eyes, to those who understood, there was
the furtive gleam of the hunted man. It was the passing of one who was
afraid.

The woman, left to herself, began to look around her with some
curiosity. Bernadine, to whom a new idea had occurred, moved his chair
nearer to hers, and was rewarded by a glance which certainly betrayed
some interest. A swift and unerring judge in such matters, he came to
the instant conclusion that she was not unapproachable. He acted upon
impulse. Rising to his feet, he approached her and bowed easily, but
respectfully.

"Madame," he said, "it is impossible that I am mistaken. I have had the
pleasure, have I not, of meeting you in St. Petersburg?"

Her first reception of his coming was reassuring enough. At his mention
of St. Petersburg, however, she frowned.

"I do not think so," she answered in French. "You are mistaken. I do not
know St. Petersburg."

"Then it was in Paris," Bernadine continued, with conviction. "Madame is
Parisian, without a doubt."

She shook her head, smiling.

"I do not think that I remember meeting you, monsieur," she replied
doubtfully; "but perhaps----"

She looked up, and her eyes drooped before his. He was certainly a very
personable-looking man, and she had spoken to no one for so many months.

"Believe me, madame, I could not possibly be mistaken," Bernadine
assured her smoothly. "You are staying here for long?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Heaven knows!" she declared. "My husband he has, I think, what you call
the wander fever. For myself, I am tired of it. In Rome we settle down;
we stay five days, all seems pleasant, and suddenly my husband's whim
carries us away without an hour's notice. The same thing at Monte Carlo;
the same at Paris. Who can tell what will happen here? To tell you the
truth, monsieur," she added, a little archly, "I think that if he were
to come back at this moment we should probably leave England to-night."

"Your husband is very jealous?" Bernadine whispered softly.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Partly jealous and partly he has the most terrible distaste for
acquaintances. He will not speak to strangers himself, or suffer me to
do so. It is sometimes--oh! it is sometimes very _triste_!"

"Madame has my sympathy," Bernadine assured her. "It is an impossible
life--this. No husband should be so exacting."

She looked at him with her round blue eyes, a touch of added colour in
her cheeks.

"If one could but cure him!" she murmured.

"I would ask your permission to sit down," Bernadine remarked, "but I
fear to intrude. You are afraid, perhaps, that your husband may return?"

She shook her head.

"It will be better that you do not stay," she declared. "For a moment or
two he is engaged. He has an appointment in his room with a gentleman,
but one never knows how long he may be."

"You have friends in London, then?" Bernadine remarked thoughtfully.

"Of my husband's affairs," the woman said, "there is no one so ignorant
as I. Yet since we left our own country this is the first time I have
known him willingly speak to a soul."

"Your own country!" Bernadine repeated softly. "That was Russia, of
course? Your husband's nationality is very apparent."

The woman looked annoyed with herself. She remained silent.

"May I not hope," Bernadine begged, "that you will give me the pleasure
of meeting you again?"

She hesitated for a moment.

"He does not leave me," she replied. "I am not alone for five minutes
during the day."

Bernadine scribbled the name by which he was known in that locality, on
a card, and passed it to her.

"I have rooms in St. James's Street, quite close to here," he said. "If
you could come and have tea with me to-day or to-morrow it would give me
the utmost pleasure."

She took the card and crumpled it in her hand. All the time, though, she
shook her head.

"Monsieur is very kind," she answered. "I am afraid--I do not think that
it would be possible. And now, if you please, you must go away. I am
terrified lest my husband should return."

Bernadine bent low in a parting salute.

"Madame," he pleaded, "you will come?"

Bernadine was a handsome man, and he knew well enough how to use his
soft and extraordinarily musical voice. He knew very well as he retired
that somehow or other she would accept his invitation. Even then he felt
dissatisfied and ill at ease as he left the place. He had made a little
progress; but, after all, was it worth while? Supposing that the man
with whom her husband was even at this moment closeted was the Baron de
Grost! He called a taxi-cab and drove at once to the Embassy of his
country.

       *       *       *       *       *

Even at this moment de Grost and the Russian--Paul Hagon he called
himself--were standing face to face in the latter's sitting-room. No
conventional greetings of any sort had been exchanged. De Grost had
scarcely closed the door behind him before Hagon addressed him
breathlessly, almost fiercely.

"Who are you, sir?" he demanded. "And what do you want with me?"

"You had my letter?" de Grost inquired.

"I had your letter," the other admitted. "It told me nothing. You speak
of business. What business have I with any here?"

"My business is soon told," de Grost replied; "but in the first place, I
beg that you will not unnecessarily alarm yourself. There is, believe
me, no need for it--no need whatever, although, to prevent
misunderstandings, I may as well tell you at once that I am perfectly
well aware who it is that I am addressing."

Hagon collapsed into a chair. He buried his face in his hands and
groaned.

"I am not here necessarily as an enemy," de Grost continued. "You have
very excellent reasons, I make no doubt, for remaining unknown in this
city, or wherever you may be. As yet, let me assure you, your identity
is not even suspected, except by myself and one other. Those few who
believe you alive believe that you are in America. There is no need for
anyone to know that Father----"

"Stop!" the man begged piteously. "Stop!"

De Grost bowed.

"I beg your pardon!" he said.

"Now tell me," the man demanded, "what is your price? I have had money.
There is not much left. Sophia is extravagant, and travelling costs a
great deal. But why do I weary you with these things?" he added. "Let me
know what I have to pay for your silence."

"I am not a blackmailer," de Grost answered sternly. "I am myself a
wealthy man. I ask from you nothing in money; I ask you nothing in that
way at all. A few words of information, and a certain paper which I
believe you have in your possession, is all that I require."

"Information?" Hagon repeated, shivering.

"What I ask," de Grost declared, "is really a matter of justice. At the
time when you were the idol of all Russia and the leader of the great
revolutionary party, you received funds from abroad."

"I accounted for them," Hagon muttered. "Up to a certain point I
accounted for everything."

"You received funds from the Government of a European Power," de Grost
continued--"funds to be applied towards developing the revolution. I
want the name of that Power, and proof of what I say."

Hagon remained motionless for a moment. He had seated himself at the
table, his head resting upon his hand, and his face turned away from de
Grost.

"You are a politician, then?" he asked slowly.

"I am a politician," de Grost admitted. "I represent a great secret
power which has sprung into existence during the last few years. Our
aim, at present, is to bring closer together your country and Great
Britain. Russia hesitates because an actual _rapprochement_ with us is
equivalent to a permanent estrangement with Germany."

Hagon nodded.

"I understand," he said, in a low tone. "I have finished with politics.
I have nothing to say to you."

"I trust," de Grost persisted suavely, "that you will be better
advised."

Hagon turned round and faced him.

"Sir," he demanded, "do you believe that I am afraid of death?"

De Grost looked at him steadfastly.

"No," he answered. "You have proved the contrary."

"If my identity is discovered," Hagon continued, "I have the means of
instant death at hand. I do not use it because of my love for the one
person who links me to this world. For her sake I live, and for her sake
I bear always the memory of the shameful past. Publish my name and
whereabouts if you will. I promise you that I will make the tragedy
complete. But, for the rest, I refuse to pay your price. A great Power
trusted me, and, whatever their motives may have been, their money came
very near indeed to freeing my people. I have nothing more to say to
you, sir."

The Baron de Grost was taken aback. He had scarcely contemplated
refusal.

"You must understand," he explained, "that this is not a personal
matter. Even if I myself would spare you, those who are more powerful
than I will strike. The society to which I belong does not tolerate
failure. I am empowered even to offer you their protection, if you will
give me the information for which I ask."

Hagon rose to his feet, and before de Grost could foresee his purpose,
had rung the bell.

"My decision is unchanging," he said. "You can pull down the roof upon
my head, but I carry next my heart an instant and an unfailing means of
escape."

A waiter stood in the doorway.

"You will take this gentleman to the lift," Hagon directed.

There was once more a touch in his manner of that half-divine authority
which had thrilled the great multitudes of his believers. De Grost was
forced to admit defeat.

"Not defeat," he said to himself, as he followed the man to the lift;
"only a check."

Nevertheless, it was a serious check. He could not for the moment see
his way farther. Arrived at his house, he followed his usual custom, and
made his way at once to his wife's rooms. Violet was resting upon a
sofa, but laid down her book at his entrance.

"Violet," he declared, "I have come for your advice."

"He refuses, then?" she asked eagerly.

"Absolutely," de Grost assured her. "What am I to do? Bernadine is
already upon the scent. He saw him at the Savoy to-day and recognised
him."

"Has Bernadine approached him yet?" Violet inquired.

"Not yet," her husband answered. "He is half afraid to move. I think he
realises, or will do very soon, how serious this man's existence may be
for Germany."

Violet was thoughtful for several moments; then she looked up.

"Bernadine will try the woman," she asserted. "You say that Hagon is
infatuated?"

"Blindly," de Grost replied. "He scarcely lets her out of his sight."

"Your people watch Bernadine?"

"Always."

"Very well, then," Violet went on, "you will find that he will attempt
an intrigue with the woman. The rest should be easy for you."

De Grost sighed as he bent over his wife.

"My dear," he said, "there is no subtlety like that of a woman."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bernadine's instinct had not deceived him, and the following afternoon
his servant, who had already received orders, silently ushered Madame
Hagon into his apartments. She was wrapped in magnificent sables and
heavily veiled. Bernadine saw at once that she was very nervous and
wholly terrified. He welcomed her in as matter-of-fact a manner as
possible.

"Madame," he declared, "this is quite charming of you! You must sit in
my easy-chair here, and my man shall bring us some tea. I drink mine
always after the fashion of your country, with lemon, but I doubt
whether we make it so well. Won't you unfasten your jacket? I am afraid
my rooms are rather warm."

Madame had collected herself, but it was quite obvious that she was
unused to adventures of this sort. Her hand, when he took it, trembled,
and more than once she glanced furtively toward the door.

"Yes, I have come," she murmured. "I do not know why. It is not right
for me to come; yet there are times when I am weary--times when Paul
seems fierce, and when I am terrified. Sometimes I even wish that I were
back----"

"Your husband seems very highly strung," Bernadine remarked. "He has
doubtless led an exciting life."

"As to that," she replied, gazing around her now, and gradually becoming
more at her ease, "I know but little. He was a student professor at
Moschaume when I met him. I think that he was at one of the universities
in St. Petersburg."

Bernadine glanced at her covertly. It came to him as an inspiration that
the woman did not know the truth.

"You are from Russia, then, after all," he said, smiling. "I felt sure
of it."

"Yes," she admitted reluctantly. "Paul is so queer in these things. He
will not have me talk of it. He prefers that we are taken for French
people. Indeed," she went on, "it is not I who desire to think too much
of Russia. It is not a year since my father was killed in the riots, and
two of my brothers were sent to Siberia."

Bernadine was deeply interested.

"They were amongst the revolutionaries?"

She nodded.

"Yes," she answered.

"And your husband?"

"He, too, was with them in sympathy. Secretly, too, I believe that he
worked amongst them; only he had to be careful. You see, his position at
the college made it difficult."

Bernadine looked into the woman's eyes, and he knew then that she was
speaking the truth. This man was indeed a great master; he had kept her
in ignorance.

"Always," Bernadine said, a few minutes later, as he passed her tea, "I
read with the deepest interest of the people's movement in Russia. Tell
me what became eventually of their great leader--the wonderful Father
Paul."

She set down her cup untasted, and her blue eyes flashed with a fire
which turned them almost to the colour of steel.

"Wonderful, indeed!" she exclaimed. "Wonderful Judas! It was he who
wrecked the cause. It was he who sold the lives and liberty of all of us
for gold."

"I heard a rumour of that," Bernadine remarked, "but I never believed
it."

"It was true," she declared passionately.

"And where is he now?" Bernadine asked.

"Dead!" she answered fiercely. "Torn to pieces, we believe, one night in
a house near Moscow. May it be so!"

She was silent for a moment, as though engaged in prayer. Bernadine
spoke no more of these things. He talked to her kindly, keeping up
always his rôle of respectful, but hopeful, admirer.

"You will come again soon?" he begged, when at last she insisted upon
going.

She hesitated.

"It is so difficult," she murmured. "If my husband knew----"

Bernadine laughed and touched her fingers caressingly.

"Need one tell him?" he whispered. "You see, I trust you. I pray that
you will come."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bernadine was a man rarely moved towards emotion of any sort; yet even
he was conscious of a certain sense of excitement as he stood looking
out upon the Embankment from the windows of Paul Hagon's sitting-room a
few days later. Madame was sitting on the settee. It was for her answer
to a question that he waited.

"Monsieur," she said at last, turning slowly towards him, "it must be
'No.' Indeed I am sorry, for you have been very charming to me, and
without you I should have been dull. But to come to your rooms and dine
alone to-night, it is impossible."

"Your husband cannot return before the morning," Bernadine reminded her.

"It makes no difference," she answered. "Paul is sometimes fierce and
rough, but he is generous, and all his life he has worshipped me. He
behaves strangely at times, but I know that he cares--all the time more,
perhaps, than I deserve."

"And there is no one else." Bernadine asked softly, "who can claim even
the smallest place in your heart?"

"Monsieur," the woman begged, "you must not ask me that. I think that
you had better go away."

Bernadine stood quite still for several moments. It was the climax
towards which he had steadfastly guided the course of this mild
intrigue.

"Madame," he declared, "You must not send me away! You shall not!"

She held out her hand.

"Then you must not ask impossible things," she answered.

Then Bernadine took the plunge. He became suddenly very grave.

"Sophia," he said, "I am keeping a great secret from you, and I can do
it no longer. When you speak to me of your husband you drive me mad. If
I believed that really you loved him, I would go away and leave it to
chance whether or not you ever discovered the truth. As it is----"

"Well?" she interposed breathlessly.

"As it is," he continued, "I am going to tell you now. Your husband has
deceived you; he is deceiving you every moment."

She looked at him incredulously.

"You mean that there is another woman?"

Bernadine shook his head.

"Worse than that," he answered. "Your husband stole even your love under
false pretences. You think that his life is a strange one; that his
nerves have broken down; that he flies from place to place for
distraction, for change of scene. It is not so. He left Rome, he left
Nice, he left Paris for one and the same reason. He left because he went
in peril of his life. I know little of your history, but I know as much
as this: If ever a man deserved the fate from which he flees, your
husband deserves it!"

"You are mad!" she faltered.

"No, I am sane," he went on. "It is you who are mad, not to have
understood. Your husband goes ever in fear of his life. His real name is
one branded with ignominy throughout the world. The man whom you have
married, to whom you are so scrupulously faithful, is the man who sent
your father to death and your brothers to Siberia."

"Father Paul!" she screamed.

"You have lived with him; you are his wife!" Bernadine declared.

The colour had left her cheeks; her eyes, with their pencilled brows,
were fixed in an almost ghastly stare; her breath was coming in uneven
gasps. She looked at him in silent terror.

"It is not true!" she cried at last. "It cannot be true!"

"Sophia," he said, "you can prove it for yourself. I know a little of
your husband and his doings. Does he not carry always with him a black
box which he will not allow out of his sight?"

"Always," she assented. "How did you know? By night his hand rests upon
it. By day, if he goes out, it is in my charge."

"Fetch it now," Bernadine directed. "I will prove my words."

She did not hesitate for a moment. She disappeared into the inner room
and came back after only a few moments' absence, carrying a black
leather dispatch-box.

"You have the key?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered, looking at him and trembling; "but I dare not--oh,
I dare not open it!"

"Sophia," he said, "if my words are not true, I will pass out of your
life for ever. I challenge you. If you open that box you will know that
your husband is indeed the greatest scoundrel in Europe."

She drew a key from a gold chain around her neck.

"There are two locks," she told him. "The other is a combination, but I
know the word. Who's that?"

She started suddenly. There was a loud tapping at the door. Bernadine
threw an antimacassar half over the box, but he was too late. De Grost
and Hagon had crossed the threshold. The woman stood like some dumb
creature. Hagon, transfixed, stood with his eyes riveted upon Bernadine.
His face was distorted with passion; he seemed like a man beside himself
with fury. De Grost came slowly forward into the middle of the room.

"Count von Hern," he said, "I think that you had better leave."

The woman found words.

"Not yet!" she cried. "Not yet! Paul, listen to me. This man has told me
a terrible thing."

The breath seemed to come through Hagon's teeth like a hiss.

"He has told you!"

"Listen to me!" she continued. "It is the truth which you must tell now.
He says that you--you are Father Paul!"

Hagon did not hesitate.

"It is true," he admitted.

Then there was a silence--short, but tragical. Hagon seemed suddenly to
have collapsed. He was like a man who has just had a stroke. He stood
muttering to himself.

"It is the end--this--the end!" he said, in a low tone. "It was for your
sake, Sophia! I came to you poor, and you would have nothing to say to
me. My love for you burned in my veins like fever. It was for you I did
it--for your sake I sold my honour, the love of my country, the freedom
of my brothers. For your sake I risked an awful death. For your sake I
have lived like a hunted man, with the cry of the wolves always in my
ears, and the fear of death and of eternal torture with me day by day.
Have pity on me!"

She was unmoved; her face had lost all expression. No one noticed in
that rapt moment that Bernadine had crept from the room.

"It was you," she cried, "who killed my father and sent my brothers into
exile!"

"God help me!" he moaned.

She turned to de Grost.

"Take him away with you, please," she said. "I have finished with him!"

"Sophia!" he pleaded.

She leaned across the table and struck him heavily upon the cheek.

"If you stay here," she muttered, "I shall kill you myself!"

       *       *       *       *       *

That night the body of an unknown foreigner was found in the attic of a
cheap lodging-house in Soho. The discovery itself and the verdict at the
inquest occupied only a few lines in the morning newspapers. Those few
lines were the epitaph of one who was very nearly a Rienzi. The greater
part of his papers de Grost mercifully destroyed, but one in particular
he preserved. Within a week the much-delayed treaty was signed at Paris,
London and St. Petersburg.



CHAPTER IV

THE FIRST SHOT


De Grost and his wife were dining together at the corner table in a
fashionable but somewhat Bohemian restaurant. Both had been in the
humour for reminiscences, and they had outstayed most of their
neighbours.

"I wonder what people really think of us," Violet remarked pensively. "I
told Lady Amershal, when she asked us to go there this evening, that we
always dined together alone somewhere once a week, and she absolutely
refused to believe me. 'With your own husband, my dear?' she kept on
repeating."

"Her ladyship's tastes are more catholic," the baron declared dryly.
"Yet, after all, Violet, the real philosophy of married life demands
something of this sort."

Violet smiled and fingered her pearls for a minute.

"What the real philosophy of married life may be I do not know," she
said, "but I am perfectly content with our rendering of it. What a
fortunate thing, Peter, with your intensely practical turn of mind, that
Nature endowed you with so much sentiment."

De Grost gazed reflectively at the cigarette which he had just selected
from his case.

"Well," he remarked, "there have been times when I have cursed myself
for a fool, but, on the whole, sentiment keeps many fires burning."

She leaned towards him and dropped her voice a little.

"Tell me," she begged, "do you ever think of the years we spent together
in the country? Do you ever regret?"

He smiled thoughtfully.

"It is a hard question, that," he admitted. "There were days there which
I loved, but there were days, too, when the restlessness came--days when
I longed to hear the hum of the city and to hear men speak whose words
were of life and death and the great passions. I am not sure, Violet,
whether, after all, it is well for one who has lived to withdraw
absolutely from the thrill of life."

She laughed softly but gaily.

"I am with you," she declared, "absolutely. I think that the fairies
must have poured into my blood the joy of living for its own sake. I
should be an ungrateful woman indeed if I found anything to complain of
nowadays. Yet there is one thing that sometimes troubles me," she went
on, after a moment's pause.

"And that?" he asked.

"The danger," she said slowly. "I do not want to lose you, Peter. There
are times when I am afraid."

De Grost flicked the ash from his cigarette.

"The days are passing," he remarked, "when men point revolvers at one
another, and hire assassins to gain their ends. Now it is more a battle
of wits. We play chess on the board of life still, but we play with
ivory pieces instead of steel and poison. Our brains direct, and not our
muscles."

She sighed.

"It is only the one man of whom I am afraid," she said. "You have
outwitted him so often and he does not forgive."

De Grost smiled. It was an immense compliment, this.

"Bernadine," he murmured softly, "otherwise our friend, the Count von
Hern."

"Bernadine," she repeated. "All that you say is true; but when one fails
with modern weapons, one changes the form of attack. Bernadine at heart
is a savage."

"The hate of such a man," de Grost remarked complacently, "is worth
having. He has had his own way over here for years. He seems to have
found the knack of living in a maze of intrigue and remaining
untouchable. There were a dozen things before I came upon the scene
which ought to have ruined him. Yet there never appeared to be anything
to take hold of. The Criminal Investigation Department thought they had
no chance. I remember Sir John Dory telling me in disgust that Bernadine
was like one of those marvellous criminals one only reads about in
fiction, who seem when they pass along the dangerous places to walk upon
the air and leave no trace behind."

"Before you came," she said, "he had never known a failure. Do you think
that he is a man likely to forgive?"

"I do not," de Grost answered grimly. "It is a battle, of course--a
battle all the time. Yet, Violet, between you and me, if Bernadine were
to go, half the savour of life for me would depart with him."

Then there came a serious and wholly unexpected interruption. A man in
dark, plain clothes, still wearing his overcoat and carrying a bowler
hat, had been standing in the entrance of the restaurant for a moment or
two, looking around the room as though in search of someone. At last he
caught the eye of the Baron de Grost and came quickly towards him.

"Charles," the Baron remarked, raising his eyebrows. "I wonder what he
wants?"

A sudden cloud had fallen upon their little feast. Violet watched the
coming of her husband's servant and the reading of the note which he
presented to his master with an anxiety which she could not wholly
conceal. The Baron read the note twice, scrutinising a certain part of
it closely with the aid of the monocle which he seldom used. Then he
folded it up and placed it in the breast-pocket of his coat.

"At what hour did you receive this, Charles?" he asked.

"A messenger brought it in a taxi-cab about ten minutes ago, sir," the
man replied. "He said that it was of the utmost importance, and that I
had better try and find you."

"A district messenger?"

"A man in ordinary clothes, sir," Charles answered. "He looked like a
porter in a warehouse, or something of that sort. I forgot to say that
you were rung up on the telephone three times previously by Mr.
Greening."

The Baron nodded.

"You can go," he said. "There is no reply."

The man bowed and retired. De Grost called for his bill.

"Is it anything serious?" Violet inquired.

"No, not exactly serious," he answered. "I do not understand what has
happened, but they have sent for me to go--well, where it was agreed
that I should not go, except as a matter of urgent necessity."

Violet knew better than to show any signs of disquietude.

"Is it in London?" she asked.

"Certainly," her husband replied. "I shall take a taxi-cab from here. I
am sorry, dear, to have one of our evenings disturbed in this manner. I
have always done my best to avoid it, but this summons is urgent."

She rose and he wrapped her cloak around her.

"You will drive straight home, won't you?" he begged. "I dare say that I
may be back within an hour myself."

"And if not?" she asked in a low tone.

"If not," he replied, "there is nothing to be done."

Violet bit her lip, but as he handed her into the small electric
brougham which was waiting she smiled into his face.

"You will come back, and soon, Peter," she declared confidently.
"Wherever you go I am sure of that. You see, I have faith in my star
which watches over you."

He kissed her fingers and turned away. The commissionaire had already
called him a taxi-cab.

"To London Bridge," he ordered after a moment's hesitation, and drove
off.

The traffic citywards had long since finished for the day, and he
reached his destination within ten minutes of leaving the restaurant.
Here he paid the man, and, entering the station, turned to the
refreshment-room and ordered a liqueur brandy. While he sipped it he
smoked a cigarette and fully re-read in a strong light the note which he
had received. The signature especially he pored over for some time. At
last, however, he replaced it in his pocket, paid his bill, and,
stepping out once more on to the platform, entered a telephone booth. A
few minutes later he left the station and, turning to the right, walked
slowly as far as Tooley Street. He kept on the right-hand side until he
arrived at the spot where the great arches, with their scanty lights,
make a gloomy thoroughfare into Bermondsey. In the shadow of the first
of these he paused and looked steadfastly across the street. There were
few people passing, and practically no traffic. In front of him was a
row of warehouses, all save one of which was wrapped in complete
darkness. It was the one where some lights were still burning which de
Grost stood and watched.

The lights, such as they were, seemed to illuminate the ground floor
only. From his hidden post he could see the shoulders of a man
apparently bending over a ledger, diligently writing. At the next window
a youth, seated upon a tall stool, was engaged in, presumably, the same
avocation. There was nothing about the place in the least mysterious or
out-of-the-way. Even the blinds of the offices had been left undrawn.
The man and the boy, who were alone visible, seemed, in a sense, to be
working under protest. Every now and then the former stopped to yawn,
and the latter performed a difficult balancing feat upon his stool. De
Grost, having satisfied his curiosity, came presently from his shelter,
almost running into the arms of a policeman, who looked at him closely.
The Baron, who had an unlighted cigarette in his mouth, stopped to ask
for a light, and his appearance at once set at rest any suspicions the
policeman might have had.

"I have a warehouse myself down in these parts," he remarked, as he
struck the match, "but I don't allow my people to work as late as that."

He pointed across the way, and the policeman smiled.

"They are very often late there, sir," he said. "It is a Continental
wine business, and there's always one or two of them over time."

"It's bad business, all the same," de Grost declared pleasantly.
"Good-night, policeman!"

"Good-night, sir!"

De Grost crossed the road diagonally, as though about to take the short
cut across London Bridge, but as soon as the policeman was out of sight
he retraced his steps to the building which they had been discussing,
and, turning the battered brass handle of the door, walked calmly in. On
his right and left were counting-houses framed with glass; in front, the
cavernous and ugly depths of a gloomy warehouse. He knocked upon the
window-pane on the right and passed forward a step or two, as though to
enter the office. The boy who had been engaged in the left-hand
counting-house came gliding from his place, passed silently behind the
visitor, and turned the key of the outer door. What followed seemed to
happen as though by some mysteriously directed force. The figures of men
came stealing out from the hidden places. The clerk who had been working
so hard at his desk calmly divested himself of a false moustache and
wig, and, assuming a more familiar appearance, strolled out into the
warehouse. De Grost looked around him with absolutely unruffled
composure. He was the centre of a little circle of men, respectably
dressed, but every one of them hard-featured, with something in their
faces which suggested not the ordinary toiler but the fighting
animal--the man who lives by his wits and knows something of danger. On
the outskirts of the circle stood Bernadine.

"Really," de Grost declared, removing his cigarette from his mouth for a
moment, "this is most unexpected. In the matter of dramatic surprises,
my friend Bernadine, you are most certainly in a class by yourself."

Bernadine smiled.

"You will understand, of course," he said, "that this little
entertainment is entirely for your amusement--well stage-managed,
perhaps, but my supers are not to be taken seriously. Since you are
here, Baron, might I ask you to precede me a few steps to the tasting
office?"

"By all means," de Grost answered. "It is this way, I believe."

He walked with unconcerned footsteps down the warehouse, on either side
of which were great bins and a wilderness of racking, until he came to a
small glass-enclosed office built out from the wall. Without hesitation
he entered it, and, removing his hat, selected the more comfortable of
the two chairs. Bernadine alone of the others followed him inside,
closing the door behind. De Grost, who appeared exceedingly comfortable,
stretched out his hand and took a small black bottle from a tiny
mahogany racking fixed against the wall by his side.

"You will excuse me, my dear Bernadine," he said, "but I see my friend
Greening has been tasting a few wines. The 'XX' upon the label here
signifies approval. With your permission."

He half filled a glass and pushed the bottle towards Bernadine.

"Greening's taste is unimpeachable," de Grost declared, setting down his
glass empty. "No use being a director of a city business, you know,
unless one interests oneself personally in it. Greening's judgment is
simply marvellous. I have never tasted a more beautiful wine. If the
boom in sherry does come," he continued complacently, "we shall be in an
excellent position to deal with it."

Bernadine laughed softly.

"Oh, my friend--Peter Ruff or Baron de Grost, or whatever you may choose
to call yourself," he said, "I am indeed wise to have come to the
conclusion that you and I are too big to occupy the same little spot on
earth!"

De Grost nodded approvingly.

"I was beginning to wonder," he remarked, "whether you would not soon
arrive at that decision?"

"Having arrived at it," Bernadine continued, looking intently at his
companion, "the logical sequence naturally occurs to you."

"Precisely, my dear Bernadine," de Grost assented. "You say to yourself,
no doubt, 'One of us two must go!' Being yourself, you would naturally
conclude that it must be me. To tell you the truth, I have been
expecting some sort of enterprise of this description for a considerable
time."

Bernadine shrugged his shoulders.

"Your expectations," he said, "seem scarcely to have provided you with a
safe conduct."

De Grost gazed reflectively into his empty glass.

"You see," he explained, "I am such a lucky person. Your arrangements
to-night, however, are, I perceive, unusually complete."

"I am glad you appreciate them," Bernadine remarked dryly.

"I would not for a moment," de Grost continued, "ask an impertinent or
an unnecessary question, but I must confess that I am rather concerned
to know the fate of my manager--the gentleman whom you yourself, with
the aid of a costumier, so ably represented."

Bernadine sighed.

"Alas!" he said, "your manager was a very obstinate person."

"And my clerk?"

"Incorruptible!" Bernadine declared. "Absolutely incorruptible! I
congratulate you, de Grost. Your society is one of the most wonderful
upon the face of this earth. I know little about it, but my admiration
is very sincere. Their attention to details and the personnel of their
staff is almost perfect. I may tell you at once that no sum that could
be offered tempted either of these men."

"I am delighted to hear it," de Grost replied, "but I must plead guilty
to a little temporary anxiety as to their present whereabouts."

"At this moment," Bernadine remarked, "they are within a few feet of us;
but, as you are doubtless aware, access to your delightful river is
obtainable from these premises. To be frank with you, my dear Baron, we
are waiting for the tide to rise."

"So thoughtful about these trifles!" de Grost murmured. "But their
present position? They are, I trust, not uncomfortable?"

Bernadine stood up and moved to the farther end of the office. He
beckoned his companion to his side and, drawing an electric torch from
his pocket, flashed the light into a dark corner behind an immense bin.
The forms of a man and a youth bound with ropes and gagged, lay
stretched upon the floor. De Grost sighed.

"I am afraid," he said, "that Mr. Greening, at any rate, is most
uncomfortable."

Bernadine turned off the light.

"At least, Baron," he declared, "if such extreme measures should become
necessary, I can promise you one thing--you shall have a quicker passage
into eternity than they."

