The False Faces
Vance, Louis Joseph
Part 2 out of 6
tremor of apprehension quickly calmed.
"Monsieur Duchemin! If you please--"
Lanyard, in no way surprised to recognise the voice of Miss Cecelia Brooke,
stepped closer. "What is it?" he enquired; and then, bending over to look,
found that her cloak was pinned to the partition by the blade of a heavy
knife buried a full half of its considerable length.
"He threw it as you fell," the girl explained. "I was in the direct line."
"Permit me, mademoiselle...."
He laid hold of the haft of the weapon and with some difficulty withdrew
"Who was it?" he asked, weighing the knife in his palm and examining it as
closely as he could without the aid of light.
There was no reply. Directly her cloak was freed, the girl had moved
hastily away to the body over which Lanyard had stumbled. He heard an
imploring whisper--"Please!"--and looked up to see her on her knees.
"Who, then, is this?" he demanded, joining her.
"Lionel--Lieutenant Thackeray. Please--O please!--tell me he is not dead."
Her voice broke; he saw her slender body convulsed with racking emotions.
Kneeling, Lanyard made a hasty and superficial examination, necessarily no
more under the conditions.
"His heart beats," he announced--"he breathes. I do not think him seriously
injured." He made as if to get up. "I will get a light--a flash-lamp from
my stateroom--or, better still, the ship's surgeon--"
Her hand fell upon his arm. "Please, no! Not that--not now. Later, if
necessary; but now--surely, you can help me carry him to his stateroom."
"You know the number?"
"It's close by--30."
"Find it, and light up. No--leave this to me; I can carry him without
The girl rose and disappeared. Lanyard passed his arms beneath the
Englishman's body, gathered him into them, and struggled to his feet: no
Light gushed from an open doorway, the third aft from the landing.
Staggering, the adventurer entered and deposited the body upon the berth.
Immediately the girl closed and bolted the door, then passed between him
and the berth to bend over the unconscious man. He lay in deep coma, limbs
a-sprawl, unpleasant glints of white between his half-closed eyelids, his
breathing stertorous through parted lips. Free of its sling, his wounded
arm dangled over the edge of the berth. In putting him down, Lanyard had
remarked that its sleeve had been slit to the shoulder, and that its
bandages were undone. Now, in amazement, he saw the arm was firm and
muscular, with an unbroken skin, never a sign of any injury in all its
Gently the girl lifted the lieutenant's head to the light, discovering a
hideously bruised swelling at the base of the skull, blood darkly matting
the close-clipped hair.
She requested without looking round: "Water, please--and a towel."
Obediently Lanyard ran hot and cold water into the hand-basin in equal
"Would it not be well now to call the ship's surgeon?" he suggested
"Is that necessary? I am something of a nurse. This is simply a bad
contusion--no worse, I believe. He was struck down from behind, a cowardly
blow in the dark, as he started to go up on deck. I had been waiting for
him. When he didn't come I suspected something was wrong. I came down,
found him lying there, that brute kneeling over him."
She spoke coolly enough, in contrast with the high excitement that inflamed
her eyes as she turned away from the berth.
"Monsieur Duchemin, are you armed?"
"I have this," he said, exhibiting the knife thrown by the would-be
murderer--a simple trench dagger, without distinguishing marks of any sort.
"Then take this, please." Extracting an automatic pistol from a holster
belted beneath Thackeray's coat, she proffered it. "You won't mind staying
here a moment, standing guard, while I fetch a dressing from my room?"
Before he could utter a word of protest she had slipped out into the
alleyway, shutting the door behind her.
When several minutes had passed the adventurer found himself beset by
increasing concern. This long delay seemed not only inconsistent with her
solicitude, but indicated a possibility that the girl had braved unwisely
the chance of a resumption of hostilities on the part of her late and as
yet anonymous assailant.
Darkening the room as a matter of common-sense precaution, Lanyard, pistol
in hand, stepped out into the alleyway in time to see the girl in the act
of rising from her knees on the landing, near the spot where Thackeray had
fallen. The light of her flash-lamp was blotted out as she came hurriedly
Perplexed, he turned back and switched on the light as she entered.
Her eyes challenged his almost defiantly.
"Was I long?" she asked, breathless. "I dropped something...."
Lanyard bowed without speaking. Instinctively he knew that she was lying;
and divining this in his attitude, she coloured and, disconcerted, turned
away. For a moment, while she busied herself arranging on a convenient
chair an assortment of first-aid accessories, he fancied that her
half-averted face wore a look of sullen chagrin, with its compressed lips,
downcast eyes, and faintly gathered brows.
But directly she needed assistance, and requested it of him in a subdued
and impersonal manner, showing a countenance devoid of any incongruous
Lanyard, lifting the lieutenant's head and heavy torso, helped turn him
face downward on the berth, then stood aside, thoughtfully watching the
girl's deft fingers sop absorbent cotton in an antiseptic wash and apply it
to the injury.
After a little, he said: "If mademoiselle has no more immediate use for
"Thank you, monsieur. You have already done so very much!"
"Then, if mademoiselle will supply the name of this assassin--"
"I know it no more than you, monsieur!" She glanced up at him, startled.
"What do you mean to do?"
"Why, naturally, lodge an information with the captain concerning this
"Oh, please, no!"
At a loss, Lanyard shrugged eloquently.
"Not yet, at all events," she hastened to amend. "Let Lionel judge what is
best to be done when he comes to."
"But, mademoiselle, who can say when that will be?" He pointed out the
ugly, ragged abrasion in the young Englishman's scalp exposed by the
cleansing away of the clotted blood. "No ordinary blow," he commented;
"something very like a slung-shot or a loaded cane did that work. If I may
venture again to advise--unless mademoiselle is herself a surgeon--"
Her colour faded and she caught her breath sharply. "You think it as
serious as all that?"
"I do not know. Such a blow might easily fracture the skull, possibly bring
about a concussion of the brain. Regard, likewise, his laborious breathing.
I most assuredly advise consulting competent authority."
She did not immediately answer, turning back undivided attention to her
task; but he noticed that her hands were tremulous, however, dextrously
they finished dressing and bandaging the hurt; and deep distress troubled
the handsome eyes she turned to his when she rose.
"You are right," she murmured--"unquestionably right, monsieur. We must
have the surgeon in...."
But when Lanyard advanced a hand toward the bell-push, to call the steward,
she interposed in quick alarm:
"No--if you please, a moment; I must have time to think!" Her slender
fingers writhed together in her agony of doubt and irresolution. "If only I
knew what to do...."
Lanyard was dumb. There was, indeed, nothing helpful he could offer, who
was without a solitary tangible or trustworthy clue to the nature of this
He owned himself sadly mystified. In the light--or, rather, the shadow--of
this latest development, his revised suspicions seemed unwarranted to the
point of impertinence; unless, of course, one assumed the unknown assailant
to be a rejected lover or wronged husband. And somehow one did not, in
the presence of this clear-eyed, straight-limbed, courageous young
Englishwoman, so wanting in self-consciousness.
And yet ... what the deuce was she to this man whom, indisputably, she
followed against his wish?
And what conceivable chain of circumstances linked their fortunes with his,
and that double burglary of the first night out with this murderous assault
Nor was to-night's work, considered by itself, lacking in questionable
Why had Thackeray carried that sound arm in a sling? How had its bandages
come to be unwrapped? Not in struggles before being placed hors de combat,
for he had never had a chance to resist. Had his assailant, then, unwrapped
it subsequently? If so, with what end in view?
Why had this Miss Cecelia Brooke, surprising the thug at his work, joined
battle with him so bravely and so madly without calling for help?
What hidden motive excused this singular hesitation to summon the surgeon,
this reluctance to inform the officers of the ship?
What duplicity was that which the girl had paraded concerning her
procrastination when Lanyard had surprised her on her knees out there on
If this were what Lanyard had first inclined to think it, Secret Service
intrigue, surely it was weirdly intricate when an English girl hesitated
to safeguard an Englishman by taking into her confidence the officers of a
British ship, British manned!
Nevertheless, and however much he might wonder and doubt, Lanyard would
never question her. Never of his own volition would he probe more deeply
into this mystery, take one farther step into the intricacies of its maze.
So, in silence, he waited, passively courteous, at her further service if
she had need of him, content if she had not, tolerant of her tacit prayer
for time in which to think a way out of her difficulties.
After some few moments he grew uncomfortably aware that he had become the
object of a speculative regard not at all unfavourable.
He indulged in a mental gesture of resignation.
Then what he had feared befell, not altogether as he had apprehended, but
in the girl's own fashion, if without material difference in the upshot.
"I am afraid," said she in an even voice, so quietly pitched as to be
inaudible to any eavesdropper. "This becomes a task greater than I had
dreamed, more than my wits can cope with. Monsieur Duchemin...."
She hesitated. He bowed slightly. "If mademoiselle can make any use of my
poor abilities, she has but to command me."
"We--I have much to thank you for already, monsieur, much more than I can
ever hope to reward adequately--"
"Reward?" he echoed. "But, mademoiselle--!"
"Please don't misunderstand." She flushed a little, very prettily. "I am
simply trying to express my sense of obligation, not only for what you have
already done, but for what I mean to ask you to do."
Again he bowed, without comment, amiably receptive.
She resumed with perceptible effort: "I can trust you--"
"You must make sure of that before you do," he warned her, smiling.
"I am sure," she averred gravely.
