The False Faces
Vance, Louis Joseph
Part 1 out of 6
Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Josephine Paolucci,
Tom Allen, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
THE FALSE FACES
FURTHER ADVENTURES FROM THE HISTORY OF THE LONE WOLF
BY LOUIS JOSEPH VANCE
I Out of No Man's Land
II From a British Port
III In the Barred Zone
IV In Deep Waters
V On the Banks
VI Under Suspicion
VII In Stateroom 29
VIII Off Nantucket
IX Sub Sea
X At Base
XI Under the Rose
XVI Au Printemps
XVIII Danse Macabre
XIX Force Majeure
OUT OF NO MAN'S LAND
On the muddy verge of a shallow little pool the man lay prone and still, as
still as those poor dead whose broken bodies rested all about him, where
they had fallen, months or days, hours or weeks ago, in those grim contests
which the quick were wont insensately to wage for a few charnel yards of
that debatable ground.
Alone of all that awful company this man lived and, though he ached with
the misery of hunger and cold and rain-drenched garments, was unharmed.
Ever since nightfall and a brisk skirmish had made practicable an
undetected escape through the German lines, he had been in the open,
alternately creeping toward the British trenches under cover of darkness
and resting in deathlike immobility, as he now rested, while pistol-lights
and star-shells flamed overhead, flooding the night with ghastly glare
and disclosing in pitiless detail that two-hundred-yard ribbon of earth,
littered with indescribable abominations, which set apart the combatants.
When this happened, the living had no other choice than to ape the dead,
lest the least movement, detected by eyes that peered without rest through
loopholes in the sandbag parapets, invite a bullet's blow.
Now it was midnight, and lights were flaring less frequently, even as
rifle-fire had grown more intermittent ... as if many waters might quench
out hate in the heart of man!
For it was raining hard--a dogged, dreary downpour drilling through a heavy
atmosphere whose enervation was like the oppression of some malign and
inexorable incubus; its incessant crepitation resembling the mutter of
a weary, sullen drum, dwarfing to insignificance the stuttering of
machine-guns remote in the northward, dominating even a dull thunder of
cannonading somewhere down the far horizon; lowering a vast and shimmering
curtain of slender lances, steel-bright, close-ranked, between the trenches
and over all that weary land. Thus had it rained since noon, and thus--for
want of any hint of slackening--it might rain for another twelve hours, or
eighteen, or twenty-four....
The star-rocket, whose rays had transfixed him beside the pool, paled and
winked out in mid-air, and for several minutes unbroken darkness obtained
while, on hands and knees, the man crept on toward that gap in the British
barbed-wire entanglements which he had marked down ere daylight waned,
shaping a tolerably straight course despite frequent detours to avoid the
unspeakable. Only once was his progress interrupted--when straining senses
apprised him that a British patrol was taking advantage of the false truce
to reconnoitre toward the enemy lines, its approach betrayed by a nearing
_squash_ of furtive feet in the boggy earth, the rasp of constrained
respiration, a muttered curse when someone slipped and narrowly escaped a
fall, the edged hiss of an officer's whisper reprimanding the offender.
Incontinently he who crawled dropped flat to the greasy mud and lay
Almost at the same instant, warned by a trail of sparks rising in a long
arc from the German trenches, the soldiers imitated his action, and, as
long as those triple stars shone in the murk, made themselves one with him
and the heedless dead. Two lay so close beside him that the man could have
touched either by moving a hand a mere six inches; he was at pains to do
nothing of the sort; he was sedulous to clench his teeth against their
chattering, even to hold his breath, and regretted that he might not mute
the thumping of his heart. Nor dared he stir until, the lights fading out,
the patrol rose and skulked onward.
Thereafter his movements were less stealthy; with a detachment of their
own abroad in No Man's Land, the British would refrain from shooting at
shadows. One had now to fear only German bullets in event the patrol were
Rising, the man slipped and stumbled on in semi-crouching posture, ready
to flatten to earth as soon as any one of his many overshoulder glances
detected another sky-spearing flight of sparks. But this necessity he was
spared; no more lights were discharged before he groped through the wires
to the parapet, with almost uncanny good luck, finding the very spot where
the British had come over the top, indicated by protruding uprights of a
rough wooden scaling ladder.
As he turned, felt with a foot for the uppermost rung, and began to
descend, he was saluted by a voice hoarse with exposure, from the black
bowels of the trench:
"Blimy! but ye're back in a 'urry! Wot's up? Forget to put perfume on yer
The man's response, if he made any, was lost in a heavy splash as his feet
slipped on the slimy rungs, delivering him precipitately into a knee-deep
stream of foul water which moved sluggishly through the trench like the
current of a half-choked sewer--a circumstance which neither suprised him
nor added to his physical discomfort, who could be no more wet or defiled
than he had been.
Floundering to a foothold, he cast about vainly for a clue to the other's
whereabouts; for if the night was thick in the open, here in the trench
its density was as that of the pit; the man could distinguish positively
nothing more than a pallid rift where the walls opened overhead.
"Well, sullen, w'ere's yer manners? Carn't yer answer a civil question?"
Turning toward the speaker, the man replied in good if rather carefully
"I am not of your comrades. I am come from the enemy trenches."
"The 'ell yer are! 'Ands up!"
The muzzle of a rifle prodded the man's stomach. Obediently he lifted both
hands above his head. A thought later, he was half blinded by the sudden
spot-light of an electric flash-lamp.
"Deserter, eh? You kamerad--wot?"
"Kamerad!" the man echoed with an accent of contempt. "I am no German--I
am French. I have come through the Boche lines to-night with important
information which I desire to communicate forthwith to your commanding
"Strike me!" his catechist breathed, skeptical.
There was a new sound of splashing in the trench. A third voice chimed in:
"'Ello? Wot's all the row abaht?"
"Step up and tike a look for yerself. 'Ere's a blighter wot sez 'e's com
from the Germ trenches with important information for the O.C."
"Bloody liar," the newcomer commented dispassionately. "Mind yer eye.
Likely it's just another pl'yful little trick of the giddy Boche. 'Ere
you!" The splashing drew nearer. "Wot's yer gime? Speak up if yer don't
want a bullet through yer in'ards."
"I play no game," the man said patiently. "I am unarmed--your prisoner, if
"I like, all right. Mike yer mind easy abaht that. But wot's all this
"I shall divulge that only to the proper authorities. Be good enough to
conduct me to your commanding officer without more delay."
"Wot do yer mike of 'im, corp'ril?" the first soldier enquired. "'Ow abaht
an inch or two o' the bay'net to loosen 'is tongue?"
After a moment's hesitation in perplexed silence, the corporal took the
flash-lamp from the private and with its beam raked the prisoner from head
to foot, gaining little enlightenment from this review of a tall, spare
figure clothed in the familiar gray overcoat of the German private--its
face a mere mask of mud through which shone eyes of singular brilliance and
steadiness, the eyes of a man of intelligence, determination, and courage.
"Keep yer 'ands 'igh," the corporal advised curtly. "Ginger, you search
Propping his rifle against the wall of the trench, its butt on the
firing-step just out of water, the private proceeded painstakingly
to examine the person of the prisoner; in course of which process he
unbuttoned and threw open the gray overcoat, exposing a shapeless tunic and
trousers of shoddy drab stuff.
"'E 'asn't got no arms--'e 'asn't got nothink, not so much as 'is blinkin'
"Very good. Get back on yer post. I'll tike charge o' this one."
Grounding his own rifle, the corporal fixed its bayonet, then employed it
in a gesture of unpleasant significance.
"'Bout fice," he ordered. "March. Yer can drop yer 'ands--but don't go
forgettin' I'm right 'ere be'ind yer."
In silence the prisoner obeyed, wading down the flooded trench, the
spot-light playing on his back, striking sullen gleams from the inky water
that swirled about his knees, and disclosing glimpses of coated figures
stationed at regular intervals along the firing-step, faces steadfast to
loopholes in the parapet.
Now and again they passed narrow rifts in the walls of the trench,
entrances to dugouts betrayed by glimmers of candle-light through the
cracks of makeshift doors or the coarse mesh of gunnysack curtains.
From one of these, at the corporal's summons, a sleepy subaltern stumbled
to attend ungraciously to his subordinate's report, and promptly ordered
the prisoner taken on to the regimental headquarters behind the lines.
A little farther on captive and captor turned off into a narrow and
tortuous communication trench. Thereafter for upward of ten minutes they
threaded a labyrinth of deep, constricted, reeking ditches, with so little
to differentiate one from another that the prisoner wondered at the sure
sense of direction which enabled the corporal to find his way without
mis-step, with the added handicap of the abysmal darkness. Then, of a
sudden, the sides of the trench shelved sharply downward, and the two
debouched into a broad, open field. Here many men lay sleeping, with only
waterproof sheets for protection from that bitter deluge which whipped the
earth into an ankle-deep lake of slimy ooze and lent keener accent to the
abiding stench of filth and decomposing flesh. A slight hillock stood
between this field and the firing-line--where now lively fusillades
were being exchanged--its profile crowned with a spectral rank of
shell-shattered poplars sharply silhouetted against a sky in which
star-shells and Verey lights flowered like blooms of hell.
Here the corporal abruptly commanded his prisoner to halt and himself
paused and stood stiffly at attention, saluting a group of three officers
who were approaching with the evident intention of entering the trench. One
of these loosed upon the pair the flash of a pocket lamp. At sight of the
gray overcoat all three stopped short.
A voice with the intonation of habitual command enquired: "What have we
The corporal replied: "A prisoner, sir--sez 'e's French--come across the
open to-night with important information--so 'e sez."
The spot-light picked out the prisoner's face. The officer addressed him
"What is your name, my man?"
"That," said the prisoner, "is something which--like my intelligence--I
should prefer to communicate privately."
With a startled gesture the officer took a step forward and peered intently
into that mud-smeared countenance.
"I seem to know your voice," he said in a speculative tone.
"You should," the prisoner returned.
