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Title: Shot With Crimson
Author: McCutcheon, George Barr
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 "Shot With Crimson" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



SHOT WITH CRIMSON

By George Barr McCutcheon

Illustrated by F. R. Gruger

New York: Dodd, Mead And Company

1918

[Illustration: 0001]

[Illustration: 0008]

[Illustration: 0009]



SHOT WITH CRIMSON



CHAPTER I


|FOR thirty seconds no one moved.

An odd sort of paralysis seemed to have gripped every one in the
room,--paralysis of the mind as well as of the body.

Then puzzled, wondering looks were exchanged.

A man sitting near the fireplace glanced sharply, apprehensively at the
huge beams in the ceiling and muttered:

“What was it! Sounded as though something had smashed in the roof.
There’s a tremendous wind. It may have got that big tree at the corner
of the locker room.”

“It _couldn’t_ have been thunder,--not at this time of the year,” said
one of the women, sending a nervous, frightened look at her husband
who sprawled ungracefully in a big Morris chair at the end of a table
littered with newspapers and magazines.

“‘Gad, did you feel the house rock?” exclaimed he, sitting up suddenly,
his eyes narrowing as with pain. “Like an earthquake.

“It _couldn’t_ have been an earthquake,” interrupted his wife, starting
up from her chair.

“Why couldn’t it?” he demanded crossly, and then glanced around at the
other occupants of the room,--ten or a dozen men and women seated in
a wide semi-circle in front of the huge logs blazing in the fireplace.
“What do you think it was, Zimmie?”

“We’ll find part or all of the roof gone,” answered the man addressed.
As he spoke, he rose quickly and started across the room in the
direction of the door leading to the steward’s pantry. “I’ll have a look
from the back of the--”

He stopped short. The dull, ripping crash that had startled them was
repeated, this time a little louder and more prolonged than before. The
club-house shook. Several of the men sprang to their feet in alarm. A
look of comprehension shot among them.

“By Gad! An explosion!” cried one of them. “The damned beasts!”

“The Reynolds Works!” cried another, gripping the back of his chair with
tense fingers. “Sure as you’re alive! It’s only a few miles from here.
Nothing else could have--”

“Let’s go home, Ned. The children--something may have happened--you
never can tell--”

“Don’t get excited, Betty,” cried the man in the Morris chair. She
was shaking his arm. “The children are in New York, twenty miles away.
They’re all right, old girl. Lord! What a smash it was!”

The group was silent, waiting with bated breath for the third and
perhaps more shocks to come.

The club steward came into the room, bearing a tray of bottles and
glasses. His face was ashen; there was a set expression about it, as one
who controls his nerves with difficulty.

“Did you hear it, Peter?” was the innocuous inquiry of one of the men, a
dapper young fellow in corduroys.

“_Yes_, Mr. Cribbs. I thought at first it was the roof, sir. The chef
said it was the big chimney--”

“Never mind the drinks, Peter,” said a tall, greyish man as the steward
placed the glasses on the table. “We’ve lost what little thirst we had.
Where are the Reynolds Works from here?”

Peter looked surprised. “South, sir,--beyond the hills. About five
miles, I should say, Mr. Carstairs.”

“And which way is south?” inquired one of the women. “I am always
turned around when I am in the country.” She was a singularly pallid,
clear-featured woman of perhaps forty-five. One might surmise that at
twenty she had been lovely, even exquisite.

“This way, Mrs. Carstairs,” said the steward, starting toward the
windows at the lower end of the lounge.

The man who had been addressed as Zimmie was already at one of the broad
windows, peering out into the black, windy night.

“Can’t see a thing,” he said, as the others crowded about him. “The
shops are off there in a direct line with the home green, I should say.”

“I happen to know that the Allies have a fifteen million dollar contract
with the Reynolds people,” said Carstairs, looking hard into the
blackness.

“If they’d string up a few of these infernal--There! See the glow coming
up over the hill? She’s afire! And with this wind,--‘gad, she’ll go like
waste paper! My God, I wish the whole German Army was sitting on top of
those buildings right now.” It was little Mr. Cribbs who spoke. He was
shaking like a leaf.

“I’d rather see a million or two of these so-called German-Americans
sitting there, Cribbs,” said Carstairs, between his teeth. “There’d be
some satisfaction in that.”

His wife nudged him sharply. He turned and caught the warning look in
her eye and the slight movement of her head in the direction of the man
called Zimmie.

“Oh, that’s all right,” cried Carstairs carelessly. “You needn’t punch
me, dear. Zimmie ‘s as good an American as any of us. Don’t think for a
moment, Zimmie, old chap, that I include you in the gang I’d like to see
sitting on that pile of shells over there.”

The man at the window turned, and smiled affably.

“Thanks, old man. Being, as you say, as good an American as any of you,
I may be permitted to return the compliment. I shouldn’t like to see
Mrs. Carstairs sitting on that pile of shells.”

Carstairs flushed. An angry light leaped to his eyes, but it was
banished almost instantly. Mrs. Carstairs herself replied.

“I can’t imagine anything more distasteful,” she drawled.

“But Mrs. Carstairs isn’t a German,” put in little Mr. Cribbs, somewhat
tartly for him.

“You’re always saying the wrong thing, Cribbs,--or the right thing at
the wrong time,” said Carstairs. “Mrs. Carstairs is not German. Her
father and mother were, however. She’s in the same fix as Zimmerlein,
and she isn’t ashamed of it any more than Zimmie is.”

“I had--er--no idea that Mrs. Carstairs was--”

“What were your parents, Mr. Cribbs?” asked Mrs. Carstairs calmly.

“Nebraskans,” said Cribbs, stiffening. “My grandfather was a Welshman.”

“And so you have absolutely nothing to reproach yourself with,” said
she. “How fortunate in these days.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Carstairs, if I--”

“I was born in the United States,” she said, without a trace of
annoyance, “but not in Nebraska. You have the advantage of me there, I
fear. And of poor Mr. Zimmerlein, too. He was born in Boston,--were you
not?”

“In Marlborough Street,” said Zimmerlein, drily. “My father was Irish,
as you can tell by me name, and me poor mither was Irish too. Her name
before marriage was Krausshof.” Mr. Cribbs’s face was scarlet. To cover
his confusion, he wedged his way a little closer to the windows and
glared at the dull red light that crept slowly out of the darkness
off to the south. The crests of the hills were beginning to take shape
against a background shot with crimson.

“Just the same,” he muttered, “I’d like to see the men who are
responsible for that fire over there burning in hell.”

“I think we can agree on that point, at least, Mr. Cribbs,” said
Zimmerlein, with dignity.

“Who wants to run over there with me in my car?” cried the other,
excitedly. “It’s only a few miles, and it must be a wonderful sight. I
can take six or seven--”

“Stay where you are, Cribbs,” said Carstairs sharply. “When those shells
begin to go off--Why, man alive, there’s never been anything on the
French front that could hold a candle to it. Don’t forget what happened
when Black Tom pier was blown up. Pray do not be alarmed, ladies. There
isn’t the slightest danger here. The shells they are making at the
Reynolds plant are comparatively small. We’re safely out of range.”

“What size shells were they making, Carstairs?” inquired one of the men.

“Three inch, I believe--and smaller. A lot of machine-gun ammunition,
too. Cox, the general manager, dined with us the other night. He talked
a little too freely, I thought,--didn’t you, Frieda?”

“He boasted, if that is what you mean,” said Mrs. Carstairs.

“Well,” said a big, red-faced man on the outer edge of the group, “it’s
time some of these blooming fools learned how to keep their mouths shut.
The country’s full of spies,--running over with ‘em. You never know when
you’re talking to one.”

Silence followed his remark. For some time they all stood watching the
crimson cloud in the distance, an ever-changing, pulsing shadow that
throbbed to the temper of the wind.

They represented the reluctant element of a large company that had spent
the afternoon and early evening at the Black Downs Country Club,--the
element that is always reluctant to go home. There had been many
intimate little dinner parties during the evening. New York was twenty
miles or more away, and there was the Hudson in between. The clock above
the huge fireplace had struck eleven a minute or two before the first
explosion took place. Chauffeurs in the club-garage were sullenly
cursing their employers. All but two or three waiters had gone off to
the railway station not far away, and the musicians had made the 10:30
up-train. Peter, the steward, lived on the premises with the chef and
several house employes.

The late-staying guests were clad in sport clothes, rough and warm
and smart,--for it was one of the smartest clubs in the Metropolitan
district.

A fierce October gale was whining, cold and bitter and relentless,
across the uplands; storm-warnings had gone out from the Weather Bureau;
coast-wise vessels were scurrying for harbours and farmers all over the
land had made snug their livestock against the uncertain elements.

If it turned out to be true that the vast Reynolds munitions plant had
been blown up, the plotters could not have chosen a more auspicious
night for their enterprise. No human force could combat the flames on
a night like this; caught on the wings of the wind there would be no
stopping them until the ashes of ruin lay wet and sodden where the
flight had begun.

Mrs. Carstairs was the first to turn away from the windows. She
shuddered a little. A pretty, nervous young wife sidled up to her, and
laid a trembling hand on her arm.

“Wouldn’t it be dreadful if there were a lot of people at work over
there when--when it happened?” she cried, in a tense, strained voice.
“Just think of it.”

“Don’t think about it, Alice dear. Think of what they are going through
in France and Belgium.”

“But we really aren’t fighting them yet,” went on the other,
plaintively. “Why should they blow up our factories? Oh, these dreadful,
terrible Germans.” Then suddenly, in confusion: “I--I beg your pardon.”

Mrs. Carstairs smiled pleasantly. “That’s all right, my dear. A good
many of us suffer for the sins of the fathers. Besides, we are in the
war, and have been for six months or more.”

“We all hate the Kaiser, don’t we?” pleaded the younger woman.

Mrs. Carstairs pressed her arm. “None more so than those of us whose
parents left Germany to escape such as he.”

“I’m glad to hear you say that.”

“Beg pardon,” said Peter the steward, at Mrs. Carstairs’ elbow. “I think
this is yours. You dropped it just now.”

“Thank you, Peter,” said she, taking the crumpled handkerchief he handed
her. “I shan’t drop it again,” she went on, smiling as she stuffed it
securely in the gold mesh bag she was carrying.

“Peter is such a splendid man, isn’t he?” said her young companion,
lowering her voice. “So much more willing and agreeable than old Crosby.
We’re all so glad the change was made.”

“He is most efficient,” said Mrs. Carstairs.

The admirable Peter approached Mr. Carstairs and Zimmerlein, who were
pouring drinks for themselves at the table.

“Preparedness is the word of the hour,” Carstairs was saying, as he
raised his glass. “It’s a long, cold ride home.”

“Excuse me, gentlemen, shall I call up Central at Bushleigh and see if
they can give us any news!” asked Peter.

“You might try. I don’t believe you can get a connection, however.
Everything must be knocked galley-west over on that side of the ridge.”

“I think your wife is signalling you, Car-stairs,” said Zimmerlein,
looking over the other’s shoulder.

Carstairs tossed off the contents of the glass, and reached out his hand
for the check. Zimmerlein already had it in his fingers.

‘“I’ll sign it, old chap,” he said. “Give me your pencil, Peter.”

“None of that, Zimmie. I ordered the--”

“Run along, old man, your wife--He’s coming, Mrs. Carstairs,” called out
Zimmerlein.

As Carstairs turned away, Zimmerlein scratched his name across the
check, and handed it back to the steward.

“Under no circumstances are you to call up Bushleigh,” fell in low,
distinct tones from his lips. “Do you understand?”

Peter’s hand shook. His face was livid.

“Yes, sir,” he muttered. “What shall I say to Mr. Carstairs?”

“Say that no one answers,” said the other, and walked away.

The company had recovered its collective and individual power of speech.
Every one was talking,--loudly, excitedly, and in some cases violently.
Some were excoriating the Germans, others were bitterly criticizing
the Government for its over-tenderness, and still others were blaming
themselves for not taking the law in their own hands and making short
work of the “soap-boxers,” the “pacifists,” and the “obstructionists.”
 Little Mr. Cribbs was the most violent of them all. He was for
organizing the old-time Vigilantes, once so efficacious in the Far West,
and equipping them with guns and ropes and plenty of tar and feathers.

“Nothing would please me more than to lead such a gang,” he proclaimed.
“Lead ‘em right into these foul nests where----What’s that, Judge?”

“I repeat--How old are you, Cribbs?”

“Oh, I guess I’m old enough to shoot a gun, or pull a rope or carry a
bucket of tar,” retorted the young man.

“I’ll put it the other way. How young are you?”

“I’m twenty-nine.”

“I see. And how did you escape the draft?”

“They haven’t reached my number yet,” said Mr. Cribbs, with dignity.

“Well, that’s good. There’s still hope,” said the Judge, grimly. “They
need just such fire-eaters as you over there in France with Pershing.”

Carstairs turned to Zimmerlein, who was being helped into his fur-coat
by one of the attendants.

“Can’t we take you to the city, Zimmerlein? There is plenty of room in
the car.”

“No, thank you, Carstairs. I’m going in by train. Mr. and Mrs. Prior
will drop me at the station. Good night. Oh, here’s Peter. What did you
hear?”

“I could get no answer, Mr. Zimmerlein,” said the steward steadily.
“Wires may be down, sir.”

“Good night, Mrs. Carstairs.” Zimmerlein held out his hand. She
hesitated an instant, and then took it. Her gaze was fixed, as if
fascinated, on his dark, steady eyes.



CHAPTER II

|HOARSE, raucous-voiced newsboys were crying the “extras” soon after
midnight. They were doing a thriving business. The destruction of the
great Reynolds plant, more spectacular and more appalling than any
previous deed perpetrated by the secret enemies of the American people,
was to drive even the most sanguine and indifferent citizen to a full
realizaton of the peril that stalked him and his fellow-man throughout
the land. Complacent security was at last to sustain a shock it could
not afford to scorn. Up there in the hills of Jersey a bombardment had
taken place that rivalled in violence, if not in human toll, the most
vivid descriptions of shell-carnage on the dripping fronts of France.

Huge but vague headlines screamed into the faces of quick-breathing men
and wide-eyed women the first details of the great disaster across the
River.

Night-farers, threading the streets, paused in their round of pleasure
to gulp down the bitter thing that came up into their throats--a sick
thing called Fear. From nearly every doorway in the city, some one
issued forth, bleak-eyed and anxious, to hail the scurrying newsboys.
The distant roar of the shells had roused the millions in Manhattan;
windows rattled, the frailer dwellings rocked on thin foundations. It
was not until the clash of heavy artillery swept up to the city on
the wind from the west that the serene, contemptuous denizens of the
greatest city in the world cast off their mask of indifference and rose
as one person to ask the vital question: Are the U-Boats in the Harbour
at last?

An elderly man, two women, and a sallow-faced man of thirty sat by the
windows at the top of a lofty apartment building on the Upper West Side.
For an hour they had been sitting there, listening, and looking always
to the west, out over the dark and sombre Hudson. Father, mother,
daughter and son. The first explosion jarred the great building in which
they were securely housed.

“Ah!” sighed the old man, and it was a sigh of relief, of satisfaction.
The others turned to him and smiled for the first time in hours. The
tension was over.

Farther down-town two men in one of the big hotels silently shook
hands, bade each other a friendly good-night for the benefit of chance
observers, and went off to bed. The waiting was over.

Two night watchmen met in front of one of the biggest office buildings
in New York, within hearing of the bells of Trinity and almost within
sound of the sobbing waters of the Bay. Their faces, rendered almost
invisible behind the great collars that protected them from the shrill
winds coming up the canyons from the sea, were tense and drawn and
white, but their eyes glittered brightly, fiercely, in the darkness.
They too had been waiting.

In a dingy apartment in Harlem, three shifty-eyed, nervous men, and
a pallid, tired, frightened woman rose suddenly from the lethargy of
suspense and grinned evilly, not at each other but at the rattling,
dilapidated window looking westward across the sagging roofs of the
squalid district. One of the men stretched forth a quivering hand and,
with a hoarse laugh of exultation, seized in his fingers a strange,
crudely shaped metallic object that stood on the table nearby. He
lifted it to his lips and kissed it! Then he put it down, carefully,
gingerly,--with something like fear in his eyes. Scraps of tin, pieces
of iron and steel, strands of wire, wads of cotton and waste, and an
odd assortment of tools littered the table. Harmless appearing cans, and
bottles, and dirty packages, with a mortar and pestle, a small chemist’s
scales, funnels and graduates stood in innocent array along a shelf
attached to the wall, guarded,--so it seemed,--by sinister looking tubes
and retorts.