"You know nothing concerning me, mademoiselle--pardon! For all you know
I may be the greatest rogue in Christendom. And I must tell you in all
candour, sometimes I think I am."
"What I may or may not know concerning you, Monsieur Duchemin, is
immaterial as long as I know you are what you have proved yourself to me, a
gentleman, considerate, generous, brave, and--not inquisitive."
He was frankly touched. If this were flattery, tone and manner robbed it of
fulsomeness, rendered it subtle beyond the coarser perceptions of the man.
He knew himself for what he was, knew himself unworthy; and that part
of him which was unaffectedly French, whether by accident of birth or
influence of environment, and so impulsive and emotional, reacted in
spontaneous gratitude to this implicit acceptance of him for what he strove
to seem to be.
"Mademoiselle is gracious beyond my deserts," he protested. "Only let me
know how I may be of use...."
"In three ways: Continue to be lenient in your judgments, and ask me no
more questions than you must because ... I may not answer...." Her hands
worked together again. She added unhappily, in a faint voice: "I dare not."
That, too, moved him, since he had been far from lenient in his judgments.
He responded the more readily: "All that is understood, mademoiselle."
"Please go at once back to your stateroom, and as quietly as possible.
There is a bare chance you were not recognised, that nobody knows who came
to my aid to-night. If you can slip away without attracting attention, so
much the better for us, for all of us. You may not be suspected."
"Trust me to use my best discretion."
"Lastly ... take and keep this for me, till I ask you for it again. Hide it
as secretly as you can. It may be sought for, is certain to be if you are
believed to be in my confidence. It must not be found. And I may not want
it again before we land in New York."
She extended a hand on whose palm rested a small and slender white
cylinder, no longer and little thicker than the toy pencil that dangles
from a dance-card: a tight roll of plain white paper enclosed in a wrapping
of transparent oiled silk, gummed fast down its length and, at either end,
sealed with miniature blobs of black wax.
"Will you do this for me, Monsieur Duchemin? I warn you, it may cost you
He took it, his temper veering to the whimsical. "What is life?" he
questioned. "A prelude--perhaps an overture to that great drama, Death. Who
knows? Who cares?"
She heard him in a stare. "You place no value on life?"
"Mademoiselle," he said, "I have lived nearly thirty years in this world,
three years in the theatre of war, seldom far from the trenches of one
front or another. I tell you, I know death too well...."
He shrugged and put the roll of paper away in a pocket.
"You understand it must not be taken from you under any circumstance? As a
last resort, it must be destroyed rather than yielded up."
"It shall be," he said quietly. "Is there anything more?"
She shook her head, thoughtfully knuckling her underlip.
"How can I communicate with you in event of necessity after we get to New
York?" she asked.
"I shall stop for a week or two at the Hotel Knickerbocker."
"If anything should happen"--with a swift glance of anxiety toward the
motionless figure in the berth--"if anything should prevent my calling for
it within a week after our arrival, you will be good enough to deliver it
to--" She caught herself up quickly, the unuttered words trembling on her
lip. "I will write down the address of the person to whom you will deliver
it, and slip it underneath the door between our rooms--first making
certain you are there to receive it--if I do not ask you to return
the--thing--before we land."
"That shall be as you will."
"When you have memorized the address you will destroy it?"
"Depend on that."
"I think that is all. Thank you, Monsieur Duchemin--and good-night."
She extended her hand. He saluted it punctiliously with fingertips and
"If you will put out the light, mademoiselle, it may aid me to get away
She nodded and offered him Thackeray's pistol. "Take this. O, I have
another with me."
Lanyard accepted the weapon and, when she had darkened the room, opened the
door, slipped out, and closed it behind him so noiselessly that the girl
could not believe he was gone.
Nothing hindered his return to Stateroom 29.
Fully two minutes after he had locked himself in he heard the distant
clamour of the annunciator, calling a steward to Stateroom 30.
He sat for a long time on the edge of his berth, elbow on knee, chin in
hand, unstirring, gaze fixed upon that little cylinder of white paper
resting in the hollow of his palm, in profoundest concentration pondering
the problems it presented: what it was, what possession of it meant to
Michael Lanyard, what safe disposition to make of it pending welcome relief
from this unsought and most unwelcome trust.
This last question alone bade fair to confound his utmost ingenuity.
As for what it was, Lanyard was well satisfied that he now held the true
focus of this conspiracy, a secret of the first consequence, far too
momentous to the designs of England to be entrusted, though couched in the
most cryptic cipher ever mind of man devised, even to cables or mails which
England herself controlled.
Solely to prevent this communication from reaching America, Lanyard
believed, Germany had sown mines broadcast in all the waters which the
_Assyrian_ must cross, and had commissioned her U-boats, without fail and
at whatever cost, to sink the vessel if by any accident she won safely
through the mine-fields.
In the effort to steal this secret, German spies had sailed on the
_Assyrian_ knowing well the double risk they ran, of being shot like rats
if found out, of being drowned like neutrals if the ship went down through
the efforts of their compatriots.
It was the zeal of Potsdam's agents, seeking the bearer of this secret,
which had caused the rifling of Miss Brooke's luggage when she fell under
suspicion, thanks to her clandestine way of coming aboard; and through the
same agency young Thackeray had been all but murdered when suspicion, for
whatever reason, shifted to him.
To insure safe transmission of this communication, England had held the
_Assyrian_ idle in port, day after day, while her augmented patrols scoured
the seas, hunting down ruthlessly every submarine whose periscope dared
peer above the surface, and while her trawlers innumerable swept the
channels clear of mines.
To prevent its theft, Lieutenant Thackeray had invented the subterfuge of
the "wounded" arm, amid whose splints and bandages (Lanyard never doubted)
the cylinder had been secreted.
Finally, it was as a special agent, deep in her country's confidence, that
this English girl had smuggled herself aboard at the last moment, bringing,
no doubt, this very cylinder to be transferred to the keeping of Lieutenant
Thackeray or, perhaps, another confrère, should she find reason to think
herself suspected, her trust endangered.
Nothing strange in that; women had served their countries in such
capacities before; the secret archives of European chancellories are
replete with their records. Lanyard himself remembered many such women,
brilliant mondaines from many lands domiciled in that Paris of the so-dead
yesterday to serve by stealth their respective governments; but never, it
was true, a woman of the caste of Cecelia Brooke; unless, indeed, this were
an actress of surpassing talent, gifted to hoodwink the most skeptical and
least susceptible of men.
Lanyard's train of thought faltered. New doubt of the girl began to shadow
his meditations. Contradictory circumstances he had noted intruded,
uninvited, to challenge overcredulous conclusions concerning her.
Would any secret agent worth her salt invite suspicion by making such a
conspicuously furtive embarkation, by such ostentatious avoidance of her
fellow passengers, by surrounding herself with an atmosphere of such
palpable mystery? Would such an one confess she had a "secret" to an utter
stranger, as she had to Lanyard that first night out? Would she, under any
conceivable circumstances, entrust to that same stranger that selfsame
secret upon whose inviolate preservation so much depended?
And would she make love-trysts on the decks by night?
Would a brother-agent take her in his arms, then reprove her with every
symptom of vexation for her "madness," her "insanity," her "nonsense" that
was like to "drive me mad"?--Thackeray's own words!
Vainly Lanyard cudgelled his wits for some plausible reading of this
Was this Brooke girl possibly (of a sudden he sat bolt upright) a Prussian
agent infatuated with this young Englishman and by him beloved in spite of
all that forbade their passion?
Did not this explanation reconcile every apparent inconsistency in her
conduct, even to the entrusting to a stranger of the stolen secret, the
purloined paper she dared not keep about her lest it be found in her
Lanyard's eyes narrowed. Visibly his features hardened. If this surmise of
his were any way justified in the outcome, he promised Miss Cecelia Brooke
an hour of most painful penitence.
Woman or not, she need not look for mercy from him, who must ever be
merciless in his dealings with Ekstrom's crew.
To be made that one's tool!
The very thought was intolerable....
As for himself, possession of this paper meant that pitfalls were digged
for his every step.
If ever the British found cause to suspect him, his certain portion would
be to face a firing squad in dusk of early day.
If, on the other hand, these Prussian agents on board the _Assyrian_ ever
got wind of the fact that the cylinder was in his care, his fate was apt to
be a knife between his ribs the first time he was caught alone and--with
his back to the assassin.
Two courses, then, were open to him: the most sensible and obvious, to go
straightway to the captain of the _Assyrian_, report all that he knew or
surmised, and turn over the paper for safekeeping; one alternative, to hide
the cylinder so absolutely that the most drastic search would overlook it,
yet so handily that he could rid himself of it at an instant's notice.
But the first course involved denunciation of the Brooke girl. And what
if she were innocent? What if, after all, these doubts of her were the
specious spawn of facts misinterpreted, misconstrued? What if she proved to
be all she seemed? Could he, even though what he had warned her he might
be, the greatest rogue unhung, be false to a trust reposed in him by such a
As to that, there was no question in his mind; he would never betray her,
lacking irrefutable conviction that she was an employee of the Prussian spy
Then how to hide the paper?
Kneeling, Lanyard drew from beneath the berth his bellows-bag, selected
from its contents a black japanned tin case containing a rather elaborate
though compact trench medicine kit, the idle purchase of an empty afternoon
in London. Extracting from its fittings a small leather-covered case, he
replaced the kit, relocked and shoved the bag back beneath the berth.
