Peter Ruff and the Double Four
E. Phillips Oppenheim
Part 8 out of 8
magnificent omnibuses. Press the button, too, for the personage
whom they call the valet. Perhaps, with a little gentle persuasion,
he could be induced to pack our clothes."
With his finger upon the hell, Peter hesitated. He, too, loved
adventures, but the gloom of a presentiment had momentarily
"We are marked men, remember, Sogrange," he said. "An escapade of
this sort means a certain amount of risk, even in New York."
"Bernadine caught the midday steamer! We have no enemies here that
I know of."
Peter pressed the button. An hour or so later, the Marquis de
Sogrange and Peter, Baron de Grost, took their leave of New York.
They chose a hotel on Broadway, within a stone's throw of Rector's.
Peter, with whitened hair, gold-rimmed spectacles, a slouch hat and
a fur coat, passed easily enough for an English maker of electrical
instruments; while Sogrange, shabbier, and in ready-made American
clothes, was transformed into a Canadian having some connection with
the theatrical business. They plunged into the heart of New York
life, and found the whole thing like a tonic. The intense vitality
of the people, the pandemonium of Broadway at midnight, with its
flaming illuminations, its eager crowd, its inimitable restlessness,
fascinated them both. Sogrange, indeed, remembering the decadent
languor of the crowds of pleasure seekers thronging his own boulevards,
was never weary of watching these men and women. They passed from
the streets to the restaurants, from the restaurants to the theatre,
out into the streets again, back to the restaurants, and once more
into the streets. Sogrange was like a glutton. The mention of bed
was hateful to him. For three days they existed without a moment's
On the fourth evening, Peter found Sogrange deep in conversation
with the head porter. In a few minutes he led Peter away to one
of the bars where they usually took their cocktail.
"My friend," he announced, "to-night I have a treat for you. So
far we have looked on at the external night life of New York.
Wonderful and thrilling it has been, too. But there is the
underneath, also. Why not? There is a vast polyglot population
here, full of energy said life. A criminal class exists as a matter
of course. To-night we make our bow to it."
"And by what means?" Peter inquired.
"Our friend the hall-porter," Sogrange continued, "has given me the
card of an ex-detective who will be our escort. He calls for us
to-night, or rather to-morrow morning, at one o'clock. Then behold!
the wand is waved, the land of adventures opens before us."
"I don't want to damp your enthusiasm, my Canadian friend," he said,
"but the sort of adventures you may meet with to-night are scarcely
likely to fire your romantic nature. I know a little about what
they call this underneath world in New York. It will probably
resolve itself into a visit to Chinatown, where we shall find the
usual dummies taking opium and quite prepared to talk about it for
the usual tip. After that we shall visit a few low dancing halls,
be shown the scene of several murders, and the thing is done."
"You are a cynic," Sogrange declared. "You would throw cold water
upon any enterprise. Anyway, our detective is coming. We must make
use of him, for I have engaged to pay him twenty-five dollars."
"We'll go where you like," Peter assented, "so long as we dine on
a roof garden. This beastly fur coat keeps me in a state of chronic
"Never mind," Sogrange said, consolingly, "it's most effective. A
roof garden, by all means."
"And recollect," Peter insisted, "I bar Chinatown. We've both of
us seen the real thing, and there's nothing real about what they
show you here."
"Chinatown is erased from our program," Sogrange agreed. "We go
now to dine. Remind me, Baron, that I inquire for those strange
dishes of which one hears Terrapin, Canvas-backed Duck, Green Corn,
Peter smiled grimly.
"How like a Frenchman," he exclaimed, "to take no account of seasons!
Never mind, Marquis, you shall give your order and I will sketch the
waiter's face. By the bye, if you're in earnest about this
expedition to-night, put your revolver into your pocket."
"But we 're going with an ex-detective," Sogrange replied.
"One never knows," Peter said, carelessly.
They dined close to the stone palisading of one of New York's most
famous roof gardens. Sogrange ordered an immense dinner but spent
most of his time gazing downwards. They were higher up than at the
hotel and they could see across the tangled maze of lights even to
the river, across which the great ferry-boats were speeding all the
while - huge creatures of streaming fire and whistling sirens. The
air where they sat was pure and crisp. There was no fog, no smoke,
to cloud the almost crystalline clearness of the night.
"Baron," Sogrange declared, "if I had lived in this city I should
have been a different man. No wonder the people are all conquering."
"Too much electricity in the air for me," Peter answered. "I like a
little repose. I can't think where these people find it."
"One hopes," Sogrange murmured, "that before they progress any
further in utilitarianism, they will find some artist, one of
themselves, to express all this."
"In the meantime," Peter interrupted, "the waiter would like to know
what we are going to drink. I've eaten such a confounded jumble of
things of your ordering that I should like some champagne."
"Who shall say that I am not generous!" Sogrange replied, taking up
the wine carte. "Champagne it shall be. We need something to nerve
us for our adventures."
Peter leaned across the table.
"Sogrange," he whispered, "for the last twenty-four hours I have
had some doubts as to the success of our little enterprise. It has
occurred to me more than once that we are being shadowed."
"I sometimes wonder," he remarked, "how a man of your suspicious
nature ever acquired the reputation you undoubtedly enjoy."
"Perhaps it is because of my suspicious nature," Peter said. "There
is a man staying in our hotel whom we are beginning to see quite a
great deal of. He was talking to the head porter a few minutes
before you this afternoon. He supped at the same restaurant last
night. He is dining now three places behind you to the right, with
a young lady who has been making flagrant attempts at flirtation
with me, notwithstanding my gray hairs."
"Your reputation, my dear Peter," Sogrange murmured -
"As a decoy," Peter interrupted, "the young lady's methods are too
vigorous. She pretends to be terribly afraid of her companion, but
it is entirely obvious that she is acting on his instructions. Of
course, this may be a ruse of the reporters. On the other hand, I
think it would be wise to abandon our little expedition to-night."
Sogrange shook his head.
"So far as I am concerned," he said, "I am committed to it."
"In which case," Peter replied, "I am certainly committed to being
your companion. The only question is whether one shall fall to the
decoy and suffer oneself to be led in the direction her companion
desires, or whether we shall go blundering into trouble on our own
account with your friend the ex-detective."
Sogrange glanced over his shoulder, leaned back in his chair for a
moment, as though to look at the stars, and finally lit a cigarette.
"There is a lack of subtlety about that young person, Baron," he
declared, "which stifles one's suspicions. I suspect her to be
merely one more victim to your undoubted charms. In the interests
of Madame your wife, I shall take you away. The decoy shall weave
her spells in vain."
They paid their bill and departed a few minutes later. The man and
the girl were also in the act of leaving. The former seemed to be
having some dispute about the bill. The girl, standing with her
back to him, scribbled a line upon a piece of paper, and, as Peter
went by, pushed it into his hand with a little warning gesture. In
the lift he opened it. The few penciled words contained nothing but
an address: Number 15, 100th Street, East.
"Lucky man!" Sogrange sighed.
Peter made no remark, but he was thoughtful for the next hour or so.
The ex-detective proved to be an individual of fairly obvious
appearance, whose complexion and thirst indicated a very possible
reason for his life of leisure. He heard with surprise that his
patrons were not inclined to visit Chinatown, but he showed a
laudable desire to fall in with their schemes, provided always
that they included a reasonable number of visits to places where
refreshment could he obtained. From first to last, the expedition
was a disappointment. They visited various smoke-hung dancing halls,
decorated for the most part with oleographs and cracked mirrors, in
which sickly-Looking young men of unwholesome aspect were dancing
with their feminine counterparts. The attitude of their guide was
"Say, you want to be careful in here!" he would declare, in an awed
tone, on entering one of these tawdry palaces. "Guess this is one
of the toughest spots in New York City. You stick close to me and
I'll make things all right."
His method of making things all right was the same in every case.
He would form a circle of disreputable-looking youths, for whose
drinks Sogrange was called upon to pay. The attitude of these young
men was more dejected than positively vicious. They showed not the
slightest signs of any desire to make themselves unpleasant. Only
once, when Sogrange incautiously displayed a gold watch, did the
eyes of one or two of their number glisten. The ex-detective changed
his place and whispered hoarsely in his patron's ear.
"Say, don't you flash anything of that sort about here! That young
cove right opposite to you is one of the best known sneak-thieves
in the city. you're asking for trouble that way."
"If he or any other of them want my watch," Sogrange answered calmly,
"let them come and fetch it. However," he added, buttoning up his
coat, "no doubt you are right. Is there anywhere else to take us?"
The man hesitated.
"There ain't much that you haven't seen," he remarked.
Sogrange laughed softly as he rose to his feet.
"A sell, my dear friend," he said to Peter. "This terrible city
keeps its real criminal class somewhere else rather than in the
A man who had been standing in the doorway, looking in for several
moments, strolled up to them. Peter recognized him at once and
touched Sogrange on the arm. The newcomer accosted them pleasantly.