"Gentlemen," said the officer to his companions, "you may continue your
rounds. Corporal, follow me with your prisoner."
He swung round and slopped off heavily through the mud of the open field.
Behind them the sound of firing in the forward trenches swelled to an
uproar augmented by the shrewish chattering of machine-guns. Then a battery
hidden somewhere in the blackness in front of them came into action,
barking viciously. Shells whined hungrily overhead. The prisoner glanced
back: the maimed poplars stood out stark against a sky washed with wave
after wave of infernal light....
Some time later he was conscious of a cobbled way beneath his sodden
footgear. They were entering the outskirts of a ruined village. On either
hand fragments of walls reared up with sashless windows and gaping doors
like death masks of mad folk stricken in paroxysm.
Within one doorway a dim light burned; through it the officer made his way,
prisoner and corporal at his heels, passing a sentry, then descending a
flight of crazy wooden steps to a dank and gloomy cellar, stone-walled
and vaulted. In the middle of the cellar stood a broad table at which an
orderly sat writing by the light of two candles stuck in the necks of empty
bottles. At another table, in a corner, a sergeant and an operator of the
Signal Corps were busy with field telephone and telegraph instruments. On a
meagre bed of damp and mouldy straw, against the farther wall, several men,
orderlies and subalterns, rested in stertorous slumbers. Despite the cold
the atmosphere was a reek of tobacco smoke, sweat, and steam from wet
The man at the centre table rose and saluted, offering the commanding
officer a sheaf of scribbled messages and reports. Taking the chair thus
vacated, the officer ran an eye over the papers, issued several orders
inspired by them, then turned attention to the prisoner.
"You may return to your post, corporal."
The corporal executed a smart about-face and clumped up the steps. In
answer to the officer's steadfast gaze the prisoner stepped forward and
confronted him across the table.
"Who are you?"
"My name," said the prisoner, after looking around to make sure that none
of the other tenants of the cellar was within earshot, "is Lanyard--Michael
"The Lone Wolf!"
Involuntarily the officer jumped up, almost overturning his chair.
"That same," the prisoner affirmed, adding with a grimace of besmirched and
emaciated features that was meant for a smile--"General Wertheimer."
"Wertheimer is not my name."
"I am aware of that. I uttered it merely to confirm my identity to you; it
is the only name I ever knew you by in the old days, when you were in the
British Secret Service and I a famous thief with a price upon my head, when
you and I played hide and seek across half Europe and back again--in the
days of Troyon's and 'the Pack,' the days of De Morbihan and Popinot
"Ekstrom," the officer supplied as the prisoner hesitated oddly.
"And Ekstrom," the other agreed.
There was a little silence between the two; then the officer mused aloud:
"All ... but one."
The officer looked up sharply. "Which--?"
"Ekstrom? But we saw him die! You yourself fired the shot that--"
"It was not Ekstrom. Trust that one not to imperil his precious carcase
when he could find an underling to run the risk for him! I tell you I have
seen Ekstrom within this last month, alive and serving the Fatherland as
the genius of that system of espionage which keeps the enemy advised of
your every move, down to the least considerable--that system which makes it
possible for the Boche to greet every regiment by name when it moves up to
serve its time in your advanced trenches."
"You amaze me!"
"I shall convince you; I bring intelligence which will enable you to tear
apart this web of treason within your own lines and...."
Lanyard's voice broke. The officer remarked that he was
trembling--trembling so violently that to support himself he must grip the
edge of the table with both hands.
"You are wounded?"
"No--but cold to my very marrow, and faint with hunger. Even the German
soldiers are on starvation rations, now; the civilians are worse off; and
I--I have been over there for years, a spy, a hunted thing, subsisting as
casually as a sparrow!"
"Sit down. Orderly!"
And there was no more talk between these two for a time. Not only did the
officer refuse to hear another word before Lanyard had gorged his fill of
food and drink, but an exigent communication from the front, transmitted
through the trench telephone system, diverted his attention temporarily.
Gnawing ravenously at bread and meat, Lanyard watched curiously the scenes
in the cellar, following, as best he might, the tides of combat; gathering
that German resentment of a British bombing enterprise (doubtless the work
of that same squad which had stolen past him in the gloom of No Man's Land)
had developed into a violent attempt to storm the forward trenches.
In these a desperate struggle was taking place. Reinforcements were
Activities at the signallers' table became feverish; the commanding officer
stood over it, reading incoming messages as they were jotted down and
taking such action thereupon as his judgment dictated. Orderlies, dragged
half asleep from their nests of straw, were shaken awake and despatched to
rouse and rush to the front the troops Lanyard had seen sleeping in the
open field. Other orderlies limped or reeled down the cellar steps,
delivered their despatches, and, staggered out through a breach in the wall
to have their injuries attended to in the field dressing-station in the
adjoining cellar, or else threw themselves down on the straw to fall
instantly asleep despite the deafening din.
The Boche artillery, seeking blindly to silence the field batteries whose
fire was galling their offensive, had begun to bombard the village. Shells
fled shrieking overhead, to break in thunderous bellows. Walls toppled
with appalling crashes, now near at hand, now far. The ebb and flow of
rifle-fire at the front contributed a background of sound not unlike the
roaring of an angry surf. Machine-guns gibbered like maniacs. Heavier
artillery was brought into play behind the British lines, apparently at no
great distance from the village; the very flag-stones of the cellar floor
quaked to the concussions of big-calibre guns.
Through the breach in the wall echoed the screams and groans of wounded.
The foul air became saturated with a sickening stench of iodoform. Gusts of
wet wind eddied hither and yon. Candles flickered and flared, guttered out,
were renewed. Monstrous shadows stole out from black corners, crept along
mouldy walls, crouched, sprang and vanished, or, inscrutably baffled,
retreated sullenly to their lairs....
For the better part of an hour the struggle continued; then its vigour
began to wane. The heaviest British metal went out of action; some time
later the field batteries discontinued their activities. The volume of
firing in the advance trenches dwindled, was fiercely renewed some half a
dozen times, died away to normal. Once more the Boche had been beaten back.
Returning to his chair, the commanding officer rested his elbows upon the
table and bowed his head between his hands in an attitude of profound
fatigue. He seemed to remind himself of Lanyard's presence only at 'cost of
a racking effort, lifting heavy-lidded eyes to stare almost incredulously
at his face.
"I presumed you were in America," he said in dulled accents.
"I was ... for a time."
"You came back to serve France?"
Lanyard shook his head. "I returned to Europe after a year, the spring
before the war."
"I was hunted out of New York. The Boche would not let me be."
The officer looked startled. "The Boche?"
"More precisely, Herr Ekstrom--to name him as we knew him. But this I did
not suspect for a long time, that it was he who was responsible for my
persecution. I knew only that the police of America, informed of my
identity with the Lone Wolf, sought to deport me, that every avenue to
an honourable livelihood was closed. So I had to leave, to try to lose
"Your wife ... I mean to say, you married, didn't you?"
Lanyard nodded. "Lucy stuck by me till ... the end.... She had a little
money of her own. It financed our flight from the States. We made a
round-about journey of it, to elude surveillance--and, I think, succeeded."
"You returned to Paris?"
"No: France, like England, was barred to the Lone Wolf.... We settled down
in Belgium, Lucy and I and our boy. He was three months old. We found a
quiet little home in Louvain--"
The officer interrupted with a low cry of apprehension, Lanyard checked him
with a sombre gesture. "Let me tell you....
"We might have been happy. None knew us. We were sufficient unto ourselves.
But I was without occupation; it occurred to me that my memoirs might
make good reading--for Paris; my friends the French are as fond of their
criminals as you English of your actors. On the second of August I
journeyed to Paris to negotiate with a publisher. While I was away the
Boche invaded Belgium. Before I could get back Louvain had been occupied,
He sat for a time in brooding silence; the officer made no attempt to
rouse him, but the gaze he bent upon the man's lowered head was grave and
pitiful. Abruptly, in a level and toneless voice, Lanyard resumed:
"In order to regain my home I had to go round by way of England and
Holland. I crossed the Dutch frontier disguised as a Belgian peasant. When
I reentered Louvain it was to find ... But all the world knows what the
blond beast did in Louvain. My wife and little son had vanished utterly. I
searched three months before I found trace of either. Then ... Lucy died in
my arms in a wretched hovel near Aerschot. She had seen our child butchered
before her eyes. She herself...."
Lanyard's hand, that rested on the table, clenched and whitened beneath its
begrimed skin. His eyes fathomed distances immeasurably removed beyond the
confines of that grim cellar. But he presently continued:
"Ekstrom had accompanied the army of invasion, had seen and recognized Lucy
in passing through Louvain. Therefore she and my son were among the first
to be sacrificed.... When I stood over her grave I dedicated my life to the
extermination of Ekstrom and all his breed. I have since done things I do
not like to think about. But the Prussian spy system is the weaker for my
"But Ekstrom I could never find. It was as if he knew I hunted him. He was
seldom twenty-four hours ahead of me, yet I never caught up with him but
once; and then he was too closely guarded.... I pursued him to Berlin,
to Potsdam, three times to the western front, to Serbia, once to
Constantinople, twice to Petrograd."
The officer uttered an exclamation of astonishment. Lanyard looked his way
with a depreciatory air.
"Nothing strange about that. To one of my early training that was
easy--everything was easy but the end I sought.... En passant I collected
information concerning the workings of the Prussian spy system. From time
to time I found means to communicate somewhat of this to the Surété in
Paris. I believe France and England have already profited a little through
my efforts. They shall profit more, and quickly, when I have told all that
I have to tell....
"Of a sudden Ekstrom vanished. Overnight he disappeared from Germany. A
false lead brought me back to this front. Two days ago I learned he had
been sent to America on a secret mission. Knowing that the States have
severed diplomatic relations with Berlin and tremble on the verge of a
declaration of war, we can surmise something of the nature of his mission.