Then, standing over the hand-basin, he opened the leather-covered case. Its
velvet-lined compartments held a hypodermic syringe and needle, and a glass
phial of twenty-four one-thirtieth grain morphia tablets.
Uncorking the phial, he shook out all the tablets, replaced three, then
slid the paper cylinder into the tube; it fitted precisely, concealed by
the label of the manufacturing chemist, leaving room for six more tablets.
Lanyard inserted four on top of the cylinder, moistening the lowermost
slightly to make it stick, recorked the phial, and returned it to its
Next he dissolved three morphia tablets in a little water in the bottom of
a glass, filled the syringe with the strong solution, fitted on the needle,
squirted most of the contents down the waste-pipe, and consigned the
remaining tablets to the same innocuous fate.
Finally he replaced needle and syringe in the case, let the glass which had
held the solution stand without rinsing, and put the open case upon the
shelf above the basin.
A light tapping sounded on the panels of his door.
"Well? Who's there?"
"Your steward, sir. Captain Osborne's compliments, an' 'e'd like to see you
in 'is room as soon as convenient, sir."
"You may say I will come at once."
"'Nk you, sir."
A summons to have been expected as a sequel to the surgeon's report after
attending Lieutenant Thackeray; none the less, Lanyard had not expected it
Authority, he reflected, ran true to form afloat as well as ashore; it was
prompt enough when required to apply a pound or so of cure. Surely the
officers, at least the captain, must have been advised why this voyage
was apt to prove exceptionally hazardous; and surely in the light of such
information it had been wiser to set armed watches on every deck by night,
rather than permit the lives of passengers to be imperilled through the
possible activities of Prussian agents among them incogniti.
And now that he was reminded of it, was not this, perhaps, but a device of
the enemy's to decoy him from the comparative safety of his stateroom?
It was with a hand in his jacket pocket, grasping Thackeray's automatic,
that he presently left the room. The alleyway, however, was deserted except
for his steward; who, as he appeared, turned and led the way up to the
Rounding the foot of the companionway, Lanyard contrived a hasty glance
down the port alleyway. The door to Stateroom 30 was on the hook; a light
burned within. Outside a guard was stationed, a sailor with a cutlass: the
first application of the pound of cure!
At the heels of his guide, he approached a door in the deck-house, devoted
to officers' accommodations, beneath the bridge. Here the steward knocked
discreetly. A heavy voice grumbling within was stilled for a moment, then
barked a sharp invitation to enter. The steward turned the knob, announced
dispassionately "Monseer Duchemin," and stood aside. Lanyard entered a
well-lighted room, simply but comfortably furnished as the captain's office
and sitting room; sleeping quarters adjoined, the head of a berth with a
battered pillow showing through a door a foot or so ajar.
Four persons were present; the notion entered Lanyard's head that a fifth
possibly lurked in the room beyond, spying, eavesdropping: not a bad scheme
if Thackeray had an associate on board whose identity it was desirable to
keep under cover.
The door closed gently behind him as he stood politely bowing, conscious
that the four faces turned his way were distinguished by a singular variety
Miss Cecelia Brooke was nearest him, beside a chair from which she had
evidently just risen, her pretty young face rather pale and set, a scared
look in her candid eyes.
Beyond her, the captain sat with his back to a desk: a broad-beamed,
vigorous body, intensely masculine, choleric by habit, and just now in an
extraordinarily grim temper, his iron-gray hair bristling from his
pillow, and his stout person visibly suffering the discomfort of wearing
night-clothes beneath his uniform coat and trousers. Bending upon Lanyard
the steel-hard regard of small, steel-blue eyes, he drummed the arms of his
chair with thick and stubby fingers.
To one side, standing, was the third officer, a Mr. Sherry, a youngish man
with a pleasant cast of countenance which temporarily wore a look, rarely
British, of ingrained sense of duty at odds with much embarrassment.
Lastly Mr. Crane's lanky person was draped, with its customary effect of
carelessness, on one end of the lounge seat. He looked up, nodded shortly
but cheerfully to Lanyard, then resumed a somewhat quizzical contemplation
of the half-smoked cigar which etiquette obliged him to neglect in the
presence of a lady.
"This is the gentleman?" Captain Osborne queried heavily of the girl.
Receiving a murmured affirmative, he continued: "Good morning, Monsieur
Duchemin.... Thanks, Miss Brooke; we won't keep you up any longer
He rose, bowed stiffly as Mr. Sherry opened the door for the girl, and when
she was gone threw himself back into his chair with a force which made it
enter a violent protest.
"Sit down, sir. Daresay you know what we want of you."
"It is not difficult to guess," Lanyard admitted. "A sad business,
"Sad!" the captain iterated in a tone of harsh sarcasm. "That's a mild name
to give murder."
Even had it not been blurted violently at him, that word was staggering.
The adventurer echoed it blankly. "You can't mean Lieutenant Thackeray--?"
"Not yet, though doctor says it may come to that; the poor chap's in a bad
"So one feared. But monsieur said 'murder'...."
Captain Osborne sat forward, steely gaze mercilessly boring into Lanyard's
eyes. "Monsieur Duchemin," he said slowly, "Lieutenant Thackeray was not
the only passenger to suffer through to-night's villainy. The other died
"In God's name, monsieur--who?"
"Mr. Bartholomew!" A memory of that brisk little body's ruddy, cheerful,
British personality flashed athwart the screen of memory. Lanyard murmured:
"Murdered," the captain proceeded, "in Stateroom 28. Lieutenant Thackeray
and he were friends, shared the suite. Apparently Mr. Bartholomew heard
some unusual noise in 30 and left his berth to investigate. He was struck
down from behind as he approached the communicating door. The murderer had
got in by way of the sitting room, 26."
Mr. Sherry added in an awed voice: "Frightful blow--skull crushed like an
There was a pause. Crane thoughtfully relighted his cigar, and wrapped his
right cheek round it. The captain glared glassily at Lanyard. Mr. Sherry
looked, if possible, more uncomfortable than ever. Lanyard pondered,
Ekstrom's work, of a certainty! This was his way, the way he imposed upon
his creatures. Ekstrom, ever a killer, obsessed by the fallacious notion
that dead men tell no tales....
And Bartholomew had been in this mess with Thackeray, both of them
operatives of the British Secret Service!
"Miss Brooke has given her version of the attack on Lieutenant Thackeray,"
the captain pursued. "Be good enough to let us have yours."
Succinctly Lanyard recounted the happenings between the moment when
premonition of evil drew him from his stateroom and the moment when he
He was at pains, however, to omit all mention of the cylinder of paper;
that, pending definite knowledge to the contrary, was a sacred trust, a
matter of his honour, solely the affair of the Brooke girl.
The captain squared himself toward Lanyard, his face louring, his jaw
"How did you happen to be up and dressed at that late hour, so ready to
respond to this--ah--premonition of yours?"
"I sleep not well, monsieur. It was my intention to go on deck and
endeavour to walk off my insomnia."
Captain Osborne commented with a snort.
"Why did you leave Miss Brooke alone before she called the doctor?"
"At mademoiselle's request, naturally."
"You'd been deuced gallant up to that time. I presume it didn't occur to
you that the young woman might need further protection?"
Lanyard shrugged. "It did not occur to me to refuse her request, monsieur."
"Didn't it strike you as odd she should wish to be left alone with
"It was not my affair, monsieur. It was her wish."
"Excuse me, cap'n." Crane sat up. "I'd like to ask Mr. Lanyard a question."
But Lanyard had prepared himself against that, and acknowledged the touch
with a quiet smile and the hint of a bow.
"U.S. Secret Service," Crane informed him with a grin. "Velasco spotted
you--had seen you years ago in Paruss--tipped me off."
"So one inferred. And these gentlemen?" Lanyard indicated the captain and
"I wised them up--had to, when this happened."
"Naturally, monsieur. Proceed...."
"I only wanted to ask if you noticed anything to make you think perhaps
there was an understanding between Miss Brooke and the lieutenant?"
"Why should I?"
"I ain't curious why you should. What I want to know is, did you?"
"No, monsieur," Lanyard lied blandly.
"The little lady didn't seem to take on more'n she naturally would if the
lieutenant'd been a stranger, eh?" "How to judge, when one has never seen
mademoiselle distressed on behalf of another?"
Crane abandoned his effort, resuming contemplation of his cigar.
"Now we come to the point. Monsieur Lanyard, or whatever your name is."
"I have found Duchemin very agreeable, monsieur le capitaine."
"I daresay," Captain Osborne sneered. He hesitated, glowering in the
difficulty of thinking. "See here, Monsieur Duchemin--since you prefer that
style--I'm not going to beat about the bush with you. I'm a plain man,
plain-spoken. They tell me you reformed. I don't know anything about that.
It's my conviction, once a thief, always a thief. I may be wrong."
"Right or wrong, monsieur might easily be less offensive."
The captain's dark countenance became still more darkly congested.
Implacable prejudice glinted in his small eyes. Nor was his temper softened
by the effrontery of this offender in giving back look for look with a calm
poise that overshadowed his arrogance of an honest, law-abiding man.
He made a vague gesture of impatience.
"The point is," he said, "this crime was accompanied by robbery."
"Am I to understand I am accused?"
"Nobody is accused," Crane cut in hastily.
"You have found no clues--?"
"What I want to say to you, Monsieur Duchemin, is this: the stolen property
has got to be recovered before this ship makes her dock in New York.