The woman, her eyes gleaming with a malevolent joy that contrasted
strangely with the dread that had been in them a moment before, lifted
her clenched hands and hissed out a single word:

“Christ!”

They, too, had been waiting.

Thousands there were in the great city whose eyes glistened that
night,--thousands who had not been waiting, for they knew nothing of
the secret that lay secure and safe in the breasts of the few who were
allowed to strike. Thousands who rejoiced, for they knew that a great
and glorious deed had been done! They only knew that devastation had
fallen somewhere with appalling force,--it mattered not to them where,
so long as it had fallen in its appointed place!

Many a glass, many a stein, was raised in stealthy tribute to the hand
that had rocked the city of New York! And in the darkness of the night
they hid their gloating faces, and whispered a song without melody.

Rich man, poor man, beggar-man, thief! In spirit, at least, they touched
hands and thrilled with a common exaltation!

It was after one o’clock when the Carstairs’ motor crept out of the
ferry-house at 130th Street, and whirled up the hill toward the Drive.
A rough-looking individual who loitered unmolested in the lee of the
ferry-house, peered intently at the number of the car as it passed, and
jotted it down in a little book. He noted in the same way the license
numbers of other automobiles. When he was relieved hours afterward, he
had in his little book the number of every car that came in from Jersey
between half past eleven at night and seven o’clock in the morning. It
was not his duty to stop or question the occupants of these cars. He
was merely exercising the function of the mysterious Secret Eyes of the
United States Government.

Mr. and Mrs. Carstairs were admitted to their Park Avenue apartment by
a tall, beautiful girl, who threw open the door the instant the elevator
stopped at the floor.

“Thank goodness!” she cried, a vibrant note of relief in her voice “We
were so dreadfully--”

“What are you doing up, Louise?” cried Mrs. Carstairs quickly. Her
husband frowned, as with annoyance.

“Where is Hodges?” he demanded. He stood stock-still for a moment before
following his wife into the foyer.

“He went out some time ago to get an ‘extra.’ The boys were in the
street calling new ones. He asked if he might go out. How--how terrible
it is, Uncle Dawy. And it was so near the Club, I--I--oh, I was
dreadfully worried. The papers say the shells fell miles away--Why, I
couldn’t go to bed, Aunt Frieda. We have been trying for hours to get
the Club on the telephone.” She was assisting Mrs. Carstairs in removing
her rich chinchilla coat. Carstairs studied the girl’s white face with
considerable anxiety as he threw off his own fur coat. The worried frown
deepened.

“Could you hear the explosions over here, Louise?” he asked.

“Hear them? Why, Uncle dear, we all thought the city was being bombarded
by warships in the river, it sounded so near and so terrible. Alfie and
I ran to the windows. It was just after eleven, I think. He called up
Central at once, but the girl was so frightened she could hardly speak.
She didn’t know what had happened, but she was sure the Germans were
destroying the city. She said another girl had seen the Zeppelins.
Alfie went out at once. Oh, dear, I am so glad you are home. I was so
anxious--”

“My dear child, you should be in bed,” began her uncle, taking her hand
in his. He laid his other hand against her cheek, and was relieved to
find it cool. “You say Alfred went out--at eleven?”

“A few minutes after eleven. He waited until all the noise had ceased. I
assured him I was not the least bit nervous. He had been working so hard
all evening in your study over those stupid physics.”

“And he hasn’t returned? Confound him, he shouldn’t have gone off and
left you all alone here for two solid hours--”

“Don’t be angry with him, Uncle Dawy,” pleaded the girl. “He was so
excited, poor boy, he simply couldn’t sit here without knowing what had
happened. Besides, Hodges and two of the maids were up,--so I wasn’t all
alone.” She followed them into the brilliantly lighted drawing-room.
“Here are the first extras. The doorman sent them up to me.”

Mrs. Carstairs dropped heavily into a chair. Her face was very white.

“How terrible,” she murmured, glancing at the huge headlines.

“I say, Frieda,” exclaimed her husband; “it’s been too much for you. A
drop of brandy, my dear,--”

“Nothing, thank you, Davenport. I am quite all right. The shock, you
know. We were so near the place, Louise,--don’t you see? Really, it was
appalling.”

“What beasts! What inhuman beasts they are!” cried the girl, in a sort
of frenzy. “They ought to be burned alive,--burned and tortured for
hours. The last extra says that the number of dead and mutilated is
beyond--”

“Now, now!” said Carstairs, gently. “Don’t excite yourself, child. It
isn’t good for you. You’ve been too ill, my dear. Run along to bed,
there’s a sensible girl. We’ll have all the details by tomorrow,--and,
believe me, things won’t be as bad as they seem tonight. It’s always the
case, you know. And you, too, Frieda,--get to bed. Your nerves are all
shot to pieces,--and I’m not surprised. I will wait for--”

A key grated in the door.

“Here he is now. Hello, Alfred,--what’s the latest?”

His son came into the room without removing his overcoat or hat. His
dark eyes, wet from the sharp wind without, sought his mother’s face.

“Are you all right, Mother? I’ve been horribly worried--thank the Lord!
It’s a relief to see that smile! You’re all right? Sure?”

He kissed his mother quickly, feverishly. She put her arm around his
neck and murmured in his ear.

“I am frightfully upset, of course, dear. Who wouldn’t be?”

He stood off and looked long and intently into her eyes. Then he
straightened up and spoke to his father.

“I might have known you wouldn’t let anything happen to her, sir. But
I was horribly worried, just the same. Those beastly shells went
everywhere, they say. The Club must have been--”

“Nowhere near the Club, so far as I know,” said his father cheerfully.
“We were all perfectly safe. Have they made any arrests? Of course, it
wasn’t accidental.”

“I’ve been downtown, around the newspaper offices,” said the young
man, throwing his coat and hat on a chair. “There are all sorts of wild
stories. People are talking about lynchings, and all that sort of rot.
Nothing like that ever happens, though. We do a lot of talking, and
that’s all. It all blows over as soon as the excitement dies down.
That’s the trouble with us Americans.”

“America will wake up one of these days, Alfred,” said his father
slowly, “and when she does, there will be worse things than lynchings to
talk about.”

“Are your feet cold, Alfred dear?” inquired his mother, a note of
anxiety in her voice. “You’ve been tramping about the streets, and----
You must have a hot water bottle when you go to bed. There is so much
pneumonia--”

“Always mothering me, aren’t you, good Frieda?” he said, lovingly. He
pronounced it as if it were Friday. It was his pet name for her in the
bosom of the family. “Warm as toast,” he added. He turned to Louise.
“You didn’t mind my running away and leaving you, did you, Louise?”

“Not a bit, Alfie. I tried to get Derrol on the long distance, but they
said at the Camp it was impossible to call him unless the message was
very important. I--I--so I asked the man if there had been any kind
of an accident out there and he said no, there hadn’t. I--asked him if
Captain Steele was in bed, and he said he should hope so. Don’t laugh,
Alfie! I know it was silly, but--but it _might_ have been an ammunition
depot or something at the Camp. We didn’t know--”

“Ammunition, your granny! They haven’t sufficient ammunition in that
Camp,--or in any of ‘em, for that matter,--to make a noise loud enough
to be heard across the street. How can you expect me to keep a straight
face when you suggest an _explosion_ in an Army Camp?”

“It’s high time we stopped talking about explosions and went to bed,”
 said Carstairs, arising. He put his arm across his wife’s shoulders.
“We’ve had all the explosions we can stand for one night, haven’t we,
dear? Come along, everybody. Off with you!”

“Hodges should be back any moment with the latest ‘extra,’” said Louise.
“Can’t we wait just a few minutes, Uncle Dawy? He has been gone over an
hour.”

The telephone bell in Mr. Carstairs’ study rang. So taut were the nerves
of the four persons in the adjoining room that they started violently.
They looked at each other in some perplexity.

“Probably Hodges,” said Alfred, after a moment. “Shall I go, dad?”

“See who it is,” said Carstairs.

“Wrong number, more than likely,” said his wife, wearily. “Central has
been unusually annoying of late. It happens several times every day. The
service is atrocious.”

Young Carstairs went into the study and snatched up the receiver.
Moved by a common impulse, the others followed him into the room, the
face of each expressing not only curiosity hut a certain alarm.

“Yes, this is Mr. Carstairs’ residence.... What?... All right.” He sat
down on the edge of the library table and turned to the others. “Must be
long distance. They’re getting somebody.”

Alfred Carstairs was a tall, well-built young fellow of twenty. He
bore a most remarkable, though perhaps not singular, resemblance to his
mother. His eyes were dark, his thick hair a dead black, growing low on
his forehead. The lips were full and red, with a whimsical curve at
the corners denoting not merely good humour but a certain contempt for
seriousness in others. He was handsome in a strong, hold way despite a
strangely colourless complexion,--a complexion that may be described as
pasty, for want of a nobler word. His voice was deep, with the guttural
harshness of youth; loud, unmusical, not yet fixed by the processes
of maturity. A big, dominant, vital boy making the last turn before
stepping into full manhood. He was his mother’s son,--his mother’s boy.

His father, a Harvard man, had been thwarted in his desire to have
his son follow him through the historic halls at Cambridge,--as he had
followed his own father and his grandfather.

Sentiment was not a part of Alfred’s makeup. He supported his mother
when it came to the college selection. Together they agreed upon
Columbia. She frankly admitted her selfishness in wanting to keep
her boy at home, but found other and less sincere arguments in the
protracted discussions that took place with her husband. She fought
Harvard because it was not democratic, because it bred snobbishness and
contempt, because it deprived the youth of this practical age of the
breadth of vision necessary to success among men who put ability before
sentiment and a superficial distinction. She urged Columbia because it
was democratic, pulsating, practical.

In the end, Carstairs gave in. He wanted to be fair to both of them. But
he was not deceived. He knew that her chief reason, though spoken softly
and with almost pathetic simpleness, was that she could not bear the
separation from the boy she loved so fiercely, so devotedly. He was
not so sure that filial love entered into Alfred’s calculations. If the
situation had been reversed, he was confident,--or reasonably so,--that
Alfred would have chosen Harvard.

He had the strange, unhappy conviction that his son opposed him in this,
as in countless other instances, through sheer perversity. His mother’s
authority always had been supreme. She had exercised it with an
iron-handed firmness that not only surprised but gratified the father,
who knew so well the tender affection she had for her child. Her word
was law. Alfred seldom if ever questioned it, even as a small and
decidedly self-willed lad. Paradoxically, she both indulged and
disciplined him by means of the same consuming force: her mother-love.

On the other hand, Carstairs,--a firm and positive character,--received
the scantiest consideration from the boy on the rare occasions when he
felt it necessary to employ paternal measures. Alfred either sulked or
openly defied him. Always the mother stepped into the breach. She never
temporized. She either promptly supported the father’s demand or opposed
it. No matter which point of view she took, the youngster invariably
succumbed. In plain words, it was _her_ command that he obeyed and not
his father’s.

As time went on, Carstairs came to recognize the resistless combination
that opposed him, and, while the realization was far from comforting,
his common-sense ordered him to accept the situation, especially as
nothing could be clearer than the fact that she was bringing her son
up with the most rigid regard for his future. She had her eyes set far
ahead; she was seeing him always as a man and not as a boy. That much,
at least, Carstairs conceded, and was more proud of her than he cared
to admit, even to himself. He watched the sturdy, splendid, earnest
development of his boy under the influence of a force stronger than any
he could have exercised.

Sometimes he wondered if it was the German in her that made for the
rather unusual strength which so rarely rises above the weakness of a
mother’s pity. Once he laughingly had inquired what she would have done
had their child been born a girl.

“I should have been content to let _you_ bring her up,” said she, with a
twinkle in her eye.

While she was resolute, almost unyielding in regard to her growing son,
her attitude toward her husband was in all other respects amazingly free
from assertiveness or arrogance. On the contrary, she was submissive
almost to the point of humility. He was her man. He was her law. A
simple, unwavering respect for his strength, his position, his authority
in the home of which he was the head, rendered her incapable of opposing
his slightest wish. An odd timidity, singularly out of keeping with
her physical as well as her mental endowments, surrounded her with that
pleasing and,--to all men,--gratifying atmosphere of femininity so dear
to the heart of every lord and master. She made him comfortable.

And she was, despite her social activities, a good and capable
house-wife,--one of the old-fashioned kind who thinks first of her
man’s comfort and, although in this instance it was not demanded, of his
purse. He was her man; it was her duty to serve him.

As her boy merged swiftly,--almost abruptly into manhood,--her
long-maintained grip of iron relaxed. Carstairs, noting the change, was
puzzled. He was a long time in arriving at the solution. It was very
simple after all: she merely had admitted another _man_ into her
calculations. Her boy had become a man,--a strong, dominant man,--and
she was ready, even willing, to relinquish the temporary power she had
exerted over him.

She was no longer free to command. Alfred had come into his own. He was
a man. She was proud of him. The time had come for her to be humble in
the light of his glory, and she was content to lay aside the authority
with which she had cloaked her love and ambition for so long. _His_ word
had become her law. She had two men in her family now. Slowly but surely
she was giving them to understand that she was their woman, and that
she knew her place. She had been for twenty-two years the wife of one of
them, and for twenty years the mother of the other.

Carstairs was rich. He was a man of affairs, a man of power and
distinction in the councils of that exalted class known as the leaders
of finance. He represented one of the soundest vertebrae in the
back-bone of the nation in these times of war. With a loyalty that
incurred a tremendous amount of self-sacrifice, he had offered all of
his vital energy, all of his heart, to the cause of the people. He was
on many boards, he was in touch with all the great enterprises that
worked for the comfort, the support and the encouragement of those
who went forth to give their lives if need be in the turmoil’ of war.
Davenport Carstairs stood for all that was fine and strong in practical
idealism, which, after all, is the basis of all things truly American.

As he stood inside the study door, watching with some intensity the
face of his son, he was suddenly conscious of a feeling of dread, not
associated with the recent grave event, but something new that was
creeping, as it were, along the wire that reached its end in the
receiver glued to Alfred’s ear. He glanced at his wife. She suddenly
exhaled the breath she was holding and smiled faintly into his concerned
eyes.

“Yes,--” said Alfred, impatiently, after a long pause,--“Yes, this is
Mr. Carstairs’ home.... I am his son.... What?... Yes, he’s here, but
can’t you give me the message?... Who are you?... What?... Certainly
I’ll call him, but... Here, father; it’s some one who insists on
speaking to you personally.”

He set the receiver down on the table with a sharp bang, and
straightened up to his full height as if resenting an indignity.

[Illustration: 0051]

Carstairs took up the receiver. He realized that his hand trembled. He
had never known it to happen before, even in moments of great stress.

“_Yes_, this is Davenport Carstairs. Who are you, please?” He started
slightly at the crisp, business-like reply. “Bellevue Hospital? Police
surgeon--What? Just a moment, please. Now, go ahead.” He had seated
himself in the great library chair at the end of the table. “Yes;
my butler’s name is Hodges.... An Englishman.... What?... What has
happened, officer?... Good God!... I--Why, certainly, I shall come down
at once if necessary. I--can identify him, of course.... Yes, tomorrow
morning will suit me better.... Hold the wire a moment, please.”

He turned to the listeners. “Hodges has been injured by an automobile,”
 he said quietly. “I gather he is unconscious. You are nervous and upset,
Frieda, so you’d better retire. Leave this to--”

“Is he dead, Davenport?” she asked in a low horror-struck voice.

“Run along, Louise,--skip off to bed. I’ll get the details and tell
you in the morning.” The girl swayed slightly. Her eyes were wide with
anguish.

“I--I shouldn’t have allowed him to go out,” she stammered. “I--Oh,
Uncle Dawy!”

Mrs. Carstairs put her arm about the girl’s waist and led her from the
room. Carstairs looked up at his son.

“I guess you can stand it, Alfred. He’s dead. Instantly killed.” He
spoke into the transmitter. “Tell me how it happened, please.”

He hung up the receiver a moment or two later.

“Run down at the corner of Madison Avenue and 48th Street. There were
two witnesses, and both say that he was standing in the street waiting
for a car. The automobile was going forty miles an hour. He never knew
what hit him. Poor devil! Have you ever heard him mention his family,
Alfred? We must notify some one, of course.”

“No, sir,” said his son. “He seemed a quiet sort. The other servants may
know. Mother says his references were of the highest order,--that’s all
I know. What a terrible thing to have--”

“We must not worry your mother with this tonight, my son. She’s had
enough for today.”

“I should say so,” exclaimed Alfred, clenching his hands. He choked up,
and said no more.



CHAPTER III

|PAUL ZIMMERLEIN was a mining engineer. His offices were off Fifth
Avenue, somewhere above 34th Street. He stood well in his profession, he
stood high as a citizen. No one questioned his integrity, his ability
or his loyalty. He was a good American. At least, a great many good
Americans said he was, which amounts to the same thing.