I mean to see that he fails.... To follow him to America, making my way
out through Belgium and Holland, pursuing such furtive ways as I must in
territory dominated by the Boche, meant much time lost. So I came through
the lines to-night. Fortune was kind in throwing me into your hands: I
count upon your assistance. As an ex-agent of the Secret Service you are in
a position to make smooth my path; as an Englishman, you will advance the
interests of a prospective ally of England if you help me to the limit of
your ability; for what I mean to do in America will serve that country, by
exposing the conspiracies of the Boche across the water, as much as it will
serve my private ends."
The officer's hand fell across the table and closed upon the knotted fist
of the Lone Wolf.
"As an Englishman," he said simply--"of course. But no less as your
FROM A BRITISH PORT
"And one man in his time plays many parts": few more than this same
Lanyard. In no way to be identified with the hunted creature who crept into
the British lines out of No Man's Land was the Monsieur Duchemin who, ten
days after that wintry midnight, took passage for New York from "a British
port," aboard the steamship _Assyrian_.
André Duchemin was the name inscribed in the credentials furnished him in
recognition of signal assistance rendered the British Secret Service in its
task of scotching the Prussian spy system. And the personality he chose
to assume suited well the name. A man of modest and amiable deportment,
viewing the world with eyes intelligent and curious, his temper reacting
from its ways in terms of grave humour, Monsieur Duchemin passed peaceably
on his lawful occasions, took life as he found it, made the best of irksome
This last idiosyncrasy stood him in good stead. For the _Assyrian_ failed
to clear upon her proposed sailing date and for a livelong week thereafter
chafed alongside her landing stage, steam up, cargo laden and stowed,
nothing lacking but the Admiralty's permission to begin her westbound
voyage--a permission inscrutably withheld, giving rise to a common
discontent which the passengers dissembled to the various best of their
abilities, that is to say, in most cases thinly or not at all.
Yet they were none of them unreasonable beings. They had come aboard one
and all keyed up to a high nervous pitch, pardonable in such as must commit
their lives to the dread adventure of the barred zone, wanting nothing
so much as to get it over with, whatever its upshot. And everlasting
procrastination required them day after day to steel their hearts anew
against that Terror which followed its furtive ways beneath the leaden
waters of the Channel!
Alone among them this Monsieur Duchemin paraded successfully a false face
of resignation, protesting no predilection whatsoever for a watery grave,
no infatuate haste to challenge the Hun upon his chosen hunting-ground. In
the fullness of time it would be permitted to him to go down to the sea in
this ship. Meanwhile he found it apparently pleasant and restful to explore
the winding cobbled ways of that antiquated waterside community, made over
by the hand of War into a bustling seaport, or to tramp the sunken lanes
that seamed those green old Cornish hills which embosomed the wide harbour
waters, or to lounge about the broad white decks of the _Assyrian_ watching
the diurnal traffic of the haven--a restless, warlike pageant.
Daily, in earliest dusk of dawn, the wakeful might watch the faring forth
of a weirdly assorted fleet of small craft, the day patrol, to relieve a
night patrol as weirdly heterogeneous. Daily, at all hours, mine-sweepers
came and went, by twos and twos, in flocks, in schools; and daily bellowing
offshore detonations advertised their success in garnering those horned
black seeds of death which the Hun and his kin were sedulous to sow in the
fairways. While daily battleships both great and small rolled in wearily to
refit and dress their wounds, or took swift departure on grim and secret
There was, moreover, the not-infrequent spectacle of some minor ship of
war--a truculent, gray destroyer as like as not--shepherding in a sleek
submarine, like a felon whale armoured and strangely caparisoned in
gray-brown steel, to be moored in chains with a considerable company of its
fellows on the far side of the roadstead, while its crew was taken ashore
and consigned to some dark limbo of oblivion.
And once, with a light cruiser snapping at her heels, a drab Norwegian
tramp plodded sullenly into port, a mine-layer caught red-handed, plying
its assassin's trade beneath a neutral flag.
Not long after its crew had been landed, volleys of musketry crashed in the
One of a group of three idling on the promenade deck of the _Assyrian_,
Lanyard turned sharply and stared through narrowed eyelids into the quarter
whence the sounds reverberated.
The man at his side, a loose-jointed American of the commercial caste,
paused momentarily in his task of masticating a fat dark cigar.
"This way out," he commented thoughtfully.
Lanyard nodded; but the third, a plumply ingratiative native of Geneva,
known to the ship as Emil Dressier, frowned in puzzlement.
"Pardon, Monsieur Crane, but what is that you say--'this way out'?"
"Simply," Crane explained, "I take the firing to mean the execution of our
nootral friends from Norway."
The Swiss shuddered. "It is most terrible!"
"Well, I don't know about that. They done their damnedest to fix it for us
to drown somewhere out there in the nice, cold English Channel. I'm just as
satisfied it's them, instead, with their backs to a stone wall in the
warm sunlight, getting their needin's. That's only justice. Eh, Monsieur
"It is war," said Lanyard with a shrug.
"And war is ... No: Sherman was all wrong. Hell's got perfectly good
grounds for a libel suit against William Tecumseh for what he up and said
about it and war, all in the same breath."
Lanyard smiled faintly, but Dressler pondered this obscure reference with
patent distress. Crane champed his cigar reflectively.
"What's more to our purpose," he said presently: "I shouldn't be surprised
if this meant the wind-up of our rest-cure here. That's the third
mine-layer they've collected this week--two subs, and now this benevolent
nootral. Am I right, Monsieur Duchemin?"
"Who knows?" Lanyard replied with a smile. "Even now the mine-sweeping
flotilla is coming home, as you see; which means, the neighbouring waters
have been cleared. It is altogether a possibility that we may be permitted
to depart this night."
Even so the event: as that day's sun declined amid a portentous welter of
crimson and purple and gold, the moorings were cast off and the _Assyrian_
warped out into mid-channel and anchored there for the night.
Inasmuch as she was to sail as the tide served, some time before sunrise,
the passengers were advised to seek their berths at an early hour. Thirty
minutes before the steamship entered the danger zone (as she would soon
after leaving the harbour) they would be roused and were expected promptly
to assemble on deck, with life-preservers, and station themselves near the
boats to which they were individually assigned.
For their further comforting they were treated, in the ebb of the chill
blue twilight, to boat-drill and final instructions in the right adjustment
A preoccupied company assembled in the dining saloon for what might be
its last meal. In the shadow of the general apprehension, conversation
languished; expressions of relief on the part of those who had been loudest
in complaining at the delays were notably unheard; even Crane, Lanyard's
nearest neighbour at table, was abnormally subdued. Reviewing that array of
sobered and anxious faces, Lanyard remarked--not for the first time, but
with renewed gratitude--that in all the roster of passengers none were
children and but two were women: the American widow of an English officer
and her very English daughter, an angular and superior spinster.
Avoiding the customary post-prandial symposium in the smoking room, Lanyard
slipped away with his cigar for a lonely turn on deck.
Beneath a sky heavily canopied, the night was stark black and loud with
clashing waters. A fitful wind played in gusts now grim, now groping, like
a lost thing blundering blindly about in that deep darkness. Ashore a
few wan lights, widely spaced, winked uncertainly, withdrawn in vast
remoteness; those near at hand, of the anchored shipping, skipped and
swayed and flickered in mad mazes of goblin dance. To him who paced those
vacant, darkened decks, the sense of dissociation from all the common,
kindly phenomena of civilization was something intimate and inescapable.
Melancholy as well rode upon that black-winged wind.
At pause beneath the bridge, the adventurer rested elbows upon the teakwood
rail and with importunate eyes searched the masked face of his destiny.
There was great fear in his heart, not of death, but lest death overtake
him before that scarlet hour when he should encounter the man whom he must
always think of as "Ekstrom."
After that, nothing would matter: let Death come then as swiftly as it
He was not even middle-aged, on the hither side of thirty; yet his attitude
was that of one who had already crossed the great divide of the average
mortal span: he looked backward upon a life, never forward to one. To him
his history seemed a thing written, lacking the one word Finis: he had
lived and loved and lost--had arrayed himself insolently against God and
Man, had been lifted toward the light a little way by a woman's love, had
been thrust relentlessly back into the black pit of his damnation. He made
no pretense that it was otherwise with him: remained now merely the thing
he had been in the beginning, minus that divine spark which love had once
kindled into consuming aspiration toward the right; the Lone Wolf prowled
again to-day and would henceforth forevermore, the beast of prey callous
to every human emotion, animated by one deadly purpose, existing but to
destroy and be in turn destroyed....
Two decks below, about amidships, a cargo port was thrust open to the
night. A thick, broad beam of light leaped out, buffeting the murk,
striking evanescent glimmers from the rocking facets of the waters.
Deckhands busied themselves rigging out an accommodation ladder. A tender
of little tonnage panted nervously up out of nowhere and was made fast
alongside. The light raked its upper deck, picking out in passing a group
of men in uniforms. Fugitively something resembling a petticoat snapped
in the wind. Then several persons moved toward the accommodation ladder,
climbed it, disappeared through the cargo port. The wearer of the petticoat
did not accompany them.
Lanyard noted these matters subconsciously, for the time altogether
preoccupied, casting forward his thoughts along those dim trails his feet
must tread who followed his dark star....
Ten minutes later a deck-steward found him, and paused, touching his cap.
"Beg pardon, sir, but all passingers is requested to report immedately in
the music room."
Indifferently Lanyard thanked the man and went below, to find the music
room tenanted by a full muster of his fellow passengers, all more or less
indignantly waiting to be cross-examined by the party of port officials
from the tender--the ship's purser standing by together with the second and
third officers and a number of stewards.
Resentment was not unwarranted: already, before being suffered to take up
quarters on board the _Assyrian_, each passenger had submitted to a most
comprehensive survey of his credentials, his mental, moral, and social
status, his past record, present affairs, and future purposes. A formality
to be expected by all such as travel in war time, it had been rigid but
mild in contrast with this eleventh-hour inquisition--a proceeding so
drastic and exhaustive that the only plausible inference was official
determination to find excuse for ordering somebody ashore in irons. Nothing
was overlooked: once passports and other proofs of identity had been
scrutinized, each passenger was conducted to his stateroom and his person
and luggage subjected to painstaking search. None escaped; on the other
hand, not one was found guilty of flagitious peculiarity. In the upshot the
inquisitors, baffled and betraying every symptom of disappointment, were
fain to give over and return to their tender.