It means the loss of my command if it isn't. It means more than that,
according to my information; it means a disastrous calamity to the Allied
cause. And you're a Frenchman, Monsieur--Duchemin."
"And a thief. Monsieur le capitaine must not forget his pet conviction."
"As to that, a man can't always be particular about the tools he employs. I
believe the old saying, set a thief to catch a thief, holds good."
"Do I understand," Lanyard suggested sweetly, "you are about to honour me
by utilizing my reputed talents, by commissioning a thief to catch this
thief of to-night?"
"Precisely. You know more of this matter than any of us here. You were at
hand-grips with the murderer--and let him get away."
"To my deep regret. But I have told you how that happened."
"Seems a bit strange you made no real effort to find out what the scoundrel
"It was dark in that alleyway, monsieur."
The captain made an inarticulate noise, apparently meant to convey an
effect of ironic incredulity. More intelligible comment was interrupted by
a ring of the telephone. He swung around, clapped receiver to ear, snapped
an impatient "Well?" and listened with evident exasperation.
Lanyard's eyes narrowed. This business of telephoning was conceivably
well-timed; not improbably the captain was receiving the report of somebody
who had been sent to search Stateroom 29 in Lanyard's absence. He wondered
and, wondering, glanced at Crane, to find that gentleman watching him with
a whimsical glimmer which he was quick to extinguish when the captain said
curtly, "Very good, Mr. Warde," and turned back from the telephone, his
manner more than ever truculent.
"Mr. Lanyard," he said--"Monsieur Duchemin, that is--a valuable paper has
been stolen, an exceedingly valuable document. I don't know which carried
it, Lieutenant Thackeray or Mr. Bartholomew. But I do know such a paper was
in their possession. And to the best of my knowledge, we three were the
only ones on board that did know it. And it has disappeared. Now, sir, you
may or may not be deeper in this affair than you have admitted. If you are,
I'd advise you to own up."
"Monsieur le capitaine implies my complicity in this dastardly crime!"
Osborne shook his head doggedly. "I imply nothing. I only say this: if you
know anything you haven't told us, my advice is to make a clean breast of
"I have nothing to tell you, monsieur, beyond the fact that I find you,
your tone, your manner, and your choice of words, intolerably insolent."
"Then you know nothing--?"
"Monsieur!" Lanyard cried sharply.
"Very good," the captain persisted. "I'll take your word for it--and give
you till we take on our pilot to find the real criminal and make him give
up that paper."
"And if I fail?"
"Not a soul on board leaves the _Assyrian_ till the murderer and thief are
found--if they are not one."
"But that is a general threat; whereas monsieur has honoured me by
making this a personal matter. What punishment have you prepared for
me specifically, if I fail to accomplish this task which baffles
"I'll at least inform the port authorities in New York, tell them who you
are, and have you barred out of the country."
"I want to say, Lanyard," Crane interposed, "this isn't my notion of how to
deal with you, or in any way by my advice."
"Thank you, monsieur," the adventurer replied icily, without removing his
attention from the captain. "What else, Captain Osborne?"
"That is all I have to say to you to-night, sir. Good-night."
"But I have something more to say to you, monsieur le capitaine. First, I
desire to give over to you this article which it will doubtless please you
to consider stolen property." Lanyard placed the automatic pistol on the
desk. "One of Lieutenant Thackeray's," he explained; "at Miss Brooke's
suggestion, I borrowed it as a life-preserver, in event of another brush
with this homicidal maniac."
"She told us about that," Osborne said heavily, fumbling with the weapon.
"What else, sir?"
"Only this, monsieur le capitaine: I shall use my best endeavour to uncover
the author of these crimes. If I succeed, be sure I shall denounce him. If
I succeed only in securing this valuable paper you speak of, be equally
sure you will never see it; for it shall leave my hands only to pass into
those which I consider entirely trustworthy."
"The devil!" Captain Osborne leaped from his chair quaking with fury. "You
dare accuse me of disloyalty--!"
"Now you mention it...." Lanyard cocked his head to one side with a
maddening effect of deliberation. "No," he concluded--"no; I wouldn't
accuse you of intentional treason, monsieur; for that would involve an
imputation of intelligence...."
He opened the door and nodded pleasantly to Crane and the third officer.
"Good-night, gentlemen," he said silkily. "Oh, and you, too, Captain
Osborne--good-night, I'm sure."
IN STATEROOM 29
In spite of his own anger, something far from being either assumed or
inconsiderable, Lanyard was fain to pause, a few paces from the deck-house,
and laugh quietly at a vast and incoherent booming which was resounding in
the room he had just quitted--Captain Osborne trying to do justice to
the emotions inspired in his virtuous bosom by the cheek of this damned
But suddenly, reminded of the grim reason for all this wretched brawling,
Lanyard shrugged off his amusement. Beneath his very feet, almost a man
lay dead, another perhaps dying, while the beast who had wrought that
devilishness remained at large.
He comprehended in a wondering regard that wide, star-blazoned arch of
skies, that broad, dark, restful mystery of waters, that still, sweet world
of peace through which the _Assyrian_ forged, muttering contentedly at her
toil ... while Murder with foul hands and slavering chops skulked somewhere
in the darkened fabric of her, somewhere beyond that black mouth of the
deck-port yawning at Lanyard's elbow.
From that same portal a man came abruptly but quietly, saw Lanyard standing
there, gave him a staring look and grudging nod, and strode forward to the
captain's quarters: Mr. Warde, the first officer.
Lanyard recollected himself, and went below.
Still the sailor guarded the door in that port alleyway; but now it stood
wide, and Cecelia Brooke was on its threshold, conversing guardedly with
the surgeon. Even as Lanyard caught sight of them, the latter bowed and
turned aft, while the girl retreated and refastened the door on its hook.
Thus reminded of Crane's shrewd questions, Lanyard was speculating rather
foggily concerning the reason therefor as he turned down the passage to
his own quarters. What had the American noticed, or been told, to make him
surmise covert sympathy between the girl and the lieutenant?
He caught himself yawning. Drowsiness buzzed in his brain. He had an
incoherent feeling that he would now sleep long and heavily. Entering his
stateroom, he put a shoulder against the door, pushing it to as he fumbled
for the switch. The circumstance that the lights were no longer burning as
he had left them failed to impress him as noteworthy in view of his belief
that, by the captain's orders, Mr. Warde had been ransacking his effects in
But when no more than a click responded to a turn of the switch, the room
remaining quite dark, Lanyard uttered an imprecation, abruptly very wide
Before he could move he stiffened to positive immobility: the cool, hard
nose of a pistol had come into contact with his skull, just behind the ear.
Simultaneously a softly-modulated voice advised him in purest German: "Be
quite still, Herr Lanyard, and hold up your hands--so! Also, see that you
utter no sound till I give you leave.... Karl, the handkerchief."
Lanyard stood motionless, hands well elevated, while a heavy silk blindfold
was whipped over his eyes and knotted tight at the back of his head.
"Now your paws, Herr Lone Wolf--put them together behind your back,
prudently making no attempt to reach a pocket."
Obediently Lanyard permitted his wrists to be caught together with a second
silk handkerchief. He could feel a slight sensation of heat upon his hands,
and guessed that this was caused by the light of a flash-lamp held close
to the flesh. None the less he took the chance of clenching his fists and
tensing the muscles of his wrists.
The bonds were made painfully fast. Still it did not seem to occur to his
captors to oblige their prisoner to open his hands and relax his wrists.
Lanyard perceived a glimmer of hope in this oversight: the enemy was
"Now the lights again."
After a little wait, during which he could hear the bulbs being pressed
back into their sockets, the switch clicked once more.
"And now, swine-dog!"--the pistol tapped his skull significantly--"if you
value your life, speak, and speak quickly. Where is that document?"
"Document?" Lanyard repeated in a tone of wonder.
"Unless you are eager to explore the hereafter, tell us where we may find
it without delay."
"Upon my word, I don't know what you're talking about."
"You lie!" the German snapped. "Face about!"
Somebody grasped his shoulders roughly and swung him round to the light,
the nose of the pistol shifting to press against his abdomen.
"Search him, Karl."
Unseen hands investigated his pockets cunningly. As they finished, the man
who answered to the name of Karl became articulate for the first time,
following a grunt of disappointment:
"Nothing--he has it not upon him."
"Look more thoroughly. Did you think him idiot enough to carry it where
you'd find it at the first dip? Imbecile!"
For the purpose of this second search Lanyard's garments were ripped
open, and the enemy made sure that he carried nothing next his skin more
incriminating than a money-belt, which was forcibly removed.
"His shoes--see to his shoes!" the first speaker insisted irritably. "Sit
A petulant push sent the adventurer reeling across the cabin to fall upon
the lounge seat beneath the port. With some effort he assumed a sitting
position, while Karl, kneeling, hastily unlaced and tore off his shoes and
"Nothing, captain," was the report.
"Damnation!... Continue to search his luggage. Leave nothing unexamined.
In particular look into every hole and corner where none but a fool would
attempt to hide anything. This fine gentleman imagines we value his
intelligence too highly to believe he would leave the paper in plain
To an accompaniment of sounds indicating that Karl was obeying his
superior, this last resumed in a tone of lofty contempt:
"How is it you have abandoned the habit of going armed, Herr Lone Wolf?
That is not like you. Is it that you grow unwary through drug-using? But
that matters nothing. We have more important business to speak over, you
and I. You will be very, very docile, and answer promptly, also in a low
voice, if you would avoid getting hurt. Do you understand?"