De Grost resumed his seat.

"Has it really come to that?" he asked. "Will nothing but so crude a
proceeding as my absolute removal satisfy you?"

"Nothing else is, I fear, practicable," Bernadine replied, "unless you
decide to listen to reason. Believe me, my dear friend, I shall miss you
and our small encounters exceedingly; but, unfortunately, you stand in
the way of my career. You are the only man who has persistently baulked
me. You have driven me to use against you means which I had grown to
look upon as absolutely extinct in the upper circles of our profession."

De Grost peered through the glass walls of the office.

"Eight men, not counting yourself," he remarked, "and my poor manager
and his faithful clerk lying bound and helpless. It is heavy odds,
Bernadine."

"There is no question of odds, I think," Bernadine answered smoothly.
"You are much too clever a person to refuse to admit that you are
entirely in my power."

"And as regards terms? I really don't feel in the least anxious to make
my final bow with so little notice," de Grost said. "To tell you the
truth, I have been finding life quite interesting lately."

Bernadine eyed his prisoner keenly. Such absolute composure was in
itself disturbing. He was, for the moment, aware of a slight sensation
of uneasiness, which his common sense, however, speedily disposed of.

"There are two ways," he announced, "of dealing with an opponent. There
is the old-fashioned one--crude, but, in a sense, eminently
satisfactory--which sends him finally to adorn some other sphere."

"I do not like that one," de Grost interrupted. "Get on with the
alternative."

"The alternative," Bernadine declared, "is when his capacity for harm
can be destroyed."

"That needs a little explanation," de Grost murmured.

"Precisely. For instance, if you were to become absolutely discredited,
I think that you would be effectually out of my way. Your people do not
forgive."

"Then discredit me, by all means," de Grost begged. "It sounds
unpleasant, but I do not like your callous reference to the river."

Bernadine gazed at his ancient opponent for several moments. After all,
what was this but the splendid bravado of a beaten man, who is too
clever not to recognise defeat?

"I shall require," he said, "your code, the keys of your safe, which
contains a great many documents of interest to me, and a free entry into
your house."

De Grost drew a bunch of keys reluctantly from his pocket and laid them
upon the desk.

"You will find the code bound in green morocco leather," he announced,
"on the left-hand side, underneath the duplicate of a proposed Treaty
between Italy and--some other Power. Between ourselves, Bernadine, I
really expect that that is what you are after."

Bernadine's eyes glistened.

"What about the safe conduct into your house?" he asked.

De Grost drew his case from his pocket and wrote a few lines on the back
of one of his cards.

"This will ensure you entrance there," he said, "and access to my study.
If you see my wife, please reassure her as to my absence."

"I shall certainly do so," Bernadine agreed, with a faint smile.

"If I may be pardoned for alluding to a purely personal matter," de
Grost continued, "what is to become of me?"

"You will be bound and gagged in the same manner as your manager and his
clerk," Bernadine replied smoothly. "I regret the necessity, but you see
I can afford to run no risks. At four o'clock in the morning you will be
released. It must be part of our agreement that you allow the man who
stays behind the others for the purpose of setting you free, to depart
unmolested. I think I know you better than to imagine you would be
guilty of such _gaucherie_ as an appeal to the police."

"That, unfortunately," de Grost declared, with a little sigh, "is, as
you well know, out of the question. You are too clever for me,
Bernadine. After all, I shall have to go back to my farm."

Bernadine opened the door and called softly to one of his men. In less
than five minutes de Grost was bound hand and foot. Bernadine stepped
back and eyed his adversary with an air of ill-disguised triumph.

"I trust, Baron de Grost," he said, "that you will be as comfortable as
possible under the circumstances."

De Grost lay quite still. He was powerless to move or speak.

"Immediately," Bernadine continued, "I have presented myself at your
house, verified your safe conduct, and helped myself to certain papers
which I am exceedingly anxious to obtain," he went on, "I shall
telephone here to the man whom I leave in charge, and you will be set at
liberty in due course. If, for any reason, I meet with treachery and I
do not telephone, you will join Mr. Greening and his young companion in
a little--shall we call it aquatic recreation? I wish you a pleasant
hour and success in the future, Baron--as a farmer."

Bernadine withdrew and whispered his orders to his men. Soon the
electric light was turned out and the place was in darkness. The front
door was opened and closed; the group of confederates upon the pavement
lit cigarettes and wished one another "Good-night" with the brisk air of
tired employees released at last from long labours. Then there was
silence.

It was barely eleven o'clock when Bernadine reached the west-end of
London. His clothes had become a trifle disarranged, and he called for a
few minutes at his rooms in St. James's Street. Afterwards, he walked to
Merton House and rang the bell. To the servant who answered it he handed
his master's card.

"Will you show me the way to the library?" he asked. "I have some papers
to collect for the Baron de Grost."

The man hesitated. Even with the card in his hand, it seemed a somewhat
unusual proceeding.

"Will you step inside, sir?" he begged. "I should like to show this to
the Baroness. The master is exceedingly particular about anyone entering
his study."

"Do what you like so long as you do not keep me waiting," Bernadine
replied. "Your master's instructions are clear enough."

Violet came down the great staircase a few moments later, still in her
dinner-gown, her face a little pale, her eyes luminous. Bernadine smiled
as he accepted her eagerly offered hand. She was evidently anxious. A
thrill of triumph warmed his blood. Once she had been less kind to him
than she seemed now.

"My husband gave you this!" she exclaimed.

"A few minutes ago," Bernadine answered. "He tried to make his
instructions as clear as possible. We are jointly interested in a small
matter which needs immediate action."

She led the way to the study.

"It seems strange," she remarked, "that you and he should be working
together. I thought that you were on opposite sides."

"It is a matter of chance," Bernadine told her. "Your husband is a wise
man, Baroness. He knows when to listen to reason."

She threw open the door of the study, which was in darkness.

"If you will wait a moment," she said, closing the door, "I will turn on
the electric light."

She touched the knobs in the wall, and the room was suddenly flooded
with illumination. At the further end of the apartment was the great
safe. Close to it, in an easy-chair, his evening coat changed for a
smoking-jacket, with a neatly tied black tie replacing his crumpled
white cravat, the Baron de Grost sat awaiting his guest. A fierce oath
broke from Bernadine's lips. He turned toward the door only in time to
hear the key turn. Violet tossed it lightly in the air across to her
husband.

"My dear Bernadine," the latter remarked, "on the whole, I do not think
that this has been one of your successes. My keys, if you please."

Bernadine stood for a moment, his face dark with passion.

"Your keys are here, Baron de Grost," he said, placing them upon the
table. "If a bungling amateur may make such a request of a professor,
may I inquire how you escaped from your bonds and reached here before
me?"

The Baron de Grost smiled.

"Really," he said, "you have only to think for yourself for a moment, my
dear Bernadine, and you will understand. In the first place, the letter
you sent me signed 'Greening' was clearly a forgery. There was no one
else anxious to get me into their power, hence I associated it at once
with you. Naturally, I telephoned to the chief of my staff--I, too, am
obliged to employ some of these un-uniformed policemen, my dear
Bernadine, as you may be aware. It may interest you to know, further,
that there are seven entrances to the warehouse in Tooley Street.
Through one of these something like twenty of my men passed and were
already concealed in the place when I entered. At another of the doors a
motor-car waited for me. If I had chosen to lift my finger at any time,
your men would have been overpowered, and I might have had the pleasure
of dictating terms to you in my own office. Such a course did not appeal
to me. You and I, as you know, dear Count von Hern, conduct our peculiar
business under very delicate conditions, and the least thing we either
of us desire is notoriety. I managed things, as I thought, for the best.
The moment you left the place my men swarmed in. We gently but firmly
ejected your guard, released Greening and my clerk, and I passed you
myself in Fleet Street, a little more comfortable, I think, in my forty
horsepower motor-car than you in that very disreputable hansom. The
other details are too absurdly simple; one need not enlarge upon them."

Bernadine shrugged his shoulders.

"I am at your service," he declared calmly.

De Grost laughed.

"My dear fellow," he said, "need I say that you are free to come or go,
to take a whisky and soda with me or to depart at once--exactly as you
feel inclined? The door was locked only until you restored to me my
keys."

He crossed the room, fitted the key in the lock and turned it.

Bernadine drew himself up.

"I will not drink with you," he said. "But some day a reckoning shall
come."

He turned to the door. De Grost laid his finger upon the bell.

"Show Count von Hern out," he directed the astonished servant who
appeared a moment or two later.



CHAPTER V

THE SEVEN SUPPERS OF ANDREA KORUST


Baron de Grost was enjoying what he had confidently looked forward to as
an evening's relaxation, pure and simple. He sat in one of the front
rows of the stalls of the Alhambra, his wife by his side and an
excellent cigar in his mouth. An hour or so before he had been in
telephonic communication with Paris, had spoken with Sogrange himself,
and received his assurance of a calm in political and criminal affairs
amounting almost to stagnation. It was out of the season, and though his
popularity was as great as ever, neither he nor his wife had any social
engagements. Hence this evening at a music-hall, which Peter, for his
part, was finding thoroughly amusing.

The place was packed--some said owing to the engagement of Andrea Korust
and his brother, others to the presence of Mademoiselle Sophie Celaire
in her wonderful _Danse des Apaches_. The violinist that night had a
great reception. Three times he was called before the curtain; three
times he was obliged to reiterate his grateful but immutable resolve
never to yield to the nightly storm which demanded more from a man who
has given of his best. Slim, with the worn face and hollow eyes of a
genius, he stood and bowed his thanks, but when he thought the time had
arrived he disappeared, and though the house shook for minutes
afterwards, nothing could persuade him to reappear.

Afterward came the turn which, notwithstanding the furore caused by
Andrea Korust's appearance, was generally considered to be equally
responsible for the packed house--the Apache dance of Mademoiselle
Sophie Celaire. Peter sat slightly forward in his chair as the curtain
went up. For a time he seemed utterly absorbed by the performance.
Violet glanced at him once or twice curiously. It began to occur to her
that it was not so much the dance as the dancer in whom her husband was
interested.

"You have seen her before--this Mademoiselle Celaire?" she whispered.

Peter nodded.

"Yes," he admitted; "I have seen her before."

The dance proceeded. It was like many others of its sort, only a little
more daring, a little more finished. Mademoiselle Celaire, in her
tight-fitting, shabby black frock, with her wild mass of hair, her
flashing eyes, her seductive gestures, was, without doubt, a marvellous
person. The Baron watched her every movement with absorbed attention.
Even when the curtain went down he forgot to clap. His eyes followed her
off the stage. Violet shrugged her shoulders. She was looking very
handsome herself in a black velvet dinner gown, and a hat so exceedingly
Parisian that no one had had the heart to ask her to remove it.

"My dear Peter," she remarked, reprovingly, "a moderate amount of
admiration for that very agile young lady I might, perhaps, be inclined
to tolerate, but, having watched you for the last quarter of an hour, I
am bound to confess that I am becoming jealous."

"Of Mademoiselle Celaire?" he asked.

"Of Mademoiselle Sophie Celaire."

He leaned a little towards her. His lips were parted; he was about to
make a statement or a confession. Just then a tall commissionaire leaned
over from behind and touched him on the shoulder.

"For Monsieur le Baron de Grost," he announced, handing Peter a note.

Peter glanced towards his wife.

"You permit me?" he murmured, breaking the seal.

Violet shrugged her shoulders ever so slightly. Her husband was already
absorbed in the few lines hastily scrawled across the sheet of notepaper
which he held in his hand:

     [Illustration: 4] "Monsieur Baron de Grost. [Illustration: backward
     4]

     "DEAR MONSIEUR LE BARON,

     "_Come to my dressing-room, without fail, as soon as you receive
     this._

     "SOPHIE CELAIRE."

Violet looked over his shoulder.

"The hussy!" she exclaimed, indignantly.

Her husband raised his eyebrows. With his forefinger he merely tapped
the two numerals.

"The Double Four!" she gasped

He looked around and nodded. The commissionaire was waiting. Peter took
up his silk hat from under the seat.

"If I am detained, dear," he whispered, "you'll make the best of it,
won't you? The car will be here, and Frederick will be looking out for
you."

"Of course," she answered, cheerfully. "I shall be quite all right."

She nodded brightly, and Peter took his departure. He passed through a
door on which was painted "Private," and through a maze of scenery and
stage hands and ballet ladies, by a devious route, to the region of the
dressing-rooms. His guide conducted him to the door of one of these and
knocked.

"_Entrez, monsieur_," a shrill feminine voice replied.

Peter entered, and closed the door behind him. The commissionaire
remained outside. Mademoiselle Celaire turned to greet her visitor.

"It is a few words I desire with you as quickly as possible, if you
please, Monsieur le Baron," she said, advancing towards him. "Listen."

She had brushed out her hair, and it hung from her head straight and a
little stiff, almost like the hair of an Indian woman. She had washed
her face free of all cosmetics, and her pallor was almost waxen. She
wore a dressing-gown of green silk. Her discarded black frock lay upon
the floor.

"I am entirely at your service, mademoiselle," Peter answered, bowing.
"Continue, if you please."

"You sup with me to-night--you are my guest."

He hesitated.

"I am very much honoured," he murmured. "It is an affair of urgency,
then? Mademoiselle will remember that I am not alone here."

She threw out her hands scornfully.

"They told me in Paris that you were a genius!" she exclaimed. "Cannot
you feel, then, when a thing is urgent? Do you not know it without being
told? You must meet me with a carriage at the stage door in forty
minutes. We sup in Hamilton Place with Andrea Korust and his brother."

"With whom?" Peter asked, surprised.

"With the Korust Brothers," she repeated. "I have just been talking to
Andrea. He calls himself a Hungarian. Bah! They are as much Hungarian as
I am!"

Peter leaned slightly against the table and looked thoughtfully at his
companion. He was trying to remember whether he had ever heard anything
of these young men.

"Mademoiselle," he said, "the prospect of partaking of any meal in your
company is in itself enchanting, but I do not know your friends, the
Korust Brothers. Apart from their wonderful music, I do not recollect
ever having heard of them before in my life. What excuse have I, then,
for accepting their hospitality? Pardon me, too, if I add that you have
not as yet spoken as to the urgency of this affair."

She turned from him impatiently, and, throwing herself back into the
chair from which she had risen at his entrance, she began to exchange
the thick woollen stockings which she had been wearing upon the stage
for others of fine silk.

"Oh, la, la!" she exclaimed. "You are very slow, Monsieur le Baron. It
is, perhaps, my stage name which has misled you. I am Marie Lapouse.
Does that convey anything to you?"

"A great deal," Peter admitted, quickly. "You stand very high upon the
list of my agents whom I may trust."

"Then stay here no longer," she begged, "for my maid waits outside, and
I need her services. Go back and make your excuses to your wife. In
forty minutes I shall expect you at the stage door."

"An affair of diplomacy, this, or brute force?" he inquired.

"Heaven knows what may happen!" she replied. "To tell you the truth, I
do not know myself. Be prepared for anything, but, for Heaven's sake, go
now! I can dress no further without my maid, and Andrea Korust may come
in at any moment. I do not wish him to find you here."

Peter made his way thoughtfully back to his seat. He explained the
situation to his wife so far as he could, and sent her home. Then he
waited until the car returned, smoking a cigarette and trying once more
to remember if he had ever heard anything of Andrea Korust or his
brother from Sogrange. Punctually at the time stated he was outside the
stage door of the music-hall, and a few minutes later Mademoiselle
Celaire appeared, a dazzling vision of furs and smiles and jewellery
imperfectly concealed. A small crowd pressed around to see the famous
Frenchwoman. Peter handed her gravely across the pavement into his
waiting motor-car. One or two of the loungers gave vent to a groan of
envy at the sight of the diamonds which blazed from her neck and bosom.
Peter smiled as he gave the address to his servant, and took his place
by the side of his companion.

"They see only the externals, this mob," he remarked. "They picture to
themselves, perhaps, a little supper for two. Alas!"

Mademoiselle Celaire laughed at him softly.

"You need not trouble to assume that most disconsolate of expressions,
my dear Baron," she assured him. "Your reputation as a man of gallantry
is beyond question, but remember that I know you also for the most
devoted and loyal of husbands. We waste no time in folly, you and I. It
is the business of the Double Four."

Peter was relieved, but his innate politeness forbade his showing it.

"Proceed," he said.

"The Brothers Korust," she went on, leaning towards him, "have a week's
engagement at the Alhambra. Their salary is six hundred pounds. They
play very beautifully, of course, but I think that it is as much as they
are worth."

Peter agreed with her fervently. He had no soul for music.

"They have taken the furnished house belonging to one of your dukes, in
Hamilton Place, for which we are bound; taken it, too, at a fabulous
rent," Mademoiselle Celaire continued. "They have installed there a chef
and a whole retinue of servants. They were here for seven nights; they
have issued invitations for seven supper parties."

"Hospitable young men they seem to be," Peter murmured. "I read in one
of the stage papers that Andrea is a count in his own country, and that
they perform in public only for the love of their music and for the sake
of the excitement and travel."

"A paragraph wholly inspired and utterly false," Mademoiselle Celaire
declared firmly, sitting a little forward in the car and laying her
hand, ablaze with jewels, upon his coat sleeve. "Listen. They call
themselves Hungarians. Bah! I know that they are in touch with a great
European Court, both of them, the Court of the country to which they
really belong. They have plans, plans and schemes connected with their
visit here, which I do not understand. I have done my best with Andrea
Korust, but he is not a man to be trusted. I know that there is
something more in these seven supper parties than idle hospitality. I
and others like me, artistes and musicians, are invited, to give the
assemblies a properly Bohemian tone, but there are to be other guests,
attracted there, no doubt, because the papers have spoken of these
gatherings."

"You have some idea of what it all means, in your mind?" Peter
suggested.

"It is too vague to put into words," she declared, shaking her head. "We
must both watch. Afterwards we will, if you like, compare notes."

The car drew up before the doors of a handsome house in Hamilton Place.
A footman received Peter, and relieved him of his hat and overcoat. A
trim maid performed the same office for Mademoiselle Celaire. They met a
moment or two later and were ushered into a large drawing-room in which
a dozen or two of men and women were already assembled, and from which
came a pleasant murmur of voices and laughter. The apartment was hung
with pale green satin; the furniture was mostly Chippendale, upholstered
in the same shade. A magnificent grand piano stood open in a smaller
room, just visible beyond. Only one thing seemed strange to the two
newly arrived guests. The room was entirely lit with shaded candles,
giving a certain mysterious but not unpleasant air of obscurity to the
whole suite of apartments. Through the gloom the jewels and eyes of the
women seemed to shine with a new brilliance. Slight eccentricities of
toilette--for a part of the gathering was distinctly Bohemian--were
softened and subdued. The whole effect was somewhat weird, but also
picturesque.

Andrea Korust advanced from a little group to meet his guests. Off the
stage he seemed at first sight frailer and slighter than ever. His dress
coat had been exchanged for a velvet dinner jacket, and his white tie
for a drooping black bow. He had a habit of blinking nearly all the
time, as though his large brown eyes, which he seldom wholly opened,
were weaker than they appeared to be. Nevertheless, when he came to
within a few paces of his newly arrived visitors, they shone with plenty
of expression. Without any change of countenance, however, he held out
his hand.

"Dear Andrea," Mademoiselle Celaire exclaimed, "you permit me that I
present to you my dear friend, well known in Paris--alas! many years
ago--Monsieur le Baron de Grost. Monsieur le Baron was kind enough to
pay his respects to me this evening, and I have induced him to become my
escort here."

"It was my good fortune," Peter remarked, smiling, "that I saw
Mademoiselle Celaire's name upon the bills this evening--my good
fortune, since it has procured for me the honour of an acquaintance with
a musician so distinguished."

"You are very kind, Monsieur le Baron," Korust replied.

"You stay here, I regret to hear, a very short time?"

"Alas!" Andrea Korust admitted, "it is so. For myself, I would that it
were longer. I find your London so attractive, the people so friendly.
They fall in with my whims so charmingly. I have a hatred, you know, of
solitude. I like to make acquaintances wherever I go, to have delightful
women and interesting men around, to forget that life is not always gay.
If I am too much alone I am miserable, and when I am miserable I am in a
very bad way indeed. I cannot then make music."

Peter smiled gravely and sympathetically.

"And your brother? Does he, too, share your gregarious instincts?"

Korust paused for a moment before replying. His eyes were quite wide
open now. If one could judge from his expression, one would certainly
have said that the Baron de Grost's attempts to ingratiate himself with
his host were distinctly unsuccessful.

"My brother has exactly opposite instincts," he said slowly. "He finds
no pleasure in society. At the sound of a woman's voice he hides."

"He is not here, then?" Peter asked, glancing around.

Andrea Korust shook his head.

"It is doubtful whether he joins us this evening at all," he declared.
"My sister, however, is wholly of my disposition. Monsieur le Baron will
permit me that I present her."

Peter bowed low before a very handsome young woman with flashing black
eyes, and a type of feature undoubtedly belonging to one of the
countries of Eastern Europe. She was picturesquely dressed in a gown of
flaming red silk, made as though in one piece, without trimming or
flounces, and she seemed inclined to bestow upon her new acquaintance
all the attention that he might desire. She took him at once into a
corner and seated herself by his side. It was impossible for Peter not
to associate the _empressement_ of her manner with the few words which
Andrea Korust had whispered into her ear at the moment of their
introduction.

"So you," she murmured, "are the wonderful Baron de Grost? I have heard
of you so often."

"Wonderful!" Peter repeated, with twinkling eyes. "I have never been
called that before. I feel that I have no claim whatever to distinction,
especially in a gathering like this."

She shrugged her shoulders and glanced carelessly across the room.

"They are well enough," she admitted; "but one wearies of genius on
every side of one. Genius is not the best thing in the world to live
with, you know. It has whims and fancies. For instance, look at these
rooms--the gloom, the obscurity--and I love so much the light."

Peter smiled.

"It is the privilege of genius," he remarked, "to have whims and to
indulge in them."

She sighed.

"To do Andrea justice," she said, "it is, perhaps, scarcely a whim that
he chooses to receive his guests in semi-darkness. He has weak eyes, and
he is much too vain to wear spectacles. Tell me, you know everyone
here?"

"No one," Peter declared. "Please enlighten me, if you think it
necessary. For myself," he added, dropping his voice a little, "I feel
that the happiness of my evening is assured without making any further
acquaintances."

"But you came as the guest of Mademoiselle Celaire," she reminded him
doubtfully, with a faint regretful sigh and a provocative gleam in her
eyes.

"I saw Mademoiselle Celaire to-night for the first time for years,"
Peter replied. "I called to see her in her dressing-room, and she
claimed me for an escort this evening. I am, alas! a very occasional
wanderer in the pleasant paths of Bohemia."

"If that is really true," she murmured, "I suppose I must tell you
something about the people, or you will feel that you have wasted your
opportunity."

"Mademoiselle," Peter whispered.

She held out her hand and laughed into his face.

"No!" she interrupted. "I shall do my duty. Opposite you is Mademoiselle
Drezani, the famous singer at Covent Garden. Do I need to tell you that,
I wonder? Rudolf Maesterling, the dramatist, stands behind her there in
the corner. He is talking to the wonderful Cléo, whom all the world
knows. Monsieur Guyer there, he is manager, I believe, of the Alhambra;
and talking to him is Marborg, the great pianist. The two ladies talking
to my brother are Esther Hammerton, whom, of course, you know by sight.
She is leading lady, is she not, at the Hilarity Theatre? The other one
is Miss Ransome. They tell me that she is your only really great English
actress."

Peter nodded appreciatively.

"It is all most interesting," he declared. "Now, tell me, please, who is
the military person with the stiff figure and sallow complexion standing
by the door? He seems quite alone."

The girl made a little grimace.

"I suppose I ought to be looking after him," she admitted, rising
reluctantly to her feet. "He is a soldier just back from India--a
General Noseworthy, with all sorts of letters after his name. If
Mademoiselle Celaire is generous, perhaps we may have a few minutes'
conversation later on," she added, with a parting smile.

"Say, rather, if Mademoiselle Korust is kind," de Grost replied, bowing.
"It depends upon that only."

He strolled across the room and rejoined Mademoiselle Celaire a few
moments later. They stood apart in a corner.

"I should like my supper," Peter declared.

"They wait for one more guest," Mademoiselle Celaire announced.

"One more guest! Do you know who it is?"

"No idea," she answered. "One would imagine that it was someone of
importance. Are you any wiser than when you came dear master?" she added
under her breath.

"Not a whit," he replied promptly.

She took out her fan and waved it slowly in front of her face.

"Yet you must discover what it all means to-night or not at all," she
whispered. "The dear Andrea has intimated to me most delicately that
another escort would be more acceptable if I should honour him again."

"That helps," he murmured. "See, our last guest arrives. Ah!"

A tall, spare-looking man was just being announced. They heard his name
as Andrea presented him to a companion:

"Colonel Mayson!"

Mademoiselle Celaire saw a gleam in her companion's eyes.

"It is coming--the idea?" she whispered.

"Very vaguely," he admitted.

"Who is this Colonel Mayson?"

"Our only military aeronaut," Peter replied.

She raised her eyebrows.

"Aeronaut!" she repeated doubtfully. "I see nothing in that. Both my own
country and Germany are years ahead of poor England in the air. Is it
not so?"

Peter smiled and held out his arm.

"See," he said, "supper has been announced. Afterwards Andrea Korust
will play to us, and I think that Colonel Mayson and his distinguished
brother officer from India will talk. We shall see."

They passed into a room whose existence had suddenly been revealed by
the drawing back of some beautiful brocaded curtains. Supper was a
delightful meal, charmingly served. Peter, putting everything else out
of his head for the moment, thoroughly enjoyed himself, and, remembering
his duty as a guest, contributed in no small degree towards the success
of the entertainment. He sat between Mademoiselle Celaire and his
hostess, both of whom demanded much from him in the way of attention.
But he still found time to tell stories which were listened to by
everyone, and exchanged sallies with the gayest. Only Andrea Korust,
from his place at the head of the table, glanced occasionally towards
his popular guest with a curious, half-hidden expression of distaste and
suspicion. The more the Baron de Grost shone, the more uneasy Andrea
became. The signal to rise from the meal was given almost abruptly.
Mademoiselle Korust hung on to Peter's arm. Her own wishes and her
brother's orders seemed to absolutely coincide. She led him towards a
retired corner of the music-room. On the way, however, Peter overheard
the introduction which he had expected.

"General Noseworthy is just returned from India, Colonel Mayson," Korust
said, in his usual quiet, tired tone. "You will, perhaps, find it
interesting to talk together a little. As for me, I play because all are
polite enough to wish it, but conversation disturbs me not in the
least."

Peter passed, smiling, on to the corner pointed out by his companion,
which was the darkest and most secluded in the room. He took her fan and
gloves, lit her cigarette, and leaned back by her side.

"How does your brother, a stranger to London, find time to make the
acquaintance of so many interesting people?" he asked.

"He brought many letters," she replied. "He has friends everywhere."

"I have an idea," Peter remarked, "that an acquaintance of my own, the
Count von Hern, spoke to me once about him."

She took her cigarette from her lips and turned her head slightly.
Peter's expression was one of amiable reminiscence. His cheeks were a
trifle flushed; his appearance was entirely reassuring. She laughed at
her brother's caution. She found her companion delightful.

"Yes, the Count von Hern is a friend of my brother's," she admitted
carelessly.

"And of yours?" he whispered, his arm slightly pressed against hers.

She laughed at him silently and their eyes met. Decidedly Peter, Baron
de Grost, found it hard to break away from his old weakness. Andrea
Korust, from his place near the piano, breathed a sigh of relief as he
watched. A moment or two later, however, Mademoiselle Korust was obliged
to leave her companion to receive a late but unimportant guest, and
almost simultaneously Colonel Mayson passed by on his way to the farther
end of the apartment. Andrea Korust was bending over the piano to give
some instructions to his accompanist. Peter leaned forward and his face
and tone were strangely altered.

"You will find General Noseworthy of the Indian Army a little
inquisitive, Colonel," he remarked.

The latter turned sharply round. There was meaning in those few words,
without doubt! There was meaning, too, in the still, cold face which
seemed to repel his question. He passed on thoughtfully. Mademoiselle
Korust, with a gesture of relief, came back and threw herself once more
upon the couch.

"We must talk in whispers," she said gaily. "Andrea always declares that
he does not mind conversation, but too much noise is, of course,
impossible. Besides, Mademoiselle Celaire will not spare you to me for
long."

"There is a whole language," he replied, "which was made for whisperers.
And as for Mademoiselle Celaire----"

"Well?"

He laughed softly.

"Mademoiselle Celaire is, I think, more your brother's friend than
mine," he murmured. "At least I will be generous. He has given me a
delightful evening. I resign my claims upon Mademoiselle Celaire."

"It would break your heart," she declared.

His voice sank even below a whisper. Decidedly Peter, Baron de Grost,
did not improve!...

He rose to leave precisely at the right time, neither too early nor too
late. He had spent altogether a most amusing evening. There were one or
two little comedies which had diverted him extremely. At the moment of
parting, the beautiful eyes of Mademoiselle Korust had been raised to
his very earnestly.

"You will come again very soon--to-morrow night?" she had whispered. "Is
it necessary that you bring Mademoiselle Celaire?"

"It is altogether unnecessary," Peter replied.

"Let me try and entertain you instead, then."

It was precisely at that instant that Andrea had sent for his sister.
Peter watched their brief conversation with much interest and intense
amusement. She was being told not to invite him there again and she was
rebelling! Without a doubt he had made a conquest! She returned to him
flushed, and with a dangerous glitter in her eyes.

"Monsieur le Baron," she said, leading him on one side, "I am ashamed
and angry."

"Your brother is annoyed because you have asked me here to-morrow
night?" he asked quickly.

"It is so," she confessed. "Indeed, I thank you that you have spared me
the task of putting my brother's discourtesy into words. Andrea takes
violent fancies like that sometimes. I am ashamed, but what can I do?"

"Nothing, mademoiselle," he admitted, with a sigh. "I obey, of course.
Did your brother mention the source of his aversion to me?"

"He is too absurd sometimes," she declared. "One must treat him like a
great baby."

"Nevertheless, there must be a reason," Peter persisted, gently.

"He has heard some foolish thing from the Count von Hern," she admitted,
reluctantly. "Do not let us think anything more about it. In a few days
it will have passed. And meanwhile----"

She paused. He leaned a little towards her. She was looking intently at
a ring upon her finger.