By this time Lanyard, one of the last to be grilled and passed, found
himself as little inclined for sleep as the most timorous soul on board.
Selecting an American novel from the ship's library, he repaired to
the smoking room, where, established in a corner apart, he became an
involuntary and, at first, a largely inattentive, eavesdropper upon an
animated debate involving some eight or ten gentlemen at a table in the
middle of the saloon--its subject, the recent visitation.
Measures so extraordinary were generally held to indicate an incentive more
"You can't get away from it," he heard Crane declare: "there's some sort of
funny business going on, or liable to go on, aboard this ship. She wasn't
held up for a solid week out of pure cussedness. Neither did they come
aboard to-night to give us another once-over through sheer voluptuousness.
There's a reason."
"And what," a satiric English voice enquired, "do you assume that reason to
"Search me. 'Sfar's I'm concerned the processes of the British Intelligence
Office are a long sight past finding out."
"It is simple enough," one of Crane's compatriots suggested: "the
_Assyrian_ is suspected of entertaining a devil unawares."
"Monsieur means--?" the Swiss enquired.
"I mean, the authorities may have been led to believe some one of us a
"Or an English traitor?"
"Impossible," asserted another Briton heavily. "There is to-day no such
thing in England. Two years ago the supposition might have been plausible.
But that breed has long since been stamped out--in England."
"Another guess," Crane cut in: "they've taken considerable trouble to clear
the track for us. Maybe it occurred to somebody at the last moment to make
sure none of us was likely to pull off an inside job."
"'Inside job?'" Dressler pleaded.
"Planting bombs in the coal bunkers--things like that--anything to crab our
getting through the barred zone in spite of mines and U-boats."
"Any such attempt would mean almost certain death!"
"What of it? It's been tried before--and got away with. You've got to hand
it to Fritz, he'll risk hell-for-breakfast cheerful any time he gets it in
his bean he's serving Gott und Vaterland."
"Granted," said the Englishman. "But I fancy such an one would find it far
from easy to secure passage upon this or any other vessel."
"How so? You may have haltered all your traitors, but there's still
a-plenty German spies living in England. Even you admit that. And if they
can get by your Secret Service, to say nothing of Scotland Yard, what's to
prevent their fixing to leave the country?"
"Nothing, certainly. But I still contend it is hardly likely."
"Of course it's hardly likely. Look at these guys to-night--dead set on
making an awful example of anybody that couldn't come clean. I didn't
notice them missing any bets. They combed me to the Queen's taste; for
a while I was sure scared they'd extract my pivot tooth to see if there
wasn't something incriminating and degrading secreted inside it. And nobody
got off any easier. _I_ say the good ship _Assyrian_ has a pretty clean
bill of health to go sailing with."
"On the other hand"--yet another American voice was speaking--"no spy or
criminal worth his salt would try to ship without preparations thorough
enough to insure success, barring accidents."
"Criminal?" drawled the Briton incredulously.
"The enterprisin' burglar keeps a-burglin', even in war time. There have
been notable burglaries in London of late, according to your newspapers."
"And you think the thief would attempt to smuggle his loot out of the
country aboard such a ship as this?"
"Scotland Yard to the contrary notwithstanding?"
"If Scotland Yard is as efficient as you think, sir, certainly any sane
thief would make every effort to leave a country it was making too hot for
"Considerable criminal!" Crane jeered.
"Undeceive yourself, señor." This was a Brazilian, a quiet little dark body
who commonly contented himself with a listening rôle in the smoking-room
discussions. "There are truly criminals of intelligence. And war conditions
are driving them out of Europe."
Of a sudden Lanyard--stretched out at length upon the leather cushions,
in full view of these gossips--became aware that he was being closely
scrutinised. By whom, with what reason or purpose, he could not surmise;
and it were unwise to look up from that printed page. But that sixth sense
of his--intuition, what you will--that exquisitively sensitive sentinel
admonished that at least one person in the room was watching him narrowly.
Though he made no move other than to turn a page, his glance followed
blindly blurring lines of text, and his quickened wits overlooked no shade
of meaning or intonation as that talk continued.
"A criminal of intelligence," some one observed, "is a giddy paradox whose
fatuous existence is quite fittingly confined to the realm of fable."
"You took the identical words right out of my mouth," Crane complained
"Your pardon, señores: history confutes your incredulity."
"But we are talking about to-day."
"Even to-day--can you deny it?--men attain high places by means which the
law would construe as criminal, were they not intelligent enough to outwit
"Big game," Crane objected; "something else again. What we contend is no
man of ordinary common sense could get his own consent to crack a safe, or
pick a pocket, or do second-story work, or pull any rough stuff like that."
"Again you overlook living facts," persisted the Brazilian.
"Name one--just one."
"The Lone Wolf, then."
"Unnatural history is out of my line," Crane objected. "Why is a lone wolf,
The Brazilian's voice took on an accent of exasperation. "Señores, I do not
jest. I am a student of psychology, more especially of criminal psychology.
I lived long in Paris before this war, and took deep interest in the case
of the Lone Wolf."
"Well, you've got me all excited. Go on with your story."
"With much pleasure.... This gentleman, then, this Michael Lanyard, as he
called himself, was a distinguished Parisian figure, a man of extraordinary
attainment, esteemed the foremost connoisseur d'art in all Europe.
Suddenly, at the zenith of his career, he disappeared. Subsequently it
became known that he had been identical with that great Parisian criminal,
the Lone Wolf, a superman of thieves who had plundered all Europe with
unvarying success for almost a decade."
"Then what made the silly ass quit?"
"According to my information, he won the love of a young woman--"
"And reformed for her sake, of course?"
"To the contrary, señor; Lanyard renounced his double life because of a
theory on which he had founded his astonishing success. According to this
theory, any man of intelligence may defy society as long as he will, always
providing he has no friend, lover, or confederate in whom to confide. A man
self-contained can never be betrayed; the stupid police seldom apprehend
even the most stupid criminal, save through the treachery of some intimate.
This Lanyard proved his theory by confounding not only the utmost
efforts of the police but even the jealous enmity of that association of
Continental criminals known as the Bande Noire--until he became a lover.
Then he proved his intelligence: in one stroke he flouted the police,
delivered into their hands the inner circle of the Bande Noire, and
vanished with the woman he loved."
"The rest," said the Brazilian, "is silence."
"It is for to-night, anyway," Crane observed, yawning. "It's bedtime. Here
comes the busy steward to put the lights and us out."
There was a general stir; men drained glasses, knocked out pipes, got up,
murmured good-nights. Lanyard closed the American novel upon a forefinger,
looked up abstractedly, rose, moved toward the door. The utmost effort of
exceptional powers of covert observation assured him that, at the moment,
none of the company favoured him with especial attention; the author of
that interest whose intensity had so weighed upon his consciousness had
been swift to dissemble.
On his way forward he exchanged bows and smiles with Crane and one or two
others, his gesture completely casual. Yet when he entered the starboard
alleyway he carried with him a complete catalogue of those who had
contributed to the conversation. With all, thanks to seven days'
association, he stood on terms of shipboard acquaintance. Not one, in his
esteem, was more potentially mischievous than any other--not even the
Brazilian Velasco, though he had been the first to name the Lone Wolf.
It was, furthermore, quite possible that the mention of his erstwhile
sobriquet had been utterly fortuitous.
And yet, one might not forget that sensation of being under intent
In his stateroom Lanyard stood for several minutes gravely peering into the
mirror above the washstand.
The face he scanned was lean and worn in feature, darkly weathered, framed
in hair whose jet already boasted an accent of silver at either temple--the
face of a man inured to hardship, seasoned in suffering, strong in
self-knowledge. The incandescence of an intelligence coldly dispassionate,
quick and shrewd, lighted those dark eyes. Distinctively a face of Gallic
cast, three years of long-drawn torment had served in part to erase from
it wellnigh all resemblance to both the brilliant social freebooter of
ante-bellum Paris and that undesirable alien whom the authorities had
sought to deport from the States. Amazing facility in impersonation had
done the rest; unrecognisable as what he had been, he was to-day flawlessly
the incarnation of what he elected to seem--Monsieur Duchemin, gentleman,
Impossible to believe his disguise had been so soon penetrated....
And yet, again, that gossip of the smoking room....
Police work? Or had Ekstrom's creatures picked up his trail once more?
Beneath that urbane mask of his, a hunted, wild thing poised in question,
mistrustful of the very wind, prick-eared, fangs agleam, eyes grimly
A little sound, the least of metallic clicks, breaking the hush of his
solitude, froze the adventurer to attention. Only his glance swerved
swiftly to a fastened door in the forward partition--his stateroom being
the aftermost of three that might be thrown together to form a suite. The
nickeled knob was being tried with infinite precaution. On the half turn it
checked with a faint repetition of the click. Then the door itself quivered
almost imperceptibly to pressure, though it yielded not a fraction of an
Lanyard's eyes hardened. He did not stir from where he stood, but one hand
whipped an automatic from his pocket while the other darted out to the
switch-box by the head of his berth and extinguished the light.
Instantly a glimmer of light in the forward stateroom showed through
a narrow strip of iron grill-work set in the top of the partition for
Simultaneously the door-knob was gently released, and with another louder
click the light in the adjoining cubicle was blotted out.
Mystified, Lanyard undressed and turned in, but not to sleep--not for a
little, at least.
Who might this neighbour be who tried his door so stealthily? Before
to-night that room had had no tenant. Apparently one of the passengers had
seen fit to shift his quarters. To what end? To keep a jealous eye on
the Lone Wolf, perhaps? So much the better, then: Lanyard need only make
enquiry in the morning to identify his enemy.