"Perfectly," Lanyard replied, furtively working at the bonds on his wrists.
"Good. We speak together like good friends, yes?"
"Naturally," said Lanyard. "It is so conducive to chumminess to be caressed
with an automatic pistol--you've no idea!"
"Oblige by speaking German. Our ears are sick with all this bastard
English. Also, more quietly speak. Do not put me to the regrettable
necessity of shooting you."
"How regrettable? You didn't stick at braining those others--"
"Hardly the same thing. You are not like those English swine. You are
French; and Germany has no hatred for France, but only pity that it so
fatuously opposes manifest destiny. In truth, you are not even French, but
a great thief; and criminals have no patriotism, nor loyalty to any State
but their own, the state of moral turpitude."
The speaker interrupted himself to relish his wit with a thick chuckle. And
Lanyard's jaws ached with the strain of self-control. He continued to pluck
at the folds of silk while concentrating in effort to memorise the voice,
which he failed utterly to place. Undoubtedly this animal was a shipboard
acquaintance, one who knew him well; but those detestable German gutturals
disguised his accents quite beyond identification.
"For all that, you are not wise so to try my patience. I permit you five
minutes by my watch in which to make up your mind to surrender that
"How often must I tell you," Lanyard enquired, "all this talk of documents
is Greek to me?"
"Then you have five minutes to brush up your classical education, and
translate into terms suited to your intelligence. I will have that document
from you or--in four more minutes--shoot you dead."
To this Lanyard said nothing. But his patient attentions to the
handkerchief round his wrists were beginning perceptibly to be rewarded.
"Moreover, Herr Lanyard, you will do yourself a very good turn by
confessing--entirely aside from saving your life."
"How is that?"
"Providing you persuade me of your good faith, I am empowered to offer you
employment in our service."
Lanyard's breath passed hardly through a throat swollen with rage, chagrin,
and hatred, all hopelessly impotent. But he succeeded in preserving an
unruffled countenance, as his captor's next words demonstrated.
"You are surprised, yes? You are thinking it over? Take your time--you have
three minutes more. Or perhaps you are sulky, resenting that our cleverness
has found you out? Be reasonable, my good man. Think: you cannot be
insensible to the honour my offer does you."
"What do you want of me?"
"First, that paper--thereafter to use your surpassing talents to the glory
of God and Fatherland. In addition, you will be greatly rewarded."
"Now you do begin to interest me," Lanyard said coolly.... Surely he could
contrive some way to slay this beast with his naked hands! He must play for
time.... "How rewarded?"
"As I say, with a place in the Prussian Secret Service, its protection,
freedom to ply your trade unhindered in America, even countenanced, till
that country becomes a German province under German laws."
"But do I hear you offer this to a Frenchman?"
"Undeceive yourself. Men of all nations to-day, recognising that the star
of Germany is in the ascendant, that soon all nations will be German,
are hastening to make their peace beforehand by rendering Germany good
"Something in that, perhaps," Lanyard admitted thoughtfully.
"Think well, my friend.... Yes, Karl?"
The voice of the other spy responded sullenly: "Nothing--absolutely
"Two minutes, Herr Lanyard."
Of a sudden Lanyard's face was violently distorted in a grimace of terror.
He lurched his shoulders forward, openly struggling with his bonds.
"But--good God!" he protested in a voice of terror, "you can't possibly be
so unreasonable! I tell you, I haven't got your damned paper!"
A loop of the handkerchief slipped over one hand.
"Be still! Cease your struggles. And not so loud, my friend!" The
peremptory voice dropped into mockery as Lanyard, pale and exhausted, sat
back trembling--and a second loop of silk dropped over the other hand. "So
you begin to appreciate that we mean business, yes? One minute and thirty
"Have mercy!" the adventurer whined desperately--and licked his lips as if
he found them dry with fear. Now both hands were all but wholly free. True:
he remained blindfolded and covered by a deadly weapon. "Give me a chance.
I'll do anything you wish! But I can't give you what I haven't got."
"Be silent! Here, Karl."
There was a sound of unintelligible murmuring as the two spies conferred
together. Lanyard writhed in apparent extremity of terror. His hands were
free. He sought hopelessly for inspiration. What to do without arms?
"Be grateful to Karl. He urges that perhaps you know nothing of the
"Don't you think I'd tell if I did know?"
"Then you have one minute--no, forty seconds--in which to pledge yourself
to the Prussian Secret Service."
"You want me to swear--?"
"Then hear me," said Lanyard earnestly: "_You damned canaille_!" And in
one movement he tore the bandage from his eyes and launched himself head
foremost at the man who stood over him.
He caught part of an oath drowned out by the splitting report of a pistol
that went off within an inch of his ear. Then his head took the man full
in the belly, and both went sprawling to the deck, Lanyard fighting like a
Sheer luck had guided clawing fingers to the right wrist of his antagonist,
round which they shut like jaws of a trap. At the same time he wrenched the
other's arm high above his head.
Momentarily expecting the shock of a bullet from the pistol of the second
spy, he found time to wonder that it was so long deferred, and even in
the fury of his struggles, out of the corner of one eye caught a fugitive
glimpse of a tallish man, masked, standing back to the forward partition in
a pose of singular indecision, pistol poised in his grasp.
Then the efforts of his immediate adversary threw him into a position in
which he was unable to see the other.
Of a sudden the stateroom was filled with the thunder of an automatic, its
seven cartridges discharged in one brisk, rippling crash.
It was as if a white-hot iron had been laid across Lanyard's shoulder.
Beneath him the man started convulsively, with such force as almost to
throw him off bodily, then relaxed altogether and lay limp and still,
pinning one of Lanyard's arms under him.
Its visor displaced, the face of Baron von Harden was revealed, features
distorted, eyes glaring, a frozen mask of hate and terror.
His arm free, the adventurer rolled away from the corpse in time to see the
open window-port blocked by the body of the other spy.
Gathering himself together, he snatched up the pistol that dropped from the
inert grasp of the dead man, and levelled it at the port.
But now that space was empty.
He rose and paused for an instant, his glance instinctively seeking the
ledge above the hand-basin.
The hypodermic outfit was there, but minus the phial.
In the alleyway rose a confusion of running feet and shouting tongues.
A heavy banging rang on the door to Stateroom 29. Crane's nasal accents
called upon Lanyard to open.
Upon the authors of that commotion Lanyard wasted no consideration
whatever. Let them knock and clamour; he had more urgent work in hand, and
knew too well the penalty were he stupid enough to unbolt to them. Their
bodies would dam the doorway hopelessly; insistent hands would hinder him;
innumerable importunate enquiries would be dinned at him, all immaterial
in contrast with this emergency, a catechism one would need an hour to
satisfy. And all attempts would be futile to make them understand that,
while they plagued him with futile questions, a murderer and spy and thief
was making good his escape, being afforded ample opportunity to slough all
traces of his recent work and resume unchallenged his place among them.
No; if by any freak of good fortune, any exertion of wit or daring, that
one were to be apprehended, it must be within the next few minutes, it
could only be through immediate pursuit.
Nor did the adventurer waste time debating the better course. With him,
whose ways of life were ceaselessly beset by instant and mortal perils,
each with its especial and imperative demand upon his readiness and
ingenuity, action must ever press so hard upon the heels of thought as to
make the two seem one.
For that matter, the whole transaction had been characterised by almost
unbelievable rapidity. And that square opening of the window-port was
hardly vacant when Lanyard sprang to his feet; the fugitive had barely time
to find his own upon the outer deck before Lanyard leaped after him; the
first thumps upon the panels of his door were still echoing when he thrust
head and shoulders out of the port and began to pump the automatic at a
shadow fleeing aft upon that narrow breadth of planking between rail and
Then, at the third shot, the automatic jammed upon a discharged shell.
Exasperated, the adventurer cast the weapon from him, shrugged hastily out
of his unfastened coat and waistcoat, hitched tight his belt, and clambered
through the port.
Dropping to the deck, he turned in time to see the fugitive dart round the
shoulder of the superstructure.
As Lanyard gained the after rail of the promenade deck a man standing on
the boat-deck at the head of the companion-ladder greeted him with pistol
fire. He dodged back, untouched, and instantaneously devised a stratagem to
cope with this untoward development.
Overhead, at the side, a lifeboat hung on its davits, ready for emergency
launching, the gap in the rail which it filled when normally swung inboard
spanned only by a length of line. And the darkness in the shadow of the
boat was dense, an excellent screen.
Climbing upon the rail, Lanyard grasped the edge of the deck overhead and
drew himself up undetected by his quarry, whom he espied still holding
the head of the companion ladder, hidden from the bridge by the after
deck-house, standing ready to shoot Lanyard should he attempt to renew the
pursuit by that approach.
At the same time, "Karl" seemed mysteriously occupied with some object or
objects in whose manipulation he was hampered to a degree by the necessity
under which he laboured of holding his pistol ready and dividing his
A man of good stature, broad at the shoulders, slender at the hips, he
poised himself with athletic grace--the lower part of his face masked by
what Lanyard took to be a dark silk handkerchief.
Lanyard heard him swearing in German.
Then a brisk little spray of sparks jetted from the flint and steel of a
patent cigar-lighter in the hands of the spy. And as Lanyard rose from his
knees after ducking beneath the line, a stream of fatter sparks spat from
the end of a fuse.
The man leaned over the rail and cast a small black object to which the
sputtering fuse was attached, down to the main deck.
