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´╗┐Title: Peter Ruff and 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 "Peter Ruff and the Double Four" ***

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PETER RUFF AND THE DOUBLE FOUR

By E. Phillips Oppenheim



CONTENTS


BOOK ONE

CHAPTER

     I        INTRODUCING MR. PETER RUFF

     II       A NEW CAREER

     III      VINCENT CAWDOR, COMMISSION AGENT

     IV       THE INDISCRETION OF LETTY SHAW

     V        DELILAH FROM STREATHAM

     VI       THE LITTLE LADY FROM SERVIA

     VII      THE DEMAND OF THE DOUBLE-FOUR

     VIII     MRS. BOGNOR'S STAR BOARDER

     IX       THE PERFIDY OF MISS BROWN

     X        WONDERFUL JOHN DORY



                 BOOK  TWO

     I        RECALLED BY THE DOUBLE-FOUR

     II       PRINCE ALBERT'S CARD DEBTS

     III      THE AMBASSADOR'S WIFE

     IV       THE  MAN  FROM  THE  OLD  TESTAMENT

     V        THE FIRST SHOT

     VI       THE SEVEN SUPPERS OF ANDREA KORUST

     VII      MAJOR KOSUTH'S MISSION

     VIII     THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN

     IX       THE GHOSTS OF HAVANA HARBOR

     X        THE AFFAIR OF AN ALIEN SOCIETY

     XI       THE  THIRTEENTH  ENCOUNTER



BOOK ONE



CHAPTER I. INTRODUCING MR. PETER RUFF


There was nothing about the supper party on that particular Sunday
evening in November at Daisy Villa, Green Street, Streatham, which
seemed to indicate in any way that one of the most interesting careers
connected with the world history of crime was to owe its very existence
to the disaster which befell that little gathering. The villa was the
residence and also--to his credit--the unmortgaged property of Mr. David
Barnes, a struggling but fairly prosperous coal merchant of excellent
character, some means, and Methodist proclivities. His habit of sitting
without his coat when carving, although deprecated by his wife and
daughter on account of the genteel aspirations of the latter, was a not
unusual one in the neighbourhood; and coupled with the proximity of a
cold joint of beef, his seat at the head of the table, and a carving
knife and fork grasped in his hands, established clearly the fact of
his position in the household, which a somewhat weak physiognomy might
otherwise have led the casual observer to doubt. Opposite him, at the
other end of the table, sat his wife, Mrs. Barnes, a somewhat voluminous
lady with a high colour, a black satin frock, and many ornaments. On
her left the son of the house, eighteen years old, of moderate stature,
somewhat pimply, with the fashion of the moment reflected in his pink
tie with white spots, drawn through a gold ring, and curving outwards to
seek obscurity underneath a dazzling waistcoat. A white tube-rose in
his buttonhole might have been intended as a sort of compliment to the
occasion, or an indication of his intention to take a walk after supper
in the fashionable purlieus of the neighbourhood. Facing him sat his
sister--a fluffy-haired, blue-eyed young lady, pretty in her way, but
chiefly noticeable for a peculiar sort of self-consciousness blended
with self-satisfaction, and possessed only at a certain period in their
lives by young ladies of her age. It was almost the air of the cat in
whose interior reposes the missing canary, except that in this instance
the canary obviously existed in the person of the young man who sat at
her side, introduced formally to the household for the first time. That
young man's name was--at the moment--Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald.

It seems idle to attempt any description of a person who, in the past,
had secured a certain amount of fame under a varying personality; and
who, in the future, was to become more than ever notorious under a far
less aristocratic pseudonym than that by which he was at present known
to the inhabitants of Daisy Villa. There are photographs of him in New
York and Paris, St. Petersburg and Chicago, Vienna and Cape Town, but
there are no two pictures which present to the casual observer the
slightest likeness to one another. To allude to him by the name under
which he had won some part, at least, of the affections of Miss Maud
Barnes, Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald, as he sat there, a suitor on probation
for her hand, was a young man of modest and genteel appearance. He wore
a blue serge suit--a little underdressed for the occasion, perhaps; but
his tie and collar were neat; his gold-rimmed spectacles--if a little
disapproved of by Maud on account of the air of steadiness which they
imparted--suggested excellent son-in-lawlike qualities to Mr. and Mrs.
Barnes. He had the promise of a fair moustache, but his complexion
generally was colourless. His features, except for a certain regularity,
were undistinguished. His speech was modest and correct. His manner
varied with his company. To-night it had been pronounced, by excellent
judges--genteel.

The conversation consisted--naturally enough, under the
circumstances--of a course of subtle and judicious pumping, tactfully
prompted, for the most part, by Mrs. Barnes. Such, for instance, as the
following:

"Talking about Marie Corelli's new book reminds me, Mr. Fitzgerald--your
occupation is connected with books, is it not?" his prospective
mother-in-law enquired, artlessly.

Mr. Fitzgerald bowed assent.

"I am cashier at Howell & Wilson's in Cheapside," he said. "We sell
a great many books there--as many, I should think, as any retail
establishment in London."

"Indeed!" Mrs. Barnes purred. "Very interesting work, I am sure. So nice
and intellectual, too; for, of course, you must be looking inside them
sometimes."

"I know the place well," Mr. Adolphus Barnes, Junior, announced
condescendingly,--"pass it every day on my way to lunch."

"So much nicer," Mrs. Barnes continued, "than any of the ordinary
businesses--grocery or drapery, or anything of that sort."

Miss Maud elevated her eyebrows slightly. Was it likely that she would
have looked with eyes of favour upon a young man engaged in any of these
inferior occupations?

"There's money in books, too," Mr. Barnes declared with sudden
inspiration. His prospective son-in-law turned towards him
deferentially.

"You are right, sir," he admitted. "There is money in them. There's
money for those who write, and there's money for those who sell. My
occupation," he continued, with a modest little cough, "brings me often
into touch with publishers, travellers and clerks, so I am, as it were,
behind the scenes to some extent. I can assure you," he continued,
looking from Mr. Barnes to his wife, and finally transfixing Mr.
Adolphus--"I can assure you that the money paid by some firms of
publishers to a few well-known authors--I will mention no names--as
advances against royalties, is something stupendous!"

"Ah!" Mr. Barnes murmured, solemnly shaking his head.

"Marie Corelli, I expect, and that Hall Caine," remarked young Adolphus.

"Seems easy enough to write a book, too," Mrs. Barnes said. "Why, I
declare that some of those we get from the library--we subscribe to a
library, Mr. Fitzgerald--are just as simple and straightforward that
a child might have written them. No plot whatsoever, no murders or
mysteries or anything of that sort--just stories about people like
ourselves. I don't see how they can pay people for writing stories about
people just like those one meets every day!"

"I always say," Maud intervened, "that Spencer means to write a book
some day. He has quite the literary air, hasn't he, mother?"

"Indeed he has!" Mrs. Barnes declared, with an appreciative glance at
the gold-rimmed spectacles.

Mr. Fitzgerald modestly disclaimed any literary aspirations.

"The thing is a gift, after all," he declared, generously. "I can keep
accounts, and earn a fair salary at it, but if I attempted fiction I
should soon be up a tree."

Mr. Barnes nodded his approval of such sentiments.

"Every one to his trade, I say," he remarked. "What sort of salaries do
they pay now in the book trade?" he asked guilelessly.

"Very fair," Mr. Fitzgerald admitted candidly,--"very fair indeed."

"When I was your age," Mr. Barnes said reflectively, "I was getting--let
me see--forty-two shillings a week. Pretty good pay, too, for those
days."

Mr. Fitzgerald admitted the fact.

"Of course," he said apologetically, "salaries are a little higher now
all round. Mr. Howell has been very kind to me,--in fact I have had two
raises this year. I am getting four pounds ten now."

"Four pounds ten per week?" Mrs. Barnes exclaimed, laying down her knife
and fork.

"Certainly," Mr. Fitzgerald answered. "After Christmas, I have some
reason to believe that it may be five pounds."

Mr. Barnes whistled softly, and looked at the young man with a new
respect.

"I told you that--Mr.--that Spencer was doing pretty well, Mother," Maud
simpered, looking down at her plate.

"Any one to support?" her father asked, transferring a pickle from the
fork to his mouth.

"No one," Mr. Fitzgerald answered. "In fact, I may say that I have
some small expectations. I haven't done badly, either, out of the few
investments I have made from time to time."

"Saved a bit of money, eh?" Mr. Barnes enquired genially.

"I have a matter of four hundred pounds put by," Mr. Fitzgerald admitted
modestly, "besides a few sticks of furniture. I never cared much about
lodging-house things, so I furnished a couple of rooms myself some time
ago."

Mrs. Barnes rose slowly to her feet.

"You are quite sure you won't have a small piece more of beef?" she
enquired anxiously.

"Just a morsel?" Mr. Barnes asked, tapping the joint insinuatingly with
his carving knife.

"No, I thank you!" Mr. Fitzgerald declared firmly. "I have done
excellently."

"Then if you will put the joint on the sideboard, Adolphus," Mrs. Barnes
directed, "Maud and I will change the plates. We always let the girl go
out on Sundays, Mr. Fitzgerald," she explained, turning to their guest.
"It's very awkward, of course, but they seem to expect it."

"Quite natural, I'm sure," Mr. Fitzgerald murmured, watching Maud's
light movements with admiring eyes. "I like to see ladies interested in
domestic work."

"There's one thing I will say for Maud," her proud mother declared,
plumping down a dish of jelly upon the table, "she does know what's what
in keeping house, and even if she hasn't to scrape and save as I did
when David and I were first married, economy is a great thing when
you're young. I have always said so, and I stick to it."

"Quite right, Mother," Mr. Barnes declared.

"If instead of sitting there," Mrs. Barnes continued in high good
humour, "you were to get a bottle of that port wine out of the
cellarette, we might drink Mr. Fitzgerald's health, being as it's his
first visit."

Mr. Barnes rose to his feet with alacrity. "For a woman with sound
ideas," he declared, "commend me to your mother!"

Maud, having finished her duties, resumed her place by the side of the
guest of the evening. Their hands met under the tablecloth for a moment.
To the girl, the pleasure of such a proceeding was natural enough, but
Fitzgerald asked himself for the fiftieth time why on earth he, who,
notwithstanding his present modest exterior, was a young man of some
experience, should from such primitive love-making derive a rapture
which nothing else in life afforded him. He was, at that moment, content
with his future,--a future which he had absolutely and finally decided
upon. He was content with his father-in-law and his mother-in-law, with
Daisy Villa, and the prospect of a Daisy Villa for himself,--content,
even, with Adolphus! But for Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald, these things were
not to be! The awakening was even then at hand.

The dining room of Daisy Villa fronted the street, and was removed from
it only a few feet. Consequently, the footsteps of passers-by upon the
flagged pavement were clearly distinguishable. It was just at the moment
when Mrs. Barnes was inserting a few fresh almonds into a somewhat
precarious tipsy cake, and Mr. Barnes was engaged with the decanting of
the port, that two pairs of footsteps, considerably heavier than those
of the ordinary promenader, paused outside and finally stopped. The gate
creaked. Mr. Barnes looked up.

"Hullo!" he exclaimed. "What's that? Visitors?"

They all listened. The front-door bell rang. Adolphus, in response to a
gesture from his mother, rose sulkily to his feet.

"Job I hate!" he muttered as he left the room.

The rest of the family, full of the small curiosity of people of their
class, were intent upon listening for voices outside. The demeanour of
Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald, therefore, escaped their notice. It is doubtful,
in any case, whether their perceptions would have been sufficiently keen
to have enabled them to trace the workings of emotion in the countenance
of a person so magnificently endowed by Providence with the art of
subterfuge. Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald seemed simply to have stiffened in
acute and earnest attention. It was only for a moment that he hesitated.
His unfailing inspiration told him the truth!

His course of action was simple,--he rose to his feet and strolled to
the window.

"Some people who have lost their way in the fog, perhaps," he remarked.
"What a night!"

He laid his hand upon the sash--simultaneously there was a rush of
cold air into the room, a half-angry, half-frightened exclamation from
Adolphus in the passage, a scream from Miss Maud--and no Mr. Spencer
Fitzgerald! No one had time to be more than blankly astonished. The door
was opened, and a police inspector, in very nice dark braided uniform
and a peaked cap, stood in the doorway.

Mr. Barnes dropped the port, and Mrs. Barnes, emulating her daughter's
example, screamed. The inspector, as though conscious of the draught,
moved rapidly toward the window.

"You had a visitor here, Mr. Barnes," he said quickly--"a Mr. Spencer
Fitzgerald. Where is he?"

There was no one who could answer! Mr. Barnes was speechless between
the shock of the spilt port and the appearance of a couple of uniformed
policemen in his dining room. John Dory, the detective, he knew well
enough in his private capacity, but in his uniform, and attended by
policemen, he presented a new and startling appearance! Mrs. Barnes was
in hysterics, and Maud was gazing like a creature turned to stone at
the open window, through which little puffs of fog were already drifting
into the room. Adolphus, with an air of bewilderment, was standing with
his mouth and eyes wider open than they had ever been in his life. And
as for the honoured guest of these admirable inhabitants of Daisy Villa,
there was not the slightest doubt but that Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald had
disappeared through the window!


Fitzgerald's expedition was nearly at an end. Soon he paused, crossed
the road to a block of flats, ascended to the eighth floor by an
automatic lift, and rang the bell at a door which bore simply the number
II. A trim parlourmaid opened it after a few minutes' delay.

"Is Miss Emerson at home?" he asked.

"Miss Emerson is in," the maid admitted, with some hesitation, "but I am
not sure that she will see any one to-night."

"I have a message for her," Fitzgerald said.

"Will you give me your name, sir, please?" the maid asked.

An inner door was suddenly opened. A slim girl, looking taller than she
really was by reason of the rug upon which she stood, looked out into
the hall--a girl with masses of brown hair loosely coiled on her head,
with pale face and strange eyes. She opened her lips as though to call
to her visitor by name, and as suddenly closed them again. There was not
much expression in her face, but there was enough to show that his visit
was not unwelcome.

"You!" she exclaimed. "Come in! Please come in at once!"

Fitzgerald obeyed the invitation of the girl whom he had come to visit.
She had retreated a little into the room, but the door was no sooner
closed than she held out her hands.

"Peter!" she exclaimed. "Peter, you have come to me at last!"

Her lips were a little parted; her eyes were bright with pleasure; her
whole expression was one of absolute delight. Fitzgerald frowned, as
though he found her welcome a little too enthusiastic for his taste.

"Violet," he said, "please don't look at me as though I were a prodigal
sheep. If you do, I shall be sorry that I came."

Her hands fell to her side, the pleasure died out of her face--only her
eyes still questioned him. Fitzgerald carefully laid his hat on a vacant
chair.

"Something has happened?" she said. "Tell me that all that madness is
over--that you are yourself again!"

"So far as regards my engagement with Messrs. Howell & Wilson," he said,
despondently, "you are right. As regards--Miss Barnes, there has been
no direct misunderstanding between us, but I am afraid, for the present,
that I must consider that--well, in abeyance."

"That is something!" she exclaimed, drawing a little breath of relief.
"Sit down, Peter. Will you have something to eat? I finished dinner an
hour ago, but--"

"Thank you," Fitzgerald interrupted, "I supped--extremely well in
Streatham!"

"In Streatham!" she repeated. "Why, how did you get there? The fog is
awful."

"Fogs do not trouble me," Fitzgerald answered. "I walked. I could have
done it as well blindfold. I will take a whisky and soda, if I may."

She led him to an easy-chair.

"I will mix it myself," she said.

Without being remarkably good-looking, she was certainly a pleasant
and attractive-looking young woman. Her cheeks were a little pale; her
hair--perfectly natural--was a wonderful deep shade of soft brown. Her
eyes were long and narrow--almost Oriental in shape--and they seemed
in some queer way to match the room; he could have sworn that in the
firelight they flashed green. Her body and limbs, notwithstanding her
extreme slightness, were graceful, perhaps, but with the grace of the
tigress. She wore a green silk dressing jacket, pulled together with a
belt of lizard skin, and her neck was bare. Her skirt was of some thin
black material. She was obviously in deshabille, and yet there was
something neat and trim about the smaller details of her toilette.

"Go on, please, Peter," she begged. "You are keeping me in suspense."

"There isn't much to tell," he answered. "It's over--that's all."

She drew a sharp breath through her teeth.

"You are not going to marry that girl--that bourgeois doll in
Streatham?"

Fitzgerald sat up in his chair.

"Look here," he said, seriously, "don't you call her names. If I'm not
going to marry her, it isn't my fault. She is the only girl I have ever
wanted, and probably--most probably--she will be the only one I ever
shall want. That's honest, isn't it?"

The girl winced.

"Yes," she said, "it is honest!"

"I should have married her," the young man continued, "and I should have
been happy. I had my eye on a villa--not too near her parents--and I saw
my way to a little increase of salary. I should have taken to gardening,
to walks in the Park, with an occasional theatre, and I should
have thoroughly enjoyed a fortnight every summer at Skegness or
Sutton-on-Sea. We should have saved a little money. I should have gone
to church regularly, and if possible I should have filled some
minor public offices. You may call this bourgeois--it was my idea of
happiness."

"Was!" she murmured.

"Is still," he declared, sharply, "but I shall never attain to it.
To-night I had to leave Maud--to leave the supper table of Daisy
Villa--through the window!"

She looked at him in amazement.

"The police," he explained. "That brute Dory was at the bottom of it."

"But surely," she murmured, "you told me that you had a bona-fide
situation--"

"So I had," he declared, "and I was a fool not to be content with it.
It was my habit of taking long country walks, and their rotten auditing,
which undid me! You understand that this was all before I met Maud?
Since the day I spoke to her, I turned over a new leaf. I have left the
night work alone, and I repaid every penny of the firm's money which
they could ever have possibly found out about. There was only that one
little affair of mine down at Sudbury."

"Tell me what you are going to do?" she whispered.

"I have no alternative," he answered. "The law has kicked me out from
the respectable places. The law shall pay!"

She looked at him with glowing eyes.

"Have you any plans?" she asked, softly.

"I have," he answered. "I have considered the subject from a good many
points of view, and I have decided to start in business for myself as a
private detective."

She raised her eyebrows.

"My dear Peter!" she murmured. "Couldn't you be a little more original?"

"That is only what I am going to call myself," he answered. "I may tell
you that I am going to strike out on somewhat new lines."

"Please explain," she begged.

He recrossed his knees and made himself a little more comfortable.

"The weak part of every great robbery, however successful," he began,
"is the great wastage in value which invariably results. For jewels
which cost--say five thousand pounds, and to procure which the artist
has to risk his life as well as his liberty, he has to consider
himself lucky if he clears eight hundred. For the Hermitage rubies, for
instance, where I nearly had to shoot a man dead, I realized rather less
than four hundred pounds. It doesn't pay."

"Go on," she begged.

"I am not clear," he continued, "how far this class of business will
attract me at all, but I do not propose, in any case, to enter into any
transactions on my own account. I shall work for other people, and for
cash down. Your experience of life, Violet, has been fairly large. Have
you not sometimes come into contact with people driven into a situation
from which they would willingly commit any crime to escape if they
dared? It is not with them a question of money at all--it is simply a
matter of ignorance. They do not know how to commit a crime. They have
had no experience, and if they attempt it, they know perfectly well that
they are likely to blunder. A person thoroughly experienced in the ways
of criminals--a person of genius like myself--would have, without a
doubt, an immense clientele, if only he dared put up his signboard.
Literally, I cannot do that. Actually, I mean to do so! I shall be
willing to accept contracts either to help nervous people out of an
undesirable crisis; or, on the other hand, to measure my wits against
the wits of Scotland Yard, and to discover the criminals whom they have
failed to secure. I shall make my own bargains, and I shall be paid in
cash. I shall take on nothing that I am not certain about."

"But your clients?" she asked, curiously. "How will you come into
contact with them?"

He smiled.

"I am not afraid of business being slack," he said. "The world is full
of fools."

"You cannot live outside the law, Peter," she objected. "You are clever,
I know, but they are not all fools at Scotland Yard."

"You forget," he reminded her, "that there will be a perfectly
legitimate side to my profession. The other sort of case I shall only
accept if I can see my way clear to make a success of it. Needless to
say, I shall have to refuse the majority that are offered to me."

She came a little nearer to him.

"In any case," she said, with a little sigh, "you have given up that
foolish, bourgeois life of yours?"

He looked down into her face, and his eyes were cold.

"Violet," he said, "this is no time for misunderstandings. I should
like you to know that apart from one young lady, who possesses my whole
affection--"

"All of it?" she pleaded.

"All!" he declared emphatically. "She will doubtless be faithless to
me--under the circumstances, I cannot blame her--but so far as I am
concerned, I have no affection whatever for any one else."

She crept back to her place.

"I could be so useful to you," she murmured.

"You could and you shall, if you will be sensible," he answered.

"Tell me how?" she begged.

He was silent for a moment.

"Are you acting now?" he asked.

"I am understudying Molly," she answered, "and I have a very small part
at the Globe."

He nodded.

"There is no reason to interfere with that," he said, "in fact, I wish
you to continue your connection with the profession. It brings you into
touch with the class of people among whom I am likely to find clients."

"Go on, please," she begged.

"On two conditions--or rather one," he said, "you can, if you like,
become my secretary and partner--and find the money we shall require to
make a start."

"Conditions?" she asked.

"You must understand, once and for all," he said, "that I will not be
made love to, and that I can treat you only as a working; companion. My
name will be Peter Ruff, and yours Miss Brown. You will have to dress
like a secretary, and behave like one. Sometimes there will be plenty
of work for you, and sometimes there will be none at all. Sometimes you
will be bored to death, and sometimes there will be excitement. I do not
wish to make you vain, but I may add, especially as you are aware of my
personal feelings toward you, that you are the only person in the world
to whom I would make this offer."

She sighed gently.

"Tell me, Peter," she asked, "when do you mean to start this new
enterprise?"

"Not for six months--perhaps a year," he answered. "I must go to
Paris--perhaps Vienna. I might even have to go to New York. There
are certain associations with which I must come into touch--certain
information I must become possessed of."

"Peter," she said, "I like your scheme, but there is just one thing.
Such men as you should be the brains of great enterprises. Don't you
understand what I mean? It shouldn't be you who does the actual thing
which brings you within the power of the law. I am not over-scrupulous,
you know. I hate wrongdoing, but I have never been able to treat as
equal criminals the poor man who steals for a living, and the rich
financier who robs right and left out of sheer greed. I agree with you
that crime is not an absolute thing. The circumstances connected with
every action in life determine its morality or immorality. But, Peter,
it isn't worth while to go outside the law!"

He nodded.

"You are a sensible girl," he said, "I have always thought that. We'll
talk over my cases together, if they seem to run a little too close to
the line."

"Very well, Peter," she said, "I accept."



CHAPTER II. A NEW CAREER


About twelve months after the interrupted festivities at Daisy Villa,
that particular neighbourhood was again the scene of some rejoicing.
Standing before the residence of Mr. Barnes were three carriages, drawn
in each case by a pair of grey horses. The coachmen and their steeds
were similarly adorned with white rosettes. It would have been an insult
to the intelligence of the most youthful of the loungers-by to have
informed them that a wedding was projected.

At the neighbouring church all was ready. The clerk stood at the door,
the red drugget was down, the usual little crowd were standing all agog
upon the pavement. There was one unusual feature of the proceedings:
Instead of a solitary policeman, there were at least a dozen who kept
clear the entrance to the church. Their presence greatly puzzled a
little old gentleman who had joined the throng of sightseers. He pushed
himself to the front and touched one of them upon the shoulder.

"Mr. Policeman," he said, "will you tell me why there are so many of you
to keep such a small crowd in order?"

"Bridegroom's a member of the force, sir, for one reason," the man
answered good-humouredly.

"And the other?" the old gentleman persisted.

The policeman behaved as though he had not heard--a proceeding which his
natural stolidity rendered easy. The little old gentleman, however, was
not so easily put off. He tapped the man once more upon the shoulder.

"And the other reason, Mr. Policeman?" he asked insinuatingly.

"Not allowed to talk about that, sir," was the somewhat gruff reply.

The little old gentleman moved away, a trifle hurt. He was a very nicely
dressed old gentleman indeed, and everything about him seemed to savour
of prosperity. But he was certainly garrulous. An obviously invited
guest was standing upon the edge of the pavement stroking a pair of
lavender kid gloves. The little old gentleman sidled up to him.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, raising his hat. "I am just back from
Australia--haven't seen a wedding in England for fifty years. Do you
think that they would let me into the church?"

The invited guest looked down at his questioner and approved of him.
Furthermore, he seemed exceedingly glad to be interrupted in his
somewhat nervous task of waiting for the wedding party.

"Certainly, sir," he replied cheerfully. "Come along in with me, and
I'll find you a seat."

Down the scarlet drugget they went--the big best man with the red hands
and the lavender kid gloves and the opulent-looking old gentleman with
the gold-rimmed spectacles and the handsome walking stick.

"Dear me, this is very interesting!" the latter remarked. "Is it
the custom, sir, always, may I ask, in this country, to have so many
policemen at a wedding?"

The big man looked downward and shook his head.

"Special reason," he said mysteriously. "Fact is, young lady was engaged
once to a very bad character--a burglar whom the police have been
wanting for years. He had to leave the country, but he has written her
once or twice since in a mysterious sort of way--wanted her to be true
to him, and all that sort of thing. Dory--that's the bridegroom--has got
a sort of an idea that he may turn up to-day."

"This is very exciting--very!" the little old gentleman remarked.
"Reminds me of our younger days out in Australia."

"You sit down here," the best man directed, ushering his companion
into an empty pew. "I must get back again outside, or I shall have the
bridegroom arriving."

"Good-day to you, sir, and many thanks!" the little old gentleman said
politely.

Soon the bridegroom arrived--a smart young officer, well thought of at
Scotland Yard, well set up, wearing a long tail coat a lilac and white
tie, and shaking in every limb. He walked up the aisle accompanied by
the best man, and the little old gentleman from Australia watched him
genially from behind those gold-rimmed glasses. And, then, scarcely was
he at the altar rails when through the open church door one heard the
sounds of horses' feet, one heard a rustle, the murmur of voices, caught
a glimpse of a waiting group arranging themselves finally in the porch
of the church. Maud, on the arm of her father, came slowly up the aisle.
The little old gentleman turned his head as though this was something
upon which he feared to look. He saw nothing of Mr. Barnes, in a new
coat, with tuberose and spray of maidenhair in his coat, and exceedingly
tight patent leather boots on his feet; he saw nothing of Mrs. Barnes,
clad in a gown of the lightest magenta, with a bonnet smothered with
violets.

It was in the vestry that the only untoward incident of that highly
successful wedding took place. The ceremony was over! Bride, bridegroom
and parents trooped in. And when the register was opened, one witness
had already signed! In the clear, precise writing his name stood out
upon the virgin page--

Spencer Fitzgerald


The bridegroom swore, the bride nearly collapsed. The clerk pressed into
the hands of the latter an envelope.

"From the little old gentleman," he announced, "who was fussing round
the church this morning."

Mrs. Dory tore it open and gave a cry of delight. A diamond cross, worth
all the rest of her presents put together, flashed soft lights from a
background of dull velvet. Her husband had looked over her shoulder, and
with a scowl seized the morocco case and threw it far from him.

It was the only disturbing incident of a highly successful function!

At precisely the same moment when the wedding guests were seated
around the hospitable board of Daisy Villa, a celebration of a somewhat
different nature was taking place in the more aristocratic neighbourhood
of Curzon Street. Here, however, the little party was a much smaller
one, and the innocent gaiety of the gathering at Daisy Villa was
entirely lacking. The luncheon table around which the four men were
seated presented all the unlovely signs of a meal where self-restraint
had been abandoned--where conviviality has passed the bounds of licence.
Edibles were represented only by a single dish of fruit; the tablecloth,
stained with wine and cigar ash, seemed crowded with every sort of
bottle and every sort of glass. A magnum of champagne, empty, another
half full, stood in the middle of the table; whisky, brandy, liqueurs of
various sorts were all represented; glasses--some full, some empty, some
filled with cigar ash and cigarette stumps--an ugly sight!

The guest in chief arose. Short, thick-set, red-faced, with bulbous
eyes, and veins about his temples which just now were unpleasantly
prominent, he seemed, indeed, a very fitting person to have been the
recipient of such hospitality. He stood clutching a little at the
tablecloth and swaying upon his feet. He spoke as a drunken man, but
such words as he pronounced clearly showed him to be possessed of a
voice naturally thick and raspy. It was obvious that he was a person of
entirely different class from his three companions.

"G--gentlemen," he said, "I must be off. I thank you very much for
this--hospitality. Honoured, I'm sure, to have sat down in such--such
company. Good afternoon, all!"

He lurched a little toward the door, but his neighbour at the table--who
was also his host--caught hold of his coat tail and pulled him back into
his chair.

"No hurry, Masters," he said. "One more liqueur, eh? It's a raw
afternoon."

"N--not another drop, Sir Richard!" the man declared. "Not another drop
to drink. I am very much obliged to you all, but I must be off. Must be
off," he repeated, making another effort to rise.

His host held him by the arm. The man resented it--he showed signs of
anger.

"D--n it all! I--I'm not a prisoner, am I?" he exclaimed angrily. "Tell
you I've got--appointment--club. Can't you see it's past five o'clock?"

"That's all right, Masters," the man whom he had addressed as Sir
Richard declared soothingly. "We want just a word with you on business
first, before you go--Colonel Dickinson, Lord Merries and myself."

Masters shook his head.

"See you to-morrow," he declared. "No time to talk business now. Let me
go!"

He made another attempt to rise, which his host also prevented.

"Masters, don't be a fool!" the latter said firmly. "You've got to hear
what we want to say to you. Sit down and listen."

Masters relapsed sullenly into his chair. His little eyes seemed to
creep closer to one another. So they wanted to talk business! Perhaps
it was for that reason that they had bidden him sit at their table--had
entertained him so well! The very thought cleared his brain.

"Go on," he said shortly.

Sir Richard lit a cigarette and leaned further back in his chair. He was
a man apparently about fifty years of age--tall, well dressed, with good
features, save for his mouth, which resembled more than anything a
rat trap. He was perfectly bald, and he had the air of a man who was a
careful liver. His eyes were bright, almost beadlike; his fingers long
and a trifle over-manicured. One would have judged him to be what he
was--a man of fashion and a patron of the turf.

"Masters," he said, "we are all old friends here. We want to speak to
you plainly. We three have had a try, as you know--Merries, Dickinson
and myself--to make the coup of our lives. We failed, and we're up
against it hard."

"Very hard, indeed," Lord Merries murmured softly.

"Deuced hard!" Colonel Dickinson echoed.

Masters was sitting tight, breathing a little hard, looking fixedly at
his host.

"Take my own case first," the latter continued. "I am Sir Richard Dyson,
ninth baronet, with estates in Wiltshire and Scotland, and a town
house in Cleveland Place. I belong to the proper clubs for a man in my
position, and, somehow or other--we won't say how--I have managed to pay
my way. There isn't an acre of my property that isn't mortgaged for more
than its value. My town house--well, it doesn't belong to me at all! I
have twenty-six thousand pounds to pay you on Monday. To save my life, I
could not raise twenty-six thousand farthings! So much for me."

The man Masters ground his teeth.

"So much for you!" he muttered.

"Take the case next," Sir Richard continued, "of my friend Merries
here. Merries is an Earl, it is true, but he never had a penny to bless
himself with. He's tried acting, reporting, marrying--anything to make
an honest living. So far, I am afraid we must consider Lord Merries as
something of a failure, eh?"

"A rotten failure, I should say," that young nobleman declared gloomily.

"Lord Merries is, to put it briefly, financially unsound," Sir Richard
declared.

"What is the amount of your debt to Mr. Masters, Jim?"

"Eleven thousand two hundred pounds," Lord Merries answered.

"And we may take it, I presume, for granted that you have not that sum,
nor anything like it, at your disposal?" Sir Richard asked.

"Not a fiver!" Lord Merries declared with emphasis.

"We come now, Mr. Masters, to our friend Colonel Dickinson," Sir
Richard continued. "Colonel Dickinson is, perhaps, in a more favourable
situation than any of us. He has a small but regular income, and he has
expectations which it is not possible to mortgage fully. At the same
time, it will be many years before they can--er--fructify. He is,
therefore, with us in this somewhat unpleasant predicament in which we
find ourselves."

"Cut it short," Masters growled. "I'm sick of so much talk. What's it
all mean?"

"It means simply this, Mr. Masters," Sir Richard said, "we want you to
take six months' bills for our indebtedness to you."

Masters rose to his feet. His thick lips were drawn a little apart. He
had the appearance of a savage and discontented animal.

"So that's why I've been asked here and fed up with wine and stuff, eh?"
he exclaimed thickly. "Well, my answer to you is soon given. NO! I'll
take bills from no man! My terms are cash on settling day--cash to pay
or cash to receive. I'll have no other!"

Sir Richard rose also to his feet.

"Mr. Masters, I beg of you to be reasonable," he said. "You will do
yourself no good by adopting this attitude. Facts are facts. We haven't
got a thousand pounds between us."

"I've heard that sort of a tale before," Masters answered, with a sneer.
"Job Masters is too old a bird to be caught by such chaff. I'll take my
risks, gentlemen. I'll take my risks."

He moved toward the door. No one spoke a word. The silence as he crossed
the room seemed a little ominous. He looked over his shoulder. They were
all three standing in their places, looking at him. A vague sense of
uneasiness disturbed his equanimity.

"No offence, gents," he said, "and good afternoon!"

Still no reply. He reached the door and turned the handle. The door
was fast. He shook it--gently at first, and then violently. Suddenly he
realized that it was locked. He turned sharply around.

"What game's this?" he exclaimed, fiercely. "Let me out!"

They stood in their places without movement. There was something a
little ominous in their silence. Masters was fast becoming a sober man.

"Let me out of here," he exclaimed, "or I'll break the door down!"

Sir Richard Dyson came slowly towards him. There was something in his
appearance which terrified Masters. He raised his fist to strike the
door. He was a fighting man, but he felt a sudden sense of impotence.

"Mr. Masters," Sir Richard said suavely, "the truth is that we cannot
afford to let you go--unless you agree to do what we have asked. You
see we really have not the money or any way of raising it--and the
inconvenience of being posted you have yourself very ably pointed out.
Change your mind, Mr. Masters. Take those bills. We'll do our best to
meet them."

"I'll do nothing of the sort," Masters answered, striking the door
fiercely with his clenched fist. "I'll have cash--nothing but the cash!"

There was a dull, sickening thud, and the bookmaker went over like a
shot rabbit. His legs twitched for a moment--a little moan that was
scarcely audible broke from his lips. Then he lay quite still. Sir
Richard bent over him with the life preserver still in his hand.

"I've done it!" he muttered, hoarsely. "One blow! Thank Heaven, he
didn't want another! His skull was as soft as pudding! Ugh!"

He turned away. The man who lay stretched upon the floor was an ugly
sight. His two companions, cowering over the table, were not much
better. Dyson's trembling fingers went out for the brandy decanter. Half
of what he poured out was spilled upon the tablecloth. The rest he drank
from a tumbler, neat.

"It's nervous work, this, you fellows," he said, hoarsely.

"It's hellish!" Dickinson answered. "Let's have some air in the room. By
God, it's close!"

He sank back into his chair, white to the lips. Dyson looked at him
sharply.

"Look here," he exclaimed, "I hold you both to our bargain! I was to be
the one he attacked and who struck the blow--in self-defence! Remember
that--it was in self-defence! I've done it! I've done my share! I hope
to God I'll forget it some day. Andrew, you know your task. Be a man,
and get to work!"

Dickinson rose to his feet unsteadily. "Yes!" he said. "What was it? I
have forgotten, for the moment, but I am ready."

"You must get his betting book from his pocket," Sir Richard directed.
"Then you must help Merries downstairs with him, and into the car.
Merries is--to get rid of him."

Merries shivered. His hand, too, went out for the brandy.

"To get rid of him," he muttered. "It sounds easy!"

"It is easy," Sir Richard declared. "You have only to keep your nerve,
and the thing is done. No one will see him inside the car, in that
motoring coat and glasses. You can drive somewhere out into the country
and leave him."

"Leave him!" Merries repeated, trembling. "Leave him--yes!"

Neither of the two men moved.

"I must do more than my share, I suppose," Sir Richard declared
contemptuously. "Come!"

They dragged the man's body on to a chair, wrapped a huge coat around
him, tied a motoring cap under his chin, fixed goggles over his eyes.
Sir Richard strolled into the hall and opened the front door. He stood
there for a moment, looking up and down the street. When he gave
the signal they dragged him out, supported between them, across the
pavement, into the car. Ugh! His attitude was so natural as to be
absolutely ghastly. Merries started the car and sprang into the driver's
seat. There were people in the Square now, but the figure reclining in
the dark, cushioned interior looked perfectly natural.

"So long, Jimmy," Sir Richard called out. "See you this evening."

"Right O!" Merries replied, with a brave effort.


Peter Ruff, summoned by telephone from his sitting room, slipped down
the stairs like a cat--noiseless, swift. The voice which had
summoned him had been the voice of his secretary--a voice almost
unrecognisable--a voice shaken with fear. Fear? No, it had been terror!

On the landing below, exactly underneath the room from which he had
descended, there was a door upon which his name was written upon a small
brass plate--Mr. Peter Ruff. He opened and closed it behind him with
a swift movement which he had practised in his idle moments. He found
himself looking in upon a curious scene.