"Say, you'll excuse my butting in," he began, "but I can see you're
kind of disappointed. These suckers" - indicating the ex-detective -
"talk a lot about what they're going to show you, and when they get
you round it all amounts to nothing. This is the sort of thing they
bring you to, as representing the wickedness of New York! That's so,
Rastall, isn't it?"
The ex-detective looked a little sheepish.
"Yes, there ain't much more to be seen," he admitted. "Perhaps
you'll take the job on if you think there is."
"Well, I'd show the gentlemen something of a sight more interesting
that this," the newcomer continued. "They don't want to sit down and
drink with the scum of the earth."
"Perhaps," Sogrange suggested, "this gentleman has something in his
mind which he thinks would appeal to us. We have a motor car outside
and we are out for adventures."
"What sort of adventures?" the newcomer asked, bluntly.
Sogrange shrugged his shoulders lightly.
"We are lookers-on merely," he explained. "My friend and I have
traveled a good deal. We have seen something of criminal life in
Paris and London, Vienna and Budapest. I shall not break any
confidence if I tell you that my friend is a writer, and material
such as this is useful."
The newcomer smiled.
"Well," he exclaimed, "in a way, it's fortunate for you that I
happened along! You come right with me and I'll show you something
that very few other people in this city know of. Guess you'd
better pay this fellow off," he added, indicating the ex-detective.
"He's no more use to you."
Sogrange and Peter exchanged questioning glances.
"It is very kind of you, sir," Peter decided, "but for my part I
have had enough for one evening."
"Just as you like, of course," the other remarked, with studied
"What sort of place would it be?" Sogrange asked.
The newcomer drew them on one side, although, as a matter of fact,
every one else had already melted away.
"Have you ever heard of the Secret Societies of New York?" he
inquired. "Well, I guess you haven't, any way - not to know
anything about them. Well, then, listen. There's a Society
meets within a few steps of here, which has more to do with
regulating the criminal classes of the city than any police
establishment. There'll be a man there within an hour or so,
who, to my knowledge, has committed seven murders. The police
can't get him. They never will. He's under our protection."
"May we visit such a place as you describe without danger?" Peter
"No!" the man answered. "There's danger in going anywhere, it seems
to me, if it's worth while. So long as you keep a still tongue in
your head and don't look about you too much, there's nothing will
happen to you. If you get gassing a lot, you might tumble in for
almost anything. Don't come unless you like. It's a chance for
your friend, as he's a writer, but you'd best keep out of it if=20
you're in any way nervous."
"You said it was quite close?" Sogrange inquired.
"Within a yard or two," the man replied. "It's right this way."
They left the hall with their new escort. When they looked for
their motor car, they found it had gone.
"It don't do to keep them things waiting about round here," their
new friend remarked, carelessly. "I guess I'll send you back to
your hotel all right. Step this way."
"By the bye, what street is this we are in?" Peter asked.
"100th Street," the man answered.
Peter shook his head.
"I'm a little superstitious about that number," he declared. "Is
that an elevated railway there? I think we've had enough, Sogrange."
Sogrange hesitated. They were standing now in front of a tall
gloomy house, unkempt, with broken gate - a large but
miserable-looking abode. The passers-by in the street were few.
The whole character of the surroundings was squalid. The man pushed
open the broken gate.
"You cross the street right there to the elevated," he directed.
"If you ain't coming, I'll bid you good-night."
Once more they hesitated. Peter, perhaps, saw more than his
companion. He saw the dark shapes lurking under the railway arch.
He knew instinctively that they were in some sort of danger. And
yet the love of adventure was on fire in his blood. His belief
in himself was immense. He whispered to Sogrange.
"I do not trust our guide," he said. "If you care to risk it, I
am with you."
"Mind the broken pavement," the man called out. "This ain't exactly
an abode of luxury."
They climbed some broken steps. Their guide opened a door with a
Yale key. The door swung to, after them, and they found themselves
in darkness. There had been no light in the windows; there was no
light, apparently, in the house. Their companion produced an
electric torch from his pocket.
"You had best follow me," he advised. "Our quarters face out the
other way. We keep this end looking a little deserted."
They passed through a swing door and everything was at once changed.
A multitude of lamps hung from the ceiling, the floor was carpeted,
the walls clean.
"We don't go in for electric light," their guide explained, "as we
try not to give the place away. We manage to keep it fairly
He pushed open the door and entered a somewhat gorgeously furnished
salon. There were signs here of feminine occupation, an open piano,
and the smell of cigarettes. Once more Peter hesitated.
"Your friends seem to be in hiding," he remarked. "Personally, I
am losing my curiosity."
"Guess you won't have to wait very long," the man replied, with
The room was suddenly invaded on all sides. Four doors, which
were quite hidden by the pattern of the wall, had opened almost
simultaneously, and at least a dozen men had entered. This time
both Sogrange and Peter knew that they were face to face with the
real thing. These were men who came silently in, no
cigarette-stunted youths. Two of them were in evening dress;
three or four had the appearance of prize fighters. In their
countenances was one expression common to all - an air of quiet
and conscious strength.
A fair-headed man, in dinner jacket and black tie, became at once
their spokesman. He was possessed of a very slight American accent,
and he beamed at them through a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I am glad to meet you both."
"Very kind of you, I'm sure," Sogrange answered. "Our friend here,"
he added, indicating their guide, "found us trying to gain a little
insight into the more interesting part of New York life. He was
kind enough to express a wish to introduce us to you."
The man smiled. He looked very much like some studious clerk,
except that his voice seemed to ring with some latent power.
"I am afraid," he said, "that your friend's interest in you was
not entirely unselfish. For three days he has carried in his pocket
an order instructing him to produce you here."
"I knew it!" Peter whispered, under his breath.
"You interest me," Sogrange replied. "May I know whom I have the
honor of addressing?"
"You can call me Burr," the man announced, "Philip Burr. Your
names it is not our wish to know."
"I am afraid I do not quite understand," Sogrange said. =20
"It was scarcely to be expected that you should," Mr. Philip Burr
admitted. "All I can tell you is that, in cases like yours, I
really prefer not to know with whom I have to deal."
"You speak as though you had business with us," Peter remarked.
"Without doubt, I have," the other replied, grimly. "It is my
business to see that you do not leave these premises alive."
Sogrange drew up a chair against which he had been leaning, and
"Really," he said, "that would be most inconvenient." Peter, too,
shook his head, sitting upon the end of a sofa and folding his
arms. Something told him that the moment for fighting was not yet.
"Inconvenient or not," Mr. Philip Burr continued, "I have orders to
carry out which I can assure you have never yet been disobeyed since
the formation of our Society. From what I can see of you, you
appear to be very amiable gentlemen, and if it would interest you
to choose the method - say, of your release - why, I can assure
you we'll do all we can to meet your views."
"I am beginning," Sogrange remarked, "to feel quite at home."
"You see, we've been through this sort of thing before," Peter
Mr. Philip Burr took a cigar from his case and lit it. At a motion
of his hand, one of the company passed the box to his two guests.
"You're not counting upon a visit from the police, or anything of
that sort, I hope?" Mr. Philip Burr asked.
Sogrange shook his head.
"Certainly not," he replied. "I may say that much of the earlier
portion of my life was spent in frustrating the well-meant but
impossible schemes of that body of men."
"If only we had a little more time," Mr. Burr declared, "it seems
to me I should like to make the acquaintance of you two gentlemen."
"The matter is entirely in your own hands," Peter reminded him. "We
are in no hurry."
Mr. Burr smiled genially.
"You make me think better of humanity," he confessed. "A month ago
we had a man here - got him along somehow or another - and I had to
tell him that he was up against it like you two are. My! the fuss
he made! Kind of saddened me to think a man should be such a
"Some people like that," Sogrange remarked. "By the bye, Mr. Burr,
you'll pardon my curiosity. Whom have we to thank for our
introduction here to-night?"
"I don't know as there's any particular harm in telling you," Mr.
Burr replied -
"Nor any particular good," a man who was standing by his side
interrupted. "Say, Phil, you drag these things out too much.
Are there any questions you've got to ask 'em, or any property
"Nothing of the sort," Mr. Burr admitted.
"Then let the gang get to work," the other declared.
The two men were suddenly conscious that they were being surrounded.
Peter's hand stole on to the butt of his revolver. Sogrange rose
slowly to his feet. His hands were thrust out in front of him with
the thumbs turned down. The four fingers of each hand flashed for
a minute through the air. Mr. Philip Burr lost all his self-control.
"Say, where the devil did you learn that trick?" he cried.
Sogrange laughed scornfully.
"Trick!" he exclaimed. "Philip Burr, you are unworthy of your
position. I am the Marquis de Sogrange, and my friend here is the
Baron de Grost."