As it struck midway between superstructure and stern it burst into
brilliant flame, releasing upon the night an electric-blue glare that must
have been visible from any point within the compass of the horizon.
A yell of profane remonstrance saluted the light, and throughout the brief
passage that followed Lanyard was conscious that pistols and rifles on the
after deck below were making him and his antagonist their targets.
Before the German could face about, Lanyard, moving almost noiselessly in
his bare feet, had covered more than half the intervening space. In another
breath he might have had the fellow at a disadvantage. But the distance
was too great. Twice the automatic blazed in his face as he closed in, the
bullets clearing narrowly--or else he fancied that their deadly cold breath
fanned his cheek.
Then the spy's weapon in turn went out of action. Half blinded, Lanyard
clipped the man round the body and hugged him tight, exerting all his skill
and strength to effect a throw.
That effort failed; his onslaught was met with address and ability that
all but matched his own. The animal he embraced had muscles like tempered
springs and the cunning and fury of a wild beast in a trap. For a moment
Lanyard was able to accomplish no more than to smother resistance in a
rib-crushing embrace; no sooner did he relax it than all attempts to shift
his hold were anticipated and met half way, forcing him back upon the
Yet he was given little chance to prove himself the master. The first phase
of the struggle was still in contest when the rear door of the smoking room
opened and a man stepped out, paused, summed up the situation in a glance,
seized Lanyard from behind.
The adventurer felt his arms grasped by hands whose strength seemed little
short of superhuman, and wrenched back so violently that his very bones
cracked. Fairly lifted from his feet, he was held as helpless as an infant
kicking in the arms of its nurse.
Released, the other spy stepped back and swung his left fist viciously to
Lanyard's jaw. Something in the brain of the adventurer seemed to let
go; his head dropped weakly to one side. The man who had struck him said
quietly, "Loose the fool, Ed," and followed as Lanyard reeled away,
striking him repeatedly.
For a giddy moment Lanyard was darkly conscious--as one dreams an evil
dream--of blows raining mercilessly about his head and body, blows that
drove him back athwartships toward a fate dark and terrible, a great void
of blackness. He felt unutterably weary, and was weakened by a sensation of
nausea. Beneath him his knees buckled. There fell one final blow, ruthless
as the wrath of God.
He was falling backward into nothingness, into an everlasting gulf of night
that yawned for him....
As he shot under the guard rope and into space between the edge of the deck
and the keel of the lifeboat, the spy rounded smartly on a heel and darted
to the smoking-room door. His confederate was in the act of stepping across
the raised threshold. He followed, closed the door.
The first officer, charging aft from the bridge, rounded the deck-house and
pulled up with a grunt of surprise to find the deck completely deserted....
The shock of icy immersion reanimated Lanyard.
He felt himself plunging headlong down, down, and down to inky depths
unguessable. The sheer habit of an accustomed swimmer alone bade him hold
Then came a pause: he was no more descending; for a time of indeterminate
duration, an age of anguish, he seemed to float without motion, suspended
in frigid purgatory. Against his ribs something hammered like a racing
engine. In his ears sounded a vast roaring, the deafening voices of a
thousand waterfalls. His head felt swollen and enormous, on the point of
Without warning expelled from those depths, he shot full half-length out of
water, and fell back into the milky welter of the _Assyrian's_ wake.
Instinctively he kept afloat with feeble strokes.
The cold was bitter, as sharp as the teeth of death; but his head was now
clear, he was able to appreciate what had befallen him.
Already the _Assyrian_, forging onward unchecked, had left him well astern,
her progress distinctly disclosed by that infernal bluish glare spouting
from her after deck.
She seemed absurdly small. Incredulity infected Lanyard's mind. Nothing so
tiny, so insignificant, so make-believe as that silhouette of a ship could
conceivably be that great liner, the _Assyrian_....
Temporarily a burning pain in his left shoulder drove all other
considerations out of mind. The salt water was beginning to smart in the
raw, superficial wound made by that assassin's bullet ... back there in the
stateroom ... long ago....
Then the cold began to bite into his marrow, and he struggled manfully
to swim, taking long, slow strokes, at first comparatively powerful, by
insensible degrees losing force.
Just why he took this trouble he did not know: for some dim reason it
seemed desirable to live as long as possible. Withal he was aware he could
not live. Whether careless or utterly ignorant of his fate, the _Assyrian_
was trudging on and on, leaving him ever farther astern, lost beyond rescue
in that weird, bleak waste. Even were an alarm to be given, were she to
stop now and put out a boat, it would find him, if it found him at all, too
The cold was killing.
He felt very sleepy. Drowsily he apprehended the beginning of the end.
His senses, growing numb with cold, presently must cease to function
altogether. Then he would forget, and nothing would matter any more.
Yet the will to live persisted amazingly. Had Lanyard wished it he could
not have ceased to swim, at least to keep afloat. Vaguely he wondered how
people ever managed to commit suicide by drowning; it seemed to pass human
power to resist that buoyancy which sustained one, to let go, let one's
self go down. Impossible to conceive how that was ever done....
Why should he care to go on living?
No reading that riddle!...
On obscure impulse he gave up swimming, turned upon his back, floated face
to the sky, derelict, resigning himself to the cradling arms of the sea.
The gradual, slow rocking of the swells soothed his passion like a kindly
opiate. The cold no more irked him, but seemed somehow strangely anodynous.
Imperturbably he envisaged death, without fear, without welcome. What must
For all that, life clutched at him with jealous hands. More than ever
sleepy, before he slept that last, long sleep he must somehow solve this
enigma, learn the reason why life continued so to allure his failing
Athwart the drab texture of consciousness wild fancies played like heat
lightning in a still midsummer night.
Death's countenance was kind.
That wide field of stars, drooping low and lifting away with rhythmic
motion, would sometime dip swiftly down to the very sea itself and,
swinging back, take with it his soul to some remote bourne....
The deeps were yielding up their mysteries. Past him a huge pale monster
swept at furious pace, hissing grimly as it passed, like some spectral
Nemesis pursuing the _Assyrian_.
Indifferently he speculated concerning the reality of this phenomenon.
The heave of a swell enabled him to glance incuriously after the steamship.
She seemed smaller, less genuine than ever, a shadow shape that boasted
visibility solely through that unearthly light on her after deck. Even
that now had waned to a mere glimmer, the flicker of a candle lost in the
immensities of that night-bound world of empty sky and empty ocean. Even as
he that had been named Michael Lanyard was a lost light, a tiny flame that
guttered toward its swift extinction....
Why live, when one might die and, dying, find endless rest?
Like a blazing thunderbolt one word rent the slumbrous web of sentience:
Galvanised by the flood of hatred unpent by the syllables of that name,
Lanyard began again to swim, flailing the water with frantic arms as if to
win somewhither by the very violence of his efforts.
This the one cogent reason why he must not, could not, die....
Unjust to require him to give up life while that one lived. Unfair.... It
must not be!...
Across the sea rolled a dull, brutish detonation. The swimmer, swung high
on the bosom of a great swell, saw a vast sheet of fire raving heavenward
from the _Assyrian_.
It vanished instantly.
When his dazzled vision cleared, he could see no more of the ship. He
imagined a faint, wild rumour of panic voices, conjured up scenes of horror
indescribable as that great fabric sank almost instantaneously, as if some
gigantic hand plucked her under.
What had happened? Had the accomplices of the dead Baron von Harden set off
an infernal machine aboard the vessel? In the name of reason, why? They had
got what they sought, that accursed document, whatever it was, that page
torn from the Book of Doom. Then why...?
And to what end had they exploded that light bomb on the after deck?
To make the _Assyrian_ a glaring target in the night--what else? A target
Of a sudden all rational mental processes were erased from Lanyard's
consciousness. A wave of pure fear flooded him, body, mind, and soul. He
began to struggle like a maniac, fighting the waters that hindered his
flight from some hideous thing that was lifting up from the ocean's ooze to
drag him down.
He heard a voice screaming thinly, and knew it was his own.
The impossible was happening to him, out there, alone and helpless on the
face of the waters. A shape of horror was rising out of the deep to engorge
him. He could feel distinctly the slow, irresistible heave of its bulk
beneath him. His feet touched and slipped upon its horrible sleek flanks.
His most desperate efforts were all unavailing. He could not escape. The
thing came up too rapidly. Following that first mad thrill of contact with
it underfoot, he was lifted swiftly and irresistibly into the air. Almost
instantly he was floundering in knee-deep waters that parted, cascading
away on either hand. Then, elevated well above the sea, he slid and fell
prone upon a slimy wet surface.
His clawing hands clutched something solid and substantial, an upright bar
Incredulously Lanyard pawed the body of the monster beneath him. His hands
passed over a riveted joint of metal plates. Looking up, he made out the
truncated cone of a conning tower with its antennae-like periscope tubes
stencilled black upon the soft purple of the star-strewn sky.
Slowly the truth came home: a submarine had risen beneath him. He lay upon
its after deck, grasping a stanchion that supported the small raised bridge
round the conning tower.
He sobbed a little in sheer hysteric gratitude, that this miracle had been
vouchsafed unto him, that he had thus been spared to live on against his
hour with Ekstrom.
But when he sought to drag himself up to the bridge, he could not, he
was too weak and faint. Ceasing to struggle, he rested in half stupour,
With a harsh clang a hatch was thrown back. Rousing, Lanyard saw several
figures emerge from the conning tower. Men uncouthly clothed in shapeless,
shiny leather garments, straddled and stretched above him, filling their
lungs with the sweet air. He tried to call to them, but evoked a mere
rattle from his throat.