"If you would really like to see me," she whispered, "and if you are
sure that Mademoiselle Celaire would not object, could you not ask me to
tea to-morrow or the next day?"

"To-morrow," Peter insisted, with a becoming show of eagerness. "Shall
we say at the Carlton at five?"

She hesitated.

"Isn't that rather a public place?" she objected.

"Anywhere else you like."

She was silent for a moment. She seemed to be waiting for some
suggestion from him. None came.

"The Carlton at five," she murmured. "I am angry with Andrea. I feel,
even, that I could break his wonderful violin in two!"

Peter sighed once more.

"I should like to twist von Hern's neck!" he declared. "Lucky for him
that he's in St. Petersburg! Let us forget this unpleasant matter,
mademoiselle. The evening has been too delightful for such memories."

Mademoiselle Celaire turned to her escort as soon as they were alone in
the car.

"As an escort, let me tell you, my dear Baron," she exclaimed, with some
pique, "that you are a miserable failure! For the rest----"

"For the rest, I will admit that I am puzzled," Peter said. "I need to
think. I have the glimmerings of an idea--no more."

"You will act? It is an affair for us--for the Double Four?"

"Without a doubt--an affair and a serious one," Peter assured her. "I
shall act. Exactly how I cannot say until after to-morrow."

"To-morrow?" she repeated.

"Mademoiselle Korust takes tea with me," he explained.

       *       *       *       *       *

In a quiet sort of way, the series of supper parties given by Andrea
Korust became the talk of London. The most famous dancer in the world
broke through her unvarying rule, and night after night thrilled the
distinguished little gathering. An opera singer, the "star" of the
season, sang; a great genius recited; and Andrea himself gave always of
his best. Apart from this wonderful outpouring of talent, Andrea Korust
himself seemed to possess the peculiar art of bringing into touch with
one another people naturally interested in the same subjects. On the
night after the visit of Peter, Baron de Grost, His Grace the Duke of
Rosshire was present, the man in whose hands lay the destinies of the
British Navy; and, curiously enough, on the same night, a great French
writer on naval subjects was present, whom the Duke had never met, and
with whom he was delighted to talk for some time apart. On another
occasion, the Military Secretary to the French Embassy was able to have
a long and instructive chat with a distinguished English general on the
subject of the recent man[oe]uvres, and the latter received, in the
strictest confidence, some very interesting information concerning the
new type of French guns. On the following evening the greatest of our
Colonial statesmen, a red-hot Imperialist, was able to chat about the
resources of the Empire with an English politician of similar views,
whom he chanced never to have previously met. Altogether these parties
seemed to be the means of bringing together a series of most interesting
people, interesting not only in themselves, but in their relations to
one another. It was noticeable, however, that from this side of his
little gatherings Andrea Korust remained wholly apart. He admitted that
music and cheerful companionship were the only two things in life he
really cared for. Politics or matters of world import seemed to leave
him unmoved. If a serious subject of conversation were started at
supper-time he was frankly bored, and took no pains to hide the fact. It
is certain that whatever interesting topics were alluded to in his
presence, he remained entirely outside any understanding of them.
Mademoiselle Celaire, who was present most evenings, although with other
escorts, was puzzled. She could see nothing whatever to account for the
warning which she had received, and had at once passed on, as was her
duty, to the Baron de Grost. She failed, also, to understand the faint
but perceptible enlightenment to which Peter himself had admittedly
attained after that first evening. Take that important conversation, for
instance, between the French military _attaché_ and the British general.
Without a doubt it was of interest, and especially so to the country
which she was sure claimed his allegiance, but it was equally without
doubt that Andrea Korust neither overheard a word of that conversation
nor betrayed the slightest curiosity concerning it. Mademoiselle Celaire
was a clever woman, and she had never felt so hopelessly at fault.
Illumination was to come, however--illumination, dramatic and complete.

The seventh and last of these famous supper parties was in full swing.
Notwithstanding the shaded candles, which left the faces of the guests a
little indistinct, the scene was a brilliant one. Mademoiselle Celaire
was wearing her famous diamonds, which shone through the gloom like
pin-pricks of fire; Garda Desmaines, the wonderful Garda, sat next to
her host, her bosom and hair on fire with jewels, yet with the most
wonderful light of all glowing in her eyes; a famous actor, who had
thrown his proverbial reticence to the winds, kept his immediate
neighbours in a state of semi-hysterical mirth; the clink of
wine-glasses, the laughter of beautiful women, the murmur of cultivated
voices, rose and fell through the faint, mysterious gloom. It was a
picturesque, a wonderful scene enough. Pale as a marble statue, with the
covert smile of the gracious host, Andrea Korust sat at the head of the
table, well pleased with his company, as indeed he had the right to be.
By his side was a great American statesman, who was travelling round the
world, and yet had refused all other invitations of this sort. He had
come for the pleasure of meeting the famous Dutch writer and politician,
Mr. van Jool. The two were already talking intimately. It was at this
point that tragedy, or something like it, intervened. A man's impatient
voice was heard in the hall outside, a man's voice which grew louder and
louder, more impatient, finally more passionate. People raised their
heads to listen. The American statesman, who was, perhaps, the only one
to realise exactly what was coming, slipped his hand into his pocket and
gripped something cold and hard. Then the door was flung open. An
apologetic and much disturbed butler made the announcement which had
evidently been demanded of him.

"Mr. von Tassen!"

A silence followed--breathless--the silence before the bursting of the
storm. Mr. von Tassen was the name of the American statesman, and the
man who rose slowly from his place by his host's side was the exact
double of the man who stood now upon the threshold, gazing in upon the
room. The expression of the two alone was different. The new-comer was
furiously angry, and looked it. The sham Mr. von Tassen was very much at
his ease. It was he who broke the silence, and his voice was curiously
free from all trace of emotion. He was looking his double over with an
air of professional interest.

"On the whole," he said calmly, "very good. A little stouter, I
perceive, and the eyebrows a trifle too regular. Of course, when you
make faces at me like that, it is hard to judge of the expression. I can
only say that I did the best I could."

"Who the devil are you, masquerading in my name?" the new-comer
demanded, with emphasis. "This man is an impostor!" he added, turning to
Andrea Korust. "What is he doing at your table?"

Andrea leaned forward, and his face was an evil thing to look upon.

"Who are you?" he hissed out.

The sham Mr. von Tassen turned away for a moment and stooped down. The
trick has been done often enough upon the stage, often in less time, but
seldom with more effect. The wonderful wig disappeared, the spectacles,
the lines in the face, the make-up of diabolical cleverness. With his
back to the wall and his fingers playing with something in his pocket,
Peter, Baron de Grost smiled upon his host.

"Since you insist upon knowing--the Baron de Grost, at your service!" he
announced.

Andrea Korust was, for the moment, speechless. One of the women
shrieked. The real Mr. von Tassen looked around him helplessly.

"Will someone be good enough to enlighten me as to the meaning of this?"
he begged. "Is it a roast? If so, I only want to catch on. Let me get to
the joke, if there is one. If not, I should like a few words of
explanation from you, sir," he added, addressing Peter.

"Presently," the latter replied. "In the meantime, let me persuade you
that I am not the only impostor here."

He seized a glass of water and dashed it in the face of Mr. van Jool.
There was a moment's scuffle, and no more of Mr. van Jool. What emerged
was a good deal like the shy Maurice Korust, who accompanied his brother
at the music-hall, but whose distaste for these gatherings had been
Andrea's continual lament. The Baron de Grost stepped back once more
against the wall. His host was certainly looking dangerous. Mademoiselle
Celaire was leaning forward, staring through the gloom with distended
eyes. Around the table every head was craned towards the centre of the
disturbance. It was Peter again who spoke.

"Let me suggest, Andrea Korust," he said, "that you send your
guests--those who are not immediately interested in this affair--into
the next room. I will offer Mr. von Tassen then the explanation to which
he is entitled."

Andrea Korust staggered to his feet. The man's nerve had failed. He was
shaking all over. He pointed to the music-room.

"If you would be so good, ladies and gentlemen!" he begged. "We will
follow you immediately."

They went, with obvious reluctance. All their eyes seemed focused upon
Peter. He bore their scrutiny with calm cheerfulness. For a moment he
had feared Korust, but that moment had passed. A servant, obeying his
master's gesture, pulled back the curtains after the departing crowd.
The four men were alone.

"Mr. von Tassen," Peter said easily, "you are a man who loves
adventures. To-night you experience a new sort of one. Over in your
great country such methods as these are laughed at as the cheap device
of sensation-mongers. Nevertheless, they exist. To-night is a proof that
they exist."

"Get on to facts, sir!" the American admonished. "Before you leave this
room, you've got to explain to me what you mean by passing yourself off
as Thomas von Tassen."

Peter bowed.

"With much pleasure, Mr. von Tassen," he declared. "For your
information, I might tell you that you are not the only person in whose
guise I have figured. In fact, I have had quite a busy week. I have
been--let me see--I have been Monsieur le Marquis de Beau Kunel on the
night when our shy friend, Maurice Korust, was playing the part of
General Henderson. I have also been His Grace the Duke of Rosshire when
my friend Maurice here was introduced to me as François Defayal, known
by name to me as one of the greatest writers on naval matters. A little
awkward about the figure I found His Grace, but otherwise I think that I
should have passed muster wherever he was known. I have also passed as
Sir William Laureston, on the evening when my rival artiste here sang
the praises of Imperial England."

Andrea Korust leaned forward with venomous eyes.

"You mean that it was you who was here last night in Sir William
Laureston's place?" he almost shrieked.

"Most certainly," Peter admitted, "but you must remember that, after
all, my performances have been no more difficult than those of your shy
but accomplished brother. Whenever I took to myself a strange
personality I found him there, equally good as to detail, and with his
subject always at his finger-tips. We settled that little matter of the
canal, didn't we?" Peter remarked cheerfully, laying his hand upon the
shoulder of the young man.

They stared at him, these two white-faced brothers, like tiger-cats
about to spring. Mr. von Tassen was getting impatient.

"Look here," he protested, "you may be clearing matters up so far as
regards Mr. Andrea Korust and his brother, but I'm as much in the fog as
ever. Where do I come in?"

"Your pardon, sir!" Peter replied. "I am getting nearer things now.
These two young men--we will not call them hard names--are suffering
from an excess of patriotic zeal. They didn't come and sit down on a
camp-stool and sketch obsolete forts, as those others of their
countrymen do when they want to pose as the bland and really exceedingly
ignorant foreigners. They went about the matter with some skill. It
occurred to them that it might be interesting to their country to know
what Sir William Laureston thought about the strength of the Imperial
Navy, and to what extent his country were willing to go in maintaining
their allegiance to Great Britain. Then there was the Duke of Rosshire.
They thought they'd like to know his views as to the development of the
Navy during the next ten years. There was that little matter, too, of
the French guns. It would certainly be interesting to them to know what
Monsieur le Marquis de Beau Kunel had to say about them. These people
were all invited to sit at the hospitable board of our host here. I,
however, had an inkling on the first night of what was going on, and I
was easily able to persuade those in authority to let me play their
several parts. You, sir," Peter added, turning to Mr. von Tassen, "you,
sir, floored me. You were not an Englishman, and there was no appeal
which I could make. I simply had to risk you. I counted upon your not
turning up. Unfortunately, you did. Fortunately, you are the last guest.
This is the seventh supper."

Mr. von Tassen glanced around at the three men and made up his mind.

"What do you call yourself?" he asked Peter.

"The Baron de Grost," Peter replied.

"Then, my friend the Baron de Grost," von Tassen said, "I think that you
and I had better get out of this. So I was to talk about Germany with
Mr. van Jool, eh?"

"I have already explained your views," Peter declared, with twinkling
eyes. "Mr. van Jool was delighted."

Mr. von Tassen shook with laughter.

"Say," he exclaimed, "this is a great story! If you're ready, Baron de
Grost, lead the way to where we can get a whisky and soda and a chat."

Mademoiselle Celaire came gliding out to them.

"I am not going to be left here," she whispered, taking Peter's arm.

Peter looked back from the door.

"At any rate, Mr. Andrea Korust," he said, "your first supper was a
success. Colonel Mayson was genuine. Our real English military aeronaut
was here, and he has disclosed to you, Maurice Korust, all that he ever
knew. Henceforth I presume your great country will dispute with us for
the mastery of the air."

"Queer country, this," Mr. von Tassen remarked, pausing on the step to
light a cigar. "Seems kind of humdrum after New York, but there's no use
talking--things do happen over here anyway!"



CHAPTER VI

THE MISSION OF MAJOR KOSUTH


His host, very fussy as he always was on the morning of his big shoot,
came bustling towards de Grost, with a piece of paper in his hand. The
party of men had just descended from a large brake and were standing
about on the edge of the common, examining cartridges, smoking a last
cigarette before the business of the morning, and chatting together over
the prospects of the day's sport. In the distance, a cloud of dust
indicated the approach of a fast-travelling motor-car.

"My dear Baron," Sir William Bounderby said, "I want you to change your
stand to-day. I must have a good man at the far corner as the birds go
off my land from there, and Addington was missing them shockingly
yesterday. Besides, there is a new man coming on your left, and I know
nothing of his shooting--nothing at all!"

Peter smiled.

"Anywhere you choose to put me, Sir William," he assented. "They came
badly for Addington yesterday, and well for me. However, I'll do my
best."

"I wish people wouldn't bring strangers, especially to the one shoot
where I'm keen about the bag. I told Portal he could bring his
brother-in-law, and he's bringing this foreign fellow instead. Don't
suppose he can shoot for nuts! Did you ever hear of him, I wonder? The
Count von Hern, he calls himself."

Peter was not on his guard and a little exclamation escaped him.

"Bernadine!" he murmured, softly. "So the game begins once more!"

His interest was unmistakable. It was not only the chill November air
which had brought a touch of colour to his cheeks and the light to his
eyes.

"You seem pleased," Sir William Bounderby remarked, curiously. "You do
know the fellow, then? Friend of yours, perhaps?"

Peter shook his head.

"Oh, yes! I know him, Sir William," he replied, "but I do not think that
he would call himself a friend of mine. I know nothing about his
shooting except that if he got a chance I think that he would like to
shoot me."

Sir William, who was a very literal man, looked grave.

"I am sorry," he said, "if you are likely to find this meeting in any
way awkward. I suppose there's nothing against him, eh?" he added, a
little nervously. "I invited him purely on the strength of his being a
guest of Portal's."

"The Count von Hern comes, I believe," Peter assured his host, "of a
distinguished European family. Socially there is nothing whatever
against him. We happen to have run up against each other once or twice,
that's all. That sort of thing will occur, you know, when the interests
of finance touch the border-line of politics."

"You have no objection to meeting him, then?" Sir William asked.

"Not the slightest," Peter replied. "I do not know exactly in what
direction the Count von Hern is extending his activities at present, but
you will probably find any feeling of annoyance as regards our meeting
to-day is entirely on his side."

"I am very glad to hear it," Sir William declared. "I should not like
anything to happen to disturb the harmony of your short visit to us."

The motor-car had come to a standstill by this time. From it descended
Mr. Portal himself, a large neighbouring landowner, a man of culture and
travel. With him was Bernadine, in a very correct shooting suit and
Tyrolese hat. On the other side of Mr. Portal was a short, thick-set
man, with olive complexion, keen black eyes, black moustache and
imperial, and sombrely dressed in City clothes. Sir William's eyebrows
were slightly raised as he advanced to greet the party. Peter was at
once profoundly interested.

Mr. Portal introduced his guests.

"You will forgive me, I am sure, for bringing a spectator, Bounderby,"
he said. "Major Kosuth, whom I have the honour to present--Major Kosuth,
Sir William Bounderby--is high up in the diplomatic service of a people
with whom we must feel every sympathy--the young Turks. The Count von
Hern, who takes my brother-in-law's place, is probably known to you by
name."

Sir William welcomed his visitors cordially.

"You do not shoot, Major Kosuth?" he asked.

"Very seldom," the Turk answered. "I come to-day with my good friend,
Count von Hern, as a spectator, if you permit."

"Delighted," Sir William replied. "We will find you a safe place near
your friend."

The little party began to move toward the wood. It was just at this
moment that Bernadine felt a touch upon his shoulder, and, turning
round, found Peter by his side.

"An unexpected pleasure, my dear Count," the latter declared, suavely.
"I had no idea that you took an interest in such simple sports."

The manners of the Count von Hern were universally quoted as being
almost too perfect. It is a regrettable fact, however, that at that
moment he swore--softly, perhaps, but with distinct vehemence. A moment
later he was exchanging the most cordial of greetings with his old
friend.

"You have the knack, my dear de Grost," he remarked, "of turning up in
the most surprising places. I certainly did not know that amongst your
many accomplishments was included a love for field sports."

Peter smiled quietly. He was a very fine shot, and knew it.

"One must amuse oneself these days," he said. "There is little else to
do."

Bernadine bit his lip.

"My absence from this country, I fear, has robbed you of an occupation."

"It has certainly deprived life of some of its savour," Peter admitted,
blandly. "By the by, will you not present me to your friend? I have the
utmost sympathy with the intrepid political party of which he is a
member."

The Count von Hern performed the introduction with a reluctance which he
wholly failed to conceal. The Turk, however, had been walking on his
other side, and his hat was already lifted. Peter had purposely raised
his voice.

"It gives me the greatest pleasure, Major Kosuth," Peter said, "to
welcome you to this country. In common, I believe, with the majority of
my countrymen, I have the utmost respect and admiration for the movement
which you represent."

Major Kosuth smiled slowly. His features were heavy and unexpressive.
There was something of gloom, however, in the manner of his response.

"You are very kind, Baron," he replied, "and I welcome very much this
expression of your interest in my party. I believe that the hearts of
your country people are turned towards us in the same manner. I could
wish that your country's political sympathies were as easily aroused."

Bernadine intervened promptly.

"Major Kosuth has been here only one day," he remarked lightly. "I tell
him that he is a little too impatient. See, we are approaching the wood.
It is as well here to refrain from conversation."

"We will resume it later," Peter said, softly. "I have interests in
Turkey, and it would give me great pleasure to have a talk with Major
Kosuth."

"Financial interests?" the latter inquired, with some eagerness.

Peter nodded.

"I will explain after the first drive," he said, turning away.

Peter walked rather quickly until he reached a bend in the wood. He
overtook his host on the way, and paused for a moment.

"Lend me a loader for half an hour, Sir William," he begged. "I have to
send my servant to the village with a telegram."

"With pleasure!" Sir William answered. "There are several to spare. I'll
send one to your stand. There's von Hern going the wrong way!" he
exclaimed, in a tone of annoyance.

Peter was just in time to stop the whistle from going to his mouth.

"Do me another favour, Sir William," he pleaded. "Give me time to send
off my telegram before the Count sees what I'm doing. He's such an
inquisitive person," he went on, noticing his host's look of blank
surprise. "Thank you ever so much!"

Peter hurried on to his place. It was round the corner of the wood, and
for the moment out of sight of the rest of the party. He tore a sheet
from his pocket-book and scribbled out a telegram. His man had
disappeared and a substitute taken his place by the time the Count von
Hern arrived. The latter was now all amiability. It was hard to believe,
from his smiling salutation, that he and the man to whom he waved his
hand in so airy a fashion had ever declared war to the death!

The shooting began a few minutes later. Major Kosuth, from a camp stool
a few yards behind his friend, watched with somewhat languid interest.
He gave one, indeed, the impression that his thoughts were far removed
from this simple country party, the main object of whose existence for
the present seemed to be the slaying of a certain number of inoffensive
birds. He watched the indifferent performance of his friend and the
remarkably fine shooting of his neighbour on the left, with the same
lack-lustre eye and want of enthusiasm. The beat was scarcely over
before Peter, resigning his smoking guns to his loader, lit a cigarette
and strolled across to the next stand. He plunged at once into a
conversation with Kosuth, notwithstanding Bernadine's ill-concealed
annoyance.

"Major Kosuth," he began, "I sympathise with you. It is a hard task for
a man whose mind is centred upon great events to sit still and watch a
performance of this sort. Be kind to us all and remember that this
represents to us merely a few hours of relaxation. We, too, have our
more serious moments."

"You read my thoughts well," Major Kosuth declared. "I do not seek to
excuse them. For half a lifetime we Turks have toiled and striven,
always in danger of our lives, to help forward those things which have
now come to pass. I think that our lives have become tinged with
sombreness and apprehension. Now that the first step is achieved, we go
forward, still with trepidation. We need friends, Baron de Grost."

"You cannot seriously doubt but that you will find them in this
country," Peter remarked. "There has never been a time when the English
nation has not sympathised with the cause of liberty."

"It is not the hearts of your people," Major Kosuth said, "which I fear.
It is the antics of your politicians. Sympathy is a great thing, and
good to have, but Turkey to-day needs more. The heart of a nation is
big, but the number of those in whose hands it remains to give practical
expression to its promptings is few."

Bernadine, who had stood as much as he could, seized forcibly upon his
friend.

"You must remember our bargain, Kosuth," he insisted--"no politics
to-day. Until to-morrow evening we rest. Now I want to introduce you to
a very old friend of mine, the Lord-Lieutenant of the county."

The Turk was bustled off, a little unwillingly. Peter watched them with
a smile. It was many months since he had felt so keen an interest in
life. The coming of Bernadine had steadied his nerves. His gun had come
to his shoulder like the piston-rod of an engine. His eye was clear, his
nerve still. There was something to be done! Decidedly, there was
something to be done!...

No man was better informed in current political affairs; but Peter,
instead of joining the cheerful afternoon tea party at the close of the
day, raked out a file of _The Times_ from the library, and studied it
carefully in his room. There were one or two items of news concerning
which he made pencil notes. He had scarcely finished his task before a
servant brought in a dispatch. He opened it with interest and drew
pencil and paper towards him. It was from Paris, and in the code which
he had learnt by heart, no written key of which now existed. Carefully
he transcribed it on to paper and read it through. It was dated from
Paris a few hours back:

"Kosuth left for England yesterday. Envoy from new Turkish Government.
Requiring loan one million pounds. Asked for guarantee that it was not
for warlike movement against Bulgaria; declined to give same.
Communicated with English Ambassador and informed Kosuth yesterday that
neither Government would sanction loan unless undertaking were given
that the same was not to be applied for war against Bulgaria. Turkey is
under covenant to enter into no financial obligations with any other
Power while the interest of former loans remains in abeyance. Kosuth has
made two efforts to obtain loan privately, from prominent English
financier and French syndicate. Both have declined to treat on
representations from Government. Kosuth was expected return direct to
Turkey. If, as you say, he is in England with Bernadine, we commend the
affair to your utmost vigilance. Germany exceedingly anxious enter into
close relations with new Government of Turkey. Fear Kosuth's association
with Bernadine proof of bad faith. Have had interview with Minister for
Foreign Affairs, who relies upon our help. French Secret Service at your
disposal, if necessary."

Peter read the message three times with the greatest care. He was on the
point of destroying it when Violet came into the room. She was wearing a
long tea jacket of sheeny silk. Her beautiful hair was most becomingly
arranged, her figure as light and girlish as ever. She came into the
room humming gaily and swinging a gold purse upon her finger.

"Won three rubbers out of four, Peter," she declared, "and a compliment
from the Duchess. Aren't I a pupil to be proud of?"

She stopped short. Her lips formed themselves into the shape of a
whistle. She knew very well the signs. Her husband's eyes were kindling,
there was a firm set about his lips, the palm of his hand lay flat upon
that sheet of paper.

"It was true?" she murmured. "It was Bernadine who was shooting to-day?"

Peter nodded.

"He was on the next stand," he replied.

"Then there is something doing, of course," Violet continued. "My dear
Peter, you may be an enigma to other people; to me you have the most
expressive countenance I ever saw. You have had a cable which you have
just transcribed. If I had been a few minutes later, I think you would
have torn up the result. As it is, I think I have come just in time to
hear all about it."

Peter smiled, grimly but fondly. He uncovered the sheet of paper and
placed it in her hands.

"So far," he said, "there isn't much to tell you. The Count von Hern
turned up this morning with a Major Kosuth, who was one of the leaders
of the revolution in Turkey. I wired Paris, and this is the reply."

She read the message through thoughtfully and handed it back. Peter lit
a match, and standing over the fireplace, calmly destroyed it.

"A million pounds is not a great sum of money," Violet remarked. "Why
could not Kosuth borrow it for his country from a private individual?"

"A million pounds is not a large sum to talk about," Peter replied, "but
it is an exceedingly large sum for anyone, even a multi-millionaire, to
handle in cash. And Turkey, I gather, wants it at once. Besides,
considerations which might be of value from a Government are no security
at all as applied to a private individual."

She nodded.

"Do you think that Kosuth means to go behind the existing treaty and
borrow from Germany?"

Peter shook his head.

"I can't quite believe that," he said. "It would mean the straining of
diplomatic relations with both countries. It is out of the question."

"Then where does Bernadine come in?"

"I do not know," Peter answered.

Violet laughed.

"What is it that you are going to try to find out?" she asked.

"I am trying to discover who it is that Bernadine and Kosuth are waiting
to see," Peter replied. "The worst of it is, I daren't leave here. I
shall have to trust to the others."

She glanced at the clock.

"Well, go and dress," she said. "I'm afraid I've a little of your blood
in me, after all. Life seems more stirring when Bernadine is on the
scene."

       *       *       *       *       *

The shooting party broke up two days later and Peter and his wife
returned at once to town. The former found the reports which were
awaiting his arrival disappointing. Bernadine and his guest were not in
London, or if they were they had carefully avoided all the usual haunts.
Peter read his reports over again, smoked a very long cigar alone in his
study, and finally drove down to the City and called upon his
stockbroker, who was also a personal friend. Things were flat in the
City, and the latter was glad enough to welcome an important client. He
began talking the usual market shop until his visitor stopped him.

"I have come to you, Edwardes, more for information than anything,"
Peter declared, "although it may mean that I shall need to sell a lot of
stock. Can you tell me of any private financier who could raise a loan
of a million pounds in cash within the course of a week?"

The stockbroker looked dubious.

"In cash?" he repeated. "Money isn't raised that way, you know. I doubt
whether there are many men in the whole city of London who could put up
such an amount with only a week's notice."

"But there must be someone," Peter persisted. "Think! It would probably
be a firm or a man not obtrusively English. I don't think the Jews would
touch it, and a German citizen would be impossible."

"Semi-political, eh?"

Peter nodded.

"It is rather that way," he admitted.

"Would your friend the Count von Hern be likely to be concerned in it?"

"Why?" Peter asked, with immovable face.

"Nothing, only I saw him coming out of Heseltine-Wrigge's office the
other day," the stockbroker remarked, carelessly.

"And who is Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge?"

"A very wealthy American financier," the stockbroker replied, "not at
all an unlikely person for a loan of the sort you mention."

"American citizen?" Peter inquired.

"Without a doubt. Of German descent, I should say, but nothing much left
of it in his appearance. He settled over here in a huff, because New
York society wouldn't receive his wife."

"I remember all about it," Peter declared. "She was a chorus girl,
wasn't she? Nothing particular against her, but the fellow had no tact.
Do you know him, Edwardes?"

"Slightly," the stockbroker answered.

"Give me a letter to him," Peter said. "Give my credit as good a leg up
as you can. I shall probably go as a borrower."

Mr. Edwardes wrote a few lines and handed them to his client.

"Office is nearly opposite," he remarked. "Wish you luck, whatever your
scheme is."

Peter crossed the street and entered the building which his friend had
pointed out. He ascended in the lift to the third floor, knocked at the
door which bore Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge's name, and almost ran into the
arms of a charmingly dressed little lady, who was being shown out by a
broad-shouldered, typical American. Peter hastened to apologise.

"I beg your pardon," he said, raising his hat. "I was rather in a hurry,
and I quite thought I heard someone say, 'Come in'."

The lady replied pleasantly. Her companion, who was carrying his hat in
his hand, paused reluctantly.

"Did you want to see me?" he asked.

"If you are Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, I did," Peter admitted. "My name is
the Baron de Grost, and I have a letter of introduction to you from Mr.
Edwardes."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge tore open the envelope and glanced through the
contents of the note. Peter meanwhile looked at his wife with genuine
but respectfully cloaked admiration. The lady obviously returned his
interest.

"Why, if you're the Baron de Grost," she exclaimed, "didn't you marry Vi
Brown? She used to be at the Gaiety with me years ago."

"I certainly did marry Violet Brown," Peter confessed; "and, if you will
allow me to say so, Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge, I should have recognised you
anywhere from your photographs."

"Say, isn't that queer?" the little lady remarked, turning to her
husband. "I should love to see Vi again."

"If you will give me your address," Peter declared promptly, "my wife
will be delighted to call upon you."

The man looked up from the note.

"Do you want to talk business with me, Baron?" he asked.

"For a few moments only," Peter answered. "I am afraid I am a great
nuisance, and, if you wish it, I will come down to the City again."

"That's all right," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge replied. "Myra won't mind
waiting a minute or two. Come through here."

He turned back and led the way into a quiet-looking suite of offices,
where one or two clerks were engaged writing at open desks. They all
three passed into an inner room.

"Any objection to my wife coming in?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge asked.
"There's scarcely any place for her out there."

"Delighted," Peter answered.

She glanced at the clock.

"Remember we have to meet the Count von Hern at half-past one at
Prince's, Charles," she reminded him.

Her husband nodded. There was nothing in Peter's expression to denote
that he had already achieved the first object of his visit.

"I shall not detain you," he said. "Your name has been mentioned to me,
Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, as a financier likely to have a large sum of money
at his disposal. I have a scheme which needs money. Providing the
security is unexceptionable, are you in a position to do a deal?"

"How much do you want?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge asked.

"A million to a million and a half," Peter answered.

"Dollars?"

"Pounds."

It was not Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge's pose to appear surprised. Nevertheless
his eyebrows were slightly raised.

"Say, what is this scheme?" he inquired.

"First of all," Peter replied, "I should like to know whether there's
any chance of business if I disclose it."

"Not an atom," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge declared. "I have just committed
myself to the biggest financial transaction of my life, and it will
clean me out."

"Then I won't waste your time," Peter announced, rising.

"Sit down for a moment," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge invited, biting the end
off a cigar and passing the box towards Peter. "That's all right. My
wife doesn't mind. Say, it strikes me as rather a curious thing that you
should come in here and talk about a million and a half when that's just
the amount concerned in my other little deal."

Peter smiled.

"As a matter of fact, it isn't at all queer," he answered. "I don't want
the money. I came to see whether you were really interested in the other
affair--the Turkish loan, you know."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge withdrew his cigar from his mouth and looked
steadily at his visitor.

"Say, Baron," he declared, "you've got a nerve!"