Miss Brown, with the radiance of her hair effectually concealed, in
plain black skirt and simple blouse--the ideal secretary--had risen from
the seat in front of her typewriter, and was standing facing the door
through which he had entered, with a small revolver--which he had
given her for a birthday present only the day before--clasped in her
outstretched hand. The object of her solicitude was, it seemed to Peter
Ruff, the most pitiful-looking object upon which he had ever looked. The
hours had dwelt with Merries as the years with some people, and worse.
He had lost his cap; his hair hung over his forehead in wild confusion;
his eyes were red, bloodshot, and absolutely aflame with the terrors
through which he had lived--underneath them the black marks might have
been traced with a charcoal pencil. His cheeks were livid save for one
burning spot. His clothes, too, were in disorder--the starch had gone
from his collar, his tie hung loosely outside his waistcoat. He was
cowering back against the wall. And between him and the girl, stretched
upon the floor, was the body of a man in a huge motor coat, a limp,
inert mass which neither moved nor seemed to have any sign of life. No
wonder that Peter Ruff looked around his office, whose serenity had been
so tragically disturbed, with an air of mild surprise.

"Dear me," he exclaimed, "something seems to have happened! My dear
Violet, you can put that revolver away. I have secured the door."

Her hand fell to her side. She gave a little shiver of relief. Peter
Ruff nodded.

"That is more comfortable," he declared. "Now, perhaps, you will
explain--"

"That young man," she interrupted, "or lunatic--whatever he calls
himself--burst in here a few minutes ago, dragging--that!" She pointed
to the motionless figure upon the floor. "If I had not stopped him, he
would have bolted off without a word of explanation."

Peter Ruff, with his back against the door, shook his head gravely.

"My dear Lord Merries," he said, "my office is not a mortuary."

Merries gasped.

"You know me, then?" he muttered, hoarsely.

"Of course," Ruff answered. "It is my profession to know everybody. Go
and sit down upon that easy-chair, and drink the brandy and soda which
Miss Brown is about to mix for you. That's right."

Merries staggered across the room and half fell into an easy-chair. He
leaned over the side with his face buried in his hands, unable still
to face the horror which lay upon the floor. A few seconds later, the
tumbler of brandy and soda was in his hands. He drank it like a man who
drains fresh life into his veins.

"Perhaps now," Peter Ruff suggested, pointing to the motionless figure,
"you can give me some explanation as to this!"

Merries looked away from him all the time he was speaking. His voice was
thick and nervous.

"There were three of us lunching together," he began--"four in all.
There was a dispute, and this man threatened us. Afterwards there was a
fight. It fell to my lot to take him away, and I can't get rid of him!
I can't get rid of him!" he repeated, with something that sounded like a
sob.

"I still do not see," Peter Ruff argued, "why you should have brought
him here and deposited him upon my perfectly new carpet."

"You are Peter Ruff," Merries declared. "'Crime Investigator and Private
Detective,' you call yourself. You are used to this sort of thing. You
will know what to do with it. It is part of your business."

"I can assure you," Peter Ruff answered, "that you are under a delusion
as to the details of my profession. I am Peter Ruff," he admitted, "and
I call myself a crime investigator--in fact, I am the only one worth
speaking of in the world. But I certainly deny that I am used to
having dead bodies deposited upon my carpet, and that I make a habit of
disposing of them--especially gratis."

Merries tore open his coat.

"Listen," he said, his voice shaking hysterically, "I must get rid of
it or go mad. For two hours I have been driving about in a motor car
with--it for a passenger. I drove to a quiet spot and I tried to lift
it out--a policeman rode up! I tried again, a man rushed by on a motor
cycle, and turned to look at me! I tried a few minutes later--the
policeman came back! It was always the same. The night seemed to have
eyes. I was watched everywhere. The--the face began to mock me. I'll
swear that I heard it chuckle once!"

Peter Ruff moved a little further away.

"I don't think I'll have anything to do with it," he declared. "I don't
like your description at all."

"It'll be all right with you," Merries declared eagerly. "It's my
nerves, that's all. You see, I was there--when the accident happened.
See here," he added, tearing a pocketbook from his coat, "I have three
hundred and seventy pounds saved up in case I had to bolt. I'll keep
seventy--three hundred for you--to dispose of it!"

Ruff leaned over the motionless body, looked into its face, and nodded.

"Masters, the bookmaker," he remarked. "H'm! I did hear that he had a
lot of money coming to him over the Cambridgeshire."

Merries shuddered.

"May I go?" he pleaded. "There's the three hundred on the table. For
God's sake, let me go!"

Peter Ruff nodded.

"I wish you'd saved a little more," he said. "However--"

He turned the lock and Merries rushed out of the room. Ruff looked
across the room towards his secretary.

"Ring up 1535 Central," he ordered, sharply.



Peter Ruff had descended from his apartments on the top floor of the
building, in a new brown suit with which he was violently displeased, to
meet a caller.

"I am sorry to intrude--Mr. Ruff, I believe it is?" Sir Richard Dyson
said, a little irritably--"but I have not a great deal of time to
spare--"

"Most natural!" Peter Ruff declared. "Pray take a chair, Sir Richard.
You want to know, of course, about Lord Merries and poor Masters."

Sir Richard stared at his questioner, for a moment, without speech. Once
more the fear which he had succeeded in banishing for a while, shone in
his eyes--revealed itself in his white face.

"Try the easy-chair, Sir Richard," Ruff continued, pleasantly. "Leave
your hat and cane on the table there, and make yourself comfortable. I
should like to understand exactly what you have come to me for."

Sir Richard moved his head toward Miss Brown.

"My business with you," he said, "is more than ordinarily private. I
have the honour of knowing Miss--"

"Miss Brown," Peter interrupted quickly. "In these offices, this young
lady's name is Miss Violet Brown."

Sir Richard shrugged his shoulders.

"It is of no importance," he said, "only, as you may understand, my
business with you scarcely requires the presence of a third party, even
one with the discretion which I am sure Miss--Brown possesses."

"In these matters," Ruff answered, "my secretary does not exist apart
from myself. Her presence is necessary. She takes down in shorthand
notes of our conversation. I have a shocking memory, and there are
always points which I forget. At the conclusion of our business,
whatever it may be, these notes are destroyed. I could not work without
them, however."

Sir Richard glanced a little doubtfully at the long, slim back of the
girl who sat with her face turned away from him. "Of course," he began,
"if you make yourself personally responsible for her discretion--"

"I am willing to do so," Ruff interrupted, brusquely. "I guarantee it.
Go on, please."

"I do not know, of course, where you got your information from," Sir
Richard began, "but it is perfectly true that I have come here to
consult you upon a matter in which the two people whose names you have
mentioned are concerned. The disappearance of Job Masters is, of course,
common talk; but I cannot tell what has led you to associate with it the
temporary absence of Lord Merries from this country."

"Let me ask you this question," Ruff said. "How are you affected by the
disappearance of Masters?"

"Indirectly, it has caused me a great deal of inconvenience," Sir
Richard declared.

"Facts, please," murmured Peter.

"It has been rumoured," Sir Richard admitted, "that I owed Masters a
large sum of money which I could not pay."

"Anything else?"

"It has also been rumoured," Sir Richard continued, "that he was seen
to enter my house that day, and that he remained there until late in the
afternoon."

"Did he?" asked Ruff.

"Certainly not," Sir Richard answered.

Peter Ruff yawned for a moment, but covered the indiscretion with his
hand.

"Respecting this inconvenience," he said, "which you admit that the
disappearance of Job Masters has caused you, what is its tangible side?"

Sir Richard drew his chair a little nearer to the table where Ruff was
sitting. His voice dropped almost to a whisper.

"It seems absurd," he said, "and yet, what I tell you is the truth. I
have been followed about--shadowed, in fact--for several days. Men, even
in my own social circle, seem to hold aloof from me. It is as though,"
he continued slowly, "people were beginning to suspect me of being
connected in some way with the man's disappearance."

Ruff, who had been making figures with a pencil on the edge of his
blotting paper, suddenly turned round. His eyes flashed with a new light
as they became fixed upon his companion's.

"And are you not?" he asked, calmly. Sir Richard bore himself well. For
a moment he had shrunk back. Then he half rose to his feet.

"Mr. Ruff!" he said. "I must protest--"

"Stop!"

Peter Ruff used no violent gesture. Only his forefinger tapped the desk
in front of him. His voice was as smooth as velvet.

"Tell me as much or as little as you please, Sir Richard," he said, "but
let that little or that much be the truth! On those terms only I may
be able to help you. You do not go to your physician and expect him to
prescribe to you while you conceal your symptoms, or to your lawyer for
advice and tell him half the truth. I am not asking for your confidence.
I simply tell you that you are wasting your time and mine if you choose
to withhold it."

Sir Richard was silent. He recognized a new quality in the man--but the
truth was an awful thing to tell! He considered--then told.

Ruff briskly asked two questions. "In alluding to your heavy settlement
with Masters, you said just now that you could not have paid him--then."

"Quite so," Sir Richard admitted. "That is the rotten part of the whole
affair. Four days later a wonderful double came off--one in which we
were all interested, and one which not one of us expected. We've drawn a
considerable amount already from one or two bookies, and I believe even
Masters owes us a bit now."

"Thank you," Ruff said. "I think that I know everything now. My fee is
five hundred guineas."

Sir Richard looked at him.

"What?" he exclaimed.

"Five hundred guineas," Ruff repeated.

"For a consultation?" Sir Richard asked.

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"More than that," he said. "You are a brave man in your way, Sir Richard
Dyson, but you are going about now shivering under a load of fear. It
sits like a devil incarnate upon your shoulders. It poisons the air
wherever you go. Write your cheque, Sir Richard, and you can leave
that little black devil in my wastebasket. You are under my protection.
Nothing will happen to you."

Sir Richard sat like a man mesmerised. The little man with the amiable
expression and the badly fitting suit was leaning back in his chair, his
finger tips pressed together, waiting.

"Nothing will happen!" Sir Richard repeated, incredulously.

"Certainly not. I guarantee you against any inconvenience which might
arise to you from this recent unfortunate affair. Isn't that all you
want?"

"It's all I want, certainly," Sir Richard declared, "but I must
understand a little how you propose to secure my immunity."

Ruff shook his head.

"I have my own methods," he said. "I can help only those who trust me."

Sir Richard drew a cheque book from his pocket. "I don't know why I
should believe in you," he said, as he wrote the cheque.

"But you do," Peter Ruff said, smiling. "Fortunately for you, you do!"



It was not so easy to impart a similar confidence into the breast of
Colonel Dickinson, with whom Sir Richard dined that night tete-a-tete.
Dickinson was inclined to think that Sir Richard ad been "had."

"You've paid a ridiculous fee," he argued, "and all that you have in
return is the fellow's promise to see you through. It isn't like you to
part with money so easily, Richard. Did he hypnotise you?"

"I don't think so," Sir Richard answered. "I wasn't conscious of it."

"What sort of a fellow is he?" Dickinson asked.

Sir Richard looked reflectively into his glass.

"He's a vulgar sort of little Johnny," he said. "Looks as though he were
always dressed in new clothes and couldn't get used to them."

Three men entered the room. Two remained in the background. John Dory
came forward towards the table.

"Sir Richard Dyson," he said, gravely, "I have come upon an unpleasant
errand."

"Go on," Sir Richard said, fingering something hard inside pocket of his
coat.

"I have a warrant for your arrest," Dory continued, "in connection with
the disappearance of Job Masters on Saturday, the 10th of November last.
I will read the terms of the warrant, if you choose. It is my duty to
warn you that anything you may now say can be used in evidence against
you. This gentleman, I believe, is Colonel Dickinson?"

"That is my name, sir," Dickinson answered, with unexpected fortitude.

"I regret to say," the detective continued, "that I have also a warrant
for your arrest in connection with the same matter."

Sir Richard had hold of the butt end of his revolver then. Like grisly
phantoms, the thoughts chased one another through his brain. Should he
shoot and end it--pass into black nothingness--escape disgrace, but die
like a rat in a corner? His finger was upon the trigger. Then suddenly
his heart gave a great leap. He raised his head as though listening.
Something flashed in his eyes--something that was almost like hope.
There was no mistaking that voice which he had heard in the hall! He
made a great rally.

"I can only conclude," he said, turning to the detective, "that you have
made some absurd blunder. If you really possess the warrants you speak
of, however, Colonel Dickinson and I will accompany you wherever you
choose."

Then the door opened and Peter Ruff walked in, followed by Job Masters,
whose head was still bandaged, and who seemed to have lost a little
flesh and a lot of colour. Peter Ruff looked round apologetically. He
seemed surprised not to find Sir Richard Dyson and Colonel Dickinson
alone. He seemed more than ever surprised to recognize Dory.

"I trust," he said smoothly, "that our visit is not inopportune. Sir
Richard Dyson, I believe?" he continued, bowing--"my friend, Mr. Masters
here, has consulted me as to the loss of a betting book, and we ventured
to call to ask you, sir, if by any chance on his recent visit to your
house--"

"God in Heaven, it's Masters!" Dyson exclaimed. "It's Job Masters!"

"That's me, sir," Masters admitted. "Mr. Ruff thought you might be able
to help me find that book."

Sir Richard swayed upon his feet. Then the blood rushed once more
through his veins.

"Your book's here in my cabinet, safe enough," he said. "You left it
here after our luncheon that day. Where on earth have you been to, man?"
he continued. "We want some money from you over Myopia."

"I'll pay all right, sir," Masters answered. "Fact is, after our
luncheon party I'm afraid I got a bit fuddled. I don't seem to remember
much."

He sat down a little heavily. Peter Ruff hastened to the table and took
up a glass.

"You will excuse me if I give him a little brandy, won't you, sir?"
he said. "He's really not quite fit for getting about yet, but he was
worrying about his book."

"Give him all the brandy he can drink," Sir Richard answered.

The detective's face had been a study. He knew Masters well enough by
sight--there was no doubt about his identity! His teeth came together
with an angry little click. He had made a mistake! It was a thing which
would be remembered against him forever! It was as bad as his failure to
arrest that young man at Daisy Villa.

"Your visit, Masters," Sir Richard said, with a curious smile at the
corners of his lips, "is, in some respects, a little opportune. About
that little matter we were speaking of," he continued, turning towards
the detective.

"We have only to offer you our apologies, Sir Richard," Dory answered.

Then he crossed the room and confronted Peter Ruff.

"Do I understand, sir, that your name is Ruff--Peter Ruff?" he asked.

"That is my name, sir," Peter Ruff admitted, pleasantly "Yours I
believe, is Dory. We are likely to come across one another now and then,
I suppose. Glad to know you."

The detective stood quite still, and there was no geniality in his face.

"I wonder--have we ever met before?" he asked, without removing his eyes
from the other's face. Peter Ruff smiled.

"Not professionally, at any rate," he answered. "I know that Scotland
Yard you don't think much of us small fry, but we find out things
sometimes!"

"Why didn't you contradict all those rumours as to his disappearance?"
the detective asked, pointing to where Job Masters was contentedly
sipping his brandy and water.

"I was acting for my client, and in my own interests," replied Peter.
"It was surely no part of my duty to save you gentlemen at Scotland Yard
from hunting up mare's nests!"

John Dory went out, followed by his men. Sir Richard took Peter Ruff by
the arm, and, leading him to the sideboard, mixed him a drink.

"Peter Ruff," he said, "you're a clever scoundrel, but you've earned
your five hundred guineas. Hang it, you're welcome to them! Is there
anything else I can do for you?"

Peter Ruff raised his glass and set it down again. Once more he eyed
with admiration his client's well-turned out figure.

"You might give me a letter to your tailors, Sir Richard," he begged.

Sir Richard laughed outright--it was some time since he had laughed!

"You shall have it, Peter Ruff," he declared, raising his glass--"and
here's to you!"



CHAPTER III. VINCENT CAWDOR, COMMISSION AGENT


For the second time since their new association, Peter Ruff had
surprised that look upon his secretary's face. This time he wheeled
around in his chair and addressed her.

"My dear Violet," he said, "be frank with me. What is wrong?"

Miss Brown turned to face her employer. Save for a greater demureness
of expression and the extreme simplicity of her attire, she had changed
very little since she had given up her life of comparative luxury to
become Peter Ruff's secretary. There was a sort of personal elegance
which clung to her, notwithstanding her strenuous attempts to dress for
her part, except for which she looked precisely as a private secretary
and typist should look. She even wore a black bow at the back of her
hair.

"I have not complained, have I?" she asked.

"Do not waste time," Peter Ruff said, coldly. "Proceed."

"I have not enough to do," she said. "I do not understand why you refuse
so many cases."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"I did not bring my talents into this business," he said, "to watch
flirting wives, to ascertain the haunts of gay husbands, or to detect
the pilferings of servants."

"Anything is better than sitting still," she protested.

"I do not agree with you," Peter Ruff said. "I like sitting still very
much indeed--one has time to think. Is there anything else?"

"Shall I really go on?" she asked.

"By all means," he answered.

"I have idea," she continued, "that you are subordinating your general
interests to your secret enmity--to one man. You are waiting until you
can find another case in which you are pitted against him."

"Sometimes," Peter Ruff said, "your intelligence surprises me!"

"I came to you," she continued, looking at him earnestly, "for two
reasons. The personal one I will not touch upon. The other was my love
of excitement. I have tried many things in life, as you know, Peter,
but I have seemed to carry always with me the heritage of weariness. I
thought that my position here would help me to fight against it."

"You have seen me bring a corpse to life," Peter Ruff reminded her, a
little aggrieved.

She smiled.

"It was a month ago," she reminded him.

"I can't do that sort of thing every day," he declared.

"Naturally," she answered; "but you have refused four cases within the
last five days."

Peter Ruff whistled softly to himself for several moments.

"Seen anything of our new neighbour in the flat above?" he asked, with
apparent irrelevance.

Miss Brown looked across at him with upraised eyebrows.

"I have been in the lift with him twice," she answered.

"Fancy his appearance?" Ruff asked, casually.

"Not in the least!" Violet answered. "I thought him a vulgar, offensive
person!"

Peter Ruff chuckled. He seemed immensely delighted.

"Mr. Vincent Cawdor he calls himself, I believe," he remarked.

"I have no idea," Miss Brown declared. The subject did not appeal to
her.

"His name is on a small copper plate just over the letter-box," Ruff
said. "Rather neat idea, by the bye. He calls himself a commission
agent, I believe."

Violet was suddenly interested. She realized, after all, that Mr.
Vincent Cawdor might be a person of some importance.

"What is a commission agent?" she asked.

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"It might mean anything," he declared. "Never trust any one who is not
a little more explicit as to his profession. I am afraid that this Mr.
Vincent Cawdor, for instance, is a bad lot."

"I am sure he is," Miss Brown declared.

"Looks after a pretty girl, coughs in the lift--all that sort of thing,
eh?" Peter Ruff asked.

She nodded.

"Disgusting!" she exclaimed, with emphasis.

Peter Ruff sighed, and glanced at the clock. The existence of Mr.
Vincent Cawdor seemed to pass out of his mind.

"It is nearly one o'clock," he said. "Where do you usually lunch,
Violet?"

"It depends upon my appetite," she answered, carelessly. "Most often at
an A B C."

"To-day," Peter Ruff said, "you will be extravagant--at my expense."

"I had a poor breakfast," Miss Brown remarked, complacently.

"You will leave at once," Peter Ruff said, "and you will go to the
French Cafe at the Milan. Get a table facing the courtyard, and towards
the hotel side of the room. Keep your eyes open and tell me exactly what
you see."

She looked at him with parted lips. Her eyes were full of eager
questioning.

"Mere skirmishing," Peter Ruff continued, "but I think--yes, I think
that it may lead to something."

"Whom am I to watch?" she asked.

"Any one who looks interesting," Peter Ruff answered. "For instance, if
this person Vincent Cawdor should be about."

"He would recognize me!" she declared.

Peter Ruff shrugged his shoulders.

"One must hold the candle," he remarked.

"I decline to flirt with him," she declared. "Nothing would induce me to
be pleasant to such an odious creature."

"He will be too busy to attempt anything of the sort. Of course he may
not be there. It may be the merest fancy on my part. At any rate, you
may rely upon it that he will not make any overtures in a public place
like the Milan. Mr. Vincent Cawdor may be a curious sort of person, but
I do not fancy that he is a fool!"

"Very well," Miss Brown said, "I will go."

"Be back soon after three," Peter Ruff said. "I am going up to my room
to do my exercises."

"And afterwards?" she asked.

"I shall have my lunch sent in," he answered. "Don't hurry back, though.
I shall not expect you till a quarter past three."

It was a few minutes past that time when Miss Brown returned. Peter Ruff
was sitting at his desk, looking as though he had never moved. He was
absorbed by a book of patterns sent in by his new tailor, and he only
glanced up when she entered the room.

"Violet," he said, earnestly, "come in and sit down. I want to consult
you. There is a new material here--a sort of mouse-coloured cheviot. I
wonder whether it would suit me?"

Violet was looking very handsome and a little flushed. She raised her
veil and came over to his side.

"Put that stupid book away, Peter," she said. "I want to tell you about
the Milan."

He leaned back in his chair.

"Ah!" he said. "I had forgotten! Was Mr. Vincent Cawdor there?"

"Yes!" she answered, still a little breathless. "There was some one else
there, too, in whom you are still more interested."

He nodded.

"Go on," he said.

"Mr. Vincent Cawdor," she continued, "came in alone. He looked just as
objectionable as ever, and he stared at me till I nearly threw my wine
glass at him."

"He did not speak to you?" Peter Ruff asked.

"I was afraid that he was going to," Miss Brown said, "but fortunately
he met a friend who came to his table and lunched with him."

"A friend," Ruff remarked. "Good! What was he like?"

"Fair, slight, Teutonic," Miss Brown answered. "He wore thick
spectacles, and his moustache was positively yellow."

Ruff nodded.

"Go on," he said.

"Towards the end of luncheon," she continued, "an American came up to
them."

"An American?" Peter Ruff interrupted. "How do you know that?"

Miss Brown smiled.

"He was clean-shaven and he wore neat clothes," she said. "He talked
with an accent you could have cut with a knife and he had a Baedeker
sticking out of his pocket. After luncheon, they all three went away to
the smoking room."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"Anything else?" he asked.

The girl smiled triumphantly.

"Yes!" she declared. "There was something else--something which I
think you will find interesting. At the next table to me there was a
man--alone. Can you guess who he was?"

"John Dory," Ruff said, calmly.

The girl was disappointed.

"You knew!" she exclaimed.

"My dear Violet," he said, "I did not send you there on a fool's
errand."

"There is something doing, then?" she exclaimed.

"There is likely," he answered, grimly, "to be a great deal doing!"



The two men who stood upon the hill, and Peter Ruff, who lay upon his
stomach behind a huge boulder, looked upon a new thing.

Far down in the valley from out of a black shed--the only sign of man's
handiwork for many miles--it came--something grey at first, moving
slowly as though being pushed down a slight incline, then afloat in the
air, gathering speed--something between a torpedo with wings and a
great prehistoric insect. Now and then it described strange circles, but
mostly it came towards them as swift and as true as an arrow shot from a
bow. The two men looked at one another--the shorter, to whose cheeks the
Cumberland winds had brought no trace of colour, gave vent to a hoarse
exclamation.

"He's done it!" he growled.

"Wait!" the other answered.

Over their heads the thing wheeled, and seemed to stand still in the
air. The beating of the engine was so faint that Peter Ruff from behind
the boulder, could hear all that was said. A man leaned out from his
seat--a man with wan cheeks but blazing eyes.

"Listen," he said. "Take your glasses. There--due north--can you see a
steeple?"

The men turned their field glasses in the direction toward which the
other pointed. "Yes!" they answered. "It is sixteen miles, as the crow
flies, to Barnham Church--thirty-two miles there and back. Wait!"

He swung round, dived till he seemed about to touch the hillside, then
soared upwards and straight away. Peter Ruff took out his watch. The
other two men gazed with fascinated eyes after the disappearing speck.

"If he does it--" the shorter one muttered.

"He will do it!" the other answered.

He was back again before their eyes were weary of watching. Peter Ruff,
from behind the boulder, closed his watch. Thirty-two miles in less than
half an hour! The youth leaned from his seat.

"Is it enough?" he asked, hoarsely.

"It is enough!" the two men answered together. "We will come down."

The youth touched a lever and the machine glided down towards the
valley, falling all the while with the effortless grace a parachute. The
shed from which his machine had issued was midway down a slope, with
a short length of rails which ran, apparently, through it. The machine
seemed to hover for several moments above the building, then descended
slowly on to the rails and disappeared in the shed. The two men were
already half-way down the hill. Peter Ruff rose from behind the boulder,
stretched himself with a sense of immense relief, and lit a pipe. As
yet he dared not descend. He simply changed his hiding place for a spot
which enabled him to command a view of the handful of cottages at the
back of the hill. He had plenty to think about. It was a wonderful
thing--this--which he had seen!

The youth, meanwhile, was drinking deep of the poisonous cup. He walked
between the two men--his cheeks were flushed, his eyes on fire.

"If all the world to-day had seen what we have seen," the older man was
saying, "there would be no more talk of Wilbur Wrights or Farmans. Those
men are babies, playing with their toys."

"Mine is the ideal principle," the youth declared. "No one else has
thought of it, no one else has made use of it. Yet all the time I am
afraid--it is so simple."

"Sell quick, then," the fair-headed man advised. "By to-morrow night I
can promise you fifty thousand pounds."

The youth stopped. He drew a deep breath.

"I shall sell," he declared. "I need money. I want to live. Fifty
thousand pounds is enough. Eleven weary months I have slept and toiled
there in the shed."

"It is finished," the older man declared. "To-night you shall come with
us to London. To-morrow night your pockets shall be full of gold. It
will be a change for you."

The youth sobbed.

"God knows it will," he muttered. "I haven't two shillings in the world,
and I owe for my last petrol."

The two men laughed heartily. The elder took a little bundle of notes
from his pocket and handed them to the boy.

"Come," he said, "not for another moment shall you feel as poor as
that. Money will have no value for you in the future. The fifty thousand
pounds will only be a start. After that, you will get royalties. If I
had it, I would give you a quarter of a million now for your plans; I
know that I can get you more."

The youth laughed hysterically. They entered the tiny inn and drank
home-made wine--the best they could get. Then a great car drew up
outside, and the older--the clean-shaven man, who looked like an
American--hurried out, and dragging a hamper from beneath the seat
returned with a gold-foiled bottle in his hand.

"Come," he said, "a toast! We have one bottle left--one bottle of the
best!"

"Champagne!" the youth cried eagerly, holding out his hand.

"The only wine for the conquerors," the other declared, pouring it out
into the thick tumblers. "Drink, all of you, to the Franklin Flying
Machine, to the millions she will earn--to to-morrow night!"

The youth drained his glass, watched it replenished, and drained it
again. Then they went out to the car.

"There is one thing yet to be done," he said. "Wait here for me."

They waited whilst he climbed up toward the shed. The two men watched
him. A little group of rustics stood open-mouthed around the great car.
Then there was a little shout. From above their heads came the sound of
a great explosion--red flames were leaping up from that black barn to
the sky. The two men looked at one another. They rushed to the hill and
met the youth descending.

"What the--"

He stopped them.

"I dared not leave it here," he explained. "It would have been madness.
I am perfectly certain that I have been watched during the last few
days. I can build another in a week. I have the plans in my pocket for
every part."

The older man wiped the perspiration from his forehead.

"You are sure--that you have the plans?" he asked.

The youth struck himself on the chest.

"They are here," he answered, "every one of them!"

"Perhaps you are right, then," the other man answered. "It gave me a
turn, though. You are sure that you can make it again in the time you
say?"

"Of course!" the youth answered, impatiently. "Besides, the thing is so
simple. It speaks for itself."

They climbed into the car, and in a few minutes were rushing away
southwards.

"To-morrow night--to-morrow night it all begins!" the youth continued.
"I must start with ready-made clothes. I'll get the best I can, eat the
best I can, drink wine, go to the music halls. To-morrow night."

His speech ended in a wail--a strange, half-stifled cry which rang out
with a chill, ghostly sound upon the black silence. His face was covered
with a wet towel, a ghastly odor was in his nostrils, his lips refused
to utter any further sound. He lay back among the cushions, senseless.
The car slowed down.

"Get the papers, quick!" the elder man muttered, opening the youth's
coat. "Here they are! Catch hold, Dick! My God! What's that?"

He shook from head to foot. The little fair man looked at him with
contempt.

"A sheep bell on the moor," he said. "Are you sure you have everything?"

"Yes!" the other muttered.

They both stood up and raised the prostrate form between them. Below
them were the black waters of the lake.

"Over with him!" the younger said. "Quick!"

Once more his companion shrank away.

"Listen!" he muttered, hoarsely.

They both held their breaths. From somewhere along the road behind came
a faint sound like the beating of an engine.

"It's a car!" the elder man exclaimed. "Quick! Over with him!"

They lifted the body of the boy, whose lips were white and speechless
now, and threw him into the water. With a great splash he disappeared.
They watched for a moment. Only the ripples flowed away from the place
where he had sunk. They jumped back to their seats.

"There's something close behind," the older man muttered. "Get on! Fast!
Fast!"

The younger man hesitated.

"Perhaps," he said slowly, "it would be better to wait and see who it is
coming up behind. Our young friend there is safe. The current has him,
and the tarn is bottomless."

There was a moment's indecision--a moment which was to count for much
in the lives of three men. Then the elder one's counsels prevailed. They
crept away down the hill, smoothly and noiselessly. Behind them, the
faint throbbing grew less and less distinct. Soon they heard it no more.
They drove into the dawn and through the long day.



Side by side on one of the big leather couches in the small smoking room
of the Milan Hotel, Mr. James P. Rounceby and his friend Mr. Richard
Marnstam sat whispering together. It was nearly two o clock, and they
were alone in the room. Some of the lights had been turned out. The roar
of life in the streets without had ceased. It was an uneasy hour for
those whose consciences were not wholly at rest!

The two men were in evening dress--Rounceby in dinner coat and black
tie, as befitted his role of travelling American. The glasses in front
of them were only half-filled, and had remained so for the last hour.
Their conversation had been nervous and spasmodic. It was obvious that
they were waiting for some one.

Three o'clock struck by the little timepiece on the mantel shelf. A
little exclamation of a profane nature broke from Rounceby's lips. He
leaned toward his companion.

"Say," he muttered, in a rather thick undertone, "how about this fellow
Vincent Cawdor? You haven't any doubts about him, I suppose? He's on the
square, all right, eh?"

Marnstam wet his lips nervously.

"Cawdor's all right," he said. "I had it direct from headquarters at
Paris. What are you uneasy about, eh?"

Rounceby pointed towards the clock.

"Do you see the time?" he asked.

"He said he'd be late," Marnstam answered.

Rounceby put his hand to his forehead and found it moist.

"It's been a silly game, all along," he muttered. "We'd better have
brought the young ass up here and jostled him!"

"Not so easy," Marnstam answered. "These young fools have a way of
turning obstinate. He'd have chucked us, sure. Anyhow, he's safer where
he is."

They relapsed once more into silence. A storm of rain beat upon the
window. Rounceby glanced up. It was as black out there as were the
waters of that silent tarn! The man shivered as the thought struck
him. Marnstam, who had no nerves, twirled his moustache and watched his
companion with wonder.

"You look as though you saw a ghost," he remarked.

"Perhaps I do!" Rounceby growled.

"You had better finish your drink, my dear fellow," Marnstam advised.
"Afterwards--"

Suddenly he stiffened into attention. He laid his hand upon his
companion's knee.

"Listen!" he said. "There is some one coming."

They leaned a little forward. The swing doors were opened. A girl's
musical laugh rang out from the corridor. Tall and elegant, with her
black lace skirt trailing upon the floor, her left hand resting upon the
shoulder of the man into whose ear she was whispering, and whom she led
straight to one of the writing tables, Miss Violet Brown swept into the
room. On her right, and nearest to the two men, was Mr. Vincent Cawdor.

"Now you can go and talk to your friends!" she exclaimed, lightly. "I am
going to make Victor listen to me."

Cawdor left his two companions and sank on to the couch by Rounceby's
side. The young man, with his opera hat still on his head, and the light
overcoat which he had been carrying on the floor by his side, was seated
before the writing table with his back to them. Miss Brown was leaning
over him, with her hand upon the back of his chair. They were out of
hearing of the other three men.

"Well, Rounceby, my friend," Mr. Vincent Cawdor remarked, cheerfully,
"you're having a late sitting, eh?"

"We've been waiting for you, you fool!" Rounceby answered. "What on
earth are you thinking about, bringing a crowd like this about with you,
eh?"

Cawdor smiled, reassuringly.

"Don't you worry," he said, in a lower tone. "I know my way in and out
of the ropes here better than you can teach me. A big hotel like this
is the safest and the most dangerous place in the world--just how you
choose to make it. You've got to bluff 'em all the time. That's why I
brought the young lady--particular friend of mine--real nice girl, too!"

"And the young man?" Rounceby asked, suspiciously.

Cawdor grew more serious.

"That's Captain Lowther," he said softly--"private secretary to Colonel
Dean, who's the chief of the aeronaut department at Aldershot. He has
a draft in his pocket for twenty thousand pounds. It is yours if he is
satisfied with the plans."

"Twenty thousand pounds!" Marnstam said, thoughtfully. "It is very
little--very little indeed for the risks which we have run!"

Cawdor moved his place and sat between the men. He laid a hand upon
Marnstam's shoulder--another on Rounceby's knee.

"My dear friends," he said, impressively, "if you could have built a
model, or conducted these negotiations in the usual way, you might have
asked a million. As it is, I think I am the only man in England who
could have dealt with this matter--so satisfactorily."

Rounceby glanced suspiciously at the young man to whom Miss Brown was
still devoting the whole of her attention.

"Why don't he come out and talk like a man?" he asked. "What's the idea
of his sitting over there with his back to us?"

"I want him never to see your faces--to deal only with me," Cawdor
explained. "Remember that he is in an official position. The money he is
going to part with is secret service money."

The two men were beginning to be more reassured. Rounceby slowly
produced a roll of oilskin from his pocket.

"He'll look at them as he sits there," he insisted. "There must be no
copying or making notes, mind."

Cawdor smiled in a superior fashion.

"My dear fellow," he said, "you are dealing with the emissary of a
government--not one of your own sort."

Rounceby glanced at his companion, who nodded. Then he handed over the
plans.

"Tell him to look sharp," he said. "It's not so late but that there may
be people in here yet."

Cawdor crossed the room with the plans, and laid them down before the
writing table. Rounceby rose to his feet and lit a cigar. Marnstam
walked to the further window and back again. They stood side by side.
Rounceby's whole frame seemed to have stiffened with some new emotion.

"There's something wrong, Jim," Marnstam whispered softly in his ear.
"You've got the old lady in your pocket?"

"Yes!" Rounceby answered thickly, "and, by Heavens, I'm going to use
it!"

"Don't shoot unless it's the worst," Marnstam counselled. "I shall go
out of that window, into the tree, and run for the river. But bluff
first, Jim--bluff for your life!"

There were swinging doors leading into the room from the hotel side, and
a small door exactly opposite which led to the residential part of the
place. Both of these doors were opened at precisely the same moment.
Through the former stepped two strong looking men in long overcoats, and
with the unmistakable appearance of policemen in plain clothes. Through
the latter came John Dory! He walked straight up to the two men.
It spoke volumes for his courage that, knowing their characters and
believing them to be in desperate straits, he came unarmed.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I hold warrants for your arrest. I will not
trouble you with your aliases. You are known to-day, I believe, as James
Rounceby and Richard Marnstam. Will you come quietly?"

Marnstam's expression was one of bland and beautiful surprise.

"My dear sir," he said, edging, however, a little toward the
window--"you must be joking! What is the charge?"

"You are charged with the wilful murder of a young man named Victor
Franklin," answered Dory. "His body was recovered from Longthorp Tarn
this afternoon. You had better say nothing. Also with the theft of
certain papers known to have been in his possession."

Now it is possible that at this precise moment Marnstam would have made
his spring for the window and Rounceby his running fight for liberty.
The hands of both men were upon their revolvers, and John Dory's life
was a thing of no account. But at this juncture a thing happened. There
were in the room the two policemen guarding the swing doors, and behind
them the pale faces of a couple of night porters looking anxiously in.
Vincent Cawdor and Miss Brown were standing side by side, a little in
the background, and the young man who had been their companion had risen
also to his feet. As though with some intention of intervening, he moved
a step forward, almost in line with Dory. Rounceby saw him, and a new
fear gripped him by the heart. He shrank back, his fingers relaxed
their hold of his weapon, the sweat was hot upon his forehead. Marnstam,
though he seemed for a moment stupefied, realised the miracle which had
happened and struck boldly for his own.

"If this is a joke," he said, "it strikes me as being a particularly bad
one. I should like to know, sir, how you dare to come into this room
and charge me and my friend--Mr. Rounceby--with being concerned in the
murder of a young man who is even now actually standing by your side."

John Dory started back. He looked with something like apprehension at
the youth to whom Marnstam pointed.

"My name is Victor Franklin," that young man declared. "What's all this
about?"

Dory felt the ground give beneath his feet. Nevertheless, he set his
teeth and fought for his hand.

"You say that your name is Victor Franklin?" he asked.

"Certainly!"

"You are the inventor of a flying machine?"

"I am."

"You were in Westmoreland with these two men a few days go?"

"I was," the young man admitted.

"You left the village of Scawton in a motor car with them?"

"Yes! We quarrelled on the way, and parted."

"You were robbed of nothing?"

Victor Franklin smiled.

"Certainly not," he answered. "I had nothing worth stealing except my
plans, and they are in my pocket now."

There was a few moments' intense silence. Dory wheeled suddenly round,
and looked to where Mr. Vincent Cawdor had been standing.

"Where is Mr. Cawdor?" he asked, sharply.

"The gentleman with the grey moustache left a few seconds ago," one of
the men at the door said. Dory was very pale.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I have to offer you my apologies. I have
apparently been deceived by some false information. The charge is
withdrawn."