One entered his offices through a small antechamber, where a young woman
at the telephone-desk made perfunctory inquiries, but always in a crisp,
business-like manner. She was the first cog in a smooth-running piece of
machinery. Her name was Mildred,--Mildred Agnew, and she had a brother
in the British navy, from whom she received infrequent letters of a most
unilluminating character,--letters omitting date, place and ship: in
which he said he was well and happy and hoped to God the Germans would
come out into the open to see what the weather was like.

If your business was important, or you had an appointment, you would
be conducted by a smart-looking boy into a rather imposing corner room,
from whose windows you could look down fourteen storeys to the roof of
an eight storey building below. Presently you would be invited into
Mr. Zimmerlein’s private office. Beyond this snug little office was the
drafting room, where several actively studious men of various ages bent
over blue-prints and estimate sheets.

They all appeared to be good, industrious Americans; you could see them
quite plainly through the glass upper half of the intervening door.

You were at once aware of an impression that this was not the place to
come if you were engaged in a secret or shady enterprise,--such as the
exploitation of a “get-rich-quick” mining proposition or any kindred
opening for the unwary. You always said to yourself that you felt quite
safe in the hands of Mr. Paul Zimmerlein,--and his associates.

You went about saying that you wished all men with German blood in them
were like Mr. Paul Zimmerlein. He became one of your pet hobbies. You
invariably referred to him when you declared that you knew at least
one man of German extraction who was “absolutely on the level,” and you
would unhesitatingly go about proving it if any one had the effrontery
to even discuss the point with you. All you would have to do would be
to point in triumph to the men who were his associates professionally,
commercially and socially. The list would include many of the really
significant figures in public life. Among them, for instance, you would
mention several United States senators, at least two gentlemen high
up in Administrative circles, practically all of the big financiers,
certain members of the English Cabinet, and,--in a pinch,--the
presidents of three South American Republics. He was on record as being
violently opposed to Von Berastorff,--indeed, he had said such
bitter and violent things about the ex-ambassador that even the most
conservative German-Americans,--those who actually were opposed to the
Kaiser and his policies,--felt that he was going much too far.

He was about forty years of age, tall and powerfully built, with
surprisingly mobile features for one whose face at a glance suggested
heaviness and stolidity. His smile was ever ready and genial; his manner
courtly; his eyes, which were honest and unwavering, had something
sprightly in them that invited confidence and comradeship. The thick,
dark hair was touched with grey at the temples, and there was a deep
scar on his left cheek, received--not in a German university, as you
might suppose,--but during a fierce and sanguinary encounter with Yaqui
Indians in northern Mexico,--a tragedy which cost the lives of several
of his companions and brought from the people of the United States
a demand that the government take drastic action in the matter.
Altogether, a prepossessing, substantial figure of a man, with a
delightful personality.

Shortly before noon on the day following the destruction of the great
Reynolds plant by alien plotters, Zimmerlein was seated in his office,
awaiting the arrival of two well-known New York merchants and a
gentleman from Brazil. Half-a-dozen morning newspapers, with their
sinister head-lines, lay upon his desk, neatly folded and stacked with
grave orderliness. He had read them, and was lolling back in his big
leather chair with a faint smile on his lips, and a far-off, frowning
expression in his eyes.

The gentleman from Brazil came first.

“Sit down,” said Zimmerlein curtly. “They will be here in a few minutes.”

“That was a terrible thing last night, Zimmerlein,” said the Brazilian,
nervously glancing over his shoulder in the direction of the
drafting-room.

Zimmerlein made no response. He resumed his set, faraway expression, his
gaze directed at the upper sash of the broad, high window, beyond which
a distant, grey cloud glided slowly across a blue-white sky.

“Most shocking,” went on the Brazilian, after a moment. He had not
removed his overcoat. The fur collar was still fastened closely about
his neck.

Zimmerlein turned toward his visitor.

“Take off your coat, Riaz. Make yourself comfortable,” he said, affably.
“Help yourself to a cigar.”

Riaz,--Sebastian Riaz, diamond merchant and mine-owner of Rio
Janeiro,--removed his coat. “The appointment was for eleven o’clock, Mr.
Zimmerlein,” he said, looking at his watch. “They are late. It is nearly
twelve.”

“Permit me to remind you that you also were late. Everything is in
order, my dear sir. The deal may be closed in ten minutes,--or even
less time than that,--if there is no further haggling on your part.”
 He closed one eye slowly. “The contracts, the estimates, the plans are
ready. Nothing is lacking except the signatures.”

“Just as they have been ready for nearly two months,” observed Riaz,
also closing an eye.

“All ready--except the signatures and the _date_.”

“We shall date them,--and sign them,--in our extremity,” said
Zimmerlein, going to a safe which stood invitingly open in a corner of
the room. He removed a small but important-looking package of papers and
tossed them carelessly on the table. “Such as a visit from on high,” he
added, with a smile.

“Yes,” said Riaz, and sat down again, frowning.

“We shall never be caught napping. Here are the papers, as they would
say in the melodrama. By the way, do you go in for melodrama in Rio? Or
are you above that form of amusement?”

Riaz remained unsmiling. “It is not as popular with us as it is with you
Americans,” said he. “We see through it too readily.”

Zimmerlein unfolded and spread out several of the documents. “There!” he
said. “Let him come who will. Under the sharpest eyes in America you may
transfer property valued at ten millions, and no one will question the
validity of the transaction. You see, my dear Riaz, you _do_ own these
mines and they are exactly what they are represented to Be. To save
their lives, they can’t go behind the facts. And the purchasers
are prepared to hand over the cash at any moment. Could anything be
simpler?”

“Nothing,” said the Brazilian, sententiously,--“except the damned little
slip that sometimes comes between the cup and the lip.”

“Ah, but our cup is always at the lip,” said Zimmerlein buoyantly.
“Don’t be a kill-joy, old chap.”

“All well and good, Zimmerlein, unless some one’s lip splits.” He shot
an uneasy glance into the drafting-room.

“This is the most perfect machine in the world, Riaz. Have no fear.
Every cog has been tested and is of the staunchest steel. Every part has
been put in its proper place by the greatest genius alive.”

“I don’t have to remind you that a few cogs in the Foreign office have
slipped badly.”

The door opened to admit two brisk, prosperous-looking gentlemen.

“I fear we are late,” said the foremost. “It was unavoidable, I assure
you.”

“It is never too late,” said Zimmerlein, advancing to shake hands with
the new-comers. Then, while they were laying aside their overcoats,
he stepped swiftly to the door of the drafting-room and called out:
“Thorsensel! Come here, please. And you also, Martin.”

One of the men in the outer room, laid down the instrument with which
he was working over a huge blue-print; with a sigh of resignation, he
removed his green eye-shield, smoothed out his wrinkled alpaca coat, and
came slowly, diffidently into the private office. He was a middle-aged,
stoop-shouldered, sunken-faced man, with a drooping moustache that
lacked not only in pride but in colour as well. The ends were gnawed
and scraggly, and there were cigarette stains along the uneven edges.
Otherwise, this sickly adornment was straw-coloured. Thick spectacles
enlarged his almost expressionless blue eyes; as one looked straight
into them, the eyeballs seemed to be twice the normal size.

This man was John Thorsensel, civil engineer, American--born of Norwegian
parentage, graduate of one of the greatest engineering universities
in the country. You would go many a league before encountering a more
unimposing, commonplace person,--and yet here was the most astute secret
servant in the German Kaiser’s vast establishment. Not Zimmerlein, nor
Riaz, nor any of the important-looking individuals who skulked behind
respectable names, not one of them was the head and heart of the
sinister, far-reaching octopus that spread its slimy influence across
the United States of America. John Thorsensel, an insignificant toiler,
was the master-mind, the arch-conspirator. It was his hand that rested
on the key, his thought that covered everything, his infernal ingenuity
that confounded the shrewdest minds on this side of the Atlantic. The
last man in the world to be suspected,--such was John Thorsensel, bad
angel.

Martin, the other man called to the conference, was a brisk young fellow
who left a rolltop desk in the corner of the drafting-room and presented
himself with stenographer’s note-book and pencil. It is worthy of
mention that this book already contained the stenographic notes of
the preliminary verbal discussion between the three principals to a
transaction involving the sale of great mining properties in South
America. Everything was perfectly prepared, even to the abrupt
termination of the conference that would come naturally in case agents
of the government took it into their heads to appear. Martin’s notes,
jotted down weeks beforehand, broke off in the most natural way. There
is no telling how many times he had sat with the note-book on his knee
in just such a conference as this, without adding a single word to what
already appeared on the pages. It is safe to say, however, that the
notes were never transcribed.

It would have been impossible to find in the offices of Paul Zimmerlein
a single incriminating line, or article, or suggestion of either,--for
the simple reason that no such thing existed. Nothing ever appeared in
tangible form. Visitors were always welcome.

Once and once only had the slightest symptom of a creak appeared in the
well-ordered machine. One man was suspected,--merely suspected. There
was no actual evidence against him in the hands of the conspirators,
but the fact that a _possibility_ existed was enough for them. He was
an ordinary window-washer who came twice a month to the office,--not
oftener,--in his regular round of the building. Always it was the same
man who washed Zimmerlein’s windows, and always a few words passed
between him and the engineer,--words that no one else heard. One day
the device to which his safety belt was attached gave way and he fell
fourteen storeys to the roof of the building below. He was to be trusted
after that.

The six men gathered in the office of Mr. Paul Zimmerlein formed a
combination of intelligence, wealth, energy and evil sufficient to
satisfy even the most exacting of masters. Here were the shrewdest, the
safest, the soundest agents of the cruelest system in all the world. No
small, half-hearted undertaking in frightfulness ever grew out of
their deliberations; no sporadic, clumsy botch in the shape of needless
violence; no crazy, fore-doomed project; no mistakes. They were the
_big_ men,--the men who did the _big_ things.

Out of every nook and cranny in the land oozed constant and reliable
reports from the most trustworthy sources, from agents of both sexes;
sly, secret, mysterious forces supplied them with facts that no man
was supposed to know; the magic of the Far East was surpassed by these
wizards who came not out of Egypt but from commonplace, unromantic
circles in the Occident.

The departures of vessels from every port, the nature of their cargoes;
the sailings of transports and the number of troops; the conditions
in all the munitions plants and cantonments; the state of mind of the
millions of workers and idlers throughout the land; the very _thoughts_
of the people in control of the country’s affairs, it would seem.
Everything! Everything was known to this resourceful clique. They were
the backbone of the unrest, the uneasiness, the scepticism that swept
the land. Their agents, loyal unto death, were everywhere. The secrets
of sea, land and air were theirs. They could buy,--buy anything they
wanted with the wealth that was theirs for the asking.

Information came to them and commands were issued by them in a thousand
different ways, but never in circumstances that invited suspicion.
A casual meeting on the street; the passing of the time of day;
a hand-shake in restaurant or club; brief and seemingly innocuous
exchanges of pleasantries at the theatre; perfunctory contact with
stenographers, employes, and customers in the course of a day; thus,
under the eyes of all observers the secret word was given and received.
With these men no word was written, no visible message was exchanged.
And the German language was never spoken.

“Trains from the West are all late,” said one of the late arrivals, an
elderly, grey-whiskered man. “Rhine did not get in from Chicago till
nearly eleven. It was imperative that I should see him before coming
here, gentlemen.”

“Well?” demanded Thorsensel.

“He says the time is not yet ripe. He has studied the situation, has had
reports from many sources. It is too soon. A partial success would be
far worse than a total failure. He is very positive. ‘7

“All right,” said Thorsensel crisply. The matter was thus summarily
disposed of. He did not believe in wasting time or words. He turned,
with a questioning look, to the other prosperous-looking citizen.

“He died very suddenly last night,” said that worthy, responding to the
unspoken query.

Thorsensel nodded his head with lively satisfaction.

“Anything else?”

“That young fellow we were speaking of the other day dropped in at the
store this morning. He appears to be interested in a very good-looking
shop-girl on the second floor. I don’t know how many pairs of gloves he
has bought of her in the past few weeks.”

“I know, I know,” impatiently. “Miss Group.”

“We’re making no mistake about this fellow, are we, Elberon?” demanded
Zimmerlein.

“No,--absolutely no. Ill stake my life on him.”

“Go on,” said Thorsensel curtly.

“The British and French Commission sails tomorrow on the _Elston_. There
is no question about it. He had it from the same source that reported
their arrival last month.”

“Martin, see that this information is on the wing immediately,” said
Thorsensel. “We may accept it as authentic.”

“I should think we might,” said Zimmerlein, “when you stop to consider
that no one in the United States or England is supposed to know, even
now, that this Commission is in the country,--that is, no one outside
a very restricted circle in Washington. I’ve never known anything to
be kept so completely under cover. Some of the biggest men in France
and England land on our shores, transact the most important business
conceivable, and get out again without so much as a whiff of the
news reaching the public. Somebody deserves the Iron Cross for this,
Thorsensel. It is the cleverest, smartest piece of work that has been
done up to date.”

“I venture the opinion that the _Elston_ with its precious cargo will
never see land again,” was Thorsensel’s remark.

“The Kitchener job all over again, eh?” said Riaz, admiringly.

“Or the _Lusitania_, amended Elberon.

“Don’t speak of the _Lusitania_,” exclaimed Thorsensel, irritably. “You
know how I feel about that piece of stupidity.”

“You were against it all the time, I know,” began Elberon.

“Of course I was. It was the gravest blunder in history. But this is no
time to talk about it. Every one has reported on last night’s business.
There were no casualties and no one is missing.”

“Good!” exclaimed the grey-whiskered plotter, his piggish eyes
sparkling. “No one killed or injured or missing, eh? That seems all that
could be expected of Providence.”

“Every man has reported,” said Thorsensel succinctly. “Even Trott, from
whom we had heard nothing for two whole days. It appears he was trapped
and had to lie hidden in an empty bin. He got away just in time,
and without being seen. Yes, luck and God were with us last night,
gentlemen. Not a life lost, nor a man scratched.”

“If we come out half as well next week, I will say that God is with us,”
 said Zimmerlein.

“Where were you last night, Elberon?” demanded the gaunt leader
abruptly.

“I dined with some friends and went to the theatre afterwards,
Thorsensel.”

“Who were they?”

“Mr. and Mrs. Heidel----”

“You needn’t finish the name,” broke in Thornsensel. “I want to warn you
again not to take them into your confidence,--not even in the smallest
of matters.”

“His brother is a general in the Bavarian----”

“It doesn’t matter. I know all that. And one of her brothers is in the
Reichstag. But you must not overlook the fact that a great many of these
people are loyal to America. That is a point you don’t seem able to get
through your head, Elberon. The worst enemy, the direst peril we have to
contend with is the American-German, if you grasp the distinction. No
one seems to have used the hyphen in just that way, Elberon, but there
is such a thing as the American-German, and we’ve got to steer clear of
him. He’s not as uncommon as you may think, either. This man you were
with last night is one. He would turn you over to the authorities in a
flash if he got a breath of the truth. A word to the wise, Elberon,
means a word to you.”

“A man is one thing or the other,” said the other, flushing. “He’s
either a German or an American. There’s nothing in the hyphen.”

“You’re quite right,” agreed Thorsensel. “The man you were with last
night is an American in spite of his name and his antecedents. I happen
to know. Somewhere in this city there is a list of the people I define
as American-Germans. It is a rather formidable list, let me tell you.
They happen to be traitors, damn them.”

“Traitors? I thought you said they were loyal.”

“You’d see what would happen to them if they ever set foot on German
soil,” said Thorsensel, and it was not difficult, even for the stolid
Elberon, to see what he meant by loyalty.

An hour later the meeting came to an end, and the men went their several
ways, unsuspected by the troubled, harassed watch-dogs of the nation.
In that hour they had confidently, almost contemptuously, forwarded the
consummation of other enterprises even more startling than the blowing
up of the Reynolds plant. Remote assassinations were drawn a trifle
nearer; plans leading to the bombing of New York by aeroplanes that were
to rise up out of the sea from monster submarines; a new and not to be
denied smashing of the Welland Canal; well-timed collisions of ships in
the lower Hudson, and other basins, with results more stupendous than
anything yet conceived; deceptive peace propaganda for the guileless
and unwary American proletariat; subtle interference in the Halls of
Congress; almost everything, it may be said, except the transfer of
valuable mines in Brazil. That trifling detail was left to another day.

Within the next hour, a message was on its way through the air to
far-off Berlin, giving in singularly accurate figures the military
losses sustained by the Allies at a spot in New Jersey recently occupied
by the great Reynolds concern.



