MR. PAUL ZIMMERLEIN’S telephone rang shortly before midnight. He lived in a small, exclusive hotel on one of the crosstown streets, near Fifth Avenue. A brief conversation over the wire ensued. A few minutes later he appeared at the desk in the office downstairs, dressed for the street. He was very angry.
“Why was I not informed when I came in this evening that Mr. Prince had called up and was expecting me to join his party at the Helvetia for supper, Mr. Rogers? He rang me up at nine o’clock and instructed you to put the message in my box.”
“I have no recollection of...”
“Of course you haven’t. You never do have any recollection. None of you. I shall take the matter up with the manager in the morning, Rogers. It has happened before. The least you could have done was to stick the message in my box.”
“I will inquire of the telephone operator. The regular boy is off tonight. If there has been any carelessness, Mr. Zimmerlein, it has been with her,—not with us, sir,” said the clerk, with the servility that is sometimes mistaken for civility on the part of hotel clerks.
“I haven’t time to listen to her excuses. They have been waiting for me since eleven o’clock, and I have been in my room since ten.”
“I know, sir. It was a little before ten when you came in.”
“Well, be good enough to investigate. I warn you that I intend to complain in the morning.”
“I’m sorry, sir,” began the clerk, but Zimmerlein was already on his way to the street.
The night-clerk scowled after him, and then retired behind the key-rack to consult the operator.
“What’s the matter with you?” he demanded. “Zimmerlein’s sore as a crab about not getting a message that came in at nine,—he says,—and he ‘s going to raise hell about it.”
“Nobody called him up,—not till just a few minutes ago. It’s the old gag. I heard what the guy said to Zimmerlein,—about calling up at nine and giving directions and all that bunk,—and I had to hold my tongue between my teeth to keep from butting in and telling him he was a liar, and—”
“Tell that to Mr. Coxhorn in the morning,” broke in the clerk, and moved languidly away. That was the extent of his investigations.
The Helvetia was a brisk five minutes’ walk from Zimmerlein’s hotel. He did it in three.
“Is Mr. Prince entertaining in his rooms or in the café?” he inquired at the desk.
“In the café, Mr. Zimmerlein.”
Fifteen minutes later, he sauntered up to a table at which a party of seven or eight people were seated. Nodding and smiling in his most amiable manner to the ladies, he laid his hand on the shoulder of one of the men.
“Sorry, old man, but they didn’t give me your message. I should have been sitting on the doorstep waiting for you, if I’d known you really wanted me. Thanks for calling me up again. It was good of you, and I’ll try to make up for all the lost time and trouble by being as agreeable as I know how to be.” He added an encircling smile. The ladies appeared to cheer up measurably.
The man addressed, a huge individual with a tremendous expanse of white shirt front, betrayed not the slightest sign of surprise or confusion. With all the profound affability of a far-Westerner, he made the newcomer welcome. If his steel-grey eyes bored inquiringly into Zimmerlein’s for the briefest instant, no one else at the table was aware of the fact. Nor did any one observe the warning that shot back from the narrowing eyes of the belated guest.
A waiter produced a chair for Zimmerlein, and placed it between two of the ladies, who, with evident eagerness, made room for him. His smile deepened as he shook his head, affecting dismay.
“Not yet, but soon,” he pleaded. “I ran across an old friend of yours out in the lobby, Prince. Stillwell. I told him you’d be happy to have him join you, but as he’s just off the train, he says he’s filthy.”
“Where is he?” cried Prince, starting up. “I wouldn’t miss seeing him for anything in the world. An old pal of mine in Japan,” he explained to his guests.
“If you will excuse us both, we ‘ll—” began Zimmerlein apologetically.
“Come along,” interrupted Prince, grabbing the other’s arm. “Good old Still! We ‘ll bring him back with us if we have to drag him in. You ‘ll love him,” he added boisterously.
The two men hurried from the café. They did not speak until they reached a deserted corner of the hotel lobby.
“What’s up?” demanded Prince.
“I’ve just bad some damnably disturbing news. It’s pretty bad, but I think I’ve got word to the right people in time to head off—trouble. I was just going to bed when I was called up on the ‘phone. By God, he’s cool-headed, I’ll say that for him. Said he was you, and wanted to know why the devil I hadn’t showed up over here. I was wise in a second. We met in the most casual manner at the corner. He will go a long way, that chap will, mark my words. He’s as keen as a fox and as resolute as the devil. I can’t explain here, Prince. We must get back to your party. My alibi lies there, you know, if I should happen to need it. You understand, don’t you?”