He turned on his heel and left the room. The two policemen followed him.

"Keep them under observation," Dory ordered shortly, "but I am afraid
this fellow Cawdor has sold me."

He found a hansom outside, and sprang into it.

"Number 27, Southampton Row," he ordered.

Rounceby and his partner were alone in the little smoking room. The
former was almost inarticulate. The night porter brought them brandy,
and both men drank.

"We've got to get to the bottom of this, Marnstam," Mr. Rounceby
muttered.

Mr. Marnstam was thinking.

"Do you remember that sound through the darkness," he said--"the beating
of an engine way back on the road?"

"What of it?" Rounceby demanded.

"It was a motor bicycle," Marnstam said quietly. "I thought so at the
time."

"Supposing some one followed us and pulled him out," Rounceby said,
hoarsely, "why are we treated like this? I tell you we've been made
fools of! We've been treated like children--not even to be punished!
We'll have the truth somehow out of that devil Cawdor! Come!"

They made their way to the courtyard and found a cab.

"Number 27, Southampton Row!" they ordered.

They reached their destination some time before Dory, whose horse fell
down in the Strand, and who had to walk. They ascended to the fourth
floor of the building and rang the bell of Vincent Cawdor's room--no
answer. They plied the knocker--no result. Rounceby peered through the
keyhole.

"He hasn't come home yet," he remarked. "There is no light anywhere in
the place."

The door of a flat across the passage was quietly opened. Mr. Peter
Ruff, in a neat black smoking suit and slippers, and holding a pipe in
his hand, looked out.

"Excuse me, gentlemen," he said, "but I do not think that Mr. Cawdor is
in. He went out early this evening, and I have not heard him return."

The two men turned away.

"We are much obliged to you, sir," Mr. Marnstam said.

"Can I give him any message?" Peter Ruff asked, politely. "We generally
see something of one another in the morning."

"You can tell him--" Rounceby began.

"No message, thanks!" Marnstam interrupted. "We shall probably run
across him ourselves to-morrow."

John Dory was nearly a quarter of an hour late. After his third useless
summons, Mr. Peter Ruff presented himself again.

"I am afraid," he said, "you will not find my neighbour at home.
There have been several people enquiring for him to-night, without any
result."

John Dory came slowly across the landing.

"Good evening, Mr. Ruff!" he said.

"Why, it's Mr. Dory!" Peter Ruff declared. "Come in, do, and have a
drink."

John Dory accepted the invitation, and his eyes were busy in that little
sitting room during the few minutes which it took his host to mix that
whisky and soda.

"Nothing wrong with our friend opposite, I hope?" Peter Ruff asked,
jerking his head across the landing.

"I hope not, Mr. Ruff," John Dory said. "No doubt in the morning he will
be able to explain everything. I must say that I should like to see him
to-night, though."

"He may turn up yet," Peter Ruff remarked, cheerfully. "He's like
myself--a late bird."

"I fear not," Dory answered, drily. "Nice rooms you have here, sir. Just
a sitting room and bedroom, eh?"

Peter Ruff stood up and threw open the door of the inner apartment.

"That's so," he answered. "Care to have a look round?"

The detective did look round, and pretty thoroughly. As soon as he was
sure that there was no one concealed upon the premises, he drank his
whisky and soda and went.

"I'll look in again to see Cawdor," he remarked--"to-morrow, perhaps, or
the next day."

"I'll let him know if I see him about," Peter Ruff declared. "Sorry the
lift's stopped. Three steps to the left and straight on. Good-night!"



Miss Brown arrived early the following morning, and was disposed to be
inquisitive.

"I should like to know," she said, "exactly what has become of Mr.
Vincent Cawdor."

Peter Ruff took her upstairs. There was a little mound of ashes in the
grate.

She nodded.

"I imagined that," she said. "But why did you send me out to watch
yourself?"

"My dear Violet," Peter Ruff answered, "there is no man in the world
to-day who is my equal in the art of disguising himself. At the same
time, I wanted to know whether I could deceive you. I wanted to be quite
sure that my study of Mr. Vincent Cawdor was a safe one. I took those
rooms in his name and in his own person. I do not think that it occurred
even to our friend John Dory to connect us in his mind."

"Very well," she went on. "Now tell me, please, what took you up to
Westmoreland?"

"I followed Rounceby and Marnstam," he answered, "I knew them when I was
abroad, studying crime--I could tell you a good deal about both those
men if it were worth while--and I knew, when they hired a big motor car
and engaged a crook to drive it, that they were worth following. I saw
the trial of the flying machine, and when they started off with young
Franklin, I followed on a motor bicycle. I fished him out of the tarn
where they left him for dead, brought him on to London, and made my own
terms with him."

"What about the body which was found in the Longthorp Tarn?" she asked.

"I had that telegram sent myself," Peter Ruff answered.

She looked at him severely.

"You went out of your way to make a fool of John Dory!" she said,
frowning at him.

"That I admit," he answered.

"It seems to me," she continued, "that that, after all, has been the
chief object of the whole affair. I do not see that we--that is the
firm--profit in the least."

Peter Ruff chuckled.

"We've got a fourth share in the Franklin Flying Machine," he answered,
"and I'm hanged if I'd sell it for a hundred thousand pounds."

"You've taken advantage of that young man's gratitude," she declared.

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"I earned the money," he answered.



CHAPTER IV. THE INDISCRETION OF LETTY SHAW


Amidst a storm of whispered criticisms, the general opinion was that
Letty Shaw was a silly little fool who ought to have known better. When
she had entered the restaurant a few minutes before midnight, followed
by Austen Abbott, every one looked to see a third person following them.
No third person, however, appeared. Gustav himself conducted them to a
small table laid for two, covered with pink roses, and handed his fair
client the menu of a specially ordered supper. There was no gainsaying
the fact that Letty and her escort proposed supping alone!

The Cafe at the Milan was, without doubt, the fashionable rendezvous of
the moment for those ladies connected with the stage who, after
their performance, had not the time or the inclination to make the
conventional toilet demanded by the larger restaurants. Letty Shaw,
being one of the principal ornaments of the musical comedy stage, was
well known to every one in the room. There was scarcely a person
there who within the last fortnight had not found an opportunity of
congratulating her upon her engagement to Captain the Honourable Brian
Sotherst. Sotherst was rich, and one of the most popular young men about
town. Letty Shaw, although she had had one or two harmless flirtations,
was well known as a self-respecting and hard-working young actress who
loved her work, and against whom no one had ever had a word to say.
Consequently, the shock was all the greater when, within a fortnight of
her engagement, she was thus to be seen openly supping alone with the
most notorious woman hunter about town--a man of bad reputation, a man,
too, towards whom Sotherst was known to have a special aversion. Nothing
but a break with Sotherst or a fit of temporary insanity seemed to
explain, even inadequately, the situation.

Her best friend--the friend who knew her and believed in her--rose to
her feet and came sailing down the room. She nodded gaily to Abbott,
whom she hated, and whom she had not recognized for years, and laid her
hand upon Letty's arm.

"Where's Brian?" she asked.

Letty shrugged her shoulders--it was not altogether a natural gesture.

"On duty to-night," she answered.

Her best friend paused for a moment.

"Come over and join our party, both of you," she said. "Dicky Pennell's
here and Gracie Marsh--just landed. They'd love to meet you."

Letty shook her head slowly. There was a look in her face which even her
best friend did not understand.

"I'm afraid that we can't do that," she said. "I am Mr. Abbott's guest."

"And to-night," Austen Abbott intervened, looking up at the woman who
stood between them, "I am not disposed to share Miss Shaw with anybody."

Her best friend could do no more than shake her head and go away. The
two were left alone for the rest of the evening. When they departed
together, people who knew felt that a whiff of tragedy had passed
through the room. Nobody understood--or pretended to understand. Even
before her engagement, Letty had never been known to sup alone with
a man. That she should do so now, and with this particular man, was
preposterous!

"Something will come of it," her best friend murmured, sadly, as she
watched Austen Abbott help his companion on with her cloak.

Something did!


Peter Ruff rose at his accustomed time the following morning, and
attired himself, if possible, with more than his usual care. He wore
the grey suit which he had carefully put out the night before, but he
hesitated long between the rival appeals of a red tie with white spots
and a plain mauve one. He finally chose the latter, finding that it
harmonised more satisfactorily with his socks, and after a final survey
of himself in the looking-glass, he entered the next room, where his
coffee was set out upon a small round table near the fire, together with
his letters and newspapers.

Peter Ruff was, after all, like the rest of us, a creature of habit.
He made an invariable rule of glancing through the newspapers before he
paid any regard at all to his letters or his breakfast. In the absence
of anything of a particularly sensational character, he then opened his
letters in leisurely fashion, and went back afterwards to the newspaper
as he finished his meal. This morning, however, both his breakfast and
letters remained for some time untouched. The first paragraph which
caught his eye as he shook open the Daily Telegraph was sufficiently
absorbing. There it was in great black type:


      TERRIBLE TRAGEDY IN THE FLAT OF A WELL-KNOWN ACTRESS!
                   AUSTEN ABBOTT SHOT DEAD!
                  ARREST OF CAPTAIN SOTHERST

Beyond the inevitable shock which is always associated with the taking
of life, and the unusual position of the people concerned in it,
there was little in the brief account of the incident to excite the
imagination. A policeman on the pavement outside the flat in which Miss
Shaw and her mother lived fancied that he heard, about two o'clock
in the morning, the report of a revolver shot. As nothing further
transpired, and as the sound was very indistinct, he did not at once
enter the building, but kept it, so far as possible, under observation.
About twenty minutes later, a young gentleman in evening dress came out
into the street, and the policeman noticed at once that he was carrying
a small revolver, which he attempted to conceal. The constable thereupon
whistled for his sergeant, and accompanied by the young gentleman--who
made no effort to escape--ascended to Miss Shaw's rooms, where the body
of Austen Abbott was discovered lying upon the threshold of the sitting
room with a small bullet mark through the forehead. The inmates of
the house were aroused and a doctor sent for. The deceased man was
identified as Austen Abbott--a well-known actor--and the man under
arrest gave his name at once as Captain the Honourable Brian Sotherst.
Peter Ruff sighed as he laid down the paper. The case seemed to him
perfectly clear, and his sympathies were altogether with the young
officer who had taken the law into his own hands. He knew nothing of
Miss Letty Shaw, and, consequently, did her, perhaps, less than justice
in his thoughts. Of Austen Abbott, on the other hand, he knew a great
deal--and nothing of good. It was absurd, after all, that any one should
be punished for killing such a brute!

He descended, a few minutes later, to his office, and found Miss Brown
busy arranging a bowl of violets upon his desk.

"Isn't it horrible?" she cried, as he entered, carrying a bundle of
papers under his arm. "I never have had such a shock!"

"Do you know any of them, then?" Peter Ruff asked, straightening his tie
in the mirror.

"Of course!" she answered. "Why, I was in the same company as Letty Shaw
for a year. I was at the Milan, too, last night. Letty was there having
supper alone with Austen Abbott. We all said that there'd be trouble,
but of course we never dreamed of this! Isn't there any chance for him,
Peter? Can't he get off?"

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"I'm afraid not," he answered. "They may be able to bring evidence of
a quarrel and reduce it to manslaughter, but what you've just told me
about this supper party makes it all the worse. It will come out in the
evidence, of course."

"Captain Sotherst is such a dear," Miss Brown declared, "and so
good-looking! And as for that brute Austen Abbott, he ought to have been
shot long ago!"

Peter Ruff seated himself before his desk and hitched up his trousers at
the knees.

"No doubt you are right, Violet," he said, "but people go about these
things so foolishly. To me it is simply exasperating to reflect how
little use is made of persons such as myself, whose profession in
life it is to arrange these little matters. Take the present case, for
example. Captain Sotherst had only to lay these facts before me, and
Austen Abbott was a ruined man. I could have arranged the affair for
him in half-a-dozen different ways. Whereas now it must be a life for
a life--the life of an honest young English gentleman for that of a
creature who should have been kicked out of the world as vermin!... I
have some letters give you, Violet, if you please."

She swung round in her chair reluctantly.

"I can't help thinking of that poor young fellow," she said, with a
sigh.

"Sentiment after office hours, if you please!" said Peter.

Then there came a knock at the door.


His visitor lifted her veil, and Peter Ruff recognized her immediately.

"What can I do for you, Lady Mary?" he asked.

She saw the recognition in his eyes even before he spoke, and wondered
at it.

"You know me?" she exclaimed.

"I know most people," he answered, drily; "it is part of my profession."

"Tell me--you are Mr. Peter Ruff," she said, "the famous specialist in
the detection of crime? You know that Brian Sotherst is my brother?"

"Yes," he said, "I know it! I am sorry--very sorry, indeed."

He handed her a chair. She seated herself with a little tightening of
the lips.

"I want more than sympathy from you, Mr. Ruff," she warned him. "I want
your help."

"It is my profession," he admitted, "but your brother's case makes
intervention difficult, does it not?"

"You mean--" she began.

"Your brother himself does not deny his guilt, I understand."

"He has not denied it," she answered--"very likely he will not do so
before the magistrate--but neither has he admitted it. Mr. Ruff, you are
such a clever man. Can't you see the truth?"

Peter Ruff looked at her steadily for several moments.

"Lady Mary," he said, "I can see what you are going to suggest. You are
going on the assumption that Austen Abbott was shot by Letty Shaw and
that your brother is taking the thing on his shoulders."

"I am sure of it!" she declared. "The girl did it herself, beyond a
doubt. Brian would never have shot any one. He might have horsewhipped
him, perhaps--even beaten him to death--but shot him in cold
blood--never!"

"The provocation--" Ruff began.

"There was no provocation," she interrupted. "He was engaged to the
girl, and of course we hated it, but she was an honest little thing, and
devoted to him."

"Doubtless," Ruff admitted. "But all the same, as you will hear before
the magistrates, or at the inquest, she was having supper alone with
Austen Abbott that night at the Milan."

Lady Mary's eyes flashed.

"I don't believe it!" she declared.

"It is nevertheless true," Peter Ruff assured her. "There is no shadow
of doubt about it."

Lady Mary was staggered. For a few moment she seemed struggling to
rearrange her thoughts.

"You see," Ruff continued, "the fact that Miss Shaw was willing to
sup with Austen Abbott tete-a-tete renders it more improbable that she
should shoot him in her sitting room, an hour or so later, and then go
calmly up to her mother's room as though nothing had happened."

Lady Mary had lost some of her confidence, but she was not daunted.

"Even if we have been deceived in the girl," she said,
thoughtfully--"even if she were disposed to flirt with other men--even
then there might be a stronger motive than ever for her wishing to get
rid of Abbott. He may have become jealous, and threatened her."

"It is, of course, possible," Ruff assented, politely. "Your theory
would, at any rate, account for your brother's present attitude."

She looked at him steadfastly.

"You believe, then," she said, "that my brother shot Austen Abbott?"

"I do," he admitted frankly. "So does every man or woman of common sense
in London. On the facts as they are stated in the newspapers, with the
addition of which I have told you, no other conclusion is possible."

Lady Mary rose.

"Then I may as well go," she said tearfully.

"Not at all," Peter Ruff declared. "Listen. This is a matter of business
with me. I say that on the facts as they are known, your brother's guilt
appears indubitable. I do not say that there may not be other facts
in the background which alter the state of affairs. If you wish me to
search for them, engage me, and I will do my best."

"Isn't that what I am here for?" the girl exclaimed.

"Very well," Peter Ruff said. "My services are at your disposal."

"You will do your best--more than your best, won't you?" she begged.
"Remember that he is my brother--my favourite brother!"

"I will do what can be done," Peter Ruff promised. "Please sit down at
that desk and write me two letters of introduction."

She drew off her gloves and prepared to obey him.

"To whom?" she asked.

"To the solicitors who are defending your brother," he said, "and to
Miss Letty Shaw."

"You mean to go and see her?" Lady Mary asked, doubtfully.

"Naturally," Peter Ruff answered. "If your supposition is correct, she
might easily give herself away under a little subtle cross-examination.
It is my business to know how to ask people questions in such a way that
if they do not speak the truth their words give some indication of it.
If she is innocent I shall know that I have to make my effort in another
direction."

"What other direction can there be?" Lady Mary asked dismally.

Peter Ruff said nothing. He was too kind-hearted to kindle false hopes.

"It's a hopeless case, of course," Miss Brown remarked, after Lady Mary
had departed.

"I'm afraid so," Peter Ruff answered. "Still I must earn my money.
Please get some one to take you to supper to-night at the Milan, and see
if you can pick up any scandal."

"About Letty?" she asked.

"About either of them," he answered. "Particularly I should like to
know if any explanation has cropped up of her supping alone with Austen
Abbott."

"I don't see why you can't take me yourself," she remarked. "You are on
the side of the law this time, at any rate."

"I will," he answered, after a moment's hesitation. "I will call for you
at eleven o'clock to-night."

He rose and closed his desk emphatically.

"You are going out?" she asked.

"I am going to see Miss Letty Shaw," he answered.

He took a taxicab to the flats, and found a handful of curious people
still gazing up at the third floor. The parlourmaid who answered his
summons was absolutely certain that Miss Shaw would not see him. He
persuaded her, after some difficulty, to take in his letter while he
waited in the hall. When she returned, she showed him into a small
sitting room and pulled down the blinds.

"Miss Shaw will see you, sir, for a few minutes," she announced, in
a subdued tone. "Poor dear young lady," she continued, "she has been
crying her eyes out all the morning."

"No wonder," Peter Ruff said, sympathetically. "It's a terrible
business, this!"

"One of the nicest young men as ever walked," the girl declared, firmly.
"As for that brute, he deserved all he's got, and more!"

Peter Ruff was left alone for nearly a quarter of an hour. Then the door
was softly opened and Letty Shaw entered. There was no doubt whatever
about her suffering. Ruff, who had seen her only lately at the theatre,
was shocked. Under her eyes were blacker lines than her pencil had
ever traced. Not only was she ghastly pale, but her face seemed wan and
shrunken. She spoke to him the moment she entered, leaning with on hand
upon the sideboard.

"Lady Mary writes that you want to help us," she said. "How can you? How
is it possible?"

Even her voice had gone. She spoke hoarsely, and as though short of
breath. Her eyes searched his face feverishly. It seemed cruelty not to
answer her at once, and Peter Ruff was not a cruel man. Nevertheless, he
remained silent, and it seemed to her that his eyes were like points of
fire upon her face.

"What is the matter?" she cried, with breaking voice. "What have you
come for? Why don't you speak to me?"

"Madam," Peter Ruff said, "I should like to help you, and I will do what
I can. But in order that I may do so, it is necessary that you should
answer me two questions--truthfully!"

Her eyes grew wider. It was the face of a terrified child.

"Why not?" she exclaimed. "What have I to conceal?"

Peter Ruff's expression never changed. There was nothing about him,
as he stood there with his hands behind him, his head thrown a little
forward, in the least inspiring--nothing calculated to terrify the most
timid person. Yet the girl looked at him with the eyes of a frightened
bird.

"Remember, then," he continued, smoothly, "that what you say to me is
sacred. You and I are alone without witnesses or eavesdroppers. Was it
Brian Sotherst who shot Abbott--or was it you?"

She gave a little cry. Her hands clasped the sides of her head in
horror.

"I!" she exclaimed, "I! God help me!"

He waited. In a moment she looked up.

"You cannot believe that," she said, with a calmness for which he was
scarcely prepared. "It is absurd. I left the room by the inner door as
he took up his hat to step out into the hall."

"Incidentally," he asked--"this is not my other question, mind--why did
you not let him out yourself?"

"We had disagreed," she answered, curtly.

Peter Ruff bent his head in assent.

"I see," he remarked. "You had disagreed. Abbott probably hoped that you
would relent, so he waited for a few minutes. Brian Sotherst, who had
escaped from his engagement in time, he thought, to come and wish you
good night, must have walked in and found him there. By the bye, how
would Captain Sotherst get in?"

"He had a key," the girl answered. "My mother lives here with me, and
we have only one maid. It was more convenient. I gave him one washed in
gold for a birthday present only a few days ago."

"Thank you," Peter Ruff said. "The revolver, I understand, was your
property?"

She nodded.

"It was a present from Brian," she said. "He gave it to me in a joke,
and I had it on the table with some other curiosities."

"The first question," Peter Ruff said, "is disposed of. May I proceed to
the second?"

The girl moistened her lips.

"Yes!" she answered.

"Why did you sup alone with Austen Abbott last night?"

She shrank a little away.

"Why should I not?" she asked.

"You have been on the stage, my dear Miss Shaw," Peter Ruff continued,
"for between four and five years. During the whole of that time, it has
been your very wise habit to join supper parties, of course, when the
company was agreeable to you, but to sup alone with no man! Am I not
right?"

"You seem to know a great deal about me," she faltered.

"Am I not right?" he repeated.

"Yes!"

"You break your rule for the first time," Peter Ruff continued, "in
favour of a man of notoriously bad character, a few weeks after
the announcement of your engagement to an honourable young English
gentleman. You know very well the construction likely to be put
upon your behaviour--you, of all people, would be the most likely to
appreciate the risk you ran. Why did you run it? In other words, I
repeat my question. Why did you sup alone with Austen Abbott last
night?"

All this time she had been standing. She came a little forward now, and
threw herself into an easy-chair.

"It doesn't help!" she exclaimed. "All this doesn't help!"

"Nor can I help you, then," Peter Ruff said, stretching out his hand for
his hat.

She waved to him to put it down.

"I will tell you," she said. "It has nothing to do with the case,
but since you ask, you shall know. There is a dear little girl in our
company--Fluffy Dean we all call her--only eighteen years old. We all
love her, she is so sweet, and just like I was when I first went on the
stage, only much nicer. She is very pretty, she has no money, and she is
such an affectionate little dear that although she is as good as gold,
we are all terrified for her sake whenever she makes acquaintances.
Several of us who are most interested made a sort of covenant. We all
took it in turns to look after her, and try to see that she did not meet
any one she shouldn't. Yet, for all our precautions, Austen Abbott
got hold of her and turned her silly little head. He was a man of
experience, and she was only a child. She wouldn't listen to us--she
wouldn't hear a word against him. I took what seemed to me to be the
only chance. I went to him myself--I begged for mercy, I begged him
to spare the child. I swore that if--anything happened to her, I would
start a crusade against him, I would pledge my word that he should be
cut by every decent man and woman on the stage! He listened to what I
had to say and at first he only smiled. When I had finished, he made me
an offer. He said that if I would sup with him alone at the Milan, and
permit him to escort me home afterwards, he would spare the child. One
further condition he made--that I was to tell no one why I did it. It
was the man's brutal vanity! I made the promise, but I break it now.
You have asked me and I have told you. I went through with the supper,
although I hated it. I let him come in for a drink as though he had been
a friend. Then he tried to make love to me. I took the opportunity of
telling him exactly what I thought of him. Then I showed him the door,
and left him. Afterwards--afterwards--Brian came in! They must have met
upon the very threshold!"

Peter Ruff took up his hat.

"Thank you!" he said.

"You see," she continued, drearily, "that it all has very little to do
with the case. I meant to keep it to myself, because, of course, apart
from anything else, apart from Brian's meeting him coming out of my
rooms, it supplies an additional cause for anger on Brian's part."

"I see," he answered. "I am much obliged to you, Miss Shaw. Believe me
that you have my sincere sympathy!"

Peter Ruff's farewell words were unheard. Letty had fallen forward in
her chair, her head buried in her hands.

Peter Ruff went to Berkeley Square and found Lady Mary waiting for
him. Sir William Trencham, the great solicitor, was with her. Lady Mary
introduced the two men. All the time she was anxiously watching Ruff's
face.

"Mr. Ruff has been to see Miss Shaw," she explained to Sir William. "Mr.
Ruff, tell me quickly," she continued, with her hand upon his shoulder,
"did she say anything? Did you find anything out?"

He shook his head.

"No!" he said. "I found nothing out!"

"You don't think, then," Lady Mary gasped, "that there is any chance--of
getting her to confess--that she did it herself?"

"Why should she have done it herself?" Peter Ruff asked. "She admits
that the man tried to make love to her. She simply left him. She was
in her own home, with her mother and servant within call. There was no
struggle in the room--we know that. There was no necessity for any."

"Have you made any other enquiries?" Lady Mary asked.

"The few which I have made," Peter Ruff answered gravely, "point all in
the same direction. I ascertained at the Milan that your brother called
there late last night, and that he heard Miss Shaw had been supping
alone with Austen Abbott. He followed them home. I have ascertained,
too, that he had a key to Miss Shaw's flat. He apparently met Austen
Abbott upon the threshold."

Lady Mary covered her face with her hands. She seemed to read in
Ruff's words the verdict of the two men--the verdict of common sense.
Nevertheless, he made one more request before leaving.

"I should like to see Captain Sotherst, if you can get me an order," he
said to Sir William.

"You can go with me to-morrow morning," the lawyer answered. "The
proceedings this morning, of course, were simply formal. Until after the
inquest it will be easy to arrange an interview."

Lady Mary looked up quickly.

"There is still something in your mind, then?" she asked. "You think
that there is a bare chance?"

"There is always the hundredth chance!" Peter Ruff replied.

Peter Ruff and Miss Brown supped at the Milan that night as they had
arranged, but it was not a cheerful evening. Brian Sotherst had been
very popular among Letty Shaw's little circle of friends, and the
general feeling was one of horror and consternation at this thing which
had befallen him. Austen Abbot, too, was known to all of them, and
although a good many of the men--and even the women--were outspoken
enough to declare at once that it served him right, nevertheless, the
shock of death--death without a second's warning--had a paralysing
effect even upon those who were his severest critics. Violet Brown
spoke to a few of her friends--introduced Peter Ruff here and there--but
nothing was said which could throw in any way even the glimmerings of
a new light upon the tragedy. It all seemed too hopelessly and fatally
obvious.

About twenty minutes before closing time, the habitues of the place were
provided with something in the nature of a sensation. A little party
entered who seemed altogether free from the general air of gloom.
Foremost among them was a very young and exceedingly pretty girl, with
light golden hair waved in front of her forehead, deep blue eyes, and
the slight, airy figure of a child. She was accompanied by another young
woman, whose appearance was a little too obvious to be prepossessing,
and three or four young men--dark, clean-shaven, dressed with the
irritating exactness of their class--young stockbrokers or boys about
town. Miss Brown's eyes grew very wide open.

"What a little beast!" she exclaimed.

"Who?" Peter Ruff asked.

"That pretty girl there," she answered--"Fluffy Dean her name is. She is
Letty Shaw's protege, and she wouldn't have dreamed of allowing her to
come out with a crowd like that. Tonight, of all nights," she continued,
indignantly, "when Letty is away!"

Peter Ruff was interested.

"So that is Miss Fluffy Dean," he remarked, looking at her curiously.
"She seems a little excited."

"She's a horrid little wretch!" Miss Brown declared. "I hope that some
one will tell Letty, and that she will drop her now. A girl who would
do such a thing as that when Letty is in such trouble isn't worth taking
care of! Just listen to them all!"

They were certainly becoming a little boisterous. A magnum of champagne
was being opened. Fluffy Dean's cheeks were already flushed, and her
eyes glittering. Every one at the table was talking a great deal and
drinking toasts.

"This is the end of Fluffy Dean," Violet Brown said, severely. "I hate
to be uncharitable, but it serves her right."

Peter Ruff paid his bill.

"Let us go," he said.

In the taxicab, on their way back to Miss Brown's rooms, Ruff was
unusually silent, but just before he said good night to her--on the
pavement, in fact, outside her front door--he asked a question.

"Violet," he said, "would you like to play detective for an hour or
two?"

She looked at him in some surprise.

"You know I always like to help in anything that's going," she said.

"Letty Shaw was an Australian, wasn't she?" he asked.

"Yes."

"She was born there, and lived there till she was nearly eighteen--is
that true?" he asked again.

"Quite true," Miss Brown answered.

"You know the offices of the P.& O. line of steamers in Pall Mall?" he
asked.

She nodded.

"Well?"

"Get a sailing list to Australia--there should be a boat going Thursday.
Present yourself as a prospective passenger. See how many young women
alone there are going out, and ask their names. Incidentally put in a
little spare time watching the office."

She looked at him with parted lips and wide-open eyes.

"Do you think--" she began.

He shook her hand warmly and stepped back into the taxicab.

"Good night!" he said. "No questions, please. I sha'n't expect you at
the office at the usual time to-morrow, at any rate. Telephone or run
around if you've anything to tell me."

The taxicab disappeared round the corner of the street. Miss Brown was
standing still upon the pavement with the latchkey in her hand.


*****


It was afternoon before the inquest on the body of Austen Abbott, and
there was gathered together in Letty Shaw's parlor a curiously assorted
little group of people. There was Miss Shaw herself--or rather what
seemed to be the ghost of herself--and her mother; Lady Mary and Sir
William Trencham; Peter Ruff and Violet Brown--and Mr. John Dory. The
eyes of all of them were fixed upon Peter Ruff, who was the latest
arrival. He stood in the middle of the room, calmly taking off his
gloves, and glancing complacently down at his well-creased trousers.

"Lady Mary," he said, "and Miss Shaw, I know that you are both anxious
for me to explain why I ask you to meet me here this afternoon, and why
I also requested my friend Mr. Dory from Scotland Yard, who has charge
of the case against Captain Sotherst, to be present. I will tell you."

Mr. Dory nodded, a little impatiently.

"Unless you have something very definite to say," he remarked, "I think
it would be as well to postpone any general discussion of this matter
until after the inquest. I must warn you that so far as I, personally,
am concerned, I must absolutely decline to allude to the subject at all.
It would be most unprofessional."

"I have something definite to say," Peter Ruff declared, mildly.

Lady Mary's eyes flashed with hope--Letty Shaw leaned forward in her
chair with white, drawn face.

"Let it be understood," Peter Ruff said, with a slight note of gravity
creeping into his tone, "that I am here solely as the agent of Lady
Mary Sotherst. I am paid and employed by her. My sole object is on
her behalf, therefore, to discover proof of the innocence of Captain
Sotherst. I take it, however," he added, turning towards the drooping
figure in the easy-chair, "that Miss Shaw is as anxious to have the
truth known."

"Of course! Of course!" she murmured.

"In France," Peter Ruff continued, "there is a somewhat curious custom,
which, despite a certain theatricality, yet has its points. The scene of
a crime is visited, and its events, so far as may be, reconstructed. Let
us suppose for a moment that we are now engaged upon something of the
sort."

Letty Shaw shrank back in her chair. Her thin white fingers were
gripping its sides. Her eyes seemed to look upon terrible things.

"It is too--awful!" she faltered.

"Madam," Peter Ruff said, firmly, "we seek the truth. Be so good as to
humour me in this. Dory, will you go to the front door, stand upon the
mat--so? You are Captain Sotherst--you have just entered. I am Austen
Abbott. You, Miss Shaw, have just ordered me from the room. You see,
I move toward the door. I open it--so. Miss Shaw," he added, turning
swiftly towards her, "once more will you assure me that every one who
was in the flat that night, with the exception of your domestic servant,
is present now?"

"Yes," she murmured.

"Good! Then who," he asked, suddenly pointing to a door on the
left--"who is in that room?"

They had all crowded after him to the threshold--thronging around him as
he stood face to face with John Dory. His finger never wavered--it
was pointing steadily towards that closed door a few feet to the left.
Suddenly Letty Shaw rushed past them with a loud shriek.

"You shall not go in!" she cried. "What business is it of his?"

She stood with her back to the door, her arms outstretched like a cross.
Her cheeks were livid. Her eyes seemed starting from her head.

Peter Ruff and John Dory laid their hands upon the girl's wrists. She
clung to her place frantically. She was dragged from it, screaming.
Peter Ruff, as was his right, entered first. Almost immediately he
turned round, and his face was very grave.

"Something has happened in here, I am afraid," he said. "Please come in
quietly."

On the bed lay Fluffy Dean, fully dressed--motionless. One hand hung
down toward the floor--from the lifeless fingers a little phial had
slipped. The room was full of trunks addressed to--

                           MISS SMITH,
                      Passenger to Melborne.
                         S.S. Caroline.

Peter Ruff moved over toward the bed and took up a piece of paper, upon
which were scribbled a few lines in pencil.

"I think," he said, "that I must read these aloud. You all have a right
to hear them."

No one spoke. He continued:


Forgive me, Letty, but I cannot go to Australia. They would only bring
me back. When I remember that awful moment, my brain burns--I feel that
I am going mad! Some day I should do this--better now. Give my love to
the girls.

FLUFFY.


They sent for a doctor, and John Dory rang up Scotland Yard. Letty Shaw
had fainted, and had been carried to her room. While they waited about
in strange, half-benumbed excitement, Peter Ruff once more spoke to
them.

"The reconstruction is easy enough now," he remarked. "The partition
between this sitting room and that little bedroom is only an artificial
one--something almost as flimsy as a screen. You see," he continued,
tapping with his knuckles, "you can almost put your hand through it.
If you look a little lower down, you will see where an opening has been
made. Fluffy Dean was being taken care of by Miss Shaw--staying with her
here, even. Miss Dean hears her lover's voice in this room--hears him
pleading with Miss Shaw on he night of the murder. She has been sent
home early from the theatre, and it is just possible that she saw or had
been told that Austen Abbott had fetched Miss Shaw after the performance
and had taken her to supper. She was mad with anger and jealousy. The
revolver was there upon the table, with a silver box of cartridges. She
possessed herself of it and waited in her room. What she heard proved,
at least, her lover's infidelity. She stood there at her door, waiting.
When Austen Abbott comes out, she shoots, throws the revolver at
him, closes her door, and goes off into a faint. Perhaps she hears
footsteps--a key in the door. At any rate, Captain Sotherst arrives a
few minutes later. He finds, half in the hall, half on the threshold of
the sitting room, Austen Abbott dead, and Miss Shaw's revolver by the
side of him. If he had been a wise young man, he would have aroused the
household. Why he did not do so, we can perhaps guess. He put two and
two together a little too quickly. It is certain that he believed that
the dead man had been shot by his fiancee. His first thought was to get
rid of the revolver. At any rate, he walked down to the street with it
in his hand, and was promptly arrested by the policeman who had heard
the shot. Naturally he refused to plead, because he believed that
Miss Shaw had killed the man, probably in self-defence. She, at first,
believed her lover guilty, and when afterwards Fluffy Dean confessed,
she, with feminine lack of common sense, was trying to get the girl out
of the country before telling the truth. A visit of hers to the office
of the steamship company gave me the clue I required."

Lady Mary grasped both his hands.

"And Scotland Yard," she exclaimed, with a withering glance at Dory,
"have done their best to hang my brother!"

Peter Ruff raised his eyebrows.

"Dear Lady Mary," he said, "remember that it is the business of Scotland
Yard to find a man guilty. It is mine, when I am employed for that
purpose, to find him innocent. You must not be too hard upon my friend
Mr. Dory. He and I seem to come up against each other a little too
often, as it is."

"A little too often!" John Dory repeated, softly. "But one cannot tell.
Don't believe, Lady Mary," he added, "that we ever want to kill an
innocent man."

"It is your profession, though," she answered, "to find criminals--and
his," she added, touching Peter Ruff on the shoulder, "to look for the
truth."

Peter Ruff bowed low--the compliment pleased him.



CHAPTER V. DELILAH FROM STREATHAM


It was a favourite theory with Peter Ruff that the morning papers
received very insufficient consideration from the majority of the
British public. A glance at the headlines and a few of the spiciest
paragraphs, a vague look at the leading article, and the sheets were
thrown away to make room for more interesting literature. It was not
so with Peter Ruff. Novels he very seldom read--he did not, in fact,
appreciate the necessity for their existence. The whole epitome of
modern life was, he argued, to be found among the columns of the daily
press. The police news, perhaps, was his favourite study, but he did
not neglect the advertisements. It followed, therefore, as a matter of
course, that the appeal of "M" in the personal column of the Daily Mail
was read by him on the morning of its appearance--read not once only nor
twice--it was a paragraph which had its own peculiar interest for him.

Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald, if still in England, is requested to communicate
with "M," at Vagali's Library, Cook's Alley, Ledham Street, Soho.



Peter Ruff laid the paper down upon his desk and looked steadily at a
box of India-rubber bands. Almost his fingers, as he parted with the
newspaper, had seemed to be shaking. His eyes were certainly set in
an unusually retrospective stare. Who was this who sought to probe his
past, to renew an acquaintance with a dead personality? "M" could be but
one person! What did she want of him? Was it possible that, after all,
a little flame of sentiment had been kept alight in her bosom, too--that
in the quiet moments her thoughts had turned towards him as his had
so often done to her? Then a sudden idea--an ugly thought--drove the
tenderness from his face. She was no longer Maud Barnes--she was Mrs.
John Dory, and John Dory was his enemy! Could there be treachery lurking
beneath those simple lines? Things had not gone well with John Dory
lately. Somehow or other, his cases seemed to have crumpled into dust.
He was no longer held in the same esteem at headquarters. Yet could even
John Dory stoop to such means as these?

He turned in his chair.

"Miss Brown," he said, "please take your pencil."

"I am quite ready, sir," she answered.

He marked the advertisement with a ring and passed it to her.

"Reply to that as follows," he said:

DEAR SIR:

I notice in the Daily Mail of this morning that you are enquiring
through the "personal" column for the whereabouts of Mr. Spencer
Fitzgerald. That gentleman has been a client of mine, and I have been in
occasional communication with him. If you will inform me of the nature
of your business, I may, perhaps, be able to put you in touch with Mr.
Fitzgerald. You will understand, however, that, under the circumstances,
I shall require proofs of your good faith.

Truly yours,

PETER RUFF.