CHAPTER IV

|AT the end of ten days the excitement and horror occasioned by the
blowing up of the Reynolds plant had succumbed to the great American
curse: indifference. Amateur secret service men brazenly proclaiming
themselves, went about more actively than ever, showing their badges and
looking up clues at the same time, doing more harm than good, for
while professional intelligence men were compelled to accept them as
liabilities, the grateful aliens quite properly regarded them as assets.

The burning of two grain warehouses in Chicago, the wrecking of a
train loaded with motor trucks, three dock fires in Brooklyn, and the
partially suppressed account of an explosion on board a man-of-war in
home waters, provided the public with its daily supply of pessimism.
Scores of alien suspects were seized, examined and interned. Others
were caught with “the goods,” so to speak, and were flung into prison to
await, in most cases, the minimum penalty for maximum intentions. But
at no time was the finger of accusing Justice levelled at any one of the
men or women who made the wheels go round.

Late in the afternoon of a cold, blustering day a young man presented
himself at the Carstairs home. He was a smart-looking, upstanding chap
in the uniform of a captain of Infantry. The new butler announced that
Miss Hansbury was at home and was expecting Captain Steele.

You would go far before finding a manlier, handsomer fellow than this
young American soldier. Lithe, and tall, and graceful, he was every inch
a man and a thoroughbred. Only a few months before, he had given up a
splendid position down town, with a salary that few young men commanded
and prospects that even fewer entertained, and eagerly offered himself,
heart and soul, to the army that was to lift his country out of the pit
of commercialism and give it a place among the proud.

He had won his sword and his shoulder straps with the ease of one
who earnestly strives, and at the same time he had conquered in an
enterprise sweetly remote from the horrors of war. Louise Hansbury,
beautiful and gifted, was wearing the emblem of surrender on the third
finger of her left hand.

He was to dine with the Carstairs that evening; as a privileged person,
he came long ahead of the other guests of the evening. There was to be a
distinguished company. A Cabinet officer, a prominent Southern Senator,
an Admiral of the Navy, a Foreign Ambassador, to say nothing of more
than one potentate in the realm of finance. And women whose names
were not more widely-known than their deeds in these days of great
endeavour,--women who had put aside frivolity and selfishness and social
gluttony for the cold, hard business of making the country safe.

Mrs. Carstairs, herself, was the chairman of one of the most important
of the Relief Organizations controlled and operated exclusively by
women; far from being a mere figure-head, she was an active, zealous
worker, an inspiration to her associates.

One of the guests of the evening was to be an Italian Countess whose
labours in the war hospitals of her native land had made her one of the
most conspicuous women in all Europe.

Louise Hansbury was the daughter of Davenport Carstairs’ only sister,
now deceased. Since the death of her mother,--her father had died when
she was a small child,--the girl had made her home with this adoring
uncle. She possessed a somewhat meagre fortune,--sufficient to
guarantee independence, however, if she chose to care for herself,---a
circumstance that would have excited resistance in Davenport Carstairs
had it ever come up for discussion.

“How are you, dearest?” inquired the young officer, holding her off to
look anxiously, searchingly into her eyes. The colour of health was just
beginning to flow in her cheeks.

“Gorgeous,” she replied, her eyes agleam with love and happiness.

“Go slow,” he said gently. “Don’t tax yourself too much. It’s a serious
job, this business of getting well.”

“But I _am_ well, you goose. I never felt better in my life.”

“You never were more beautiful,” he said softly.

“I’d much rather hear you say that than something really serious,” she
cried, smiling divinely into his dazzled eyes.

“You’ve had pneumonia,” he said sternly, after the moment it took to
regain a temporarily lost air of authority. “Mighty sick you’ve been,
darling,--and--”

“And I’m not to get my feet wet, or sit in a draft, or--Very good,
Captain! Orders is orders, sir.” She stood off and saluted him with mock
solemnity.

[Illustration: 0010]

“I’m so glad you came early, Derrol,” she cried, abruptly abandoning her
frivolous air. “I’ve--I’ve wanted you so much. This has been a long--oh,
an age, dear. You knew that poor Hodges was killed by an automobile,
didn’t you? I never know what I put in my letters. And there is all this
talk about Belgium being a nest of spies at the outset, and--oh, _that_
would be too much. Sit here with me, Derrol, and--you might hold
me close to you,--just for a little while. It--yes, it does give me
strength to feel your arms about me.” After a few moments, the troubled
look that had been lurking in his eyes for a long time, reappeared. A
light frown clouded his brow. He glanced over his shoulder, and, when he
spoke, his voice was even lower than it had been before.

“Louise dear, something very strange and mysterious has happened. Don’t
be alarmed, dear. It has turned out all right. But,--‘gad, it might have
resulted very seriously. Do you remember that I told you about ten days
ago,--in this very room,--that I suspected a certain officer in our camp
of being--well, crooked?”

“Yes,--I remember quite well, Derrol. Is--is he?”

He smiled grimly. “That remains to be seen. I had observed one or two
things about him that excited my suspicions, but I mentioned the matter
to no one. The next day after I spoke to you about it, I decided to
go to headquarters with my fears. As a matter of fact, by that time I
really had something tangible to report. I was received by the general
himself. He was dumbfounded. Instantly an investigation was started. The
officer I mentioned was missing from camp. It was found that he had gone
to New York the night before, but was expected back in the morning--just
as I was. That was ten days ago. He has never returned. It has been
proved beyond all question that he was a spy. There is no doubt in my
mind that he got a tip while in New York, and beat it for parts unknown.
Now the infernal part of the business is that I never mentioned my
suspicions to a soul except to you,--never even breathed them outside of
this room until the next day.”

She was staring at him in perplexity. “But--but, Derrol dear, what does
it all mean? You--you certainly cannot think that I repeated--”

“Of course not, dear,--certainly not. I--”

“In the first place, I had not been outside the apartment,” she went on
in suppressed excitement. “And I give you my word of honour that I did
not mention the matter to a soul in this house. Not one word, Derrol. If
you--”

“Calm yourself, Louise,” he urged, pressing her hands. “The chances are
that he found out he was suspected before he left camp, and even as I
was telling you he may have been on his way to safety. I have not told
any one that I spoke of the matter here,--you may be quite sure of that.
That would bring trouble and annoyance to you and--well, I couldn’t
allow that, you know. Just the same, he has disappeared, completely,
utterly. He got the scent somehow, and didn’t lose a minute. Saved
himself from facing a firing squad, you may be sure. So far as we have
been able to discover, I am the only man who knew that he was up to
something wrong. That’s the maddening part of it. I--you see, I actually
had the goods on him.”

“You looked over your shoulder just now, Derrol,” she said, the colour
ebbing from her cheek. “Do you--do you suspect any one here? Any one of
the servants? They have all been with us for years,--except poor
Hodges, and he is dead,--and I know that Uncle Davenport trusts them
implicitly.”

He held her a little closer. His lips were close to her ear, and the
half-whispered words were fraught with the deepest meaning.

“See here, Louise, it’s a desperately serious thing to say,--and I know
I’m a fresh, half-baked upstart, and all that sort of thing,--but I
just can’t help feeling that if I hadn’t spoken of that matter here last
week, we would have nabbed Mr. Spy practically red-handed.”

“Oh, Derrol!” she whispered, aghast. “You don’t know what you are
saying.”

“It’s the way I feel, just the same,” said he stubbornly.

“Then you _do_ think the warning came from this house?” She attempted to
withdraw herself from his arms.

“God bless you, darling,--I don’t think it came from you, or in any way
through you,” he cried miserably.

“Then, whom do you suspect?” she demanded.

“It might have been Hodges,” he said, his eyes narrowing as he looked
away from her.

“But Hodges was an Englishman, and violently anti-German. It couldn’t
have been Hodges.”

“In any event, he’s dead and can’t defend himself,” said he. “I trust
you, dearest, not to repeat a word of what I’ve just been saying,--_not
a word to any one._”

“You are very foolish, Derrol,--but I promise. Not even to Uncle
Davenport or Aunt Frieda. They would be shocked beyond words if they
knew you--”

“That’s right, dear,--not even to Mr. or Mrs. Carstairs,--or that
bustling young son of theirs.”

“It would be far more sensible to suspect me than either of them,” she
said.

A latch-key turned in the front door, and a moment later young Alfred
Carstairs came whistling into the hall.

“Hullo!” he called out, peering in upon them from the dimly lighted
hallway. He was shedding his overcoat. “How’s the camp, Derrol? Getting
into shape?”

“Getting shapelier every minute,” said Derrol Steele, crossing over to
shake hands with the youth.

“Where’s mother?” inquired Alfred, looking over the officer’s shoulder
at his cousin, who had not risen.

“Lying down, Alfie. She has been on the go all day. Much beauty is
required for this evening. She’s giving it a chance to catch her
napping.”

“By golly, it’s the only thing that ever does catch her napping,” said
Alfred warmly. “She’s a wonder, Derrol. She’d be a field-marshal if she
ever got into the army.”

“I haven’t the least doubt of it,” said Captain Steele, smiling. Even
as he uttered the jesting words, a strange, uncanny sense of their
importance took root in his mind.

Very serious topics were discussed by the guests at Mrs. Carstairs’
dinner that evening. No one felt the least restraint, nor the slightest
hesitancy in speaking freely of matters that never were mentioned in
the open. Questions that could not have been answered outside the most
secret recesses of the State department were frankly asked here,--and
answered by some one who spoke with authority. No man feared his
neighbour, nor his neighbour’s wife, for here were assembled only those
to whom the Government itself could look with confidence. These were the
people on the inside of everything, the spokes of the inner wheel,--the
people who knew what was going on in Washington, in London, and in
Paris. No alien ears were here to listen, no alien eyes to watch;
sanctuary for the true and loyal.

One man there held his tongue, and spoke not of the things that were
vital: Captain Derrol Steele. It was not modesty alone that kept
him silent in this imposing group, nor the recognition of his own
insignificance. He had had his lesson. He was young enough to profit by
it.

True, the wine may have had something to do with it. It usually does. A
beguiling lubricant is this thing that gets into the rustiest of brains
and produces a smooth combination of thought and thoughtlessness. In
any case, tongues wagged loosely and wits were never keener than in this
atmosphere of ripe security. A good many secrets were out for an airing.
They were supposed, in good time, to get back into their closets and lie
there as snugly as if they had never been disturbed.

Mrs. Carstairs was never more brilliant than on this particular evening.
Always clever,--but never witty,--she was at her best when surrounded by
personalities such as these; when confronted by problems which permitted
her profound mentality to rise to its highest level and her singularly
clear-headed vision to project itself across spaces that defy even the
most far-seeing of men. She went below the surface of everything; she
saw nothing from a superficial point of view. What men liked in her,
and what other women envied and sometimes hated, was the rare faculty of
saying little unless she was prepared to say a great deal more.

More than one great statesman had said, on occasion, that it was too bad
she wasn’t a man! With a mind like that, well, there’s no telling! No
wonder Davenport Carstairs was proud of her!

And yet, with all this unstinted praise, with all this respectful
admiration, there was not a man among them who would have exchanged
places with Davenport Carstairs. Despite her beauty, her no uncertain
charm of manner, her strangely old-fashioned femininity, no man
coveted her. As a matter of fact, they were a little bit awed by Frieda
Carstairs.

The foreign ambassador was leaving early. He explained to his hostess
that a very important conference was to be held that night in his rooms
at the hotel. He was profoundly apologetic, but if she knew how much
depended on the outcome of this very, _very_ important meeting,--and so
on, and so on. She said she understood perfectly; affairs of state,
she went on to say, always lead up to a state of affairs, and that, of
course, was hopeless unless taken in time.

He was a little bewildered. Fearing that she had not fully grasped his
meaning, he proceeded to elaborate a little. It wasn’t really a state
of affairs, nor, for that matter, an affair of state. Time, of
course,--yes, time was the essence of everything in these bitter days.
She was quite right; the whole trouble with the Allies had been the
wasting of time; now they realized the importance of doing things
promptly. She said she was glad that they were not letting the grass
grow under their feet. He mumbled something about winter and the
nothing much growing outside the tropics, and floundered with further
confidences.

Leaning quite close to her he whispered something in her ear. It left
her perfectly calm.

“This, you understand, my dear madam, is not to be repeated,--strictly
confidential,--absolutely--ah--on the quiet, as you say over here.”

“I sha’n’t even repeat it to my husband,” said she.

The ambassador looked relieved. “I fear he would not approve of my
mentioning a matter that he seems to have withheld from you himself.”

She smiled.

“Possess your soul in peace, my dear Ambassador. I am as good as he at
keeping a secret.”

“It is--ah--most imperative that this shouldn’t--ah--get out, so to
speak,” said he, wishing in his soul that he had not let it out himself.

“You have spoken to the Sphinx,” said she gravely.

She happened to glance down the table at this juncture. Something
hypnotic drew her gaze directly to Captain Steele. He was regarding her
steadily. There was a queer, intent look in his eyes. For an instant
their gaze held, and then he looked away. She turned to speak to the man
on her left. If he had been an observing person, he would have noticed
the tired look that suddenly clouded her eyes,--briefly, fittingly, it
is true, but remaining long enough to have been detected by one less
absorbed in himself than he. No doubt his pride would have been hurt had
he observed it.

The little Italian Countess spoke very frankly of conditions in her
country, of specific needs that called for immediate action on the part
of the American government, of plots and counterplots in the very heart
of the army, of political and ecclesiastical intrigue that sapped the
courage of the people, and of the serious situation on the Isonzo where
victorious Italian armies were in constant danger of collapse because
of an utter lack of support from behind the lines. She went so far as
to say that in the event of a supreme assault by the Austro-Germans, the
Italian armies would have to relinquish their hard-earned gains and fall
back,--perhaps in actual defeat.

“But the Austrians are down and out themselves.” declared the cabinet
member. He spoke loudly, for he was at the far end of the table. “They
haven’t a good solid kick left in them, much less anything like a
supreme assault, Countess.”

“Let us hope you are right,” returned the Italian woman, the line
deepening between her eyes. “I only know that the Italians are in no
condition to withstand a great offensive if it should come. Oh, if only
England, and France,--and you, gentlemen,--could but be made to realize
the importance of a real victory over the Austrians,--if you could only
be made to see how desperately we are in need of all the support you can
give us in men, and guns, and food, and--aye, in confidence, too. If the
German Emperor knew the truth about our position on the Isonzo and in
Trentino, he--ah, _he_ would not wait, he would not hesitate. He would
move like lightning. He would send a million men to the aid of the
Austrians. He would strike with all his might,--and then, when it was
all over, you,--all of you,--would grate your teeth while he laughed
over another of your blunders.”

The men all smiled tolerantly. She was a woman. That was just the way a
high-strung, emotional woman would talk.

“It would be quite simple, Countess,” said Davenport Carstairs, “if the
Kaiser had even half a million men to spare. He is being kept pretty
busy in France and Flanders just now.”

“Ah, but in Russia,” she cried vehemently. “What of the damned
Russians?” In her excitement she spoke the language of the army. Of her
hearers, the men seemed a little more shocked than the women. “Are they
keeping him pretty busy? No! Are they holding his vast armies in check?
No! They are doing more than that. They are shoving him back, driving
him and all of his men and guns out of Russia. Driving them down into
Italy and over to Flanders, that is what they are doing. And you,--you
and France and England,--will not wake up until it is too late. When
the beastly Russians have driven the Germans into Paris, and across the
English Channel, and down to Rome, then you will understand.”

“But the Italians will hold the ground they have gained,” protested one
of the men. “I talked with members of the commission before they sailed
the other day, and there wasn’t one of them who expressed the slightest
uneasiness about the Italian front. On the other hand, they were of the
opinion that the Italians would continue to advance. The Austrians are
shot to pieces.”

“Italy was not represented in that secret mission, my dear sir,” said
the Countess, a trifle curtly. “You do not know what the Italians know,
and what they are actually dreading. They know they cannot resist a
great offensive.”

“Well, as long as the Germans are ignorant of the true state of
affairs, I can’t see that there is much to worry about,” said Carstairs
pleasantly.

“But the Germans will not remain in ignorance for ever, Mr. Carstairs,”
 exclaimed the Countess. “They find out everything,--everything, in
time.”

“Not everything,” said the Admiral of the navy, blandly. “Their
marvellous spy system failed completely in the case of the
Franco-British special mission. The members of the party came, remained
here for more than a fortnight, sailed for home last week, and Germany
never had so much as an inkling of the visit. By this time the _Campion_
is no doubt safely through the danger zone. I call that beating the
devil with his own stick.”

“The _Campion?_” fell sharply from the lips of Mrs. Carstairs.