"Not at all," Peter replied. "I'm here as much in your interests as my
own."

"Whom do you represent, any way?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge inquired.

"A company you never heard of," Peter replied. "Our offices are in the
underground places of the world, and we don't run to brass plates. I am
here because I am curious about that loan. Turkey hasn't a shadow of
security to offer you. Everything which she can pledge is pledged to
guarantee the interest on existing loans to France and England. She is
prevented by treaty from borrowing in Germany. If you make a loan
without security, Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, I suppose you understand your
position. The loan may be repudiated at any moment."

"Kind of a philanthropist, aren't you?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge remarked
quietly.

"Not in the least," Peter assured him. "I know there's some tricky work
going on, and I suppose I haven't brains enough to get to the bottom of
it. That's why I've come blundering in to you, and why, I suppose,
you'll be telling the whole story to the Count von Hern at luncheon in
an hour's time."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge smoked in silence for a moment or two.

"This transaction of mine," he said at last, "isn't one I can talk
about. I guess I'm on to what you want to know, but I simply can't tell
you. The security is unusual, but it's good enough for me."

"It seems so to you beyond a doubt," Peter replied. "Still, you have to
do with a remarkably clever young man in the Count von Hern. I don't
want to ask you any questions you feel I ought not to, but I do wish
you'd tell me one thing."

"Go right ahead," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge invited. "Don't be shy."

"What day are you concluding this affair?"

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge scratched his chin for a moment thoughtfully and
glanced at his diary.

"Well, I'll risk that," he decided. "A week to-day I hand over the
coin."

Peter drew a little breath of relief. A week was an immense time! He
rose to his feet.

"That ends our business, then, for the present," he said. "Now I am
going to ask both of you a favour. Perhaps I have no right to, but as a
man of honour, Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, you can take it from me that I ask
it in your interests as well as my own. Don't tell the Count von Hern of
my visit to you."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge held out his hand.

"That's all right," he declared. "You hear, Myra?"

"I'll be dumb, Baron," she promised. "Say when do you think Vi can come
and see me?"

Peter was guilty of snobbery. He considered it quite a justifiable
weapon.

"She is at Windsor this afternoon," he remarked.

"What, at the garden party?" Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge almost shrieked.

Peter nodded.

"I believe there's some fête or other to-morrow," he said; "but we're
alone this evening. Why, won't you dine with us, say at the Carlton?"

"We'd love to," the lady assented promptly.

"At eight o'clock," Peter said, taking his leave.

The dinner-party was a great success. Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge found
herself amongst the class of people with whom it was her earnest desire
to become acquainted, and her husband was well satisfied to see her keen
longing for Society likely to be gratified. The subject of Peter's call
at the office in the City was studiously ignored. It was not until the
very end of the evening, indeed, that the host of this very agreeable
party was rewarded by a single hint. It all came about in the most
natural manner. They were speaking of foreign capitals.

"I love Paris," Mrs. Heseltine-Wrigge told her host. "Just adore it.
Charles is often there on business, and I always go along."

Peter smiled. There was just a chance here.

"Your husband does not often have to leave London?" he remarked
carelessly.

She nodded.

"Not often enough," she declared. "I just love getting about. Last week
we had a perfectly horrible trip, though. We started off for Belfast
quite unexpectedly, and I hated every minute of it."

Peter smiled inwardly, but he said never a word. His companion was
already chattering on about something else. Peter crossed the hall a few
minutes later to speak to an acquaintance, slipped out to the telephone
booth, and spoke to his servant.

"A bag and a change," he ordered, "at Euston Station at twelve o'clock,
in time for the Irish mail. Your mistress will be home as usual."

An hour later the dinner-party broke up. Early the next morning Peter
crossed the Irish Channel. He returned the following day, and crossed
again within a few hours. In five days the affair was finished, except
for the _dénouement_.

Peter ascended in the lift to Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge's office the
following Thursday, calm and unruffled as usual, but nevertheless a
little exultant. It was barely half an hour ago since he had become
finally prepared for this interview. He was looking forward to it now
with feelings of undiluted satisfaction. Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge was in, he
was told, and he was at once admitted to his presence. The financier
greeted him with a somewhat curious smile.

"Say, this is very nice of you to look me up again!" he exclaimed.
"Still worrying about that loan, eh?"

Peter shook his head.

"No, I'm not worrying about that any more," he answered, accepting one
of his host's cigars. "The fact of it is that if it were not for me you
would be the one who would have to do the worrying."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge stopped short in the act of lighting his cigar.

"I'm not quite catching on," he remarked. "What's the trouble?"

"There is no trouble, fortunately," Peter replied. "Only a little
disappointment for our friends the Count von Hern and Major Kosuth. I
have brought you some information which, I think, will put an end to
that affair of the loan."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge sat quite still for a moment. His brows were
knitted; he showed no signs of nervousness.

"Go right on," he said.

"The security upon which you were going to advance a million and a half
to the Turkish Government," Peter continued, "consisted of two
Dreadnoughts and a cruiser, being built to the order of that country by
Messrs. Shepherd and Hargreaves at Belfast."

"Quite right," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge admitted quietly. "I have been up
and seen the boats. I have seen the shipbuilders, too."

"Did you happen to mention to the latter," Peter inquired, "that you
were advancing money upon those vessels?"

"Certainly not," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge replied. "Kosuth wouldn't hear of
such a thing. If the papers got wind of it there'd be the devil to pay.
All the same, I have got an assignment from the Turkish Government."

"Not worth the paper it's written on," Peter declared blandly.

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge rose unsteadily to his feet. He was a strong,
silent man, but there was a queer look about his mouth.

"What the devil do you mean?" he demanded.

"Briefly this," Peter explained. "The first payment, when these ships
were laid down, was made not by Turkey, but by an emissary of the German
Government, who arranged the whole affair in Constantinople. The second
payment was due ten months ago, and not a penny has been paid. Notice
was given to the late Government twice and absolutely ignored. According
to the charter, therefore, these ships reverted to the shipbuilding
company, who retained possession of the first payment as indemnity
against loss. The Count von Hern's position was this. He represents the
German Government. You were to find a million and a half of money, with
the ships as security. You also have a contract from the Count von Hern
to take those ships off your hands provided the interest on the loan
became overdue, a state of affairs which, I can assure you, would have
happened within the next twelve months. Practically, therefore, you were
made use of as an independent financier to provide the money with which
the Turkish Government, broadly speaking, have sold the ships to
Germany. You see, according to the charter of the shipbuilding company,
these vessels cannot be sold to any foreign Government without the
consent of Downing Street. That is the reason why the affair had to be
conducted in such a roundabout manner."

"All this is beyond me," Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge said hoarsely. "I don't
care a d----n who has the ships in the end so long as I get my money!"

"But you would not get your money," Peter pointed out, "because there
will be no ships. I have had the shrewdest lawyers in the world at work
upon the charter, and there is not the slightest doubt that these
vessels are, or rather were, the entire property of Messrs. Shepherd and
Hargreaves. To-day they belong to me. I have bought them and paid
£200,000 deposit. I can show you the receipt and all the papers."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge said only one word, but that word was profane.

"I am sorry, of course, that you have lost the business," Peter
concluded; "but surely it's better than losing your money?"

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge struck the table fiercely with his fist. There was
a grey and unfamiliar look about his face.

"D----n it, the money's gone!" he declared hoarsely: "They changed the
day. Kosuth had to go back. I paid it twenty-four hours ago."

Peter whistled softly.

"If only you had trusted me a little more!" he murmured. "I tried to
warn you."

Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge snatched up his hat.

"They don't leave till the two-twenty," he shouted. "We'll catch them at
the Milan. If we don't, I'm ruined! By Heaven, I'm ruined!"

They found Major Kosuth in the hall of the hotel. He was wearing a fur
coat and otherwise attired for travelling. His luggage was already being
piled upon a cab. Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge wasted no words upon him.

"You and I have got to have a talk, right here and now," he declared.
"Where's the Count?"

Major Kosuth frowned gloomily.

"I do not understand you," he said shortly. "Our business is concluded,
and I am leaving by the two-twenty train."

"You are doing nothing of the sort," the American answered, standing
before him, grim and threatening.

The Turk showed no sign of terror. He gripped his silver-headed cane
firmly.

"I think," he said, "that there is no one here who will prevent me."

Peter, who saw a fracas imminent, hastily intervened.

"If you will permit me for a moment," he said, "there is a little
explanation I should perhaps make to Major Kosuth."

The Turk took a step towards the door.

"I have no time to listen to explanations from you or anyone," he
replied. "My cab is waiting. I depart. If Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge is not
satisfied with our transaction, I am sorry, but it is too late to alter
anything."

For a moment it seemed as though a struggle between the two men was
inevitable. Already people were glancing at them curiously, for Mr.
Heseltine-Wrigge came of a primitive school, and he had no intention
whatever of letting his man escape. Fortunately at that moment the Count
von Hern came up, and Peter at once appealed to him.

"Count," he said, "may I beg for your good offices? My friend Mr.
Heseltine-Wrigge here is determined to have a few words with Major
Kosuth before he leaves. Surely this is not an unreasonable request when
you consider the magnitude of the transaction which has taken place
between them! Let me beg of you to persuade Major Kosuth to give us ten
minutes. There is plenty of time for the train, and this is not the
place for a brawl."

Bernadine smiled. He was not conscious of the slightest feeling of
uneasiness. He could conceive many reasons for Peter's intervention, but
in his pocket lay the agreement, signed by Kosuth, an accredited envoy
of the Turkish Government, besides which he had a further document
signed by Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge, witnessed and stamped, handing over to
him the whole of the security for this very complicated loan, on the
sole condition that the million and a half, with interest, was
forthcoming. His position was completely secure. A little discussion
with his old enemy might not be altogether unpleasant!

"It will not take us long, Kosuth, to hear what our friend has to say,"
he remarked. "We shall be quite quiet in the smoking-room. Let us go in
there and dispose of the affair."

The Turk turned unwillingly in the direction indicated. All four men
passed through the café, up some stair's, and into the small
smoking-room. The room was deserted. Peter led the way to the far
corner, and, standing with his elbow leaning upon the mantelpiece,
addressed them.

"The position is this," he said. "Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge has parted with a
million and a half of his own money, a loan to the Turkish Government,
on security which is not worth a snap of the fingers."

"It is a lie!" Major Kosuth exclaimed.

"My dear Baron, you are woefully misinformed," the Count declared.

Peter shook his head slowly.

"No," he said, "I am not misinformed. My friend here has parted with the
money on the security of two battleships and a cruiser, now building in
Shepherd and Hargreaves' yard at Belfast. The two battleships and
cruiser in question belong to me. I have paid two hundred thousand
pounds on account of them, and hold the shipbuilders' receipt."

"You are mad!" Bernadine cried, contemptuously.

Peter shook his head, and continued.

"The battleships were laid down for the Turkish Government, and the
money with which to start them was supplied by the Secret Service of
Germany. The second instalment was due ten months ago, and has not been
paid. The time of grace provided for has expired. The shipbuilders, in
accordance with their charter, were consequently at liberty to dispose
of the vessels as they thought fit. On the statement of the whole of the
facts to the head of the firm, he has parted with these ships to me. I
need not say that I have a purchaser within a mile from here. It is a
fancy of mine, Count von Hern, that those ships will sail better under
the British flag."

There was a moment's tense silence. The face of the Turk was black with
anger. Bernadine was trembling with rage.

"This is a tissue of lies!" he exclaimed.

Peter shrugged his shoulders.

"The facts are easy enough for you to prove," he said, "and I have
here," he added, producing a roll of papers, "copies of the various
documents for your inspection. Your scheme, of course, was simple
enough. It fell through for this one reason only. A final notice,
pressing for the second instalment, and stating the days of grace, was
forwarded to Constantinople about the time of the recent political
troubles. The late government ignored it. In fairness to Major Kosuth,
we will believe that the present government was ignorant of it. But the
fact remains that Messrs. Shepherd and Hargreaves became at liberty to
sell those vessels, and that I have bought them. You will have to give
up that money, Major Kosuth."

"You bet he shall!" the American muttered.

Bernadine leaned a little towards his enemy.

"You must give us a minute or two," he insisted. "We shall not go away,
I promise you. Within five minutes you shall hear our decision."

Peter sat down at the writing-table and commenced a letter. Mr.
Heseltine-Wrigge mounted guard over the door, and stood there, a grim
figure of impatience. Before the five minutes was up, Bernadine crossed
the room.

"I congratulate you, Baron," he said, dryly. "You are either an
exceedingly lucky person or you are more of a genius than I believed.
Kosuth is even now returning his letters of credit to your friend. You
are quite right. The loan cannot stand."

"I was sure," Peter answered, "that you would see the matter correctly."

"You and I," Bernadine continued, "know very well that I don't care a
fig about Turkey, new or old. The ships, I will admit, I intended to
have for my own country. As it is, I wish you joy of them. Before they
are completed we may be fighting in the air."

Peter smiled, and, side by side with Bernadine, strolled across to
Heseltine-Wrigge, who was buttoning up a pocket-book with trembling
fingers.

"Personally," Peter said, "I believe that the days of wars are over."

"That may or may not be," Bernadine answered. "One thing is very
certain. Even if the nations remain at peace, there are enmities which
strike only deeper as the years pass. I am going to take a drink now
with my disappointed friend Kosuth. If I raise my glass 'To the Day!'
you will understand."

Peter smiled.

"My friend Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge and I are for the same destination," he
replied, pushing open the swing door which led to the bar. "I return
your good wishes, Count. I, too, drink 'To the Day!'"

Bernadine and Kosuth left a few minutes afterwards. Mr.
Heseltine-Wrigge, who was feeling himself again, watched them depart
with ill-concealed triumph.

"Say, you had those fellows on toast, Baron," he declared, admiringly.
"I couldn't follow the whole affair, but I can see that you're in for
big things sometimes. Remember this. If money counts at any time, I'm
with you."

Peter clasped his hand.

"Money always counts," he said--"and friends!"



CHAPTER VII

THE GHOSTS OF HAVANA HARBOUR


"We may now," Sogrange remarked, buttoning up his ulster, and stretching
himself out to the full extent of his steamer chair, "consider ourselves
at sea. I trust, my friend, that you are feeling quite comfortable."

Peter, Baron de Grost, lying at his ease upon a neighbouring chair, with
a pillow behind his head, a huge fur coat around his body, and a rug
over his feet, had all the appearance of being very comfortable indeed.
His reply, however, was a little short--almost peevish.

"I am comfortable enough for the present, thank you. Heaven knows how
long it will last!"

Sogrange waved his arm towards the great uneasy plain of blue sea, the
showers of foam leaping into the sunlight, away beyond the disappearing
coasts of France.

"Last," he repeated. "For eight days, I hope. Consider, my dear Baron!
What could be more refreshing, more stimulating to our jaded nerves than
this? Think of the December fogs you have left behind, the cold, driving
rain, the puddles in the street, the grey skies--London, in short, at
her ugliest and worst."

"That is all very well," Peter protested; "but I have left several other
things behind, too."

"As, for instance?" Sogrange inquired genially.

"My wife," Peter informed him. "Violet objects very much to these abrupt
separations. This week, too, I was shooting at Saxthorpe, and I had also
several other engagements of a pleasant nature. Besides, I have reached
that age when I find it disconcerting to be called out of bed in the
middle of the night to answer a long-distance telephone call, and told
to embark on an American liner leaving Southampton early the next
morning. It may be your idea of a pleasure-trip. It isn't mine."

Sogrange was amused. His smile, however, was hidden. Only the tip of his
cigarette was visible.

"Anything else?"

"Nothing much, except that I am always seasick," Peter replied
deliberately. "I can feel it coming on now. I wish that fellow would
keep away with his beastly mutton broth. The whole ship seems to smell
of it."

Sogrange laughed, softly but without disguise.

"Who said anything about a pleasure-trip?" he demanded.

Peter turned his head.

"You did. You told me when you came on at Cherbourg that you had to go
to New York to look after some property there, that things were very
quiet in London, and that you hated travelling alone. Therefore you sent
for me at a few hours' notice."

"Is that what I told you?" Sogrange murmured.

"Yes! Wasn't it true?" Peter asked, suddenly alert.

"Not a word of it," Sogrange admitted. "It is quite amazing that you
should have believed it for a moment."

"I was a fool," Peter confessed. "You see, I was tired and a little
cross. Besides, somehow or other, I never associated a trip to America
with----"

Sogrange interrupted him, quietly but ruthlessly.

"Lift up the label attached to the chair next to yours. Read it out to
me."

Peter took it into his hand and turned it over. A quick exclamation
escaped him.

"Great heavens! 'The Count von Hern'--Bernadine!"

"Just so," Sogrange assented. "Nice, clear writing, isn't it?"

Peter sat bolt upright in his chair.

"Do you mean to say that Bernadine is on board?"

Sogrange shook his head.

"By the exercise, my dear Baron," he said, "of a superlative amount of
ingenuity, I was able to prevent that misfortune. Now lean over and read
the label on the next chair."

Peter obeyed. His manner had acquired a new briskness.

"'La Duchesse della Nermino,'" he announced.

Sogrange nodded.

"Everything just as it should be," he declared. "Change those labels, my
friend, as quickly as you can."

Peter's fingers were nimble, and the thing was done in a few seconds.

"So I am to sit next the Spanish lady," he remarked, feeling for his
tie.

"Not only that, but you are to make friends with her," Sogrange replied.
"You are to be your captivating self, Baron. The Duchesse is to forget
her weakness for hot rooms. She is to develop a taste for sea air and
your society."

"Is she," Peter asked anxiously, "old or young?"

Sogrange showed a disposition to fence with the question.

"Not old," he answered; "certainly not old. Fifteen years ago she was
considered to be one of the most beautiful women in the world."

"The ladies of Spain," Peter remarked, with a sigh, "are inclined to
mature early."

"In some cases," Sogrange assured him, "there are no women in the world
who preserve their good looks longer. You shall judge, my friend. Madame
comes! How about that sea-sickness now?"

"Gone," Peter declared briskly. "Absolutely a fancy of mine. Never felt
better in my life."

An imposing little procession approached along the deck. There was the
deck steward leading the way; a very smart French maid carrying a
wonderful collection of wraps, cushions, and books; a black-browed,
pallid man-servant, holding a hot-water bottle in his hand and leading a
tiny Pekinese spaniel wrapped in a sealskin coat; and finally Madame la
Duchesse. It was so obviously a procession intended to impress, that
neither Peter nor Sogrange thought it worth while to conceal their
interest.

The Duchesse, save that she was tall and wrapped in magnificent furs,
presented a somewhat mysterious appearance. Her features were entirely
obscured by an unusually thick veil of black lace, and the voluminous
nature of her outer garments only permitted a suspicion as to her
figure, which was, at that time, at once the despair and the triumph of
her _corsetière_. With both hands she was holding her fur-lined skirts
from contact with the deck, disclosing at the same time remarkably
shapely feet encased in trim patent shoes, with plain silver buckles,
and a little more black silk stocking than seemed absolutely necessary.
The deck steward, after a half-puzzled scrutiny of the labels, let down
the chair next to the two men. The Duchesse contemplated her prospective
neighbours with some curiosity, mingled with a certain amount of
hesitation. It was at that moment that Sogrange, shaking away his rug,
rose to his feet.

"Madame la Duchesse permits me to remind her of my existence," he said,
bowing low. "It is some years since we met, but I had the honour of a
dance at the Palace in Madrid."

She held out her hand at once, yet somehow Peter felt sure that she was
thankful for her veil. Her voice was pleasant, and her air the air of a
great lady. She spoke French with the soft, sibilant intonation of the
Spaniard.

"I remember the occasion perfectly, Marquis," she admitted. "Your sister
and I once shared a villa in Mentone."

"I am flattered by your recollection, Duchesse," Sogrange murmured.

"It is a great surprise to meet with you here, though," she continued.
"I did not see you at Cherbourg or on the train."

"I motored from Paris," Sogrange explained, "and arrived, contrary to my
custom, I must confess, somewhat early. Will you permit that I introduce
an acquaintance whom I have been fortunate enough to find on board:
Monsieur le Baron de Grost--Madame la Duchesse della Nermino."

Peter was graciously received, and the conversation dealt, for a few
moments, with the usual banalities of the voyage. Then followed the
business of settling the Duchesse in her place. When she was really
installed, and surrounded with all the paraphernalia of a great and
fanciful lady, including a handful of long cigarettes, she raised her
veil. Peter, who was at the moment engaged in conversation with her, was
a little shocked with the result. Her features were worn, her face dead
white, with many signs of the ravages wrought by the constant use of
cosmetics. Only her eyes had retained something of their former
splendour. These latter were almost violet in colour, deep-set, with
dark rims, and were sufficient almost in themselves to make one forget
for a moment the less prepossessing details of her appearance. A small
library of books was by her side, but after a while she no longer
pretended any interest in them. She was a born conversationalist, a
creature of her country, entirely and absolutely feminine, to whom the
subtle and flattering deference of the other sex was as the breath of
life itself. Peter burned his homage upon her altar with a craft which
amounted to genius. In less than half an hour Madame la Duchesse was
looking many years younger. The vague look of apprehension had passed
from her face. Their voices had sunk to a confidential undertone,
punctuated often by the music of her laughter. Sogrange, with a murmured
word of apology, had slipped away long ago. Decidedly, for an
Englishman, Peter was something of a marvel!

Madame la Duchesse moved her head towards the empty chair.

"He is a great friend of yours--the Marquis de Sogrange?" she asked,
with a certain inflection in her tone which Peter was not slow to
notice.

"Indeed, no!" he answered. "A few years ago I was frequently in Paris. I
made his acquaintance then, but we have met very seldom since."

"You are not travelling together, then?" she inquired.

"By no means," Peter assured her. "I recognised him only as he boarded
the steamer at Cherbourg."

"He is not a popular man in our world," she remarked. "One speaks of him
as a schemer."

"Is there anything left to scheme for in France?" Peter asked
carelessly. "He is, perhaps, a Monarchist?"

"His ancestry alone would compel a devoted allegiance to Royalism," the
Duchesse declared; "but I do not think that he is interested in any of
these futile plots to reinstate the House of Orleans. I, Monsieur le
Baron, am Spanish."

"I have scarcely lived so far out of the world as to have heard nothing
of the Duchesse della Nermino," Peter replied with _empressement_. "The
last time I saw you, Duchesse, you were in the suite of the Infanta."

"Like all Englishmen, I see you possess a memory," she said, smiling.

"Duchesse," Peter answered, lowering his voice, "without the memories
which one is fortunate enough to collect as one passes along, life would
be a dreary place. The most beautiful things in the world cannot remain
always with us. It is well, then, that the shadow of them can be
recalled to us in the shape of dreams."

Her eyes rewarded him for his gallantry. Peter felt that he was doing
very well indeed. He indulged himself in a brief silence. Presently she
returned to the subject of Sogrange.

"I think," she remarked, "that of all the men in the world I expected
least to see the Marquis de Sogrange on board a steamer bound for New
York. What can a man of his type find to amuse him in the New World?"

"One wonders, indeed," Peter assented. "As a matter of fact, I did read
in a newspaper a few days ago that he was going to Mexico in connection
with some excavations there. He spoke to me of it just now. They seem to
have discovered a ruined temple of the Incas, or something of the sort."

The Duchesse breathed what sounded very much like a sigh of relief.

"I had forgotten," she admitted, "that New York itself need not
necessarily be his destination."

"For my own part," Peter continued, "it is quite amazing the interest
which the evening papers always take in the movements of one connected
ever so slightly with their world. I think that a dozen newspapers have
told their readers the exact amount of money I am going to lend or
borrow in New York, the stocks I am going to bull or bear, the mines I
am going to purchase. My presence on an American steamer is accounted
for by the journalists a dozen times over. Yours, Duchesse, if one might
say so without appearing over-curious, seems the most inexplicable. What
attraction can America possibly have for you?"

She glanced at him covertly from under her sleepy eyelids. Peter's face
was like the face of a child.

"You do not, perhaps, know," she said, "that I was born in Cuba. I lived
there, in fact, for many years. I still have estates in the country."

"Indeed?" he answered. "Are you interested, then, in this reported
salvage of the _Maine_?"

There was a short silence. Peter, who had not been looking at her when
he had asked his question, turned his head, surprised at her lack of
response. His heart gave a little jump. The Duchesse had all the
appearance of a woman on the point of fainting. One hand was holding a
scent bottle to her nose, the other, thin and white, ablaze with
emeralds and diamonds, was gripping the side of her chair. Her
expression was one of blank terror. Peter felt a shiver chill his own
blood at the things he saw in her face. He himself was confused,
apologetic, yet absolutely without understanding. His thoughts reverted
at first to his own commonplace malady.

"You are ill, Duchesse!" he exclaimed. "You will allow me to call the
deck steward? Or perhaps you would prefer your own maid? I have some
brandy in this flask."

He had thrown off his rug, but her imperious gesture kept him seated.
She was looking at him with an intentness which was almost tragical.

"What made you ask me that question?" she demanded.

His innocence was entirely apparent. Not even Peter could have
dissembled so naturally.

"That question?" he repeated, vaguely. "You mean about the _Maine_? It
was the idlest chance, Duchesse, I assure you. I saw something about it
in the paper yesterday, and it seemed interesting. But if I had had the
slightest idea that the subject was distasteful to you I would not have
dreamed of mentioning it. Even now--I do not understand----"

She interrupted him. All the time he had been speaking she had shown
signs of recovery. She was smiling now, faintly and with obvious effort,
but still smiling.

"It is altogether my own fault, Baron," she admitted graciously. "Please
forgive my little fit of emotion. The subject is a very sore one amongst
my country-people, you know, and your sudden mention of it upset me. It
was very foolish."

"Duchesse, I was a clumsy idiot!" Peter declared penitently. "I deserve
that you should be unkind to me for the rest of the voyage."

"I could not afford that," she answered, forcing another smile. "I am
relying too much upon you for companionship. Ah! could I trouble you?"
she added. "For the moment I need my maid. She passes there."

Peter sprang up and called the young woman, who was slowly pacing the
deck. He himself did not at once return to his place. He went instead in
search of Sogrange, and found him in his state-room. Sogrange was lying
upon a couch, in a silk smoking suit, with a French novel in his hand
and an air of contentment which was almost fatuous. He laid down the
volume at Peter's entrance.

"Dear Baron," he murmured, "why this haste? No one is ever in a hurry
upon a steamer. Remember that we can't possibly get anywhere in less
than eight days, and there is no task in the world, nowadays, which
cannot be accomplished in that time. To hurry is a needless waste of
tissue, and, to a person of my nervous temperament, exceedingly
unpleasant."

Peter sat down on the edge of the bunk.

"I presume you have quite finished?" he said. "If so, listen to me. I am
moving in the dark. Is it my fault that I blunder? By the merest
accident I have already committed a hideous _faux pas_. You ought to
have warned me."

"What do you mean?"

"I have spoken to the Duchesse of the _Maine_ disaster."

The eyes of Sogrange gleamed for a moment, but he lay perfectly still.

"Why not?" he asked. "A good many people are talking about it. It is one
of the strangest things I have ever heard of, that after all these years
they should be trying to salve the wreck."

"It seems worse than strange," Peter declared. "What can be the use of
trying to stir up bitter feelings between two nations who have fought
their battles and buried the hatchet? I call it an an act of insanity."

A bugle rang. Sogrange yawned and sat up.

"Would you mind touching the bell for my servant, Baron," he asked.
"Dinner will be served in half an hour. Afterwards, we will talk, you
and I."

Peter turned away, not wholly pleased.

"The sooner the better," he grumbled, "or I shall be putting my foot
into it again."

After dinner the two men walked on deck together. The night was dark,
but fine, with a strong wind blowing from the north-west. The deck
steward called their attention to a long line of lights stealing up from
the horizon on their starboard side.

"That's the _Lusitania_, sir. She'll be up to us in half an hour."

They leaned over the rail. Soon the blue fires began to play about their
masthead. Sogrange watched them thoughtfully.

"If one could only read those messages," he remarked, with a sigh, "it
might help us."

Peter knocked the ash from his cigar, and was silent for a time. He was
beginning to understand the situation.

"My friend," he said at last, "I have been doing you an injustice. I
have come to the conclusion that you are not keeping me in ignorance of
the vital facts connected with our visit to America wilfully. At the
present moment you know just a little more, but a very little more, than
I do."

"What perception!" Sogrange murmured. "My dear Baron, sometimes you
amaze me. You are absolutely right. I have some pieces, and I am
convinced that they would form a puzzle the solution of which would be
interesting to us; but how or where they fit in I frankly don't know.
You have the facts so far."

"Certainly," Peter replied.

"You have heard of Sirdeller?"

"Do you mean _the_ Sirdeller?" Peter asked.

"Naturally. I mean the man whose very movements sway the money markets
of the world; the man who could, if he chose, ruin any nation, make war
impossible; who could, if he had ten more years of life and was allowed
to live, draw to himself and his own following the entire wealth of the
universe."

"Very eloquent," Peter remarked. "We'll take the rest for granted."

"Then," Sogrange continued, "you have probably also heard of Don Pedro,
Prince of Marsine, one-time Pretender to the throne of Spain?"

"Quite a striking figure in European politics," Peter assented, quickly.
"He is suspected of radical proclivities, and is still, it is rumoured,
an active plotter against the existing monarchy."

"Very well," Sogrange said. "Now listen carefully. Four months ago
Sirdeller was living at the Golden Villa, near Nice. He was visited more
than once by Marsine, introduced by the Count von Hern. The result of
those visits was a long series of cablegrams to certain great
engineering firms in America. Almost immediately the salvage of the
_Maine_ was started. It is a matter of common report that the entire
cost of these works is being undertaken by Sirdeller."

"Now," Peter murmured, "you are really beginning to interest me."

"This week," Sogrange went on, "it is expected that the result of the
salvage works will be made known. That is to say, it is highly possible
that the question of whether the _Maine_ was blown up from outside or
inside will be settled once and for all. This week, mind, Baron. Now see
what happens. Sirdeller returns to America. The Count von Hern and
Prince Marsine come to America. The Duchesse della Nermino comes to
America. The Duchesse, Sirdeller, and Marsine are upon this steamer. The
Count von Hern travels by the _Lusitania_ only because it was reported
that Sirdeller at the last minute changed his mind, and was travelling
by that boat. Mix these things up in your brain--the conjurer's hat, let
us call it," Sogrange concluded, laying his hand upon Peter's arm.
"Sirdeller, the Duchesse, Von Hern, Marsine, the raising of the
_Maine_--mix them up, and what sort of an omelette appears?"