Mr. Philip Burr had no words. His cigar had dropped on to the
carpet. He was simply staring.
"If you need proof," Sogrange continued, "further than any I have
given you, I have in my pocket, at the present moment, a letter,
signed by you yourself, pleading for formal reinstatement. This is
how you would qualify for it! You make use of your power to run a
common decoy house, to do away with men for money. What fool gave
you our names, pray?"
Mr. Philip Burr was only the wreck of a man. He could not even
control his voice.
"It was some German or Belgian nobleman," he faltered. "He brought
us excellent letters, and he made a large contribution. It was the
Count von Hern."
The anger of Sogrange seemed suddenly to fade away. He threw himself
into a chair by the side of his companion.
"My dear Baron," he exclaimed, "Bernadine has scored, indeed! Your
friend has a sense of humor which overwhelms me. Imagine it. He
has delivered the two heads of our great Society into the hands of
one of its cast-off branches! Bernadine is a genius, indeed!"
Mr. Philip Burr began slowly to recover himself. He waved his hand.
Nine out of the twelve men left the room.
"Marquis," he said, "for ten years there has been no one whom I
have desired to meet so much as you. I came to Europe but you
declined to receive mc. I know very well we can't keep our end up
like you over there, because we haven't politics and that sort of
things to play with, but we've done our best. We've encouraged
only criminology of the highest order. We 'ye tried all we can to
keep the profession select. The jail-bird, pure and simple, we
have cast out. The men who have suffered at our hands have been
men who have met with their deserts."
"What about us?" Peter demanded. "It seems to me that you had most
unpleasant plans for our future."
Philip Burr held up his hands.
"As I live," he declared, "this is the first time that any money
consideration has induced me to break away from our principles.
That Count von Hern, he had powerful friends who were our friends,
and he gave me the word, straight, that you two had an appointment
down below which was considerably overdue. I don't know, even now,
why I consented. I guess it isn't much use apologizing."
Sogrange rose to his feet.
"Well," he said, "I am not inclined to bear malice, but you must
understand this from me, Philip Burr. As a Society, I dissolve you.
I deprive you of your title and of your signs. Call yourself what
you will, but never again mention the name of the 'Double-Four.'
With us in Europe, another era has dawned. We are on the side of
law and order. We protect only criminals of a certain class, in
whose operations we have faith. There is no future for such a
society in this country. Therefore, as I say, I dissolve it. Now,
if you are ready, perhaps you will be so good as to provide us with
the means of reaching our hotel."
Philip Burr led them into a back street, where his own handsome
automobile was placed at their service.
"This kind of breaks me all up," he declared, as he gave the
instructions to the chauffeur. "If there were two men on the face
of this earth whom I'd have been proud to meet in a friendly sort
of way, it's you two."
"We bear no malice, Mr. Burr," Sogrange assured him. "You can,
if you will do us the honor, lunch with us to-morrow at one o'clock
at Rector's. My friend here is quite interested in the Count von
Hern, and he would probably like to hear exactly how this affair
"I'll be there, sure," Philip Burr promised, with a farewell wave
of the hand.
Sogrange and Peter drove back towards their hotel in silence. It
was only when they emerged into the civilized part of the city that
Sogrange began to laugh softly.
"My friend," he murmured, "you bluffed fairly well, but you were
afraid. Oh, how I smiled to see your fingers close round the butt
of that revolver!"
"What about you?" Peter asked, gruffly. "You don't suppose you
took me in, do you?"
"I had two reasons for coming to New York," he said. "One we
accomplished upon the steamer. The other was - "
"To reply personally to this letter of Mr. Philip Burr," Sogrange
replied, "which letter, by the bye, was dated from 15, 100th Street,
New York. An ordinary visit there would have been useless to me.
Something of this sort was necessary."
"Then you knew!" Peter gasped. "Notwithstanding all your bravado,
"I had a very fair idea," Sogrange admitted. "Don't be annoyed with
me, my friend. You have had a little experience. It is all useful.
It isn't the first time you've looked death in the face. Adventures
come to some men unasked. You, I think, were born with the habit
Peter smiled. They had reached the hotel courtyard and he raised
"There's a little fable about the pitcher that went once too often
to the well," he remarked. "I have had my share of luck - more than
my share. The end must come sometime, you know."
"Is this superstition?" Sogrange asked.
"Superstition, pure and simple," Peter confessed, taking his key
from the office. "It doesn't alter anything. I am fatalist enough
to shrug my shoulders and move on. But I tell you, Sogrange," he
added, after a moment's pause, "I wouldn't admit it to any one else
in the world, but I am afraid of Bernadine. I have had the best of
it so often. It can't last. In all we've had twelve encounters.
The next will be the thirteenth."
Sogrange shrugged his shoulders slightly as he rang for the lift.
"I'd propose you for the Thirteen Club, only there's some
uncomfortable clause about yearly suicides which might not suit
you," he remarked. "Good-night, and don't dream of Bernadine and
your thirteenth encounter."
"I only hope," Peter murmured, "that I may be in a position to
dream after it."
THE THIRTEENTH ENCOUNTER
The Marquis de Sogrange arrived in Berkeley Square with the gray
dawn of an October morning, showing in his appearance and dress
few enough signs of his night journey. Yet he had traveled without
stopping from Paris, by fast motor car and the mail boat.
"They telephoned me from Charing Cross," Peter said, "that you
could not possibly arrive until midday. The clerk assured me
that no train had yet reached Calais."
"They had reason in what they told you," Sogrange remarked, as he
leaned back in a chair and sipped the coffee which had been waiting
for him in the Baron de Grost's study. "The train itself never got
more than a mile away from the Gare du Nord. The engine-driver
was shot through the head and the metals were torn from the way.
Paris is within a year now of a second and more terrible revolution."
"You really believe this?" Peter asked, gravely.
"It is a certainty," Sogrange replied. "Not I alone but many others
can see this clearly. Everywhere the Socialists have wormed
themselves into places of trust. They are to be met with in every
rank of life, under every form of disguise. The post-office strike
has already shown us what deplorable disasters even a skirmish can
bring about. To-day the railway strike has paralyzed France.
To-day our country lies absolutely at the mercy of any invader. As
it happens, none is, for the moment, prepared. Who can tell how it
may be next time?"
"This is had news," Peter declared. "If this is really the
position of affairs, the matter is much more serious than the
newspapers would have us believe."
"The newspapers," Sogrange muttered, "ignore what lies behind. Some
of them, I think, are paid to do it. As for the rest, our Press had
always an ostrich-like tendency. The Frenchman of the caf=82 does
not buy his journal to be made sad."
"You believe, then," Peter asked, "that these strikes have some
Sogrange set down his cup and smiled bitterly. In the early
sunlight, still a little cold and unloving, Peter could see that
there was a change in the man. He was no longer the debonair
aristocrat of the race-courses and the boulevards. The shadows
under his eyes were deeper, his cheeks more sunken. He had lost
something of the sprightliness of his bearing. His attitude,
indeed, was almost dejected. He was like a man who sees into the
future and finds there strange and gruesome things.
"I do more than believe that," he declared. "I know it. It has
fallen to my lot to make a very definite discovery concerning them.
Listen, my friend. For more than six months the government has been
trying to discover the source of this stream of vile socialistic
literature which has contaminated the French working classes. The
pamphlets have been distributed with devilish ingenuity among all
national operatives, the army and the navy. The government has
failed. The Double-Four has succeeded."
"You have really discovered their source?" Peter exclaimed.
"Without a doubt," Sogrange assented. "The government appealed to
us first some months ago when I was in America. For a time we had
no success. Then a clue, and the rest was easy. The navy, the
army, the post-office employees, the telegraph and telephone
operators and the railway men, have been the chief recipients of
this incessant stream of foul literature. To-day one cannot tell
how much mischief has been actually done. The strikes which have
already occurred are only the mutterings of the coming storm. But
mark you, wherever those pamphlets have gone, trouble has followed.
What men may do the government is doing, but all the time the poison
is at work, the seed has been sown. Two millions of money have been
spent to corrupt that very class which should be the backbone of
France. Through the fingers of one man has come this shower of gold,
one man alone has stood at the head of the great organization which
has disseminated this loathsome disease. Behind him - well, we know."
"It is fitting that you should ask that question," Sogrange replied.
"The name of that man is Bernadine, Count von Hern."
Peter remained speechless. There was something almost terrible in
the slow preciseness with which Sogrange had uttered the name of his
enemy, something unspeakably threatening in the cold glitter of his
"Up to the present," Sogrange continued, "I have watched -=20
sympathetically, of course, but with a certain amount of amusement
- the duel between you and Bernadine. It has been against your
country and your country's welfare that most of his efforts have
been directed, which perhaps accounts for the equanimity with which
I have been contented to remain a looker-on. It is apparent, my
dear Baron, that in most of your encounters the honors have remained
with you. Yet, as it has chanced, never once has Bernadine been
struck a real and crushing blow. The time has come when this and
more must happen. It is no longer a matter of polite exchanges.