Miss Brown glanced through the advertisement and closed her notebook
with a little snap.

"Did you say--'Dear Sir'?" she asked.

"Certainly!" Peter Ruff answered.

"And you really mean," she continued, with obvious disapproval, "that I
am to send this?"

"I do not usually waste my time," Peter Ruff reminded her, mildly, "by
giving you down communications destined for the waste-paper basket."

She turned unwillingly to her machine.

"Mr. Fitzgerald is very much better where he is," she remarked.

"That depends," he answered.

She adjusted a sheet of paper into her typewriter.

"Who do you suppose 'M' is?" she asked.

"With your assistance," Peter Ruff remarked, a little
sarcastically--"with your very kind assistance--I propose to find out!"

Miss Brown sniffed, and banged at the keys of her typewriter.

"That coal-dealer's girl from Streatham!" she murmured to herself....



A few politely worded letters were exchanged. "M" declined to reveal her
identity, but made an appointment to visit Mr. Ruff at his office. The
morning she was expected, he wore an entirely new suit of clothes and
was palpably nervous. Miss Brown, who had arrived a little late, sat
with her back turned upon him, and ignored even his usual morning
greeting. The atmosphere of the office was decidedly chilly!
Fortunately, the expected visitor arrived early.

Peter Ruff rose to receive his former sweetheart with an agitation
perforce concealed, yet to him poignant indeed. For it was indeed
Maud who entered the room and came towards him with carefully studied
embarrassment and half doubtfully extended hand. He did not see the
cheap millinery, the slightly more developed figure, the passing of
that insipid prettiness which had once charmed him into the bloom of an
over-early maturity. His eyes were blinded with that sort of masculine
chivalry--the heritage only of fools and very clever men--which takes no
note of such things. It was Miss Brown who, from her place in a corner
of the room, ran over the cheap attractions of this unwelcome visitor
with an expression of scornful wonder--who understood the tinsel of her
jewellery, the cheap shoddiness of her ready-made gown; who appreciated,
with merciless judgment, her mincing speech, her cheap, flirtatious
method.

Maud, with a diffidence not altogether assumed, had accepted the chair
which Peter Ruff had placed for her, and sat fidgeting, for a moment,
with the imitation gold purse which she was carrying.

"I am sure, Mr. Ruff," she said, looking demurely into her lap, "I
ought not to have come here. I feel terribly guilty. It's such an
uncomfortable sort of position, too, isn't it?"

"I am sorry that you find it so," Peter Ruff said. "If there is anything
I can do--"

"You are very kind," she murmured, half raising her eyes to his and
dropping them again, "but, you see, we are perfect strangers to one
another. You don't know me at all, do you? And I have only heard of you
through the newspapers. You might think all sorts of things about my
coming here to make enquiries about a gentleman."

"I can assure you," Peter Ruff said, sincerely, "that you need have no
fears--no fears at all. Just speak to me quite frankly. Mr. Fitzgerald
was a friend of yours, was he not?"

Maud simpered.

"He was more than that," she answered, looking down. "We were engaged to
be married."

Peter Ruff sighed.

"I knew all about it," he declared. "Fitzgerald used to tell me
everything."

"You were his friend?" she asked, looking him in the face.

"I was," Peter Ruff answered fervently, "his best friend! No one was
more grieved than I about that--little mistake."

She sighed.

"In some ways," she remarked softly, "you remind me of him."

"You could scarcely say anything," Peter Ruff murmured "which would give
me more pleasure. I am flattered."

She shook her head.

"It isn't flattery," she said, "it's the truth. You may be a few years
older, and Spencer had a very nice moustache, which you haven't, but you
are really not unlike. Mr. Ruff, do tell me where he is!"

Peter Ruff coughed.

"You must remember," he said, "that Mr. Fitzgerald's absence was caused
by events of a somewhat unfortunate character."

"I know all about it," she answered, with a little sigh.

"You can appreciate the fact, therefore," Peter Ruff continued, "that
as his friend and well-wisher I can scarcely disclose his whereabouts
without his permission. Will you tell me exactly why you want to meet
him again?"

She blushed--looked down and up again--betrayed, in fact, all the signs
of confusion which might have been expected from her.

"Must I tell you that?" she asked.

"You are married, are you not?" Peter Ruff asked, looking down at her
wedding ring.

She bit her lip with vexation. What a fool she had been not to take it
off!

"Yes! Well, no--that is to say--"

"Never mind," Peter Ruff interrupted. "Please don't think that I want to
cross-examine you. I only asked these questions because I have a sincere
regard for Fitzgerald. I know how fond he was of you, and I cannot see
what there is to be gained, from his point of view, by reopening old
wounds."

"I suppose, then," she remarked, looking at him in such a manner
that Miss Brown had to cover her mouth with her hands to prevent her
screaming out--"I suppose you are one of those who think it a crime for
a woman who is married even to want to see, for a few moments, an old
sweetheart?"

"On the contrary," Peter Ruff answered, "as a bachelor, I have no
convictions of any sort upon the subject."

She sighed.

"I am glad of that," she said.

"I am to understand, then," Peter Ruff remarked, "that your reason for
wishing to meet Mr. Fitzgerald again is purely a sentimental one?"

"I am afraid it is," she murmured; "I have thought of him so often
lately. He was such a dear!" she declared, with enthusiasm.

"I have never been sufficiently thankful," she continued, "that he got
away that night. At the time, I was very angry, but often since then I
have wished that I could have passed out with him into the fog and been
lost--but I mustn't talk like this! Please don't misunderstand me, Mr.
Ruff. I am happily married--quite happily married!"

Peter Ruff sighed.

"My friend Fitzgerald," he remarked, "will be glad to hear that."

Maud fidgeted. It was not quite the effect she had intended to produce!

"Of course," she remarked, looking away with a pensive air, "one has
regrets."

"Regrets!" Peter Ruff murmured.

"Mr. Dory is not well off," she continued, "and I am afraid that I
am very fond of life and going about, and everything is so expensive
nowadays. Then I don't like his profession. I think it is hateful to
be always trying to catch people and put them in prison--don't you, Mr.
Ruff?"

Peter Ruff smiled.

"Naturally," he answered. "Your husband and I work from the opposite
poles of life. He is always seeking to make criminals of the people whom
I am always trying to prove worthy members of society."

"How noble!" Maud exclaimed, clasping her hands and looking up at him.
"So much more remunerative, too, I should think," she added, after a
moment's pause.

"Naturally," Peter Ruff admitted. "A private individual will pay more
to escape from the clutches of the law than the law will to secure
its victims. Scotland Yard expects them to come into its arms
automatically--regards them as a perquisite of its existence."

"I wish my husband were in your profession, Mr. Ruff," Maud said, with a
sidelong glance of her blue eyes which she had always found so effective
upon her various admirers. "I am sure that I should be a great deal
fonder of him."

Peter Ruff leaned forward in his chair. He, too, had expressive eyes at
times.

"Madam," he said--and stopped. But Maud blushed, all the same.

She looked down into her lap.

"We are forgetting Mr. Fitzgerald," she murmured.

Peter Ruff glanced up at the clock.

"It is a long story," he said. "Are you in a hurry, Mrs. Dory?

"Not at all," she assured him, "unless you want to close you office, or
anything. It must be nearly one o'clock."

"I wonder," he asked, "if you would do me the honour of lunching with
me? We might go to the Prince's or the Carlton--whichever you prefer. I
will promise to talk about Mr. Fitzgerald all the time."

"Oh, I couldn't!" Maud declared, with a little gasp. "At least--well,
I'm sure I don't know!"

"You have no engagement for luncheon?" Peter Ruff asked quietly.

"Oh, no!" she answered; "but, you see, we live so quietly. I have
never been to one of those places. I'd love to go--but if we were seen!
Wouldn't people talk?"

Peter Ruff smiled. Just the same dear, modest little thing!

"I can assure you," he said, "that nothing whatever could be said
against our lunching together. People are not so strict nowadays, you
know, and a married lady has always a great deal of latitude."

She looked up at him with a dazzling smile.

"I'd simply love to go to Prince's!" she declared.

"Cat!" Miss Brown murmured, as Peter Ruff and his client left the room
together.

Peter Ruff returned from his luncheon in no very jubilant state of mind.
For some time he sat in his easy-chair, with his legs crossed and
his finger tips pressed close together, looking steadily into space.
Contrary to his usual custom, he did not smoke. Miss Brown watched him
from behind her machine.

"Disenchanted?" she asked calmly.

Peter Ruff did not reply for several moments.

"I am afraid," he admitted, hesitatingly, "that marriage with John Dory
has--well, not had a beneficial effect. She allowed me, for instance, to
hold her hand in the cab! Maud would never have permitted a stranger to
take such a liberty in the old days."

Miss Brown smiled curiously.

"Is that all?" she asked.

Peter Ruff felt that he was in the confessional.

"She certainly did seem," he admitted, "to enjoy her champagne a great
deal, and she talked about her dull life at home a little more, perhaps,
than was discreet to one who was presumably a stranger. She was curious,
too, about dining out. Poor little girl, though. Just fancy, John Dory
has never taken her anywhere but to Lyons' or an A B C, and the pit of a
theatre!"

"Which evening is it to be?" Miss Brown asked.

"Something was said about Thursday," Peter Ruff admitted.

"And her husband?" Miss Brown enquired.

"He happens to be in Glasgow for a few days," Peter Ruff answered.

Miss Brown looked at her employer steadily. She addressed him by his
Christian name, which was a thing she very seldom did in office hours.

"Peter," she said, "are you going to let that woman make a fool of you?"

He raised his eyebrows.

"Go on," he said; "say anything you want to--only, if you please, don't
speak disrespectfully of Maud."

"Hasn't it ever occurred to you at all," Miss Brown continued, rising
to her feet, "that this Maud, or whatever you want to call her, may be
playing a low-down game of her husband's? He hates you, and he has
vague suspicions. Can't you see that he is probably making use of your
infatuation for his common, middle-class little wife, to try and get
you to give yourself away? Can't you see it, Peter? You are not going to
tell me that you are so blind as all that!"

"I must admit," he answered with a sigh, "that, although I think you go
altogether too far, some suspicion of the sort has interfered with my
perfect enjoyment of the morning."

Miss Brown drew a little breath of relief. After all, then, his folly
was not so consummate as it had seemed!

"What are you going to do about it, then?" she asked.

Peter Ruff coughed--he seemed in an unusually amenable frame of mind,
and submitted to cross-examination without murmur.

"The subject of Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald," he remarked, "seemed, somehow
or other, to drop into the background during our luncheon. I propose,
therefore, to continue to offer to Mrs. John Dory my most respectful
admiration. If she accepts my friendship, and is satisfied with it,
so much the better. I must admit that it would give me a great deal of
pleasure to be her occasional companion--at such times when her husband
happens to be in Glasgow!"

"And supposing," Miss Brown asked, "that this is not all she
wants--supposing, for instance, that she persists in her desire for
information concerning Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald?"

"Then," Peter Ruff admitted, "I'm afraid that I must conclude that her
unchivalrous clod of a husband has indeed stooped to make a fool of
her."

"And in that case," Miss Brown demanded, "what shall you do?"

"I was just thinking that out," Peter Ruff said mildly, "when you
spoke...."

The friendship of Peter Ruff with the wife of his enemy certainly
appeared to progress in most satisfactory fashion. The dinner and visit
to the theatre duly took place. Mr. Ruff was afterwards permitted to
offer a slight supper and to accompany his fair companion a portion of
the way home in a taxicab. She made several half-hearted attempts to
return to the subject of Spencer Fitzgerald, but her companion had been
able on each occasion to avoid the subject. Whether or not she was the
victim of her husband's guile, there was no question about the reality
of her enjoyment during the evening. Ruff, when he remembered the flash
of her eyes across the table, the touch of her fingers in the taxi, was
almost content to believe her false to her truant lover. If only she had
not been married to John Dory, he realised, with a little sigh, that he
might have taught her to forget that such a person existed as Spencer
Fitzgerald, might have induced her to become Mrs. Peter Ruff!

On their next meeting, however, Peter Ruff was forced to realise that
his secretary's instinct had not misled her. It was, alas, no personal
and sentimental regrets for her former lover which had brought the fair
Maud to his office. The pleasures of her evening--they dined at Romano's
and had a box at the Empire--were insufficient this time to keep her
from recurring continually to the subject of her vanished lover. He
tried strategy--jealousy amongst other things.

"Supposing," he said, as they sat quite close to one another in the box
during the interval, "supposing I were to induce our friend to come to
London--I imagine he would be fairly safe now if he kept out of your
husband's way--what would happen to me?"

"You!" she murmured, glancing at him from behind her fan and then
dropping her eyes.

"Certainly--me!" he continued. "Don't you think that I should be doing
myself a very ill turn if I brought you two together? I have very few
friends, and I cannot afford to lose one. I am quite sure that you still
care for him."

She shook her head.

"Not a scrap!" she declared.

"Then why did you put that advertisement in the paper?" Ruff asked, with
smooth but swift directness.

She was not quick enough to parry his question. He read the truth in her
disconcerted face. Knowing it now for a certainty, he hastened to her
aid.

"Forgive me," he said, looking away. "I should not have asked that
question--it is not my business. I will write to Fitzgerald. I will tell
him that you want to see him, and that I think it would be safe for him
to come to London."

Maud recovered herself quickly. She thanked him with her eyes as well as
her words.

"And you needn't be jealous, really," she whispered behind her fan. "I
only want to see him once for a few minutes--to ask a question. After
that, I don't care what becomes of him."

A poor sort of Delilah, really, with her flushed face, her too
elaborately coiffured hair with its ugly ornament, her ready-made
evening dress with its cheap attempts at smartness, her cleaned gloves,
indifferent shoes. But Peter Ruff thought otherwise.

"You mean that, after I have found him for you, you will still come out
with me again sometimes?" he asked wistfully.

"Of course!" she answered. "Whenever I can without John knowing," she
added, with an unpleasant little laugh. "If you only knew how I loved
the music and the theatres, and this sort of life! What a good time your
wife would have, Mr. Ruff!" she added archly.

It was no joking matter with him. He had to remember that he was, in
effect, her tool, that she was making use of him, willing to betray her
former lover at her husband's bidding. It was enough to make him, on
his side, burn for revenge! Yet he put the thought away from him with
a shiver. She was still the woman he had loved--she was still sacred to
him! That night he pleaded an engagement, and sent her home in a taxicab
alone.

John Dory, waiting patiently at home for his wife's return, felt a
certain uneasiness when she swept into their little sitting room in all
her cheap splendour, with flushed cheeks--an obvious air of satisfaction
with herself and disdain for her immediate surroundings. John Dory was
a commonplace looking man--the absence of his collar, and his somewhat
shabby carpet slippers, did not improve his appearance. He had
neglected to shave, and he was drinking beer. At headquarters he was not
considered quite the smart young officer which he had once shown signs
of becoming. He looked at his wife with darkening face, and his wife, on
her part, thought of Peter Ruff in his immaculate evening clothes.

"Well," he remarked, grumblingly, "you seem to find a good deal of
pleasure in this gadding about!"

She threw her soiled fan on the table.

"If I do," she answered, "you are not the one to sit there and reproach
me with it, are you?"

"It's gone far enough, anyway," John Dory said. "It's gone further than
I meant it to go. Understand me, Maud--it's finished! I'll find your old
sweetheart for myself."

She laughed heartily.

"You needn't trouble," she answered, with a little toss of the head.
"I am not such a fool as you seem to think me. Mr. Ruff has made an
appointment with him."

There was a change in John Dory's face. The man's eyes were bright--they
almost glittered.

"You mean that your friend Mr. Ruff is going to produce Spencer
Fitzgerald?" he exclaimed.

"He has promised to," she answered. "John," she declared, throwing
herself into an easy-chair, "I feel horrid about it. I wonder what Mr.
Ruff will think when he knows!"

"You can feel how you like," John Dory answered bluntly, "so long as I
get the handcuffs on Spencer Fitzgerald's wrists!"

She shuddered. She looked at her husband with distaste.

"Don't talk about it!" she begged sharply. "It makes me feel the meanest
creature that ever crawled. I can't help feeling, too, that Mr. Ruff
will think me a wretch--quite the gentleman he's been all the time! I
never knew any one half so nice!"

John Dory set down his empty glass.

"I wonder," he said, looking at her thoughtfully, "what made him take
such a fancy to you! Rather sudden, wasn't it, eh?"

Maud tossed her head.

"I don't see anything so wonderful about that," she declared.

"Listen to me, Maud," her husband said, rising to his feet. "You
aren't a fool--not quite. You've spent some time with Peter Ruff.
How much--think carefully--how much does he remind you of Spencer
Fitzgerald?"

"Not at all," she answered promptly. "Why, he is years older, and though
Spencer was quite the gentleman, there's something about Mr. Ruff, and
the way he dresses and knows his way about--well, you can tell he's been
a gentleman all his life."

John Dory's face fell.

"Think again," he said.

She shook her head.

"Can't see any likeness," she declared. "He did remind me a little of
him just at first, though," she added, reflectively--"little things he
said, and sort of mannerisms. I've sort of lost sight of them the last
few times, though."

"When is this meeting with Fitzgerald to come off?" John Dory asked
abruptly.

She did not answer him at once. A low, triumphant smile had parted her
lips.

"To-morrow night," she said; "he is to meet me in Mr. Ruff's office."

"At what time?" John Dory asked.

"At eight o'clock," she answered. "Mr. Ruff is keeping his office open
late on purpose. Spencer thinks that afterwards he is going to take me
out to dinner."

"You are sure of this?" John Dory asked eagerly. "You are sure that the
man Ruff does not suspect you? You believe he means that you shall meet
Fitzgerald?"

"I am sure of it," she answered. "He is even a little jealous," she
continued, with an affected laugh. "He told me--well, never mind!"

"He told you what?" John Dory asked.

She laughed.

"Never you mind," she said. "I have done what you asked me anyway.
If Mr. Ruff had not found me an agreeable companion he would not have
bothered about getting Spencer to meet me. And now he's done it," she
added, "I do believe he's a little jealous."

John Dory glared, but he said nothing. It seemed to him that his hour of
revenge was close at hand!

It was the first occasion upon which words of this sort had passed
between Peter Ruff and his secretary. There was no denying the fact
that Miss Violet Brown was in a passion. It was an hour past the time
at which she usually left the office. For an hour she had pleaded, and
Peter Ruff remained unmoved.

"You are a fool!" she cried to him at last. "I am a fool, too, that I
have ever wasted my thoughts and time upon you. Why can't I make you
see? In every other way, heaven knows, you are clever enough! And yet
there comes this vulgar, commonplace, tawdry little woman from heaven
knows where, and makes such a fool of you that you are willing to fling
away your career--to hold your wrists out for John Dory's handcuffs!"

"My dear Violet," Peter Ruff answered deprecatingly, "you really worry
me--you do indeed!"

"Not half so much as you worry me," she declared. "Look at the time.
It's already past seven. At eight o'clock Mrs. Dory--your Maud--is
coming in here hoping to find her old sweetheart."

"Why not?" he murmured.

"Why not, indeed?" Miss Brown answered angrily. "Don't you know--can't
you believe--that close on her heels will come her husband--that Mr.
Spencer Fitzgerald, if ever he comes to life in this room, will leave it
between two policemen?"

Peter Ruff sighed.

"What a pessimist you are, my dear Violet!" he said.

She came up to him and laid her hands upon his shoulders.

"Peter," she said, "I will tell you something--I must! I am fond of you,
Peter. I always have been. Don't make me miserable if there is no need
for it. Tell me honestly--do you really believe in this woman?"

He removed her hands gently, and raised them to his lips.

"My dear girl," he said, "I believe in every one until I find them
out. I look upon suspicion as a vice. But, at the same time," he added,
"there are always certain precautions which one takes."

"What precautions can you take?" she cried. "Can you sit there and make
yourself invisible? John Dory is not a fool. The moment he is in this
room with the door closed behind him, it is the end."

"We must hope not," Peter Ruff said cheerfully. "There are other things
which may happen, you know."

She turned away from him a little drearily.

"You do not mind if I stay?" she said. "I am not working to-night.
Perhaps, later on, I may be of use!"

"As you will," he answered. "You will excuse me for a little time, won't
you? I have some preparations to make."

She turned her head away from him. He left the room and ascended the
stairs to his own apartments.

Eight o'clock was striking from St. Martin's Church when the door of
Peter Ruff's office was softly opened and closed again. A man in a
slouch hat and overcoat entered, and after feeling along the wall for a
moment, turned up the electric light. Violet Brown rose from her place
with a little sob. She stretched out her hand to him.

"Peter!" she cried. "Peter!"

"My name," the newcomer said calmly, "is Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald."

"Oh, listen to me!" she begged. "There is still time, if you hurry.
Think how many clever men before you have been deceived by the woman
in whom they trusted. Please, please go! Hurry upstairs and put those
things away."

"Madam," the newcomer said, "I am much obliged to you for your interest,
but I think that you are making a mistake. I have come here to meet--"

He stopped short. There was a soft knocking at the door. A stifled
scream broke from Violet Brown's lips.

"It is too late!" she cried. "Peter! Peter!"

She sank into her chair and covered her face with her hands. The door
was opened and Maud came in. When she saw who it was who sat in Peter
Ruff's place, she gave a little cry. Perhaps after all, she had not
believed that this thing would happen.

"Spencer!" she cried, "Spencer! Have you really come back?"

He held out his hands.

"You are glad to see me?" he asked.

She came slowly forward. The man rose from his place and came towards
her with outstretched hands. Then through the door came John Dory, and
one caught a glimpse of others behind him.

"If my wife is not glad to see you, Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald," he aid, in
a tone from which he vainly tried to keep the note of triumph, "I can
assure you that I am. You slipped away from me cleverly at Daisy Villa,
but this time I think you will not find it so easy."

Maud shrank back, and her husband took her place. But Mr. Spencer
Fitzgerald looked upon them both as one who looks upon figures in a
dream. Miss Brown rose hurriedly from her seat. She came over to him and
thrust her arm through his.

"Peter," she said, taking his hand in hers, "don't shoot. It isn't worth
while. You should have listened to me."

The little man in the gold-rimmed spectacles looked at her, looked at
Mr. John Dory, looked at the woman who was shrinking back now against
the wall.

"Really," he said, "this is the most extraordinary situation in which I
ever found myself!"

"We will help you to realise it," John Dory cried, and the triumph in
his tone had swelled into a deeper note. "I came here to arrest Mr.
Fitzgerald, but I hear this young lady call you 'Peter.' Perhaps this
may be the solution--"

The little man struck the table with the flat of his hand.

"Come," he said, "this is getting a bit too thick. First of all--you,"
he said, turning to Miss Brown--"my name is not Peter, and I have no
idea of shooting anybody. As for that lady against the wall, I don't
know her--never saw her before in my life. As for you," he added,
turning to John Dory, "you talk about arresting me--what for?"

Mr. John Dory smiled.

"There is an old warrant," he said, "which I have in my pocket, but I
fancy that there are a few little things since then which we may have to
enquire into."

"This beats me!" the little man declared. "Who do you think I am?"

"Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald, to start with," John Dory said. "It seems to me
not impossible that we may find another pseudonym for you."

"You can find as many as you like," the little man answered testily,
"but my name is James Fitzgerald, and I am an actor employed at the
Shaftesbury Theatre, as I can prove with the utmost ease. I never called
myself Spencer; nor, to my knowledge, was I ever called by such a name.
Nor, as I remarked before, have I ever seen any one of you three people
before with the exception of Miss Brown here, whom I have seen on the
stage."

John Dory grunted.

"It was Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald," he said, "a clerk in Howell & Wilson's
bookshop, who leapt out of the window of Daisy Villa two years ago. It
may be Mr. James Fitzgerald now. Gentlemen of your profession have a
knack of changing their names."

"My profession's as good as yours, anyway!" the little man exclaimed.
"We aren't all fools in it! My friend Mr. Peter Ruff said to me that
there was a young lady whom I used to know who was anxious to meet me
again, and would I step around here about eight o'clock. Here I am, and
all I can say is, if that's the young lady, I never saw her before in my
life."

There was a moment's breathless silence. Then the door was softly
opened. Violet Brown went staggering back like a woman who sees a
ghost. She bit her lips till the blood came. It was Peter Ruff who stood
looking in upon them--Peter Ruff, carefully dressed in evening clothes,
his silk hat at exactly the correct angle, his coat and white kid gloves
upon his arm.

"Dear me," he said, "you don't seem to be getting on very well! Mr.
Dory," he added, with a note of surprise in his tone, "this is indeed an
unexpected pleasure!"

The man who stood by the desk turned to him. The others were stricken
dumb.

"Look here," he said, "there's some mistake. You told me to come here
at eight o'clock to meet a young lady whom I used to know. Well, I never
saw her before in my life," he added, pointing to Maud. "There's a
man there who wants to arrest me--Lord knows what for! And here's Miss
Brown, whom I have seen at the theatre several times but who never
condescended to speak to me before, telling me not to shoot! What's it
all about, Ruff? Is it a practical joke?"

Peter Ruff laid down his coat and hat, and sat upon the table with his
hands in his pockets.

"Is it possible," he said, "that I have made a mistake? Isn't your
second name Spencer?"

The man shook his head.

"My name is James Fitzgerald," he said. "I haven't missed a day at the
Shaftesbury Theatre for three years, as you can find out by going
round the corner. I never called myself Spencer, I was never clerk in a
bookshop, and I never saw that lady before in my life."

Maud came out from her place against the wall, and leaned eagerly
forward. John Dory turned his head slowly towards his wife. A sickening
fear had arisen in his heart--gripped him by the throat. Fooled once
more, and by Peter Ruff!

"It isn't Spencer!" Maud said huskily. "Mr. Ruff," she added, turning
to him, "you know very well that this is not the Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald
whom you promised to bring here to-night--Mr. Spencer Fitzgerald to whom
I was once engaged."

Peter Ruff pointed to the figure of her husband.

"Madam," he said, "my invitation did not include your husband."

John Dory took a step forward, and laid his hands upon the shoulders of
the man who called himself Mr. James Fitzgerald. He looked into his face
long and carefully. Then he turned away, and, gripping his wife by the
arm, he passed out of the room. The door slammed behind him. The sound
of heavy footsteps was heard descending to the floor below.

Violet Brown crossed the room to where Peter Ruff was still sitting with
a queer look upon his face, and, gripping him by the shoulders, shook
him.

"How dare you!" she exclaimed. "How dare you! Do you know that I have
nearly cried my eyes out?"

Peter Ruff came back from the world into which, for the moment, his
thoughts had taken him.

"Violet," he said, "you have known me for some years. You have been my
secretary for some months. If you choose still to take me for a fool, I
cannot help it."

"But," she exclaimed, pointing to Mr. James Fitzgerald--

Peter Ruff nodded.

"I have been practising on him for some time," he said, with an air of
self-satisfaction.

"A thin, mobile face, you see, and plenty of experience in the art of
making up. It is astonishing what one can do if one tries."

Mr. James Fitzgerald picked up his hat and coat.

"It was worth more than five quid," he growled; "when I saw the
handcuffs in that fellow's hand, I felt a cold shiver go down my spine."

Peter Ruff counted out two banknotes and passed them to his confederate.

"You have earned the money," he said. "Go and spend it. Perhaps,
Violet," he added, turning towards her, "I have been a little
inconsiderate. Come and have dinner with me, and forget it."

She drew a little sigh.

"You are sure," she murmured, "that you wouldn't rather take Maud?"



CHAPTER VI. THE LITTLE LADY FROM SERVIA


Westward sped the little electric brougham, driven without regard to
police regulations or any rule of the road: silent and swift, wholly
regardless of other vehicles--as though, indeed, its occupants were
assuming to themselves the rights of Royalty. Inside, Peter Ruff, a
little breathless, was leaning forward, tying his white cravat with the
aid of the little polished mirror set in the middle of the dark green
cushions. At his right hand was Lady Mary, watching his proceedings with
an air of agonised impatience.

"Let me tell you--" she begged.

"Kindly wait till I have tied this and put my studs in," Peter Ruff
interrupted. "It is impossible for me to arrive at a ball in this
condition, and I cannot give my whole attention to more than one thing
at a time."

"We shall be there in five minutes!" she exclaimed. "What is the good,
unless you understand, of your coming at all?"

Peter Ruff surveyed his tie critically. Fortunately, it pleased him.
He began to press the studs into their places with firm fingers. Around
them surged the traffic of Piccadilly; in front, the gleaming arc of
lights around Hyde Park Corner. They had several narrow escapes. Once
the brougham swayed dangerously as they cut in on the wrong side of an
island lamp-post. A policeman shouted after them, another held up his
hand--the driver of the brougham took no notice.

"I am ready," Peter Ruff said, quietly.

"My younger brother--Maurice," she began, breathlessly--"you've never
met him, I know, but you've heard me speak of him. He is private
secretary to Sir James Wentley--"

"Minister for Foreign Affairs?" Ruff asked, swiftly.

"Yes! Maurice wants to go in for the Diplomatic Service. He is a dear,
and so clever!"

"Is it Maurice who is in trouble?" Peter Ruff asked. "Why didn't he come
himself?"

"I am trying to explain," Lady Mary protested. "This afternoon he had an
important paper to turn into cipher and hand over to the Prime Minister
at the Duchess of Montford's dance to-night. The Prime Minister will
arrive in a motor car from the country at about two o'clock, and the
first thing he will ask for will be that paper. It has been stolen!"

"At what time did your brother finish copying it, and when did he
discover its loss?" Ruff asked, with a slight air of weariness. These
preliminary enquiries always bored him.

"He finished it in his own rooms at half-past seven," Lady Mary
answered. "He discovered its loss at eleven o'clock--directly he had
arrived at the ball."

"Why didn't he come to me himself?" Peter Ruff asked. "I like to have
these particulars at first hand."

"He is in attendance upon Sir James at the ball," Lady Mary answered.
"There is trouble in the East, as you know, and Sir James is expecting
dispatches to-night. Maurice is not allowed to leave."

"Has he told Sir James yet?"

"He had not when I left," Lady Mary answered. "If he is forced to do so,
it will be ruin! Mr. Ruff, you must help us Maurice is such a dear,
but a mistake like this, at the very beginning of his career, would be
fatal. Here we are. That is my brother waiting just inside the hall."

A young man came up to them in the vestibule. He was somewhat pale, but
otherwise perfectly self-possessed. From the shine of his glossy black
hair to the tips of his patent boots he was, in appearance, everything
that a young Englishman of birth and athletic tastes could hope to be.
Peter Ruff liked the look of him. He waited for no introduction, but
laid his hand at once upon the young man's shoulder.

"Between seven-thirty and arriving here," he said, drawing him on one
side--"quick! Tell me, whom did you see? What opportunities were there
of stealing the paper, and by whom?"

"I finished it at five and twenty past seven," the young man said,
"sealed it in an official envelope, and stood it up on my desk by the
side of my coat and hat and muffler, which my servant had laid there,
ready for me to put on. My bedroom opens out from my sitting room. While
I was dressing, two men called for me--Paul Jermyn and Count von Hern.
They walked through to my bedroom first, and then sat together in the
sitting room until I came out. The door was wide open, and we talked all
the time."

"They called accidentally?" Peter Ruff asked.

"No--by appointment," the young man replied. "We were all coming on here
to the dance, and we had agreed to dine together first at the Savoy."

"You say that you left the paper on your desk with your coat and hat?"
Peter Ruff asked. "Was it there when you came out?"

"Apparently so," the young man answered. "It seemed to be standing in
exactly the same place as where I had left it. I put it into my breast
pocket, and it was only when I arrived here that I fancied the envelope
seemed lighter. I went off by myself and tore it open. There was nothing
inside but half a newspaper!"

"What about the envelope?" Peter Ruff asked. "That must have been the
same sort of one as you had used or you would have noticed it?"

"It was," the Honorable Maurice answered.

"It was a sort which you kept in your room?"

"Yes!" the young man admitted.

"The packet was changed, then, by some one in your room, or some one who
had access to it," Peter Ruff said. "How about your servant?"

"It was his evening off. I let him put out my things and go at seven
o'clock."

"You must tell me the nature of the contents of the packet," Peter Ruff
declared. "Don't hesitate. You must do it. Remember the alternative."

The young man did hesitate for several moments, but a glance into his
sister's appealing face decided him.

"It was our official reply to a secret communication from Russia
respecting--a certain matter in the Balkans."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"Where is Count von Hern?" he asked abruptly.

"Inside, dancing."

"I must use a telephone at once," Peter Ruff said. "Ask one of the
servants here where I can find one."

Peter Ruff was conducted to a gloomy waiting room, on the table of
which stood a small telephone instrument. He closed the door, but he
was absent for only a few minutes. When he rejoined Lady Mary and her
brother they were talking together in agitated whispers. The latter
turned towards him at once.

"Do you mean that you suspect Count von Hern?" he asked, doubtfully. "He
is a friend of the Danish Minister's, and every one says that he's
such a good chap. He doesn't seem to take the slightest interest in
politics--spends nearly all his time hunting or playing polo."

"I don't suspect any one," Peter Ruff answered. "I only know that Count
von Hern is an Austrian spy, and that he took your paper! Has he been
out of your sight at all since you rejoined him in the sitting room? I
mean to say--had he any opportunity of leaving you during the time you
were dining together, or did he make any calls en route, either on the
way to the Savoy or from the Savoy here?"

The young man shook his head.

"He has not been out of my sight for a second."

"Who is the other man--Jermyn?" Peter Ruff asked. "I never heard of
him."

"An American--cousin of the Duchess. He could not have had the slightest
interest in the affair."

"Please take me into the ballroom," Peter Ruff said to Lady Mary. "Your
brother had better not come with us. I want to be as near the Count von
Hern as possible."

They passed into the crowded rooms, unnoticed, purposely avoiding the
little space where the Duchess was still receiving the late comers among
her guests. They found progress difficult, and Lady Mary felt her heart
sink as she glanced at the little jewelled watch which hung from her
wrist. Suddenly Peter Ruff came to a standstill.

"Don't look for a moment," he said, "but tell me as soon as you can--who
is that tall young man, like a Goliath, talking to the little dark
woman? You see whom I mean?"

Lady Mary nodded, and they passed on. In a moment or two she answered
him.

"How strange that you should ask!" she whispered in his ear. "That is
Mr. Jermyn."

They were on the outskirts now of the ballroom itself. One of Lady
Mary's partners came up with an open programme and a face full of
reproach.

"Do please forgive me, Captain Henderson," Lady Mary begged. "I have
hurt my foot, and I am not dancing any more."

"But surely I was to take you in to supper?" the young officer
protested, good-humouredly. "Don't tell me that you are going to cut
that?"

"I am going to cut everything to-night with everybody," Lady Mary said.
"Please forgive me. Come to tea to-morrow and I'll explain."

The young man bowed, and, with a curious glance at Ruff, accepted his
dismissal. Another partner was simply waved away.

"Please turn round and come back," Peter Ruff said. "I want to see those
two again."

"But we haven't found Count von Hern yet," she protested. "Surely that
is more important, is it not? I believe that I saw him dancing just
now--there, with the tall girl in yellow."

"Never mind about him, for the moment," Ruff answered. "Walk down this
corridor with me. Do you mind talking all the time, please? It will
sound more natural, and I want to listen."

The young American and his partner had found a more retired seat now,
about three quarters of the way down the pillared vestibule which
bordered the ballroom. He was bending over his companion with an air of
unmistakable devotion, but it was she who talked. She seemed, indeed,
to have a good deal to say to him. The slim white fingers of one hand
played all the time with a string of magnificent pearls. Her dark, soft
eyes--black as aloes and absolutely un-English--flashed into his. A
delightful smile hovered at the corners of her lips. All the time she
was talking and he was listening. Lady Mary and her partner passed by
unnoticed. At the end of the vestibule they turned and retraced their
steps. Peter Ruff was very quiet--he had caught a few of those rapid
words. But the woman's foreign accent had troubled him.

"If only she would speak in her own language!" he muttered.

Lady Mary's hand suddenly tightened upon his arm.

"Look!" she exclaimed. "That is Count von Hern!"

A tall, fair young man, very exact in his dress, very stiff in his
carriage, with a not unpleasant face, was standing talking to Jermyn and
his companion. Jermyn, who apparently found the intrusion an annoyance,
was listening to the conversation between the two, with a frown upon his
face and a general attitude of irritation. As Lady Mary and her
escort drew near, the reason for the young American's annoyance
became clearer--his two companions were talking softly, but with great
animation, in a foreign language, which it was obvious that he did not
understand. Peter Ruff's elbow pressed against his partner's arm, and
their pace slackened. He ventured, even, to pause for a moment, looking
into the ballroom as though in search of some one, and he had by no
means the appearance of a man likely to understand Hungarian. Then, to
Lady Mary's surprise, he touched the Count von Hern on the shoulder and
addressed him.

"I beg your pardon, sir," he said, "but I fancy that we accidentally
exchanged programmes, a few minutes ago, at the buffet. I have lost mine
and picked up one which does not belong to me. As we were standing side
by side, it is possibly yours."

"I believe not, sir," he answered, with that pleasant smile which had
gone such a long way toward winning him the reputation of being "a good
fellow" amongst a fairly large circle of friends. "I believe at any
rate," he added, glancing at his programme, "that this is my own. You
mistake me, probably, for some one else."

Peter Ruff, without saying a word, was actor enough to suggest that he
was unconvinced. The Count good-humouredly held out his programme.

"You shall see for yourself," he remarked. "That is not yours, is it?
Besides, I have not been to the buffet at all this evening."

Peter Ruff cast a swift glance down the programme which the Count had
handed him. Then he apologised profusely.

"I was mistaken," he admitted. "I am very sorry."

The Count bowed.

"It is of no consequence, sir," he said, and resumed his conversation.