Peter whistled softly.

"No wonder," he said, "that you couldn't make the pieces of the puzzle
fit. Tell me more about the Duchesse."

Sogrange considered for a moment.

"The principal thing about her which links her with the present
situation," he explained, "is that she was living in Cuba at the time of
the _Maine_ disaster, married to a rich Cuban."

The affair was suddenly illuminated by the searchlight of romance.
Peter, for the first time, saw not the light, but the possibility of it.

"Marsine has been living in Germany, has he not?" he asked.

"He is a personal friend of the Kaiser," Sogrange replied.

They both looked up and listened to the crackling of the electricity
above their heads.

"I expect Bernadine is a little annoyed," Peter remarked.

"It isn't pleasant to be out of the party," Sogrange agreed. "Nearly
everybody, however, believed at the last moment that Sirdeller had
transferred his passage to the _Lusitania_."

"It's going to cost him an awful lot in marconigrams," Peter said. "By
the by, wouldn't it have been better for us to have travelled
separately, and incognito?"

Sogrange shrugged his shoulders slightly.

"Von Hern has at least one man on board," he replied. "I do not think
that we could possibly have escaped observation. Besides, I rather
imagine that any move we are able to make in this matter must come
before we reach Fire Island."

"Have you any theory at all?" Peter asked.

"Not the ghost of a one," Sogrange admitted. "One more fact, though, I
forgot to mention. You may find it important. The Duchesse comes
entirely against von Hern's wishes. They have been on intimate terms for
years, but for some reason or other he was exceedingly anxious that she
should not take this voyage. She, on the other hand, seemed to have some
equally strong reason for coming. The most useful piece of advice I
could give you would be to cultivate her acquaintance."

"The Duchesse----"

Peter never finished his sentence. His companion drew him suddenly back
into the shadow of a lifeboat.

"Look!"

A door had opened from lower down the deck, and a curious little
procession was coming towards them. A man, burly and broad-shouldered,
who had the air of a professional bully, walked by himself ahead. Two
others of similar build walked a few steps behind. And between them a
thin, insignificant figure, wrapped in an immense fur coat and using a
strong walking-stick, came slowly along the deck. It was like a
procession of prison warders guarding a murderer, or perhaps a
nerve-wrecked royal personage moving towards the end of his days in the
midst of enemies. With halting steps the little old man came shambling
along. He looked neither to the left nor to the right. His eyes were
fixed and yet unseeing, his features were pale and bony. There was no
gleam of life, not even in his stone-cold eyes. Like some machine-made
man of a new and physically degenerate age, he took his exercise under
the eye of his doctor--a strange and miserable-looking object.

"There goes Sirdeller," Sogrange whispered. "Look at him--the man whose
might is greater than any emperor's. There is no haven in the universe
to which he does not hold the key. Look at him--master of the world!"

Peter shivered. There was something depressing in the sight of that
mournful procession.

"He neither smokes nor drinks," Sogrange continued. "Women, as a sex, do
not exist for him. His religion is a doubting Calvinism. He has a doctor
and a clergyman always by his side to inject life and hope if they can.
Look at him well, my friend. He represents a great moral lesson."

"Thanks!" Peter replied. "I am going to take the taste of him out of my
mouth with a whisky and soda. Afterwards, I'm for the Duchesse."

But the Duchesse, apparently, was not for Peter. He found her in the
music-room, with several of the little Marconi missives spread out
before her, and she cut him dead. Peter, however, was a brave man and
skilled at the game of bluff. So he stopped by her side and, without any
preamble, addressed her.

"Duchesse," he said, "you are a woman of perception. Which do you
believe, then, in your heart, to be the more trustworthy--the Count von
Hern or I?"

She simply stared at him. He continued promptly:

"You have received your warning, I see."

"From whom?"

"From the Count von Hern. Why believe what he says? He may be a friend
of yours--he may be a dear friend--but in your heart you know that he is
both unscrupulous and selfish. Why accept his word and distrust me? I,
at least, am honest."

She raised her eyebrows.

"Honest?" she repeated. "Whose word have I for that save your own? And
what concern is it of mine if you possess every one of the _bourgeois_
qualities in the world? You are presuming, sir."

"My friend Sogrange will tell you that I am to be trusted," Peter
persisted.

"I see no reason why I should trouble myself about your personal
characteristics," she replied coldly. "They do not interest me."

"On the contrary, Duchesse," Peter continued, fencing wildly, "you have
never in your life been more in need of anyone's services than you are
of mine."

The conflict was uneven. The Duchesse was a nervous, highly strung
woman. The calm assurance of Peter's manner oppressed her with a sense
of his mastery. She sank back upon the couch from which she had arisen.

"I wish you would tell me what you mean," she said. "You have no right
to talk to me in this fashion. What have you to do with my affairs?"

"I have as much to do with them as the Count von Hern," Peter insisted
boldly.

"I have known the Count von Hern," she answered, "for very many years.
You have been a shipboard acquaintance of mine for a few hours."

"If you have known the Count von Hern for many years," Peter asserted,
"you have found out by this time that he is an absolutely untrustworthy
person."

"Supposing he is," she said, "will you tell me what concern it is of
yours? Do you suppose for one moment that I am likely to discuss my
private affairs with a perfect stranger?"

"You have no private affairs," Peter declared sternly. "They are the
affairs of a nation."

She glanced at him with a little shiver. From that moment he felt that
he was gaining ground. She looked around the room. It was well filled,
but in their corner they were almost unobserved.

"How much do you know?" she asked in a low tone which shook with
passion.

Peter smiled enigmatically.

"Perhaps more even than you, Duchesse," he replied. "I should like to be
your friend. You need one--you know that."

She rose abruptly to her feet.

"For to-night it is enough," she declared, wrapping her fur cloak around
her. "You may talk to me to-morrow, Baron. I must think. If you desire
really to be my friend there is, perhaps, one service which I may
require of you. But to-night, no!"

Peter stood aside and allowed her to step past him. He was perfectly
content with the progress he had made. Her farewell salute was by no
means ungracious. As soon as she was out of sight he returned to the
couch where she had been sitting. She had taken away the marconigrams,
but she had left upon the floor several copies of the _New York Herald_.
He took them up and read them carefully through. The last one he found
particularly interesting, so much so that he folded it up, placed it in
his coat pocket, and went off to look for Sogrange, whom he found at
last in the saloon, watching a noisy game of "Up, Jenkins!" Peter sank
upon the cushioned seat by his side.

"You were right," he remarked. "Bernadine has been busy."

Sogrange smiled.

"I trust," he said, "that the Duchesse is not proving faithless?"

"So far," Peter replied, "I have kept my end up. To-morrow will be the
test. Bernadine has filled her with caution. She thinks that I know
everything--whatever everything may be. Unless I can discover a little
more than I do now, to-morrow is going to be an exceedingly awkward day
for me."

"There is every prospect of your acquiring a great deal of valuable
information before then," Sogrange declared. "Sit tight, my friend.
Something is going to happen."

On the threshold of the saloon, ushered in by one of the stewards, a
tall, powerful-looking man, with a square, well-trimmed black beard, was
standing looking around as though in search of someone. The steward
pointed out, with an unmistakable movement of his head, Peter and
Sogrange. The man approached and took the next table.

"Steward," he directed, "bring me a glass of vermouth and some
dominoes."

Peter's eyes were suddenly bright. Sogrange touched his foot under the
table and whispered a word of warning. The dominoes were brought. The
new-comer arranged them as though for a game. Then he calmly withdrew
the double-four and laid it before Sogrange.

"It has been my misfortune, Marquis," he said, "never to have made your
acquaintance, although our mutual friends are many, and I think I may
say that I have the right to claim a certain amount of consideration
from you and your associates. You know me?"

"Certainly, Prince," Sogrange replied. "I am charmed. Permit me to
present my friend, the Baron de Grost."

The new-comer bowed, and glanced a little nervously around.

"You will permit me," he begged. "I travel incognito. I have lived so
long in England that I have permitted myself the name of an Englishman.
I am travelling under the name of Mr. James Fanshawe."

"Mr. Fanshawe, by all means," Sogrange agreed. "In the meantime----"

"I claim my rights as a corresponding member of the Double Four," the
new-comer declared. "My friend the Count von Hern finds menace to
certain plans of ours in your presence upon this steamer. Unknown to
him, I come to you openly. I claim your aid, not your enmity."

"Let us understand one another clearly," Sogrange said. "You claim our
aid in what?"

Mr. Fanshawe glanced around the saloon and lowered his voice.

"I claim your aid towards the overthrowing of the usurping House of
Asturias, and the restoration to power in Spain of my own line."

Sogrange was silent for several moments. Peter was leaning forward in
his place, deeply interested. Decidedly, this American trip seemed
destined to lead toward events!

"Our active aid towards such an end," Sogrange said at last, "is
impossible. The society of the Double Four does not interfere in the
domestic policy of other nations for the sake of individual members."

"Then let me ask you why I find you upon this steamer?" Mr. Fanshawe
demanded in a tone of suppressed excitement. "Is it for the sea voyage
that you and your friend the Baron de Grost cross the Atlantic this
particular week, on the same steamer as myself, as Mr. Sirdeller,
and--and the Duchesse? One does not believe in such coincidences! One is
driven to conclude that it is your intention to interfere."

"The affair almost demands our interference," Sogrange replied smoothly.
"With every due respect to you, Prince, there are great interests
involved in this move of yours."

The Prince was a big man, but, for all his large features and bearded
face, his expression was the expression of a peevish and passionate
child. He controlled himself with an effort.

"Marquis," he said, "it is necessary--I say that it is necessary that we
conclude an alliance."

Sogrange nodded approvingly.

"It is well spoken," he said; "but remember--the Baron de Grost
represents England, and the English interests of our society."

The Prince of Marsine's face was not pleasant to look upon.

"Forgive me if you are an Englishman by birth, Baron," he said, turning
towards him, "but a more interfering nation in other people's affairs
than England has never existed in the pages of history. She must have a
finger in every pie. Bah!"

Peter leaned over from his place.

"What about Germany, Mr. Fanshawe?" he asked with emphasis.

The Prince tugged at his beard. He was a little nonplussed.

"The Count von Hern," he confessed, "has been a good friend to me. The
rulers of his country have always been hospitable and favourably
inclined towards my family. The whole affair is of his design. I myself
could scarcely have moved in it alone. One must reward one's helpers.
There is no reason, however," he added, with a meaning glance at Peter,
"why other helpers should not be admitted."

"The reward which you offer to the Count von Hern," Peter remarked, "is
of itself absolutely inimical to the interests of my country."

"Listen!" the Prince demanded, tapping the table before him. "It is true
that within a year I am pledged to reward the Count von Hern in certain
fashion. It is not possible that you know the terms of our compact, but
from your words it is possible that you have guessed. Very well. Accept
this from me. Remain neutral now, allow this matter to proceed to its
natural conclusion, let your Government address representations to me
when the time comes, adopting a bold front, and I promise that I will
obey them. It will not be my fault that I am compelled to disappoint the
Count von Hern. My seaboard would be at the mercy of your fleet.
Superior force must be obeyed."

"It is a matter, this," Sogrange said, "for discussion between my friend
and me. I think you will find that we are neither of us unreasonable. In
short, Prince, I see no insuperable reason why we should not come to
terms."

"You encourage me," the Prince declared, in a gratified tone. "Do not
believe, Marquis, that I am actuated in this matter wholly by motives of
personal ambition. No, it is not so. A great desire has burned always in
my heart, but it is not that alone which moves me. I assure you that of
my certain knowledge Spain is honeycombed--is rotten with treason. A
revolution is a certainty. How much better that that revolution should
be conducted in a dignified manner; that I, with my reputation for
democracy which I have carefully kept before the eyes of my people,
should be elected President of the new Spanish Republic, even if it is
the gold of the American who places me there. In a year or two's time,
what may happen who can say? This craving for a republic is but a
passing dream. Spain, at heart, is monarchical. She will be led back to
the light. It is but a short step from the President's chair to the
throne."

Sogrange and his companion sat quite still. They avoided looking at each
other.

"There is one thing more," the Prince continued, dropping his voice as
if, even at that distance, he feared the man of whom he spoke. "I shall
not inform the Count von Hern of our conversation. It is not necessary,
and, between ourselves, the Count is jealous. He sends me message after
message that I remain in my state-room, that I seek no interview with
Sirdeller, that I watch only. He is too much of the spy--the Count von
Hern. He does not understand that code of honour, relying upon which I
open my heart to you."

"You have done your cause no harm," Sogrange assured him, with subtle
sarcasm. "We come now to the Duchesse."

The Prince leaned towards him. It was just at this moment that a steward
entered with a marconigram, which he presented to the Prince. The latter
tore it open, glanced it through, and gave vent to a little exclamation.
The fingers which held the missive, trembled. His eyes blazed with
excitement. He was absolutely unable to control his feelings.

"My two friends," he cried, in a tone broken with emotion, "it is you
first who shall hear the news! This message has just arrived. Sirdeller
will have received its duplicate. The final report of the works in
Havana Harbour will await us on our arrival in New York, but the
substance of it is this. The _Maine_ was sunk by a torpedo, discharged
at close quarters underneath her magazine. Gentlemen, the House of
Asturias is ruined!"

There was a breathless silence.

"Your information is genuine?" Sogrange asked softly.

"Without a doubt," the Prince replied. "I have been expecting this
message. I shall cable to von Hern. We are still in communication. He
may not have heard."

"We were about to speak of the Duchesse," Peter reminded him.

The Prince shook his head.

"Another time," he declared. "Another time."

He hurried away. It was already half-past ten and the saloon was almost
empty. The steward came up to them.

"The saloon is being closed for the night, sir," he announced.

"Let us go on deck," Peter suggested.

They found their way up on to the windward side of the promenade, which
was absolutely deserted. Far away in front of them now were the
disappearing lights of the _Lusitania_. The wind roared by as the great
steamer rose and fell on the black stretch of waters. Peter stood very
near to his companion.

"Listen, Sogrange," he said, "the affair is clear now save for one
thing."

"You mean Sirdeller's motives?"

"Not at all," Peter answered. "An hour ago I came across the explanation
of these. The one thing I will tell you afterwards. Now listen.
Sirdeller came abroad last year for twelve months' travel. He took a
great house in San Sebastian."

"Where did you hear this?" Sogrange asked.

"I read the story in the _New York Herald_," Peter continued. "It is
grossly exaggerated, of course, but this is the substance of it.
Sirdeller and his suite were stopped upon the Spanish frontier and
treated in an abominable fashion by the Customs officers. He was forced
to pay a very large sum, unjustly, I should think. He paid under
protest, appealed to the authorities, with no result. At San Sebastian
he was robbed right and left, his privacy intruded upon. In short, he
took a violent dislike and hatred to the country and everyone concerned
in it. He moved with his entire suite to Nice, to the Golden Villa.
There he expressed himself freely concerning Spain and her Government.
Count von Hern heard of it and presented Marsine. The plot was, without
doubt, Bernadine's. Can't you imagine how he would put it? 'A
revolution,' he would tell Sirdeller, 'is imminent in Spain. Here is the
new President of the Republic. Money is no more to you than water. You
are a patriotic American. Have you forgotten that the finest warship
your country ever built, with six hundred of her devoted citizens, was
sent to the bottom by the treachery of one of this effete race? The war
was an inefficient revenge. The country still flourishes. It is for you
to avenge America. With money Marsine can establish a republic in Spain
within twenty-four hours!' Sirdeller hesitates. He would point out that
it had never been proved that the destruction of the _Maine_ was really
due to Spanish treachery. It is the idea of a business man which
followed. He, at his own expense, would raise the _Maine_. If it were
true that the explosion occurred from outside, he would find the money.
You see, the message has arrived. After all these years, the sea has
given up its secret. Marsine will return to Spain with an unlimited
credit behind him. The House of Asturias will crumble up like a pack of
cards."

Sogrange looked out into the darkness. Perhaps he saw in that great
black gulf the pictures of these happenings, which his companion had
prophesied. Perhaps, for a moment, he saw the panorama of a city in
flames, the passing of a great country under the thrall of these new
ideas. At any rate, he turned abruptly away from the side of the vessel
and, taking Peter's arm, walked slowly down the deck.

"You have solved the puzzle, Baron," he said, gravely. "Now tell me one
thing. Your story seems to dovetail everywhere."

"The one thing," Peter said, "is connected with the Duchesse. It was
she, of her own will, who decided to come to America. I believe that but
for her coming Bernadine and the Prince would have waited in their own
country. Money can flash from America to England over the wires. It does
not need to be fetched. They have still one fear. It is connected with
the Duchesse. Let me think."

They walked up and down the deck. The lights were extinguished one by
one, except in the smoke-room. A strange breed of sailors from the lower
deck came up, with mops and buckets. The wind changed its quarter and
the great ship began to roll. Peter stopped abruptly.

"I find this motion most unpleasant," he said. "I am going to bed.
To-night I cannot think. To-morrow, I promise you, we will solve this.
Hush!"

He held out his hand and drew his companion back into the shadow of a
lifeboat. A tall figure was approaching them along the deck. As he
passed the little ray of light thrown out from the smoking-room, the
man's features were clearly visible. It was the Prince. He was walking
like one absorbed in thought. His eyes were set like a sleep-walker's.
With one hand he gesticulated. The fingers of the other were twitching
all the time. His head was lifted to the skies. There was something in
his face which redeemed it from its disfiguring petulance.

"It is the man who dreams of power," Peter whispered. "It is one of the
best moments, this. He forgets the vulgar means by which he intends to
rise. He thinks only of himself, the dictator, king, perhaps emperor. He
is of the breed of egoists."

Again and again the Prince passed, manifestly unconscious even of his
whereabouts. Peter and Sogrange crept away unseen to their state-rooms.

       *       *       *       *       *

In many respects the room resembled a miniature court of justice. The
principal sitting-room of the royal suite, which was the chief glory of
the _Adriatic_, had been stripped of every superfluous article of
furniture or embellishment. Curtains had been removed, all evidences of
luxury disposed of. Temporarily the apartment had been transformed into
a bare, cheerless place. Seated on a high chair, with his back to the
wall, was Sirdeller. At his right hand was a small table, on which stood
a glass of milk, a phial, a stethoscope. Behind, his doctor. At his left
hand, a smooth-faced, silent young man--his secretary. Before him stood
the Duchesse, Peter and Sogrange. Guarding the door was one of the
watchmen, who, from his great physique, might well have been a policeman
out of livery. Sirdeller himself, in the clear light which streamed
through the large window, seemed more aged and shrunken than ever. His
eyes were deep-set. No tinge of colour was visible in his cheeks. His
chin protruded, his shaggy grey eyebrows gave him an unkempt appearance.
He wore a black velvet cap, a strangely cut black morning coat and
trousers, felt slippers, and his hands were clasped upon a stout ash
walking-stick. He eyed the new-comers keenly but without expression.

"The lady may sit," he said.

He spoke almost in an undertone, as though anxious to avoid the fatigue
of words. The guardian of the door placed a chair, into which the
Duchesse subsided. Sirdeller held his right hand towards his doctor, who
felt his pulse. All the time Sirdeller watched him, his lips a little
parted, a world of hungry excitement in his eyes. The doctor closed his
watch with a snap and whispered something in Sirdeller's ear, apparently
reassuring.

"I will hear this story," Sirdeller announced. "In two minutes every one
must leave. If it takes longer it must remain unfinished."

Peter spoke up briskly.

"The story is this," he began. "You have promised to assist the Prince
of Marsine to transform Spain into a republic, providing the salvage
operations on the _Maine_ prove that that ship was destroyed from
outside. The salvage operations have been conducted at your expense, and
finished. It has been proved that the _Maine_ was destroyed by a mine or
torpedo from the outside. Therefore, on the assumption that it was the
treacherous deed of a Spaniard or Cuban imagining himself to be a
patriot, you are prepared to carry out your undertaking and supply the
Prince of Marsine with means to overthrow the kingdom of Spain."

Peter paused. The figure on the chair remained motionless. No flicker of
intelligence or interest disturbed the calm of his features. It was a
silence almost unnatural.

"I have brought the Duchesse here," Peter continued, "to tell you the
truth as to the _Maine_ disaster."

Not even then was there the slightest alteration in those ashen grey
features.

The Duchesse looked up. She had the air of one only too eager to speak
and finish.

"In those days," she said, "I was the wife of a rich Cuban gentleman
whose name I withhold. The American officers on board the _Maine_ used
to visit at our house. My husband was jealous; perhaps he had cause."

The Duchesse paused. Even though the light of tragedy and romance side
by side seemed suddenly to creep into the room, Sirdeller listened as
one come back from a dead world.

"One night," the Duchesse went on, "my husband's suspicions were changed
into knowledge. He came home unexpectedly. The American--the officer--I
loved him--was there on the balcony with me. My husband said nothing.
The officer returned to his ship. That night my husband came into my
room. He bent over my bed. 'It is not you,' he whispered, 'whom I shall
destroy, for the pain of death is short. Anguish of mind may live.
To-night, six hundred ghosts may hang about your pillow!'"

Her voice broke. There was something grim and unnatural in that curious
stillness. Even the secretary was at last breathing a little faster. The
watchman at the door was leaning forward. Sirdeller simply moved his
hand to the doctor, who held up his finger while he felt the pulse. The
beat of his watch seemed to sound through the unnatural silence. In a
minute he spoke.

"The lady may proceed," he announced.

"My husband," the Duchesse continued, "was an officer in charge of the
Mines and Ordnance Department. He went out that night in a small boat,
after a visit to the strong house. No soul has ever seen or heard of him
since, or his boat. It is only I who know."

Her voice died away. Sirdeller stretched out his hand and very
deliberately drank a table-spoonful or two of his milk.

"I believe the lady's story," he declared. "The Marsine affair is
finished. Let no one be admitted to have speech with me again upon this
subject."

He had half turned towards his secretary. The young man bowed. The
doctor pointed towards the door. The Duchesse, Peter, and Sogrange filed
slowly out. In the bright sunlight the Duchesse burst into a peal of
hysterical laughter. Even Peter felt, for a moment, unnerved. Suddenly
he, too, laughed.

"I think," he said, "that you and I had better get out of the way,
Sogrange, when the Count von Hern meets us at New York!"



CHAPTER VIII

AN ALIEN SOCIETY


Sogrange and Peter, Baron de Grost, standing upon the threshold of their
hotel, gazed out upon New York and liked the look of it. They had landed
from the steamer a few hours before, had already enjoyed the luxury of a
bath, a visit to an American barber's, and a genuine cocktail.

"I see no reason," Sogrange declared, "why we should not take a week's
holiday."

Peter, glancing up into the blue sky and down into the faces of the
well-dressed and beautiful women who were streaming up Fifth Avenue, was
wholly of the same mind.

"If we return by this afternoon's steamer," he remarked, "we shall have
Bernadine for a fellow-passenger. Bernadine is annoyed with us just now.
I must confess that I should feel more at my ease with a few thousand
miles of the Atlantic between us."

"Let it be so," Sogrange assented. "We will explore this marvellous
city. Never," he added, taking his companion's arm, "did I expect to see
such women save in my own, the mistress of all cities. So _chic_, my
dear Baron, and such a carriage! We will lunch at one of the fashionable
restaurants and drive in the Park afterwards. First of all, however, we
must take a stroll along this wonderful Fifth Avenue."

The two men spent a morning after their own hearts. They lunched
astonishingly well at Sherry's and drove afterwards in the Central Park.
When they returned to the hotel Sogrange was in excellent spirits.

"I feel, my friend," he announced, "that we are going to have a very
pleasant and, in some respects, a unique week. To meet friends and
acquaintances everywhere, as one must do in every capital in Europe, is,
of course, pleasant, but there is a monotony about it from which one is
glad sometimes to escape. We lunch here and we promenade in the places
frequented by those of a similar station to our own, and behold! we know
no one. We are lookers on. Perhaps, for a long time, it might gall. For
a brief period there is a restfulness about it which pleases me."

"I should have liked," Peter murmured, "an introduction to the lady in
the blue hat."

"You are a gregarious animal," Sogrange declared. "You do not understand
the pleasure of a little comparative isolation with an intellectual
companion such as myself. What the devil is the meaning of this?"

They had reached their sitting-room, and upon a small round table stood
a great collection of cards and notes. Sogrange took them up helplessly,
one after the other, reading the names aloud and letting them fall
through his fingers. Some were known to him, some were not. He began to
open the notes. In effect they were all the same--On what day would the
Marquis de Sogrange and his distinguished friend care to dine, lunch,
yacht, golf, shoot, go to the opera, join a theatre party? Of what clubs
would they care to become members? What kind of hospitality would be
most acceptable?

Sogrange sank into a chair.

"My friend," he exclaimed, "they all have to be answered--that
collection there! The visits have to be returned. It is magnificent,
this hospitality, but what can one do?"

Peter looked at the pile of correspondence upon which Sogrange's inroad,
indeed, seemed to have had but little effect.

"One could engage a secretary, of course," he suggested, doubtfully.
"But the visits! Our week's holiday is gone."

"Not at all," Sogrange replied. "I have an idea."

The telephone bell rang. Peter took up the receiver and listened for a
moment. He turned to Sogrange, still holding it in his hand.

"You will be pleased, also, to hear," he announced, "that there are half
a dozen reporters downstairs waiting to interview us."

Sogrange received the information with interest.

"Have them sent up at once," he directed, "every one of them."

"What, all at the same time?" Peter asked.

"All at the same time it must be," Sogrange answered. "Give them to
understand that it is an affair of five minutes only."

They came trooping in. Sogrange welcomed them cordially.

"My friend the Baron de Grost," he explained, indicating Peter. "I am
the Marquis de Sogrange. Let us know what we can do to serve you."

One of the men stepped forward.

"Very glad to meet you, Marquis, and you, Baron," he said. "I won't
bother you with any introductions, but I and the company here represent
the Press of New York. We should like some information for our papers as
to the object of your visit here and the probable length of your stay."

Sogrange extended his hands.

"My dear friend," he exclaimed, "the object of our visit was, I thought,
already well known. We are on our way to Mexico. We leave to-night. My
friend, the Baron is, as you know, a financier. I, too, have a little
money to invest. We are going to meet some business acquaintances with a
view to inspecting some mining properties. That is absolutely all I can
tell you. You can understand, of course, that fuller information would
be impossible."

"Why, that's quite natural, Marquis," the spokesman of the reporters
replied. "We don't like the idea of your hustling out of New York like
this, though."

Sogrange looked at the clock.

"It is unavoidable," he declared. "We are relying upon you, gentlemen,
to publish the fact, because you will see," he added, pointing to the
table, "that we have been the recipients of a great many civilities
which it is impossible for us to acknowledge properly. If it will give
you any pleasure to see us upon our return, you will be very welcome. In
the meantime, you will understand our haste."

There were a few more civilities and the representatives of the Press
took their departure. Peter looked at his companion doubtfully as
Sogrange returned from showing them out.

"I suppose this means that we have to catch to-day's steamer after all?"
he remarked.

"Not necessarily," Sogrange answered. "I have a plan. We will leave for
the Southern Depot, wherever it may be. Afterwards, you shall use that
wonderful skill of yours, of which I have heard so much, to effect some
slight change in our appearance. We will then go to another hotel, in
another quarter of New York, and take our week's holiday incognito. What
do you think of that for an idea?"

"Not much," Peter replied. "It isn't so easy to dodge the newspapers and
the Press in this country. Besides, although I could manage myself very
well, you would be an exceedingly awkward subject. Your tall and elegant
figure, your aquiline nose, the shapeliness of your hands and feet, give
you a distinction which I should find it hard to conceal."

Sogrange smiled.

"You are a remarkably observant fellow, Baron. I quite appreciate your
difficulty. Still, with a club foot, eh?--and spectacles instead of my
eyeglasses----"

"Oh, no doubt something could be managed," Peter interrupted. "You're
really in earnest about this, are you?"

"Absolutely," Sogrange declared. "Come here."

He drew Peter to the window. They were on the twelfth story, and to a
European there was something magnificent in that tangled mass of
buildings threaded by the elevated railway, with its screaming trains,
the clearness of the atmosphere, and in the white streets below, like
polished belts through which the swarms of people streamed like insects.

"Imagine it all lit up!" Sogrange exclaimed. "The sky-signs all ablaze,
the flashing of fire from those cable wires, the lights glittering from
those tall buildings! This is a wonderful place, Baron. We must see it.
Ring for the bill. Order one of those magnificent omnibuses. Press the
button, too, for the personage whom they call the valet. Perhaps, with a
little gentle persuasion, he could be induced to pack our clothes."

With his finger upon the bell, Peter hesitated. He, too, loved
adventures, but the gloom of a presentiment had momentarily depressed
him.

"We are marked men, remember, Sogrange," he said. "An escapade of this
sort means a certain amount of risk, even in New York."

Sogrange laughed.

"Bernadine caught the midday steamer. We have no enemies here that I
know of."

Peter pressed the button. An hour or so later the Marquis de Sogrange
and Peter, Baron de Grost, took their leave of New York.

They chose an hotel some distance down Broadway, within a stone's throw
of Rector's Restaurant. Peter, with whitened hair, gold-rimmed
spectacles, a slouch hat and a fur coat, passed easily enough for an
English maker of electrical instruments; while Sogrange, shabbier, and
in ready-made American clothes, was transformed into a Canadian having
some connection with theatrical business. They plunged into the heart of
New York life, and found the whole thing like a tonic. The intense
vitality of the people, the pandemonium of Broadway at midnight, with
its flaming illuminations, its eager crowd, its inimitable restlessness,
fascinated them both. Sogrange, indeed, remembering the decadent languor
of the crowds of pleasure-seekers thronging his own boulevards, was
never weary of watching these men and women. They passed from the
streets to the restaurants, from the restaurants to the theatre, out
into the streets again, back to the restaurants, and once more into the
streets. Sogrange was like a glutton. The mention of bed was hateful to
him. For three days they existed without a moment's boredom.

On the fourth evening Peter found Sogrange deep in conversation with the
head porter. In a few minutes he led Peter away to one of the bars where
they usually took their cocktail.

"My friend," he announced, "to-night I have a treat for you. So far we
have looked on at the external night life of New York. Wonderful and
thrilling it has been, too. But there is the underneath also. Why not?
There is a vast polyglot population here, full of energy and life. A
criminal class exists as a matter of course. To-night we make our bow to
it."

"And by what means?" Peter inquired.

"Our friend the hall porter," Sogrange continued, "has given me the card
of an ex-detective who will be our escort. He calls for us to-night, or
rather, to-morrow morning, at one o'clock. Then, behold! the wand is
waved, the land of adventures opens before us."