It is a duel a outrance."
"You mean," Peter began -
"I mean that Bernadine must die," Sogrange declared.
There was a brief silence. Outside, the early morning street noises
were increasing in volume as the great army of workers, streaming
towards the heart of the city from a hundred suburbs, passed on to
their tasks. A streak of sunshine had found its way into the room,
lay across the carpet and touched Sogrange's still, waxen features.
Peter glanced half fearfully at his friend and visitor. He himself
was no coward, no shrinker from the great issues. He, too, had
dealt in life and death. Yet there was something in the deliberate
preciseness of Sogrange's words, as he sat there only a few feet
away, unspeakably thrilling. It was like a death sentence
pronounced in all solemnity upon some shivering criminal. There
was something inevitable and tragical about the whole affair. A
pronouncement had been made from which there was no appeal -
Bernadine was to die!
"isn't this a little exceeding the usual exercise of our powers?"
Peter asked, slowly.
"No such occasion as this has ever yet arisen," Sogrange reminded
him. "Bernadine has fled to this country with barely an hour to
spare. His offense is extraditable by a law of the last century
which has never been repealed. He is guilty of treason against
the Republic of France. Yet they do not want him back, they do
not want a trial. I have papers upon my person which, if I took
them into an English court, would procure for me a warrant for
Bernadine's arrest. It is not this we desire. Bernadine must die.
No fate could be too terrible for a man who has striven to corrupt
the soul of a nation. It is not war, this. It is not honest
conspiracy. Is it war, I ask you, to seek to poison the drinking
water of an enemy, to send stalking into their midst some loathsome
disease? Such things belong to the ages of barbarity. Bernadine
has striven to revive them and Bernadine shall die."
"It is justice," Peter admitted.
"The question remains," Sogrange continued, "by whose hand - yours
Peter started uneasily.
"Is that necessary?" he asked.
"I fear that it is," Sogrange replied. "We had a brief meeting of
the executive council last night, and it was decided, for certain
reasons, to entrust this task into no other hands. You will smile
when I tell you that these accursed pamphlets have found their way
into the possession of many of the rank and file of our own order.
There is a marked disinclination on the part of those who have been
our slaves, to accept orders from any one. Espionage we can still
command - the best, perhaps, in Europe - because here we use a
different class of material. But of those underneath, we are, for
the moment, doubtful. Paris is all in a ferment. Under its outward
seemliness a million throats are ready to take up the brazen cry of
revolution. One trusts nobody. One fears all the time."
"You or I!" Peter repeated, slowly. "It will not be sufficient,
then, that we find Bernadine and deliver him over to your country's
"It will not be sufficient," Sogrange answered, sternly. "From those
he may escape. For him there must be no escape."
"Sogrange," Peter said, speaking in a low tone, "I have never yet
killed a human being."
"Nor I," Sogrange admitted. "Nor have I yet set my heel upon its
head and stamped the life from a rat upon the pavement. But one
lives and one moves on. Bernadine is the enemy of your country and
mine. He makes war after the fashion of vermin. No ordinary
cut-throat would succeed against him. It must be you or I."
"How shall we decide?" Peter asked.
"The spin of a coin," Sogrange replied. "It is best that way. It
is best, too, done quickly."
Peter produced a sovereign from his pocket and balanced it on the
palm of his hand.
"Let it be understood," Sogrange continued, "that this is a dual
undertaking. We toss only for the final honor - for the last stroke.
If the choice falls upon me, I shall count upon you to help me to
the end. If it falls upon you, I shall be at your right hand even
when you strike the blow."
"It is agreed," Peter said. "See, it is for you to call."
He threw the coin high into the air.
"I call heads," Sogrange decided.
It fell upon the table. Peter covered it with his hand and then
slowly withdrew the fingers. A little shiver ran through his veins.
The harmless head that looked up at him was like the figure of death.
It was for him to strike
"Where is Bernadine now?" he asked.
"Get me a morning paper and I will tell you," Sogrange declared,
rising. "He was in the train which was stopped outside the Gare du
Nord, on his way to England. What became of the passengers I have
not heard. I knew what was likely to happen, and I left an hour
before in a 100 H. P. Charron."
Peter rang the bell and ordered the servant who answered it to
procure the Daily Telegraph. As soon as it arrived, he spread it
open upon the table and Sogrange looked over his shoulder. These
are the headings which they saw in large black characters:
RENEWED RIOTS IN PARIS
THE GARE DU NORD IN FLAMES
TERRIBLE ACCIDENT TO THE CALAIS-DOUVRES EXPRESS
Peter's forefinger traveled down the page swiftly. It paused at
the following paragraph:
The 8.55 train from the Gare du Nord, carrying many passengers for
London, after being detained within a mile of Paris for over an
hour owing to the murder of the engine-driver, made an attempt
last night to proceed, with terrible results. Near Chantilly,
whilst travelling at over fifty miles an hour, the switches were
tampered with and the express dashed into a goods train laden with
minerals. Very few particulars are yet to hand, but the express
was completely wrecked and many lives have been lost.
Among the dead are the following:
One by one Peter read out the names. Then he stopped short. A
little exclamation broke from Sogrange's lips. The thirteenth name
upon that list of dead was that of Bernadine, Count von Hern.
"Bernadine!" Peter faltered. "Bernadine is dead!"
"Killed by the strikers!" Sogrange echoed! "It is a just thing,
The two men looked down at the paper and then up at one another.
A strange silence seemed to have found its way into the room. The=20
shadow of death lay between them. Peter touched his forehead and
found it wet.
"It is a just thing, indeed," he repeated, "but justice and death
are alike terrible." . . .
Late in the afternoon of the same day, a motor car, splashed with
mud, drew up before the door of the house in Berkeley Square.
Sogrange, who was standing talking to Peter before the library
window, suddenly broke off in the middle of a sentence. He stepped
back into the room and gripped his friend's shoulder.
"It is the Baroness!" he exclaimed, quickly. "What does she want
"The Baroness who? Peter demanded.
"The Baroness von Ratten. You must have heard of her - she is the
friend of Bernadine."
The two men had been out to lunch at the Ritz with Violet and had
walked across the Park home. Sogrange had been drawing on his
gloves in the act of starting out for a call at the Embassy.
"Does your wife know this woman?" he asked. Peter shook his head.
"I think not," he replied.
"Then she has come to see you," Sogrange continued. "What does it
mean, I wonder?"
Peter shrugged his shoulders.
"We shall know in a minute."
There was a knock at the door and his servant entered, bearing a
"This lady would like to see you, sir, on important business," he
"You can show her in here," Peter directed.
There was a very short delay. The two men had no time to exchange
a word. They heard the rustling of a woman's gown, and immediately
afterwards the perfume of violets seemed to fill the room.
"The Baroness von Ratten!" the butler announced.
The door was closed behind her. The servant had disappeared. Peter
advanced to meet his guest. She was a little above medium height,
very slim, with extraordinarily fair hair, colorless face, and
strange eyes. She was not strictly beautiful and yet there was no
man upon whom her presence was without its effect. Her voice was
like her movements, slow and with a grace of its own.
"You do not mind that I have come to see you?" she asked, raising
her eyes to Peter's. "I believe before I go that you will think
terrible things of me, but you must not begin before I have told
you my errand. It has been a great struggle with me before I made
up my mind to come here."
"Won't you sit down, Baroness?" Peter invited.
She saw Sogrange and hesitated.
"You are not alone," she said, softly. "I wish to speak with you
"Permit me to present to you the Marquis de Sogrange," Peter begged.
"He is my oldest friend, Baroness. I think that whatever you might
have to say to me you might very well say before him."
"It is - of a private nature," she murmured.
"The Marquis and I have no secrets," Peter declared, "either political
She sat down and motioned Peter to take a place by her side upon
"You will forgive me if I am a little incoherent," she implored.
"To-day I have had a shock. You, too, have read the news? You
must know that the Count von Hern is dead - killed in the railway
accident last night?"
"We read it in the Daily Telegraph," Peter replied.
"It is in all the papers," she continued. "You know that he was a
very dear friend of mine?"
"I have heard so," Peter admitted.
"Yet there was one subject," she insisted, earnestly, "upon which
we never agreed. He hated England. I have always loved it.
England was kind to me when my own country drove me out. I have
always felt grateful. It has been a sorrow to me that in so many
of his schemes, in so much of his work, Bernadine should consider
his own country at the expense of yours."
Sogrange drew a little nearer. It began to be interesting, this.
"I heard the news early this morning by telegram," she went on.
"For a long time I was prostrated. Then early this afternoon I
began to think - one must always think. Bernadine was a dear friend,
but things between us lately have been different, a little strained.