“You are mistaken, Admiral. They sailed on the _Elston_,” said her
husband.

The Admiral beamed. “My dear sir, the entire party was transferred to
the _Campion_ ten hours after the _Elston_ sailed out of this port. The
Secretary took no chances. He had that devilish Kitchener betrayal in
mind. There was the possibility, you know, of a leak somewhere. One
never can tell. So everything that could be thought of was done to
frustrate the ‘system.’ The destruction of the _Elston_ with those men
on board would have been a greater disaster to the Allies than the loss
of Kitchener or half the battle front in France. I happen to know the
transfer was made safely and according to plans. The _Elston_ continued
her voyage in convoy, but she was laden with nothing more precious than
food for the Germans.”

“Food for the Germans?” cried the Italian Countess, aghast.

The Admiral’s smile broadened. “The most indigestible food that is
made in America,” said he. After a moment’s perplexity, she smiled and
clapped her hands.

Once more Mrs. Carstairs’ gaze was drawn irresistibly to the young
captain half way up the table. His eyes were fixed on her again, and
again, as before, after an instant they were averted. Something in his
steady look seared her like a hot iron. He seemed to be searching
the innermost recesses of her brain,--and she quailed. His face grew
suddenly pale and drawn,--paler even than her own.

The Admiral, having come sharply into prominence, continued to play his
high cards. He leaned back in his chair, neglecting a dessert of which
he was especially fond, and with considerable bumptiousness rambled on
sonorously.

“We’ve been expecting word all day from Admiral Sims. The convoy is
a swift one. Both the _Campion_ and the _Elston_ should reach port
today,--or at the very latest tomorrow. I confess we’ve all been
anxious. They are wiring me from Washington as soon as--By the way, Mrs.
Carstairs, I took the liberty of instructing my aide to telephone me
here in case the report comes tonight. Hope you don’t mind. I thought--”

“Of course I don’t mind, Admiral,” she said warmly. “On the contrary, I
am glad you thought of it. We are all terribly interested.” Late in the
evening,--in fact, just as the guests were preparing to depart,--the
Admiral was called to the telephone. When he rejoined the group a few
minutes afterward, his expression was serious.

“Our precautions were well taken, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “The
_Elston_ was torpedoed this morning. Practically everybody on board was
lost.”

There was a moment’s silence. Then Captain Steele spoke.

“So the Germans _did_ know that the Commission sailed out of New York
harbour on the _Elston_. It would seem, Admiral, that the spy sits
pretty close to the head of your board,--I mean, of course, your board
of strategy.”

“By Gad!” growled the distressed sailor-man. “It--it is absolutely
incredible. There _couldn’t_ have been a leak down there.”

“Have you an idea how many people actually knew that the party was
sailing on the _Elston?_” inquired the young man. His face was very
white.

The Admiral glanced around the room, rather helplessly. “Of course the
fact was known to quite a number of people,--such as we are here,--but,
what are we to do if we can’t trust _ourselves?_ Nothing could have been
more carefully guarded. Not a line in the newspapers, not a word uttered
in public, not a----”

“The information could not have come from any one directly connected
with the Navy department, Admiral,” said Steele slowly.

“I’m glad to hear you say that, sir,” said the Admiral, stiffening.

“For the simple and obvious reason that it was the _Elston_ and not the
_Campion_ they went after. A spy in such a position would have known of
the transfer.”

“On the other hand, it may have been pure chance that they attacked
the _Elston_,” said Davenport Carstairs, a queer huskiness in his voice.
“Coincidence, and nothing more. Thank heaven, they didn’t get the
_Campion_.”

Steele was the last to leave. He said good night to Louise Hansbury in
the little hall outside. He had rung for the elevator. The door, on the
latch, had been closed behind them and they were quite alone for a few
minutes.

“Louise,” he said, and suddenly his voice,--scarcely more than a
whisper,--sounded strange and unnatural to her, “it’s a horrible thing
to say, but the--the trouble is right here in this house. You heard what
the Admiral said? I can’t explain how it all happened, but suddenly I
had a--well, a revelation. A great, flaring light seemed to flash in my
face. I give you my word, it was actually blinding. I thought my heart
would never beat again. I saw through everything. It is all as plain as
day to me. God help us all, dearest,--it’s--it’s unspeakable. I’ve just
got to tell you,--so that you may be on your guard. Tomorrow--or as
soon as possible, at any rate,--you must make an excuse to get away
from here,--for a visit, or anything you can think of. But get away you
must!”

“Do you know what you are saying, Derrolf” she whispered, clutching
his arm. She was trembling like a leaf, and swayed. An expression of the
utmost dread and horror filled her eyes.

“Yes,--yes, I do. It is terrible,--but, by heaven, it’s true,--as true
as we live and breathe.”

She covered her face with her hands. “Oh, Derrol,--I felt it
too,--tonight. What are we to do? What can be done?”

“Hush! Here is the elevator. I can’t say anything more tonight. I don’t
have to go back to Camp till tomorrow night. Tomorrow morning,--I’ll
call up. I must see you alone--and not here.”

“I go out every morning for a walk,--about eleven,” she breathed.

The elevator door slid open.

“Good night,” said he. She clasped his hand in silence. Then she went
back into the apartment, and, as one drugged, passed the drawingroom
door and staggered down the hall toward her bedroom.

Mrs. Carstairs, alone in the drawing-room, saw the girl pass, and
stepped quickly to the door.

“Louise, dear,--are you ill!” she called out.

“No,--Aunt Frieda. I--I’m all right. Good night.”

“Good night, dear. Sleep late.”

The door down the long hall closed softly, and Frieda Carstairs turned
back into the drawingroom with a sigh. Her husband was looking over the
night mail that had been piled on his desk in the study. She went in to
him.

“I wonder if poor, dear Alfred is struggling with that abominable
nightmare of his,” she said. “Really, Davenport, the boy is wearing
himself out. I don’t see why physics should be so difficult for him.”

“They were difficult for me, my dear,” said he, looking up. Their eyes
met, and she smiled gently, lovingly. He took her firm, steady hand and
pressed it to his cheek..

“I think I’ll run in and shoo him off to bed. If only he wouldn’t smoke
that dreadful pipe while he studies. He breathes nothing but smoke.”

“Doesn’t hurt him a bit,” said he. “They’ve got sheet-iron lungs, you
see,--these sophomores.”

She left him and went down to her son’s room. Carstairs was staring
fixedly, intently into space when she returned,--he knew not how long
afterwards. He came out of his reverie with a start when she spoke to
him from the door.

“Alfie is going out for a breath of fresh air,” she said. “It seemed
to me his room was stuffier and smokier than I’ve ever known it to be
before. Really, dear, he is dreadfully trying. He--”

“My dear, you’ve never been a boy,” said he, collecting himself and
smiling. “You don’t know what it is to be completely self-satisfied.”

“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” said Alfred, coming up behind his
mother. “Are you going to sit up much longer, mother?”

“A little while. Hurry back, dear. Don’t go out without your overcoat.
There is quite a chill in the air.”



CHAPTER V

|MR. PAUL ZIMMERLEIN’S telephone rang shortly before midnight. He lived
in a small, exclusive hotel on one of the crosstown streets, near Fifth
Avenue. A brief conversation over the wire ensued. A few minutes later
he appeared at the desk in the office downstairs, dressed for the
street. He was very angry.

“Why was I not informed when I came in this evening that Mr. Prince had
called up and was expecting me to join his party at the Helvetia for
supper, Mr. Rogers? He rang me up at nine o’clock and instructed you to
put the message in my box.”

“I have no recollection of--”

“Of course you haven’t. You never do have any recollection. None of you.
I shall take the matter up with the manager in the morning, Rogers.
It has happened before. The least you could have done was to stick the
message in my box.”

“I will inquire of the telephone operator. The regular boy is off
tonight. If there has been any carelessness, Mr. Zimmerlein, it has been
with her,--not with us, sir,” said the clerk, with the servility that is
sometimes mistaken for civility on the part of hotel clerks.

“I haven’t time to listen to her excuses. They have been waiting for me
since eleven o’clock, and I have been in my room since ten.”

“I know, sir. It was a little before ten when you came in.”

“Well, be good enough to investigate. I warn you that I intend to
complain in the morning.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” began the clerk, but Zimmerlein was already on his way
to the street.

The night-clerk scowled after him, and then retired behind the key-rack
to consult the operator.

“What’s the matter with you?” he demanded. “Zimmerlein’s sore as a crab
about not getting a message that came in at nine,--he says,--and he ‘s
going to raise hell about it.”

“Nobody called him up,--not till just a few minutes ago. It’s the old
gag. I heard what the guy said to Zimmerlein,--about calling up at nine
and giving directions and all that bunk,--and I had to hold my tongue
between my teeth to keep from butting in and telling him he was a liar,
and--”

“Tell that to Mr. Coxhorn in the morning,” broke in the clerk, and moved
languidly away. That was the extent of his investigations.

The Helvetia was a brisk five minutes’ walk from Zimmerlein’s hotel. He
did it in three.

“Is Mr. Prince entertaining in his rooms or in the café?” he inquired at
the desk.

“In the café, Mr. Zimmerlein.”

“Thanks.”

Fifteen minutes later, he sauntered up to a table at which a party
of seven or eight people were seated. Nodding and smiling in his most
amiable manner to the ladies, he laid his hand on the shoulder of one of
the men.

“Sorry, old man, but they didn’t give me your message. I should have
been sitting on the doorstep waiting for you, if I’d known you really
wanted me. Thanks for calling me up again. It was good of you, and I’ll
try to make up for all the lost time and trouble by being as agreeable
as I know how to be.” He added an encircling smile. The ladies appeared
to cheer up measurably.

The man addressed, a huge individual with a tremendous expanse of white
shirt front, betrayed not the slightest sign of surprise or confusion.
With all the profound affability of a far-Westerner, he made the
newcomer welcome. If his steel-grey eyes bored inquiringly into
Zimmerlein’s for the briefest instant, no one else at the table was
aware of the fact. Nor did any one observe the warning that shot back
from the narrowing eyes of the belated guest.

A waiter produced a chair for Zimmerlein, and placed it between two of
the ladies, who, with evident eagerness, made room for him. His smile
deepened as he shook his head, affecting dismay.

“Not yet, but soon,” he pleaded. “I ran across an old friend of yours
out in the lobby, Prince. Stillwell. I told him you’d be happy to have
him join you, but as he’s just off the train, he says he’s filthy.”

“Where is he?” cried Prince, starting up. “I wouldn’t miss seeing him
for anything in the world. An old pal of mine in Japan,” he explained to
his guests.

“If you will excuse us both, we ‘ll--” began Zimmerlein apologetically.

“Come along,” interrupted Prince, grabbing the other’s arm. “Good old
Still! We ‘ll bring him back with us if we have to drag him in. You ‘ll
_love_ him,” he added boisterously.

The two men hurried from the café. They did not speak until they reached
a deserted corner of the hotel lobby.

[Illustration: 0111]

“What’s up?” demanded Prince.

“I’ve just bad some damnably disturbing news. It’s pretty bad, but I
think I’ve got word to the right people in time to head off--trouble. I
was just going to bed when I was called up on the ‘phone. By God, he’s
cool-headed, I’ll say that for him. Said he was you, and wanted to know
why the devil I hadn’t showed up over here. I was wise in a second. We
met in the most casual manner at the corner. He will go a long way, that
chap will, mark my words. He’s as keen as a fox and as resolute as the
devil. I can’t explain here, Prince. We must get back to your party.
My alibi lies there, you know, if I should happen to need it. You
understand, don’t you?”

“Certainly. I knew something was in the wind. Is it serious? Tell me
that.”

“It _can_ be serious,--desperately serious. But we can’t do anything
now. At one o’clock I shall ask you to excuse me, Prince. Engagement
very early in the morning. Much-needed rest,--and so on. And, by the
way, we were unable to locate Folwell. He--”

“Stillwell, wasn’t it?”

“So it was. ‘Grad, my nerves must be shot up worse than I thought. At
any rate, he had vanished.”

“Have you managed to get in touch with any one else?”

“I’ve sent word to--Jehovah!” Zimmerlein permitted himself what was
meant to be a smile, but was instead an ugly grin.

“About the only name that’s safe to utter in these days,” said Prince,
looking over his shoulder.

“You’ve done your bit tonight, my friend, by simply being who and what
and where you are. Nothing more is required of you.”

“I’m not asking questions,” said Prince, scowling.

“You have asked _one_,” snapped Zimmerlein. “Oh, Lord! Haven’t I a right
to--”

“There is nothing more to be said on the subject,” said the other,
fixing the big man with a look that caused him to quail. “You know as
well as I just what our law is, Prince. I am not above it,--nor are you.
Now, let us return.” Shortly after one o’clock, Zimmerlein said good
night to the host and the guests upon whom he had deliberately imposed
himself, and went forth into the night. A short distance down the
street, he was hailed by a lone taxi-driver, who called out in the
laconic, perfunctory manner of his kind:

“Taxi?”

Zimmerlein walked on a few paces, and then, apparently reconsidering,
turned back.

“Take me to the Pennsylvania,” he said, and got into the cab.

When he took his seat, it was between two men who slunk down in the
corners and kept their faces and bodies well out of sight from the
occupants of passing cars and pedestrians on the sidewalk.

An unusual amount of clatter attended the getting under way of the car.
The exhaust roared, the gears grated and snarled, and the loose links of
tire-chains banged resoundingly against the mud-guards.

A quarter of an hour elapsed. Zimmerlein did most of the talking. Then,
as the taxi drew up in front of the little hotel in the cross-town
street, he got down and handed the driver a bank-note. His last words,
before leaving the car, were:

“Remember, now. There must be no mistake, no slip-up. Be dead sure
before you do a thing. He is to disappear,--that’s all. There must be no
trace,--absolutely no trace.” As he sauntered into the hotel, the
taxi rattled swiftly off in the direction of Broadway, its remaining
occupants silent and white-faced, but with lips and jaws rigidly set.

“No complaint after all, Rogers,” said he to the night clerk, rather
jauntily. “My friend confessed that he hadn’t called me up at all. It
was his nice little way of stringing me. Assuage the poor girl’s grief
if you know how, Rogers. Tell her it’s all right, and she can sleep
soundly at the switch. Also, be good enough to say to her that I
apologize for myself and for my friend.”

Rogers watched him enter the elevator, and once more strolled back to
the switchboard.

“Hey! Wake up. Zimmerlein’s just come in. He’s stewed and says his
friend’s a liar. There won’t be any court-martial.”

The girl yawned. “Say, has that darned old clock stopped, or is it still
only ten minutes of two? It’s been that for an hour. Never again for
me. Next time Pilcher wants to get off till half-past ‘leven, he needn’t
leave a call for me. I’m through accommodating that mutt. My Gawd! Two
o’clock, and he swore he’d be here by eleven. I ought to report him. Do a
guy like that a favour and he--What was that you said about old Zim-zim?
D’you say he was soused?”

“No. I said stewed. He’s carryin’ an egg on an oyster fork. I never saw
him drunk before.”

At his usual hour for breakfasting, Mr. Zimmerlein briskly entered the
dining-room the next morning and seated himself at his customary table
near the window. Two morning newspapers lay beside his plate of sliced
oranges. His eyes swept the headlines on the front page. A slight frown
darkened his brow. He looked again, a little more closely. Then he took
up the other paper. A certain eagerness that had been in his eyes
when he sat down gave way to something bordering on astonishment. His
interest passed quickly to the second, third and fourth pages.

There wasn’t a line,--not a solitary line about the sinking of the
_Elston!_

He had encountered Elberon late in the afternoon of the preceding day.
He was going into the club as the other came out.

“You will read something great in the morning papers,” Elberson had said
guardedly. “Perhaps in the extras tonight.”

“I am always reading something great in the newspapers,” he had replied.

“They got the _Elston_. Report came about two o’clock. No details. I
doubt whether it is known in Washington yet.”

But the morning papers had no account of the sinking. Not a word. What
did it mean? Could it be possible that _their_ news travelled so much
faster than that obtained by the eager, avid Press? Were they even ahead
of Washington? Elberon was in a position to know. He never went off
half-cocked. There wasn’t the least doubt in Zimmerlein’s mind that the
_Elston_ had been sunk,--but why this amazing failure of the newspapers
to---- He started suddenly. Comprehension flooded his brain. His eyes
lighted up again. He understood in a flash. Suppressed! The news of
the destruction of the _Elston_ with all those vitally important men on
board,--Why, of course! It _had_ to be suppressed!

Nevertheless, he decided to drop in and see Elberon on his way down
town.