Deliberately closing his eyes, he dismissed the enigma. He possessed in
marked degree that attribute of genius, ability to command slumber at will.
Swiftly the troubled deeps of thought grew calm; on their placid surface
inconsequent visions were mirrored darkly, fugitive scenes from the store
of subconscious memory: Crane's lantern-jawed physiognomy, keen eyes
semi-veiled by humorously drooping lids, the extreme corner of his mouth
bulging round his everlasting cigar ... grimy lions in Trafalgar Square of
a rainy afternoon ... the octagonal room of L'Abbaye Thêléme at three in
the morning, a swirl of Bacchanalian shapes ... Wertheimer's soldierly
figure beside the telegraphers' table in that noisome cave at the Front ...
the deck of a tender in darkness swept by a shaft of yellow light which
momentarily revealed a group of folk with upturned faces, a petticoat
fluttering in its midst....
IN THE BARRED ZONE
Day broke with rather more than half a gale blowing beneath a louring sky.
Once clear of the bottleneck mouth of the harbour, the _Assyrian_ ran into
brutal quartering seas. An old hand at such work, for upward of a decade
a steady-paced Dobbin of the transatlantic lanes, she buckled down to it
doggedly and, remembering her duty by her passengers, rolled no more than
she had to, buried her nose in the foaming green only when she must. For
all her care, the main deck forward was alternately raked by stinging
volleys of spray and scoured by frantic cascades. More than once the crew
of the bow gun narrowly escaped being carried overboard to a man. Blue with
cold, soaked to the buff despite oilskins, they stuck stubbornly to their
posts. Perched beyond reach of shattering wavecrests, the passengers on the
boat-deck huddled unhappily in the lee of the superstructure--and snarled
in response to the cheering information that better conditions for baffling
the ubiquitous U-boat could hardly have been brewed by an indulgent
Providence. Sheeting spindrift contributed to lower visibility: two
destroyers standing on parallel courses about a mile distant to port and
to starboard were more often than not barely discernible, spectral vessels
reeling and dipping in the haze. The ceaseless whistle of wind in the
rigging was punctuated by long-drawn howls which must have filled any
conscientious banshee with corrosive envy.
Toward mid-morning rain fell in torrents, driving even the most fearful
passengers to shelter within the superstructure. A majority crowded the
landing at the head of the main companionway close by the leeward door.
Bolder spirits marched off to the smoking room--Crane starting this
movement with the declaration that, for his part, he would as lief drown
like a rat in a trap as battling to keep up in the frigid inferno of those
raging seas. A handful of miserables, too seasick to care whether the ship
swam or sank, mutinously took to their berths.
Stateroom 27--adjoining Lanyard's--sported obstinately a shut door.
Lanyard, sedulous not to discover his interest by questioning the stewards,
caught never a glimpse of its occupant. For his own satisfaction he took a
covert census of passengers on deck as the vessel entered the danger zone,
and made the tally seventy-one all told--the number on the passenger list
when the _Assyrian_ had left her landing stage the previous evening.
It seemed probable, therefore, that the person in 27 had come aboard from
the tender, either with or following the official party. Lanyard was
unable to say that more had not left the tender than appeared to sit in
inquisition in the music room.
By noon the wind was beginning to moderate, and the sea was being beaten
down by that relentlessly lashing rain. Visibility, however, was more low
than ever. A fairly representative number descended to the dining saloon
for luncheon--a meal which none finished. Midway in its course a thunderous
explosion to starboard drove all in panic once more to the decks.
Within two hundred yards of the _Assyrian_ a floating mine had destroyed a
patrol boat. No more was left of it than an oil-filmed welter of splintered
wreckage: of its crew, never a trace.
Imperturbably the _Assyrian_ proceeded. Not so her passengers: now the
smoking room was deserted even by the insouciant Crane, and the seasick to
a woman brought their troubles back to the boat-deck.
Alone the tenant of 27 stopped below. And the riddle of this ostensible
indifference to terrors that clawed at the vitals of every other soul on
board grew to intrigue Lanyard to the point of obsession. Was the reason
brute apathy or sheer foolhardihood? He refused either explanation,
feeling sure some darker and more momentous motive dictated this obstinate
avoidance of the public eye. Exasperation aroused by failure to fathom the
mystery took precedence in his thoughts even to the personal solicitude
excited by last night's gossip of the smoking room....
With no other disturbing incident the afternoon wore away, the wind
steadily flagging, the waves as steadily subsiding. When twilight closed in
there was nothing more disturbing to one's equilibrium than a sea of long
and sullen rolls scored by the pelting downpour.
Perhaps as many as ten venturesome souls dined in the saloon, their fellows
sticking desperately to the decks and contenting themselves with coffee and
Daylight waned, terrors waxed: passengers instinctively gravitated into
little knots and clusters, conversing guardedly as if fearful lest their
normal accents bring down upon them those Apaches of the underseas for
signs of whom their frightened glances incessantly ranged over-rail and
searched the heaving wastes.
The understanding was tacit that all would spend the night on deck.
Dusk at length blotted out the shadows of their guardian destroyers, and a
great and desolating loneliness settled down upon the ship. One by one
the passengers grew dumb; still they clung together, but seemingly their
tongues would no more function.
With nightfall, the rain ceased, the breeze freshened a trifle, the pall of
cloud lifted and broke, giving glimpses of remote, impersonal stars. Later
a gibbous moon leered through the flying wrack, checkering the sea with
a restless pattern of black and silver. In this ghastly setting the
_Assyrian_, showing no lights, a shape of flying darkness pursuing a course
secret to all save her navigators, strained ever onward, panting, groaning,
quivering from stem to stern ... like an enchanted thing doomed to
perpetual labours, striving vainly to break bonds invisible that transfixed
her to one spot forever-more, in the midst of that bleak purgatory of
shadow and moonshine and dread....
Sensitive to the eerie influence of the hour, Lanyard interrupted the tour
of the decks which he had steadily pursued for the better part of the
evening, and rested at the forward rail, looking down over the main deck,
its bleached planking dotted with dark shapes of fixed machinery. In the
bows the formless, uncouth bulk of the gun squatted in its tarpaulin. Its
crew tramped heavily to and fro, shivering in heavy jackets, hands in
pockets, shoulders hunched up to ears. Farther aft an iron door clanged
heavily behind a sailor emerging from an alleyway; he approached the ship's
bell, with practised hand sounded two double strokes, then turned and sang
out in the weird minor traditional in his calling:
"_Four bells--and a-a-all's well_!"
Even as the wind made free with the melancholy echoes of that assurance,
the spell upon the ship was exorcised.
Overhead, from the foremast crow's-nest, a voice screamed, hoarsely urgent:
"_Torpedo! 'Ware submarine to port_!"
Many things happened simultaneously, or in a span of seconds strangely
scant. The gunners sprang to station, whipping away the tarpaulin, while
their lieutenant focussed binoculars upon the confused distances of the
night. Obedient to his instructions, the long, gleaming tube of steel
pivoted smoothly to port.
From the bridge a signal rocket soared, hissing. The whistle loosed
stentorian squalls of indignation and distress--one long and four short.
Commands were shouted; the engine-room telegraph wrangled madly. The
momentum of the _Assyrian_ was checked startlingly; her bows sheered
smartly off to port.
A rumour of frightened voices and pounding feet came from the leeward
boat-deck, where the main body of the passengers was congregated, hidden
from Lanyard by the shoulder of the foreward deck-house. A number of men
ran forward, paused by the rail, stared, and scurried back, yelling in
alarm. At this the din swelled to uproar.
Scanning closely the surface of the sea, Lanyard himself descried a silvery
arrow of spray lancing the swells, making with deadly speed toward the port
bow of the _Assyrian_. But now both screws were churning full speed astern;
the vessel lost headway altogether. Then her engines stopped. For a
breathless instant she rested inert, like something paralyzed with fright,
bows-on to the torpedo, the telegraph ringing frantically. Then the
starboard screw began to turn full ahead, the port remaining idle. The
bows swung off still more sharply to port. The torpedo shot in under them,
vanished for a breathless moment, reappeared a boat's-length to starboard,
plunged harmlessly on its unhindered way down the side of the vessel, and
Amidships terrified passengers milled like sheep, hampering the work of the
boat-crews at the davits. Ship's officers raged among them, endeavouring
to restore order. Half a mile or so dead ahead a tiny tongue of flame spat
viciously in the murk. A projectile shrieked overhead, and dropped into the
sea astern. Another followed and fell short.
The U-boat was shelling the _Assyrian_.
The forward gun barked violent expostulation, if without visible effect;
the submarine lobbing two more shells at the steamship with an indifference
to its own peril astonishing in one of its craven breed, trained to strike
and run before counterstroke may be delivered. Its extraordinary temerity,
indeed, argued ignorance of the convoying destroyers.
Coincident with the second shot, however, these unleashed searchlights
slashed the dark through and through with their great, white, fanlike
blades, till first one then the other picked up and steadied relentlessly
upon a toy-boat shape that swam the swells about midway between the
_Assyrian_ and the destroyer off the port bows.
Simultaneously the quickfirers of the latter went into action, jetting
orange flame. In the searchlights' glare, spurts of white water danced all
round the submarine. A mutter of gunfire rolled over to the _Assyrian_,
abruptly silenced by an imperative deep voice of heavier metal--which spoke
With the lurid unreality of clap-trap theatrical illusion the U-boat
vomited a great, spreading sheet of flame....
Someone at the rail, near Lanyard's shoulder, uttered a hushed cry of
He paid no heed, his interest wholly focussed upon that distant patch of
shining water. As his dazzled vision cleared he saw that the submarine had
Unconsciously, in French, he commented: "So that is finished!"
Likewise in French, but in a woman's voice of uncommon quality, deep
and bell-sweet, came the protest from the passenger at his side: "But,
monsieur, what are we doing? We turn away from them--those poor things
That was quite true: under forced draught the _Assyrian_ was heading away
on a new course.