Was it his fault or mine - who can say? Does one tire with the
years, I wonder? I wonder!"
Her eyes were lifted to his and Peter was conscious of the fact that
she wished him to know that they were beautiful. She looked slowly
"This afternoon, as I sat alone," she proceeded, "I remembered that
in my keeping were many boxes of papers and many letters which have
recently arrived, all belonging to Bernadine. I reflected that
there were certainly some who were in his confidence, and that very
soon they would come from his country and take them all away. And
then I remembered what I owed to England, and how opposed I always
was to Bernadine's schemes, and I thought that the best thing I
could do to show my gratitude would be to place his papers all in
the hands of some Englishman, so that they might do no more harm to
the country which has been kind to me. So I came to you."
Again her eyes were lifted to his and Peter was very sure indeed
that they were wonderfully beautiful. He began to realize the
fascination of this woman, of whom he had heard so much. Her very
absence of coloring was a charm.
"You mean that you have brought me these papers?" he asked.
She shook her head slowly.
"No," she said, "I could not do that. There were too many of them
- they are too heavy, and there are piles of pamphlets -=20
revolutionary pamphlets, I am afraid - all in French, which I do
not understand. No, I could not bring them to you. But I ordered
my motor car and I drove up here to tell you that if you like to
come down to the house in the country where I have been living, to
which Bernadine was to have come to-night - yes, and bring your
friend, too, if you will - you shall look through them before any
one else can arrive."
"You are very kind," Peter murmured. "Tell me where it is that you
"It is beyond Hitchin," she told him, "up the Great North Road. I
tell you at once, it is a horrible house in a horrible lonely spot.
Within a day or two I shall leave it myself forever. I hate it - it
gets on my nerves. I dream of all the terrible things which perhaps
have taken place there. Who can tell? It was Bernadine's long
before I came to England."
"When are we to come?" Peter asked.
"You must come back with me now, at once," the Baroness insisted.
"I cannot tell how soon some one in his confidence may arrive."
"I will order my car," Peter declared.
She laid her hand upon his arm.
"Do you mind coming in mine?" she begged. "It is of no consequence,
if you object, but every servant in Bernadine's house is a German
and a spy. There are no women except my own maid. Your car is
likely enough known to them and there might be trouble. If you will
come with me now, you and your friend, if you like, I will send you
to the station to-night in time to catch the train home. I feel
that I must have this thing off my mind. You will come? Yes?"
Peter rang the bell and ordered his coat.
"Without a doubt," he answered. "May we not offer you some tea
She shook her head.
"To-day I cannot think of eating or drinking," she replied.
"Bernadine and I were no longer what we had been, but the shock of
his death seems none the less terrible. I feel like a traitor to
him for coming here, yet I believe that I am doing what is right,"
she added, softly.
"If you will excuse me for one moment," Peter said, "while I take
leave of my wife, I will rejoin you presently."
Peter was absent for only a few minutes. Sogrange and the Baroness
exchanged the merest commonplaces. As they all passed down the hall,
Sogrange lingered behind.
"If you will take the Baroness out to the car," he suggested, "I
will telephone to the Embassy and tell them not to expect me."
Peter offered his arm to his companion. She seemed, indeed, to
need support. Her fingers clutched at his coat-sleeve as they
passed on to the pavement.
"I am so glad to be no longer quite alone," she whispered. "Almost
I wish that your friend were not coming. I know that Bernadine and
you were enemies, but then you were enemies not personally, but
politically. After all, it is you who stand for the things which
have become so dear to me."
"It is true that Bernadine and I were bitter antagonists," Peter
admitted, gravely. "Death, however, ends all that. I wish him no
"As for me," she said, "I am growing used to being friendless. I
was friendless before Bernadine came, and latterly we have been
nothing to one another. Now, I suppose, I shall know what it is
to be an outcast once more. Did you ever hear my history, I wonder?"
Peter shook his head.
"Never, Baroness," he replied. "I understood, I believe, that your
"My husband divorced me," she confessed, simply. "He was quite
within his rights. He was impossible. I was very young and very
sentimental. They say that Englishwomen are cold," she added.=20
"Perhaps that is so. People think that I look cold. Do you?"
Sogrange suddenly opened the door of the car in which they were
already seated. She leaned back and half closed her eyes.
"It is rather a long ride," she said, "and I am worn out. I hope
you will not mind, but for myself I cannot talk when motoring.
Smoke, if it pleases you."
"Might one inquire as to our exact destination?" Sogrange asked.
"We go beyond Hitchin, up the Great North Road," she told him again.
"The house is called the High House. It stands in the middle of a
heath and I think it is the loneliest and most miserable place that
was ever built. I hate it and I am frightened in it. For some
reason or other, it suited Bernadine, but that is all over now."
The little party of three relapsed into silence. The car, driven
carefully enough through the busy streets, gradually increased its
pace as they drew clear of the suburbs. Peter leaned back in his
place, thinking. Bernadine was dead! Nothing else would have
convinced him so utterly of the fact as that simple sentence in the
Daily Telegraph, which had been followed up by a confirmation and a
brief obituary notice in all the evening papers. Curiously enough,
the fact seemed to have drawn a certain spice out of even this
adventure; to point, indeed, to a certain monotony in the future.
Their present enterprise, important though it might turn out to be,
was nothing to be proud of. A woman, greedy for gold, was selling
her lover's secrets before the breath was out of his body. Peter
turned in his cushioned seat to look at her. Without doubt, she
was beautiful to one who understood, beautiful in a strange,
colorless, feline fashion, the beauty of soft limbs, soft movements,
a caressing voice, with always the promise beyond of more than the
actual words. Her eyes now were closed, her face was a little weary.
Did she really rest, Peter wondered? He watched the rising and
falling of her bosom, the quivering now and then of her eyelids.
She had indeed the appearance of a woman who had suffered.
The car rushed on into the darkness. Behind them lay that restless
phantasmagoria of lights streaming to the sky. In front, blank
space. Peter, through half-closed eyes, watched the woman by his
side. From the moment of her entrance into his library, he had
summed her up in his mind with a single word. She was, beyond a
doubt, an adventuress. No woman could have proposed the things
which she had proposed, who was not of that ilk. Yet for that
reason it behooved them to have a care in their dealings with her.
At her instigation they had set out upon this adventure, which
might well turn out according to any fashion that she chose. Yet
without Bernadine what could she do? She was not the woman to
carry on the work which he had left behind, for the love of him.
Her words had been frank, her action shameful but natural.
Bernadine was dead and she had realized quickly enough the best
market for his secrets. In a few days' time his friends would have
come and she would have received nothing. He told himself that he
was foolish to doubt her. There was not a flaw in the sequence of
events, no possible reason for the suspicions which yet lingered at
the back of his brain. Intrigue, it was certain, was to her as the
breath of her body. He was perfectly willing to believe that the
death of Bernadine would have affected her little more than the
sweeping aside of a fly. His very common sense bade him accept her
By degrees he became drowsy. Suddenly he was startled into a very
wide-awake state. Through half-closed eyes he had seen Sogrange
draw a sheet of paper from his pocket, a gold pencil from his chain,
and commence to write. In the middle of a sentence, his eyes were
abruptly lifted. He was looking at the Baroness. Peter, too, turned
his head; he, also, looked at the Baroness. Without a doubt, she had
been watching both of them. Sogrange's pencil continued its task,
only he traced no more characters. Instead, he seemed to be sketching
a face, which presently he tore carefully up into small pieces and
destroyed. He did not even glance towards Peter, but Peter
understood very well what had happened. He had been about to send him
a message, but had found the Baroness watching. Peter was fully awake
now. His faint sense of suspicion had deepened into a positive
foreboding. He had a reckless desire to stop the car, to descend upon
the road and let the secrets of Bernadine go where they would. Then
his natural love of adventure blazed up once more. His moment of
weakness had passed. The thrill was in his blood, his nerves were
tightened. He was ready for what might come, seemingly still half
asleep, yet, indeed, with every sense of intuition and observation
Sogrange leaned over from his place.
"It is a lonely country, this, into which we are coming, madame,"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Indeed, it is not so lonely here as you will think it when we
arrive at our destination," she replied. "There are houses here,
but they are hidden by the trees. There are no houses near us."
She rubbed the pane with her hand.
"We are, I believe, very nearly there," she said. "This is the
nearest village. Afterwards, we just climb a hill and about half
a mile along the top of it is the High House."
"And the name of the village," Sogrange inquired.
"St Mary's," she told him, "In the summer people call it beautiful
around here. To me it is the most melancholy spot I ever saw.
There is so much rain, and one hears the drip, drip in the trees
all the day long. Alone I could not bear it. To-morrow or the
next day I shall pack up my belongings and come to London. I am,
unfortunately," she added, with a little sigh, "very, very poor,
but it is my hope that you may find the papers, of which I have
spoken to you, valuable."