As for last night’s business, if it came to a head at all, it was after
the papers had gone to press. Still, he took the time to run through
both papers with unusual thoroughness. It was barely possible that a
paragraph,--one of those widely spaced paragraphs that always exact
attention,--might have stopped the presses at the last minute.

He slid indifferently over the account of a disastrous fire along the
water-front of an American port from which heavily laden ships departed
almost daily for French and English destinations. He knew all about
_that_.

Elberon was not at his place of business. This defection on the part of
Elberon exasperated him. It was a new sensation. He could not account
for the sudden and admittedly unreasonable sense of irritation that
assailed him, for, after all, Elberon regulated his actions according to
the demands of his own business. The merchant’s secretary announced
that he doubted if his employer would be in the office before noon. He
thought he had gone Christmas shopping with his wife.

“Damn Christmas!” muttered Zimmerlein as he closed the door behind him
and stalked off into the counter-lined aisles that led by rectangular
turns to the street.

The business of the night just ended had got on his nerves. His hand
shook a little as he paused inside the doors to light a cigarette. It
was a bad “business”; there was no use trying to make light of it.

Miss Mildred Agnew welcomed him with a cheery “Good morning,” and the
alert office-boy went her one better by adding the information that it
was “a fine day, sir.”

“Any messages, Miss Agnew?” inquired Zimmerlein.

“A telephone call, sir, from the steward of the Black Downs Country
Club. He says there is a leak and wants to know if you, as chairman of
the house committee, will do something about it right away.”

“A leak?” he demanded, stopping short.

“So he said, Mr. Zimmerlein.”

“Get him on the telephone and ask him to come in and see me at once.”

He was frowning darkly as the office-boy relieved him of his hat and
coat and hung them up in the closet. His mail received scant attention.
As a matter of fact, he swept the pile aside and touched a button on the
corner of the desk.

Thorsensel came into the private office, carrying a roll of blue-prints.

“Any word?” asked Zimmerlein, as the other carefully and deliberately
spread the prints on the desk and weighted one end of them down with a
heavy steel ruler.

“No. Not a word.”

“It’s--it’s rather queer, don’t you think?”

“You are nervous, Zimmerlein,” said Thorsensel, after a moment in which
he studied the other with a keen and soul-searching eye. “It won’t do,
my friend. Nervousness tends to irritation, and irritation leads to
impatience. You know what happens to the impatient, Zimmerlein.”

“Damn it all, I _am_ nervous. I admit it. Don’t lecture me. I’m not
going to lose my grit,--or my head either.”

“You can’t lose one without the other, you know,” remarked Thorsensel
sententiously. “What do you suppose has happened?”

“Nothing,--nothing at all,” said the other. “You mean that--that
they didn’t pull it off? God, that is the very worst that could have
happened.”

“That is exactly what I mean. You need not worry, however. Trust Scarf
to play it safe. If he saw that there was the slightest chance of
failure, he would have taken no risk. That’s Scarf, my friend. Calm
yourself. We will hear from him before noon. He will have worked out
another plan, you may be sure.”

It may be mentioned here and now that Zimmerlein had consulted
Thorsensel--the mastermind,--before taking a step in the affair of
the night just past. He had gone directly from his hotel to the little
French café down the street. He knew that it was the unvarying habit of
the strange, silent engineer to drop in at this quaint place for a bite
of something to eat and a bottle of red wine at midnight. Thorsensel
never missed doing this. There was method in his continence.

A big and vital problem confronted Zimmerlein.

He did not dare act without consulting his pseudo-subordinate.
Thorsensel took the matter out of his hands. It was he who laid the
plans. Zimmerlein became merely an instrument, with certain functions to
perform, and nothing more.

“I hope you are right,” said Zimmerlein, absorbing some of the other’s
fatalistic assurance. “God help us if you are wrong.”

“My dear man, God helps us because we are right, not because we
are wrong,” said Thorsensel, laying his big, clenched fist upon the
desk,--not violently but with a gentleness that suggested vast strength
held under control by the power of a vaster will.

Zimmerlein drew a long, deep breath.

“You’ve heard about the _Elston_, I suppose?”

“Yes. They got her. I knew they would. That was the greatest tip we’ve
ever had. Our report is that not one of the big bugs on board was saved.
A number of the crew got off in boats, but they had to hurry. She went
down in eight minutes. They made a good job of it, bless ‘em. No wonder
the night wind weeps! Now, we’ll see what old England has to say for the
invincibility of her fleet, and what she ‘ll say to the United States
for letting the cat out of the bag.” He laughed aloud,--for the
first time in the memory of Zimmerlein. Several of the men in the
drafting-room looked up. They stared unblinkingly at the laugher.

The forenoon wore away. Thorsensel shuttled between the drafting-room
and the private office. He no longer laughed. The pleased, confident
look had left his eyes; in its stead lurked something that finally
developed into real, undisguised anxiety. An atmosphere of restraint
settled down like a cloud over the offices. The uneasiness of the two
principal figures in the place was acutely infectious.

The report of Peter Hooge, the steward of the Black Downs Country Club,
who arrived shortly after noon, neither increased nor lessened the
strain. He was unnecessarily alarmed. What if secret service men did
visit the club-house and question the employés? That was not an unusual
proceeding. They were doing something of the sort all the time. But,
said Peter, they obtained a list of all the members and guests of the
club present on the premises at the time of the Reynolds explosion.
Naturally, said both Zimmerlein and Thorsensel: That was just what they
_would_ do. Precious little good it would do them, however.

“I was obliged to show them my passports and papers from the Swiss
Government,” said Peter.

“Well, they were all in order, weren’t they?”

“Perfectly. That isn’t the point. The mere fact that they asked for them
proves something, doesn’t it?”

“You are too old a bird to be frightened by pop-guns, Hooge,” said
Thorsensel, gnawing at his moustache. “These fellows, from what I know
of them, couldn’t catch the scent of a polecat.”

“I’m not so sure of that,” put in Zimmerlein. “They’ve landed some
pretty big fish.”

“They’ve landed a pack of blatant asses,” snapped Thorsensel. “Good
God, man, you don’t put Reistelen and others of his stripe in the class
with--well, with a few I could mention, do you? They’ve only touched the
surface, my friend. It is very deep,--very deep indeed--where the big
fishes lie. Go back to your work, Hooge,--and don’t worry us again with
trifles.”

Late in the afternoon Scarf came in. He came as a stoop-shouldered,
consumptive-looking, unwashed District Messenger of uncertain age and
stability.

“Well?” cried Zimmerlein, glaring at the man.

“Where in hell have you been?” grated Thorsensel.

“That’s just where I have been,” replied the messenger, straightening
his bent figure and drawing a long, full breath. He passed his hand
across his brow. “Or rather, I’ve been close enough to get an unpleasant
whiff of it.”

“Don’t sit down!” exclaimed Zimmerlein, as the man prepared to sink into
a chair.

“I ‘m all in, I ‘ve got to,” and down he flopped. After a moment he
leaned forward and fixed the others with burning, hitter eyes. “In the
first place, do you know what’s happened to Elberon?”

“No,” fell in unison from the lips of the two men.

“Well, he’s sitting up in the United States Attorney’s office with half
a dozen experts trying to pump intelligence out of him.”

An imprecation ground its way out between Thorsensel’s teeth.
Zimmerlein’s lower lip tightened against his teeth.

“I had it from Zumpe. They went to Elberon’s house early this
morning,--on the quiet, of course,--nothing for the public,--and took
him down for a grilling. Zumpe says old Elberon has been getting pretty
gabby with one or two people who ought to be good Germans but ain’t.”

“The infernal fool! I have warned him repeatedly,” snarled Thorsensel.
“He has been very thick lately with Kleinhans, the banker. I told him to
take no chances with that man. I mentioned a few others too.”

“Some of ‘em are straight, eh?” queried Scarf, a twist at the corner of
his mouth that went for a sneer.

“Straight? No! Crooked as rattlesnakes! I wouldn’t trust a man like
Kleinhans out of my sight. He actually thinks he’s an American,--and God
knows that makes him worse than one. Well? Goon. What else?”

“That’s all I know about Elberon. As for that other little matter,--” He
stopped to wet his lips.

Zimmerlein muttered hoarsely: “Little matter!”

“I’m lucky, that’s all,” said Scarf, and again passed his hand over his
brow.

“Get on with it. You can’t stay here all afternoon,” commanded
Thorsensel.

“We came within an ace of dropping into a pit--a bottomless pit at
that. Why didn’t you tell me that secret service men were trailing him,
Zimmerlein?”

“What? What’s that you say?”

“Why, damn your eyes, Zimmerlein, that guy was suspected of giving
information to the enemy. He’s been watched like a hawk. We got onto
it just in time. Don’t you see what would have happened if they had
followed us to his room? You don’t, eh? Well, I’ll tell you. We would
have been nabbed with him,--before anything could have happened,--caught
in the very net they were laying for him. His _pals_,--that’s what they
would have made of us,--his comrades, mind you, not his enemies. How
the devil could we have explained? And would they have believed him, no
matter what he said about us? Not on your life. The very thing they were
watching for would have happened. A rendezvous! They would have had him
dead to rights,--delivering information received earlier in the night
to two German agents,--oh, what a diabolical joke it would have been
on him, and what a devil of a mess we would have been in! God, I shiver
every time I think of it,--and I’ve been shivering all day, let me tell
you.”

“Secret service men after _him?_” muttered Thorsensel, incredulously.
“What’s the angle, Zimmerlein,--what’s the angle? You are supposed to be
on the inside up there. What do you know about this?”

“I am completely in the dark. I can’t understand it, Thorsensel. It--are
you sure, Scarf?”

“Absolutely. They got Blechter,--yanked him off the taxi when he stopped
around in the next block, according to plans. He was to wait for us
there,--fixing his engine as a blind,--stalling for time. He put up a
fight,--poor fool. They got him just the same.”

“Will he squeal?” demanded Zimmerlein, pacing the floor.

“You ought to know. He’s your protégé,” said Scarf succinctly.

“Better dead than alive, I’d say,” said Thorsensel unfeelingly. “Go on.”

“Well, from all I could learn, two of them waited outside the building
and two of ‘em were inside--I don’t know just where. I think one of them
was running the front elevator. All I know is that Ruddy and I barely
had time to get out of the window and onto a little balcony and drop
down to the one below, before they smashed in the door. Twelve foot
drop, too,--and the balcony wasn’t more than three feet wide. If we’d
missed--Lord!”

“You were in his room?” cried Thorsensel.

“Sure. We got in through the building next door, sneaked up ten flights
of stairs to the top. Got out on the roof through the ‘dog-house,’ and
dropped down to the other roof. Sort of penthouse arrangement up there.
Very simple after that. We had his apartment pretty well marked. Ninth
floor front. It’s closed except when he comes up occasionally from camp
for a night or two. Family in the South somewhere, servants dismissed.
We didn’t waste any time. Had it all doped out. Went to his door and
rang the bell. Pretty soon he came and opened it and asked what we
wanted. We told him right off the reel that we were in the secret
service and had to have a talk with him at once about a certain party
he knows. He told us to go to hell. Then I showed him my badge and
mentioned a name that bowled him over. He said: ‘My God!’ and drew back
into the room. We went in and closed the door.

“I asked him first if there was anybody in the apartment--anybody that
would be likely to hear our conversation. He said he was alone,--his
people were out of town for the winter. Ruddy asked him point blank
just what he knew about a certain party,--all of it. He came back with
a question. ‘Has there been an arrest?’ ‘Yes,’ says I. He sat down, limp
as a rag. ‘My God, it’s terrible--horrible,’ he says. ‘Who put you wise?
How much is actually known?’ That was enough for Ruddy. He stuck the
gun under his ear and let him have it. He never knew what hit him. Ruddy
dropped the revolver on the floor beside the chair,--just where he would
have dropped it himself,--and then we started out to see if we could
find anything in the apartment that oughtn’t to be lying around loose. I
forgot to say there was a Maxim silencer on the gun. We had just entered
the first bed-room when his door bell rang. Two hearts stopped beating
right there and then. For a minute we were paralysed. Then there was
pounding on the door, and we heard some one say, ‘Open up, or we ‘ll
smash it in!’

“No use wasting time on minor details. After we got onto the
balcony below, we opened the French windows, and sneaked into a big
apartment,--darker than Egypt except when the light from a big electric
sign down the street flashed every few seconds. We got out into the
hall without rousing anybody and started down the stairs. Of course, we
thought it was the elevator man pounding on the door up there,--he might
have heard the muffled report if he happened to be near that floor. God
was with us. We got down to the ground floor all right, but there we
struck something worse than a stone wall. Two men were standing right
in front of the passenger elevator. We jumped behind a curtain they
have hanging there to hide the stairway. They didn’t hear us. They were
talking about Blechter. We knew in a second what they were. There was
a cubby hole under the stairs where they keep mops and brooms and such
stuff. We got in there, leaving a crack through which we could hear.
After awhile the front elevator came down. We heard ‘em all talking.
They said he had shot himself, and they cursed their luck because they
hadn’t been able to take him alive. He must have been warned that they
were after him. That’s what they were roaring about. After a while we
got out of the mop-hole and sneaked down to the basement. The doors were
locked, and there were men in the engine room--a night fireman and a
friend of his who was drunk and had come in to sleep it off. Somebody
was walking up and down in the little court outside. We didn’t dare risk
a dash for it, so we hid under a pile of last summer’s awnings for a
couple of hours. When we couldn’t stand it any longer, we decided to put
on a bold front and pass ourselves off as plainclothes-men. It was dead
easy. The employes about the place were scared stiff. All we had to do
was to look hard at the head porter and the back elevator man, and tell
‘em not to let anybody go near the storeroom for apartment E 9,--not on
their lives. Here’s the evening paper. You can read what it says.”



CHAPTER VI

|Louise Hansbury did not go out for her customary “constitutional” that
morning. She arose, tired and depressed after a sleepless night. Soon
after she had her breakfast,--chocolate and toast and a prescribed
porridge,--she complained of a sudden and violent nausea.

Mrs. Carstairs went in to see her, and was alarmed. She took the girl’s
temperature and then called up the doctor.

“You have a fever,” she said. “You must go back to bed. It’s nothing, I
daresay, but we have to be on the safe side, dear.”

Louise betrayed her agitation. She pleaded to be allowed to dress and go
out for her walk. There were moments when actual fear lurked in her dark
eyes.

“I will be all right in a little while, Aunt Frieda. Don’t be cross with
me. I must have eaten something last night that disagreed with me. The
lobster,--I ate a tiny bit of it.”

“Very likely,” said her aunt calmly. “All the more reason for being
careful today. No, my dear, I must insist on your remaining in bed,--at
least until Dr. Browne has seen you.”

“When is he coming?”

“The attendant said she could locate him and would send him here as soon
as possible. He is out making his calls.”

“The chocolate tasted queerly this morning, Aunt Frieda,” said the girl,
feverishly.

“Imagination. Nothing tastes right when one’s stomach is upset.”

“Oh, I want so much to get out for a breath of fresh air. It is a
perfectly lovely day. I am sure Dr. Browne will say it’s the best thing
in the world--”

“Dr. Browne doesn’t know everything,” interrupted Mrs. Carstairs.
She laid her hand on the girl’s hot forehead. “You _must_ go back
to bed,--just for a little while,” she said, and there was an
inexorableness in her tone that roused swift resentment in Louise. A
rebellious, angry light smouldered in her eyes. “I know what is best for
you. If it should turn out to be ptomaine poisoning--”

“It can’t be ptomaine if it came from the chocolate I drank,” sad
Louise, excitement causing her voice to tremble and to take on a certain
shrillness.

“I am confident it is all due to nervousness,” said Mrs. Carstairs.
She spoke in a patient, consoling manner. “Dr. Browne will give you
something to straighten out your digestion, and you will be all right by
tomorrow. You are not strong yet, you know. Just be patient, my dear. It
takes time.”

“I should like to telephone, Aunt Frieda,” said the girl abruptly.
Submissive to the gentle but unyielding authority of the older woman,
who dominated as one with the power to scourge if resistance continued,
she had begun to divest herself, rather helplessly, of the gay peignoir
in which she had breakfasted. With feverish haste, she slipped her arms
through the loose folds, and faced her aunt. There was defiance in her
glance. For an instant it held.

The calm smile and the tolerant shake of the head, as to a pleading
child, shattered her resolve; she saw that argument was useless. The
robe fell from her shoulders as she turned away with a sob in her
throat.

“Is it important?” inquired the older woman.

“I--this afternoon will do as well, I suppose,” replied the girl,
without turning her head.

“Let me call up for you, dear. It is no trouble at all. I can explain
that you are ill.”

“No, thank you, Aunt Frieda. It--it doesn’t matter.”