Two came to the edge of the bridge and stood immediately over him, fixing
binoculars to their eyes, their voices quite audible.
A pang of despair shot through Lanyard when he heard them conferring
together in the German tongue.
Death, then, was but a little delayed.
Thereafter he lay in dumb apathy, save that he shivered and his teeth
Through the torpor that rested like a black cloud upon his senses he caught
broken phrases, snatches of sentences:
"... _sinking fast ... struck square amidships ... broke her back_...."
"... _trouble with her boats. There goes one over_!..."
"... _fools jumping overboard like cattle_...."
"_What's that rocket? Do the swine want us to shell their boats_?"
"_Why not? They're asking for it_!"
One of the officers lowered his glasses and barked a series of sharp
commands. The crew on deck leaped to attention. One leaned over the
conning-tower hatch and shouted to his mates below. A hatch forward of
the tower opened, and a quick-firing gun on a disappearing carriage swung
smoothly and silently up from its lair.
The other officer, looking down, started violently.
"_Verdammt_! What's this?"
The first rejoined him. "Impossible!"
"Impossible or not--a man or a cadaver!"
"Have him up and see...."
By order, two of the crew dragged Lanyard up to the bridge, supporting him
by main strength while the officers examined him.
"At the last gasp, but alive," one announced.
"How the devil did he get out here?"
"From the _Assyrian_--"
"Impossible for any man to swim this far since our torpedo struck--"
"Then he must have gone overboard before it struck--or was thrown--"
A cry of alarm from the group about the gun, awaiting final orders to open
fire upon the _Assyrian's_ boats, interrupted the conference. The officers
swung away in haste.
"Hell's fury! what's that searchlight?"
"A Yankee destroyer--in all probability the one we dodged yesterday
"She'll find us yet if we don't submerge. Forward, there--house that gun!
And get below--quickly!"
During a moment of apparent confusion, one of the men sustaining Lanyard
caught the attention of an officer.
"What shall we do with this fellow, sir?" he enquired.
"Leave him here to sink or swim as we go down," snapped the officer--"and
be damned to him!"
With a supreme effort the adventurer sank his fingers deep into the arms of
the two men.
"Wait!" he gasped faintly in German. "On the Emperor's service--"
"What's that?" The officer turned back sharply.
"Imperial Secret Service," Lanyard faltered--"Personal
Division--Wilhelmstrasse Number 27--"
A brilliant glare settled suddenly upon the deck of the submarine, and was
welcomed by a panicky gust of oaths. One officer had already popped through
the conning-tower hatch, followed by several of the crew. There remained
only those supporting Lanyard, and the second officer.
"Take him below!" the latter ordered. "He may be telling the truth. If
In the distance a gun boomed. A shell shrieked over the submarine and
dropped into the sea not a hundred yards to starboard. The men rushed
Lanyard toward the conning tower. He tried feebly to help them. In that
effort consciousness was altogether blotted out....
When he opened his eyes again he was resting, after a fashion, naked
between harsh, damp blankets in a narrow, low-ceiled bunk inches too short
for one of his stature.
After an experimental squirm or two he lay very still; his back and all his
limbs were stiff and sore, his bullet-seared shoulder burned intolerably
beneath a rudely applied first-aid dressing, and he was breathing heavily
long, labouring inhalations of an atmosphere sickeningly dank, close, and
foul with unspeakable stenches, for which the fumes of sulphuric acid with
a rank reek of petroleum and lubricating oils formed but a modest and
Also his head felt very thick and dull. He found it extremely difficult to
think, and for some time, indeed, was quite unable to think to any purpose.
His very eyes ached in their sockets.
In the ceiling glowed an electric bulb, dimly illuminating a cubicle barely
big enough to accommodate the bunk, a dresser, and a small desk with a
folding seat. The inner wall was a slightly concave surface of steel plates
whose seams oozed moisture. In the opposite wall was a sliding door, open,
beyond which ran a narrow alleyway floored with metal grating. Everything
in sight was enamelled with white paint and clammy with the sweat of that
Over all an unnatural hush brooded, now and again accentuated by a rumble
of distant voices and gusts of vacant laughter, once or twice by a curious
popping. For a long time he heard nothing else whatever. The effect was
singularly disquieting and did its bit to quicken torpid senses to grasp
Sluggishly enough Lanyard pieced together fragments of lurid memories,
reconstructing the sequence of last night's events scene by scene to the
moment of his rescue by the U-boat.
So, it appeared, he was aboard a German submersible, virtually a prisoner,
though posing as an agent of the Personal Intelligence Department of the
German Secret Service.
To that inspiration of failing consciousness he owed his life, or such
of its span as now remained to him, a term whose duration could only be
defined by his ability to carry off the imposture pending problematic
opportunity to escape. And, assuming that this last were ever offered him,
there was no present possibility of guessing how long it might not be
Its butcher's mission successfully accomplished, the U-boat was not
improbably even now en route for Heligoland, beginning a transatlantic
cruise of weeks that might never end save in a nameless grave at the bottom
of the Four Seas.
Only the matter of impersonation failed to embarrass in prospect. A natural
linguist, Lanyard's three years within the German lines had put a rare
finish upon his mastery of German. More than this, he was well versed in
the workings of the Prussian spy system. As Dr. Paul Rodiek, Wilhelmstrasse
Agent Number 27, he was safe as long as he found no acquaintance of that
gentleman in the complement of the submarine; for, largely upon information
furnished by Lanyard himself, Dr. Rodiek had been secretly apprehended
and executed in the Tower the day before Lanyard left London to join the
But the question of the U-boat's present whereabouts and its movements
in the immediate future disturbed the adventurer profoundly. He was
elaborately incurious about Heligoland; and several weeks' association
with the Boche in the close quarters of a submarine was a prospect that
revolted. Wellnigh any fate were preferable....
Uncertain footsteps sounded in the alleyway, paused at the entrance to his
cubicle. He turned his head wearily on the pillow. In the doorway stood
a man whose slenderly elegant carriage of a Prussian officer was not
disguised even by his shapeless wreck of a naval lieutenant's uniform, a
man with a countenance of singularly unpleasant cast, leaving out of all
consideration the grease and grime that discoloured it. His narrow forehead
slanted back just a trace too sharply, his nose was thin and overlong, his
mouth thin and cruel beneath its ambitious mustache à la Kaiser; his small
black eyes, set much too close together, blazed with unholy exhilaration.
As soon as he spoke Lanyard understood that he was drunk, drunk with more
than the champagne of which he presently boasted.
"Awake, eh?" he greeted Lanyard with a mirthless snarl. "You've slept like
the dead man I took you for at first, my friend--a solid fourteen hours, my
word for it! Feeling better now?"
Lanyard's essays to reply began and ended in a croak for water. The
Prussian nodded, disappeared, returned with an aluminium cup of stale cold
water mixed with a little brandy.
"Champagne if you like," he offered, as Lanyard, painfully propping himself
up on an elbow, gulped like an animal from the vessel held to his lips. "We
are holding a little celebration, you know."
Lanyard dropped back to the pillow, the question in his eyes.
"Celebrating our success," the Prussian responded. "We got her, and that
means much honour and a long furlough to boot, when we get home, just as
failure would have spelled--I don't like to think what. I shouldn't care to
fill the shoes of those poor devils who let the _Assyrian_ escape them off
Ireland, I can tell you."
Something very much like true fear flickered in his small eyes as he
pondered the punishment meted out to those who failed.
So the U-boat was homeward bound! Strange one noticed no motion of her
progress, heard no noise of machinery.
"Where are we?" Lanyard whispered.
"Peacefully asleep on the bottom, about five miles south of Martha's
Vineyard, waiting till it is dark enough to slip in to our base."
The Prussian hiccoughed and giggled. "On the south shore of the Vineyard,"
he confided with alcoholic glee: "snuggest little haven heart could wish,
well to the north of all deep-sea traffic; and the coastwise trade runs
still farther north, through Vineyard Sound, other side the island. Not
a soul ever comes that way, not a soul suspects. How should they?
The admirable charts of the Yankee Coast and Geodetic Survey"--he
sneered--"show no break in the south beach of the island, between the ocean
and the ponds. But there is one. The sea made the breach during a gale, our
people helped with a little Trotyl, tides and storms did the rest. Now we
can enter a secluded, landlocked harbour with just enough water at low
tide, and lie hidden there till the word comes to move again--three miles
of dense scrub forest, all privately owned as a game preserve, fenced and
patrolled, between us and the nearest cultivated land--and friends in
plenty on the island to keep all our needs supplied--petroleum, fresh
vegetables, champagne, all that. Just the same we take no chances--never
make our landfall by day, never enter or leave harbour except at night."
He paused, contemplating Lanyard owlishly. "Ought not to tell you all
this, I presume," he continued, more soberly, though the wild light still
flickered ominously in his eyes. "But it is safe enough; you will see for
yourself in a few hours; and then ... either you are all right, or you will
never live to tell of it. We radio'd for information about Wilhelmstrasse
Number 27 just before dawn, after we had dodged that damned Yankee
destroyer. Ought to get an answer to-night, when we come up."
Heavier footsteps rang in the alleyway. The Prussian made a grimace of
"Here comes the commander," he cautioned uneasily.