"They drown out there in that black water--and we leave them to that!"
Lanyard turned. "The destroyers will take care of them," he said--"if any
survived that explosion with strength enough to swim."
He spoke from the surface of his thoughts and with a calm that veiled
profound surprise. The woman by his side was neither the American widow nor
her English daughter, but wholly a stranger to the ship's company he knew.
The training of the Lone Wolf had been wasted if one swift glance had
failed to comprehend every essential detail: that tall, straight, slender
figure cloaked in the folds of a garment whose hood framed a face of
singular pallor and sweetness in the moonlight, its shadowed eyes wide with
emotion, its lips a little parted....
With a shiver she lifted her hands to her eyes as if to darken the visions
of her imagination.
"They die out there," she said, in murmurs barely audible.... "We turn our
backs on them.... You think that right?"
"We play the game by the rules the enemy himself laid down," Lanyard
returned. "They would have sunk us without one qualm of pity--would, in all
probability, have shelled our boats had any succeeded in getting off. They
have done as much before, and will again. It is out of reason to insist
that the captain risk his ship in the hope of picking up one or two
"Risk his ship? How? They are helpless--"
"As a rule, U-boats hunt in pairs; always, when specially charged to sink
one certain vessel. It was so with the _Lusitania_, with the _Arabic_ as
well; I don't doubt it was so in this instance--that we should have heard
from a second submarine had not the destroyers opened fire when they did."
The woman stared. "You think that--?"
"That the Boche had specific instructions to waylay and sink the
_Assyrian_? I begin to think that--yes."
This declaration affected the woman curiously; she shrank away a little, as
from a blow, her eyes winced, her pale lips quivered. When she spoke, it
was, strangely enough, in English so naturally enunciated that Lanyard
could not doubt that this was her mother tongue.
"Then you think it is because...."
Of a sudden she wilted, clinging to the rail and trembling wildly.
Lanyard shot a glance aft. The disorder among the passengers was measurably
less, though excitement still ran so high that he felt sure they were as
yet unnoticed. On impulse he stepped nearer.
"Pardon, mademoiselle," he said quietly; "you are excusably unstrung.
But all danger is past; and there is still time to regain your stateroom
unobserved. If you will permit me to escort you...."
He watched her narrowly, but she showed no surprise at this suggestion of
intimacy with her affairs. After a brief moment she pulled herself together
and dropped a hand upon the arm he offered. In another minute he was
helping her over the raised watersill of the door.
Like all the ship the landing and main companionway were dark; but below,
on the promenade deck, the second doorway aft on the starboard side stood
ajar, affording a glimpse of a dimly lighted stateroom.
With neither hesitation nor surprise--for he was already satisfied in this
matter--Lanyard conducted the woman to this door and stopped.
Her hand fell from his arm. She faltered on the threshold of Stateroom 27,
eyeing him dubiously.
"Thank you, monsieur...?"
There was just enough accent of enquiry to warrant his giving her the name:
"Monsieur Duchemin.... Please to tell me how you knew this was my
"I occupy Stateroom 29. There was no one in 27 till after the tender came
out last night. Furthermore, your face was strange, and I have come to know
all others on board during our week's delay in port."
The light was at her back; he could distinguish little of her shadowed
features, but fancied her a bit discountenanced.
In a subdued voice she said, "Thank you," once more, a hand resting
significantly on the door-knob. But still he lingered.
"If mademoiselle would be so good as to tell me something in return--?"
"If I can...."
"Then why, mademoiselle, did you try my door last night?"
"It was neither locked nor bolted on my side. I wished to make sure--"
"So one fancied. Thank you. Good-night, mademoiselle...?"
She was impervious to his hint. "Good-night, Monsieur Duchemin," she said,
and closed the door.
Now Lanyard's quarters opened not on this alleyway fore-and-aft but on a
short and narrow athwartship passage. And as he turned away he saw out of
the corner of an eye a white-jacketed figure emerge from this passageway
and move hurriedly aft. Something furtive in the round of the fellow's
shoulders challenged his curiosity. He called quietly:
There was no answer. By now the white jacket was no more than a blur moving
in that deep gloom. He cried again, more loudly:
"I say, steward!"
He could hardly see, but fancied that the man quickened his steps: in
another instant he vanished altogether.
Smothering an impulse to give chase, the adventurer swung alertly into the
narrow passage and opened the door to Stateroom 29. The room was dark, but
as he fumbled for the switch, the door in the forward partition was thrust
open and the girl's slight figure showed, tensely poised against the light
"Monsieur Duchemin!" she cried, in a voice sharp with doubt.
Lanyard turned the switch. "Mademoiselle," he said, and coolly crossed to
the port, drawing the light-proof curtains.
"This door was locked all day--locked when the firing alarmed me and I went
out to the deck."
"And on my side, mademoiselle, it was locked and bolted when last I was
here, shortly before dinner." "Whoever unfastened it entered my room during
my absence and tampered with my luggage."
"You have missed something?"
Gaze intent to his she nodded. He shrugged and cast shrewdly round his
quarters for some clue to the enigma. His glance fastened on a leather
bellows-bag beneath the berth. Dropping to his knees he pulled this out,
and looked up with a quizzical grimace, his forefinger indicating the lock,
which was uncaught.
"I left this latched but not locked," he said. "Perhaps I, too, have lost
Opening the bag out flat, he sat back on his heels, with practised eye
inspecting its neat arrangement of intimate things.
"Nothing has been taken, mademoiselle," he announced gravely. "But
something--I think--has been generously added. I seem to have an anonymous
admirer on board."
Bending forward, he rummaged beneath a sheaf of shirts and brought forth
a small jewel-box of grained leather, with a monogram stamped on the
"The lock is broken," he observed, and handed it up to the woman. "As to
its contents, mademoiselle herself knows best...."
The woman opened the box.
"Nothing is missing," she said in a thoughtful voice.
"I am relieved." Lanyard closed the bag, thrust it back beneath the berth,
and got upon his feet. "But you are quite sure--?"
"My jewels are all in order," she affirmed, without meeting his gaze.
"And you miss nothing else?"
Was there an accent of hesitation in this response?
"Then, I take it, the thief was disappointed."
Now she glanced quickly at his eyes. "Why do you say that?"
"If the thief had found what he sought, he would never have presented it
to me, mademoiselle would never again have seen her jewels. Failing in
his object, after breaking that lock, and interrupted by your unexpected
return, he planted the case with me, hoping to have me suspected. I am
fortunately able to prove the best of alibis.... So then," said Lanyard,
smiling, "it would appear that, though we met ten minutes ago for the first
time--and I have yet to know mademoiselle by name--we are allies in a
"My name is Brooke--Cecelia Brooke," she said quietly--"if it matters. But
"It appears we own a common enemy. Each of us possesses something which
that one desires--you a secret, I a good name. (Duchemin, indeed, I have
always held to be an excellent name.) I shall not hesitate to call on you
if my treasure is again violated. May I venture to hope mademoiselle will
prove as ready to command my services?"
"Thank you. I fancy, however, there will be no need."
She moved irresolutely toward the communicating door, paused in its frame,
eyeing him speculatively from under level brows. He detected, or imagined,
a tremor of impulse toward him, as though she faltered on the verge of some
grave confidence. If so, she curbed her tongue in time. Her gaze dropped,
fixed itself abstractedly on the door.... "This must be fastened," she
said, in a tone of complete disinterest.
"I will speak to the chief steward immediately."
"Don't trouble." She roused. "It doesn't matter, really, for to-night. I
shall leave what valuables I have in the purser's care and stop on deck
He gave a gesture of bewilderment. "You abandon your seclusion--leave your
"Why not?" She shrugged slightly with a little _moue_ of discontent. "If,
as you assume, I had a secret, it was that for certain reasons I did not
wish my presence on board to become known. But it seems it has become
known: my secret is no more. So I need no longer risk being cut off from
the boats in the event of any accident."
Momentarily her gravity was dissipated by a smile at once delightful and
"Once more, monsieur--good-night!"
After some moments Lanyard, with a start, found himself staring blankly at
a blankly incommunicative communicating door.
IN DEEP WATERS
Following this abrupt introduction to his interesting neighbour, Lanyard
went back to his deck-chair and, bundling himself up against the cold,
settled down to ponder the affair and await developments in a spirit of
chastened resignation. That a dénouement would duly unfold he was quite
satisfied; that he himself must willy-nilly play some part therein he was
too well persuaded.
Not that he wished to meddle. If this Miss Cecelia Brooke (as she named
herself) fostered any sort of intrigue, he wanted nothing so fervently
as to be left altogether out of it. But already he had been dragged in,
without wish or consent of his; whoever coveted her secret--whatever that
was, more precious to her than jewels--harboured designs upon his own as
well. It was his duty henceforth to go warily, overlooking no circumstance,
however trifling and inconsiderable it might appear. The slenderest thread
may lead to the heart of the most intricate maze--and the heart of this was
become Lanyard's immediate goal, for there his enemy lay perdu.
It was never this man's fault to underrate an enemy, least of all
an unknown; and he entertained wholesome respect for Secret Service
operators--picked men, as a rule, the meanest no mean antagonist. And this
business, he fancied, had all the flavour of Secret Service work--one
of those blind duels, desperate and grim affairs of masked combatants
feinting, thrusting, guarding in the dark, each with the other's sword ever
feeling for his throat, fighting for life itself and making his own rules
as the contest swayed.
But what was this Brooke girl doing in that galley? What conceivable motive
induced her to dabble those slender hands in the muck and blood of Secret
Lanyard was fain to let that question rest. After all, it was no concern of
his. There she was, up to her pretty eyebrows in some dark, bad business;
and it was not for him to play the gratuitous ass, rush in unasked, and
seek to extricate her....
Through endless hours he sat brooding, vision blindly focussed upon the
misty, shimmering mystery of that night.