She hesitated about confiding to Mrs. Car-stairs that she was going out
to meet her lover. Something told her that it would be the wrong thing
to do,--something that for want of another name would have to go as
cunning. She shared a vague, disturbing secret with Steele....

Mrs. Carstairs tucked the bedclothes about her.

“The doctor will be here soon, I am sure,” she said. “Do you feel any
better? Are you more comfortable?”

“I am in no pain,--if that’s what you mean. Just this wretched nausea.
What do the morning papers say about the loss of the _Elston_, Aunt
Frieda?”

“Nothing, I believe. Your uncle says there was no mention of it. I
daresay the news has been held up for the time being. Waiting for full
details. Wasn’t it fortunate,--wasn’t it providential that the transfer
to the _Campion_ was so cleverly accomplished?”

A maid-servant came to the door.

“You are wanted on the telephone, Mrs. Car-stairs. Shall I say you are
engaged?”

“Who is it, Wrenn?”

“A gentleman. I couldn’t catch the name, Mrs. Carstairs.”

“I will see who it is.”

After she had closed Louise’s door behind her, Frieda Carstairs stood
stockstill in the long corridor. She put her hand to her breast and
held it there lightly, as if to transmit its vital strength to the organ
which pounded so violently. Her tall figure was tense; her face took on
the pallor of death and its rigidity. For as long as fifteen or twenty
seconds, she remained motionless. Then her lips moved stiffly; they
twitched as in a spasm of pain. The two words they formed hut did not
utter were:

“Poor girl!”

Once, as she covered the short distance to her own sitting-room, her
figure swayed slightly. She even put out a hand to steady herself
against the wall,--a needless precaution, for she instantly regained
command of herself.

She closed the door, and, before taking up the receiver, threw in
the device which cut out the instrument from other extensions in the
apartment,--those in the butler’s pantry, her husband’s study, and the
one that stood on the night-table at the head of his bed. Her knees
suddenly became weak; they trembled as with the palsy. She sat down at
the writing table and dropped her elbow heavily on the top. Again she
feared that she was going to faint.

“Yes?” she murmured thickly into the transmitter, and, instantly
realizing that her voice betrayed nervousness and even alarm, repeated
the word firmly, crisply. “Yes,--this is Mrs. Carstairs.”

“I am speaking for the _Evening----_” (the name of the newspaper was
indistinctly pronounced)--“and I called up, Mrs. Carstairs, to ask if
it is true that Captain Derrol Steele was engaged to be married to your
niece, Miss Louise Hansbury?”

She did not reply. Her lips parted but no sound issued forth.

Again the voice spoke in her ear. “Are you there?”

The “yes” she uttered in reply was little more than a hoarse gasp. And
then: “I hear you quite distinctly.” There was a click at the other end.
Slowly, as in a daze, she hung up the receiver. Not another word passed.

She did not leave the apartment that day, but spent most of the time
with her niece, whose indisposition was promptly diagnosed as an acute
attack of indigestion by the learned and complacent physician, who dosed
her and went his way. He ordered her to remain in bed; he would run in
and see her in the morning. If anything, ah!--a--alarming turned up, he
murmured to Mrs. Carstairs, she was to call him at once. Not likely, of
course, said he, nothing to be apprehensive about, but--well, you never
can tell. Resistance not yet fully restored,--and, “after all, as
I’ve said all along, Mrs. Carstairs, one’s own resistance is the best
chemistry going, and one has to fill his own prescription when it comes
to that sort of thing, don’t you know.”

Being a very fashionable doctor he gave her pyromedan to bring down the
temperature in a hurry, and codeine to quiet the pain.

Davenport Carstairs seldom reached his home before six or half-past. It
was his custom,--if business happened to be indulgent,--to drop in
at his favourite club about four in the afternoon. On this afternoon,
however, he drove straight home from the office. The clock in the hall
was striking four as he entered the apartment. The afternoon newspapers
were under his arm,--four or five of them.

“Has Mrs. Carstairs come in, Hollowell?” he asked.

“Mrs. Carstairs did not go out today, sir. Miss Hansbury is ill.”

Ordinarily Carstairs would have been disturbed by this information.
He had been gravely worried over his niece’s condition. Hollowell’s
supplementary statement, however, appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.

“Say that I’m home, Hollowell, and in my room.”

“Very good, sir. Is there anything I can do, sir?”

“Do? What do you mean?”

“I thought perhaps you might be ill, sir. I--”

“Not at all, not at all,” somewhat irascibly. “Ask Mrs. Carstairs to
come to my room--Wait! Have you had any news here today?”

“No, sir,--nothink as I am aware of, sir.”

“No--er--commotion?”

“I think not, sir. It isn’t serious. Sort of--ah--what you might call
stomach--ah--although cook says it can’t have been anything she ate
last--”

“_By_ the way, what made you think I was ill?”

“Well,--since you ask, sir,--you do look a bit seedy, sir,--that is to
say pale and--”

“I wish to see Mrs. Carstairs alone. Please avoid mentioning my return
in Miss Hansbury’s presence.”

He went at once to his study, where, moved by the remark of the butler,
he stared long and hard at his features in a mirror. His face was ashen
grey, and suddenly, strangely old.

He had tossed the newspapers on the rare old Italian table in the centre
of the room. After a few moments of complete abstraction, his dull,
frowning gaze was raised from the floor to sweep the room,--which, for
some strange, almost uncanny cause, seemed almost unfamiliar to him. And
yet it was the same,--nothing had been changed. Only he had altered--his
own perspective had undergone a vast, incomprehensible change. His eyes
falling upon the papers, he took them up, one by one, and stared again
at a certain headline in each,--a raw caption that fascinated him and
hurt him like the cut of a knife.

It did not occur to him until long afterwards, and then only in
retrospective contemplation of events that filled the most important day
in his life, that his wife was a long time in appearing. She came into
the study at last, and, as was her unvarying custom, pressed her lips to
his cheek. He noticed that her lips, always moist and soft and alive,
were hot and dry and as dead as parchment. Before he spoke a word to
her, he crossed the room and closed the door into the hall.

She was staring at him in amazement as he turned toward her again.

“What has happened, Davenport! You--you look so strange,--so--Oh,
something dreadful has happened! Is it--is it Alfred! Tell me! For God’s
sake, don’t--”

“It isn’t Alfred, my dear,” said he. There was a dull, hollow note in
his voice,--a note that held to one key. “Where is Louise!”

“In bed. She hasn’t been well--”

“We must manage somehow to break this thing gently to her. It
might--there is no telling what it may do to her, Frieda.”

She steadied herself against the table. Her face now was as white as
his. It had been pale before; now it was livid.

“What is it, Davenport?” He looked searchingly, anxiously into her
eyes for a moment, and then said: “It will be a shock to you too,
Frieda,--but I know you. You can take it like a soldier. Derrol Steele
shot himself last night. He is dead. He--There, there, dearest! I
shouldn’t have blurted it out like--sit down here, Frieda! That’s right!
Poor old girl! Curse me for a blundering fool! I might have known it
would be a dreadful shock to you. You were devoted to him. He--”

“Tell me,--tell me everything, Davenport,” she broke in, her eyes fixed
on his lips. She did not look into his eyes. He was leaning over her,
clasping one of her hands,--a hand that suddenly became limp after
the utmost rigidity. “Just a moment. Compose yourself. Pull yourself
together, dear. It’s--it’s a cruel story--an incredible story. I would
have staked my soul on Derrol Steele. I’ve known him since he was a
little boy. If I had been asked to name the most honourable, the most
loyal man in the--but, Frieda, I was wrong--I was deceived in him,--just
as you were--and Louise. Louise! God, how this will crush that poor,
innocent, loving--”

“Tell me!” she insisted, her fingers tightening on his, her voice
scarcely more than a whisper.

For answer, he placed the newspaper in her hands, and pointed to the
headline at the top of the page.

“Read it, Frieda. Read this first.”

He sat on the edge of the table, his arms folded across his breast, and
waited for her to finish. At last the paper fell from her fingers and
she looked up into his face. Her eyes were bleak.

“I can’t believe it, Davenport,--I will not believe it of Derrol
Steele.”

“As soon as I saw the paper,--about two o’clock, I should say,--I
hurried over to the United States Attorney’s office. The story is true,
Frieda. It appears that a secret service agent--‘gad, how marvellous
they are!--an agent overheard scraps of a conversation between two men
late last night,--in front of a little French restaurant, I think
it was. Steele’s name was mentioned two or three times. He was not
interested, however, until he heard them speak of a man long suspected
by the department. Then he pricked up his ears. The marshal did not
repeat the name, for obvious reasons. The man heard enough to convince
him that this suspect and one or two other men were to be at Steele’s
apartment before three o’clock this morning. The address was carefully,
precisely given by one of the men, who was very greatly agitated.
Captain Steele had vital information in his possession,--that much, at
least, the listener was able to grasp. One sentence he heard distinctly.
I recall it clearly. ‘Tomorrow will be too late,’ This was enough for
the agent. He was too clever to arrest these men on the spot. The way
was clear for the seizure of at least four or five men, including an
officer in the United States Army. So he--are you listening, dear?”

“Yes, yes!” she replied, as if waking from a dream.

“This agent had been set there to watch for a man and a woman, posing
as French people, who are under surveillance. As soon as the speakers
parted, he rushed up the street to an hotel, and called up headquarters.
This was too big a thing to be sidetracked for the French couple.
Several operatives were dispatched immediately to assist him. They went
to the building where Derrol lives--or lived. They seized the driver of
the taxi-cab, but the others evidently got wind of the raid, for when
they went up to Steele’s apartment, hoping to catch them in the place
with him, they found him alone. He had slipped a bath gown over his
pajamas and was undoubtedly waiting for his fellow-conspirators. He
realized in an instant that he was trapped. They smashed in the door.
While the violent noise was going on, he shot himself. They did not hear
the report, however, due to the clatter and to the fact that there was
a silencer on the revolver. There was the faintest sign of a pulse,
indicating that the shot had been fired only a minute or two before they
burst in and discovered him sitting in a chair not twenty feet from the
door.”

The tears rolled down the cheeks of Davenport Carstairs. His voice
broke.

“I can’t believe it of him, Frieda,--I can’t believe it.”

Her face was ghastly. “We have the proof, Davenport,--the indisputable
proof,” she murmured.

“The proof? What proof have _we?_”

“The best proof in the world. He shot himself. Only a guilty man would
have taken his own life in the circumstances. We--we must believe it of
him, Davenport. That poor, sick girl! How are we to tell her?”

Of the two, she was now by far the more composed. Except for the
colourless lips and an almost lavender-like hue that stole slowly into
her cheeks just below the temples, indicative of the vast effort she had
been called upon to exert in order to regain command of her nerves, she
was visibly calm and self-contained. Her husband had sunk dejectedly
into a chair. For many minutes no word passed between them. It was she
who spoke first.

“You say they caught one of the men--one of the others, I mean?” she
inquired.

“The taxi-driver.”

Her lips parted to form another question. She withheld it. With her
handkerchief she wiped away the moisture that suddenly appeared at the
corners of her mouth--oozing from between close-pressed lips.

She read the accounts in the other papers, her face absolutely
emotionless. After a while he looked up, and, unobserved, watched her
face.

“You are a very wonderful woman, Frieda,” he said as she laid the last
of the papers on the table. Her answer was a faint smile and a shake of
the head.

She arose and started resolutely toward the door. As she neared it, she
faltered, and then turned back to him.

“Davenport, I have just had a most disturbing thought. It also may have
occurred to you. Derrol Steele was a trusted and familiar guest in
this house. He heard many important,--let me go on, please,--I can see
revulsion in your eyes. Whether we like it or not, we must look at it
squarely from every point of view. Last night, for example, he heard
the Admiral; he heard what the Countess had to say about the Italian
situation. Going farther back, you yourself spoke in his presence of the
sailing of the _Elston_ with all those men on board.”

“I see what is in your mind, Frieda,” he said slowly. “You mean we may
be dragged into it?”

“Not at all,” she said rather sharply. “We need not be drawn into it in
the slightest degree unless we volunteer information that concerns no
one but ourselves. Why should any one know that he came into possession
of facts here in our home?”

“Such things are bound to leak out, my dear. The investigation will be
thorough. They will go to the bottom of this. Of course, I can manage
it so that we sha’n’t come in for any publicity, but we can’t escape
questioning.”

“And are we to admit that we discussed these very grave and important
matters in his presence?”

“We are to tell the truth, Frieda. You should not forget that we spoke
of them in the presence of an officer in the United States Army.”

After a moment she said: “I daresay you are right, Davenport. You are
always right. I was only thinking that in view of the fact that there is
no proof against him except the few words overheard by that man in front
of the café,--well, it is possible, don’t you see, that there may have
been some horrid, appalling mistake. They have no other proof,--unless
the United States Attorney withheld something from you.”

“They have the best proof in the world. He shot himself, as you have
said.”

She half closed her eyes. A queer little spasm twisted her lips apart.

“Yes,” she said unsteadily, “yes, he shot himself.”

Her hand was on the door-knob.

“Are you going in to tell her now, Frieda?”

“I must have a little time,--just a little, dear. I am more shaken
than you think. I must have time to collect myself. It will be very
difficult, Davenport. Stay here. Do not come unless I call to you.”

“I leave it all to you, Frieda,--God bless you and God give you
strength.”

The door closed behind her. He sat motionless for a long time, wondering
whether he could hear her call to him with that door and doubtless
another intervening. Strange that she should have closed it. He would
wait a little while,--a few minutes only,--and then he would open it
and--listen.

She went straight to her own room.... Presently she lifted the telephone
receiver from the hook. The next moment she replaced it, but did not
release it from her tense fingers.

She sat rigid, staring at the instrument, resolve and indecision
struggling for mastery. At last she pushed the instrument away and sank
back in the chair as if exhausted.



CHAPTER VII

|THE doctor arrived at eight. He could not afford to disregard the
summons of such a man as Davenport Carstairs. So he told his wife to go
on to the Opera without him; he would join her as soon as possible,--in
fact, it might be possible to get there before the overture was ended,
or, at the very latest, soon after the curtain went up. Make his
apologies, and all that. This was an urgent case.

Close on his heels came two men to see Mr. Carstairs....

Miss Hansbury was in a pitiable condition. For the better part of two
hours, Frieda Carstairs had been with her. Every one else, not excepting
her uncle, was denied admission to the room. From time to time, the
sound of voices came through the closed door,--one shrill and rising to
the pitch of frenzy, the other firm, gentle, soothing--one that seemed
to croon. A sharp-eared listener outside would have caught an occasional
sentence wailed in the despairing treble, but he would have made little
of it, for it dwindled away into a smothered, inarticulate jumble of
words. He might have distinguished the oft-repeated cry: “You know it
isn’t true! You know it! You know it!”

Carstairs grasped the doctor’s arm the instant he entered the apartment.

“For God’s sake, Doctor, give her something to quiet her immediately.
I--I cannot endure it. We should have waited. I had no idea it would be
like this. Mrs. Carstairs hasn’t left her for an instant. I can hear her
moaning and--”

“Is it this--ah--news about young Steele?” inquired the doctor blandly.
He rubbed his hands.

“Yes--yes! We thought it best to tell her before she got it from the
servants, or the papers, or--”

“Dreadful affair,--most shocking. I knew him very slightly, but he
seemed a most delightful chap. By Jove, it is really distressing, the
way the Germans have undermined our very--”

“She is in a most deplorable condition, Doctor. Don’t delay an instant,
please,--and do not leave her until you are convinced there is no danger
of--” He broke off abruptly.

“Ahem! Yes, yes,--ah,--I’ll remain as long as--ah,--I feel the least bit
uneasy about her.”

“All right, Doctor,--if there is the remotest danger of--”

“Oh, I fancy there isn’t any real danger of _that_, Mr. Carstairs.
Compose yourself. We ‘ll have her sleeping like a baby in no time at
all. Had you an inkling that Steele was that sort of a--”

“And will you please send Mrs. Carstairs out of the room at once?”

“Yes, yes,--immediately. Leave it to me, leave it to me,” and off he
went, with a sprightliness that would have, surprised his dignity if he
had had the slightest notion at that moment that he still possessed such
a thing.

But Mrs. Carstairs refused to be sent out of the room. She remained
steadfast at the girl’s side, holding and stroking her hand.

“I cannot,--I will not leave her, Doctor Browne,” she said, compressing
her lips.

The butler apologetically stuck his head into Mr. Carstairs’ study a few
minutes after the doctor’s arrival.

“Sorry, sir, but there’s two gentlemen asking to see you.”

“I told you I was not at home to any one, Hollowell. Is it necessary for
me to repeat your instructions?”