Peter Ruff passed on with Lady Mary. At a safe distance, she glanced at
him enquiringly.

"It was his programme I wanted to see," Peter Ruff explained. "It is as
I thought. He has had four dances with the Countess--"

"Who is she?" Lady Mary asked, quickly.

"The little dark lady with whom he is talking now," Peter Ruff
continued. "He seems, too, to be going early. He has no dances reserved
after the twelfth. We will go downstairs at once, if you please. I must
speak to your brother."

"Have you been able to think of anything?" she asked, anxiously. "Is
there any chance at all, do you think?"

"I believe so," Peter Ruff answered. "It is most interesting. Don't
be too sanguine, though. The odds are against us, and the time is very
short. Is the driver of your electric brougham to be trusted?"

"Absolutely," she assured him. "He is an old servant."

"Will you lend him to me?" Peter Ruff asked, "and tell him that he is to
obey my instructions absolutely?"

"Of course," she answered. "You are going away, then?"

Peter Ruff nodded. He was a little sparing of words just then. The
thoughts were chasing one another through his brain. He was listening,
too, for the sweep of a dress behind.

"Is there nothing I can do?" Lady Mary begged, eagerly.

Peter Ruff shook his head. In the distance he saw the Honourable Maurice
come quickly toward them. With a firm but imperceptible gesture he waved
him away.

"Don't let your brother speak to me," he said. "We can't tell who is
behind. What time did you say the Prime Minister was expected?"

"At two o'clock," Lady Mary said, anxiously.

Peter Ruff glanced at his watch. It was already half an hour past
midnight.

"Very well," he said, "I will do what I can. If my theory is wrong, it
will be nothing. If I am right--well, there is a chance, anyhow. In the
meantime--"

"In the meantime?" she repeated, breathlessly.

"Take your brother back to the ballroom," Peter Ruff directed. "Make him
dance--dance yourself. Don't give yourselves away by looking anxious.
When the time is short--say at a quarter to two--he can come down here
and wait for me."

"If you don't come!" she exclaimed.

"Then we shall have lost," Peter Ruff said, calmly. "If you don't see
me again to-night, you had better read the newspapers carefully for the
next few days."

"You are going to do something dangerous!" she protested.

"There is danger in interfering at all in such a matter as this," he
answered, "but you must remember that it is not only my profession--it
is my hobby. Remember, too," he added, with a smile, "that I do not
often lose!"

For twenty minutes Peter Ruff sat in the remote corner of Lady Mary's
electric brougham, drawn up at the other side of the Square, and waited.
At last he pressed a button. They glided off. Before them was a large,
closed motor car. They started in discreet chase.

Fortunately, however, the chase was not a long one. The car which Peter
Ruff had been following was drawn up before a plain, solid-looking
house, unlit and of gloomy appearance. The little lady with the
wonderful eyes was already halfway up the flagged steps. Hastily lifting
the flap and looking behind as they passed, her pursuer saw her open the
door with a latchkey, and disappear. Peter Ruff pulled the check-string
and descended. For several moments he stood and observed the house
into which the lady whom he had been following had disappeared. Then he
turned to the driver.

"I want you to watch that house," he said, "never to take your eyes off
it. When I reappear from it, if I do at all, I shall probably be in a
hurry. Directly you see me be on your box ready to start. A good deal
may depend upon our getting away quickly."

"Very good, sir," the man answered. "How long am I to wait here for
you?"

Peter Ruff's lips twisted into a curious little smile.

"Until two o'clock," he answered. "If I am not out by then, you needn't
bother any more about me. You can return and tell your mistress exactly
what has happened."

"Hadn't I better come and try and get you out, sir?" the man asked.
"Begging your pardon, but her Ladyship told me that there might be queer
doings. I'm a bit useful in a scrap, sir," he added. "I do a bit of
sparring regularly."

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"If there's any scrap at all," he said, "you had better be out of it. Do
as I have said."

The motor car had turned round and disappeared now, and in a few moments
Peter Ruff stood before the door of the house into which the little lady
had disappeared. The problem of entrance was already solved for him. The
door had been left unlatched; only a footstool had been placed against
it inside. Peter Ruff, without hesitation, pushed the door softly open
and entered, replaced the footstool in its former position, and stood
with his back to the wall, in the darkest corner of the hall, looking
around him--listening intently. Nearly opposite the door of a room stood
ajar. It was apparently lit up, but there was no sound of any one moving
inside. Upstairs, in one of the rooms on the first floor, he could hear
light footsteps--a woman's voice humming a song. He listened to the
first few bars, and understanding became easier. Those first few bars
were the opening ones of the Servian national anthem!

With an effort, Peter Ruff concentrated his thoughts upon the immediate
present. The little lady was upstairs. The servants had apparently
retired for the night. He crept up to the half-open door and peered in.
The room, as he had hoped to find it, was empty, but Madame's easy-chair
was drawn up to the fire, and some coffee stood upon the hob. Stealthily
Peter Ruff crept in and glanced around, seeking for a hiding place. A
movement upstairs hastened his decision. He pushed aside the massive
curtains which separated this from a connecting room. He had scarcely
done so when light footsteps were heard descending the stairs.

Peter Ruff found his hiding place all that could have been desired. This
secondary room itself was almost in darkness, but he was just able to
appreciate the comforting fact that it possessed a separate exit into
the hall. Through the folds of the curtain he had a complete view of the
further apartment. The little lady had changed her gown of stiff white
satin for one of flimsier material, and, seated in the easy-chair, she
was busy pouring herself out some coffee. She took a cigarette from a
silver box, and lighting it, curled herself up in the chair and composed
herself as though to listen. To her as well as to Peter Ruff, as he
crouched in his hiding place, the moments seemed to pass slowly enough.
Yet, as he realised afterward, it could not have been ten minutes before
she sat upright in a listening attitude. There was some one coming!
Peter Ruff, too, heard a man's firm footsteps come up the flagged
stones.

The little lady sprang to her feet.

"Paul!" she exclaimed.

Paul Jermyn came slowly to meet her. He seemed a little out of breath.
His tie was all disarranged and his collar unfastened.

The little lady, however, noticed none of these things. She looked only
into his face.

"Have you got it?" she asked, eagerly.

He thrust his hand into his breast-coat pocket, and held an envelope out
toward her.

"Sure!" he answered. "I promised!"

She gave a little sob, and with the packet in her hand came running
straight toward the spot where Peter Ruff was hiding.

He shrank back as far as possible. She stopped just short of the
curtain, opened the drawer of a table which stood there, and slipped
the packet in. Then she came back once more to where Paul Jermyn was
standing.

"My friend!" she cried, holding out her hands--"my dear, dear friend!
Shall I ever be able to thank you enough?"

"Why, if you try," he answered, smiling, "I think that you could!"

She laid her hand upon his arm--a little caressing, foreign gesture.

"Tell me," she said, "how did you manage it?"

"We left the dance together," Jermyn said. "I could see that he wanted
to get rid of me, but I offered to take him in my motor car. I told the
man to choose some back streets, and while we were passing through one
of them, I took Von Hern by the throat. We had a struggle, of course,
but I got the paper."

"What did you do with Von Hern?" she asked.

"I left him on his doorstep," the young American answered. "He wasn't
really hurt, but he was only half conscious. I don't think he'll bother
any one to-night."

"You dear, brave man!" she murmured. "Paul, what am I to say to you?"

He laughed.

"That's what I'm here to ask," he declared. "You wouldn't give me my
answer at the ball. Perhaps you'll give it me now?"

They sprang apart. Ruff felt his nerves stiffen--felt himself
constrained to hold even his breath as he widened a little the crack
in the curtains. This was no stealthy entrance. The door had been flung
open. Von Hern, his dress in wild disorder, pale as a ghost, and with a
great bloodstain upon his cheek, stood confronting them.

"When you have done with your love-making," he called out, "I'll trouble
you to restore my property!"

The electric light gleamed upon a small revolver which flashed out
toward the young American. Paul Jermyn never hesitated for a moment. He
seized the chair by his side and flung it at Von Hern. There was a shot,
the crash of the falling chair, a cry from Jermyn, who never hesitated,
however, in his rush. The two men closed. A second shot went harmlessly
to the ceiling. The little lady stole away--stole softly across the room
toward the table. She opened the drawer. Suddenly the blood in her veins
was frozen into fear. From nowhere, it seemed to her, came a hand which
held her wrists like iron!

"Madam," Peter Ruff whispered from behind the curtain, "I am sorry to
deprive you of it, but this is stolen property."

Her screams rang through the room. Even the two men released one
another.

"It is gone! It is gone!" she cried. "Some one was hiding in the room!
Quick!"

She sprang into the hall. The two men followed her. The front door was
slammed. They heard flying footsteps outside. Von Hern was out first,
clearing the little flight of steps in one bound. Across the road he
saw a flying figure. A level stream of fire poured from his hand--twice,
three times. But Peter Ruff never faltered. Round the corner he tore.
The man had kept his word--the brougham was already moving slowly.

"Jump in, sir," the man cried. "Throw yourself in. Never mind about the
door."

They heard the shouts behind. Peter Ruff did as he was bid, and sat upon
the floor, raising himself gradually to the seat when they had turned
another corner. Then he put his head out of the window.

"Back to the Duchess of Montford's!" he ordered.

The latest of the guests had ceased to arrive--a few were already
departing. It was an idle time, however, with the servants who loitered
in the vestibules of Montford House, and they looked with curiosity upon
this strange guest who arrived at five minutes to two, limping a little,
and holding his left arm in his right hand. One footman on the threshold
nearly addressed him, but the words were taken out of his mouth when he
saw Lady Mary and her brother--the Honorable Maurice Sotherst--hasten
forward to greet him.

Peter Ruff smiled upon them benignly.

"You can take the paper out of my breast-coat pocket," he said.

The young man's fingers gripped it. Through Lady Mary's great
thankfulness, however, the sudden fear came shivering.

"You are hurt!" she whispered. "There is blood on your sleeve."

"Just a graze," Peter Ruff answered. "Von Hern wasn't much good at a
running target. Back to the ballroom, young man," he added. "Don't you
see who's coming?"

The Prime Minister came up the tented way into Montford House. He, too,
wondered a little at the man whom he met on his way out, holding his
left arm, and looking more as though he had emerged from a street fight
than from the Duchess of Montford's ball. Peter Ruff went home smiling.



CHAPTER VII. THE DEMAND OF THE DOUBLE-FOUR


It was about this time that Peter Ruff found among his letters
one morning a highly-scented little missive, addressed to him in a
handwriting with which he had once been familiar. He looked at it for
several moments before opening it. Even as the paper cutter slid through
the top of the envelope, he felt that he had already divined the nature
of its contents.


FRIVOLITY THEATRE

March 10th

MY DEAR Mr. RUFF: I expect that you will be surprised to hear from me
again, but I do hope that you will not be annoyed. I know that I behaved
very horridly a little time ago, but it was not altogether my fault, and
I have been more sorry for it than I can tell you--in fact, John and I
have never been the same since, and for the present, at any rate, I have
left him and gone on the stage. A lady whom I knew got me a place in the
chorus here, and so far I like it immensely.

Won't you come and meet me after the show to-morrow night, and I will
tell you all about it? I should like so much to see you again.

MAUD.


Peter Ruff placed this letter in his breast-coat pocket, and withheld it
from his secretary's notice. He felt, however, very little pleasure at
the invitation it conveyed. He hesitated for some time, in fact, whether
to accept it or not. Finally, after his modest dinner that evening, he
bought a stall for the Frivolity and watched the piece. The girl he had
come to see was there in the second row of the chorus, but she certainly
did not look her best in the somewhat scant costume required by the
part. She showed no signs whatever of any special ability--neither her
dancing nor her singing seemed to entitle her to any consideration. She
carried herself with a certain amount of self-consciousness, and her
eyes seemed perpetually fixed upon the occupants of the stalls. Peter
Ruff laid down his glasses with something between a sigh and a groan.
There was something to him inexpressibly sad in the sight of his old
sweetheart so transformed, so utterly changed from the prim, somewhat
genteel young person who had accepted his modest advances with such
ladylike diffidence. She seemed, indeed, to have lost those very gifts
which had first attracted him. Nevertheless, he kept his appointment at
the stage-door.

She was among the first to come out, and she greeted him warmly--almost
noisily. With her new profession, she seemed to have adopted a different
and certainly more flamboyant deportment.

"I thought you'd come to-night," she declared, with an arch look.
"I felt certain I saw you in the stalls. You are going to take me to
supper, aren't you? Shall we go to the Milan?"

Peter Ruff assented without enthusiasm, handed her into a hansom, and
took his place beside her. She wore a very large hat, untidily put on;
some of the paint seemed still to be upon her face; her voice, too,
seemed to have become louder, and her manner more assertive. There were
obvious indications that she no longer considered brandy and soda an
unladylike beverage. Peter Ruff was not pleased with himself or proud of
his companion.

"You'll take some wine?" he suggested, after he had ordered, with a few
hints from her, a somewhat extensive supper.

"Champagne," she answered, decidedly. "I've got quite used to it,
nowadays," she went on. "I could laugh to think how strange it tasted
when you first took me out."

"Tell me," Peter Ruff said, "why you have left your husband?"

She laughed.

"Because he was dull and because he was cross," she answered, "and
because the life down at Streatham was simply intolerable. I think it
was a little your fault, too," she said, making eyes; at him across the
table. "You gave me a taste of what life was like outside Streatham, and
I never forgot it."

Peter Ruff did not respond--he led the conversation, indeed, into other
channels. On the whole, the supper was scarcely a success. Maud, who was
growing to consider herself something of a Bohemian, and who certainly
looked for some touch of sentiment on the part of her old admirer, was
annoyed by the quiet deference with which he treated her. She reproached
him with it once, bluntly.

"Say," she exclaimed, "you don't seem to want to be so friendly as you
did! You haven't forgiven me yet, I suppose?"

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"It is not that," he said, "but I think that you have scarcely done a
wise thing in leaving your husband. I cannot think that this life on the
stage is good for you."

She laughed, scornfully.

"Well," she said, "I never thought to have you preaching at me!"

They finished their supper. Maud accepted a cigarette and did her
best to change her companion's mood. She only alluded once more to her
husband.

"I don't see how I could have stayed with him, anyhow," she said. "You
know, he's been put back--he only gets two pounds fifteen a week now. He
couldn't expect me to live upon that."

"Put back?" Peter Ruff repeated.

She nodded.

"He seemed to have a lot of bad luck this last year," she said. "All his
cases went wrong, and they don't think so much of him at Scotland Yard
as they did. I am not sure that he hasn't begun to drink a little."

"I am sorry to hear it," Peter Ruff said, gravely.

"I don't see why you should be," she answered, bluntly. "He was no
friend of yours, nor isn't now. He may not be so dangerous as he was,
but if ever you come across him, you take my tip and be careful. He
means to do you a mischief some day, if he can. I am not sure," she
added, "that he doesn't believe that it was partly your fault about my
leaving home."

"I should be sorry for him to think that," Peter Ruff answered. "While
we are upon the subject, can't you tell me exactly why your husband
dislikes me so?"

"For one thing, because you have been up against him in several of his
cases, and have always won."

"And for the other?"

"Well," she said, doubtfully, "he seems to connect you in his
mind, somehow, with a boy who was in love with me once--Mr. Spencer
Fitzgerald--you know who I mean."

Ruff nodded.

"He still has that in his mind, has he?" he remarked.

"Oh, he's mad!" she declared. "However, don't let us talk about him any
more."

The lights were being put out. Peter Ruff paid his bill and they rose
together.

"Come down to the fiat for an hour or so," she begged, taking his arm.
"I have a dear little place with another girl--Carrie Pearce. I'll sing
to you, if you like. Come down and have one drink, anyhow."

Peter Ruff shook his head firmly.

"I am sorry," he said, "but you must excuse me. In some ways, I am very
old-fashioned," he added. "I never sit up late, and I hate music."

"Just drive as far as the door with me, then," she begged.

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"You must excuse me," he said, handing her into the hansom. "And, Maud,"
he added--"if I may call you so--take my advice: give it up--go back to
your husband and stick to him--you'll be better off in the long run."

She would have answered him scornfully, but there was something
impressive in the crisp, clear words--in his expression, too, as he
looked into her eyes. She threw herself back in a corner of the cab with
an affected little laugh, and turned her head away from him.

Peter Ruff walked back into the cloak-room for his coat and hat, and
sighed softly to himself. It was the end of the one sentimental episode
of his life!

It had been the study of Peter Ruff's life, so far as possible, to
maintain under all circumstances an equable temperament, to refuse to
recognize the meaning of the word "nerves," and to be guided in all
his actions by that profound common sense which was one of his natural
gifts. Yet there were times when, like any other ordinary person, he
suffered acutely from presentiments. He left his rooms, for instance, at
five o'clock on the afternoon of the day following his supper with Maud,
suffering from a sense of depression for which he found it altogether
impossible to account. It was true that the letter which he had in his
pocket, the appointment which he was on his way to keep, were both of
them probable sources of embarrassment and annoyance, if not of danger.
He was being invited, without the option of refusal, to enter upon some
risky undertaking which would yield him neither fee nor reward. Yet his
common sense told him that it was part of the game. In Paris, he had
looked upon his admittance into the order of the "Double-Four" as one of
the stepping-stones to success in his career. Through them he had gained
knowledge which he could have acquired in no other way. Through them,
for instance, he had acquired the information that Madame la Comtesse de
Pilitz was a Servian patriot and a friend of the Crown Prince; and that
the Count von Hern, posing in England as a sportsman and an idler, was a
highly paid and dangerous Austrian spy. There had been other occasions,
too, upon which they had come to his aid. Now they had made an appeal
to him--an appeal which must be obeyed. His time--perhaps, even, his
safety--must be placed entirely at their disposal. It was only an
ordinary return a thing expected of him--a thing which he dared not
refuse. Yet he knew very well what he could not explain to them--that
the whole success of his life depended so absolutely upon his remaining
free from any suspicion of wrong-doing, that he had received his summons
with something like dismay, and proceeded to obey it with unaccustomed
reluctance.

He drove to Cirey's cafe in Regent Street, where he dismissed the driver
of his hansom and strolled in with the air of an habitue. He selected a
corner table, ordered some refreshment, and asked for a box of dominoes.
The place was fairly well filled. A few women were sitting about; a
sprinkling of Frenchmen were taking their aperitif; here and there a
man of affairs, on his way from the city, had called in for a glass
of vermouth. Peter Ruff looked them over, recognizing the
type--recognizing, even, some of their faces. Apparently, the person
whom he was to meet had not yet arrived.

He lit a cigarette and smoked slowly. Presently the door opened and a
woman entered in a long fur coat, a large hat, and a thick veil. She
raised it to glance around, disclosing the unnaturally pale face and
dark, swollen eyes of a certain type of Frenchwoman. She seemed to
notice no one in particular. Her eyes traveled over Peter Ruff without
any sign of interest. Nevertheless, she took a seat somewhere near his
and ordered some vermouth from the waiter, whom she addressed by
name. When she had been served and the waiter had departed, she looked
curiously at the dominoes which stood before her neighbor.

"Monsieur plays dominoes, perhaps?" she remarked, taking one of them
into her fingers and examining it. "A very interesting game!"

Peter Ruff showed her a domino which he had been covering with his
hand--it was a double four. She nodded, and moved from her seat to one
immediately next him.

"I had not imagined," Peter Ruff said, "that it was a lady whom I was to
meet."

"Monsieur is not disappointed, I trust?" she said, smiling. "If I talk
banalities, Monsieur must pardon it. Both the waiters here are spies,
and there are always people who watch. Monsieur is ready to do us a
service?"

"To the limits of my ability," Peter Ruff answered. "Madame will
remember that we are not in Paris; that our police system, if not so
wonderful as yours, is still a closer and a more present thing. They
have not the brains at Scotland Yard, but they are persistent--hard to
escape."

"Do I not know it?" the woman said. "It is through them that we send for
you. One of us is in danger."

"Do I know him?" Peter Ruff asked.

"It is doubtful," she answered. "Monsieur's stay in Paris was so brief.
If Monsieur will recognize his name--it is Jean Lemaitre himself."

Peter Ruff started slightly.

"I thought," he said, with some hesitation, "that Lemaitre did not visit
this country."

"He came well disguised," the woman answered. "It was thought to be
safe. Nevertheless, it was a foolish thing. They have tracked him
down from hotel to apartments, till he lives now in the back room of
a wretched little cafe in Soho. Even from there we cannot get him
away--the whole district is watched by spies. We need help."

"For a genius like Lemaitre," Peter Ruff said, thoughtfully, "to have
even thought of Soho, was foolish. He should have gone to Hampstead
or Balham. It is easy to fool our police if you know how. On the other
hand, they hang on to the scent like leeches when once they are on the
trail. How many warrants are there out against Jean in this country?"

"Better not ask that," the woman said, grimly. "You remember the raid on
a private house in the Holloway Road, two years ago, when two policemen
were shot and a spy was stabbed? Jean was in that--it is sufficient!"

"Are any plans made at all?" Peter Ruff asked.

"But naturally," the woman answered. "There is a motor car, even now, of
sixty-horse-power, stands ready at a garage in Putney. If Jean can once
reach it, he can reach the coast. At a certain spot near Southampton
there is a small steamer waiting. After that, everything is easy."

"My task, then," Peter Ruff said, thoughtfully, "is to take Jean
Lemaitre from this cafe in Soho, as far as Putney, and get him a fair
start?"

"It is enough," she answered. "There is a cordon of spies around the
district. Every day they seem to chose in upon us. They search the
houses, one by one. Only last night, the Hotel de Netherlands--a
miserable little place on the other side of the street--was suddenly
surrounded by policemen and every room ransacked. It may be our turn
to-night."

"In one hour's time," Peter Ruff said, glancing at his watch, "I shall
present myself as a doctor at the cafe. Tell me the address. Tell me
what to say which will insure my admission to Jean Lemaitre!"

"The cafe," she answered, "is called the Hotel de Flandres. You enter
the restaurant and you walk to the desk. There you find always Monsieur
Antoine. You say to him simply--'The Double-Four!' He will answer that
he understands, and he will conduct you at once to Lemaitre."

Ruff nodded.

"In the meantime," he said, "let it be understood in the cafe--if there
is any one who is not in the secret--that one of the waiters is sick. I
shall come to attend him."

She nodded thoughtfully.

"As well that way as any other," she answered. "Monsieur is very kind. A
bientot!"

She shook hands and they parted. Peter Ruff drove back to his rooms,
rang up an adjoining garage for a small covered car such as are usually
let out to medical men, and commenced to pack a small black bag with the
outfit necessary for his purpose. Now that he was actually immersed in
his work, the sense of depression had passed away. The keen stimulus of
danger had quickened his blood. He knew very well that the woman had not
exaggerated. There was no man more wanted by the French or the English
police than the man who had sought his aid, and the district in which he
had taken shelter was, in some respects, the very worst for his purpose.
Nevertheless, Peter Ruff, who believed, at the bottom of his heart, in
his star, went on with his preparations feeling morally certain that
Jean Lemaitre would sleep on the following night in his native land.

At precisely the hour agreed upon, a small motor brougham pulled
up outside the door of the Hotel de Flandres and its occupant--whom
ninety-nine men out of a hundred would at once, unhesitatingly, have
declared to be a doctor in moderate practice--pushed open the swing
doors of the restaurant and made his way to the desk. He was of medium
height; he wore a frock-coat--a little frayed; gray trousers which had
not been recently pressed; and thick boots.

"I understand that one of your waiters requires my attendance," he
said, in a tone not unduly raised but still fairly audible. "I am Dr.
Gilette."

"Dr. Gilette," Antoine repeated, slowly.


"And number Double-Four," the doctor murmured.

Antoine descended from his desk.

"But certainly, Monsieur!" he said. "The poor fellow declares that he
suffers. If he is really ill, he must go. It sounds brutal, but what can
one do? We have so few rooms here, and so much business. Monsieur will
come this way?"

Antoine led the way from the cafe into a very smelly region of narrow
passages and steep stairs.

"It is to be arranged?" Antoine whispered, as they ascended.

"Without a doubt," the doctor answered. "Were there spies in the cafe?"

"Two," Antoine answered.

The doctor nodded, and said no more. He mounted to the third story.
Antoine led him through a small sitting-room and knocked four times
upon the door of an inner room. It suddenly was opened. A man--unshaven,
terrified, with that nameless fear in his face which one sees reflected
in the expression of some trapped animal--stood there looking out at
them.

"'Double-Four'!" the doctor said, softly. "Go back into the room,
please. Antoine will kindly leave us."

"Who are you?" the man gasped.

"'Double-Four'!" the doctor answered. "Obey me, and be quick for your
life! Strip!"

The man obeyed.

Barely twenty minutes later, the doctor--still carrying his
bag--descended the stairs. He entered the cafe from a somewhat remote
door. Antoine hurried to meet him, and walked by his side through the
place. He asked many questions, but the doctor contented himself with
shaking his head. Almost in silence he left Antoine, who conducted him
even to the door of his motor. The proprietor of the cafe watched the
brougham disappear, and then returned to his desk, sighing heavily.

A man who had been sipping a liqueur dose at hand, laid down his paper.

"One of your waiters ill, did I understand?" he asked. Monsieur Antoine
was at once eloquent. It was the ill-fortune which had dogged him
for the last four months! The man had been taken ill there in the
restaurant. He was a Gascon--spoke no English--and had just arrived.
It was not possible for him to be removed at the moment, so he had been
carried to an empty bedroom. Then had come the doctor and forbidden
his removal. Now for a week he had lain there and several of his other
voyageurs had departed. One did not know how these things got about, but
they spoke of infection. The doctor, who had just left--Dr. Gilette of
Russell Square, a most famous physician--had assured him that there was
no infection--no fear of any. But what did it matter--that? People were
so hard to convince. Monsieur would like a cigar? But certainly! There
were here some of the best.

Antoine undid the cabinet and opened a box of Havanas. John Dory
selected one and called for another liqueur.

"You have trouble often with your waiters, I dare say," he remarked.
"They tell me that all Frenchmen who break the law in their own country,
find their way, sooner or later, to these parts. You have to take them
without characters, I suppose?"

Antoine lifted his shoulders.

"But what could one do?" he exclaimed. "Characters, they were easy
enough to write--but were they worth the paper they were written on?
Indeed no!"

"Not only your waiters," Dory continued, "but those who stay in the
hotels round here have sometimes an evil name."

Antoine shrugged his shoulders.

"For myself," he said, "I am particular. We have but a few rooms, but we
are careful to whom we let them."

"Do you keep a visitors' book?"

"But no, Monsieur!" Antoine protested. "For why the necessity? There are
so few who come to stay for more than the night--just now scarcely any
one at all."

There entered, at that moment, a tall, thin man dressed in dark clothes,
who walked with his hands in his overcoat pockets, as though it were a
habit. He came straight to Dory and handed him a piece of paper.

John Dory glanced it through and rose to his feet. A gleam of
satisfaction lit his eyes.

"Monsieur Antoine," he said, "I am sorry to cause you any inconvenience,
but here is my card. I am a detective officer from Scotland Yard, and
I have received information which compels me with your permission, to
examine at once the sleeping apartments in your hotel."

Antoine was fiercely indignant.

"But, Monsieur!" he exclaimed. "I do not understand! Examine my rooms?
But it is impossible! Who dares to say that I harbor criminals?"

"I have information upon which I can rely," John Dory answered, firmly.
"This comes from a man who is no friend of mine, but he is well-known.
You can read for yourself what he says."

Monsieur Antoine, with trembling fingers, took the piece of paper from
John Dory's hands. It was addressed to--


Mr. JOHN DORY, DETECTIVE:

If you wish to find Jean Lemaitre, search in the upper rooms of the
Hotel de Flandres. I have certain information that he is to be found
there.

PETER RUFF.


"Never," Antoine declared, "will I suffer such an indignity!"

Dory raised a police whistle to his lips.

"You are foolish," he said. "Already there is a cordon of men about the
place. If you refuse to conduct me upstairs I shall at once place you
under arrest."

Antoine, white with fear, poured himself out a liqueur of brandy.

"Well, well," he said, "what must be done, then! Come!"

He led the way out into that smelly network of passages, up the stairs
to the first floor. Room after room he threw open and begged Dory to
examine. Some of them were garishly furnished with gilt mirrors, cheap
lace curtains tied back with blue ribbons. Others were dark, miserable
holes, into which the fresh air seemed never to have penetrated. On the
third floor they reached the little sitting-room, which bore more traces
of occupation than some of the rooms below. Antoine would have passed
on, but Dory stopped him.

"There is a door there," he said. "We will try that."

"It is the sick waiter who lies within," Antoine protested. "Monsieur
can hear him groan."

There was, indeed, something which sounded like a groan to be heard, but
Dory was obstinate.

"If he is so ill," he demanded, "how is he able to lock the door on the
inside? Monsieur Antoine, that door must be opened."

Antoine knocked at it softly.

"Francois," he said, "there is another doctor here who would see you.
Let us in."

There was no answer, Antoine turned to his companion with a little shrug
of the shoulders, as one who would say--"I have done my best. What would
you have?"

Dory put his shoulder to the door.

"Listen," he shouted through the keyhole, "Mr. Sick Waiter, or whoever
you are, if you do not unlock this door, I am coming in!"

"I have no key," said a faint voice. "I am locked in. Please break open
the door."

"But that is not the Voice of Francois!" Antoine exclaimed, in
amazement.

"We'll soon see who it is," Dory answered.

He charged at the door fiercely. At the third assault it gave way. They
found themselves in a small back bedroom, and stretched on the floor,
very pale, and apparently only half-conscious, lay Peter Ruff. There was
a strong smell of chloroform about. John Dory threw open the window. His
fingers trembled a little. It was like Fate--this! At the end of every
unsuccessful effort there was this man--Peter Ruff!

"What the devil are you doing here?" he asked.

Peter Ruff groaned.

"Help me up," he begged, "and give me a little brandy."

Antoine set him in an easy-chair and rang the bell furiously.

"It will come directly!" he exclaimed. "But who are you?"

Peter Ruff waited for the brandy. When he had sipped it, he drew a
little breath as though of relief.

"I heard," he said, speaking still with an evident effort, "that
Lemaitre was here. I had secret information. I thought at first that I
would let you know--I sent you a note early this morning. Afterwards, I
discovered that there was a reward, and I determined to track him down
myself. He was in here hiding as a sick waiter. I do not think," Peter
Ruff added, "that Monsieur Antoine had any idea. I presented myself as
representing a charitable society, and I was shown here to visit him. He
was too clever, though, was Jean Lemaitre--too quick for me."

"You were a fool to come alone!" John Dory said. "Don't you know the
man's record? How long ago did he leave?"

"About ten minutes," Peter Ruff answered. "You must have missed him
somewhere as you came up. I crawled to the window and I watched him go.
He left the restaurant by the side entrance, and took a taxicab at the
corner there. It went northward toward New Oxford Street."

Dory turned on his heel--they heard him descending the stairs. Peter
Ruff rose to his feet.

"I am afraid," he said, as he plunged his head into a basin of water,
and came into the middle of the room rubbing it vigorously with a small
towel, "I am afraid that our friend John Dory will get to dislike me
soon! He passed out unnoticed, eh, Antoine?"

Antoine's face wore a look of great relief.

"There was not a soul who looked," he said. "We passed under the nose of
the gentleman from Scotland Yard. He sat there reading his paper; and he
had no idea. I watched Jean step into the motor. Even by now he is well
on his way southwards. Twice he changes from motor to train, and back.
They will never trace him."

Peter Ruff, who was looking amazingly better, sipped a further glass of
liqueur. Together he and Antoine descended to the street.

"Mind," Peter Ruff whispered, "I consider that accounts are squared
between me and 'Double-Four' now. Let them know that. This sort of thing
isn't in my line."

"For an amateur," Antoine said, bowing low, "Monsieur commands my
heartfelt congratulations!"



CHAPTER VIII. Mrs. BOGNOR'S STAR BOARDER

In these days, the duties of Miss Brown as Peter Ruff's secretary had
become multifarious. Together with the transcribing of a vast number of
notes concerning cases, some of which he undertook and some of which he
refused, she had also to keep his cash book, a note of his investments
and a record of his social engagements. Notwithstanding all these
demands upon her time, however, there were occasions when she found
herself, of necessity, idle. In one of these she broached the subject
which had often been in her mind. They were alone, and not expecting
callers. Consequently, she sat upon the hearthrug and addressed her
employer by his Christian name.

"Peter," she said softly, "do you remember the night when you came
through the fog and burst into my little flat?"

"Quite well," he answered, "but it is a subject to which I prefer that
you do not allude."

"I will be careful," she answered. "I only spoke of it for this reason.
Before you left, when we were sitting together, you sketched out the
career which you proposed for yourself. In many respects, I suppose, you
have been highly successful, but I wonder if it has ever occurred to
you that your work has not proceeded upon the lines which you first
indicated?"

He nodded.

"I think I know what you mean," he said. "Go on."

"That night," she murmured softly, "you spoke as a hunted man; you
spoke as one at war with Society; you spoke as one who proposes almost
a campaign against it. When you took your rooms here and called yourself
Peter Ruff, it was rather in your mind to aid the criminal than to
detect the crime. Fate seems to have decreed otherwise. Why, I wonder?"

"Things have gone that way," Peter Ruff remarked.

"I will tell you why," she continued. "It is because, at the bottom
of your heart, there lurks a strong and unconquerable desire for
respectability. In your heart you are on the side of the law and
established things. You do not like crime; you do not like criminals.
You do not like the idea of associating with them. You prefer the
company of law-abiding people, even though their ways be narrow. It
was part of that sentiment, Peter, which led you to fall in love with a
coal-merchant's daughter. I can see that you will end your days in the
halo of respectability."

Peter Ruff was a little thoughtful. He scratched his chin and
contemplated the tip of his faultless patent boot. Self-analysis
interested him, and he recognized the truth of the girl's words.

"You know, I am rather like that," he admitted. "When I see a family
party, I envy them. When I hear of a man who has brothers and sisters
and aunts and cousins, and gives family dinner-parties to family
friends, I envy him. I do not care about the loose ends of life. I do
not care about restaurant life, and ladies who transfer their regards
with the same facility that they change their toilettes. You have very
admirable powers of observation, Violet. You see me, I believe, as I
really am."

"That being so," she remarked, "what are you going to say to Sir Richard
Dyson?"

Peter Ruff was frank.

"Upon my soul," he answered, "I don't know!"

"You'll have to make up your mind very soon," she reminded him. "He is
coming here at twelve o'clock."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"I shall wait until I hear what he has to say," he remarked.

"His letter gave you a pretty clear hint," Violet said, "that it was
something outside the law."

"The law has many outposts," Peter Ruff said. "One can thread one's
way in and out, if one knows the ropes. I don't like the man, but he
introduced me to his tailor. I have never had any clothes like those he
has made me."

She sighed.

"You are a vain little person," she said.

"You are an impertinent young woman!" he answered. "Get back to your
work. Don't you hear the lift stop?"

She rose reluctantly, and resumed her place in front of her desk.

"If it's risky," she whispered, leaning round towards him, "don't you
take it on. I've heard one or two things about Sir Richard lately."

Peter Ruff nodded. He, too, quitted his easy-chair, and took up a bundle
of papers which lay upon his desk. There was a sharp tap at the door.

"Come in!" he said.

Sir Richard Dyson entered. He was dressed quietly, but with the perfect
taste which was obviously an instinct with him, and he wore a big bunch
of violets in his buttonhole. Nevertheless, the spring sunshine seemed
to find out the lines in his face. His eyes were baggy--he had aged even
within the last few months.

"Well, Mr. Ruff," he said, shaking hands, "how goes it?"

"I am very well, Sir Richard," Peter Ruff answered. "Please take a
chair."

Sir Richard took the easy-chair, and discovering a box of cigarettes
upon the table, helped himself. Then his eyes fell upon Miss Brown.

"Can't do without your secretary?" he remarked.

"Impossible!" Peter Ruff answered. "As I told you before, I am her
guarantee that what you say to me, or before her, is spoken as though to
the dead."

Sir Richard nodded.

"Just as well," he remarked, "for I am going to talk about a man who I
wish were dead!"

"There are few of us," Peter Ruff said, "who have not our enemies."

"Have you any experience of blackmailers?" Sir Richard asked.

"In my profession," Peter Ruff answered, "I have come across such
persons."

"I have come to see you about one," Sir Richard proceeded. "Many years
ago, there was a fellow in my regiment who went to the bad--never mind
his name. He passes to-day as Ted Jones--that name will do as well as
another. I am not," Sir Richard continued, "a good-natured man, but some
devilish impulse prompted me to help that fellow. I gave him money three
or four times. Somehow, I don't think it's a very good thing to give a
man money. He doesn't value it--it comes too easily. He spends it and
wants more."

"There's a good deal of truth in what you say, Sir Richard," Peter Ruff
admitted.

"Our friend, for instance, wanted more," Sir Richard continued. "He came
to me for it almost as a matter of course. I refused. He came again; I
lost my temper and punched his head. Then his little game began."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"He had something to work upon, I suppose?" he remarked.

"Most certainly he had," Sir Richard admitted. "If ever I achieved
sufficient distinction in any branch of life to make it necessary that
my biography should be written, I promise you that you would find it in
many places a little highly colored. In other words, Mr. Ruff, I have
not always adhered to the paths of righteousness."

A faint smile flickered across Peter Ruff's face.

"Sir Richard," he said, "your candor is admirable."

"There was one time," Sir Richard continued, "when I was really on my
last legs. It was just before I came into the baronetcy. I had borrowed
every penny I could borrow. I was even hard put to it for a meal. I went
to Paris, and I called myself by another man's name. I got introduced to
a somewhat exclusive club there. My assumed name was a good one--it
was the name, in fact, of a relative whom I somewhat resembled. I was
accepted without question. I played cards, and I lost somewhere about
eighteen thousand francs."