Ekstrom!... Slowly in his understanding intuition shaped the conviction
that it was Ekstrom whom he was fighting now, Ekstrom in the guise of one
of his creatures, some agent of the Prussian spy system who had contrived
to smuggle himself aboard this British steamship.
Out of those nine in the smoking room the previous night, then, he must
beware of one primarily, perhaps of more.
Four he was disposed, with reservations, to reckon negligible: Baron von
Harden, head of a Netherlands banking house, a silent body whose acute
mental processes went on behind a pallid screen of flabby features; Julius
Becker, a theatrical manager of New York, whose right name ended in ski;
Bartlett Putnam, late chargé d'affaires of the American embassy in Madrid;
Edmund O'Reilly, naturalized citizen of the United States, interested in
the manufacture of motor tractors somewhere in Michigan.
Of the other five, two were English: Lieutenant Thackeray, a civilly
reticent gentleman whose right arm rested in a black silk sling, making
a flying trip to visit a married sister in New York; Archer Bartholomew,
Esq., solicitor, a red-cheeked, bright-eyed, white-haired, brisk little
Cockney, beyond the military age.
There remained Dressier, the stout, self-satisfied Swiss, whose fawning
manner was possibly accounted for by his statement that he journeyed to
New York to engage in the trade of restaurateur in partnership with his
brother; Crane, long and awkward and homely, of saturnine cast, slow of
gesture and negligent as to dress, his humorous sense clouding a power
of shrewd intelligence; and Señor Arturo Velasco, of Buenos Aires,
middle-aged, apparently extremely well-to-do, a thoughtful type, more
self-contained than most of his countrymen.
One of these probably ... But which?...
Nor must he permit himself to forget that the _Assyrian_ carried fifty-nine
other male passengers, in addition to her complement of officers, crew, and
stewards, that any one of these might prove to be Potsdam's cat's-paw.
Awesome pallor tinged the eastern horizon, gaining strength, spread in
imperceptible yet rapid gradations toward the zenith. Stars faded, winked
out, vanished. Silver and purple in the sea gave place to livid gray.
Almost visibly the routed night rolled back over the western rim of the
world. Shafts of supernal radiance lanced the formless void between sky
and sea. Swollen and angry, the sun lifted up its enormous, ensanguined
portent. And the discountenanced moon withdrew hastily into the
immeasurable fastnessness of a cloudless firmament, yet failed therein to
find complete concealment. Keen, sweet airs of dawn raked the decks, now
to port, now to starboard, as the _Assyrian_ twisted and writhed on her
Passengers whose fears had become sufficiently numb to permit them to
drowse, stirred in their chairs, roused blinking and blear-eyed, arose
and stretched cramped, cold bodies. Others lay listless, enervated by the
sleepless misery of that night. Crane found Lanyard awake and marched him
off for coffee and cigarettes in the smoking room.
Later, starting out for a turn around the decks, they passed a deck-chair
sheltered in a jog where the engine-room ventilating shaft joined the
forward deck-house, in which Miss Brooke lay cocooned in wraps and furs,
her profile, turned aside from the sea, exquisitely etched against the rich
blackness of a fox stole. She slept as quietly as the most carefree, a
shadowy smile touching her lips.
Crane's stride faltered. He whistled low.
"In the name of all things wonderful! how did that get on board?"
Lanyard mentioned the girl's name. "She has the stateroom next to
mine--came off that tender, night before last."
"And me sore on that darn' li'l boat because it brought aboard all the
nosey Johnnies! Ain't it the truth, you never know your luck?"
The American ruminated in silence till another lap of their walk took them
past the girl again.
"Funny," he mused, "if that's why they held us up...."
"Oh, I was just wondering if it was on that young lady's account they kept
us kicking our heels back there so long."
"I am still stupid," Lanyard confessed.
"Why, she might be a special messenger, you know--something like that--the
British Government wanted to smuggle out of the country without anybody
"Monsieur is a romantic."
"You can't trust me," Crane averred unblushingly.
When they passed the chair again it was empty.
At breakfast Lanyard saw the girl from a distance: their places were
separated by the width of the saloon. She had no neighbours at her table,
did not look up when Lanyard entered, finished her meal some time before
he did, and retired immediately to her stateroom, in whose seclusion she
remained for the rest of the day.
That second day was altogether innocent of untoward incident. At least
superficially the life of the ship settled into the groove of "business
as usual." Only the company of the _Assyrian's_ faithful convoys was an
ever-present reminder of peril.
And in the middle of the afternoon she passed close by a derelict, a
torpedoed tramp, deep down by the stern, her bows helplessly high in air
and crimson with rust, the melancholy haunt of a great multitude of gulls.
More than slightly to Lanyard's surprise he received no quiet invitation
to the captain's quarters to be interrogated concerning the burglary in
Stateroom 27. Apparently, the young woman had contented herself with
reporting merely that the communicating door had carelessly been left
For his own part, neither seeking nor avoiding individual members of the
smoking-room group, Lanyard permitted himself to be drawn into their
company, and sat among them amiably receptive. But this profited him
scantily; there was no further talk of the Lone Wolf; he was not again
aware of that covert surveillance.
But when--the evening chill driving him below to don a fur-lined
topcoat--the Brooke girl, coming up the companionway, acknowledged his look
of recognition with the most distant of nods, he accepted the apparent
rebuff without resentment. He understood. She was playing the game. The
enemy was watching, listening. After that he was studious to refrain from
seeming either to avoid or to seek her neighbourhood; and if he did keep a
sharp eye on her, it was so circumspectly as to mock detection. To the
best of his observation she found no friends on board, contracted no new
acquaintances, kept herself to herself within walls of inexorable reserve.
Dawn, ending the second night at sea, found the _Assyrian_ pursuing a
course still devious, and now alone; the destroyers had turned back during
the night. The western boundary of the barred zone lay astern. Ahead, at
the end of a brief interval of time, the ivory towers of New York loomed,
a-shimmer with endless sunlight, glorious in golden promise. Accordingly,
the spirits of the passengers were exalted. The very ship seemed to grin in
self-complacence; she had won safely through.
Unremitting vigilance was none the less maintained. No hour of the
twenty-four found either gun, forward or aft, wanting a full working crew
on the keen qui vive. The life boats remained on outswung davits; boat
drills for passengers as well as crew were features of the daily programme.
Regulations concerning light and smoking on deck after dark were rigidly
enforced. Fuel was never spared in the effort to widen the blue gulf
between the steamship and those waters wherein she had so nearly met her
end. By day a hunted thing, racing frantically toward a port of refuge in
the West, all her stout fabric labouring with titanic pulsations, shying in
panic from the faintest suspicion of smoke upon the horizon, the _Assyrian_
slipped into the grateful obscurity of night like a snake into a thicket,
made herself akin to its densest shadows, strained hopelessly not to be
outdistanced by its fugitive mantle.
And the benison of unseasonably clement weather was hers; day after shining
day, night after placid night, the Atlantic revealed a singularly gracious
humour, mirrored the changeful panorama of the heavens in a surface little
flawed. So that the most squeamish voyagers, as well as those most beset
with fears, slept sweetly in the comfort of their berths.
Lanyard, however, never went to bed without first securing his door so that
it might be opened by force alone; and never slept without a pistol beneath
But the truth is, he slept little. For the first time in his history he
learned what it meant to will sleep to come and have his will defied. He
lay for hours staring wide-eyed into darkness, hearkening to the steady
throbbing of the engines, unable to dismiss the thought that their every
revolution brought him so much nearer to America, so much the nearer to
his hour with Ekstrom. In vain he sought to fatigue his senses by
over-indulgence in his weakness for gambling. Day-long sessions at poker
and auction in the smoking room--where he found formidable antagonists,
principally in the persons of Crane, Bartlett Putnam, Velasco, Bartholomew,
Julius Becker and Baron von Harden--served only to forward his financial
fortunes; his luck was phenomenal; he multiplied many times that slender
store of English banknotes with which he had embarked upon this adventure.
But he left each exhausting sitting only to toss upon a wakeful pillow or
to roam uneasily the dark and desolate decks, a man haunted by ghosts of
his own raising, hagridden by passions of his own nurturing....
About two o'clock on the third night (the first outside the danger zone,
when every other passenger might reasonably be expected to be in his berth)
Lanyard lay in a deck-chair deep in shadows, wondering if it was worthwhile
to go below and woo sleep in his stateroom. By way of experiment he shut
his eyes. When after a moment he opened them again he was no longer alone.
Some distance away, at the rail, the woman of Stateroom 27 was standing
with her back to Lanyard, looking intently forward, unquestionably ignorant
of his presence.
Without moving, he watched in listless incuriosity till he saw her
straighten and stand away from the rail as if bracing herself against some
A man was coming aft from the entrance to the main companionway, impatience
in his stride--a tall man, of good carriage, muffled almost to the heels in
a heavy ulster, a steamer-cap well forward over his eyes. But the light was
poor, the pale shine of the aged moon blending trickily with the swaying
shadows; Lanyard was unable to place him among the passengers. There was
a suggestion of Lieutenant Thackeray--but that one was handicapped by one
shell-shattered arm, whereas this man had the use of both.
He demonstrated that promptly, taking the girl into them. She yielded
herself gladly, with a hushed little cry, hiding her face in the bosom of
his ulster, clinging to him.
This, then, was an assignation prearranged! Miss Cecelia Brooke had a lover
aboard the _Assyrian_, a lover whom she denied by day but met in stealth by
And yet, after that first, swift embrace, their conduct became oddly
unloverlike. The man released her of his own initiative, held her by the
shoulders at arm's length. There was irritation in his manner. He seemed
tempted to shake the young woman.
"Celia! what madness!"
So much, at least, Lanyard overheard; the rest was a mumble into the hand
which the girl placed over the man's lips. She cried breathlessly: "Hush!
not so loud!"