Sogrange smiled faintly. Peter and he could scarcely forbear to
exchange a single glance. The woman's candor was almost brutal.
She read their thoughts.
"We ascend the hill," she continued. "We draw now very near to the
end of our journey. There is still one thing I would say to you.
Do not think too badly of me for what I am about to do. To
Bernadine, while he lived, I was faithful. Many a time I could have
told you of his plans and demanded a great sum of money, and you
would have given it me willingly, but my lips were sealed because,
in a way, I loved him. While he lived I gave him what I owed.
To-day he is dead, and, whatever I do, it cannot concern him any
more. To-day I am a free woman and I take the side I choose."
"Dear madame," he replied, "what you have proposed to us is, after
all, quite natural and very gracious. If one has a fear at all
about the matter, it is as to the importance of these documents you
speak of. Bernadine, I know, has dealt in great affairs; but he
was a diplomat by instinct, experienced and calculating. One does
not keep incriminating papers."
She leaned a little forward. The car had swung round a corner now
and was making its way up an avenue as dark as pitch.
"The wisest of us, Monsieur le Marquis," she whispered, "reckon
sometimes without that one element of sudden death. What should
you say, I wonder, to a list of agents in France pledged to
circulate in certain places literature of an infamous sort? What
should you say, monsieur, to a copy of a secret report of your late
maneuvers, franked with the name of one of your own staff officers?
What should you say," she went on, "to a list of Socialist deputies
with amounts against their name, amounts paid in hard cash? Are
these of no importance to you?"
"Madame," Sogrange answered, simply, "for such information, if it
were genuine, it would be hard to mention a price which we should
not be prepared to pay."
The car came to a sudden standstill. The first impression of the
two men was that the Baroness had exaggerated the loneliness and
desolation of the place. There was nothing mysterious or forbidding
about the plain, brownstone house before which they had stopped.
The windows were streaming with light; the hall door, already thrown
open, disclosed a very comfortable hall, brilliantly illuminated.
A man-servant assisted his mistress to alight, another ushered them
in, In the background were other servants. The Baroness glanced at
"About dinner, Carl?" she asked.
"It waits for madame," the man answered.
Take care of these gentlemen till I descend," she ordered. "You
will not mind?" she added, turning pleadingly to Sogrange. "To-day
I have eaten nothing. I am faint with hunger. Afterwards, it will
be a matter but of half an hour. You can be in London again by ten
"As you will, madame," Sogrange replied. "We are greatly indebted
to you for your hospitality. But for costume, you understand that
we are as we are?"
"It is perfectly understood," she assured him. "For myself, I
rejoin you in ten minutes. A loose gown, that is all."
Sogrange and Peter were shown into a modern bathroom by a servant
who was so anxious to wait upon them that they had difficulty in
sending him away. As soon as he was gone and the door closed
behind him, Peter put his foot against it and turned the key.
"You were going to write something to me in the car?"
"There was a moment," he admitted, "when I had a suspicion. It has
passed. This woman is no Roman. She sells the secrets of Bernadine
as she would sell herself. Nevertheless, it is well always to be
prepared. There were probably others beside Bernadine who had the
"The only suspicious circumstance which I have noticed," Peter
remarked, "is the number of men-servants. I have seen five already."
"It is only fair to remember," Sogrange reminded him, "that the
Baroness herself told us that there were no other save men-servants
here and that they were all spies. Without a master, I cannot see
that they are dangerous. One needs, however, to watch all the time."
"If you see anything suspicious," Peter said, "tap the table with
your forefinger. Personally, I will admit that I have had my doubts
of the Baroness, but on the whole I have come to the conclusion that
they were groundless. She is not the sort of woman to take up a
vendetta, especially an unprofitable one."
"She is an exceedingly dangerous person for an impressionable man
like myself," Sogrange remarked, arranging his tie.
The butler fetched them in a very few moments and showed them into
a pleasantly-furnished library, where he mixed cocktails for them
from a collection of bottles upon the sideboard. He was quite
friendly and inclined to be loquacious, although he spoke with a
slight foreign accent. The house belonged to an English gentleman
from whom the honored Count had taken it, furnished. They were two
miles from a station and a mile from the village. It was a lonely
part, but there were always people coming or going. With one's
work one scarcely noticed it. He was gratified that the gentlemen
found his cocktails so excellent. Perhaps he might be permitted
the high honor of mixing them another? It was a day, this, of
deep sadness and gloom. One needed to drink something, indeed, to
forget the terrible thing which had happened. The Count had been
a good master, a little impatient sometimes, but kind-hearted. The
news had been a shock to them all.
Then, before they had expected her, the Baroness reappeared. She
wore a wonderful gray gown which seemed to be made in a single piece,
a gown which fitted her tightly, and yet gave her the curious
appearance of a woman walking without the burden of clothes.
Sogrange, Parisian to the finger-tips, watched her with admiring
approval. She laid her fingers upon his arm, although it was
towards Peter that her eyes traveled.
"Will you take me in, Marquis?" she begged. "It is the only
formality we will allow ourselves."
They entered a long, low dining-room, paneled with oak, and with
the family portraits of the owner of the house still left upon the
wall. Dinner was served upon a round table and was laid for four.
There was a profusion of silver, very beautiful glass, and a
wonderful cluster of orchids. The Marquis, as he handed his
hostess to her chair, glanced towards the vacant place.
"It is for my companion, an Austrian lady," she explained. "To-night,
however, I think that she will not come. She was a distant
connection of Bernadine's and she is much upset. We leave her place
and see. You will sit on my other side, Baron."
The fingers which touched Peter's arm brushed his hand, and were
withdrawn as though with reluctance. She sank into her chair with
a little sigh.
"It is charming of you two, this," she declared, softly. "You help
me through this night of solitude and sadness. What I should do if
I were alone, I cannot tell. You must drink with me a toast, if
you will. Will you make it to our better acquaintance?"
No soup had been offered and champagne was served with the hors
d'oeuvre. Peter raised his glass and looked into the eyes of the
woman who was leaning so closely towards him that her soft breath
fell upon his cheek. She whispered something in his ear. For a=20
moment, perhaps, he was carried away, but for a moment only. Then
Sogrange's voice and the beat of his forefinger upon the table
stiffened him into sudden alertness. They heard a motor car draw
"Who can it be?" the Baroness exclaimed, setting her glass down
"It is, perhaps, our fourth guest who arrives," Sogrange remarked.
They all three listened, Peter and Sogrange with their glasses
still suspended in the air.
"Our fourth guest?" the Baroness repeated. "Madame von Estenier
is upstairs, lying down. I cannot tell who this may be."
Her lips were parted. The lines of her forehead had suddenly
appeared. Her eyes were turned toward the door, hard and bright.
Then the glass which she had nervously picked up again and was
holding between her fingers, fell on to the tablecloth with a
little crash, and the yellow wine ran bubbling on to her plate.
Her scream echoed to the roof and rang through the room. It was
Bernadine who stood there in the doorway, Bernadine in a long
traveling ulster and the air of one newly arrived from a journey.
They all three looked at him, but there was not one who spoke.
The Baroness, after her one wild cry, was dumb.
"I am indeed fortunate," Bernadine said. "You have as yet, I see,
scarcely commenced. You probably expected me. I am charmed to
find so agreeable a party awaiting my arrival."
He divested himself of his ulster and threw it across the arm of
the butler, who stood behind him.
"Come," he continued; "for a man who has just been killed in a
railway accident, I find myself with an appetite. A glass of wine,
Carl. I do not know what that toast was, the drinking of which
my coming interrupted, but let us all drink it together. Aimee, my
love to you, dear. Let me congratulate you upon the fortitude and
courage with which you ignored those lying reports of my death. I
had fears that I might find you alone in a darkened room, with
tear-stained eyes and sal volatile by your side. This is infinitely
better. Gentlemen, you are welcome."
Sogrange lifted his glass and bowed courteously. Peter followed
"Really," Sogrange murmured, "the Press nowadays becomes more
unreliable every day. It is apparent, my dear Von Hern, that this
account of your death was, to say the least of it, exaggerated."
Peter said nothing. His eyes were fixed upon the Baroness. She
sat in her chair quite motionless, but her face had become like
the face of some graven image. She looked at Bernadine, but her
eyes said nothing. Every glint of expression seemed to have left
her features. Since that one wild shriek she had remained voiceless.
Encompassed by danger though he knew they now must be, Peter found
himself possessed by one thought only. Was this a trap into which
they had fallen, or was the woman, too, deceived?
"You bring later news from Paris than I myself," Sogrange proceeded,
helping himself to one of the dishes which a footman was passing
round. "How did you reach the coast? The evening papers stated
distinctly that since the accident no attempt had been made to run
"By motor car from Chantilly," Bernadine replied. "I had the
misfortune to lose my servant, who was wearing my coat, and who, I
gather from the newspaper reports, was mistaken for me. I myself
was unhurt. I hired a motor car and drove to Boulogne - not the
best of journeys, let me tell you, for we broke down three times.