“No, sir,--thank you, sir. But these gentlemen say they must see you,
sir. They are outside, sir,--in the hall. I asked--”

“Who are they? What is their business?”

“I asked both those questions, sir,” said the butler, in evident
distress.

“Yes, yes,--well, and what did they say?”

“They simply said ‘Never mind,’” said Hollowell, with a great deal of
feeling.

Carstairs stopped suddenly in his tracks.

“I thought you said they were gentlemen.”

His brow darkened. He had sensed the truth. Secret service men.

“My mistake, sir,--my mistake,” mumbled Hollowell. “Ahem! I can
only add, Mr. Carstairs, that they seem to think you _are_ at home,
and--ah--”

“Conduct them to this room,” said Carstairs. A few minutes later: “Come
in, gentlemen, and be seated. I suppose you are here to ascertain if
I can throw any light on the Derrol Steele affair. It is no secret,
of course, that he was my niece’s fiance, and that he was a constant
visitor here. I am afraid, however, that I can be of no assistance to
you. Captain Steele--”

“Pardon me, Mr. Carstairs,” said one of his visitors, a sharp-eyed,
clean-cut man of forty, “but, as a matter of fact, our business here is
really with Mrs. Carstairs. Will you be good enough to ask her to step
into this room?”

His companion had closed the door, and both remained standing.

“I assure you she knows as little as I do about this distressing affair.
My niece is very ill. She cannot leave her. You must allow me,--for the
present, at least,--to speak for Mrs. Carstairs.”

“Deeply as I regret it, Mr. Carstairs, I must insist that your wife--”

“You heard what I said, didn’t you?” demanded Carstairs coldly. Two
vivid red blotches shot into his cheeks.

The two men looked at each other. Then the spokesman gave a significant
jerk of his head. His companion opened the door and stepped quickly
into the hall. As the door closed, the one who remained drew nearer to
Carstairs.

“In the first place, Mr. Carstairs, you cannot speak for your wife. I am
not here to make inquiries, sir, but to escort her to the offices of the
United States Attorney, who will--”

Carstairs started up from his chair. “What infernal nonsense is this?”

“I am afraid it isn’t nonsense,” said the other quietly. “My
instructions,--my orders, I may say,--are to confront Mrs. Carstairs
with certain charges, in your presence, by the way,--and to remain in
this apartment until further orders. There is no alternative.”

“Charges?” gasped Davenport Carstairs, incredulously. “What do you mean?
What charges have been brought against _us?_”

“There is nothing against _you_, sir. I am instructed to exercise the
greatest consideration for you. A great deal, I may add, is left to
my discretion, after all. Your wife, I am compelled to inform you,
is charged with a very serious offence. In plain words, we have
indisputable proof that she is and has been for several years in direct
communication with the German Government through--”

“It is a damned, outrageous lie!” shouted Carstairs, furiously. “How
dare you come here--”

“Just a moment, please,” interrupted the other sharply. “My instructions
are to treat you with the utmost respect and consideration. I must ask
you to accord me the same treatment. Will you send for your wife, or
must I resort to the authority that--”

“For God’s sake, man,--wait! Let me get this thing through my head.
I--I---will try to control myself. There has been some terrible mistake.
Let us discuss the matter calmly. I can explain everything. We must
spare her the mortification, the humiliation of being--Why, my dear sir,
it would--kill her. She would not survive the--”

The agent held up his hand. “There is no mistake. It may be possible
to spare her the disgrace, the ignominy of public exposure. That, sir,
rests with her--and with you. We recognize your position, Mr. Carstairs.
There is a disposition on the part of the authorities to protect you.
With that object in view, I am instructed to grant Mrs. Carstairs the
privilege of remaining in her own room until tomorrow morning. We are to
take no definite action tonight, unless, of course, you and she decide
that it is best for her to accompany me to the--er--to headquarters. It
is up to you and Mrs. Carstairs, sir.”

Davenport Carstairs was a strong, virile character. He possessed the
arrogance born of power and a confidence in himself that had never
been shaken. His home was his stronghold, his wife its treasure. In his
serene strength he could not conceive of discredit falling upon either.
Instead of faltering, now that the first shock had been weathered, he
drew himself up and faced the situation with a courage that excited the
wonder and admiration of the man who came with evil tidings.

“Be seated,” said he, indicating a chair. The man sat down. “You may be
partially if not entirely ignorant of the nature of these charges. Am I
right in assuming that you are not at liberty to discuss them with me?”

“On the contrary, Mr. Carstairs, I have been advised to do nothing until
I have talked the matter over with you. I am in possession of all the
facts.”

“Is the department content to allow me to pass judgment on my wife?”
 inquired Car-stairs, with a touch of irony. He maintained a calm
exterior,--at what cost no one but he will ever know. The secret service
man made no response. “In any case, I shall have to ask you to explain
everything to me before permitting you to approach my wife.”

The agent, who shall be called Jones, nodded his head, and then leaned
forward in his chair.

“A man named Hodges was in your employ as a butler up to a fortnight
ago. He had worked for you exactly seven weeks and one day. Do you know
where he came from and who he really was, Mr. Carstairs?”

“No. Mrs. Carstairs engages the servants here. Are you going to tell me
that he was a German spy?”

“Far from it, sir. ‘He was a British secret service agent. His name was
Bridgeford. He was killed by an automobile, but not accidentally as you
have been led to believe. We have been looking for the driver of that
car for two weeks. Last night we got him. He has confessed. Since
six o’clock this evening three other men have been arrested,--all
subordinate figures in the game. Before morning we expect to land at
least one or two of the principal members of the shrewdest gang of spies
operating in the name and interest of the Kaiser.”

“Including my wife,” said Carstairs, lifting his eyebrows.

Jones allowed the remark to pass without comment.

“Bridgeford,--or Hodges, as you knew him,--was sent to this city from
London. For a long time he worked independently. A few days before his
death, we received instructions from Washington to get in touch with
him. That was the first we knew of him, I’ll confess. The British
Foreign Office advised our department that he had finally got hold of
something big and tangible. But evidently the German Foreign Office also
was wise to him. He reported to us on the afternoon of the day he was
killed. He said that the time was not yet ripe to take positive steps,
but that he would soon have the goods on four or five prominent people.
He gave us the names of these people. Two of them he was sure about, the
others were in doubt. Believe me, they _were_ prominent. We were to hold
off till he said the word. That night he was killed. But they didn’t
do it soon enough. We had all his data, incomplete as it was, and we’ve
followed it up. That’s why I am here this evening.”

He paused; and Carstairs said, harshly: “Well, go on,--why do you
hesitate?”

“We know now, beyond all possible doubt, that information of the most
vital character has reached the German Admiralty and the Foreign Office
through Mrs. Carstairs,” said Jones deliberately.

“I may be pardoned if I repeat that it is a damned lie,” said Carstairs,
gripping the arms of his chair.

“You have said just what you were expected to say, Mr. Carstairs. Before
I have finished, however, you will realize that it is not a damned lie.
I am authorized to exhibit certain memoranda from the Department. You
will then agree with us that the information came from this house,--from
this apartment, in fact.”

“In the light of what happened last night, I may go so far as to concede
that such may have been the case. Permit me to remind you of the suicide
of Captain--”

He broke off abruptly, struck by the expression in the other’s face.
Jones shook his head slowly. There was genuine distress in his voice
when he spoke.

“Captain Steele was murdered, Mr. Carstairs,” he said. “He did not kill
himself.” Carstairs sprang to his feet. For an instant a flash of joy
transfigured his face.

[Illustration: 0169]

“By ‘gad, I knew it,--I knew it! I would have staked my soul on that
boy’s honour. Murdered? My God! And for what hellish purpose is his name
blackened by the foul reports given to the press by your--”

“A very grave injustice has been done an honourable gentleman,”
 interrupted Jones, with real feeling. “Captain Steele was murdered by
assassins in the employ of persons connected with the German Government.
When I have finished my story,--I shall make it brief,--you will
understand that, far from being a traitor to his country, Derrol Steele
was a patriot who would not have hesitated to denounce--” He withheld
the words that rose to his lips in vindication of the maligned officer.
“A careful search of his rooms today resulted in the discovery of a
document in his own handwriting, written after he left your apartment
last night, and put under lock and key some time prior to the arrival
of the assassins. I have a copy of it with me. You will observe that he
does not make definite accusations against any one, and that he employs
initials only in designating the persons involved. He goes no farther
than to express his own misgivings, his suspicions and certain
observations that prove how keenly alive he was to the--real situation.
Sit down, Mr. Carstairs, and look over these papers. Begin here,
sir,--with the data obtained by the man you knew as Hodges. I beg to
assure you, in advance, that my superiors entertain no thought that you
were at any time cognizant of what has been going on in your own home,
and there is the profoundest desire on their part to spare you--”

“Enough, sir! Let me see the papers.”

“Just a moment, please. There is one gap in the sequence of events
leading up to the death of Captain Steele. We are confident that the
leaders of this great conspiracy were warned late last night that
Captain Steele suspected a certain person, but we have been unable to
discover by what means, or through whom, this warning was delivered. The
men under arrest, with the exception of the chauffeur, absolutely refuse
to make a statement of any kind, and he, we are confident, does not know
who the go-between was. All he knows,--or thinks, at least,--is that
he and his pals were double-crossed last night by--well, by Mrs.
Carstairs.”

Davenport Carstairs read the papers placed in his hands by the Secret
Service man. One by one, they fell from his stiff, trembling fingers,
fluttering to the floor, each in its succeeding turn. At the end, he
looked not into Jones’s eyes, but past them, and from his own the light
was gone.

“Will you ask your wife to come in now, Mr. Carstairs?” said Jones, a
trifle unsteadily.

Carstairs stared at him for a moment, unseeingly. Then he passed his
hand over his eyes as if to clear them of something revolting. The
moment was tense, spasmodic, prophetic of approaching collapse. The
strength and courage and confidence of the man had sustained a shock
that made ruin of them all. He wondered dumbly whether he would ever
have the power and the desire to lift his head again and look into the
eye of this man who sat there with him. The whole fabric of existence
was torn to shreds by the merciless revelations contained in the papers
he had read with the steel in his heart. They were complete, irrefutable
indictments. There was no such thing as going behind them. Steele’s
blighting conjectures suddenly became truths of the most appalling
nature; the astonishing record of Hodges the butler laid bare a
multitude of secrets; the brief, almost laconic summing-up of facts
in the possession of the Department took the heart out of his body and
scorched it with conviction,--for he knew that the Secret Eye had looked
into the very soul of the woman he loved and cherished and trusted....

“If you do not object, I will speak with her--alone,” said he,
lifelessly. He struggled to his feet, and, by the mightiest effort of
the will, lifted his head and fixed his haggard eyes upon the face of
the man who had cast the bomb at his feet:--a far more potent agent of
destruction than any that Germany herself had ever hurled! It was to
destroy heaven and earth for him.

Jones, cleared his throat. “That is for you to decide, Mr. Carstairs,”
 he said, and there was something significant in his voice and manner.
“Will you take these documents--”

“No. I do not wish her to see them. Be good enough to step into the
drawing-room,--and wait. This way--through this door. And please call
your companion. It is not necessary for him to stand guard over her. You
have my word that she shall not escape.”

“We are to respect your wishes in every particular, Mr. Carstairs. The
authorities appreciate your position. It is their desire to spare you,
if possible, the disgrace, the pain--” He stopped.

“I think I understand,” said Davenport Car-stairs slowly. A moment later
he was alone.

Presently he unlocked and opened a small drawer in his desk. He took out
something that glittered, examined it carefully, and then stuck it into
his coat pocket. His jaws were set; in his eyes lay the hard, cold light
of steel.

He did not falter.

She had not been fair with him, but he would be fair with her. He would
stand by her to the end.... She should have her chance. He would see to
it that the newspapers,--and the world,--dealt kindly with her. He had
loved her.

If possible, he would see to it that he was the only one in all the
world to hate her.

He went to her room.



CHAPTER VIII

|FAR in the night he said to her: “It is the only way. I shall leave you
to yourself now, Frieda. The rest is with God and you. Tomorrow morning
they will take you away. They may--they probably will shoot you as
a spy. I cannot save you,--nothing that I can do will be of avail in
turning aside or tempering the wrath of Justice.”

She sat, limply, with bowed head. Her fine body seemed to have
shrivelled; emptied of its vitality, it had shrunk as with age before
his eyes. Everything that had fed her blood for years seeped away,
leaving a waste of sunken flesh: pride, arrogance, defiance, and, last
of all, fury,--all had gone out of the house of her soul. There was
nothing left but the pitiful thing called life.

She raised her eyes.

“I cannot take _your_ way out, Davenport,” she said dully.

He pointed to the revolver he had laid on her dressing-table.

“_That_, Frieda, is the only friend you have in all this world tonight.”

“Oh, my God! Are you heartless? Have you no pity, no love, no--”

“I have pity,--nothing more. Love? I have given you love for twenty
years and more. You have defiled it. Do not speak of love!”

“You know I love you--you know I would die for you a thousand times
over. You are my man,--my master, my--”

“Enough, Frieda! You have played a great game,--but an ignoble one,--and
you have lost. You have begged me to--to become your executioner. You
ask me to kill you. You--”

“I do not ask it now,” she broke in, looking him full in the eye. “Go,
Davenport. Leave me to myself. Thank you for--for being kind to me
tonight,--after all. I have told you the truth,--you know everything
that my conscience permits me to reveal. You know more than that man
who sits out there like a vulture, waiting for--waiting for _me_. What
I have confessed to you I would die a thousand times over rather than
confess to another living soul. They could take me away tonight and
torture me till I died, and not one word of what I have said to you
would pass my lips. They know enough, but you alone know all. You say
the world will never know what I have done. I do not care. Let the world
know. I am proud of my blood--I rejoice in the little I have been able
to do for----”

“Hush! Do not say it.”

“Very well. It hurts you. I do not want to hurt you now, husband. The
world is to believe that I--that an accident--a sudden--” She buried her
face in her hands. Her body shook.

“I would spare your son, Frieda,” said he.

She looked up, dry-eyed. A quick flash,--could it have been of
joy?--lighted her haggard face.

“Yes, yes,--he must be spared,” she cried. A deep, inscrutable
expression came into her eyes. She drew a deep, full breath. “Thank God!
He is young,--he has a long and useful life to live. I gave it him. That
is the best, the biggest thing I have done. Now, go, Davenport. Shall we
say--good-night?”

The following day,--in the noon issues--all of the New York evening
papers printed, under varied headlines, the details, so far as
available, of the shocking accident which resulted in the death of Mrs.
Davenport Carstairs. She had fallen from a window in her bed-chamber to
the brick-paved courtyard ten stories below. Death was instantaneous.
“Accidental,” was the prompt decision of the coroner.

Deduction readily established the fact. Mrs. Carstairs must have become
ill in the night. A bottle of smelling salts was found on the floor near
the window which was open to the full. Evidently, she had gone to the
window for air. After opening it wide, a sudden faintness or dizziness
caused her to topple forward.... Before retiring for the night, she had
complained to her husband of a dull, throbbing headache, due, no doubt,
to anxiety over the alarming illness of her niece, Miss Hansbury....
Sometime after one o’clock, Mr. Carstairs, in the adjoining bed-room,
heard her moaning as if in pain. He arose instantly and opened the
connecting door. She was lying on her bed, and, in response to his
inquiry, begged him not to worry about her. Dr. Browne, called in to
attend Miss Hansbury, had decided to remain for the night. He was lying
down in a guest-chamber, and had fallen asleep.

Uneasy over his wife’s condition, Mr. Car-stairs awoke the physician
and together they returned to her room. A knock on the door brought
no response,--but some relief in the thought that she was asleep. The
husband opened the door slightly and listened. There was no sound.
He entered the room, which was dark, and approached the bed. Then,
he called out to the doctor to switch on the lights.... A cold icy
draft,--the Night-Wind,--rushing into the room through the open
window....

Continuing, the papers spoke profoundly of the great loss to society,
of the qualities that made Mrs. Davenport Carstairs one of the most
sincerely beloved women in all the great city, of her prominence in
the conduct of important war charities and reliefs, of her unswerving
devotion to the cause for which America and her sons were fighting, of
her manifold charms and graces. Her untimely death created a void that
could never be filled. Eulogy upon eulogy!

Among the hundreds of telegrams of condolence received by Davenport
Carstairs was one from Mr. Paul Zimmerlein, couched in most exquisite
terms, conveying tribute to the dead and sympathy to the living. It was
sent on the second day from the smart club to which he belonged; on the
third flowers went up with his card.

As business went on as usual at the offices of Mr. Paul Zimmerlein, it
would be sheer presumption to even suggest that this unhappy chronicle
has reached


THE END





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