Peter grunted.

"I don't want to damp your enthusiasm, my Canadian friend," he said,
"but the sort of adventures you may meet with to-night are scarcely
likely to fire your romantic nature. I know a little about what they
call this underneath world in New York. It will probably resolve itself
into a visit to Chinatown, where we shall find the usual dummies taking
opium, and quite prepared to talk about it for the usual tip. After that
we shall visit a few low dancing halls, be shown the scene of several
murders, and the thing is done."

"You are a cynic," Sogrange declared. "You would throw cold water upon
any enterprise. Anyway, our detective is coming. We must make use of
him, for I have engaged to pay him five dollars."

"We'll go where you like," Peter assented, "so long as we dine on a roof
garden. This beastly fur coat keeps me in a chronic state of
perspiration."

"Never mind," Sogrange said consolingly, "it's most effective. A roof
garden, by all means."

"And recollect," Peter insisted, "I bar Chinatown. We've both of us seen
the real thing, and there's nothing real about what they show you here."

"Chinatown is erased from our programme," Sogrange agreed. "We go now to
dine. Remind me, Baron, that I inquire for these strange dishes of which
one hears--terrapin, canvas-backed duck, green corn, and strawberry
shortcake."

Peter smiled grimly.

"How like a Frenchman," he exclaimed, "to take no account of seasons!
Never mind, Marquis, you shall give your order and I will sketch the
waiter's face. By the by, if you're in earnest about this expedition
to-night, put your revolver into your pocket."

"But we're going with an ex-detective," Sogrange replied.

"One never knows," Peter said carelessly.

They dined close to the stone palisading of one of New York's most
famous roof gardens. Sogrange ordered an immense dinner, but spent most
of his time gazing downwards. They were higher up than at the hotel, and
they could see across the tangled maze of lights even to the river,
across which the great ferry boats were speeding all the while--huge
creatures of streaming fire and whistling sirens. The air where they sat
was pure and crisp. There was no fog, no smoke, to cloud the almost
crystalline clearness of the night.

"Baron," Sogrange declared, "if I had lived in this city I should have
been a different man. No wonder the people are all-conquering."

"Too much electricity in the air for me," Peter answered. "I like a
little repose. I can't think where these people find it."

"One hopes," Sogrange murmured, "that before they progress any further
in utilitarianism they will find some artist, one of themselves, to
express all this."

"In the meantime," Peter interrupted, "the waiter would like to know
what we are going to drink. I've eaten such a confounded jumble of
things of your ordering that I should like some champagne."

"Who shall say that I am not generous!" Sogrange replied, taking up the
wine carte. "Champagne it shall be. We need something to nerve us for
our adventures."

Peter leaned across the table.

"Sogrange," he whispered, "for the last twenty-four hours I have had
some doubts as to the success of our little enterprise. It has occurred
to me more than once that we are being shadowed."

Sogrange frowned.

"I sometimes wonder," he remarked, "how a man of your suspicious nature
ever acquired the reputation you undoubtedly enjoy."

"Perhaps it is because of my suspicious nature," Peter said. "There is a
man staying in our hotel whom we are beginning to see quite a great deal
of. He was talking to the head porter a few minutes before you this
afternoon. He supped at the same restaurant last night. He is dining
now, three places behind you to the right, with a young lady who has
been making flagrant attempts to flirtation with me, notwithstanding my
grey hairs."

"Your reputation, my dear Peter," Sogrange murmured.

"As a decoy," Peter interrupted, "the young lady's methods are too
vigorous. She pretends to be terribly afraid of her companion, but it is
entirely obvious that she is acting on his instructions. Of course, this
may be a ruse of the reporters. On the other hand, I think it would be
wise to abandon our little expedition to-night."

Sogrange shook his head.

"So far as I am concerned," he said, "I am committed to it."

"In which case," Peter replied, "I am certainly committed to being your
companion. The only question is whether one shall fall to the decoy and
suffer oneself to be led in the direction her companion desires, or
whether we shall go blundering into trouble on our own account with your
friend the ex-detective."

Sogrange glanced over his shoulder, leaned back in his chair, for a
moment, as though to look at the stars, and finally lit a cigarette.

"There is a lack of subtlety about that young person, Baron," he
declared, "which stifles one's suspicions. I suspect her to be merely
one more victim to your undoubted charms. In the interests of madame
your wife I shall take you away. The decoy shall weave her spells in
vain."

They paid their bill and departed a few minutes later. The man and the
girl were also in the act of leaving. The former seemed to be having
some dispute about the bill. The girl, standing with her back to him,
scribbled a line upon a piece of paper, and, as Peter went by, pushed it
into his hand with a little warning gesture. In the lift he opened it.
The few pencilled words contained nothing but an address: Number 15,
100th Street, East.

"Lucky man!" Sogrange sighed.

Peter made no remark, but he was thoughtful for the next hour or so.

The ex-detective proved to be an individual of fairly obvious
appearance, whose complexion and thirst indicated a very possible reason
for his life of leisure. He heard with surprise that his patrons were
not inclined to visit Chinatown, but he showed a laudable desire to fall
in with their schemes, provided always that they included a reasonable
number of visits to places where refreshments could be obtained. From
first to last the expedition was a disappointment. They visited various
smoke-hung dancing halls, decorated for the most part with oleographs
and cracked mirrors, in which sickly-looking young men of unwholesome
aspect were dancing with their feminine counterparts. The attitude of
their guide was alone amusing.

"Say, you want to be careful in here!" he would declare, in an awed
tone, on entering one of these tawdry palaces. "Guess this is one of the
toughest spots in New York City. You stick close to me and I'll make
things all right."

His method of making things all right was the same in every case. He
would form a circle of disreputable youths, for whose drinks Sogrange
was called upon to pay. The attitude of the young men was more dejected
than positively vicious. They showed not the slightest signs of any
desire to make themselves unpleasant. Only once, when Sogrange
incautiously displayed a gold watch, did the eyes of one or two of their
number glisten. The ex-detective changed his place and whispered
hoarsely in his patron's ear:

"Say, don't you flash anything of that sort about here! That young cove
right opposite to you is one of the best-known sneak-thieves in the
city. You're asking for trouble that way."

"If he or any other of them want my watch," Sogrange answered, calmly,
"let them come and fetch it. However," he added, buttoning up his coat,
"no doubt you are right. Is there anywhere else to take us?"

The man hesitated.

"There ain't much that you haven't seen," he remarked.

Sogrange laughed softly as he rose to his feet.

"A sell, my dear friend," he said to Peter. "This terrible city keeps
its real criminal class somewhere else rather than in the show places."

A man who had been standing in the doorway, looking in for several
moments, strolled up to them. Peter recognised him at once and touched
Sogrange on the arm. The new-comer accosted them pleasantly.

"Say, you'll excuse my butting in," he began, "but I can see you are
kind of disappointed. These suckers"--indicating the ex-detective--"talk
a lot about what they're going to show you, and when they get you round,
it all amounts to nothing. This is the sort of thing they bring you to
as representing the wickedness of New York! That's so, Rastall, isn't
it?"

The ex-detective looked a little sheepish.

"Yes, there ain't much more to be seen," he admitted. "Perhaps you'll
take the job on if you think there is."

"Well, I'd engage to show the gentlemen something a sight more
interesting than this," the new-comer continued. "They don't want to sit
down and drink with the scum of the earth."

"Perhaps," Sogrange suggested, "this gentleman has something in his mind
which he thinks would appeal to us. We have a motor-car outside, and we
are out for adventures."

"What sort of adventures?" the new-comer asked bluntly.

Sogrange shrugged his shoulders lightly.

"We are lookers-on merely," he explained. "My friend and I have
travelled a good deal. We have seen something of criminal life in Paris
and London, Vienna, and Budapest. I shall not break any confidence if I
tell you that my friend is a writer, and material such as this is
useful."

The new-comer smiled.

"Say," he exclaimed, "in a way, it's fortunate for you that I happened
along! You come right with me and I'll show you something that very few
other people in this city know of. Guess you'd better pay this fellow
off," he added, indicating the ex-detective. "He's no more use to you."

Sogrange and Peter exchanged questioning glances.

"It is very kind of you, sir," Peter decided, "but for my part I have
had enough for one evening."

"Just as you like, of course," the other remarked, with studied
unconcern.

"What kind of place would it be?" Sogrange asked.

The new-comer drew them on one side, although, as a matter of fact,
everyone else had melted away.

"Have you ever heard of the secret societies of New York?" he inquired.
"Well, I guess you haven't, anyway--not to know anything about them.
Well, then, listen. There's a society meets within a few steps of here,
which has more to do with regulating the criminal classes of the city
than any police establishment. There'll be a man there within an hour or
so who, to my knowledge, has committed seven murders. The police can't
get him. They never will. He's under our protection."

"May we visit such a place as you describe without danger?" Peter asked
calmly.

"No!" the man answered. "There's danger in going anywhere, it seems to
me, if it's worth while. So long as you keep a still tongue in your head
and don't look about you too much, there's nothing will happen to you.
If you get gassing a lot, you might tumble in for almost anything. Don't
come unless you like. It's a chance for you, as you're a writer, but
you'd best keep out of it if you're in any way nervous."

"You said it was quite close?" Sogrange inquired.

"Within a yard or two," the man replied. "It's right this way."

They left the hall with their new escort. When they looked for their
motor-car, they found it had gone.

"It don't do to keep them things waiting about round here," their new
friend remarked, carelessly. "I guess I'll send you back to your hotel
all right. Step this way."

"By the by, what street is this we are in?" Peter asked.

"100th Street," the man answered.

Peter shook his head.

"I'm a little superstitious about that number," he declared. "Is that an
elevated railway there? I think we've had enough, Sogrange."

Sogrange hesitated. They were standing now in front of a tall, gloomy
house, unkempt, with broken gate--a large but miserable-looking abode.
The passers-by in the street were few. The whole character of the
surroundings was squalid. The man pushed open the broken gate.

"You cross the road right there to the elevated," he directed. "If you
ain't coming, I'll bid you good-night."

Once more they hesitated. Peter, perhaps, saw more than his companion.
He saw the dark shapes lurking under the railway arch. He knew
instinctively that they were in some sort of danger. And yet the love of
adventure was on fire in his blood. His belief in himself was immense.
He whispered to Sogrange.

"I do not trust our guide," he said. "If you care to risk it, I am with
you."

"Mind the broken pavement," the man called out. "This ain't exactly an
abode of luxury."

They climbed some broken steps. Their guide opened a door with a Yale
key. The door swung to after them and they found themselves in darkness.
There had been no light in the windows. There was no light, apparently,
in the house. Their companion produced an electric torch from his
pocket.

"You had best follow me," he advised. "Our quarters face out the other
way. We keep this end looking a little deserted."

They passed through a swing door and everything was at once changed. A
multitude of lamps hung from the ceiling, the floor was carpeted, the
walls clean.

"We don't go in for electric light," their guide explained, "as we try
not to give the place away. We manage to keep it fairly comfortable,
though."

He pushed open the door and entered a somewhat gorgeously furnished
salon. There were signs here of feminine occupation, an open piano, and
the smell of cigarettes. Once more Peter hesitated.

"Your friends seem to be in hiding," he remarked. "Personally, I am
losing my curiosity."

"Guess you won't have to wait very long," the man replied, with meaning.

The room was suddenly invaded on all sides. Four doors, which were quite
hidden by the pattern of the wall, had opened almost simultaneously, and
at least a dozen men had entered. This time both Sogrange and Peter knew
that they were face to face with the real thing. These were men who came
silently in, not cigarette-stunted youths. Two of them were in evening
dress; three or four had the appearance of prize-fighters. In their
countenances was one expression common to all--an air of quiet and
conscious strength.

A fair-headed man, in a dinner jacket and black tie, became at once
their spokesman. He was possessed of a very slight American accent, and
he beamed at them through a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I am very glad to meet you both."

"Very kind of you, I'm sure," Sogrange answered. "Our friend here," he
added, indicating their guide, "found us trying to gain a little insight
into the more interesting part of New York life. He was kind enough to
express a wish to introduce us to you."

The man smiled. He looked very much like some studious clerk, except
that his voice seemed to ring with some latent power.

"I am afraid," he said, "that your friend's interest in you was not
entirely unselfish. For three days he has carried in his pocket an order
instructing him to produce you here."

"I knew it!" Peter whispered, under his breath.

"You interest me," Sogrange replied. "May I know whom I have the honour
of addressing?"

"You can call me Burr," the man announced; "Philip Burr. Your names it
is not our wish to know."

"I am afraid I do not quite understand," Sogrange said.

"It was scarcely to be expected that you should," Mr. Philip Burr
admitted. "All I can tell you is that, in cases like yours, I really
prefer not to know with whom I have to deal."

"You speak as though you had business with us," Peter remarked.

"Without doubt, I have," the other replied, grimly. "It is my business
to see that you do not leave these premises alive."

Sogrange drew up a chair against which he had been leaning, and sat
down.

"Really," he said, "that would be most inconvenient."

Peter, too, shook his head, sitting upon the end of a sofa and folding
his arms. Something told him that the moment for fighting was not yet.

"Inconvenient or not," Mr. Philip Burr continued, "I have orders to
carry out which I can assure you have never yet been disobeyed since the
formation of our society. From what I can see of you, you appear to be
very amiable gentlemen, and if it would interest you to choose the
method--say, of your release--why, I can assure you we'll do all we can
to meet your views."

"I am beginning," Sogrange remarked, "to feel quite at home."

"You see, we've been through this sort of thing before," Peter added,
blandly.

Mr. Philip Burr took a cigar from his case and lit it. At a motion of
his hand one of the company passed the box to his two guests.

"You're not counting upon a visit from the police, or anything of that
sort, I hope?" Mr. Philip Burr asked.

Sogrange shook his head.

"Certainly not," he replied. "I may say that much of the earlier portion
of my life was spent in frustrating the well-meant but impossible
schemes of that body of men."

"If only we had a little more time," Mr. Burr declared, "it seems to me
I should like to make the acquaintance of you two gentlemen."

"The matter is entirely in your own hands," Peter reminded him. "We are
in no hurry."

Mr. Burr smiled genially.

"You make me think better of humanity," he confessed. "A month ago we
had a man here--got him along somehow or other--and I had to tell him
that he was up against it like you two are. My! the fuss he made! Kind
of saddened me to think a man should be such a coward."

"Some people are like that," Sogrange remarked. "By the by, Mr. Burr,
you'll pardon my curiosity. Whom have we to thank for our introduction
here to-night?"

"I don't know as there's any particular harm in telling you," Mr. Burr
replied.

"Nor any particular good," a man who was standing by his side
interrupted. "Say, Phil, you drag these things out too much. Are there
any questions you've got to ask 'em, or any property to collect?"

"Nothing of the sort," Mr. Burr admitted.

"Then let the gang get to work," the other declared.

The two men were suddenly conscious that they were being surrounded.
Peter's hand stole on to the butt of his revolver. Sogrange rose slowly
to his feet. His hands were thrust out in front of him with the thumbs
turned down. The four fingers of each hand flashed for a minute through
the air. Mr. Philip Burr lost all his self-control.

"Say, where the devil did you learn that trick?" he cried.

Sogrange laughed scornfully.

"Trick!" he exclaimed. "Philip Burr, you are unworthy of your position.
I am the Marquis de Sogrange, and my friend here is the Baron de Grost."

Mr. Philip Burr had no words. His cigar had dropped on to the carpet. He
was simply staring.

"If you need proof," Sogrange continued, "further than any I have given
you, I have in my pocket, at the present moment, a letter, signed by you
yourself, pleading for formal reinstatement. This is how you would
qualify for it! You make use of your power to run a common decoy house,
to do away with men for money. What fool gave you our names, pray?"

Mr. Philip Burr was only the wreck of a man. He could not even control
his voice.

"It was some German or Belgian nobleman," he faltered. "He brought us
excellent letters, and he made a large contribution. It was the Count
von Hern."

The anger of Sogrange seemed suddenly to fade away. He threw himself
into a chair by the side of his companion.

"My dear Baron," he exclaimed, "Bernadine has scored, indeed! Your
friend has a sense of humour which overwhelms me. Imagine it. He has
delivered the two heads of our great society into the hands of one of
its cast-off branches! Bernadine is a genius, indeed!"

Mr. Philip Burr began slowly to recover himself. He waved his hand. Nine
out of the twelve men left the room.

"Marquis," he said, "for ten years there has been no one whom I have
desired to meet so much as you. I came to Europe, but you declined to
receive me. I know very well we can't keep our end up like you over
there, because we haven't politics and those sort of things to play
with, but we've done our best. We've encouraged only criminology of the
highest order. We've tried all we can to keep the profession select. The
gaol-bird pure and simple we have cast out. The men who have suffered at
our hands have been men who have met with their deserts."

"What about us?" Peter demanded. "It seems to me that you had most
unpleasant plans for our future."

Philip Burr held up his hands.

"As I live," he declared, "this is the first time that any money
consideration has induced me to break away from our principles. Count
von Hern had powerful friends who were our friends, and he gave me the
word, straight, that you two had an appointment down below which was
considerably overdue. I don't know, even now, why I consented. I guess
it isn't much use apologising."

Sogrange rose to his feet.

"Well," he said, "I am not inclined to bear malice, but you must
understand this from me, Philip Burr. As a society I dissolve you. I
deprive you of your title and of your signs. Call yourself what you
will, but never again mention the name of the 'Double Four.' With us in
Europe another era has dawned. We are on the side of law and order. We
protect only criminals of a certain class, in whose operations we have
faith. There is no future for such a society in this country. Therefore,
as I say, I dissolve it. Now, if you are ready, perhaps you will be so
good as to provide us with the means of reaching our hotel."

Philip Burr led them into a back street, where his own handsome
automobile was placed at their service.

"This kind of breaks me all up," he declared, as he gave the
instructions to the chauffeur. "If there were two men on the face of
this earth whom I'd have been proud to meet in a friendly sort of way,
it's you two."

"We bear no malice, Mr. Burr," Sogrange assured him. "You can, if you
will do us the honour, lunch with us to-morrow at one o'clock at
Rector's. My friend here is very interested in the Count von Hern, and
he would probably like to hear exactly how this affair was arranged."

"I'll be there, sure," Philip Burr promised with a farewell wave of the
hand.

Sogrange and Peter drove towards their hotel in silence. It was only
when they emerged into the civilised part of the city that Sogrange
began to laugh softly.

"My friend," he murmured, "you bluffed fairly well, but you were afraid.
Oh, how I smiled to see your fingers close round the butt of that
revolver!"

"What about you?" Peter asked gruffly. "You don't suppose you took me
in, do you?"

Sogrange smiled.

"I had two reasons for coming to New York," he said. "One we
accomplished upon the steamer. The other was----"

"Well?"

"To reply personally to this letter of Mr. Philip Burr," Sogrange
replied, "which letter, by the by, was dated from 15, 100th Street, New
York. An ordinary visit there would have been useless to me. Something
of this sort was necessary."

"Then you knew!" Peter gasped. "Notwithstanding all your bravado, you
knew."

"I had a very fair idea," Sogrange admitted. "Don't be annoyed with me,
my friend. You have had a little experience. It is all useful. It isn't
the first time you've looked death in the face. Adventures come to some
men unasked. You, I think, were born with the habit of them."

Peter smiled. They had reached the hotel courtyard, and he raised
himself stiffly.

"There's a fable about the pitcher that went once too often to the
well," he remarked. "I have had my share of luck--more than my share.
The end must come some time, you know."

"Is this superstition?" Sogrange asked.

"Superstition pure and simple," Peter confessed, taking his key from the
office. "It doesn't alter anything. I am fatalist enough to shrug my
shoulders and move on. But I tell you, Sogrange," he added, after a
moment's pause, "I wouldn't admit it to anyone else in the world, but I
am afraid of Bernadine. I have had the best of it so often. It can't
last. In all we've had twelve encounters. The next will be the
thirteenth."

Sogrange shrugged his shoulders slightly as he rang for the lift.

"I'd propose you for the Thirteen Club, only there's some uncomfortable
clause about yearly suicides which might not suit you," he remarked.

"Good night, and don't dream of Bernadine and your thirteenth
encounter."

"I only hope," Peter murmured, "that I may be in a position to dream
after it!"



CHAPTER IX

THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN


Baron de Grost glanced at the card which his butler had brought in to
him, carelessly at first, afterwards with that curious rigidity of
attention which usually denotes the setting free of a flood of memories.

"The gentleman would like to see you, sir," the man announced.

"You can show him in at once," Peter replied.

The servant withdrew. Peter, during those few minutes of waiting, stood
with his back to the room and his face to the window, looking out across
the square, in reality seeing nothing, completely immersed in this
strange flood of memories. John Dory--Sir John Dory now--a quondam
enemy, whom he had met but seldom during these later years. The figure
of this man, who had once loomed so largely in his life, had gradually
shrunk away into the background. Their avoidance of each other arose,
perhaps, from a sort of instinct which was certainly no matter of
ill-will. Still, the fact remained that they had scarcely exchanged a
word for years, and Peter turned to receive his unexpected guest with a
curiosity which he did not trouble wholly to conceal.

Sir John Dory--Chief Commissioner of Scotland Yard, a person of weight
and importance--had changed a great deal during the last few years. His
hair had become grey, his walk more dignified. There was the briskness,
however, of his best days in his carriage, and in the flash of his brown
eyes. He held out his hand to his ancient foe with a smile.

"My dear Baron," he said, "I hope you are going to say that you are glad
to see me."

"Unless," Peter replied, with a good-humoured grimace, "your visit is
official, I am more than glad--I am charmed. Sit down. I was just going
to take my morning cigar. You will join me? Good! Now I am ready for the
worst that can happen."

The two men seated themselves. John Dory pulled at his cigar
appreciatively, sniffed its flavour for a moment, and then leaned
forward in his chair.

"My visit, Baron," he announced, "is semi-official. I am here to ask you
a favour."

"An official favour?" Peter demanded quickly.

His visitor hesitated, as though he found the question hard to answer.

"To tell you the truth," he declared, "this call of mine is wholly an
inspiration. It does not in any way concern you personally, or your
position in this country. What that may be I do not know, except that I
am sure it is above any suspicion."

"Quite so," Peter murmured. "How diplomatic you have become, my dear
friend!"

John Dory smiled.

"Perhaps I am fencing about too much," he said. "I know, of course, that
you are a member of a very powerful and wealthy French society, whose
object and aims, so far as I know, are entirely harmless."

"I am delighted to be assured that you recognise that fact," Peter
admitted.

"I might add," John Dory continued, "that this harmlessness is of recent
date."

"Really, you do seem to know a good deal," Peter confessed.

"I find myself still fencing," Dory declared. "A matter of habit, I
suppose. I didn't mean to when I came. I made up my mind to tell you
simply that Guillot was in London, and to ask you if you could help me
to get rid of him."

Peter looked thoughtfully into his companion's face, but he did not
speak. He understood at such moments the value of silence.

"We speak together," Dory continued softly, "as men who understand one
another. Guillot is the one criminal in Europe whom we all fear; not I
alone, mind you--it is the same in Berlin, in Petersburg, in Vienna. He
has never been caught. It is my honest belief that he never will be
caught. At the same time, wherever he arrives the thunderclouds gather.
He leaves behind him always a trail of evil deeds."

"Very well put," Peter murmured. "Quite picturesque."

"Can you help me to get rid of him?" Dory inquired. "I have my hands
full just now, as you can imagine, what with the political crisis and
these constant mass meetings. I want Guillot out of the country. If you
can manage this for me I shall be your eternal debtor."

"Why do you imagine," Peter asked, "that I can help you in this matter?"

There was a brief silence. John Dory knocked the ash from his cigar.

"Times have changed," he said. "The harmlessness of your great society,
my dear Baron, is at present admitted. But there were days----"

"Exactly," Peter interrupted. "As shrewd as ever, I perceive. Do you
know anything of the object of his coming?"

"Nothing."

"Anything of his plans?"

"Nothing."

"You know where he is staying?"

"Naturally," Dory answered. "He has taken a second-floor flat in
Crayshaw Mansions, Shaftesbury Avenue. As usual, he is above all petty
artifices. He has taken it under the name of Monsieur Guillot."

"I really don't know whether there is anything I can do," Peter decided,
"but I will look into the matter for you with pleasure. Perhaps I may be
able to bring a little influence to bear--indirectly, of course. If so,
it is at your service. Lady Dory is well, I trust?"

"In the best of health," Sir John replied, accepting the hint and rising
to his feet. "I shall hear from you soon?"

"Without a doubt," Peter answered. "I must certainly call upon Monsieur
Guillot."

Peter wasted no time in paying his promised visit. That same afternoon
he rang the bell at the flat in Crayshaw Mansions. A typical French
butler showed him into the room where the great man sat. Monsieur
Guillot, slight, elegant, preeminently a dandy, was lounging upon a
sofa, being manicured by a young lady. He threw down his _Petit Journal_
and rose to his feet, however, at his visitor's entrance.

"My dear Baron," he exclaimed, "but this is charming of you!
Mademoiselle," he added, turning to the manicurist, "you will do me the
favour of retiring for a short time. Permit me."

He opened the door and showed her out. Then he came back to Peter.

"A visit of courtesy, Monsieur le Baron?" he asked.

"Without a doubt," Peter replied.

"It is beyond all measure charming of you," Guillot declared, "but let
me ask you a question. Is it peace or war?"

"It is what you choose to make it," Peter answered.

The man threw out his hands. There was the shadow of a frown upon his
pale forehead. It was a matter for protest, this.

"Why do you come?" he demanded. "What have we in common? The society has
expelled me. Very well, I go my own way. Why not? I am free of your
control to-day. You have no more right to interfere with my schemes than
I with yours."

"We have the ancient right of power," Peter said grimly. "You were once
a prominent member of our organisation, the spoilt protégé of madame, a
splendid maker, if you will, of criminal history. Those days have
passed. We offered you a pension which you have refused. It is now our
turn to speak. We require you to leave this city in twenty-four hours."

The man's face was livid with anger. He was of the fair type of
Frenchman, with deep-set eyes, and a straight, cruel mouth only partly
concealed by his golden moustache. Just now, notwithstanding the veneer
of his too perfect clothes and civilised air, the beast had leapt out.
His face was like the face of a snarling animal.

"I refuse!" he cried. "It is I who refuse! I am here on my own affairs.
What they may be is no business of yours or of anyone else's. That is my
answer to you, Baron de Grost, whether you come to me for yourself or on
behalf of the society to which I no longer belong. That is my
answer--that and the door," he added, pressing the bell. "If you will,
we fight. If you are wise, forget this visit as quickly as you can."

Peter took up his hat. The man-servant was already in the room.

"We shall probably meet again before your return, Monsieur Guillot," he
remarked.

Guillot had recovered himself. His smile was wicked, but his bow
perfection.

"To the fortunate hour, Monsieur le Baron!" he replied.

Peter drove back to Berkeley Square, and without a moment's hesitation
pressed the levers which set in work the whole underground machinery of
the great power which he controlled. Thence-forward Monsieur Guillot was
surrounded with a vague army of silent watchers. They passed in and out
even of his flat, their motor-cars were as fast as his in the streets,
their fancy in restaurants identical with his. Guillot moved through it
all like a man wholly unconscious of espionage, showing nothing of the
murderous anger which burned in his blood. The reports came to Peter
every hour, although there was, indeed, nothing worth chronicling.
Monsieur Guillot's visit to London would seem, indeed, to be a visit of
gallantry. He spent most of his time with Mademoiselle Louise, the
famous dancer. He was prominent at the Empire to watch her nightly
performance; they were a noticeable couple supping together at the Milan
afterwards. Peter smiled as he read the reports. Monsieur Guillot was
indeed a man of gallantry, but he had the reputation of using these
affairs to cloak his real purpose. Those who watched him watched only
the more closely. Monsieur Guillot, who stood it very well at first,
unfortunately lost his temper. He drove to Berkeley Square in the great
motor-car which he had brought with him from Paris, and confronted
Peter.

"My friend," he exclaimed, though, indeed, the glitter in his eyes knew
nothing of friendship, "it is intolerable, this! Do you think that I do
not see through these dummy waiters, these obsequious shopmen, these
ladies who drop their eyes when I pass, these commissionaires, these
would-be acquaintances? I tell you that they irritate me, this
incompetent, futile crowd. You pit them against me! Bah! You should know
better. When I choose to disappear, I shall disappear, and no one will
follow me. When I strike, I shall strike, and no one will discover what
my will may be. You are out of date, dear Baron, with your third-rate
army of stupid spies. You succeed in one thing only--you succeed in
making me angry."

"It is at least an achievement, that," Peter declared.

"Perhaps," Monsieur Guillot admitted fiercely. "Yet mark now the result.
I defy you, you and all of them. Look at your clock. It is five minutes
to seven. It goes well, that clock, eh?"

"It is the correct time," Peter said.

"Then by midnight," Guillot continued, shaking his fist in the other's
face, "I shall have done that thing which brought me to England, and I
shall have disappeared. I shall have done it in spite of your watchers,
in spite of your spies, in spite, even, of you, Monsieur le Baron de
Grost. There is my challenge. _Voilà._ Take it up if you will. At
midnight you shall hear me laugh. I have the honour to wish you good
night!"

Peter opened the door with his own hands.

"This is excellent," he declared. "You are now, indeed, the Monsieur
Guillot of old. Almost you persuade me to take up your challenge."

Guillot laughed derisively.

"As you please!" he exclaimed. "By midnight to-night!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The challenge of Monsieur Guillot was issued precisely at four minutes
before seven. On his departure, Peter spent the next half-hour studying
certain notes and sending various telephone messages. Afterwards he
changed his clothes at the usual time and sat down to a _tête-à-tête_
dinner with his wife. Three times during the course of the meal he was
summoned to the telephone, and from each visit he returned more
perplexed. Finally, when the servants had left the room, he took his
chair round to his wife's side.

"Violet," he said, "you were asking me just now about the telephone. You
were quite right. These were not ordinary messages which I have been
receiving. I am engaged in a little matter which, I must confess,
perplexes me. I want your advice--perhaps your help."

Violet smiled.

"I am quite ready," she announced. "It is a long time since you gave me
anything to do."

"You have heard of Guillot?"

She reflected a moment.

"You mean the wonderful Frenchman," she asked, "the head of the criminal
department of the Double Four?"

"The man who was at its head when it existed," Peter replied. "The
criminal department, as you know, has all been done away with. The
Double Four has now no more concern with those who break the law, save
in those few instances where great issues demand it."