There was no steamer there, but I hired a fishing boat, which
brought me across the Channel in something under eight hours. From
the coast I motored direct here. I was so anxious," he added,
raising his eyes, "to see how my dear friend - my dear Aimee - was
bearing the terrible news."
She fluttered for a moment like a bird in a trap. Peter drew a
little sigh of relief. His self-respect was reinstated. He had
decided that she was innocent. Upon them, at least, would not fall
the ignominy of having been led into the simplest of traps by this
white-faced Delilah. The butler had brought her another glass,
which she raised to her lips. She drained its contents, but the
ghastliness of her appearance remained unchanged. Peter, watching
her, knew the signs. She was sick with terror.
"The conditions throughout France are indeed awful," Sogrange
remarked. "They say, too, that this railway strike is only the
beginning of worse things."
"Your country, dear Marquis," he said, "is on its last legs. No
one knows better than I that it is, at the present moment,
honeycombed with sedition and anarchical impulses. The people are
rotten. For years the whole tone of France has been decadent. Its
fall must even now be close at hand."
"You take a gloomy view of my country's future," Sogrange declared.
"Why should one refuse to face facts?" Bernadine replied. "One does
not often talk so frankly, but we three are met together this evening
under somewhat peculiar circumstances. The days of the glory of
France are past. England has laid out her neck for the yoke of the
conqueror. Both are doomed to fall. Both are ripe for the great
humiliation. You two gentlemen whom I have the honor to receive as
my guests," he concluded, filling his glass and bowing towards them,
"in your present unfortunate predicament represent precisely the
position of your two countries."
"Ave Caesar!" Peter muttered grimly, raising his glass to his lips.
Bernadine accepted the challenge.
"It is not I, alas! who may call myself Caesar," he replied,
"although it is certainly you who are about to die."
Sogrange turned to the man who stood behind his chair.
"If I might trouble you for a little dry toast?" he inquired. "A
modern but very uncomfortable ailment," he added, with a sigh.
"One's digestion must march with the years, I suppose."
"Your toast you shall have, with pleasure, Marquis," he said, "but
as for your indigestion, do not let that trouble you any longer.
I think that I can promise you immunity from that annoying
complaint for the rest of your life."
"You are doing your best," Peter declared, leaning back in his chair,
"to take away my appetite."
Bernadine looked searchingly from one to the other of his two guests.
"Yes," he admitted, "you are brave men. I do not know why I should
ever have doubted it. Your pose is excellent. I have no wish,
however, to see you buoyed up by a baseless optimism. A somewhat
remarkable chance has delivered you into my hands. You are my
prisoners. You, Peter, Baron de Grost, I have hated all my days.
You have stood between me and the achievement of some of my most
dearly-cherished tasks. Always I have said to myself that the day
of reckoning must come. It has arrived. As for you, Marquis de
Sogrange, if my personal feelings towards you are less violent, you
still represent the things absolutely inimical to me and my interests.
The departure of you two men was the one thing necessary for the
successful completion of certain tasks which I have in hand at the
Peter pushed away his plate.
"You have succeeded in destroying my appetite, Count," he declared.
"Now that you have gone so far in expounding your amiable resolutions
towards us, perhaps you will go a little further and explain exactly
how, in this eminently respectable house, situated, I understand,
in an eminently respectable neighborhood, with a police station
within a mile, and a dozen or so witnesses as to our present
whereabouts, you intend to expedite our removal?"
Bernadine pointed toward the woman who sat facing him.
"Ask the Baroness how these things are arranged."
They turned towards her. She fell back in her chair with a little
gasp. She had fainted. Bernadine shrugged his shoulders. The
butler and one of the footmen, who during the whole of the
conversation had stolidly proceeded with their duties, in obedience
to a gesture from their master took her up in their arms and carried
her from the room.
"The fear has come to her, too," Bernadine murmured, softly. "It
may come to you, my brave friends, before morning."
"It is possible," Peter answered, his hand stealing around to his
hip pocket, "but in the meantime, what is to prevent -"
The hip pocket was empty. Peter's sentence ended abruptly.
Bernadine mocked him.
"To prevent your shooting me in cold blood, I suppose," he remarked.
"Nothing except that my servants are too clever. No one save myself
is allowed to remain under this roof with arms in their possession.
Your pocket was probably picked before you had been in the place
five minutes. No, my dear Baron, let me assure you that escape
will not be so easy! You were always just a little inclined to be
led away by the fair sex. The best men in the world, you know, have
shared that failing, and the Baroness, alone and unprotected, had
her attractions, eh?"
Then something happened to Peter which had happened to him barely
a dozen times in his life. He lost his temper and lost it rather
badly. Without an instant's hesitation, he caught up the decanter
which stood by his side and flung it in his host's face. Bernadine
only partly avoided it by thrusting out his arms. The neck caught
his forehead and the blood came streaming over his tie and collar.
Peter had followed the decanter with a sudden spring. His fingers
were upon Bernadine's throat and he thrust his head back. Sogrange
sprang to the door to lock it, but he was too late. The room seemed
full of men-servants. Peter was dragged away, still struggling
"Tie them up!" Bernadine gasped, swaying in his chair. "Tie them
up, do you hear? Carl, give me brandy."
He swallowed half a wineglassful of the raw spirit. His eyes were
red with fury.
"Take them to the gun room," he ordered, "three of you to each of
them, mind. I'll shoot the man who lets either escape."
But Peter and Sogrange were both of them too wise to expend any more
of their strength in a useless struggle. They suffered themselves
to be conducted without resistance across the white stone hall, down
a long passage, and into a room at the end, the window and fireplace
of which were both blocked up. The floor was of red flags and the
walls whitewashed. The only furniture was a couple of kitchen chairs
and a long table. The door was of stout oak and fitted with a double
lock. The sole outlet, so far as they could see, was a small round
hole at the top of the roof. The door was locked behind them. They
"The odd trick to Bernadine!" Peter exclaimed hoarsely, wiping a spot
of blood from his forehead. "My dear Marquis, I scarcely know how
to apologize. It is not often that I lose my temper so completely."
"The matter seems to be of very little consequence," Sogrange answered.
"This was probably our intended destination in any case. Seems to be
rather an unfortunate expedition of ours, I am afraid."
"One cannot reckon upon men coming back from the dead," Peter declared.
"It isn't often that you find every morning and every evening paper
mistaken. As for the woman, I believe in her. She honestly meant to
sell us those papers of Bernadine's. I believe that she, too, will
have to face a day of reckoning."
Sogrange strolled around the room, subjecting it everywhere to a close
scrutiny. The result was hopeless. There was no method of escape
save through the door.
"There is certainly something strange about this apartment," Peter
remarked. "It is, to say the least of it, unusual to have windows
in the roof and a door of such proportions. All the same, I think
that those threats of Bernadine's were a little strained. One
cannot get rid of one's enemies, nowadays, in the old-fashioned,
melodramatic way. Bernadine must know quite well that you and I
are not the sort of men to walk into a trap of any one's setting,
just as I am quite sure that he is not the man to risk even a
scandal by breaking the law openly."
"You interest me," Sogrange said. "I begin to suspect that you,
too, have made some plans."
"But naturally," Peter replied. "Once before Bernadine set a trap
for me and he nearly had a chance of sending me for a swim in the
Thames. Since then one takes precautions as a matter of course.
We were followed down here, and by this time I should imagine that
the alarm is given. If all was well, I was to have telephoned an
"You are really," Sogrange declared, "quite an agreeable companion,
my dear Baron. You think of everything."
The door was suddenly opened. Bernadine stood upon the threshold
and behind him several of the servants.
"You will oblige me by stepping back into the study, my friends,"
"With great pleasure," Sogrange answered, with alacrity. "We have
no fancy for this room, I can assure you."
Once more they crossed the stone hall and entered the room into
which they had first been shown. On the threshold, Peter stopped
short and listened. It seemed to him that from somewhere upstairs
he could hear the sound of a woman's sobs. He turned to Bernadine.
"The Baroness is not unwell, I trust?" he asked.
"The Baroness is as well as she is likely to be for some time,"
Bernadine replied, grimly.
They were all in the study now. Upon a table stood a telephone
instrument. Bernadine drew a small revolver from his pocket.
"Baron de Grost," he said, "I find that you are not quite such a
fool as I thought you. Some one is ringing up for you on the
telephone. You will reply that you are well and safe and that you
will be home as soon as your business here is finished. Your wife
is at the other end. If you breathe a single word to her of your
approaching end, she shall hear through the telephone the sound of
the revolver shot that sends you to Hell."