"A sum," Peter Ruff remarked, "which you probably found it inconvenient
to pay."

"There was only one course," Sir Richard continued, "and I took it.
I went back the next night and gave checks for the amount of my
indebtedness--checks which had no more chance of being met than if I
were to draw to-night upon the Bank of England for a million pounds.
I went back, however, with another resolve. I was considered to have
discharged my liabilities, and we played again. I rose a winner of
something like sixty thousand francs. But I played to win, Mr. Ruff! Do
you know what that means?"

"You cheated!" Peter Ruff said, in an undertone.

"Quite true," Sir Richard admitted. "I cheated! There was a scandal, and
I disappeared. I had the money, and though my checks for the eighteen
thousand francs were met, there was a considerable balance in my
pocket when I escaped out of France. There was enough to take me out to
America--big game shooting in the far West. No one ever associated me
with the impostor who had robbed these young French noblemen--no one,
that is to say, except the person who passes by the name of Teddy
Jones."

"How did he get to know?" Peter Ruff asked.

"The story wouldn't interest you," Sir Richard answered. "He was in
Paris at the time--we came across one another twice. He heard the
scandal, and put two and two together. I shipped him off to Australia
when I came into the title. He has come back. Lately, I can tell you,
he has pretty well drained me dry. He has become a regular parasite a
cold-blooded leech. He doesn't get drunk now. He looks after his health.
I believe he even saves his, money. There's scarcely a week I don't hear
from him. He keeps me a pauper. He has brought me at last to that state
when I feel that there must be an ending!"

"You have come to seek my help," Peter Ruff said, slowly. "From what you
say about this man, I presume that he is not to be frightened?"

"Not for a single moment," Sir Richard answered. "The law has no terrors
for him. He is as slippery as an eel. He has his story pat. He even has
his witnesses ready. I can assure you that Mr. Teddy Jones isn't by any
means an ordinary sort of person."

"He is not to be bluffed," Peter Ruff said, slowly; "he is not to be
bribed. What remains?"

"I have come here," Sir Richard said, "for your advice, Mr. Ruff."

"The blackmailer," Peter Ruff said, "is a criminal."

"He is a scoundrel!" Sir Richard assented.

"He is not fit to live," Peter Ruff repeated.

"He contaminates the world with every breath he draws!" Sir Richard
assented.

"Perhaps," Peter Ruff said, "you had better give me his address, and the
name he goes under."

"He lives at a boarding-house in Russell Street, Bloomsbury," Sir
Richard said. "It is Mrs. Bognor's boarding-house. She calls it, I
believe, the 'American Home from Home.' The number is 17."

"A boarding-house," Peter Ruff repeated, thoughtfully. "Makes it a
little hard to get at him privately, doesn't it?"

"Fling him a bait and he will come to you," Sir Richard answered. "He is
an adventurer pure and simple, though perhaps you wouldn't believe it to
look at him now. He has grown fat on the money he has wrung from me."

"You had better leave the matter in my hands for a few days," Peter
Ruff said. "I will have a talk with this gentleman and see whether he is
really so unmanageable. If he is, there is, of course, only one way, and
for that way, Sir Richard, you would have to pay a little high."

"If I were to hear to-morrow," Sir Richard said quietly, "that Teddy
Jones was dead, I would give five thousand pounds to the man who brought
me the information!"

Peter Ruff nodded.

"It would be worth that," he said--"quite! I will drop you a line in the
course of the next few days."

Sir Richard took up his hat, lit another of Peter Ruff's cigarettes, and
departed. They heard the rattle of the lift as it descended. Then Miss
Brown turned round in her chair.

"Don't you do it, Peter!" she said solemnly. "The time has gone by for
that sort of thing. The man may be unfit to live, but you don't need to
risk as much as that for a matter of five thousand pounds."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"Quite right," he said; "quite right, Violet. At the same time, five
thousand pounds is an excellent sum. We must see what can be done."

Peter Ruff's method of seeing what could be done was at first the very
obvious one of seeking to discover any incidents in the past of the
person known as Teddy Jones likely to reflect present discredit upon him
if brought to light. From the first, it was quite clear that the career
of this gentleman had been far from immaculate. His researches proved,
beyond a doubt, that the gentleman in question had resorted, during
the last ten or fifteen years, to many and very questionable methods of
obtaining a living. At the same time, there was nothing which Peter
Ruff felt that the man might not brazen out. His present mode of life
seemed--on the surface, at any rate--to be beyond reproach. There was
only one association which was distinctly questionable, and it was in
this one direction, therefore, that Peter Ruff concentrated himself. The
case, for some reason, interested him so much that he took a close and
personal interest in it, and he was rewarded one day by discovering this
enemy of Sir Richard's sitting, toward five o'clock in the afternoon,
in a cafe in Regent Street, engrossed in conversation with a person
whom Peter Ruff knew to be a very black sheep indeed--a man who had been
tried for murder, and concerning whom there were still many unpleasant
rumors. From behind his paper in a corner of the cafe, Peter Ruff
watched these two men. Teddy Jones--or Major Edward Jones, as it seemed
he was now called--was a person whose appearance no longer suggested the
poverty against which he had been struggling most of his life. He was
well dressed and tolerably well turned out. His face was a little puffy,
and he had put on flesh during these days of his ease. His eyes, too,
had a somewhat furtive expression, although his general deportment was
one of braggadocio. Peter Ruff, quick always in his likes or dislikes,
found the man repulsive from the start. He felt that he would have a
genuine pleasure, apart from the matter of the five thousand pounds, in
accelerating Major Jones's departure from a world which he certainly did
not adorn.

The two men conducted their conversation in a subdued tone, which made
it quite impossible for Peter Ruff, in his somewhat distant corner, to
overhear a single word of it. It was obvious, however, that they were
not on the best of terms. Major Jones's companion was protesting, and
apparently without success, against some course of action or speech of
his companions. The conversation, on the other hand, never reached a
quarrel, and the two men left the place together apparently on ordinary
terms of friendliness. Peter Ruff at once quitted his seat and crossed
the room toward the spot where they had been sitting. He dived under the
table and picked up a newspaper--it was the only clue left to him as to
the nature of their conversation. More than once, Major Jones who had,
soon after their arrival, sent a waiter for it, had pointed to a certain
paragraph as though to give weight to his statements. Peter Ruff had
noticed the exact position of that paragraph. He smoothed out the paper
and found it at once. It was an account of the murder of a wealthy old
woman, living on the outskirts of a country village not far from London.
Peter Ruff's face did not change as he called for another vermouth and
read the description, slowly. Yet he was aware that he had possibly
stumbled across the very thing for which he had searched so urgently!
The particulars of the murder he already knew well, as at one time
he had felt inclined to aid the police in their so far fruitless
investigations. He therefore skipped the description of the tragedy,
and devoted his attention to the last paragraph, toward which he fancied
that the finger of Major Jones had been chiefly directed. It was a list
of the stolen property, which consisted of jewelry, gold and notes to a
very considerable amount. With the waiter's permission, he annexed the
paper, cut out the list of articles with a sharp penknife, and placed it
in his pocketbook before he left the cafe.

In the course of some of the smaller cases with which Peter Ruff had
been from time to time connected, he had more than once come into
contact with the authorities at Scotland Yard, and he had several
acquaintances there--not including Mr. John Dory--to whom, at times, he
had given valuable information. For the first time, he now sought some
return for his many courtesies. He drove straight from the cafe to
the office of the Chief of the Criminal Investigation Department. The
questions he asked there were only two, but they were promptly and
courteously answered. Peter Ruff left the building and drove back to
his rooms in a somewhat congratulatory frame of mind. After all, it was
chance which was the chief factor in the solution of so many of these
cases! Often he had won less success after months of untiring effort
than he had gained during that few minutes in the cafe in Regent Street.

Peter Ruff became an inmate of that very select boarding-house carried
on by Mrs. Bognor at number 17 Russell Street, Bloomsbury. He arrived
with a steamer trunk, an elaborate traveling-bag and a dressing-case;
took the best vacant room in the house, and dressed for dinner. Mrs.
Bognor looked upon him as a valuable addition to her clientele, and
introduced him freely to her other guests. Among these was Major Edward
Jones. Major Jones sat at Mrs. Bognor's right hand, and was evidently
the show guest of the boarding-house. Peter Ruff, without the least
desire to attack his position, sat upon her left and monopolized the
conversation. On the third night it turned, by chance, upon precious
stones. Peter Ruff drew a little chamois leather bag from his pocket.

"I am afraid," he said, "that my tastes are peculiar. I have been in the
East, and I have seen very many precious stones in their uncut state. To
my mind, there is nothing to be compared with opals. These are a few I
brought home from India. Perhaps you would like to look at them, Mrs.
Bognor."

They were passed round, amidst a little chorus of admiration.

"The large one with the blue fire," Peter Ruff remarked, "is, I think,
remarkably beautiful. I have never seen a stone quite like it."

"It is wonderful!" murmured the young lady who was sitting at Major
Jones's right hand. "What a fortunate man you are, Mr. Ruff, to have
such a collection of treasures!"

Peter Ruff bowed across the table. Major Jones, who was beginning to
feel that his position as show guest was in danger, thrust his hand
into his waistcoat pocket and produced a lady's ring, in which was set a
single opal.

"Very pretty stones," he remarked carelessly, "but I can't say I am very
fond of them. Here's one that belonged to my sister, and my grandmother
before her. I have it in my pocket because I was thinking of having the
stone reset and making a present of it to a friend of mine."

Peter Ruff's popularity waned--he had said nothing about making a
present to any one of even the most insignificant of his opals! And
the one which Major Jones now handed round was certainly a magnificent
stone. Peter Ruff examined it with the rest, and under the pretext
of studying the setting, gazed steadfastly at the inside through his
eyeglass. Major Jones, from the other side of the table, frowned, and
held out his hand for the ring.

"A very beautiful stone indeed!" Peter Ruff declared, passing it across
the tablecloth. "Really, I do not think that there is one in my little
collection to be compared with it. Have you many treasures like this,
Major Jones?"

"Oh, a few!" the Major answered carelessly, "family heirlooms, most of
them."

"You will have to give me the ring, Major Jones," the young lady on his
right remarked archly. "It's bad luck, you know, to give it to any one
who is not born in October, and my birthday is on the twelfth."

"My dear Miss Levey," Major Jones answered, whispering in her ear, "more
unlikely things have happened than that I should beg your acceptance of
this little trifle."

"Sooner or later," Peter Ruff said genially, "I should like to have a
little conversation with you, Major. I fancy that we ought to be able to
find plenty of subjects of common interest."

"Delighted, I'm sure!" the latter answered, utterly unsuspicious. "Shall
we go into the smoking-room now, or would you rather play a rubber
first?"

"If it is all the same to you," Peter Ruff said, "I think we will have a
cigar first. There will be plenty of time for bridge afterwards."

"May I offer you a cigar, sir?" Major Jones inquired, passing across a
well-filled case.

Peter Ruff sighed.

"I am afraid, Major," he said, "that there is scarcely time. You see, I
have a warrant in my pocket for your arrest, and I am afraid that by the
time we got to the station--"

Major Jones leaned forward in his chair. He gripped the sides tightly
with both hands. His eyes seemed to be protruding from his head.

"For my what?" he exclaimed, in a tone of horror.

"For your arrest," Peter Ruff explained calmly. "Surely you must have
been expecting it! During all these years you must have grown used to
expecting it at every moment!"

Major Jones collapsed. He looked at Ruff as one might look at a man who
has taken leave of his senses. Yet underneath it all was the coward's
fear!

"What are you talking about, man?" he exclaimed. "What do you mean?
Lower your voice, for heaven's sake! Consider my position here! Some
one might overhear! If this is a joke, let me tell you that it's a
d----d foolish one!"

Peter Ruff raised his eyebrows.

"I do not wish," he said, "to create a disturbance--my manner of coming
here should have assured you of that. At the same time, business is
business. I hold a warrant for your arrest, and I am forced to execute
it."

"Do you mean that you are a detective, then?" Major Jones demanded.

He was a big man, but his voice seemed to have grown very small indeed.

"Naturally," Peter Ruff answered. "I should not come here without
authority."

"What is the charge?" the other man faltered.

"Blackmail," Peter Ruff said slowly. "The information against you is
lodged by Sir Richard Dyson."

It seemed to Peter Ruff, who was watching his companion closely, that a
wave of relief passed over the face of the man who sat cowering in his
chair. He certainly drew a little gasp--stretched out his hands, as
though to thrust the shadow of some fear from him. His voice, when he
spoke, was stronger. Some faint show of courage was returning to him.

"There is some ridiculous mistake," he declared. "Let us talk this over
like sensible men, Mr. Ruff. If you will wait until I have spoken to Sir
Richard, I can promise you that the warrant shall be withdrawn, and that
you shall not be the loser."

"I am afraid it is too late for anything of that sort," Peter Ruff said.
"Sir Richard's patience has been completely exhausted by your repeated
demands."

"He never told me so," Major Jones whined. "I quite thought that he was
always glad to help an old friend. As a matter of fact, I had not meant
to ask him for anything else. The last few hundreds I had from him was
to have closed the thing up. It was the end."

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"No," he said, "it was not the end! It never would have been the end!
Sir Richard sought my advice, and I gave it him without hesitation.
Sooner or later, I told him, he would have to adopt different measures.
I convinced him. I represent those measures!"

"But the matter can be arranged," Major Jones insisted, with a little
shudder, "I am perfectly certain it can be arranged. Mr. Ruff, you are
not an ordinary police officer--I am sure of that. Give me a chance of
having an interview with Sir Richard before anything more is done.
I will satisfy him, I promise you that. Why, if we leave the place
together like this, every one here will get to know about it!"

"Be reasonable," Peter Ruff answered. "Of course everyone will get to
know about it! Blackmailing cases always excite a considerable amount of
interest. Your photograph will probably be in the Daily Mirror tomorrow
or the next day. In the meantime, I must trouble you to pay your
respects to Mrs. Bognor and to come with me."

"To Sir Richard's house?" Major Jones asked, eagerly.

"To the police-stations," Peter Ruff answered.

Major Jones did not rise. He sat for a few moments with his head buried
in his hands.

"Mr. Ruff," he said hoarsely, "listen to me. I have been fortunate
lately in some investments. I am not so poor as I was. I have my
check-book in my pocket, and a larger balance in the bank now than I
have ever had before. If I write you a check for, say, a hundred--no,
two!--five!" he cried, desperately, watching Peter Ruff's unchanging
face--"five hundred pounds, will you come round with me to Sir Richard's
house in a hansom at once?"

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"Five thousand pounds would not buy your liberty from me, Major Jones,"
he said.

The man became abject.

"Have pity, then," he pleaded. "My health is not good--I couldn't stand
imprisonment. Think of what it means to a man of my age suddenly to
leave everything worth having in life just because he may have imposed
a little on the generosity of a friend! Think how you would feel, and be
merciful!"

Peter Ruff shook his head slowly. His face was immovable, but there was
a look in his eyes from which the other man shrank.

"Major Jones," he said, "you ask me be merciful. You appeal to my pity.
For such as you I have no pity, nor have I ever shown any mercy. You
know very well, and I know, that when once the hand of the law touches
your shoulder, it will not be only a charge o' blackmail which the
police will bring against you!"

"There is nothing else--nothing else!" he cried. "Take half my fortune,
Mr. Ruff. Let me get away. Give me a chance--just a sporting chance!"

"I wonder," Peter Ruff said, "what chance that poor old lady in Weston
had? No, I am not saying you murdered her. You never had the pluck. Your
confederate did that, and you handled the booty. What were the initials
inside that ring you showed us to-night, Major Jones?"

"Let me go to my bedroom," he said, in a strange, far-away tone. "You
can come with me and stand outside."

Peter Ruff assented.

"To save scandal," he said, "yes!"

Three flights of stairs they climbed. When at last they reached the
door, the trembling man made one last appeal.

"Mr. Ruff," he said, "have a little mercy. Give me an hour's start--just
a chance for my life!"

Peter Ruff pushed him in the door.

"I am not a hard man," he said, "but I keep my mercy for men!"

He took the key from the inside of the door, locked it, and with the key
in his pocket descended to the drawing-room. The young lady who had sat
on Major Jones's right was singing a ballad. Suddenly she paused in the
middle of her song. The four people who were playing bridge looked up.
Mrs. Bognor screamed.

"What was that?" she asked quickly.

"It sounded," Peter Ruff said, "very much like revolver shot."

"I see," Sir Richard remarked, with a queer look in his eyes, as he
handed over a roll of notes to Peter Ruff, "the jury brought it in
'Suicide'! What I can't understand is--"

"Don't try," Peter Ruff interrupted briskly. "It isn't in the bond that
you should understand."

Sir Richard helped himself to a drink. A great burden had passed from
his shoulders, but he was not feeling at his best that morning. He could
scarcely keep his eyes from Peter Ruff.

"Ruff," he said, "I have known you some time, and I have known you to be
a square man. I have known you to do good-natured actions. I came to you
in desperation but I scarcely expected this!"

Peter Ruff emptied his own tumbler and took up his hat.

"Sir Richard," he said, "you are like a good many other people. Now that
the thing is done, you shrink from the thought of it. You even wonder
how I could have planned to bring about the death of this man. Listen,
Sir Richard. Pity for the deserving, or for those who have in them one
single quality, one single grain, of good, is a sentiment which deserves
respect. Pity for vermin, who crawl about the world leaving a poisonous
trail upon everything they touch, is a false and unnatural sentiment.
For every hopelessly corrupt man who is induced to quit this life there
is a more deserving one, somewhere or other, for whom the world is a
better place."

"So that, after all, you are a philanthropist, Mr. Ruff," Sir Richard
said, with a forced smile.

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"A philosopher," he answered, buttoning up his notes.



CHAPTER IX. THE PERFIDY OF MISS BROWN


Peter Ruff came down to his office with a single letter in his hand,
bearing a French postmark. He returned his secretary's morning greeting
a little absently, and seated himself at his desk.

"Violet," he asked, "have you ever been to Paris?"

She looked at him compassionately.

"More times than you, I think, Peter," she answered.

He nodded.

"That," he exclaimed, "is very possible! Could you get ready to leave by
the two-twenty this afternoon?"

"What, alone?" she exclaimed.

"No--with me," he answered.

She shut down her desk with a bang.

"Of course I can!" she exclaimed. "What a spree!"

Then she caught sight of a certain expression on Peter Ruff's face, and
she looked at him wonderingly.

"Is anything wrong, Peter?" she asked.

"No," he answered, "I cannot say that anything is wrong. I have had an
invitation to present myself before a certain society in Paris of which
you have some indirect knowledge. What the summons means I cannot say."

"Yet you go?" she exclaimed.

"I go," he answered. "I have no choice. If I waited here twenty-four
hours, I should hear of it."

"They can have nothing against you," she said. "On the contrary, the
only time they have appealed for your aid, you gave it--very valuable
aid it must have been, too."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"I cannot see," he admitted, "what they can have against me. And yet,
somehow, the wording of my invitation seemed to me a little ominous.
Perhaps," he added, walking to the window and standing looking out for a
moment, "I have a liver this morning. I am depressed. Violet, what does
it mean when you are depressed?"

"Shall you wear your gray clothes for traveling?" she asked, a little
irrelevantly.

"I have not made up my mind," Peter Ruff answered. "I thought of wearing
my brown, with a brown overcoat. What do you suggest?"

"I like you in brown," she answered, simply. "I should change, if I were
you."

He smiled faintly.

"I believe," he said, "that you have a sort of superstition that as I
change my clothes I change my humors."

"Should I be so very far wrong?" she asked. "Don't think that I am
laughing at you, Peter. The greatest men in the world have had their
foibles."

Peter Ruff frowned.

"We shall be away for several days," he said. "Be sure that you take
some wraps. It will be cold, crossing."

"Are you going to close the office altogether?" she asked.

Peter Ruff nodded.

"Put up a notice," he said--"'Back on Friday.' Pack up your books and
take them round to the Bank before you leave. The lift man will call you
a taxi-cab."

He watched her preparations with a sort of gloomy calm.

"I wish you'd tell me what is the matter with you?" she asked, as she
turned to follow her belongings.

"I do not know," Peter Ruff said. "I, suppose I am suffering from what
you would call presentiments. Be at Charing-Cross punctually."

"Why do you go at all?" she asked. "These people are of no further use
to you. Only the other day, you were saying that you should not accept
any more outside cases."

"I must go," Peter Ruff answered. "I am not afraid of many things, but I
should be afraid of disobeying this letter."

They had a comfortable journey down, a cool, bright crossing, and found
their places duly reserved for them in the French train. Miss Brown, in
her neat traveling clothes and furs, was conscious of looking her best,
and she did all that was possible to entertain her traveling companion.
But Peter Ruff seemed like a man who labors under some sense of
apprehension. He had faced death more than once during the last few
years--faced it without flinching, and with a certain cool disregard
which can only come from the highest sort of courage. Yet he knew, when
he read over again in the train that brief summons which he was on
his way to obey, that he had passed under the shadow of some new and
indefinable fear. He was perfectly well aware, too, that both on the
steamer and on the French train he was carefully shadowed. This fact,
however, did not surprise him. He even went out of his way to enter into
conversation with one of the two men whose furtive glances into their
compartment and whose constant proximity had first attracted his
attention. The man was civil but vague. Nevertheless, when they took
their places in the dining-car, they found the two men at the next
table. Peter Ruff pointed them out to his companion.

"'Double-Fours'!" he whispered. "Don't you feel like a criminal?"

She laughed, and they took no more notice of the men. But as the
train drew near Paris, he felt some return of the depression which had
troubled him during the earlier part of the day. He felt a sense of
comfort in his companion's presence which was a thing utterly strange to
him. On the other hand, he was conscious of a certain regret that he had
brought her with him into an adventure of which he could not foresee the
end.

The lights of Paris flashed around them--the train was gradually
slackening speed. Peter Ruff, with a sigh, began to collect their
belongings.

"Violet," he said, "I ought not to have brought you." Something in his
voice puzzled her. There had been every few times, during all the years
she had known him, when she had been able to detect anything approaching
sentiment in his tone--and those few times had been when he had spoken
of another woman.

"Why not?" she asked, eagerly.

Peter Ruff looked out into the blackness, through the glittering arc
of lights, and perhaps for once he suffered his fancy to build for
him visions of things that were not of earth. If so, however, it was a
moment which swiftly passed. His reply was in a tone as matter of fact
as his usual speech.

"Because," he said, "I do not exactly see the end of my present
expedition--I do not understand its object."

"You have some apprehension?" she asked.

"None at all," he answered. "Why should I? There is an unwritten
bargain," he added, a little more slowly, "to which I subscribed with
our friends here, and I have certainly kept it. In fact, the balance is
on my side. There is nothing for me to fear."

The train crept into the Gare du Nord, and they passed through the usual
routine of the Customs House. Then, in an omnibus, they rumbled slowly
over the cobblestones, through the region of barely lit streets and
untidy cafes, down the Rue Lafayette, across the famous Square and into
the Rue de Rivoli.

"Our movements," Peter Ruff remarked dryly, "are too well known for
us to attempt to conceal them. We may as well stop at one of the large
hotels. It will be more cheerful for you while I am away."

They engaged rooms at the Continental. Miss Brown, whose apartments were
in the wing of the hotel overlooking the gardens, ascended at once to
her room. Peter Ruff, who had chosen a small suite on the other side,
went into the bar for a whiskey and soda. A man touched him on the
elbow.

"For Monsieur," he murmured, and vanished.

Peter Ruff turned and opened the note. It bore a faint perfume, it had a
coronet upon the flap of the envelope, and it was written in a delicate
feminine handwriting.

DEAR Mr. RUFF:

If you are not too tired with your journey, will you call soon after one
o'clock to meet some old friends?

BLANCHE DE MAUPASSIM.


Peter Ruff drank his whiskey and soda, went up to his rooms, and made a
careful toilet. Then he sent a page up for Violet, who came down within
a few minutes. She was dressed with apparent simplicity in a high-necked
gown, a large hat, and a single rope of pearls. In place of the
usual gold purse, she carried a small white satin bag, exquisitely
hand-painted. Everything about her bespoke that elegant restraint so
much a feature of the Parisian woman of fashion herself. Peter Ruff,
who had told her to prepare for supping out, was at first struck by
the simplicity of her attire. Afterwards, he came to appreciate its
perfection.

They went to the Cafe de Paris, where they were the first arrivals.
People, however, began to stream in before they had finished their
meal, and Peter Ruff, comparing his companion's appearance with the more
flamboyant charms of these ladies from the Opera and the theatres,
began to understand the numerous glances of admiration which the
impressionable Frenchmen so often turned in their direction. There
was between them, toward the end of the meal, something which amounted
almost to nervousness.

"You are going to keep your appointment to-night, Peter?" his companion
asked.

Peter Ruff nodded.

"As soon as I have taken you home," he said. "I shall probably return
late, so we will breakfast here to-morrow morning, if you like, at
half-past twelve. I will send a note to your room when I am ready."

She looked him in the eyes.

"Peter," she said, "supposing that note doesn't come!"

He shrugged his shoulders.

"My dear Violet," he said, "you and I--or rather I, for you are not
concerned in this--live a life which is a little different from the
lives of most of the people around us. The million pay their taxes, and
they expect police protection in times of danger. For me there is
no such resource. My life has its own splendid compensations. I have
weapons with which to fight any ordinary danger. What I want to explain
to you is this--that if you hear no more of me, you can do nothing. If
that note does not come to you in the morning, you can do nothing. Wait
here for three days, and after that go back to England. You will find a
letter on your desk, telling you there exactly what to do."

"You have something in your mind," she said, "of which you have not told
me."

"I have nothing," he answered, firmly. "Upon my honor, I know of no
possible cause of offense which our friends could have against me. Their
summons is, I will admit, somewhat extraordinary, but I go to obey
it absolutely without fear. You can sleep well, Violet. We lunch here
to-morrow, without a doubt."

They drove back to the hotel almost in silence. Violet was looking
fixedly out of the window of the taxicab, as though interested in
watching the crowds upon the street. Peter Ruff appeared to be absorbed
in his own thoughts. Yet perhaps they were both of them nearer to
one another than either surmised. Their parting in the hall of the
Continental Hotel was unemotional enough. For a moment Peter Ruff had
hesitated while her hand had lain in his. He had opened his lips as
though he had something to say. Her eyes grew suddenly softer--seemed to
seek his as though begging for those unspoken words. But Peter Ruff did
not say them then.

"I shall be back all right," he said. "Good night, Violet! Sleep well!"

He turned back towards the waiting taxicab.

"Number 16, Rue de St. Quintaine," he told the man. It was not a long
ride. In less than a quarter of an hour, Peter Ruff presented himself
before a handsome white house in a quiet, aristocratic-looking street.
At his summons, the postern door flew open, and a man-servant in plain
livery stood at the second entrance.

"Madame la Marquise?" Peter Ruff asked.

The man bowed in silence, and took the visitor's hat and overcoat. He
passed along a spacious hall and into a delightfully furnished reception
room, where an old lady with gray hair sat in the midst of a little
circle of men. Peter Ruff stood, for a moment, upon the threshold,
looking around him. She held out her hands.

"It is Monsieur Peter Ruff, is it not? At last, then, I am gratified. I
have wished for so long to see one who has become so famous."

Peter Ruff took her hands in his and raised them gallantly to his lips.

"Madame," he said, "this is a pleasure indeed. At my last visit here,
you were in Italy."

"I grow old," she answered. "I leave Paris but little now. Where one has
lived, one should at least be content to die."

"Madame speaks a philosophy," Peter Ruff answered, "which as yet she has
no need to learn."

The old lady turned to a man who stood upon her right:

"And this from an Englishman!" she exclaimed.

There were others who took Peter Ruff by the hand then. The servants
were handing round coffee in little Sevres cups. On the sideboard was
a choice of liqueurs and bottles of wine. Peter Ruff found himself
hospitably entertained with both small talk and refreshments. But every
now and then his eyes wandered back to where Madame sat in her chair,
her hair as white as snow--beautiful still, in spite of the cruel mouth
and the narrow eyes.

"She is wonderful!" he murmured to a man who stood by his side.

"She is eighty-six," was the answer in a whisper, "and she knows
everything."

As the clock struck two, a tall footman entered the room and wheeled
Madame's chair away. Several of the guests left at the same time. Ruff,
when the door was closed, counted those who remained. As he had imagined
would be the case, he found that there were eight.

A tall, gray-bearded man, who from the first had attached himself to
Ruff, and who seemed to act as a sort of master of ceremonies, now
approached him once more and laid his hand upon his shoulder.

"Mon ami," he said, "we will now discuss, if it pleases you, the little
matter concerning which we took the liberty of asking you to favor us
with a visit."

"What, here?" Peter Ruff asked, in some surprise.

His friend, who had introduced himself as Monsieur de Founcelles,
smiled.

"But why not?" he asked. "Ah, but I think I understand!" he added,
almost immediately. "You are English, Monsieur Peter Ruff, and in some
respects you have not moved with the times. Confess, now, that your idea
of a secret society is a collection of strangely attired men who meet in
a cellar, and build subterranean passages in case of surprise. In Paris,
I think, we have gone beyond that sort of thing. We of the 'Double-Four'
have no headquarters save the drawing-room of Madame; no hiding-places
whatsoever; no meeting-places save the fashionable cafes or our own
reception rooms. The police follow us--what can they discover?--nothing!
What is there to discover?--nothing! Our lives are lived before the eyes
of all Paris. There is never any suspicion of mystery about any of our
movements. We have our hobbies, and we indulge in them. Monsieur the
Marquis de Sogrange here is a great sportsman. Monsieur le Comte
owns many racehorses. I myself am an authority on pictures, and own a
collection which I have bequeathed to the State. Paris knows us well as
men of fashion and mark--Paris does not guess that we have perfected
an organization so wonderful that the whole criminal world pays toll to
us."

"Dear me," Peter Ruff said, "this is very interesting!"

"We have a trained army at our disposal," Monsieur de Founcelles
continued, "who numerically, as well as in intelligence, outnumber the
whole force of gendarmes in Paris. No criminal from any other country
can settle down here and hope for success, unless he joins us. An
exploit which is inspired by us cannot fail. Our agents may count on our
protection, and receive it without question."

"I am bewildered," Peter Ruff said, frankly. "I do not understand how
you gentlemen--whom one knows by name so well as patrons of sport and
society, can spare the time for affairs of such importance."

Monsieur de Founcelles nodded.

"We have very valuable aid," he said. "There is below us--the
'Double-Four'--the eight gentlemen now present, an executive council
composed of five of the shrewdest men in France. They take their orders
from us. We plan, and they obey. We have imagination, and special
sources of knowledge. They have the most perfect machinery for carrying
out our schemes that it is possible to imagine. I do not wish to boast,
Mr. Ruff, but if I take a directory of Paris and place after any man's
name, whatever his standing or estate, a black cross, that man dies
before seven days have passed. You buy your evening paper--a man
has committed suicide! You read of a letter found by his side: an
unfortunate love affair--a tale of jealousy or reckless speculation. Mr.
Ruff, the majority of these explanations are false. They are invented
and arranged for by us. This year alone, five men in Paris, of position,
have been found dead, and accounted, for excellent reasons, suicides.
In each one of these cases, Monsieur Ruff, although not a soul has
a suspicion of it, the removal of these men was arranged for by the'
Double-Four.'"

"I trust," Peter Ruff said, "that it may never be my ill-fortune to
incur the displeasure of so marvelous an association."

"On the contrary, Monsieur Ruff," the other answered, "the attention
of the association has been directed towards certain incidents of your
career in a most favorable manner. We have spoken of you often lately,
Mr. Ruff, between ourselves. We arrive now at the object for which we
begged the honor of your visit. It is to offer you the Presidency of our
Executive Council."

Peter Ruff had thought of many things, but he had not thought of this!
He gasped, recovered himself, and realized at once the dangers of the
position in which he stood.

"The Council of Five!" he said thoughtfully.

"Precisely," Monsieur de Founcelles replied. "The salary--forgive me
for giving such prominence to a matter which you doubtless consider of
secondary importance--is ten thousand pounds a year, with a residence
here and in London--also servants."

"It is princely!" Peter Ruff declared. "I cannot imagine, Monsieur, how
you could have believed me capable of filling such a position."

"There is not much about you, Mr. Ruff, which we do not know," Monsieur
de Founcelles answered. "There are points about your career which
we have marked with admiration. Your work over here was rapid and
comprehensive. We know all about your checkmating the Count von Hern and
the Comtesse de Pilitz. We have appealed to you for aid once only--your
response was prompt and brilliant. You have all the qualifications we
desire. You are still young, physically you are sound, you speak all
languages, and you are unmarried."

"I am what?" Peter Ruff asked, with a start.

"A bachelor," Monsieur de Founcelles answered. "We who have made
crime and its detection a life-long study, have reduced many matters
concerning it to almost mathematical exactitude. Of one thing we have
become absolutely convinced--it is that the great majority of cases in
which the police triumph are due to the treachery of women. The criminal
who steers clear of the other sex escapes a greater danger than the
detectives who dog his heels. It is for that reason that we choose only
unmarried men for our executive council."

Peter Ruff made a gesture of despair. "And I am to be married in a
month!" he exclaimed.

There was a murmur of dismay. If those other seven men had not once
intervened, it was because the conduct of the affair had been voted into
the hands of Monsieur de Founcelles, and there was little which he had
left unsaid. Nevertheless, they had formed a little circle around the
two men. Every word passing between them had been listened to eagerly.
Gestures and murmured exclamations had been frequent enough. There
arose now a chorus of voices which their leader had some difficulty in
silencing.

"It must be arranged!"

"But it is impossible--this!"

"Monsieur Ruff amuses himself with us!"

"Gentlemen," Peter Ruff said, "I can assure you that I do nothing of
the sort. The affair was arranged some months ago, and the young lady is
even now in Paris, purchasing her trousseau."

Monsieur de Founcelles, with a wave of the hand, commanded silence.
There was probably a way out. In any case, one must be found.

"Monsieur Ruff," he said, "putting aside, for one moment, your sense of
honor, which of course forbids you even to consider the possibility
of breaking your word--supposing that the young lady herself should
withdraw--"

"You don't know Miss Brown!" Peter Ruff interrupted. "It is a pleasure
to which I hope to attain," Monsieur de Founcelles declared, smoothly.
"Let us consider once more my proposition. I take it for granted that,
apart from this threatened complication, you find it agreeable?"

"I am deeply honored by it," Peter Ruff declared.

"Well, that being so," Monsieur de Founcelles said, more cheerfully,
"we must see whether we cannot help you. Tell me, who is this fortunate
young lady--this Miss Brown?"

"She is a young person of good birth and some means," Peter Ruff
declared. "She is, in a small way, an actress; she has also been my
secretary from the first." Monsieur de Founcelles nodded his head
thoughtfully.

"Ah!" he said. "She knows your secrets, then, I presume?"

"She does," Peter Ruff assented. "She knows a great deal!"

"A young person to be conciliated by all means," Monsieur de Founcelles
declared. "Well, we must see. When, Monsieur Ruff, may I have the
opportunity of making the acquaintance of this young lady?"

"To-morrow morning, or rather this morning, if you will," Peter Ruff
answered. "We are taking breakfast together at the cafe de Paris. It
will give me great pleasure if you will join us."

"On the contrary," Monsieur de Founcelles declared, "I must beg of you
slightly to alter your plans. I will ask you and Mademoiselle to do me
the honor of breakfasting at the Ritz with the Marquis de Sogrange and
myself, at the same hour. We shall find there more opportunity for a
short discussion."

"I am entirely at your service," Peter Ruff answered. There were signs
now of a breaking-up of the little party.

"We must all regret, dear Monsieur Ruff," Monsieur de Founcelles said,
as he made his adieux, "this temporary obstruction to the consummation
of our hopes. Let us pray that Mademoiselle will not be unreasonable."

"You are very kind," Peter Ruff murmured.

Peter Ruff drove through the gray dawn to his hotel, in the splendid
automobile of Monsieur de Founcelles, whose homeward route lay in
that direction. It was four o'clock when he accepted his key from a
sleepy-looking clerk, and turned towards the staircase. The hotel was
wrapped in semi-gloom. Sweepers and cleaners were at work. The palms had
been turned out into the courtyard. Dust sheets lay over the furniture.
One person only, save himself and the untidy-looking servants, was
astir. From a distant corner which commanded the entrance, he saw Violet
stealing away to the corridor which led to her part of the hotel. She
had sat there all through the night to see him come in--to be assured of
his safety! Peter Ruff stared after her disappearing figure as one might
have watched a ghost.

The luncheon-party was a great success. Peter Ruff was human enough to
be proud of his companion--proud of her smartness, which was indubitable
even here, surrounded as they were by Frenchwomen of the best class;
proud of her accent, of the admiration which she obviously excited
in the two Frenchmen. His earlier enjoyment of the meal was a little
clouded from the fact that he felt himself utterly outshone in the
matter of general appearance. No tailor had ever suggested to him a coat
so daring and yet so perfect as that which adorned the person of the
Marquis de Sogrange. The deep violet of his tie was a shade unknown
in Bond Street--inimitable--a true education in color. They had the
bearing, too, these Frenchmen! He watched Monsieur de Founcelles bending
over Violet, and he was suddenly conscious of a wholly new sensation. He
did not recognize--could not even classify it. He only knew that it was
not altogether pleasant, and that it set the warm blood tingling through
his veins.

It was not until they were sitting out in the winter garden, taking
their coffee and liqueurs, that the object of their meeting was referred
to. Then Monsieur de Founcelles drew Violet a little away from the
others, and the Marquis, with a meaning smile, took Peter Ruff's arm and
led him on one side. Monsieur de Founcelles wasted no words at all.