“Certainly. I knew something was in the wind. Is it serious? Tell me that.”
“It can be serious,—desperately serious. But we can’t do anything now. At one o’clock I shall ask you to excuse me, Prince. Engagement very early in the morning. Much-needed rest,—and so on. And, by the way, we were unable to locate Folwell. He—”
“Stillwell, wasn’t it?”
“So it was. ‘Grad, my nerves must be shot up worse than I thought. At any rate, he had vanished.”
“Have you managed to get in touch with any one else?”
“I’ve sent word to—Jehovah!” Zimmerlein permitted himself what was meant to be a smile, but was instead an ugly grin.
“About the only name that’s safe to utter in these days,” said Prince, looking over his shoulder.
“You’ve done your bit tonight, my friend, by simply being who and what and where you are. Nothing more is required of you.”
“I’m not asking questions,” said Prince, scowling.
“You have asked one,” snapped Zimmerlein. “Oh, Lord! Haven’t I a right to—”
“There is nothing more to be said on the subject,” said the other, fixing the big man with a look that caused him to quail. “You know as well as I just what our law is, Prince. I am not above it,—nor are you. Now, let us return.” Shortly after one o’clock, Zimmerlein said good night to the host and the guests upon whom he had deliberately imposed himself, and went forth into the night. A short distance down the street, he was hailed by a lone taxi-driver, who called out in the laconic, perfunctory manner of his kind:
Zimmerlein walked on a few paces, and then, apparently reconsidering, turned back.
“Take me to the Pennsylvania,” he said, and got into the cab.
When he took his seat, it was between two men who slunk down in the corners and kept their faces and bodies well out of sight from the occupants of passing cars and pedestrians on the sidewalk.
An unusual amount of clatter attended the getting under way of the car. The exhaust roared, the gears grated and snarled, and the loose links of tire-chains banged resoundingly against the mud-guards.
A quarter of an hour elapsed. Zimmerlein did most of the talking. Then, as the taxi drew up in front of the little hotel in the cross-town street, he got down and handed the driver a bank-note. His last words, before leaving the car, were:
“Remember, now. There must be no mistake, no slip-up. Be dead sure before you do a thing. He is to disappear,—that’s all. There must be no trace,—absolutely no trace.” As he sauntered into the hotel, the taxi rattled swiftly off in the direction of Broadway, its remaining occupants silent and white-faced, but with lips and jaws rigidly set.
“No complaint after all, Rogers,” said he to the night clerk, rather jauntily. “My friend confessed that he hadn’t called me up at all. It was his nice little way of stringing me. Assuage the poor girl’s grief if you know how, Rogers. Tell her it’s all right, and she can sleep soundly at the switch. Also, be good enough to say to her that I apologize for myself and for my friend.”
Rogers watched him enter the elevator, and once more strolled back to the switchboard.
“Hey! Wake up. Zimmerlein’s just come in. He’s stewed and says his friend’s a liar. There won’t be any court-martial.”
The girl yawned. “Say, has that darned old clock stopped, or is it still only ten minutes of two? It’s been that for an hour. Never again for me. Next time Pilcher wants to get off till half-past ‘leven, he needn’t leave a call for me. I’m through accommodating that mutt. My Gawd! Two o’clock, and he swore he’d be here by eleven. I ought to report him. Do a guy like that a favour and he - What was that you said about old Zim-zim? D’you say he was soused?”
“No. I said stewed. He’s carryin’ an egg on an oyster fork. I never saw him drunk before.”
At his usual hour for breakfasting, Mr. Zimmerlein briskly entered the dining-room the next morning and seated himself at his customary table near the window. Two morning newspapers lay beside his plate of sliced oranges. His eyes swept the headlines on the front page. A slight frown darkened his brow. He looked again, a little more closely. Then he took up the other paper. A certain eagerness that had been in his eyes when he sat down gave way to something bordering on astonishment. His interest passed quickly to the second, third and fourth pages.
There wasn’t a line,—not a solitary line about the sinking of the Elston!
He had encountered Elberon late in the afternoon of the preceding day. He was going into the club as the other came out.