"Dear me," Peter protested, "I find this most unpleasant. If you
will excuse me, I don't think I'll answer the call at all."
"You will answer it as I have directed," Bernadine insisted. "Only
remember this - if you speak a single ill-advised word, the end
will be as I have said."
Peter picked up the receiver and held it to his ear.
"Who is there?" he asked.
It was Violet whose voice he heard. He listened for a moment to
her anxious flood of questions.
"There is not the slightest cause to be alarmed, dear," he said.
"Yes, I am down at the High House, near St. Mary's. Bernadine is
here. It seems that those reports of his death were absolutely
unfounded. . . . Danger? Unprotected? Why, my dear Violet, you
know how careful I always am. Simply because Bernadine used once
to live here, and because the Baroness was his friend, I spoke to
Sir John Dory over the telephone before we left, and an escort of
half-a-dozen police followed us. They are about the place now,
I have no doubt, but their presence is quite unnecessary. I shall
be home before long, dear. . . . Yes, perhaps it would be as well
to send the car down. Any one will direct him to the house - the
High House, St. Mary's, remember. Good-by!"
Peter replaced the receiver and turned slowly round. Bernadine was
"You did well to reassure your wife, even though it was a pack of
lies you told her," he remarked.
Peter shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.
"My dear Bernadine," he said, "up till now I have tried to take
you seriously. You are really passing the limit. I must positively
ask you to reflect a little. Do men who live the life that you and
I live, trust any one? Am I - is the Marquis de Sogrange here -=20
after a lifetime of experience, likely to leave the safety of our
homes in company with a lady of whom we knew nothing except that
she was your companion, without precautions? I do you the justice
to believe you a person of commonsense. I know that we are as safe
in this house as we should be in our own. War cannot be made in
this fashion in an over-policed country like England."
"Do not be too sure," Bernadine replied. "There are secrets about
this house which have not yet been disclosed to you. There are
means, my dear Baron, of transporting you into a world where you
are likely to do much less harm than here, means ready at hand,
and which would leave no more trace behind than those crumbling
ashes can tell of the coal mine from which they came."
Peter preserved his attitude of bland incredulity.
"Listen," he said, drawing a whistle from his pocket, "it is just
possible that you are in earnest. I will bet you, then, if you
like, a hundred pounds, that if I blow this whistle you will either
have to open your door within five minutes or find your house
invaded by the police."
No one spoke for several moments. The veins were standing out upon
"We have had enough of this folly," he cried. "If you refuse to
realize your position, so much the worse for you. Blow your whistle,
if you will. I am content."
Peter waited for no second bidding. He raised the whistle to his
lips and blew it, loudly and persistently. Again there was silence.
Bernadine mocked him.
"Try once more, dear Baron," he advised. "Your friends are perhaps
a little hard of hearing. Try once more, and when you have finished,
you and I and the Marquis de Sogrange will find our way once more to
the gun room and conclude that trifling matter of business which
brought you here."
Again Peter blew his whistle and again the silence was broken only
by Bernadine's laugh. Suddenly, however, that laugh was checked.
Every one had turned toward the door, listening. A bell was
ringing throughout the house.
"It is the front door!" one of the servants exclaimed.
No one moved. As though to put the matter beyond doubt, there was
a steady knocking to be heard from the same direction.
"It is a telegram or some late caller," Bernadine declared, hoarsely.
"Answer it, Carl. If any one would speak with the Baroness, she is
indisposed and unable to receive. If any one desires me, I am here."
The man left the room. They heard him withdraw the chain from the
door. Bernadine wiped the sweat from his forehead as he listened.
He still gripped the revolver in his hand. Peter had changed his
position a little and was standing now behind a high-backed chair.
They heard the door creak open, a voice outside, and presently the
tramp of heavy footsteps. Peter nodded understandingly.
"It is exactly as I told you," he said. "You were wise not to bet,
Again the tramp of feet in the hall. There was something
unmistakable about the sound, something final and terrifying.
Bernadine saw his triumph slipping away. Once more this man who
had defied him so persistently, was to taste the sweets of victory.
With a roar of fury he sprang across the room. He fired his revolver
twice before Sogrange, with a terrible blow, knocked his arm upwards
and sent the weapon spinning to the ceiling. Peter struck his
assailant in the mouth, but the blow seemed scarcely to check him.
They rolled on the floor together, their arms around one another's
necks. It was an affair, that, but of a moment. Peter, as lithe
as a cat, was on his feet again almost at once, with a torn collar
and an ugly mark on his face. There were strangers in the room now
and the servants had mostly slipped away during the confusion. It
was Sir John Dory himself who locked the door. Bernadine struggled
slowly to his feet. He was face to face with half a dozen police
constables in plain clothes.
"You have a charge against this man, Baron?" the police commissioner
Peter shook his head.
"The quarrel between us," he replied, "is not for the police courts,
although I will confess, Sir John, that your intervention was
"I, on the other hand," Sogrange put in, "demand the arrest of the
Count von Hern and the seizure of all papers in this house. I am
the bearer of an autograph letter from the President of France in
connection with this matter. The Count von Hern has committed
extraditable offenses against my country. I am prepared to swear
an information to that effect."
The police commissioner turned to Peter.
"Your friend's name?" he demanded.
"The Marquis de Sogrange," Peter told him.
"He is a person of authority?"
"To my certain knowledge," Peter replied, "he has the implicit
confidence of the French Government."
Sir John Dory made a sign. In another moment Bernadine would have
been arrested. It seemed, indeed, as though nothing could save
him now from this crowning humiliation. He himself, white and
furious, was at a loss how to deal with an unexpected situation.
Suddenly a thing happened stranger than any one of them there had
ever dreamed of, so strange that even men such as Peter, Sogrange
and Dory, whose nerves were of iron, faced one another, doubting
and amazed. The floor beneath them rocked and billowed like the
waves of a canvas sea. The windows were filled with flashes of
red light, a great fissure parted the wall, the pictures and
book-cases came crashing down beneath a shower of masonry. It was
the affair of a second. Above them shone the stars and around
them a noise like thunder. Bernadine, who alone understood, was
the first to recover himself. He stood in the midst of them, his
hands above his head, laughing as he looked around at the strange
storm, laughing like a madman.
"The wonderful Carl," he cried. "Oh, matchless servant. Arrest me
now, if you will, you dogs of the police. Rout out my secrets, dear
Baron de Grost. Tuck them under your arm and hurry to Downing
Street. This is the hospitality of the High House, my friends. It
loves you so well that only your ashes shall leave it."
His mouth was open for another sentence when he was struck. A whole
pillar of marble from one of the rooms above came crashing through
and buried him underneath a falling shower of masonry. Peter escaped
by a few inches. Those who were left unhurt sprang through the
yawning wall out into the garden. Sir John, Sogrange and Peter, three
of the men - one limping badly, came to a standstill in the middle of
the lawn. Before them, the house was crumbling like a pack of cards,
and louder even than the thunder of the falling structure was the
roar of the red flames.
"The Baroness!" Peter cried, and took one leap forward.
"I am here," she sobbed, running to them from out of the shadows.
"I have lost everything - my jewels, my clothes, all except what
I have on. They gave me but a moment's warning."
"Is there any one else in the house?" Peter demanded.
"No one but you who were in that room," she answered.
She shook her head.
"There was no companion," she faltered. "I thought it sounded better
to speak of her. I had her place laid at table, but she never even
Peter tore off his coat.
"There are the others in the room!" he exclaimed. "We must go back."
Sogrange caught him by the shoulder and pointed to a shadowy group
some distance away.
"We are all out but Bernadine," he said. "For him were is no hope.
They sprang back only just in time. The outside wall of the house
fell with a terrible crash. The room which they had quitted was
blotted now out of existence. From right and left, in all directions
along the country road, came the flashing of lights and little knots
of hurrying people.
"It is the end!" Peter muttered. "Yesterday I should have regretted
the passing of a brave enemy. To-day I hail with joy the death of
The Baroness, who had been sitting upon a garden seat, sobbing, came
softly up to them. She laid her fingers upon Peter's arm imploringly.
"You will not leave me friendless?" she begged. "The papers I
promised you are destroyed, but many of his secrets are here."
She tapped her forehead.
"Madame," Peter answered, "I have no wish to know them. Years ago
I swore that the passing of Bernadine should mark my own retirement
from the world in which we both lived. I shall keep my word.
To-night Bernadine is dead. To-night, Sogrange, my work is finished."
The Baroness began to sob again.
"And I thought that you were a man," she moaned, "so gallant, so
honorable - "
"Madame," Sogrange intervened, "I shall commend you to the pension
list of the Double-Four."
She dried her eyes.
"It is not money only I want," she whispered, her eyes following
Sogrange shook his head.
"You have never seen the Baroness de Grost?" he asked her.
"Ah!" Sogrange murmured. . . . "Our escort, madame, is at your
service - as far as London."
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