"But Monsieur Guillot still exists?"

"He not only exists," Peter answered, "but he is here in London, a rebel
and a defiant one. Do you know who came to see me the other morning?"

She shook her head.

"Sir John Dory," Peter continued. "He came here with a request. He
begged for my help. Guillot is here, committed to some enterprise which
no man can wholly fathom. Dory has enough to do with other things, as
you can imagine, just now. Besides, I think he recognises that Monsieur
Guillot is rather a hard nut for the ordinary English detective to
crack."

"And you?" she demanded, breathlessly.

"I join forces with Dory," Peter admitted. "Sogrange agrees with me.
Guillot was associated with the Double Four too long for us to have him
make scandalous history, either here or in Paris."

"You have seen him?"

"I have not only seen him," Peter said, "I have declared war against
him."

"And he?"

"Guillot is defiant," Peter replied. "He has been here only this
evening. He mocks at me. He swears that he will bring off this
enterprise, whatever it may be, before midnight to-night, and he has
defied me to stop him."

"But you will," she murmured softly.

Peter smiled. The conviction in his wife's tone was a subtle compliment
which he did not fail to appreciate.

"I have hopes," he confessed, "and yet, let me tell you this, Violet, I
have never been more puzzled. Ask yourself, now. What enterprise is
there worthy of a man like Guillot, in which he could engage himself
here in London between now and midnight? Any ordinary theft is beneath
him. The purloining of the Crown jewels, perhaps, he might consider, but
I don't think that anything less in the way of robbery would bring him
here. He has his code and he is as vain as a peacock. Yet money is at
the root of everything he does."

"How does he spend his time here?" Violet asked.

"He has a handsome flat in Shaftesbury Avenue," Peter answered, "where
he lives, to all appearance, the life of an idle man of fashion. The
whole of his spare time is spent with Mademoiselle Louise, the danseuse
at the Empire. You see, it is half-past eight now. I have eleven men
altogether at work, and according to my last report he was dining with
her in the grillroom at the Milan. They ordered their coffee just ten
minutes ago, and the car is waiting outside to take Mademoiselle to the
Empire. Guillot's box is engaged there, as usual. If he proposes to
occupy it, he is leaving himself a very narrow margin of time to carry
out any enterprise worth speaking of."

Violet was thoughtful for several moments. Then she crossed the room,
took up a copy of an illustrated paper, and brought it across to Peter.
He smiled as he glanced at the picture to which she pointed, and the few
lines underneath.

"It has struck you, too, then!" he exclaimed. "Good! You have answered
me exactly as I hoped. Somehow, I scarcely trusted myself. I have both
cars waiting outside. We may need them. You won't mind coming to the
Empire with me?"

"Mind?" she laughed. "I only hope I may be in at the finish."

"If the finish," Peter remarked, "is of the nature which I anticipate, I
shall take particularly good care that you are not."

The curtain was rising upon the first act of the ballet as they entered
the music-hall and were shown to the box which Peter had engaged. The
house was full--crowded, in fact, almost to excess. They had scarcely
taken their seats when a roar of applause announced the coming of
Mademoiselle Louise. She stood for a moment to receive her nightly
ovation, a slim, beautiful creature, looking out upon the great house
with that faint, bewitching smile at the corners of her lips which every
photographer in Europe had striven to reproduce. Then she moved away to
the music, an exquisite figure, the personification of all that was
alluring in her sex. Violet leaned forward to watch her movements as she
plunged into the first dance. Peter was occupied looking round the
house. Monsieur Guillot was there, sitting insolently forward in his
box, sleek and immaculate. He even waved his hand and bowed as he met
Peter's eye. Somehow or other, his confidence had its effect. Peter
began to feel vaguely troubled. After all, his plans were built upon a
surmise. It was so easy for him to be wrong. No man would show his hand
so openly who was not sure of the game. Then his face cleared a little.
In the adjoining box to Guillot's the figure of a solitary man was just
visible, a man who had leaned over to applaud Louise, but who was now
sitting back in the shadows. Peter recognised him at once,
notwithstanding the obscurity. This was so much to the good, at any
rate. He took up his hat.

"For a quarter of an hour you will excuse me, Violet," he said. "Watch
Guillot. If he leaves his place, knock at the door of your box, and one
of my men, who is outside, will come to you at once. He will know where
to find me."

Peter hurried away, pausing for a moment in the promenade to scribble a
line or two at the back of one of his own cards. Presently he knocked at
the door of the box adjoining Guillot's and was instantly admitted.
Violet continued her watch. She remained alone until the curtain fell
upon the first act of the ballet. A few minutes later Peter returned.
She knew at once that things were going well. He sank into a chair by
her side.

"I have messages every five minutes," he whispered in her ear, "and I am
venturing upon a bold stroke. There is still something about the affair,
though, which I cannot understand. You are absolutely sure that Guillot
has not moved?"

Violet pointed with her programme across the house.

"There he sits," she remarked. "He left his chair as the curtain went
down, but he could scarcely have gone out of the box, for he was back
within ten seconds."

Peter looked steadily across at the opposite box. Guillot was sitting a
little farther back now, as though he no longer courted observation.
Something about his attitude puzzled the man who watched him. With a
quick movement he caught up the glasses which stood by his wife's side.
The curtain was going up for the second act, and Guillot had turned his
head. Peter held the glasses only for a moment to his eyes, and then
glanced down at the stage.

"My God!" he muttered. "The man's a genius! Violet, the small motor is
coming for you."

He was out of the box in a single step. Violet looked after him, looked
down upon the stage and across at Guillot's box. It was hard to
understand.

The curtain had scarcely rung up upon the second act of the ballet when
a young lady, who met from all the loungers, and even from the
door-keeper himself, the most respectful attention, issued from the
stage-door at the Empire and stepped into the large motor-car which was
waiting, drawn up against the kerb. The door was opened from inside and
closed at once. She held out her hands, as yet ungloved, to the man who
sat back in the corner.

"At last!" she murmured. "And I thought that you had forsaken me. It
seemed, indeed, dear one, that you had forsaken me."

He took her hands and held them tightly, but he answered only in a
whisper. He wore a sombre black cloak and a broad-brimmed hat. A muffler
concealed the lower part of his face. She put her finger upon the
electric light, but he stopped her.

"I must not be recognised," he said thickly. "Forgive me, Louise, if I
seem strange at first, but there is more in it than I can tell you. No
one must know that I am in London to-night. When we reach this place to
which you are taking me, and we are really alone, then we can talk. I
have so much to say."

She looked at him doubtfully. It was indeed a moment of indecision with
her. Then she began to laugh softly.

"Little one, but you have changed!" she exclaimed compassionately.
"After all, why not? I must not forget that things have gone so hardly
with you. It seems odd, indeed, to see you sitting there, muffled up
like an old man, afraid to show yourself. You know how foolish you are?
With your black cape and that queer hat, you are so different from all
the others. If you seek to remain unrecognised, why do you not dress as
all the men do? Anyone who was suspicious would recognise you from your
clothes."

"It is true," he muttered. "I did not think of it."

She leaned towards him.

"You will not even kiss me?" she murmured.

"Not yet," he answered.

She made a little grimace.

"But you are cold!"

"You do not understand," he answered. "They are watching me--even
to-night they are watching me. Oh, if you only knew, Louise, how I have
longed for this hour that is to come!"

Her vanity was assuaged. She patted his hand, but came no nearer.

"You are a foolish little one," she said, "very foolish."

"It is not for you to say that," he replied. "If I have been foolish,
were not you often the cause of my folly."

Again she laughed.

"Oh, la, la! It is always the same! It is always you men who accuse! For
that presently I shall reprove you. But now--as for now, behold, we have
arrived!"

"It is a crowded thoroughfare," the man remarked nervously, looking up
and down Shaftesbury Avenue.

"Stupid!" she cried, stepping out. "I do not recognise you to-night,
little one. Even your voice is different. Follow me quickly across the
pavement and up the stairs. There is only one flight. The flat I have
borrowed is on the second floor. I do not care very much that people
should recognise me either, under the circumstances. There is nothing
they love so much," she added, with a toss of the head, "as finding an
excuse to have my picture in the paper."

He followed her down the dim hall and up the broad, flat stairs, keeping
always some distance behind. On the first landing she drew a key from
her pocket and opened a door. It was the door of Monsieur Guillot's
sitting-room. A round table in the middle was laid for supper. One light
alone, and that heavily shaded, was burning.

"Oh, la, la," she exclaimed. "How I hate this darkness! Wait till I can
turn on the lights, dear friend, and then you must embrace me. It is
from outside, I believe. No, do not follow. I can find the switch for
myself. Remain where you are. I return instantly."

She left him alone in the room, closing the door softly. In the passage
she reeled for a moment and caught at her side. She was very pale.
Guillot, coming swiftly up the steps, frowned as he saw her.

"He is there?" he demanded harshly.

"He is there," Louise replied; "but, indeed, I am angry with myself.
See, I am faint. It is a terrible thing, this, which I have done. He did
me no harm, that young man, except that he was stupid and heavy, and
that I never loved him. Who could love him, indeed? But, Guillot----"

He passed on, scarcely heeding her words, but she clung to his arm.

"Dear one," she begged, "promise that you will not really hurt him.
Promise me that, or I will shriek out and call the people from the
streets here. You will not make an assassin of me? Promise!"

Guillot turned suddenly towards her, and there were strange things in
his face. He pointed down the stairs.

"Go back, Louise," he ordered, "back to your rooms, for your own sake.
Remember that you left the theatre, too ill to finish your performance.
You have had plenty of time already to get home. Quick! Leave me to deal
with this young man. I tell you to go."

She retreated down the stairs, dumb, her knees shaking still as though
with fear. Guillot entered the room, closing the door behind him. Even
as he bowed to that dark figure standing in the corner, his left hand
shot forward the bolt.

"Monsieur," he said.

"What is the meaning of this?" the visitor interrupted haughtily. "I am
expecting Mademoiselle Louise. I did not understand that strangers had
the right of entry into this room."

Guillot bowed low.

"Monsieur," he said once more, "it is a matter for my eternal regret
that I am forced to intrude even for a moment upon an assignation so
romantic. But there is a little matter which must first be settled. I
have some friends here who have a thing to say to you."

He walked softly, with catlike tread, along by the wall to where the
thick curtains shut out the inner apartment. He caught at the thick
velvet, dragged it back, and the two rooms were suddenly flooded with
light. In the recently discovered one, two stalwart-looking men in plain
clothes, but of very unmistakable appearance, were standing waiting.
Guillot staggered back. They were strangers to him. He was like a man
who looks upon a nightmare. His eyes protruded. The words which he tried
to utter failed him. Then, with a swift, nervous presentiment, he turned
quickly around towards the man who had been standing in the shadows.
Here, too, the unexpected had happened. It was Peter, Baron de Grost,
who threw his muffler and broad-brimmed hat upon the table.

"Five minutes to eleven, I believe, Monsieur Guillot," Peter declared.
"I win by an hour and five minutes."

Guillot said nothing for several seconds. After all, though, he had
great gifts. He recovered alike his power of speech and his composure.

"These gentlemen," he said, pointing with his left hand towards the
inner room. "I do not understand their presence in my apartments."

Peter shrugged his shoulders.

"They represent, I am afraid, the obvious end of things," he explained.
"You have given me a run for my money, I confess. A Monsieur Guillot who
is remarkably like you still occupies your box at the Empire, and
Mademoiselle Jeanne Lemère, the accomplished understudy of the lady who
has just left us, is sufficiently like the incomparable Louise to
escape, perhaps, detection for the first few minutes. But you gave the
game away a little, my dear Guillot, when you allowed your quarry to
come and gaze even from the shadows of his box at the woman he adored."

"Where is--he?" Guillot faltered.

"He is on his way back to his country home," Peter replied. "I think
that he will be cured of his infatuation for Mademoiselle. The assassins
whom you planted in that room are by this time in Bow Street. The price
which others beside you knew, my dear Guillot, was placed upon that
unfortunate young man's head will not pass this time into your pocket.
For the rest----"

"The rest is of no consequence," Guillot interrupted, bowing. "I admit
that I am vanquished. As for those gentlemen there," he added, waving
his hand towards the two men, who had taken a step forward, "I have a
little oath which is sacred to me concerning them. I take the liberty,
therefore, to admit myself defeated, Monsieur le Baron, and to take my
leave."

No one was quick enough to interfere. They had only a glimpse of him as
he stood there with the revolver pressed to his temple, an impression of
a sharp report, of Guillot staggering back as the revolver slipped from
his fingers on to the floor. Even his death cry was stifled. They
carried him away without any fuss, and Peter was just in time, after
all, to see the finish of the second act of the ballet. The sham
Monsieur Guillot still smirked at the sham Louise, but the box by his
side was empty.

"Is it over?" Violet asked breathlessly.

"It is over," Peter answered.

It was, after all, an unrecorded tragedy. In an obscure corner of the
morning papers one learned the next day that a Frenchman, who had
apparently come to the end of his means, had committed suicide in a
furnished flat in Shaftesbury Avenue. Two foreigners were deported
without having been brought up for trial, for being suspected persons. A
little languid interest was aroused at the inquest when one of the
witnesses deposed to the deceased having been a famous French criminal.
Nothing further transpired, however, and the readers of the halfpenny
press for once were deprived of their sensation. For the rest, Peter
received, with much satisfaction, a remarkably handsome signet ring,
bearing some famous arms, and a telegram from Sogrange: "_Well done,
Baron! May the successful termination of your enterprise nerve you for
the greater undertaking which is close at hand. I leave for London by
the night train._--SOGRANGE."



CHAPTER X

THE THIRTEENTH ENCOUNTER


The Marquis de Sogrange arrived in Berkeley Square with the grey dawn of
an October morning, showing in his appearance and dress few enough signs
of his night journey. Yet he had travelled without stopping from Paris
by fast motor car and the mail boat.

"They telephoned me from Charing Cross," Peter said, "that you could not
possibly arrive until midday. The clerk assured me that no train had yet
reached Calais."

"They had reason in what they told you," Sogrange remarked, as he leaned
back in a chair and sipped the coffee which had been waiting for him in
the Baron de Grost's study. "The train itself never got more than a mile
away from the Gare du Nord. The engine-driver was shot through the head,
and the metals were torn from the way. Paris is within a year now of a
second and more terrible revolution."

"You really believe this?" Peter asked gravely.

"It is a certainty," Sogrange replied. "Not I alone, but many others can
see this clearly. Everywhere the Socialists have wormed themselves into
places of trust. They are to be met with in every rank of life, under
every form of disguise. The post-office strike has already shown us what
deplorable disasters even a skirmish can bring about. To-day the railway
strike has paralysed France. Our country lies to-day absolutely at the
mercy of any invader. As it happens, no one is, for the moment,
prepared. Who can tell how it may be next time?"

"This is bad news," Peter declared. "If this is really the position of
affairs, the matter is much more serious than the newspapers would have
us believe."

"The newspapers," Sogrange muttered, "ignore what lies behind. Some of
them, I think, are paid to do it. As for the rest, our Press had always
an ostrich-like tendency. The Frenchman of the café does not buy his
journal to be made sad."

"You believe, then," Peter asked, "that these strikes have some definite
tendency?"

Sogrange set down his cup and smiled bitterly. In the early sunlight,
still a little cold and unloving, Peter could see that there was a
change in the man. He was no longer the debonair aristocrat of the
racecourses and the boulevards. The shadows under his eyes were deeper,
his cheeks more sunken. He had lost something of the sprightliness of
his bearing. His attitude, indeed, was almost dejected. He was like a
man who sees into the future and finds there strange and gruesome
things.

"I do more than believe that," he declared. "I know it. It has fallen to
my lot to make a very definite discovery concerning them. Listen, my
friend. For more than six months the Government has been trying to
discover the source of this stream of vile socialistic literature which
has contaminated the French working classes. The pamphlets have been
distributed with devilish ingenuity amongst all national operatives, the
army and the navy. The Government has failed. The Double Four has
succeeded."

"You have really discovered their source?" Peter exclaimed.

"Without a doubt," Sogrange assented. "The Government appealed to us
first some months ago when I was in America. For a time we had no
success. Then a clue, and the rest was easy. The navy, the army, the
post-office employees, the telegraph and telephone operators, and the
railway men, have been the chief recipients of this incessant stream of
foul literature. To-day one cannot tell how much mischief has been
actually done. The strikes which have already occurred are only the
mutterings of the coming storm. But mark you, wherever those pamphlets
have gone, trouble has followed. What men may do the Government is
doing, but all the time the poison is at work, the seed has been sown.
Two millions of money have been spent to corrupt that very class which
should be the backbone of France. Through the fingers of one man has
come this shower of gold, one man alone has stood at the head of the
great organisation which has disseminated this loathsome disease. Behind
him--well, we know."

"The man?"

"It is fitting that you should ask that question," Sogrange replied.
"The name of that man is Bernadine, Count von Hern."

Peter remained speechless. There was something almost terrible in the
slow preciseness with which Sogrange had uttered the name of his enemy,
something unspeakably threatening in the cold glitter of his angry eyes.

"Up to the present," Sogrange continued, "I have
watched--sympathetically, of course, but with a certain amount of
amusement--the duel between you and Bernadine. It has been against your
country and your country's welfare that most of his efforts have been
directed, which perhaps accounts for the equanimity with which I have
been contented to remain a looker-on. It is apparent, my dear Baron,
that in most of your encounters the honours have remained with you. Yet,
as it has chanced, never once has Bernadine been struck a real and
crushing blow. The time has come when this and more must happen. It is
no longer a matter of polite exchanges. It is a _duel à outrance_."

"You mean----" Peter began.

"I mean that Bernadine must die," Sogrange declared.

There was a brief silence. Outside, the early morning street noises were
increasing in volume as the great army of workers, streaming towards the
heart of the city from a hundred suburbs, passed on to their tasks. A
streak of sunshine had found its way into the room, lay across the
carpet, and touched Sogrange's still, waxen features. Peter glanced half
fearfully at his friend and visitor. He himself was no coward, no
shrinker from the great issues. He, too, had dealt in life and death.
Yet there was something in the deliberate preciseness of Sogrange's
words, as he sat there only a few feet away, which was unspeakably
thrilling. It was like a death sentence pronounced in all solemnity upon
some shivering criminal. There was something inevitable and tragical
about the whole affair. A pronouncement had been made from which there
was no appeal. Bernadine was to die!

"Isn't this a little exceeding the usual exercise of our powers?" Peter
asked slowly.

"No such occasion as this has ever yet arisen," Sogrange reminded him.
"Bernadine has fled to this country with barely an hour to spare. His
offence is extraditable by a law of the last century which has never
been repealed. He is guilty of treason against the Republic of France.
Yet they do not want him back, they do not want a trial. I have papers
upon my person which, if I took them into an English court, would
procure for me a warrant for Bernadine's arrest. It is not this we
desire. Bernadine must die. No fate could be too terrible for a man who
has striven to corrupt the soul of a nation. It is not war, this. It is
not honest conspiracy. Is it war, I ask you, to seek to poison the
drinking water of an enemy, to send stalking into their midst some
loathsome disease? Such things belong to the ages of barbarity.
Bernadine has striven to revive them, and Bernadine shall die."

"It is justice," Peter admitted.

"The question remains," Sogrange continued, "by whose hand--yours or
mine?"

Peter started uneasily.

"Is that necessary?" he asked.

"I fear that it is," Sogrange replied. "We had a brief meeting of the
executive council last night, and it was decided, for certain reasons,
to entrust this task into no other hands. You will smile when I tell you
that these accursed pamphlets have found their way into the possession
of many of the rank and file of our own order. There is a marked
disinclination on the part of those who have been our slaves to accept
orders from anyone. Espionage we can still command--the best, perhaps,
in Europe--because here we use a different class of material. But of
those underneath we are, for the moment, doubtful. Paris is all in a
ferment. Under its outward seemliness a million throats are ready to
take up the brazen cry of revolution. One trusts nobody. One fears all
the time."

"You or I!" Peter repeated slowly. "It will not be sufficient, then,
that we find Bernadine and deliver him over to your country's laws?"

"It will not be sufficient," Sogrange answered sternly. "From those he
may escape. For him there must be no escape."

"Sogrange," Peter said, speaking in a low tone, "I have never yet killed
a human being."

"Nor I," Sogrange admitted. "Nor have I yet set my heel upon its head
and stamped the life from a rat upon the pavement. But one lives and one
moves on. Bernadine is the enemy of your country and mine. He makes war
after the fashion of vermin. No ordinary cut-throat would succeed
against him. It must be you or I."

"How shall we decide?" Peter asked.

"The spin of a coin," Sogrange replied. "It is best that way. It is
best, too, done quickly."

Peter produced a sovereign from his pocket and balanced it on the palm
of his hand.

"Let it be understood," Sogrange continued, "that this is a dual
undertaking. We toss only for the final honour--for the last stroke. If
the choice falls upon me, I shall count upon you to help me to the end.
If it falls upon you, I shall be at your right hand even when you strike
the blow."

"It is agreed," Peter said. "See, it is for you to call."

He threw the coin high into the air.

"I call heads," Sogrange decided.

It fell upon the table. Peter covered it with his hand, and then slowly
withdrew the fingers. A little shiver ran through his veins. The
harmless head that looked up at him was like the figure of death. It was
for him to strike the blow!

"Where is Bernadine now?" he asked.

"Get me a morning paper and I will tell you," Sogrange declared, rising.
"He was in the train which was stopped outside the Gare du Nord, on his
way to England. What became of the passengers I have not heard. I knew
what was likely to happen, and I left an hour before in a 100 h.p.
Charron."

Peter rang the bell, and ordered the servant who answered it to procure
the _Daily Telegraph_. As soon as it arrived, he spread it open upon the
table, and Sogrange looked over his shoulder. These are the headings
which they saw in large black characters:

                     RENEWED RIOTS IN PARIS
                   THE GARE DU NORD IN FLAMES
             TERRIBLE ACCIDENT TO THE CALAIS-DOUVRES
                            EXPRESS
                          MANY DEATHS

Peter's forefinger travelled down the page swiftly. It paused at the
following paragraph:--

"The 8.55 train from the Gare du Nord, carrying many passengers for
London, after being detained within a mile of Paris for over an hour
owing to the murder of the engine-driver, made an attempt last night to
proceed, with terrible results. Near Chantilly, whilst travelling at
over fifty miles an hour, the points were tampered with, and the express
dashed into a goods train laden with minerals. Very few particulars are
yet to hand, but the express was completely wrecked, and many lives have
been lost. Amongst the dead are the following:"

One by one Peter read out the names. Then he stopped short. A little
exclamation broke from Sogrange's lips. The thirteenth name upon that
list of dead was the name of Bernadine, Count von Hern.

"Bernadine!" Peter faltered. "Bernadine is dead!"

"Killed by the strikers!" Sogrange echoed. "It is a just thing, this."

The two men looked down at the paper and then up at each other. A
strange silence seemed to have found its way into the room. The shadow
of death lay between them. Peter touched his forehead and found it wet.

"It is a just thing, indeed," he repeated, "but justice and death are
alike terrible."

Late in the afternoon of the same day a motor car, splashed with mud,
drew up before the door of the house in Berkeley Square. Sogrange, who
was standing talking to Peter before the library window, suddenly broke
off in the middle of a sentence. He stepped back into the room and
gripped his friend's shoulder.

"It is the Baroness," he exclaimed quickly. "What does she want here?"

"The Baroness who?" Peter demanded.

"The Baroness von Ratten. You must have heard of her--she is the friend
of Bernadine."

The two men had been out to lunch at the Ritz with Violet, and had
walked across the Park home. Sogrange had been drawing on his gloves in
the act of starting out for a call at the Embassy.

"Does your wife know this woman?" he asked.

Peter shook his head.

"I think not," he replied. "We shall know in a minute."

"Then she has come to see you," Sogrange continued. "What does it mean,
I wonder?"

Peter shrugged his shoulders.

There was a knock at the door, and his servant entered, bearing a card.

"This lady would like to see you, sir, on important business," he said.

"You can show her in here," Peter directed.

There was a very short delay. The two men had no time to exchange a
word. They heard the rustling of a woman's gown, and immediately
afterward the perfume of violets seemed to fill the room.

"The Baroness von Ratten," the butler announced.

The door closed behind her. The servant had disappeared. Peter advanced
to meet his guest. She was a little above medium height, very slim, with
extraordinarily fair hair, colourless face, and strange eyes. She was
not strictly beautiful, and yet there was no man upon whom her presence
was without its effect. Her voice was like her movements, slow, and with
a grace of its own.

"You do not mind that I have come to see you?" she asked, raising her
eyes to Peter's. "I believe before I go that you will think terrible
things of me, but you must not begin before I have told you my errand.
It has been a great struggle with me before I made up my mind to come
here."

"Won't you sit down, Baroness?" Peter invited.

She saw Sogrange, and hesitated.

"You are not alone," she said softly. "I wish to speak with you alone."

"Permit me to present to you the Marquis de Sogrange," Peter begged. "He
is my oldest friend, Baroness. I think that whatever you might have to
say to me you might very well say before him."

"It is--of a private nature," she murmured.

"The Marquis and I have no secrets," Peter declared, "either political
or private."

She sat down and motioned Peter to take a place by her side upon the
sofa.

"You will forgive me if I am a little incoherent," she implored. "To-day
I have had a shock. You, too, have read the news? You must know that the
Count von Hern is dead--killed in the railway accident last night?"

"We read it in the _Daily Telegraph_," Peter replied.

"It is in all the papers," she continued. "You know that he was a very
dear friend of mine?"

"I have heard so," Peter admitted.

"Yet there was one subject," she insisted, earnestly, "upon which we
never agreed. He hated England. I have always loved it. England was kind
to me when my own country drove me out. I have always felt grateful. It
has been a sorrow to me that in so many of his schemes, in so much of
his work, Bernadine should consider his own country at the expense of
yours."

Sogrange drew a little nearer. It began to be interesting, this.

"I heard the news early this morning by telegram," she went on. "For a
long time I was prostrate. Then early this afternoon I began to
think--one must always think. Bernadine was a dear friend, but things
between us lately have been different, a little strained. Was it his
fault or mine--who can say? Does one tire with the years, I wonder? I
wonder!"

Her eyes were lifted to his, and Peter was conscious of the fact that
she wished him to know that they were beautiful. She looked slowly away
again.

"This afternoon, as I sat alone," she proceeded, "I remembered that in
my keeping were many boxes of papers and many letters which have
recently arrived, all belonging to Bernadine. I reflected that there
were certainly some who were in his confidence, and that very soon they
would come from his country and take them all away. And then I
remembered what I owed to England, and how opposed I always was to
Bernadine's schemes, and I thought that the best thing I could do to
show my gratitude would be to place his papers all in the hands of some
Englishman, so that they might do no more harm to the country which has
been kind to me. So I came to you."

Again her eyes were lifted to his, and Peter was very sure indeed that
they were wonderfully beautiful. He began to realise the fascination of
this woman, of whom he had heard so much. Her very absence of colouring
was a charm.

"You mean that you have brought me these papers?" he asked.

She shook her head slowly.

"No," she said, "I could not do that. There were too many of them--they
are too heavy, and there are piles of pamphlets--revolutionary
pamphlets, I am afraid--all in French, which I do not understand. No, I
could not bring them to you. But I ordered my motor-car and I drove up
here to tell you that if you like to come down to the house in the
country where I have been living--to which Bernadine was to have come
to-night--yes, and bring your friend, too, if you will--you shall look
through them before anyone else can arrive."

"You are very kind," Peter murmured. "Tell me where it is that you
live?"

"It is beyond Hitchin," she told him, "up the Great North Road. I tell
you at once, it is a horrible house, in a horrible, lonely spot. Within
a day or two I shall leave it myself for ever. I hate it--it gets on my
nerves. I dream of all the terrible things which perhaps have taken
place there. Who can tell? It was Bernadine's long before I came to
England."

"When are we to come?" Peter asked.

"You must come back with me now, at once," the Baroness insisted. "I
cannot tell how soon someone in his confidence may arrive."

"I will order my car," Peter declared.

She laid her hand upon his arm.

"Do you mind coming in mine?" she begged. "It is of no consequence, if
you object, but every servant in Bernadine's house is German and a spy.
There are no women except my own maid. Your car is likely enough known
to them, and there might be trouble. If you will come with me now, you
and your friend, if you like, I will send you to the station to-night in
time to catch the train home. I feel that I must have this thing off my
mind. You will come? Yes?"

Peter rang the bell and ordered his coat.

"Without a doubt," he answered. "May we not offer you some tea first?"

She shook her head.

"To-day I cannot think of eating or drinking," she replied. "Bernadine
and I were no longer what we had been, but the shock of his death seems
none the less terrible. I feel like a traitor to him for coming here,
yet I believe that I am doing what is right," she added softly.

"If you will excuse me for one moment," Peter said, "while I take leave
of my wife, I will rejoin you presently."

Peter was absent for only a few minutes. Sogrange and the Baroness
exchanged the merest commonplaces. As they all passed down the hall
Sogrange lingered behind.

"If you will take the Baroness out to the car," he suggested, "I will
telephone to the Embassy and tell them not to expect me."

Peter offered his arm to his companion. She seemed, indeed, to need
support. Her fingers clutched at his coat-sleeve as they passed on to
the pavement.

"I am so glad to be no longer quite alone," she whispered. "Almost I
wish that your friend were not coming. I know that Bernadine and you
were enemies, but then you were enemies not personally but politically.
After all, it is you who stand for the things which have become so dear
to me."

"It is true that Bernadine and I were bitter antagonists," Peter
admitted gravely. "Death, however, ends all that. I wish him no further
harm."

She sighed.

"As for me," she said, "I am growing used to being friendless. I was
friendless before Bernadine came, and latterly we have been nothing to
one another. Now, I suppose, I shall know what it is to be an outcast
once more. Did you ever hear my history, I wonder?"

Peter shook his head.

"Never, Baroness," he replied. "I understood, I believe, that your
marriage----"

"My husband divorced me," she confessed, simply. "He was quite within
his rights. He was impossible. I was very young and very sentimental.
They say that Englishwomen are cold," she added. "Perhaps that is so.
People think that I look cold. Do you?"

Sogrange suddenly opened the door of the car, in which they were already
seated. She leaned back and half closed her eyes.

"It is rather a long ride," she said, "and I am worn out. I hope you
will not mind, but for myself I cannot talk when motoring. Smoke, if it
pleases you."

"Might one inquire as to our exact destination?" Sogrange asked.