"Mademoiselle," he said, "Monsieur Ruff has doubtless told you that last
night I made him the offer of a great position among us."

She looked at him with twinkling eyes.

"Go on, please," she said.

"I offered him a position of great dignity--of great responsibility,"
Monsieur de Founcelles continued. "I cannot explain to you its exact
nature, but it is in connection with the most wonderful organization of
its sort which the world has ever known."

"The 'Double-Four,'" she murmured.

"Attached to the post is a princely salary and but one condition,"
Monsieur de Founcelles said, watching the girl's face. "The condition is
that Mr. Ruff remains a bachelor."

Violet nodded.

"Peter's told me all this," she remarked. "He wants me to give him up."

Monsieur de Founcelles drew a little closer to his companion. There was
a peculiar smile upon his lips.

"My dear young lady," he said softly, "forgive me if I point out to you
that with your appearance and gifts a marriage with our excellent friend
is surely not the summit of your ambitions! Here in Paris, I promise
you, here--we can do much better than that for you. You have not,
perhaps, a dot? Good! That is our affair. Give up our friend here, and
we deposit in any bank you like to name the sum of two hundred and fifty
thousand francs."

"Two hundred and fifty thousand francs!" Violet repeated, slowly.

Monsieur de Founcelles nodded.

"It is enough?" he asked.

She shook her head.

"It is not enough," she answered.

Monsieur de Founcelles raised his eyebrows.

"We do not bargain," he said coldly, "and money is not the chief thing
in the world. It is for you, then, to name a sum."

"Monsieur de Founcelles," she said, "can you tell me the amount of the
national debt of France?"

"Somewhere about nine hundred million francs, I believe," he answered.

She nodded.

"That is exactly my price," she declared.

"For giving up Peter Ruff?" he gasped.

She looked at her employer thoughtfully.

"He doesn't look worth it, does he?" she said, with a queer little
smile. "I happen to care for him, though--that's all."

Monsieur de Founcelles shrugged his shoulders. He knew men and women,
and for the present he accepted defeat. He sighed heavily.

"I congratulate our friend, and I envy him," he said. "If ever you
should change your mind, Mademoiselle--"

"It is our privilege, isn't it?" she remarked, with a brilliant smile.
"If I do, I shall certainly let you know."

On the way home, Peter Ruff was genial--Miss Brown silent. He had
escaped from a difficult position, and his sense of gratitude toward his
companion was strong. He showed her many little attentions on the
voyage which sometimes escaped him. From Dover, they had a carriage to
themselves.

"Peter," Miss Brown said, after he had made her comfortable, "when is it
to be?"

"When is what to be?" he asked, puzzled.

"Our marriage," she answered, looking at him for a moment in most
bewildering fashion and then suddenly dropping her eyes.

Peter Ruff returned her gaze in blank amazement.

"What do you mean, Violet?" he exclaimed.

"Just what I say," she answered, composedly. "When are we going to be
married?"

Peter Ruff frowned.

"What nonsense!" he said. "We are not going to be married. You know that
quite well."

"Oh, no, I don't!" she declared, smiling at him in a heavenly fashion.
"At your request I have told Monsieur de Founcelles that we were
engaged. Incidentally, I have refused two hundred and fifty thousand
francs and, I believe, an admirer, for your sake. I declared that I was
going to marry you, and I must keep my word."

Peter Ruff began to feel giddy.

"Look here, Violet," he said, "you know very well that we arranged all
that between ourselves."

"Arranged all that?" she repeated, with a little laugh. "Perhaps we did.
You asked me to marry you, and you posed as my fiancee. You kept it up
just as long as you--it suits me to keep it up a little longer."

"Do you mean to say--do you seriously mean that you expect me to marry
you?" he asked, aghast.

"I do," she admitted. "I have meant you to for some time, Peter!"

She was very alluring, and Peter Ruff hesitated. She held out her hands
and leaned towards him. Her muff fell to the floor. She had raised her
veil, and a faint perfume of violets stole into the carriage. Her lips
were a little parted, her eyes were saying unutterable things.

"You don't want me to sue you, do you, Peter?" she murmured.

Peter Ruff sighed--and yielded.



CHAPTER X. WONDERFUL JOHN DORY


The woman who had been Peter Ruff's first love had fallen upon evil
days. Her prettiness was on the wane--powder and rouge, late hours,
and excesses of many kinds, had played havoc with it, even in these few
months. Her clothes were showy but cheap. Her boots themselves, unclean
and down at heel, told the story. She stood upon the threshold of Peter
Ruff's office, and looked half defiantly, half doubtfully at Violet, who
was its sole occupant.

"Can I do anything for you?" the latter asked, noticing the woman's
hesitation.

"I want to see Mr. Ruff," the visitor said.

"Mr. Ruff is out at present," Violet answered.

"When will he be in?"

"I cannot tell you," Violet said. "Perhaps you had better leave a
message. Or will you call again? Mr. Ruff is very uncertain in his
movements."

Maud sank into a chair.

"I'll wait," she declared.

"I am not sure," Violet remarked, raising her eyebrows, "whether that
will be convenient. There may be other clients in. Mr. Ruff himself may
not be back for several hours."

"Are you his secretary?" Maud asked, without moving.

"I am his secretary and also his wife," Violet declared. The woman
raised herself a little in her chair.

"Some people have all the luck," she muttered. "It's only a few months
ago that Mr. Ruff was glad enough to take me out. You remember when I
used to come here?"

"I remember," Violet assented.

"I was all right then," the woman continued, "and now--now I'm down and
out," she added, with a little sob. "You see what I am like. You look as
though you didn't care to have me in the office, and I don't wonder
at it. You look as though you were afraid I'd come to beg, and you are
right--I have come to beg."

"I am sure Mr. Ruff will do what he can for you," Violet said,
"although--"

"I see you know all about it," Maud interrupted, with a hard little
laugh. "I came once to wheedle information out of him. I came to try
and betray the only man who ever really cared for me. Mr. Ruff was too
clever, and I am thankful for it. I have been as big a fool as a woman
can be, but I am paying--oh, I am paying for it right enough!"

She swayed in her chair, and Violet was only just in time to catch her.
She led the fainting woman to an inner room, made her comfortable upon
a sofa, and sent out for some food and a bottle of wine. Down in the
street below, John Dory, who had tracked his wife to the building, was
walking away with face as black as night. He knew that Maud had lost her
position, that she was in need of money--almost penniless. He had
waited to see to whom she would turn, hoping--poor fool as he called
himself--that she would come back to him. And it was his enemy to whom
she had gone! He had seen her enter the building; he knew that she had
not left it. In the morning they brought him another report--she was
still within. It was the end, this, he told himself! There must be a
settlement between him and Peter Ruff!

Mr. John Dory, who had arrived at Clenarvon Court in a four-wheel cab
from the nearest railway station, was ushered by the butler to the
door of one of the rooms on the ground floor, overlooking the Park. A
policeman was there on guard--a policeman by his attitude and salute,
although he was in plain clothes. John Dory nodded, and turned to the
butler.

"You see, the man knows me," he said. "Here is my card. I am John Dory
from Scotland Yard. I want to have a few words with the sergeant."

The butler hesitated.

"Our orders are very strict, sir," he said. "I am afraid that I cannot
allow you to enter the room without a special permit from his lordship.
You see, we have had no advice of your coming."

John Dory nodded.

"Quite right," he answered. "If every one were to obey his orders as
literally, there would be fewer robberies. However, you see that this
man recognizes me."

The butler turned toward an elderly gentleman in a pink coat and
riding-breeches, who had just descended into the hall.

"His lordship is here," he said. "He will give you permission, without
a doubt. There is a gentleman from Scotland Yard, your lordship," he
explained, "who wishes to enter the morning-room to speak with the
sergeant."

"Inspector John Dory, at your lordship's service," saluting. "I have
been sent down from town to help in this little business."

Lord Clenarvon smiled.

"I should have thought that, under the circumstances," he said, "two of
you would have been enough. Still, it is not for me to complain. Pray go
in and speak to the sergeant. You will find him inside. Rather dull work
for him, I'm afraid, and quite unnecessary."

"I am not so sure, your lordship," Dory answered. "The Clenarvon
diamonds are known all over the world, and I suppose there isn't a
thieves' den in Europe that does not know that they will remain here
exposed with your daughter's other wedding presents."

Lord Clenarvon smiled once more and shrugged his shoulders. He was a man
who had unbounded faith in his fellow-creatures.

"I suppose," he said, "it is the penalty one has to pay for historical
possessions. Go in and talk to the sergeant, by all means, Mr. Dory. I
hope that Graves will succeed in making you comfortable during your stay
here."

John Dory was accordingly admitted into the room which was so jealously
guarded. At first sight, it possessed a somewhat singular appearance.
The windows had every one of them been boarded up, and the electric
lights consequently fully turned on. A long table stood in the middle of
the apartment, serving as support for a long glass showcase, open at the
top. Within this, from end to end, stretched the presents which a large
circle of acquaintances were presenting to one of the most popular young
women in society, on the occasion of her approaching marriage to the
Duke of Rochester. In the middle, the wonderful Clenarvon diamonds, set
in the form of a tiara, flashed strange lights into the somberly lit
apartment. At the end of the table a police sergeant was sitting, with
a little pile of newspapers and illustrated journals before him. He rose
to his feet with alacrity at his superior's entrance.

"Good morning, Saunders," John Dory said. "I see you've got it pretty
snug in here."

"Pretty well, thank you, sir," Saunders answered. "Is there anything
stirring?"

John Dory looked behind to be sure that the door was closed. Then he
stopped for a moment to gaze at the wonderful diamonds, and finally sat
on the table by his subordinate's side.

"Not exactly that, Saunders," he said. "To tell you the truth, I came
down here because of that list of guests you sent me up."

Saunders smiled.

"I think I can guess the name you singled out, sir," he said.

"It was Peter Ruff, of course," Dory said. "What is he doing here in the
house, under his own name, and as a guest?"

"I have asked no questions, sir," Saunders answered. "I underlined the
name in case it might seem worth your while to make inquiries."

John Dory nodded.

"Nothing has happened, of course?" he asked.

"Nothing," Saunders answered. "You see, with the windows all boarded up,
there is practically only the ordinary door to guard, so we feel fairly
secure."

"No one hanging about?" the detective asked. "Mr. Ruff himself, for
instance, hasn't been trying to make your acquaintance?"

"No sign of it, sir," the man answered. "I saw him pass through the hall
yesterday afternoon, as I went off duty, and he was in riding clothes
all splashed with mud. I think he has been hunting every day."

John Dory muttered something between his lips, and turned on his heel.

"How many men have you here, Saunders?" he asked.

"Only two, sir, beside myself," the man replied.

The detective went round the boarded windows, examining the work
carefully until he reached the door.

"I am going to see if I can have a word with his lordship," he said.

He caught Lord Clenarvon in the act of mounting his horse in the great
courtyard.

"What is it, Mr. Dory?" the Earl asked, stooping down.

"There is one name, your lordship, among your list of guests, concerning
which I wish to have a word with you," the detective said--"the name of
Mr. Peter Ruff."

"Don't know anything about him," Lord Clenarvon answered, cheerfully.
"You must see my daughter, Lady Mary. It was she who sent him his
invitation. Seems a decent little fellow, and rides as well as the best.
You'll find Lady Mary about somewhere, if you'd like to ask her."

Lord Clenarvon hurried off, with a little farewell wave of his crop,
and John Dory returned into the house to make inquiries respecting Lady
Mary. In a very few minutes he was shown into her presence. She smiled
at him cheerfully.

"Another detective!" she exclaimed. "I am sure I ought to feel quite
safe now. What can I do for you, Mr. Dory?"

"I have had a list of the guests sent to me," Dory answered, "in which I
notice the name of Mr. Peter Ruff."

Lady Mary nodded.

"Well?" she asked.

"I have just spoken to his lordship," the detective continued, "and he
referred me to you."

"Do you want to know all about Mr. Ruff?" Lady Mary asked, smiling.

"If your ladyship will pardon my saying so, I think that neither you
nor any one else could tell me that. What I wished to say was that I
understood that we at Scotland Yard were placed in charge of your jewels
until after the wedding. Mr. Peter Ruff is, as you may be aware, a
private detective himself."

"I understand perfectly," Lady Mary said. "I can assure you, Mr. Dory,
that Mr. Ruff is here entirely as a personal and very valued friend
of my own. On two occasions he has rendered very signal service to my
family--services which I am quite unable to requite."

"In that case, your ladyship, there is nothing more to be said. I
conceive it, however, to be my duty to tell you that in our opinion--the
opinion of Scotland Yard--there are things about the career of Mr.
Peter Ruff which need explanation. He is a person whom we seldom let
altogether out of our sight."

Lady Mary laughed frankly.

"My dear Mr. Dory," she said, "this is one of the cases, then, in which
I can assure you that I know more than Scotland Yard. There is no person
in the world in whom I have more confidence, and with more reason, than
Mr. Peter Ruff."

John Dory bowed.

"I thank your ladyship," he said. "I trust that your confidence will
never be misplaced. May I ask one more question?"

"Certainly," Lady Mary replied, "so long as you make no insinuations
whatever against my friend."

"I should be very sorry to do so," John Dory declared. "I simply wish
to know whether Mr. Ruff has any instructions from you with reference to
the care of your jewels?"

"Certainly not," Lady Mary replied, decidedly. "Mr. Ruff is here
entirely as my guest. He has been in the room with the rest of us, to
look at them, and it was he, by the bye, who discovered a much more
satisfactory way of boarding the windows. Anything else, Mr. Dory?"

"I thank your ladyship, nothing!" the detective answered. "With your
permission, I propose to remain here until after the ceremony."

"Just as you like, of course," Lady Mary said. "I hope you will be
comfortable."

John Dory bowed, and returned to confer with his sergeant. Afterwards,
finding the morning still fine, he took his hat and went for a walk in
the park.

As a matter of fact, this, in some respects the most remarkable of
the adventures which had ever befallen Mr. Peter Ruff, came to him by
accident. Lady Mary had read the announcement of his marriage in the
paper, had driven at once to his office with a magnificent present, and
insisted upon his coming with his wife to the party which was assembling
at Clenarvon Court in honor of her own approaching wedding. Peter
Ruff had taken few holidays of late years, and for several days had
thoroughly enjoyed himself. The matter of the Clenarvon jewels he
considered, perhaps, with a slight professional interest; but so far as
he could see, the precautions for guarding them were so adequate that
the subject did not remain in his memory. He had, however, a very
distinct and disagreeable shock when, on the night of John Dory's
appearance, he recognized among a few newly-arrived guests the
Marquis de Sogrange. He took the opportunity, as soon as possible,
of withdrawing his wife from a little circle among whom they had been
talking, to a more retired corner of the room. She saw at once that
something had happened to disturb him.

"Violet," he said, "don't look behind now--"

"I recognized him at once," she interrupted. "It is the Marquis de
Sogrange."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"It will be best for you," he said, "not to notice him. Of course, his
presence here may be accidental. He has a perfect right to enter any
society he chooses. At the same time, I am uneasy."'

She understood in a moment.

"The Clenarvon diamonds!" she whispered. He nodded.

"It is just the sort of affair which would appeal to the 'Double-Four,'"
he said. "They are worth anything up to a quarter of a million, and it
is an enterprise which could scarcely be attempted except by some one in
a peculiar position. Violet, if I were not sure that he had seen me, I
should leave the house this minute."

"Why?" she asked, wonderingly.

"Don't you understand," Peter Ruff continued, softly, "that I myself am
still what they call a corresponding member of the 'Double-Four,' and
they have a right to appeal to me for help in this country, as I have a
right to appeal to them for help or information in France? We have both
made use of one another, to some extent. No doubt, if the Marquis has
any scheme in his mind, he would look upon me as a valuable ally."

She turned slowly pale.

"Peter," she said, "you wouldn't dream--you wouldn't dare to be so
foolish?"

He shook his head firmly.

"My dear girl," he said, "we talked that all out long ago. A few years
since, I felt that I had been treated badly, that I was an alien, and
that the hand of the law was against me. I talked wildly then, perhaps.
When I put up my sign and sat down for clients, I meant to cheat the
law, if I could. Things have changed, Violet. I want nothing of that
sort. I have kept my hands clean and I mean to do so. Why, years ago,"
he continued, "when I was feeling at my wildest, these very jewels were
within my grasp one foggy night, and I never touched them."

"What would happen if you refused to help?"

"I do not know," Peter Ruff answered. "The conditions are a little
severe. But, after all, there are no hard and fast rules. It rests with
the Marquis himself to shrug his shoulders and appreciate my position.
Perhaps he may not even exchange a word with me. Here is Lord Sotherst
coming to talk to you, and Captain Hamilton is waiting for me to tell
him an address. Remember, don't recognize Sogrange."

Dinner that night was an unusually cheerful meal. Peter Ruff, who was
an excellent raconteur, told many stories. The Marquis de Sogrange was
perhaps the next successful in his efforts to entertain his neighbors.
Violet found him upon her left hand, and although he showed not the
slightest signs of having ever seen her before, they were very soon
excellent friends. After dinner, Sogrange and Peter Ruff drifted
together on their way to the billiard-room. Sogrange, however, continued
to talk courteously of trifles until, having decided to watch the first
game, they found themselves alone on the leather divan surrounding the
room.

"This is an unexpected pleasure, my friend," Sogrange said, watching the
ash of his cigar. "Professional?"

Peter Ruff shook his head. "Not in the least," he answered. "I have
had the good fortune to render Lady Mary and her brother, at different
times, services which they are pleased to value highly. We are here as
ordinary guests--my wife and I." The Marquis sighed.

"Ah, that wife of yours, Ruff," he said. "She is charming, I admit, and
you are a lucky man; but it was a price--a very great price to pay."

"You, perhaps, are ambitious, Marquis," Peter Ruff answered. "I have not
done so badly. A little contents me."

Sogrange looked at him as though he were some strange creature.

"I see!" he murmured. "I see! With you, of course, the commercial side
comes uppermost. Mr. Ruff, what do you suppose the income from my estate
amounts to?" Peter Ruff shook his head. He did not even know that the
Marquis was possessed of estates!

"Somewhere about seven millions of francs," Sogrange declared. "There
are few men in Paris more extravagant than I, and I think that we
Frenchmen know what extravagance means. But I cannot spend my income.
Do you think that it is for the sake of gain that I have come across the
Channel to add the Clenarvon diamonds to our coffers?"

Peter Ruff sat very still.

"You mean that?" he said.

"Of course!" Sogrange answered. "Didn't you realize it directly you
saw me? What is there, do you think, in a dull English house-party to
attract a man like myself? Don't you understand that it is the gambler's
instinct--the restless desire to be playing pitch-and-toss with fate,
with honor, with life and death, if you will--that brings such as myself
into the ranks of the 'Double-Four'? It is the weariness which kills,
Peter Ruff. One must needs keep it from one's bones."

"Marquis," Peter Ruff answered, "I do not profess to understand you.
I am not weary of life, in fact I love it. I am looking forward to the
years when I have enough money--and it seems as though that time is not
far off--when I can buy a little place in the country, and hunt a
little and shoot a little, and live a simple out-of-door life. You see,
Marquis, we are as far removed as the poles."

"Obviously!" Sogrange answered.

"Your confidence," Peter Ruff continued, "the confidence with which you
have honored me, inspires me to make you one request. I am here, indeed,
as a friend of the family. You will not ask me to help in any designs
you may have against the Clenarvon jewels?"

Sogrange leaned back in his chair and laughed softly. His lips, when
they parted from his white teeth, resolved themselves into lines
which at that moment seemed to Peter Ruff more menacing than mirthful.
Sogrange was, in many ways, a man of remarkable appearance.

"Oh, Peter Ruff," he said, "you are a bourgeois little person! You
should have been the burgomaster in a little German town, or a French
mayor with a chain about your neck. We will see. I make no promises.
All that I insist upon, for the present, is that you do not leave this
house-party without advising me--that is to say, if you are really
looking forward to that pleasant life in the country, where you will
hunt a little and shoot a little, and grow into the likeness of a
vegetable. You, with your charming wife! Peter Ruff, you should be
ashamed to talk like that! Come, I must play bridge with the Countess. I
am engaged for a table."

The two men parted. Peter Ruff was uneasy. On his way from the room,
Lord Sotherst insisted upon his joining a pool.

"Charming fellow, Sogrange," the latter remarked, as he chalked his cue.
"He has been a great friend of the governor's--he and his father before
him. Our families have intermarried once or twice."

"He seems very agreeable," Peter Ruff answered, devoting himself to the
game.

The following night, being the last but one before the wedding itself,
a large dinner-party had been arranged for, and the resources of even so
princely a mansion as Clenarvon Court were strained to their utmost
by the entertainment of something like one hundred guests in the great
banqueting-hall. The meal was about half-way through when those who were
not too entirely engrossed in conversation were startled by hearing a
dull, rumbling sound, like the moving of a number of pieces of heavy
furniture. People looked doubtfully at one another. Peter Ruff and the
Marquis de Sogrange were among the first to spring to their feet.

"It's an explosion somewhere," the latter cried. "Sounds close at hand,
too."

They made their way out into the hall. Exactly opposite now was the
room in which the wedding presents had been placed, and where for days
nothing had been seen but a closed door and a man on duty outside. The
door now stood wide open, and in place of the single electric light
which was left burning through the evening, the place seemed almost
aflame.

Ruff, Sogrange and Lord Sotherst were the first three to cross the
threshold. They were met by a rush of cold wind. Opposite to them, two
of the windows, with their boardings, had been blown away. Sergeant
Saunders was still sitting in his usual place at the end of the table,
his head bent upon his folded arms. The man who had been on duty outside
was standing over him, white with horror. Far away in the distance, down
the park, one could faintly hear the throbbing of an engine, and Peter
Ruff, through the chasm, saw the lights of a great motor-car flashing in
and out amongst the trees. The room itself--the whole glittering
array of presents--seemed untouched. Only the great center-piece--the
Clenarvon diamonds--had gone. Even as they stood there, the rest of the
guests crowding into the open door, John Dory tore through, his face
white with excitement. Peter Ruff's calm voice penetrated the din of
tongues.

"Lord Sotherst," he said, "you have telephones in the keepers' lodges.
There is a motor-car being driven southwards at full speed. Telephone
down, and have your gates secured. Dory, I should keep every one out of
the room. Some one must telephone for a doctor. I suppose your man has
been hurt."

The guests were wild with curiosity, but Lord Clenarvon, with an
insistent gesture, led the way back to the diningroom.

"Whatever has happened," he said, "the people who are in charge there
know best how to deal with the situation. There is a detective from
Scotland Yard and his subordinates, and a gentleman in whom I also have
most implicit confidence. We will resume our dinner, if you please,
ladies and gentlemen."

Unwillingly, the people were led away. John Dory was already in his
great-coat, ready to spring into the powerful motor-car which had been
ordered out from the garage. A doctor, who had been among the guests,
was examining the man Saunders, who sat in that still, unnatural
position at the head of the table.

"The poor fellow has been shot in the back of the head with some
peculiar implement," he said. "The bullet is very long--almost like a
needle--and it seems to have penetrated very nearly to the base of the
brain."

"Is he dead?" Peter Ruff asked.

The doctor shook his head.

"No!" he answered. "An inch higher up and he must have died at once.
I want some of the men-servants to help me carry him to a bedroom, and
plenty of hot water. Some one else must go for my instrument case."

Lord Sotherst took these things in charge, and John Dory turned to the
man whom they had found standing over him.

"Tell us exactly what happened," he said, briefly.

"I was standing outside the door," the man answered. "I heard no sound
inside--there was nothing to excite suspicion in any way. Suddenly there
was this explosion. It took me, perhaps, thirty or forty seconds to get
the key out of my pocket and unlock the door. When I entered, the side
of the room was blown in like that, the diamonds were gone, Saunders
was leaning forward just in the position he is in now, and there wasn't
another soul in sight. Then you and the others came."

John Dory rushed from the room; they had brought him word that the car
was waiting. At such a moment, he was ready even to forget his ancient
enmity. He turned towards Peter Ruff, whose calm bearing somehow or
other impressed even the detective with a sense of power.

"Will you come along?" he asked.

Peter Ruff shook his head.

"Thank you, Dory, no!" he said. "I am glad you have asked me, but I
think you had better go alone."

A few seconds later, the pursuit was started. Saunders was carried out
of the room, followed by the doctor. There remained only Peter Ruff and
the man who had been on duty outside. Peter Ruff seated himself where
Saunders had been sitting, and seemed to be closely examining the table
all round for some moments. Once he took up something from between the
pages of the book which the Sergeant had apparently been reading, and
put it carefully into his own pocketbook. Then he leaned back in the
chair, with his hands clasped behind his head and his eyes fixed upon
the ceiling, as though thinking intently.

"Hastings," he said to the policeman, who all the time was pursuing a
stream of garrulous, inconsequent remarks, "I wonder whether you'd step
outside and see Mr. Richards, the butler. Ask him if he would be so good
as to spare me a moment."

"I'll do it, sir," the man answered, with one more glance through the
open space. "Lord!" he added, "they must have been in through there and
out again like cats!"

"It was quick work, certainly," Peter Ruff answered, genially, "but
then, an enterprise like this would, of course, only be attempted by
experts."

Peter Ruff was not left alone long. Mr. Richards came hurrying in.

"This is a terrible business, sir!" he said. "His lordship has excused
me from superintending the service of the dinner. Anything that I can do
for you I am to give my whole attention to. These were my orders."

"Very good of you, Richards," Peter Ruff answered, "very thoughtful of
his lordship. In the first place, then, I think, we will have the rest
of this jewelry packed in cases at once. Not that anything further is
likely to happen," he continued, "but still, it would be just as well
out of the way. I will remain here and superintend this, if you will
send a couple of careful servants. In the meantime, I want you to do
something else for me."

"Certainly, sir," the man answered.

"I want a plan of the house," Peter Ruff said, "with the names of the
guests who occupy this wing."

The butler nodded gravely.

"I can supply you with it very shortly, sir," he said. "There is no
difficulty at all about the plan, as I have several in my room; but it
will take me some minutes to pencil in the names."

Peter Ruff nodded.

"I will superintend things here until you return," he said.

"It is to be hoped, sir," the man said, as he retreated, "that the
gentleman from Scotland Yard will catch the thieves. After all, they
hadn't more than ten minutes' start, and our Daimler is a flyer."

"I'm sure I hope so," Peter Ruff answered, heartily.

But, alas! no such fortune was in store for Mr. John Dory. At daybreak
he returned in a borrowed trap from a neighboring railway station.

"Our tires had been cut," he said, in reply to a storm of questions.
"They began to go, one after the other, as soon as we had any speed on.
We traced the car to Salisbury, and there isn't a village within forty
miles that isn't looking out for it."

Peter Ruff, who had just returned from an early morning walk, nodded
sympathetically.

"Shall you be here all day, Mr. Dory?" he asked. "There's just a word or
two I should like to have with you."

Dory turned away. He had forced himself, in the excitement of the
moment, to speak to his ancient enemy, but in this hour of his humility
the man's presence was distasteful to him.

"I am not sure," he said, shortly. "It depends on how things may turn
out."

The daily life at Clenarvon Court proceeded exactly as usual. Breakfast
was served early, as there was to be big day's shoot. The Marquis de
Sogrange and Peter Ruff smoked their cigarettes together afterwards in
the great hall. Then it was that Peter Ruff took the plunge.

"Marquis," he said, "I should like to know exactly how I stand with
you--the 'Double-Four,' that is to say--supposing I range myself for an
hour or so on the side of the law?"

Sogrange smiled.

"You amuse yourself, Mr. Ruff," he remarked genially.

"Not in the least," Peter Ruff answered. "I am serious."

Sogrange watched the blue cigarette smoke come down his nose.

"My dear friend," he said, "I am no amateur at this game. When I choose
to play it, I am not afraid of Scotland Yard. I am not afraid," he
concluded, with a little bow, "even of you!"

"Do you ever bet, Marquis?" Peter Ruff asked.

"Twenty-five thousand francs," Sogrange said, smiling, "that your
efforts to aid Mr. John Dory are unavailing."

Peter Ruff entered the amount in his pocketbook. "It is a bargain," he
declared. "Our bet, I presume, carries immunity for me?"

"By all means," Sogrange answered, with a little bow.

The Marquis beckoned to Lord Sotherst, who was crossing the hall.

"My dear fellow," he said, "do tell me the name of your hatter in
London. Delions failed me at the last moment, and I have not a hat fit
for the ceremony to-morrow."

"I'll lend you half-a-dozen, if you can wear them," Lord Sotherst
answered, smiling. "The governor's sure to have plenty, too."

Sogrange touched his head with a smile.

"Alas!" he said. "My head is small, even for a Frenchman's. Imagine
me--otherwise, I trust, suitably attired--walking to the church
to-morrow in a hat which came to my ears!"

Lord Sotherst laughed.

"Scotts will do you all right," he said. "You can telephone."

"I shall send my man up," Sogrange determined. "He can bring me back a
selection. Tell me, at what hour is the first drive this morning, and
are the places drawn yet?"

"Come into the gun-room and we'll see," Lord Sotherst answered.

Peter Ruff made his way to the back quarters of the house. In a little
sitting-room he found the man he sought, sitting alone. Peter Ruff
closed the door behind him.

"John Dory," he said, "I have come to have a few words with you."

The detective rose to his feet. He was in no pleasant mood. Though
the telephone wires had been flashing their news every few minutes, it
seemed, indeed, as though the car which they had chased had vanished
into space.

"What do you want to say to me?" he asked gruffly.

"I want, if I can," Peter Ruff said earnestly, "to do you a service."

Dory's eyes glittered.

"I think," he said, "that I can do without your services."

"Don't be foolish," Peter Ruff said. "You are harboring a grievance
against me which is purely an imaginary one. Now listen to the facts.
You employ your wife--which after all, Dory, I think, was not quite
the straight thing--to try and track down a young man named Spencer
Fitzgerald, who was formerly, in a small way, a client of mine. I find
your wife an agreeable companion--we become friends. Then I discover her
object, and know that I am being fooled. The end of that little episode
you remember. But tell me why should you bear me ill-will for defending
my friend and myself?"

The detective came slowly up to Peter Ruff. He took hold of the lapel
of the other's coat with his left hand, and his right hand was clenched.
But Peter Ruff did not falter.

"Listen to me," said Dory. "I will tell you what grudge I bear against
you. It was your entertainment of my wife which gave her the taste
for luxury and for gadding about. Mind, I don't blame you for that
altogether, but there the fact remains. She left me. She went on the
stage."

"Stop!" Peter Ruff said. "You must still hold me blameless. She wrote to
me. I went out with her once. The only advice I gave her was to return
to you. So far as I am concerned, I have treated her with the respect
that I would have shown my own sister."

"You lie!" Dory cried, fiercely. "A month ago, I saw her come to your
fiat. I watched for hours. She did not leave it--she did not leave it
all that night!"

"If you object to her visit," Peter Ruff said quietly, "it is my wife
whom you must blame."

John Dory relaxed his hand and took a quick step backwards.

"Your wife?" he muttered.

"Exactly!" Peter Ruff answered. "Maud--Mrs. Dory--called to see me; she
was ill--she had lost her situation--she was even, I believe, faint and
hungry. I was not present. My wife talked to her and was sorry for her.
While the two women were there together, your wife fainted. She was put
to bed in our one spare room, and she has been shown every attention and
care. Tell me, how long is it since you were at home?"

"Not for ten days," Dory answered, bitterly. "Why?"

"Because when you go back, you will find your wife there," Peter Ruff
answered. "She has given up the stage. Her one desire is to settle down
and repay you for the trouble she has caused you. You needn't believe me
unless you like. Ask my wife. She is here. She will tell you."

Dory was overcome. He went back to his seat by the window, and he buried
his face for a moment in his hands.

"Ruff," he said, "I don't deserve this. I've had bad times lately,
though. Everything has gone against me. I think I have been a bit
careless, with the troubles at home and that."

"Stop!" Peter Ruff insisted. "Now I come to the immediate object of my
visit to you. You have had some bad luck at headquarters. I know of it.
I am going to help you to reinstate yourself brilliantly. With that, let
us shake hands and bury all the soreness that there may be between us."

John Dory stared at his visitor.

"Do you mean this?" he asked.

"I do," answered Peter. "Please do not think that I mean to make any
reflection upon your skill. It is just a chance that I was able to see
what you were not able to see. In an hour's time, you shall restore the
Clenarvon diamonds to Lord Clenarvon. You shall take the reward which
he has just offered, of a thousand pounds. And I promise you that the
manner in which you shall recover the jewels shall be such that you will
be famous for a long time to come."

"You are a wonderful man!" said Dory, hoarsely. "Do you mean, then, that
the jewels were not with those men in the motor-car?"

"Of course not!" Peter Ruff answered. "But come along. The story will
develop."

At half-past ten that morning, a motor-car turned out from the garage
at Clenarvon Court, and made its way down the avenue. In it was a single
passenger--the dark-faced Parisian valet of the Marquis de Sogrange. As
the car left the avenue and struck into the main road, it was hailed by
Peter Ruff and John Dory, who were walking together along the lane.

"Say, my man," Peter Ruff said, addressing the chauffeur, "are you going
to the station?"

"Yes, sir!" the man answered. "I am taking down the Marquis de
Sogrange's servant to catch the eleven o'clock train to town."

"You don't mind giving us a lift?" Peter Ruff asked, already opening the
door.

"Certainly not, sir," the man answered, touching his hat.

Peter Ruff and John Dory stepped into the tonneau of the car. The man
civilly lifted the hatbox from the seat, and made room for his enforced
companions. Nevertheless, it was easy to see that he was not pleased.

"There's plenty of room here for three," Peter Ruff said, cheerfully, as
they sat on either side of him. "Drive slowly, please, chauffeur. Now,
Mr. Lemprise," Peter Ruff added, "we will trouble you to change places."

"What do you mean?" the man called out, suddenly pale as death.

He was held as though in a vice. John Dory's arm was through his on one
side, and Peter Ruff's on the other. Apart from that, the muzzle of a
revolver was pressed to his forehead.

"On second thoughts," Peter Ruff said, "I think we will keep you like
this. Driver," he called out, "please return to the Court at once."

The man hesitated.

"You recognize the gentleman who is with me?" Peter Ruff said. "He
is the detective from Scotland Yard. I have full authority from Lord
Clenarvon over all his servants. Please do as I say."

The man hesitated no more. The car was backed and turned, the Frenchman
struggling all the way like a wild cat. Once he tried to kick the hatbox
into the road, but John Dory was too quick for him. So they drove up to
the front door of the Court, to be welcomed with cries of astonishment
from the whole of the shooting party, who were just starting. Foremost
among them was Sogrange. They crowded around the car. Peter Ruff touched
the hatbox with his foot.

"If we could trouble your Lordship," he said, "to open that hatbox,
you will find something that will interest you. Mr. Dory has planned a
little surprise for you, in which I have been permitted to help."

The women, who gathered that something was happening, came hastening out
from the hall. They all crowded round Lord Clenarvon, who was cutting
through the leather strap of the hatbox. Inside the silk hat which
reposed there, were the Clenarvon diamonds. Monsieur le Marquis de
Sogrange was one of the foremost to give vent to an exclamation of
delight.

"Monsieur le Marquis," Peter Ruff said, "this should be a lesson to you,
I hope, to have the characters of your servants more rigidly verified.
Mr. Dory tells me that this man came into your employ at the last moment
with a forged recommendation. He is, in effect, a dangerous thief."

"You amaze me!" Sogrange exclaimed.

"We are all interested in this affair," Peter Ruff said, "and my friend
John Dory here is, perhaps, too modest properly to explain the matter.
If you care to come with me, we can reconstruct, in a minute, the
theft."

John Dory and Peter Ruff first of all handed over their captive, who was
now calm and apparently resigned, to the two policemen who were still on
duty in the Court. Afterwards, Peter Ruff led the way up one flight of
stairs, and turned the handle of the door of an apartment exactly over
the morning-room. It was the bedroom of the Marquis de Sogrange.

"Mr. Dory's chase in the motor-car," he said, "was, as you have
doubtless gathered now, merely a blind. It was obvious to his
intelligence that the blowing away of the window was merely a ruse to
cover the real method of the theft. If you will allow me, I will show
you how it was done."

The floor was of hardwood, covered with rugs. One of these, near the
fireplace, Peter Ruff brushed aside. The seventh square of hardwood
from the mantelpiece had evidently been tampered with. With very little
difficulty, he removed it.

"You see," he explained, "the ceiling of the room below is also of
paneled wood. Having removed this, it is easy to lift the second one,
especially as light screws have been driven in and string threaded about
them. There is now a hole through which you can see into the room below.
Has Dory returned? Ah, here he is!"

The detective came hurrying into the room, bearing in his hand a
peculiar-shaped weapon, a handful of little darts like those which had
been found in the wounded man's head, and an ordinary fishing-rod in a
linen case.

"There is the weapon," Peter Ruff said, "which it was easy enough to
fire from here upon the man who was leaning forward exactly below. Then
here, you will see, is a somewhat peculiar instrument, which shows a
great deal of ingenuity in its details."

He opened the linen case, which was, by the bye, secured by a padlock,
and drew out what was, to all appearance, an ordinary fishing-rod,
fitted at the end with something that looked like an iron hand. Peter
Ruff dropped it through the hole until it reached the table, moved it
backwards and forwards, and turned round with a smile.

"You see," he said, "the theft, after all, was very simple. Personally,
I must admit that it took me a great deal by surprise, but my friend Mr.
Dory has been on the right track from the first. I congratulate him most
heartily."

Dory was a little overcome. Lady Mary shook him heartily by the hand,
but as they trooped downstairs she stooped and whispered in Peter Ruff's
ear.