A great blond Viking of a German in the uniform of a captain shouldered
heavily through the doorway and, acknowledging the salute of the rat-faced
subaltern with a bare nod, stood looking down at Lanyard in taciturn
silence, hostility in his blood-shot blue eyes.
"How long since he wakened?" he asked thickly, with the accent of a
"A minute or two ago."
"Why did you not inform me?"
The tone was offensively domineering, thanks like enough to drink, nerves,
and hatred of his job and all things and persons pertaining to it.
The subaltern coloured. "He asked for water--I got it for him."
The commander stared churlishly, then addressed Lanyard: "How are you now?"
"Very faint," Lanyard said truthfully. But he would have lied had it been
otherwise with him. It was his book to make time in which to collect his
thoughts, concoct a bullet-proof story, plan against an adverse answer to
that wireless enquiry.
"Can you eat, drink a little champagne?"
Lanyard nodded slightly, adding a feeble "Please."
The Bavarian glanced significantly at his subaltern, who hastened to leave
"Who are you? What is your name?"
"Dr. Paul Rodiek."
"Personal Intelligence Bureau--confidential agent."
"What were you doing on board the _Assyrian_?"
Lanyard mustered enough strength to look the man squarely in the eye.
"Pardon," he said coldly. "You must know your question is indiscreet."
"I must know more about you."
"It should be enough," Lanyard ventured boldly, "to know that I set off
that flare as arranged, at risk of my life."
"How came you overboard?"
"In the scuffle caused by my lighting the flare."
"So you tell me. But we found you half clothed, lacking any sort of
identification. Am I to accept your unsupported word?"
"My papers are naturally at the bottom of the sea, in the garments I
discarded lest their weight drag me down. If you have doubts," Lanyard
continued firmly, "it is your privilege to settle them by communicating via
radio with Seventy-ninth Street."
He shut his eyes wearily and turned his head aside on the pillow, confident
that this reference to the headquarters and secret wireless station of the
Prussian spy system in New York would win him peace for a time at least.
After a moment the commander uttered a non-committal grunt. "We shall see,"
he prophesied darkly, and went away.
Later, one of the crew brought Lanyard a dish of greasy stew and potatoes,
lukewarm, with bread and a half-bottle of excellent champagne.
He ate all he could stomach of the first, devoured the second ravenously,
and drained the bottle of its ultimate life-giving drop.
Then, immeasurably refreshed and fortified in body and spirit, he turned
face to the wall, composed himself as if to sleep, shut his eyes, adjusted
the tempo of his respiration, and lay quite still, wide awake and thinking
After a while somebody tramped into the cubicle, bent over Lanyard
inquisitively and, satisfied that he slept, retired, taking away the empty
bottle and dishes.
Otherwise his meditations were disturbed only by those echoes of revelry
in honour of the late manifestation of the Hun's divine right to do wanton
murder on the high seas.
The rumour waxed and waned, died into dull mutterings, broke out afresh in
spurts of merriment that held an hysterical note. Once a quarrel sprang up
and was silenced by the commander's deep, unpleasant tones. Corks popped
spasmodically. Again there were sounds much like a man's sobbing; but these
were promptly blared down by a phonograph with a typically American accent.
When that palled, a sentimental disciple of frightfulness sang Tannenbaum
in a melting tenor.
Everything tended to effect an impression that all, commander and meanest
mechanic alike, were making forlorn efforts to forget.
Devoutly Lanyard prayed they might be successful, at least until the
submarine made her secret base. If too much alcohol was bad, too much
brooding was infinitely worse for the German temperament. He remembered
one U-boat commander who, returning to the home port after a conspicuously
successful cruise, had been taken ashore in a strait-jacket.
Lanyard himself did not care to dwell upon those scenes which must have
been enacted on board the _Assyrian_ after the torpedo struck....
Deliberately ignoring all else, he set himself the task of reviewing those
events which had led up to his going overboard.
One by one he considered the incidents of that night, painstakingly
dissected them, examined their every phase in minute analysis, weighing for
ulterior meaning every word uttered in his presence, harking even farther
back to reconstruct his acquaintance with each actor from the very moment
of its inception, seeking that hint which he was convinced must be
somewhere hidden in the history of the affair, waiting only recognition to
lead straightway out of this gloomy maze of mystery into a sunlit open of
In vain: there was an ambiguity in that business to baffle the keenest and
most pertinacious investigation.
The conduct of Cecelia Brooke alone bristled with inconsistencies
inexplicable, the conduct of the German spies no less.
To get better perspective upon the problem, he reduced the premises to
their barest summary:
A valuable dossier brought on board the _Assyrian_ (no matter by whom) had
come into the possession of British agents, with the knowledge of Captain
Osborne. Thackeray had secreted it in that fraudulent bandage. German
agents, apparently under the leadership of Baron von Harden, had waylaid
him, knocked him senseless, unwrapped the bandage, but somehow (probably
in the first instance through the interference of the Brooke girl) had
overlooked the document. Subsequently the Brooke girl had found and
entrusted it to Lanyard. (No matter why!) He on his part had exerted his
utmost inventiveness in hiding it away. Nevertheless it had been discovered
and abstracted within an hour.
Not improbably by the Brooke girl herself. Repenting her impulsiveness,
after leaving Lanyard with the captain, from whom she had doubtless learned
the truth about "Monsieur Duchemin," she might well have gone directly to
Lanyard's stateroom and hit upon the morphia phial as the likeliest hiding
place without delay, thanks to prior acquaintance with the proportions of
the paper cylinder.
But why should she have assumed that Lanyard had not disposed of the trust
about his person?
Not impossibly the thing had been found by the first officer of the
_Assyrian_, searching by order of the captain--as Lanyard assumed he had.
But, if Mr. Warde had found it, he had not reported his find when
telephoning to Captain Osborne; or else the latter had gone to great
lengths to mystify Lanyard.
There remained the chance that the paper had been stolen by one of the two
German agents--by either without the knowledge of the other.
If Baron von Harden had found it--necessarily before Lanyard returned
to the room--he had subsequently been at elaborate pains to conceal his
success from both his victim and his confederate. Why? Did he distrust the
latter? Again, why?
If "Karl" had been the thief, it must have been after Lanyard's return,
and while the Baron was preoccupied with the task of keeping the prisoner
quiet, to let the search proceed.
In that event "Karl" had lied deliberately to his superior. Why? Because
the document was salable, and "Karl" intended to realize its value for his
Not an unlikely explanation. Nor could this be called the first instance in
which the Prussian spy system, admirably organized though it was, had been
betrayed by one of its own agents.
This hypothesis, too, accounted for that most perplexing circumstance of
all, the murder of Baron von Harden. For Lanyard was fully persuaded that
had been nothing less than premeditated murder, in no way an accident of
faulty aim. Even the most nervous and unstrung man could hardly have missed
six shots out of seven, point blank. A nervous man, indeed, could hardly
have gained his own consent to take so hideous a chance of injuring or
killing a collaborator.
It appeared, then, that one of four things had happened to the cylinder of
Miss Brooke had taken it back into her own care. In which case Lanyard was
no more concerned.
Captain Osborne had secured it through Mr. Warde. This, however, Lanyard
did not seriously credit.
It had gone to the bottom when the _Assyrian_ sank with the body--among
others--of Baron von Harden.
Or "Karl" had stolen it.
Privately, indeed, Lanyard rather inclined to hope that the last might
prove to be the true solution. He desired earnestly to meet "Karl" once
more, on equal terms. And the more counts in the score, the greater his
satisfaction in exacting a reckoning in full.
But he anticipated. That chapter might only too possibly have been closed
forever by the hand of Death. As yet he knew nothing concerning the
mortality of the _Assyrian_ débâcle. He had not enquired of the officers of
the U-boat because they knew little if anything more than he. Their glasses
had discovered to them trouble with the lifeboats; they had spoken of one
boat capsizing, of "people going overboard like cattle." There must have
been many drownings, even with a United States destroyer near by and
speeding to the rescue.
A single question troubled Lanyard greatly. Officers and crew of the U-boat
had betrayed profoundest consternation upon the advent of that destroyer,
presumably a warship of a neutral nation. And that same ship had without
hesitation fired upon the submarine.
Was it possible, then, that the United States had already declared war on
It seemed extremely probable; in such event these Germans would have been
notified instantly by wireless from the New York bureau of their country's
Secret Service; whereas, Captain Osborne, receiving the same advice by
wireless, might reasonably have kept it quiet lest the news stir to more
formidable activity those agents of the Wilhelmstrasse whose presence among
the passengers he must at least have strongly suspected.
Presently the closeness of the atmosphere began to work upon Lanyard's
perceptions. In spite of his long rest, a new drowsiness drugged his
senses. He yielded without struggle, knowing he would soon need every ounce
of strength and vitality that sleep could give him....
The din of an inferno startled him awake. Those narrow metal walls were
echoing a clangour of machinery maniacal in character and overpowering in
volume. Clankings, tappings, hissings, coughings, clatterings, stridulation
of a wireless spark, drone of dynamos, shrewdish scolding of Diesel motors
developing two thousand horsepower, individual efforts of some two thousand
valves, combined--or, declined to combine--in a cacophony like nothing
under the sun but the chant of a submersible under way on the surface.
Lanyard, gratefully aware of a current of fresh air sweeping through the
hold, rolled out of his bunk to find that, while he slept, clothing had
been provided for him, rough but adequate; heavy woollen underwear and
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