"We go beyond Hitchin, up the Great North Road," she told him again.
"The house is called the High House. It stands in the middle of a heath,
and I think it is the loneliest and most miserable place that was ever
built. I hate it and am frightened in it. For some reason or other it
suited Bernadine, but that is all over now."

The little party of three lapsed into silence. The car, driven carefully
enough through the busy streets, gradually increased its pace as they
drew clear of the suburbs. Peter leaned back in his place, thinking.
Bernadine was dead! Nothing else would have convinced him so utterly of
the fact as that simple sentence in the _Daily Telegraph_, which had
been followed up by a confirmation and a brief obituary notice in all
the evening papers. Curiously enough, the fact seemed to have drawn a
certain spice out of even this adventure; to point, indeed, to a certain
monotony in the future. Their present enterprise, important though it
might turn out to be, was nothing to be proud of. A woman, greedy for
gold, was selling her lover's secrets before the breath was out of his
body. Peter turned in his cushioned seat to look at her. Without doubt
she was beautiful to one who understood, beautiful in a strange,
colourless, feline fashion, the beauty of soft limbs, soft movements, a
caressing voice with always the promise beyond of more than the actual
words. Her eyes now were closed, her face was a little weary. Did she
really rest, Peter wondered. He watched the rising and falling of her
bosom, the quivering now and then of her eyelids. She had indeed the
appearance of a woman who had suffered.

The car rushed on into the darkness. Behind them lay that restless
phantasmagoria of lights streaming to the sky. In front, blank space.
Peter, through half-closed eyes, watched the woman by his side. From the
moment of her entrance into his library, he had summed her up in his
mind with a single word. She was, beyond a doubt, an adventuress. No
woman could have proposed the things which she had proposed who was not
of that ilk. Yet for that reason it behoved them to have a care in their
dealings with her. At her instigation they had set out upon this
adventure, which might well turn out according to any fashion that she
chose. Yet without Bernadine what could she do? She was not the woman to
carry on the work which he had left behind for the love of him. Her
words had been frank, her action shameful, but natural. Bernadine was
dead, and she had realised quickly enough the best market for his
secrets. In a few days' time his friends would have come and she would
have received nothing. He told himself that he was foolish to doubt her.
There was not a flaw in the sequence of events, no possible reason for
the suspicions which yet lingered at the back of his brain. Intrigue, it
was certain, was to her as the breath of her body. He was perfectly
willing to believe that the death of Bernadine would have affected her
little more than the sweeping aside of a fly. His very common sense bade
him accept her story.

By degrees he became drowsy. Suddenly he was startled into a very
wideawake state. Through half-closed eyes he had seen Sogrange draw a
sheet of paper from his pocket, a gold pencil from his chain, and
commence to write. In the middle of a sentence his eyes were abruptly
lifted. He was looking at the Baroness. Peter, too, turned his head; he
also looked at the Baroness. Without a doubt she had been watching both
of them. Sogrange's pencil continued its task, only he traced no more
characters. Instead, he seemed to be sketching a face, which presently
he tore carefully up into small pieces and destroyed. He did not even
glance towards Peter, but Peter understood very well what had happened.
He had been about to send him a message, but had found the Baroness
watching. Peter was fully awake now. His faint sense of suspicion had
deepened into a positive foreboding. He had a reckless desire to stop
the car, to descend upon the road, and let the secrets of Bernadine go
where they would. Then his natural love of adventure blazed up once
more. His moment of weakness had passed. The thrill was in his blood,
his nerves were tightened. He was ready for what might come, seemingly
still half asleep, yet indeed with every sense of intuition and
observation keenly alert.

Sogrange leaned over from his place.

"It is a lonely country, this, into which we are coming, madame," he
remarked.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Indeed, it is not so lonely here as you will think it when we arrive at
our destination," she replied. "There are houses here, but they are
hidden by the trees. There are no houses near us."

She rubbed the pane with her hand.

"We are, I believe, very nearly there," she said. "This is the nearest
village. Afterwards we just climb a hill, and about half a mile along
the top of it is the High House."

"And the name of the village?" Sogrange inquired.

"St. Mary's," she told him. "In the summer people call it beautiful
around here. To me it is the most melancholy spot I ever saw. There is
so much rain, and one hears the drip, drip in the trees all the day
long. Alone I could not bear it. To-morrow or the next day I shall pack
up my belongings and come to London. I am, unfortunately," she added,
with a little sigh, "very, very poor, but it is my hope that you may
find the papers of which I have spoken to you valuable."

Sogrange smiled faintly. Peter and he could scarcely forbear to exchange
a single glance. The woman's candour was almost brutal.

She read their thoughts.

"We ascend the hill," she continued. "We draw now very near to the end
of our journey. There is still one thing I would say to you. Do not
think too badly of me for what I am about to do. To Bernadine, whilst he
lived, I was faithful. Many a time I could have told you of his plans
and demanded a great sum of money, and you would have given it me
willingly, but my lips were sealed because, in a way, I loved him. While
he lived I gave him what I owed. To-day he is dead, and whatever I do it
cannot concern him any more. To-day I am a free woman, and I take the
side I choose."

Sogrange smiled suavely.

"Dear Madame," he replied, "what you have proposed to us is, after all,
quite natural and very gracious. If one has a fear at all about the
matter, it is as to the importance of these documents you speak of.
Bernadine, I know, has dealt in great affairs, but he was a diplomat by
instinct, experienced and calculating. One does not keep incriminating
papers."

She leaned a little forward. The car had swung round a corner now and
was making its way up an avenue as dark as pitch.

"The wisest of us, Monsieur le Marquis," she whispered, "reckon
sometimes without that one element of sudden death. What should you say,
I wonder, to a list of agents in France pledged to circulate in certain
places literature of an infamous sort? What should you say, monsieur, to
a copy of a secret report of your late man[oe]uvres, franked with the
name of one of your own staff officers? What should you say," she went
on, "to a list of Socialist deputies with amounts against their names,
amounts paid in hard cash? Are these of no importance to you?"

"Madame," Sogrange answered simply, "for such information, if it were
genuine, it would be hard to mention a price which we should not be
prepared to pay."

The car came to a sudden standstill. The first impression of the two men
was that the Baroness had exaggerated the loneliness and desolation of
the place. There was nothing mysterious or forbidding about the plain
brown stone house before which they had stopped. The windows were
streaming with light; the hall door, already thrown open, disclosed a
very comfortable hall, brilliantly illuminated. A man-servant assisted
his mistress to alight, another ushered them in. In the background were
other servants. The Baroness glanced at the clock.

"About dinner, Carl?" she asked.

"It waits for Madame," the man answered.

She nodded.

"Take care of these gentlemen till I descend," she ordered. "You will
not mind?" she added, turning pleadingly to Sogrange. "To-day I have
eaten nothing. I am faint with hunger. Afterwards, it will be a matter
of but half an hour. You can be in London again by ten o'clock."

"As you will, madame," Sogrange replied. "We are greatly indebted to you
for your hospitality. But for costume, you understand that we are as we
are?"

"It is perfectly understood," she assured him. "For myself, I rejoin you
in ten minutes. A loose gown, that is all."

Sogrange and Peter were shown into a modern bathroom by a servant who
was so anxious to wait upon them that they had difficulty in sending him
away. As soon as he was gone and the door closed behind him, Peter put
his foot against it and turned the key.

"You were going to write something to me in the car?"

Sogrange nodded.

"There was a moment," he admitted, "when I had a suspicion. It has
passed. This woman is no Roman. She sells the secrets of Bernadine as
she would sell herself. Nevertheless, it is well always to be prepared.
There were probably others beside Bernadine who had the entrée here."

"The only suspicious circumstance which I have noticed," Peter remarked,
"is the number of men-servants. I have seen five already."

"It is only fair to remember," Sogrange reminded him, "that the Baroness
herself told us that there were no other save men-servants here and that
they were all spies. Without a master, I cannot see that they are
dangerous. One needs, however, to watch all the time."

"If you see anything suspicious," Peter said, "tap the table with your
forefinger. Personally, I will admit that I have had my doubts of the
Baroness, but, on the whole, I have come to the conclusion that they
were groundless. She is not the sort of woman to take up a vendetta,
especially an unprofitable one."

"She is an exceedingly dangerous person for an impressionable man like
myself," Sogrange remarked, arranging his tie.

The butler fetched them in a very few moments and showed them into a
pleasantly furnished library, where he mixed cocktails for them from a
collection of bottles upon the sideboard. He was quite friendly, and
inclined to be loquacious, although he spoke with a slight foreign
accent. The house belonged to an English gentleman, from whom the
honoured Count had taken it, furnished. They were two miles from a
station and a mile from the village. It was a lonely part, but there
were always people coming or going. With one's work one scarcely noticed
it. He was gratified that the gentlemen found his cocktails so
excellent. Perhaps he might be permitted the high honour of mixing them
another? It was a day, this, of deep sadness and gloom. One needed to
drink something, indeed, to forget the terrible thing which had
happened. The Count had been a good master, a little impatient
sometimes, but kind-hearted. The news had been a shock to them all.

Then, before they had expected her, the Baroness reappeared. She wore a
wonderful grey gown which seemed to be made in a single piece, a gown
which fitted her tightly, and yet gave her the curious appearance of a
woman walking without the burden of clothes. Sogrange, Parisian to the
finger-tips, watched her with admiring approval. She laid her fingers
upon his arm, although it was towards Peter that her eyes travelled.

"Will you take me in, Marquis?" she begged. "It is the only formality we
will allow ourselves."

They entered a long, low dining-room, panelled with oak, and with the
family portraits of the owner of the house still left upon the walls.
Dinner was served upon a round table, and was laid for four. There was a
profusion of silver, very beautiful glass, and a wonderful cluster of
orchids. The Marquis, as he handed his hostess to her chair, glanced
towards the vacant place.

"It is for my companion, an Austrian lady," she explained. "To-night,
however, I think that she will not come. She was a distant connection of
Bernadine's, and she is much upset. We leave her place and see. You will
sit on my other side, Baron."

The fingers which touched Peter's arm brushed his hand, and were
withdrawn as though with reluctance. She sank into her chair with a
little sigh.

"It is charming of you two, this," she declared softly. "You help me
through this night of solitude and sadness. What I should do if I were
alone, I cannot tell. You must drink with me a toast, if you will. Will
you make it to our better acquaintance?"

No soup had been offered, and champagne was served with the _hors
d'[oe]uvres_. Peter raised his glass, and looked into the eyes of the
woman who was leaning so closely towards him that her soft breath fell
upon his cheek. She whispered something in his ear. For a moment,
perhaps, he was carried away, but for a moment only. Then Sogrange's
voice and the beat of his forefinger upon the table stiffened him into
sudden alertness. They heard a motor-car draw up outside.

"Who can it be?" the Baroness exclaimed, setting her glass down
abruptly.

"It is, perhaps, the other guest who arrives," Sogrange remarked.

They all three listened, Peter and Sogrange with their glasses still
suspended in the air.

"The other guest?" the Baroness repeated. "Madame von Estenier is
upstairs, lying down. I cannot tell who this may be."

Her lips were parted. The lines of her forehead had suddenly appeared.
Her eyes were turned toward the door, hard and bright. Then the glass
which she had nervously picked up again and was holding between her
fingers, fell on to the tablecloth with a little crash, and the yellow
wine ran bubbling on to her plate. Her scream echoed to the roof and
rang through the room. It was Bernadine who stood there in the doorway,
Bernadine in a long travelling ulster and the air of one newly arrived
from a journey. They all three looked at him, but there was not one who
spoke. The Baroness, after her one wild cry, was dumb.

"I am indeed fortunate," Bernadine said. "You have as yet, I see,
scarcely commenced. You probably expected me. I am charmed to find so
agreeable a party awaiting my arrival."

He divested himself of his ulster and threw it across the arm of the
butler who stood behind him.

"Come," he continued, "for a man who has just been killed in a railway
accident, I find myself with an appetite. A glass of wine, Carl. I do
not know what that toast was the drinking of which my coming
interrupted, but let us all drink it together. Aimée, my love to you,
dear. Let me congratulate you upon the fortitude and courage with which
you have ignored those lying reports of my death. I had fears that I
might find you alone in a darkened room, with tear-stained eyes and
sal-volatile by your side. This is infinitely better. Gentlemen, you are
welcome."

Sogrange lifted his glass and bowed courteously. Peter followed suit.

"Really," Sogrange murmured, "the Press nowadays, becomes more
unreliable every day. It is apparent, my dear von Hern, that this
account of your death was, to say the least of it, exaggerated."

Peter said nothing. His eyes were fixed upon the Baroness. She sat in
her chair quite motionless, but her face had become like the face of
some graven image. She looked at Bernadine, but her eyes said nothing.
Every glint of expression seemed to have left her features. Since that
one wild shriek she had remained voiceless. Encompassed by danger though
he knew that they now must be, Peter found himself possessed by one
thought and one thought only. Was this a trap into which they had
fallen, or was the woman, too, deceived?

"You bring later news from Paris than I myself," Sogrange proceeded,
helping himself to one of the dishes which a footman was passing round.
"How did you reach the coast? The evening papers stated distinctly that
since the accident no attempt had been made to run trains."

"By motor-car from Chantilly," Bernadine replied. "I had the misfortune
to lose my servant, who was wearing my coat, and who, I gather from the
newspaper reports, was mistaken for me. I myself was unhurt. I hired a
motor-car and drove to Boulogne--not the best of journeys, let me tell
you, for we broke down three times. There was no steamer there, but I
hired a fishing boat, which brought me across the Channel in something
under eight hours. From the coast I motored direct here. I was so
anxious," he added, raising his eyes, "to see how my dear friend--my
dear Aimée--was bearing the terrible news."

She fluttered for a moment like a bird in a trap. Peter drew a little
sigh of relief. His self-respect was reinstated. He had decided that she
was innocent. Upon them, at least, would not fall the ignominy of having
been led into the simplest of traps by this white-faced Delilah. The
butler had brought her another glass, which she raised to her lips. She
drained its contents, but the ghastliness of her appearance remained
unchanged. Peter, watching her, knew the signs. She was sick with
terror.

"The conditions throughout France are indeed awful," Sogrange remarked.
"They say, too, that this railway strike is only the beginning of worse
things."

Bernadine smiled.

"Your country, my dear Marquis," he said, "is on its last legs. No one
knows better than I that it is, at the present moment, honeycombed with
sedition and anarchical impulses. The people are rotten. For years the
whole tone of France has been decadent. Its fall must even now be close
at hand."

"You take a gloomy view of my country's future," Sogrange declared.

"Why should one refuse to face facts?" Bernadine replied. "One does not
often talk so frankly, but we three are met together this evening under
somewhat peculiar circumstances. The days of the glory of France are
past. England has laid out her neck for the yoke of the conqueror. Both
are doomed to fall. Both are ripe for the great humiliation. You two
gentlemen whom I have the honour to receive as my guests," he concluded,
filling his glass and bowing towards them, "in your present unfortunate
predicament represent precisely the position of your two countries."

"_Ave Cæsar!_" Peter muttered grimly, raising his glass to his lips.

Bernadine accepted the challenge.

"It is not I, alas! who may call myself Cæsar," he replied, "although it
is certainly you who are about to die."

Sogrange turned to the man who stood behind his chair.

"If I might trouble you for a little dry toast?" he inquired. "A modern,
but very uncomfortable, ailment," he added, with a sigh. "One's
digestion must march with the years, I suppose."

Bernadine smiled.

"Your toast you shall have, with pleasure, Marquis," he said, "but as
for your indigestion, do not let that trouble you any longer. I think
that I can promise you immunity from that annoying complaint for the
rest of your life."

"You are doing your best," Peter declared, leaning back in his chair,
"to take away my appetite."

Bernadine looked searchingly from one to the other of his two guests.

"Yes," he admitted, "you are brave men. I do not know why I should ever
have doubted it. Your pose is excellent. I have no wish, however, to see
you buoyed up by a baseless optimism. A somewhat remarkable chance has
delivered you into my hands. You are my prisoners. You, Peter Baron de
Grost, I have hated all my days. You have stood between me and the
achievement of some of my most dearly cherished tasks. Always I have
said to myself that the day of reckoning must come. It has arrived. As
for you, Marquis de Sogrange, if my personal feelings towards you are
less violent, you still represent the things absolutely inimical to me
and my interests. The departure of you two men was the one thing
necessary for the successful completion of certain tasks which I have in
hand at the present moment."

Peter pushed away his plate.

"You have succeeded in destroying my appetite, Count," he declared. "Now
that you have gone so far in expounding your amiable resolutions towards
us, perhaps you will go a little farther and explain exactly how, in
this eminently respectable house, situated, I understand, in an
eminently respectable neighbourhood, with a police station within a
mile, and a dozen or so witnesses as to our present whereabouts, you
intend to expedite our removal?"

Bernadine pointed towards the woman who sat facing him.

"Ask the Baroness how these things are arranged."

They turned towards her. She fell back in her chair with a little gasp.
She had fainted. Bernadine shrugged his shoulders. The butler and one of
the footmen, who during the whole of the conversation had stolidly
proceeded with their duties, in obedience to a gesture from their
master, took her up in their arms and carried her from the room.

"The fear has come to her, too," Bernadine murmured softly. "It may come
to you, my brave friends, before morning."

"It is possible," Peter answered, his hand stealing round to his hip
pocket, "but in the meantime, what is to prevent----"

The hip pocket was empty. Peter's sentence ended abruptly. Bernadine
mocked him.

"To prevent your shooting me in cold blood, I suppose," he remarked.
"Nothing except that my servants are too clever. No one save myself is
allowed to remain under this roof with arms in their possession. Your
pocket was probably picked before you had been in the place five
minutes. No, my dear Baron, let me assure you that escape will not be so
easy. You were always just a little inclined to be led away by the fair
sex. The best men in the world, you know, have shared that failing, and
the Baroness, alone and unprotected, had her attractions, eh?"

Then something happened to Peter which had happened to him barely a
dozen times in his life. He lost his temper, and lost it rather badly.
Without an instant's hesitation, he caught up the decanter which stood
by his side and flung it in his host's face. Bernadine only partly
avoided it by thrusting out his arms. The neck caught his forehead and
the blood came streaming over his tie and collar. Peter had followed the
decanter with a sudden spring. His fingers were upon Bernadine's throat,
and he thrust his head back. Sogrange sprang to the door to lock it, but
he was too late. The room seemed full of men-servants. Peter was dragged
away, still struggling fiercely.

"Tie them up!" Bernadine gasped, swaying in his chair. "Tie them up, do
you hear? Carl, give me brandy."

He swallowed half a wineglassful of the raw spirit. His eyes were red
with fury.

"Take them to the gun-room," he ordered, "three of you to each of them,
mind. I'll shoot the man who lets either escape."

But Peter and Sogrange were both of them too wise to expend any more of
their strength in a useless struggle. They suffered themselves to be
conducted without resistance across the white stone hall, down a long
passage, and into a room at the end, the window and fireplace of which
were both blocked up. The floor was of red flags and the walls
whitewashed. The only furniture was a couple of kitchen chairs and a
long table. The door was of stout oak and fitted with a double lock. The
sole outlet, so far as they could see, was a small round hole at the top
of the roof. The door was locked behind them. They were alone.

"The odd trick to Bernadine!" Peter exclaimed hoarsely, wiping a spot of
blood from his forehead. "My dear Marquis, I scarcely know how to
apologise. It is not often that I lose my temper so completely."

"The matter seems to be of very little consequence," Sogrange answered.
"This was probably our intended destination in any case. Seems to be
rather an unfortunate expedition of ours, I am afraid."

"One cannot reckon upon men coming back from the dead," Peter declared.
"It isn't often that you find every morning and every evening paper
mistaken. As for the woman, I believe in her. She honestly meant to sell
us those papers of Bernadine's. I believe that she, too, will have to
face a day of reckoning."

Sogrange strolled around the room, subjecting it everywhere to a close
scrutiny. The result was hopeless. There was no method of escape save
through the door.

"There is certainly something strange about this apartment," Peter
remarked. "It is, to say the least of it, unusual to have windows in the
roof and a door of such proportions. All the same, I think that those
threats of Bernadine's were a little strained. One cannot get rid of
one's enemies nowadays in the old-fashioned, melodramatic way. Bernadine
must know quite well that you and I are not the sort of men to walk into
a trap of anyone's setting, just as I am quite sure that he is not the
man to risk even a scandal by breaking the law openly."

"You interest me," Sogrange said. "I begin to suspect that you, too,
have made some plans."

"But naturally," Peter replied. "Once before Bernadine set a trap for
me, and he nearly had a chance of sending me for a swim in the Thames.
Since then one takes precautions as a matter of course. We were followed
down here, and by this time I should imagine that the alarm is given. If
all was well I was to have telephoned an hour ago."

"You are really," Sogrange declared, "quite an agreeable companion, my
dear Baron. You think of everything."

The door was suddenly opened. Bernadine stood upon the threshold and
behind him several of the servants.

"You will oblige me by stepping back into the study, my friends," he
ordered.

"With great pleasure," Sogrange answered with alacrity. "We have no
fancy for this room, I can assure you."

Once more they crossed the stone hall and entered the room into which
they had first been shown. On the threshold Peter stopped short and
listened. It seemed to him that from somewhere upstairs he could hear
the sound of a woman's sobs. He turned to Bernadine.

"The Baroness is not unwell, I trust?" he asked.

"The Baroness is as well as she is likely to be for some time,"
Bernadine replied grimly.

They were all in the study now. Upon a table stood a telephone
instrument. Bernadine drew a small revolver from his pocket.

"Baron de Grost," he said, "I find that you are not quite such a fool as
I thought you. Some one is ringing up for you on the telephone. You will
reply that you are well and safe, and that you will be home as soon as
your business here is finished. Your wife is at the other end. If you
breathe a single word to her of your approaching end, she shall hear
through the telephone the sound of the revolver shot that sends you to
hell."

"Dear me," Peter protested, "I find this most unpleasant. If you'll
excuse me, I don't think I'll answer the call at all."

"You will answer it as I have directed," Bernadine insisted. "Only
remember this, if you speak a single ill-advised word, the end will be
as I have said."

Peter picked up the receiver and held it to his ear.

"Who is there?" he asked.

It was Violet whose voice he heard. He listened for a moment to her
anxious flood of questions.

"There is not the slightest cause to be alarmed, dear," he said. "Yes, I
am down at the High House, near St. Mary's. Bernadine is here. It seems
that those reports of his death were absolutely unfounded. Danger?
Unprotected? Why, my dear Violet, you know how careful I always am.
Simply because Bernadine used once to live here, and because the
Baroness was his friend, I spoke to Sir John Dory over the telephone
before we left, and an escort of half a dozen police followed us. They
are about the place now, I have no doubt, but their presence is quite
unnecessary. I shall be home before long, dear. Yes, perhaps it would be
as well to send the car down. Anyone will direct him to the house--the
High House, St. Mary's, remember. Good-bye!"

Peter replaced the receiver and turned slowly round. Bernadine was
smiling.

"You did well to reassure your wife, even though it was a pack of lies
you told her," he remarked.

Peter shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"My dear Bernadine," he said, "up till now I have tried to take you
seriously. You are really passing the limit. I must positively ask you
to reflect a little. Do men who live the life that you and I live trust
anyone? Am I, is the Marquis de Sogrange here, after a lifetime of
experience, likely to leave the safety of our homes in company with a
lady of whom we knew nothing except that she was your companion, without
precautions? I do you the justice to believe you are a person of common
sense. I know that we are as safe in this house as we should be in our
own. War cannot be made in this fashion in an over-policed country like
England."

"Do not be too sure," Bernadine replied. "There are secrets about this
house which have not yet been disclosed to you. There are means, my dear
Baron, of transporting you into a world where you are likely to do much
less harm than here, means ready at hand which would leave no more trace
behind than those crumbling ashes can tell of the coal-mine from which
they came."

Peter preserved his attitude of bland incredulity.

"Listen," he said, drawing a whistle from his pocket, "it is just
possible that you are in earnest. I will bet you, then, if you like, a
hundred pounds, that if I blow this whistle you will either have to open
your door within five minutes or find your house invaded by the police."

No one spoke for several moments. The veins were standing out upon
Bernadine's forehead.

"We have had enough of this folly," he cried. "If you refuse to realise
your position, so much the worse for you. Blow your whistle, if you
will. I am content."

Peter waited for no second bidding. He raised the whistle to his lips
and blew it, loudly and persistently. Again there was silence. Bernadine
mocked him.

"Try once more, dear Baron," he advised. "Your friends are perhaps a
little hard of hearing. Try once more, and when you have finished, you
and I and the Marquis de Sogrange will find our way once more to the
gun-room and conclude that trifling matter of business which brought you
here."

Again Peter blew his whistle and again the silence was broken only by
Bernadine's laugh. Suddenly, however, that laugh was checked. Everyone
had turned toward the door, listening. A bell was ringing throughout the
house.

"It is the front door," one of the servants exclaimed.

No one moved. As though to put the matter beyond doubt, there was a
steady knocking to be heard from the same direction.

"It is a telegram or some late caller," Bernadine declared, hoarsely.
"Answer it, Carl. If anyone would speak with the Baroness, she is
indisposed and unable to receive. If anyone desires me, I am here."

The man left the room. They heard him withdraw the chain from the door.
Bernadine wiped the sweat from his forehead as he listened. He still
gripped the revolver in his hand. Peter had changed his position a
little, and was standing now behind a high-backed chair. They heard the
door creak open, a voice outside, and presently the tramp of heavy
footsteps. Peter nodded understandingly.

"It is exactly as I told you," he said. "You were wise not to bet, my
friend."

Again the tramp of feet in the hall. There was something unmistakable
about the sound, something final and terrifying. Bernadine saw his
triumph slipping away. Once more this man, who had defied him so
persistently, was to taste the sweets of victory. With a roar of fury he
sprang across the room. He fired his revolver twice before Sogrange,
with a terrible blow, knocked his arm upwards and sent the weapon
spinning to the ceiling. Peter struck his assailant in the mouth, but
the blow seemed scarcely to check him. They rolled on the floor
together, their arms around one another's necks. It was an affair, that,
but of a moment. Peter, as lithe as a cat, was on his feet again almost
at once, with a torn collar and an ugly mark on his face. There were
strangers in the room now, and the servants had mostly slipped away
during the confusion. It was Sir John Dory himself who locked the door.
Bernadine struggled slowly to his feet. He was face to face with half a
dozen police-constables in plain clothes.

"You have a charge against this man, Baron?" the police commissioner
asked.

Peter shook his head.

"The quarrel between us," he replied, "is not for the police courts,
although I will confess, Sir John, that your intervention was
opportune."

"I, on the other hand," Sogrange put in, "demand the arrest of the Count
von Hern and the seizure of all papers in this house. I am the bearer of
an autograph letter from the President of France in connection with this
matter. The Count von Hern has committed extraditable offences against
my country. I am prepared to swear an information to that effect."

The police commissioner turned to Peter.

"Your friend's name?" he demanded.

"The Marquis de Sogrange," Peter told him.

"He is a person of authority?"

"To my certain knowledge," Peter replied, "he has the implicit
confidence of the French Government."

Sir John Dory made a sign. In another moment Bernadine would have been
arrested. It seemed, indeed, as though nothing could save him now from
this crowning humiliation. He himself, white and furious, was at a loss
how to deal with an unexpected situation. Suddenly a thing happened
stranger than any one of them there had ever known or dreamed of, so
strange that even men such as Peter, Sogrange and Dory, whose nerves
were of iron, faced one another, doubting and amazed. The floor beneath
them rocked and billowed like the waves of a canvas sea. The windows
were filled with flashes of red light, a great fissure parted the wall,
the pictures and bookcases came crashing down beneath a shower of
masonry. It was the affair of a second. Above them shone the stars and
around them a noise like thunder. Bernadine, who alone understood, was
the first to recover himself. He stood in the midst of them, his hands
above his head, laughing as he looked around at the strange
storm--laughing like a madman.

"The wonderful Carl!" he cried. "Oh, matchless servant! Arrest me now,
if you will, you dogs of the police. Rout out my secrets, dear Baron de
Grost. Tuck them under your arm and hurry to Downing Street. This is the
hospitality of the High House, my friends. It loves you so well that
only your ashes shall leave it."

His mouth was open for another sentence when he was struck. A whole
pillar of marble from one of the rooms above came crashing through and
buried him underneath a falling shower of masonry. Peter escaped by a
few inches. Those who were left unhurt sprang through the yawning wall
out into the garden. Sir John, Sogrange, Peter, and three of the
men--one limping badly, came to a standstill in the middle of the lawn.
Before them the house was crumbling like a pack of cards, and louder
even than the thunder of the falling structures was the roar of the red
flames.

"The Baroness!" Peter cried, and took one leap forward.

"I am here," she sobbed, running to them from out of the shadows. "I
have lost everything--my jewels, my clothes, all except what I have on.
They gave me but a moment's warning."

"Is there anyone else in the house?" Peter demanded.

"No one but you who were in that room," she answered.

"Your companion?"

She shook her head.

"There was no companion," she faltered. "I thought it sounded better to
speak of her. I had her place laid at table, but she never even
existed."

Peter tore off his coat.

"There are the others in the room!" he exclaimed. "We must go back."

Sogrange caught him by the shoulder and pointed to a shadowy group some
distance away.

"We are all out but Bernadine," he said. "For him there is no hope.
Quick!"

They sprang back only just in time. The outside wall of the house fell
with a terrible crash. The room which they had quitted was now blotted
out of existence. It was not long before, from right and left, in all
directions along the country road, came the flashing of lights and
little knots of hurrying people.

"It is the end!" Peter muttered. "Yesterday I should have regretted the
passing of a brave enemy. To-day I hail with joy the death of a brute."

The Baroness, who had been sitting upon a garden seat, sobbing, came
softly up to them. She laid her fingers upon Peter's arm imploringly.

"You will not leave me friendless?" she begged. "The papers I promised
you are destroyed, but many of his secrets are here."

She tapped her forehead.

"Madame," Peter answered, "I have no wish to know them. Years ago I
swore that the passing of Bernadine should mark my own retirement from
the world in which we both lived. I shall keep my word. To-night
Bernadine is dead. To-night, Sogrange, my work is finished."

The Baroness began to sob again.

"And I thought that you were a man," she moaned, "so gallant, so
honourable----"

"Madame," Sogrange intervened, "I shall commend you to the pension list
of the Double Four."

She dried her eyes.

"It is not money only I want," she whispered, her eyes following Peter.

Sogrange shook his head.

"You have never seen the Baroness de Grost?" he asked her.

"But no!"

"Ah!" Sogrange murmured. "Our escort, madame, is at your service--so far
as London."





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