"I wonder how much of this was John Dory," she said, smiling.

Peter Ruff said nothing. The detective was already on the telephone,
wiring his report to London. Every one was standing about in little
knots, discussing this wonderful event. Sogrange sought Lord Clenarvon,
and walked with him, arm in arm, down the stairs.

"I cannot tell you, Clenarvon," he said, "how sorry I am that I should
have been the means of introducing a person like this to the house. I
had the most excellent references from the Prince of Strelitz. No doubt
they were forged. My own man was taken ill just before I left, and I had
to bring some one."

"My dear Sogrange," Lord Clenarvon said, "don't think of it. What we
must be thankful for is that we had so brilliant a detective in the
house."

"As John Dory?" Sogrange remarked, with a smile. Lord Clenarvon nodded.

"Come," he said, "I don't see why we should lose a day's sport because
the diamonds have been recovered. I always felt that they would turn up
again some day or other. You are keen, I know, Sogrange."

"Rather!" the Marquis answered. "But excuse me for one moment. There is
Mrs. Ruff looking charming there in the corner. I must have just a word
with her."

He crossed the room and bowed before Violet.

"My dear lady," he said, "I have come to congratulate you. You have a
clever husband--a little cleverer, even, than I thought. I have just had
the misfortune to lose to him a bet of twenty-five thousand francs."

Violet smiled, a little uneasily.

"Peter doesn't gamble as a rule," she remarked.

Sogrange sighed.

"This, alas, was no gamble!" he said. "He was betting upon certainties,
but he won. Will you tell him from me, when you see him, that although
I have not the money in my pocket at the moment, I shall pay my debts.
Tell him that we are as careful to do that in France as we are to keep
our word!"

He bowed, and passed out with the shooting-party on to the terrace.
Peter Ruff came up, a few minutes later, and his wife gave him the
message.

"I did that man an injustice," Peter Ruff said with a sigh of relief. "I
can't explain now, dear. I'll tell you all about it later in the day."

"There's nothing wrong, is there?" she asked him, pleadingly.

"On the contrary," Peter Ruff declared, "everything is right. I have
made friends with Dory, and I have won a thousand pounds. When we leave
here, I am going to look out for that little estate in the country.
If you come out with the lunch, dear, I want you to watch that man
Hamilton's coat. It's exactly what I should like to wear myself at my
own shooting parties. See if you can make a sketch of it when he isn't
looking."

Violet laughed.

"I'll try," she promised.



BOOK TWO



CHAPTER I. RECALLED BY THE DOUBLE-FOUR


It is the desire of Madame that you should join our circle here on
Thursday evening next at ten o'clock.

The man looked up from the sheet of note-paper 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 stood there. 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. Scarcely yet
of middle age, well-preserved, upright, with neat figure dressed in the
conventional tweeds and gaiters of an English country gentleman, he
not only had loved his life, but he looked the part. 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 around with his usual morning greeting upon his lips. If country
life had agreed with Peter Ruff, it had transformed his wife. Her cheeks
were no longer pale; the extreme slimness of her figure was no longer
apparent. She was just a little more matronly, perhaps, but without
doubt a most beautiful woman. She came smiling across the room--a dream
of white 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 recognize 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, and left your London offices, 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 recognized 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
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 toward its close.

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 parlor-maid.

The girl had no idea. Mrs. Ruff had left for the village several hours
before; since then she had not been seen. Peter Ruff ate his luncheon
alone, and understood. The afternoon wore on, and at night he traveled
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, marvelous. The room itself might have been the sleeping
apartment of an empress--lofty, with white paneled 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 bedside, 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
traveling 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 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 honors 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 among them.

A morning journalist wrote of the death of Madame eloquently, and with
feeling. She had been a broad-minded 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 here 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 toward his companion,
and something new seemed to have crept into his manner--a solemn, almost
a threatening note.

"Peter Ruff," he continued, "you have trifled with the one organization
in this world which has never allowed liberties to be taken with it. Men
who have done greater service than you have died, for the disobedience
of a day. You have been treated leniently, according to the will of
Madame. According to her will, and in deference to the position which
you must now take up among us, we will 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 great 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 onto 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 great secret.
The government of our country has craved for our aid and the aid of our
organization. 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 bull-dog," Sogrange answered, "but you
are right. We are occupied now by affairs of international importance.
More than once, during the last few month, 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," interrupted the Marquis. "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 great 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 never can 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 Porchester House, Porchester 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 whoever 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. "There will be a good many
people who will remember me when I had offices in Southampton Row. 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-by
forever 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 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 Porchester 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 who 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 Ruff 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
brewing 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 Porchester 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 Porchester
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!"



CHAPTER II. PRINCE ALBERT'S CARD DEBTS


It was half past twelve, and every table at the Berkeley Bridge Club
was occupied. On the threshold of the principal room a visitor, who was
being shown around, was asking questions of the secretary.

"Is there any gambling here?" he inquired.

The secretary shrugged his shoulders.

"I am afraid that some of them go a little beyond the club points,"
he answered. "You see that table against the wall? They are playing
shilling auction there."

The table near the wall was, perhaps, the most silent. The visitor
looked at it last and most curiously.

"Who is the dissipated-looking boy playing there?" he asked.

"Prince Albert of Trent," the secretary answered.

"And who is the little man, rather like Napoleon, who sits in the
easy-chair and watches?"

"The Baron de Grost."

"Never heard of him," the visitor declared.

"He is a very rich financier who has recently blossomed out in London,"
the secretary said. "One sees him everywhere. He has a good-looking
wife, who is playing in the other room."

"A good-looking wife," the visitor remarked, thoughtfully. "But, yes! I
thank you very much, Mr. Courtledge for showing me round. I will find my
friends now."

He turned away, leaving Courtledge alone, for a minute or two, on the
threshold of the card room. The secretary's attention was riveted upon
the table near the wall, and the frown on his face deepened. Just as he
was moving off, the Baron de Grost rose and joined him.

"They are playing a little high in here this evening," the latter
remarked quietly.

Courtledge frowned.

"I wish I had been in the club when they started," he said, gloomily.
"My task is all the more difficult now."

The Baron de Grost looked pensively, for a moment, at the cigarette
which he was carrying.

"By the bye, Mr. Courtledge," he asked, with apparent irrelevance, "what
was the name of the tall man with whom you were talking just now?"

"Count von Hern. He was brought in by one of the attaches at the German
Embassy."

Baron de Grost passed his arm through the secretary's and led him a
little way through the corridor.

"I thought I recognized our friend," he remarked. "His presence here
this evening is quite interesting."

"Why this evening?"

Baron de Grost avoided the question.

"Mr. Courtledge," he said, "I think that you will allow me to ask you
something without thinking me impertinent. You know that my wife and I
have taken some interest in Prince Albert. It is on his account, is it
not, that you look so gloomy to-night, as though you had an execution in
front of you?"

Courtledge nodded.

"I am afraid," he announced, "that we have come to the end of our tether
with that young man. It's a pity, too, for he isn't a bad sort, and it
will do the club no good if it gets about. But he hasn't settled up for
a fortnight, and the matter came before the committee this afternoon. He
owes one man over seven hundred pounds."

The Baron de Grost listened gravely.

"Are you going to speak to him to-night?" he asked.

"I must. I am instructed by the committee to ask him not to come to the
club again until he has discharged his obligations."

De Grost smoked thoughtfully for a few moments.

"Well," he said, "I suppose there is no getting out of it. Don't rub it
in too thick, though. I mean to have a talk with the boy afterwards, and
if I am satisfied with what he says, the money will be all right."

Courtledge raised his eyebrows.

"You know, of course, that he has a very small income and no
expectations?"

"I know that," Baron de Grost answered. "At the same time, it is hard
to forget that he really is a member of the royal house, even though the
kingdom is a small one."

"Not only is the kingdom a small one," Courtledge remarked, "but there
are something like five lives between him and the succession. However,
it's very good-natured of you, Baron, to think of lending him a hand.
I'll let him down as lightly as I can. You know him better than any one;
I wonder if you could make an excuse to send him out of the room? I'd
rather no one saw me talking to him."

"Quite easy," said the Baron. "I'll manage it."

The rubber was just finishing as De Grost re-entered the room. He
touched the young man, who had been the subject of their conversation,
upon the shoulder.

"My wife would like to speak to you for a moment," he said. "She is in
the other room."

Prince Albert rose to his feet. He was looking very pale, and the
ash-tray in front of him was littered with cigarette ends.

"I will go and pay my respects to the Baroness," he declared. "It will
change my luck, perhaps. Au revoir!"

He passed out of the room and all eyes followed him.

"Has the Prince been losing again to-night?" the Baron asked.

One of the three men at the table shrugged his shoulders.

"He owes me about five hundred pounds," he said, "and to tell you the
truth, I'd really rather not play any more. I don't mind high points,
but his doubles are absurd."

"Why not break up the table?" the Baron suggested. "The boy can scarcely
afford such stakes."

He strolled out of the room in time to meet the Prince, who was standing
in the corridor. A glance at his face was sufficient--the secretary had
spoken. He would have hurried off, but the Baron intercepted him.

"You are leaving, Prince?" he asked.

"Yes!" was the somewhat curt reply.

"I will walk a little way with you, if I may," De Grost continued.
"My wife brought Lady Brownloe, and the brougham only holds two
comfortably."

Prince Albert made no reply. He seemed just then scarcely capable of
speech. When they had reached the pavement, however, the Baron took his
arm.

"My young friend," he inquired, "how much does it all amount to?"

The Prince turned towards him with darkening face.

"You knew, then," he demanded, "that Mr. Courtledge was going to speak
to me of my debts?"

"I was sorry to hear that it had become necessary," the Baron answered.
"You must not take it too seriously. You know very well that at a club
like the Berkeley, which has such a varied membership, card debts must
be settled on the spot."

"Mine will be settled before mid-day to-morrow," the young man declared,
sullenly. "I am not sure that it may not be to-night."

De Grost was silent for a moment. They had turned into Piccadilly. He
summoned a taxicab.

"Do you mind coming round to my house and talking to me, for a few
minutes?" he asked.

The young man hesitated.

"I'll come round later on," he suggested. "I have a call to make first."

De Grost held open the door of the taxicab.

"I want a talk with you," he said, "before you make that call."

"You speak as though you knew where I was going," the Prince remarked.

His companion made no reply, but the door of the taxicab was still open
and his hand had fallen ever so slightly upon the other's shoulder. The
Prince yielded to the stronger will. He stepped inside.

They drove in silence to Porchester Square. The Baron led the way
through into his own private sanctum, and closed the door carefully.
Cigars, cigarettes, whiskey and soda, and liqueurs were upon the
sideboard.

"Help yourself, Prince," he begged, "and then, if you don't mind, I am
going to ask you a somewhat impertinent question."

The Prince drank the greater part of a whiskey and soda and lit a
cigarette. Then he set his tumbler down and frowned.

"Baron de Grost," he said, "you have been very kind to me since I have
had the pleasure of your acquaintance. I hope you will not ask me any
question that I cannot answer."

"On the contrary," his host declared, "the question which I shall ask
will be one which it will be very much to your advantage to answer.
I will put it as plainly as possible. You are going, as you admit
yourself, to pay your card debts to-night or to-morrow morning, and you
are certainly not going to pay them out of your income. Where is the
money coming from?"

Albert of Trent seemed suddenly to remember that after all he was of
royal descent. He drew himself up and bore himself, for a moment, as a
Prince should.

"Baron de Grost," he said, "you pass the limits of friendship when you
ask such a question. I take the liberty of wishing you good-night."

He moved towards the door. The Baron, however, was in the way--a strong,
motionless figure, and his tone, when he spoke again, was convincing.

"Prince," he declared, "I speak in your own interests. You have not
chosen to answer my question. Let me answer it for you. The money to
pay your debts, and I know not how much besides, was to come from the
Government of a country with whom none of your name or nationality
should willingly have dealings."

The Prince started violently. The shock caused him to forget his
new-found dignity.

"How, in the devil's name, do you know that?" he demanded.

"I know more," the Baron continued. "I know the consideration which you
were to give for this money."

Then the Prince began plainly to show the terror which had crept into
his heart--the terror and the shame. He looked at his host like a man
dazed with hearing strange things.

"It comes to nothing," he said, in a hard, unnatural tone. "It is a
foolish bargain, indeed. Between me and the throne are four lives.
My promise is not worth the paper it is written upon. I shall never
succeed."

"That, Prince, is probably where you are misinformed," the Baron
replied. "You are just now in disgrace with your family, and you hear
from them only what the newspapers choose to tell."

"Has anything been kept back from me?" the Prince asked.

"Tell me this first," De Grost insisted. "Am I not right in assuming
that you have signed a solemn undertaking that, in the event of your
succeeding to the throne of your country, you will use the whole of your
influence towards concluding a treaty with a certain Power, one of the
provisions of which is that that Power shall have free access to any one
of your ports in the event of war with England?"

There was a moment's silence. The Prince clutched the back of the chair
against which he was leaning.

"Supposing it were true?" he muttered. "It is, after all, an idle
promise."

The Baron shook his head slowly.

"Prince," he said, "it is no such idle promise as it seems. The man who
is seeking to trade upon your poverty knew more than he would tell you.
You may have read in the newspapers that your two cousins are confined
to the palace with slight colds. The truth has been kept quiet, but it
is none the less known to a few of us. The so-called cold is really a
virulent attack of diphtheria, and, according to to-night's reports,
neither Prince Cyril nor Prince Henry are expected to live."

"Is this true?" the Prince gasped.

"It is true," his host declared. "My information can be relied upon."

The Prince sat down suddenly. He was looking whiter than ever, and very
scared.

"Even then," he murmured, "there is John."

"You have been out of touch with your family for some months," De
Grost reminded his visitor. "One or two of us, however, know what you,
probably, will soon hear. Prince John has taken the vows and solemnly
resigned, before the Archbishop, his heirship. He will be admitted into
the Roman Catholic Church in a week or two, and will go straight to a
monastery."

"It's likely enough," the Prince gasped. "He always wanted to be a
monk."

"You see now," the Baron continued, "that your friend's generosity was
not so wonderful a thing. Count von Hern was watching you to-night at
the Bridge Club. He has gone home; he is waiting now to receive you.
Apart from that, the man Nisch, with whom you have played so much, is a
confederate of his, a political tout, not to say a spy."

"The brute!" Prince Albert muttered. "I am obliged to you, Baron, for
having warned me," he added, rising slowly to his feet. "I shall sign
nothing. There is another way."

De Grost shook his head.

"My young friend," he said, "there is another way, indeed, but not the
way you have in your mind at this moment. I offer you an alternative.
I will give you notes for the full amount you owe to-night, so that
you can, if you will, go back to the club direct from here and pay
everything--on one condition."

"Condition!"

"You must promise to put your hand to no document which the Count von
Hern may place before you, and pledge your word that you have no further
dealings with him."

"But why should you do this for me?" the Prince exclaimed. "I do not
know that I shall ever be able to pay you."

"If you succeed to the throne, you will pay me," the Baron de Grost
said. "If you do not succeed, remember that I am a rich man, and that I
shall miss this money no more than the sixpence which you might throw to
a crossing-sweeper."

The Prince was silent. His host unlocked a small cabinet and took from
it a bundle of notes.

"Tell me the whole amount you owe," he insisted, "every penny, mind."

"Sixteen hundred pounds," was the broken reply.

De Grost counted a little roll and laid it upon the table.

"There are two thousand pounds," he said. "Listen, Prince. A name such
as you bear carries with it certain obligations. Remember that, and try
and shape your life accordingly. Take my advice--go back to your own
country and find some useful occupation there, even if you only rejoin
your regiment and wear its uniform. The time may come when your country
will require you, for her work comes sooner or later to every man. You
are leading a rotten life over here, a life which might have led to
disaster and dishonor, a life, as you know, which might have ended in
your rooms to-night with a small bullet hole in your forehead. Brave men
do not die like that. Take up the money, please."

The Baron de Grost sent a cipher dispatch to Paris that night, and
received an answer which pleased him.

"It is a small thing," he read, "but it is well done. Particulars of a
matter of grave importance will reach you to-morrow." letter.



CHAPTER III. THE AMBASSADOR'S WIFE


Alone in his study, with fast-locked door, Peter, Baron de Grost, sat
reading, word by word, with zealous care the despatch 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 for a few moments, and 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. Nevertheless, there was
sufficient illumination to show that Peter had achieved one, at least,
of his ambitions. He was wearing court dress, with immaculate black silk
stockings and diamond buckles upon his shoes. A red ribbon was in
his buttonhole 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 despatch, 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.

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.

The Baron de Grost 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 among us politically, while Madame--"

The Baron sighed, and his companion leaned a little towards him; her
dark eyes were full of sentimental regard.

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

"I am the good friend of Monsieur de Lamborne," the Baron 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 Parisienne 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 color 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.
De Grost, 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. The Baron, indeed, glanced around a little nervously. His wife
had still her moments of unreasonableness; it was just as well that
she was engaged with some 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 for a moment before her face. She sighed.

"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, she wondered, 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 the Baron, who was watching her closely, caught another gleam in
her eyes, and he began to understand. He had seen it before among 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 among 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. The Baron 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
gray hair, and a pointed gray beard. He wore a frilled shirt, and an
eye-glass 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," De Grost 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."

The Baron nodded.

"Well?"

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

"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
despatched to Berlin to-morrow evening, without fail."

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

De Lamborne shrugged his shoulders.

"Since you ask," he said, "I will 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."

The Baron 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 despatch which I received to-night contains the
reply to these questions."

"Which Bernadine has promised to forward to Berlin to-morrow night," the
Baron 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 despatch arrive," the Baron asked, "and what has
been its history since?"

"It arrived at six o'clock, and went straight into the inner pocket of
my coat; it has not been out of my possession for a single second. Even
while 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," the Baron
remarked, thoughtfully.

"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."

De Grost 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?"

The Baron drew from his pocket a crumpled piece of paper.

"I received a telegram from headquarters this after noon," 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.

The Baron de Grost 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 her lips themselves. She
was the centre of a very brilliant group, a most beautiful woman holding
court, as was only right and proper, among her admirers. The Baron
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," De Grost insisted. "For the present, excuse
me. I must look after my guests."

The music had ceased, there was a movement toward the supper-room. The
Baron 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 heard with well-simulated interest that Monsieur le Baron de Grost
awaited his arrival in the library. He 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 toward
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 myself."

The Baron 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," De Grost replied, "a strong cigar, and a
long whiskey and soda. So! Now, for our vigil."

The hours crawled away. Once De Grost 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."

De Grost 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."

The Baron 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.

The Baron shook his head.

"One mistakes," he declared. "The nerves become over sensitive."

The dawn broke and the awakening hum of the city grew louder and louder.
De Grost 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 pretenses to you.
With the day I have no fear. A thousand pardons for your sleepless
night."

"My sleepless night counts for nothing," the Baron 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.

De Grost 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?"

The Baron turned and faced him.

"My friend," he said, "this is not the same packet." The ambassador
stared at him incredulously.

"You are jesting!" he exclaimed. "Miracles do not happen. The thing is
impossible."

"It is the impossible, then, which has happened," De Grost replied,
swiftly. "This packet can scarcely have gained two ounces in the night.
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."

The Baron 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?" the Baron 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," De Grost said,
quietly. "It is a greater tragedy which we have to face."

Quick as lightning, the Frenchman's hand shot out. De Grost barely
avoided the blow.

"You shall answer to me for this, sir," De Lamborne cried. "It is the
honor of my wife which you assail."

"I maintain only," the Baron answered, "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."

De Grost'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. He answered her in French--French, with a
very guttural accent.

"Monsieur has ascended some few minutes ago. Myself, I have not had the
pleasure of wishing him bon aperitif, but Fritz announced his coming."

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 Hotel de
Lorraine. 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!" De Grost said, bowing low.

Even then she scarcely realized 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," De Grost
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," De Grost 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. De Grost glanced at it, and
placed it in his breast-pocket.

"And now?" she faltered.

De Grost sighed--she was a very beautiful woman.

"Madame," he said, "the career of a spy is, as you have doubtless
sometimes realized, 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,
yourself, shall be the trustee of my honor."

Her eyes and arms besought him, but it was surely a changed man--this.
There was none of the suaveness, the delicate responsiveness of her
late host at Porchester House. The man who faced her now possessed the
features of a sphinx. There was not even pity in his face.

"You will not tell my husband?" she gasped.

"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," De Grost 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," De Grost 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 sympathizing 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 IV. THE MAN PROM 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, 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 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, 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 some one was going to suggest that a secret,
but official, visit be paid to your new harbor 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 gayly, "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
marvelous 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 color faded from his
cheeks, he was white even to the parted lips, the wine dripped from his
raised glass onto 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, 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-colored. She
wore magnificent furs, and, as she threw aside her boa, she disclosed a
mass of jewelry 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 jewelry worn by the woman. Bernadine, under the mask of his habitual
indifference, which had easily reassumed, seemed to be looking away out
of the restaurant into the great square of a half-savage city, looking
at that marvelous 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 himself out a 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 realized 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 honor 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 the 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 cigarettes 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 candor even
among 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 candor 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 made sure that he does not
evade us."

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

"Why not? 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-colored 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 cloakroom, 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
immediately and 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 dropped 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 in 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 color 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 a little 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 taxicab and drove at once to the Embassy
of his country.

Even at that 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 that 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 any one 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 traveling 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 its motives may have been, its 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 its 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 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 multitude 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 further. 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. What am I to do? Bernadine is already upon the scent. He
saw him at the Savoy to-day, and recognized him."

"Has Bernadine approached him yet?" Violet inquired.

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

Violet was thoughtful for several moments, then she looked up quickly.

"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 the subtlety 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
that 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," reluctantly. "Paul is so queer in these things. He will not let
me talk of it. He prefers that we are taken for French people. Indeed,
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 among the revolutionaries?" he asked.

She nodded.

"Yes," she answered.

"And your husband?"

"He, too, was with them in sympathy. Secretly, too, I believe that he
worked among 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 color 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 rumor 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 role 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 sofa, close at hand. It was
for her answer to a certain 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 worshiped 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 you really 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 pretenses. 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 was
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 color had left her cheeks; her eyes, with their penciled 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, "and I will prove my words."

She did not hesitate for a moment. She disappeared into the inner room;
and came back, only a few moments absent, carrying in her hand a black
leather despatch-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 always. 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 for a second.

"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. "Sophia!"

She shrank away from him. He drew himself up. Once more the great light
flashed in his face.

"It was for your sake," he said simply, "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 honor, 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. No other man since
the world was made has done more. 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 V. 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 humor
for reminiscences, and they had outstayed most of their neighbors.

"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 gayly.

"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 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. 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. Even the Criminal Department once thought they had a
chance. I remember John Dory telling me in disgust that Bernadine was
like one of those marvelous 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 savor of life for me would depart with him."

Then there came a curious 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 some one. At last he
caught the eye of the Baron de Grost and came quickly toward 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, scrutinizing 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 taxicab 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," 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.

"It is in London?" she asked.

"Certainly," her husband replied. "I shall take a taxicab 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, 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 taxicab.

"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 carefully reread 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
occupation. 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's 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 mustache 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, "this is most unexpected. In the matter of
dramatic surprises, my friend Bernadine, you are 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 cheerfully. "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 toward 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 marvelous. 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 asserted. "You say to yourself,
no doubt, 'One of us two must go!' Being yourself, you would naturally
conclude that it must be I. 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, I presume, of Mr. Clarkson, so ably represented."

Bernadine sighed.

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

"And my clerk?"

"Incorruptible, 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 further 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 balked
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 don't 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 recognize 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 few lines on the back
of one of his cards.

"This will insure 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," 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 labors. Then there was
silence.

It was barely eleven 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 Porchester
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 any one
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 always 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. He bit his
lip till the blood came, and the veins at the back of his clenched hands
were swollen and thick. Nevertheless, when he spoke he had recovered in
great measure his self-control.

"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, passed through the door
of a locked warehouse and reached here before me?"

The Baron de Grost smiled as he pushed the cigarettes across to his
visitor.

"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 kindly, but gently,
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.
As to my presence here, I have an entrance from the street there which
makes me independent of my servants. The other details are too absurdly
simple; one need not enlarge upon them."

Bernadine turned slowly to Violet.

"You knew?" he muttered. "You knew when you brought me here?"

"Naturally," she answered. "We have telephones in every room in the
house."

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

De Grost laughed.

"My dear fellow," he said, "need I say that you are free to come or go,
to take a whiskey 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.

"We do not make war as those others," he remarked, smiling.

Bernadine drew himself up.

"I will not drink with you," he said, "I will not smoke with you. But
some day this 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 VI. THE SEVEN SUPPERS OF ANDREA KORUST


Peter, 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 ago 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 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.

Afterwards 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.

"Yes," said Peter, nodding, "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 marvelous
person. Peter, Baron de Grost, watched her every movement with absorbed
attention. 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.

                    MONSIEUR LE BARON DE GHOST.
                    Dear Monsieur le Baron,
             4  Come to my dressing-room, without  4
                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, too, 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 honored," 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,
those young men, 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 woolen 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 about until the car returned, smoking a cigarette and trying once
more to remember if he had ever heard anything from Sogrange of Andrea
Korust or his brother. 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 fur and smiles and jewelry
imperfectly concealed. A small crowd pressed around to see the famous
Frenchwoman. Peter handed her gravely across the pavement into his
waiting 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 now bound; taken it, too, at a fabulous
rent," Mademoiselle Celaire continued. "They, have installed there a
chef and a whole retinue of servants. They are 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
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 assembly 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 honor 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 that I present him."

Peter bowed low before a very handsome young woman with flashing
black eyes, and a type of features 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 claims 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 every one
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
Trezani, 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 Cleo, 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. One of the ladies
talking to my brother is Esther Braithwaite, whom, of course, you know
by sight; she is leading lady, is she not, at the Hilarity? The other
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 some one 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 honor him again."

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

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 every
one, 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 he 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
absolutely to coincide. She led him towards a retiring 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, gayly. "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 whispers.
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 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 Canton 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, however.

"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 eagerly as soon as they were
alone together 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, inquiringly.

"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 maneuvers, 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 frankly
admitted that music and cheerful companionship were the only two things
in life he 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 particular 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 entirely puzzled. She could see nothing whatever to account
for the warning which she had received, and which she had 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 attach, and the
English 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....

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
neighbors in a state of semi-hysterical mirth. The clink of wine
glasses, the laughter of beautiful women, the murmur of cultivated
voices, rising and swelling through the faint, mysterious gloom, made a
picturesque, a wonderful scene. Pale as a marble statue, with the covert
smile of the gracious host, Andrea Korust sat at the head of his table,
well pleased with his company, as indeed he had the right to be. By his
side was a great American statesman, who was traveling around 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 impatient voice was
heard in the hall outside, a 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 realize
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 newcomer 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 newcomer 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 some one 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 turned 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 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 focussed 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 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. "You've got to explain
to me what you mean by passing yourself off as Thomas Von Tassen, before
you leave this room."

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 Francois 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 artist 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, those 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 foreigner. 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 was 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 whiskey 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 VII. MAJOR KOSUTH'S MISSION


His host, very fussy as he always was on the morning of his big shoot,
came bustling towards Peter, Baron 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 traveling
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 hand 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."

The motor-car had come to a standstill by this time. From it descended
Mr. Portal himself, a large neighboring land owner, 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 mustache and
imperial, who was 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 honor to present--Major Kosuth,
Sir William Bounderby--is high up in the diplomatic service of a country
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
around, found Peter by his side.

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

The manners of 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 among 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 savor," Peter admitted,
blandly. "By the bye, will you not present me to your friend? I have
the utmost sympathy with the intrepid political party of which he is a
member."

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 country people, 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, and
overtaking his host, 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 favor, 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 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 campstool 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 neighbor on the left, with the same
lack-luster eye and want of enthusiasm. The beat was scarcely over
before Peter, resigning his smoking guns, 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 sympathize with you. It is a hard task for
a man whose mind is centered 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 life-time 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
somberness 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 sympathized 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."

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 learned by heart, no written key of which existed. Carefully he
transposed 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 gayly and swinging a gold purse upon her finger.

"Won three rubbers out of four, Peter," she declared, "and a compliment
from the Duchess. Am 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. 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 any one, even a multi-millionaire,
to handle in cash. And Turkey, I gather, wants it at once. Besides,
considerations which might be a security 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 and 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 some one," 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 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 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 apologize.

"I beg your pardon," he said, raising his hat. "I was rather in a hurry
and I quite thought I heard some one 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. "I am 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 recognized 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 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 objections 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 toward 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, anyway?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge inquired.

"A company you have 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, Baron?" Mr. Heseltine-Wrigge
remarked quietly.

"Not in the least," Peter assured him. "I know there is some tricky work
going on and 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 favor. Perhaps I have no right to, but as a
man of honor, 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 fete 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 among 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 though," 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 denouement.

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 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 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. He 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 & 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
companies 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 &
Hargreaves. To-day they belong to me. I have bought them and paid two
hundred thousand pounds 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 gray 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 God, I'm ruined!"

They found Major Kosuth in the hall of the hotel. He was wearing a fur
coat and was otherwise attired for traveling. 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 any one," 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 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."

"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 cafe, up some stairs, 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 & 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 shipbuilder's 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 installment 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 installment 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 & Hargreaves became at liberty to
sell those vessels, and that I have bought them. You will have to give
up that money, Major Kosuth."

"By God, 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 believe.
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 that 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 VIII. THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN


Peter, 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--his quondam enemy, and he, had
met but seldom during these years of their prosperity. 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 now of Scotland Yard, a person of
weight and importance--had changed a great deal during the last few
years. His hair had become gray, 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-humored 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 flavor 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 favor."

"An official favor?" 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 recognize 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 thunder-clouds 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 certainly 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, pre-eminently 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
favor 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 little 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 organization, the spoilt protege 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 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 mustache. Just now, notwithstanding the veneer of his too
perfect clothes and civilized air, the beast had leaped 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 any one 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 hack to Berkeley Square, and without a moment's hesitation
pressed the levers which set to work the whole underground machinery of
the great power which he controlled. Thenceforward, Monsieur Guillot was
surrounded with a vague army of silent watchers. They passed in and out
of his fiat, 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. Monsieur Guillot was indeed a man of gallantry, but he had
the reputation of using these affairs to cloak his real purposes. Those
who watched him, watched only the more closely. Monsieur Guillot, who
stood it very well at first, unfortunately lost his temper. He drove
in the great motor car which he had brought with him from Paris, to
Berkeley Square, 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. Voila. Take it up if you will. At midnight
you shall hear me laugh. I have the honor 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 tonight!"

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 tete-a-tete
dinner with his wife. Three times during the course of the meal he
was summoned to the telephone, and from each call he returned more
perplexed. Finally, when the servants had left the room, he took his
chair around 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."

"I am quite ready," she answered, smiling. "It is a long time since you
gave me anything to do."

"You have heard of Guillot?"

She reflected for 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. 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," answered Peter, "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 one can wholly fathom. Dory has enough to do with other things, as
you can imagine, just now. Besides, I think he recognizes 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, but 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 grill-room at the Milan. They have just ordered their coffee
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 most popular music-hall in London 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 around 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, unless he were sure of the
game. Then his face cleared a little. In the box adjoining 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
recognized 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 own 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 program 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 further back now, as though he no longer courted observation.
Something about his attitude puzzled the man who watched him. With a
sudden 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 doorkeeper
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 curb. 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, indeed, 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 black 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 recognized," 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.

"Dear 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 unrecognized, why do you not dress as all
the men do? Any one who was suspicious would recognize 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 man," 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 recognize 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 recognize 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 would 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 have 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 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 Lemere, 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 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.

"It is 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 of 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's 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 IX. THE GHOSTS OF HAVANA HARBOR


"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, lying at his ease upon a neighboring 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 arms towards the great uneasy plain of blue sea, the
showers of foam leaping into the sunlight, away beyond the disappearing
coast 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 gray 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 a White Star liner leaving Liverpool 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 traveling 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 corsetiere. 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
neighbors 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 honor 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
for the first time her veil. Peter, who was at the moment engaged in
conversation with her, was a little shocked by 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 splendor. These latter were almost violet in color,
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 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 traveling together, then?"

"By no means. I recognized 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
among my countrypeople, 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 stateroom. 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 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 northwest. 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
mast head. 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, willfully. 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?"

"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 rumored,
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 traveling 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 bye, wouldn't it have been better for us to have traveled
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-racked royal personage moving 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 the 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 whiskey 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 perceptions. 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 any one'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 Hem," 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 still 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. Tomorrow will be the
test. Bernadine had 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 some one. 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
newcomer 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 newcomer 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 traveling 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
newcomer 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
Brangaza 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 towards 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, "this 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 favorably 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 that 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 which places me there. In a year or two, what
may happen who can say? This craving for a republic is but a passing
dream. Spain, at heart, is monarchial. 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 stateroom, 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 honor, 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 Harbor 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 Brangaza
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 every one 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 a warship of your country 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
Brangaza 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 the
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 smoking-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 his
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 staterooms.

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 color was visible in his cheeks. His
chin protruded, his shaggy gray eyebrows gave him an unkempt appearance.
He wore a black velvet gown, a strangely cut black morning coat and
trousers, felt slippers, and his hands were clasped upon a stout ash
walking-stick. He eyed the newcomers 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 gray
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--he was there on the balcony with me. My husband said nothing.
The officer returned to the 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 tablespoonful 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 X. THE AFFAIR or 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 marvelous 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 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 pleasures 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--what evening 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 [Transcriber's note:
word missing]."

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 out 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 glanced 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
eyeglass--"

"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 hell, 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 a hotel on Broadway, within a stone's throw of Rector's.
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 the
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 said 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 twenty-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 state of chronic
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 program," Sogrange agreed. "We go now to
dine. Remind me, Baron, that I inquire for those strange dishes of
which one hears Terrapin, Canvas-backed Duck, Green Corn, 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 bye, 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 at flirtation with me, notwithstanding my gray
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 penciled 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 refreshment 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-looking youths, for whose drinks
Sogrange was called upon to pay. The attitude of these 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 recognized him at once and touched
Sogrange on the arm. The newcomer accosted them pleasantly.

"Say, you'll excuse my butting in," he began, "but I can see you're 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 show the gentlemen something of a sight more interesting that
this," the newcomer 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 newcomer asked, bluntly.

Sogrange shrugged his shoulders lightly.

"We are lookers-on merely," he explained. "My friend and I have traveled
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 newcomer smiled.

"Well," 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 sort of place would it be?" Sogrange asked.

The newcomer drew them on one side, although, as a matter of fact, every
one else had already melted away.

"Have you ever heard of the Secret Societies of New York?" he inquired.
"Well, I guess you haven't, any way--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 your friend, as he's 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 bye, 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 street 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, no 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 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 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 honor
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 another--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 like that," Sogrange remarked. "By the bye, 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 humor 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 that 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
jail-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. That
Count von Hern, he 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 apologizing."

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 honor, lunch with us to-morrow at one o'clock at
Rector's. My friend here is quite 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 back towards their hotel in silence. It was
only when they emerged into the civilized 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 bye, 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 little 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 sometime, 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 any one 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 XI. THE THIRTEENTH ENCOUNTER


The Marquis de Sogrange arrived in Berkeley Square with the gray dawn of
an October morning, showing in his appearance and dress few enough signs
of his night journey. Yet he had traveled 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 paralyzed France. To-day our country lies absolutely at the
mercy of any invader. As it happens, none is, for the moment, prepared.
Who can tell how it may be next time?"

"This is had 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 cafe 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
race-courses 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 among 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 organization 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 honors 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 a 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, 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
offense 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 any one. 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 honor--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 traveled 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 switches 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.

Among 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 that 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 one another. 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.

"Then she has come to see you," Sogrange continued. "What does it mean,
I wonder?"

Peter shrugged his shoulders.

"We shall know in a minute."

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
afterwards the perfume of violets seemed to fill the room.

"The Baroness von Ratten!" the butler announced.

The door was 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, colorless 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 prostrated. 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 realize the fascination of
this woman, of whom he had heard so much. Her very absence of coloring
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 any one 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 forever. 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 some one 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 a 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 I am frightened in it. For some reason or other, it
suited Bernadine, but that is all over now."

The little party of three relapsed 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, colorless, 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 behooved 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 realized 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
wide-awake 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 candor 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, while 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."

"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 maneuvers, 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 name,
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,
brownstone 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
but of 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 entree 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 honored
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 honor 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 gray 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 traveled.

"Will you take me in, Marquis?" she begged. "It is the only formality we
will allow ourselves."

They entered a long, low dining-room, paneled with oak, and with the
family portraits of the owner of the house still left upon the wall.
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'oeuvre. 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, our fourth guest who arrives," Sogrange remarked.

They all three listened, Peter and Sogrange with their glasses still
suspended in the air.

"Our fourth 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 traveling 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. Aimee, my love to you,
dear. Let me congratulate you upon the fortitude and courage with which
you 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 they now must be, Peter found himself possessed by 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 Aimee--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, 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 honor 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 Caesar!" Peter muttered grimly, raising his glass to his lips.

Bernadine accepted the challenge.

"It is not I, alas! who may call myself Caesar," 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 further and explain exactly how,
in this eminently respectable house, situated, I understand, in an
eminently respectable neighborhood, 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 toward 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 around 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
apologize. 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 any one'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 will
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. Any one will direct him to the
house--the High House, St. Mary's, remember. Good-by!"

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
any one? 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 a person of
commonsense. 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, and 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 realize
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. Every one
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 any one would speak with the Baroness, she is
indisposed and unable to receive. If any one 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 offenses 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 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 book-cases 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 and Peter, 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 structure 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 any one 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 were 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 blotted
now out of existence. 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
honorable--"

"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--as
far as London."





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