“You will read something great in the morning papers,” Elberson had said guardedly. “Perhaps in the extras tonight.”
“I am always reading something great in the newspapers,” he had replied.
“They got the Elston. Report came about two o’clock. No details. I doubt whether it is known in Washington yet.”
But the morning papers had no account of the sinking. Not a word. What did it mean? Could it be possible that their news travelled so much faster than that obtained by the eager, avid Press? Were they even ahead of Washington? Elberon was in a position to know. He never went off half-cocked. There wasn’t the least doubt in Zimmerlein’s mind that the Elston had been sunk, but why this amazing failure of the newspapers to....He started suddenly. Comprehension flooded his brain. His eyes lighted up again. He understood in a flash. Suppressed! The news of the destruction of the Elston with all those vitally important men on board, Why, of course! It had to be suppressed!
Nevertheless, he decided to drop in and see Elberon on his way down town.
As for last night’s business, if it came to a head at all, it was after the papers had gone to press. Still, he took the time to run through both papers with unusual thoroughness. It was barely possible that a paragraph,—one of those widely spaced paragraphs that always exact attention,—might have stopped the presses at the last minute.
He slid indifferently over the account of a disastrous fire along the water-front of an American port from which heavily laden ships departed almost daily for French and English destinations. He knew all about that.
Elberon was not at his place of business. This defection on the part of Elberon exasperated him. It was a new sensation. He could not account for the sudden and admittedly unreasonable sense of irritation that assailed him, for, after all, Elberon regulated his actions according to the demands of his own business. The merchant’s secretary announced that he doubted if his employer would be in the office before noon. He thought he had gone Christmas shopping with his wife.
“Damn Christmas!” muttered Zimmerlein as he closed the door behind him and stalked off into the counter-lined aisles that led by rectangular turns to the street.
The business of the night just ended had got on his nerves. His hand shook a little as he paused inside the doors to light a cigarette. It was a bad “business”; there was no use trying to make light of it.
Miss Mildred Agnew welcomed him with a cheery “Good morning,” and the alert office-boy went her one better by adding the information that it was “a fine day, sir.”
“Any messages, Miss Agnew?” inquired Zimmerlein.
“A telephone call, sir, from the steward of the Black Downs Country Club. He says there is a leak and wants to know if you, as chairman of the house committee, will do something about it right away.”
“A leak?” he demanded, stopping short.
“So he said, Mr. Zimmerlein.”
“Get him on the telephone and ask him to come in and see me at once.”
He was frowning darkly as the office-boy relieved him of his hat and coat and hung them up in the closet. His mail received scant attention. As a matter of fact, he swept the pile aside and touched a button on the corner of the desk.
Thorsensel came into the private office, carrying a roll of blue-prints.
“Any word?” asked Zimmerlein, as the other carefully and deliberately spread the prints on the desk and weighted one end of them down with a heavy steel ruler.
“No. Not a word.”
“It’s rather queer, don’t you think?”
“You are nervous, Zimmerlein,” said Thorsensel, after a moment in which he studied the other with a keen and soul-searching eye. “It won’t do, my friend. Nervousness tends to irritation, and irritation leads to impatience. You know what happens to the impatient, Zimmerlein.”
“Damn it all, I am nervous. I admit it. Don’t lecture me. I’m not going to lose my grit, or my head either.”
“You can’t lose one without the other, you know,” remarked Thorsensel sententiously. “What do you suppose has happened?”
“Nothing, nothing at all,” said the other. “You mean that they didn’t pull it off? God, that is the very worst that could have happened.”
“That is exactly what I mean. You need not worry, however. Trust Scarf to play it safe. If he saw that there was the slightest chance of failure, he would have taken no risk. That’s Scarf, my friend. Calm yourself. We will hear from him before noon. He will have worked out another plan, you may be sure.”
It may be mentioned here and now that Zimmerlein had consulted Thorsensel the mastermind, before taking a step in the affair of the night just past. He had gone directly from his hotel to the little French café down the street. He knew that it was the unvarying habit of the strange, silent engineer to drop in at this quaint place for a bite of something to eat and a bottle of red wine at midnight. Thorsensel never missed doing this. There was method in his continence.
A big and vital problem confronted Zimmerlein.