And then she remembered to guard her own voice. In an undertone she spoke
passionately for a moment. The man interrupted in a tone of profound
vexation. She drew away, as if hurt, caught him up as he hesitated for a
word, returned, clung to the lapels of his coat, her accents rapid and
pitiful, eloquent of explanation, entreaty, determination. The man lifted
his hands to her wrists, broke her grasp, cut her brusquely short, put her
forcibly from him. She sobbed softly....
Thus swiftly the scene suffered disillusioning transition. The pretty
fiction of lovers meeting in secret was no more. Remained a man annoyed to
the verge of anger, a woman desperately importunate.
The wind, sweeping aft, carried broken snatches of their communications:
"... _all I have ... could not let you go_...."
"_I was desperate_...."
"... _drive me mad with your nonsense_...."
Lanyard sat up, scraping his chair harshly on the deck. Stricken mute,
the pair at the rail moved only to turn his way the pallid ovals of their
Heedless of the prohibition, he struck a vesta, cupped its flame in his
hands, bending his face close and deliberately lighting a cigarette.
Appreciably longer than necessary he permitted the flare to reveal his
features. Then he blew it out, rose, sauntered to the rail, cast the
cigarette into the sea, went aft and so below, satisfied that the girl must
have recognised him and so knew that her secret was safe.
But it was in an oddly disgruntled humour that he turned in--he who had
been so ready to twit Crane with his fantastic speculations concerning
the English girl, who had himself been the readiest to endue her with the
romantic attributes becoming a heroine of her country's Secret Service!
What if he must now esteem her in the merciless light of to-night's
exposure, as the most pitiable of all human spectacles, a poor lovesick
thing sans dignity, sans pride, sans heed for the world's respect, a woman
pursuing a man weary of her?
He resented unreasonably the unreasonable resentment which the affair
inspired in him.
What was it to him? He who had struck off all fettering bonds of common
human interests, who had renounced all common human emotions, who had set
his hand against all mankind that stood between him and that vengeful
purpose to which he had dedicated his life! He, the Lone Wolf, the
heartless, soulless, pitiless beast of prey!
God in Heaven! what was any woman to him?
ON THE BANKS
Unaccountably enough in his esteem, and more and more to Lanyard's
exasperation, the evil flavour of that overnight incident lasted; it
tinctured distastefully his first waking thoughts; and through all that
fourth day at sea his mood was dark with irrational depression.
And the fifth day and the sixth were like unto the fourth.
Constantly he caught himself on watch for the young woman, wondering how
she would comport herself toward him, unwilling witness though he had been
to that shabby scene.
But, save distantly at meal times, he saw nothing of her.
And though he knew that she was much on deck after midnight, he was
studious to keep out of her way. The tedium of stopping in a stuffy
stateroom, when the spell of restlessness was on him, waiting for the
sounds of his neighbour's return before he might venture forth, was
nothing; anything were preferable to figuring as the innocent bystander at
another encounter between the Brooke girl and her reluctant lover....
Then that happened which lent the business another complexion altogether.
Its second phase, of close development, drew toward an end. Subtle
underlying forces began to stir in their portentous latency.
The rapiers which thus far had merely touched, shivering lightly against
each other, measuring each its opponent's strength, feeling out his skill,
fell apart, then re-engaged in sharp and deadly play. Steel met steel and,
clashing, struck off sparks whose fugitive glimmerings lightened measurably
On the sixth night out, at eleven o'clock as a matter of routine, the
smoking room was closed for the night, terminating an uncommonly protracted
and, in Lanyard's esteem, irksome sitting at cards. Well tired, he went
immediately to his quarters, undressed, stretched out in his berth, and
switched off the light.
Incontinently he found himself bedevilled by thoughts that would not rest.
For upward of an hour he lay moveless, seeking oblivion in that very effort
to preserve immobility, while the _Assyrian_, lunging heavily on her way,
moaned and muttered tedious accompaniment to the chant of the working
Despairing at length, and fretted by the closeness of his quarters, he got
up, dressed sketchily, and was shrugging into his fur-lined coat when he
heard the door to the adjoining stateroom open and close, stealth in the
sound of it.
At that he hung up his overcoat, and threw himself down with a book on the
lounge seat beneath the port. The novel was dull enough in all conscience;
for that matter no tale within the compass of the cunningest weaver of
words could have enthralled his temper at that time.
He read and read again page after page, but without intelligence.
Between his eyes and the type-blackened paper mirages of the past trembled
and wavered; old faces, old scenes, old illusions took unsubstantial form,
dissolved, blended, faded away: a saddening show of shadows.
His heavy eyelids drooped; slumber's drowsy vestments trailed lazily
athwart the sea of consciousness....
A slight noise startled him, either the shutting of the door to Stateroom
27, or the sound of the book dropping from his relaxed grasp. He sat up and
consulted his watch. The hour was half after twelve.
The ship's bell sounded remotely a single, doleful stroke.
He might have dozed five minutes or fifteen--long enough at least to leave
its tantalising effect of sleep desperately desirable, mockingly elusive,
almost grasped, whisked beyond grasping. And with this he was aware of
something even less tangible, a sense of something amiss, of something
vaguely wrong, as of an evil spirit stalking furtively through the darkened
labyrinth of the ship ... as impalpable and ineluctable as miasmic
exhalations of a morass....
Lanyard passed a hand across his forehead. Had he been dreaming, then? Was
this merely the reaction from some bitter nightmare? He could not remember.
On sheer impulse he stood up, extinguished the light, opened the door. As
he did this he noted that a light burned in Stateroom 27, visible through
the ventilating grille. So the girl must have returned while he slept. Or
had she neglected to turn the switch when she went out? He could not be
On the threshold he paused a little, attentive to the familiar rumour of
the ship by night: the prolonged sloughing of riven waters down the side,
gnashing of swells hurled back by the bows, sibilance of draughts in
alleyways, groaning of frames, a thin metallic rattle of indeterminate
origin, the crunching grind of the steering gear, the everlasting
deep-throated diapason of the engines, somewhere aft in that tier of
staterooms a persistent human snore ... nothing unusual, no alarming
Yet the feeling that mischief was afoot would not be still.
Lanyard moved down to the junction of the thwartship passage with the
Here he commanded a view of the promenade-deck landing and the main
companionway, all in darkness but for a feeble glimmer of reflected
starlight through the open deck port on the far side of the vessel. Beyond
this the rail was stencilled against the dull face of the sea with its far
lifting and falling horizon; within, no more was visible than the dimmed
whiteness of the forward partition, the dense, indefinite mass of balusters
winding up to the boat-deck, and the flat plane of the tiled landing.
On this last, near the mouth of the port alleyway, half obscured by the
intervening balusters, something moved, something huge, black, and formless
swayed and writhed strangely, and in the strangest silence, like a dumb,
tormented misshapen brute transfixed to one spot from which its most
anguished efforts might not avail to budge it.
Lanyard ran forward, rounded the well of the companionway, and pulled up.
Now the nature of the thing was revealed. Blackly silhouetted against the
square of the doorway two human figures were close-locked and struggling
desperately, straining, resisting, thrusting, giving, recovering ... and
all with never a sound more than the deadened thump of a shifting foot or
the rasp of hard-won breathing.
For several seconds the spectator could not distinguish one contestant from
the other. Then a change in the fortunes of war enabled him to make out
that one was a woman, the other, and momentarily more successful, a man.
Slender and youthful and strong, she fought with the indomitable fury of
a pantheress. He on his part had won this much temporary advantage--had
broken the woman's clutch upon his throat and was bending her back over
his hip, one hand fumbling at her windpipe, the other imprisoning her two
Yet she was far from being vanquished. Even as Lanyard moved toward the
pair, she drove a savage knee into the man's middle and, as he checked
instantaneously with a grunt of pained surprise, regained her footing and
planted both elbows against his chest, striving frantically to free her
Simultaneously Lanyard took the fellow from behind, wound an arm around his
neck, jerked his head sharply back, twisted his forearm till he released
the woman's wrists, and threw him with a force that must have jarred his
The woman staggered back against the partition, panting and sobbing beneath
her breath. The man rebounded from his fall with astonishing agility, and
flew back at Lanyard. An object in his right hand gave off the dull gleam
of polished steel.
Lanyard, his automatic in his stateroom, in the pocket of the overcoat
where he had deposited it when meaning to go out on deck, lacked any means
of defense other than his two hands; but his one-time fame as an amateur
pugilist had been second only to his fame as a connaisseur d'art; and to
one whose youth had been passed in association with the Apaches of Paris,
some mastery of la savate was an inevitable accomplishment.
A lightning coup de pied planted a heel against one of the man's shins,
and his onslaught faltered in a gust of curses. Then the point of his jaw
received the full force of Lanyard's right fist with all the ill will
imaginable behind it. The man reared back, reeled into the black mouth of
the alleyway, fell heavily.
Even so, he demonstrated extraordinary vitality and appetite for
punishment. He had no more gone down than the adventurer, peering into the
gloom, saw him struggle up on his knees. Instantly Lanyard made toward
him, intent on finishing this work so well begun, but in his second stride
tripped over a heavy body hidden in the shadows, and pitched headlong.
Falling, he was conscious of a flashing thing that sped past his cheek,
immediately above his shoulder. There followed an echoing thud against the
Picking himself up smartly, Lanyard crept several paces down the alleyway,
flattening against the wall, straining his vision, listening intently,
rewarded by neither sign nor sound of his antagonist.
That one must have been swift to advantage himself of Lanyard's tumble.
If he had not vanished into thin air, or gone to earth in some untenanted
stateroom thereabouts, he found in the close blackness of that narrow
passage a cloak of positive invisibility to cover his escape.
And there is little wisdom in stalking an armed man whom one cannot see,
with what little light there is at one's own back.
So Lanyard went back to the landing, stepping carefully over the obstacle
which had both thrown him and saved his life--the supine body of a third
man, motionless; whether dead or merely insensible, he did not stop to
investigate. His immediate concern was for the woman.
As he came upon her now, she stood en profile to the partition, tugging
strongly at something embedded in the woodwork close by her side, between
her waist and armpit. At the sound of his approach she looked up with a
Back to Full Books