He did not dare act without consulting his pseudo-subordinate. Thorsensel took the matter out of his hands. It was he who laid the plans. Zimmerlein became merely an instrument, with certain functions to perform, and nothing more.
“I hope you are right,” said Zimmerlein, absorbing some of the other’s fatalistic assurance. “God help us if you are wrong.”
“My dear man, God helps us because we are right, not because we are wrong,” said Thorsensel, laying his big, clenched fist upon the desk, not violently but with a gentleness that suggested vast strength held under control by the power of a vaster will.
Zimmerlein drew a long, deep breath.
“You’ve heard about the Elston, I suppose?”
“Yes. They got her. I knew they would. That was the greatest tip we’ve ever had. Our report is that not one of the big bugs on board was saved. A number of the crew got off in boats, but they had to hurry. She went down in eight minutes. They made a good job of it, bless ‘em. No wonder the night wind weeps! Now, we’ll see what old England has to say for the invincibility of her fleet, and what she ‘ll say to the United States for letting the cat out of the bag.” He laughed aloud,—for the first time in the memory of Zimmerlein. Several of the men in the drafting-room looked up. They stared unblinkingly at the laugher.
The forenoon wore away. Thorsensel shuttled between the drafting-room and the private office. He no longer laughed. The pleased, confident look had left his eyes; in its stead lurked something that finally developed into real, undisguised anxiety. An atmosphere of restraint settled down like a cloud over the offices. The uneasiness of the two principal figures in the place was acutely infectious.
The report of Peter Hooge, the steward of the Black Downs Country Club, who arrived shortly after noon, neither increased nor lessened the strain. He was unnecessarily alarmed. What if secret service men did visit the club-house and question the employés? That was not an unusual proceeding. They were doing something of the sort all the time. But, said Peter, they obtained a list of all the members and guests of the club present on the premises at the time of the Reynolds explosion. Naturally, said both Zimmerlein and Thorsensel: That was just what they would do. Precious little good it would do them, however.
“I was obliged to show them my passports and papers from the Swiss Government,” said Peter.
“Well, they were all in order, weren’t they?”
“Perfectly. That isn’t the point. The mere fact that they asked for them proves something, doesn’t it?”
“You are too old a bird to be frightened by pop-guns, Hooge,” said Thorsensel, gnawing at his moustache. “These fellows, from what I know of them, couldn’t catch the scent of a polecat.”
“I’m not so sure of that,” put in Zimmerlein. “They’ve landed some pretty big fish.”
“They’ve landed a pack of blatant asses,” snapped Thorsensel. “Good God, man, you don’t put Reistelen and others of his stripe in the class with well, with a few I could mention, do you? They’ve only touched the surface, my friend. It is very deep,—very deep indeed—where the big fishes lie. Go back to your work, Hooge,—and don’t worry us again with trifles.”
Late in the afternoon Scarf came in. He came as a stoop-shouldered, consumptive-looking, unwashed District Messenger of uncertain age and stability.
“Well?” cried Zimmerlein, glaring at the man.
“Where in hell have you been?” grated Thorsensel.
“That’s just where I have been,” replied the messenger, straightening his bent figure and drawing a long, full breath. He passed his hand across his brow. “Or rather, I’ve been close enough to get an unpleasant whiff of it.”
“Don’t sit down!” exclaimed Zimmerlein, as the man prepared to sink into a chair.
“I ‘m all in, I ‘ve got to,” and down he flopped. After a moment he leaned forward and fixed the others with burning, hitter eyes. “In the first place, do you know what’s happened to Elberon?”
“No,” fell in unison from the lips of the two men.
“Well, he’s sitting up in the United States Attorney’s office with half a dozen experts trying to pump intelligence out of him.”
An imprecation ground its way out between Thorsensel’s teeth. Zimmerlein’s lower lip tightened against his teeth.
“I had it from Zumpe. They went to Elberon’s house early this morning, on the quiet, of course, nothing for the public, and took him down for a grilling. Zumpe says old Elberon has been getting pretty gabby with one or two people who ought to be good Germans but ain’t.”
“The infernal fool! I have warned him repeatedly,” snarled Thorsensel. “He has been very thick lately with Kleinhans, the banker. I told him to take no chances with that man. I mentioned a few others too.”
“Some of ‘em are straight, eh?” queried Scarf, a twist at the corner of his mouth that went for a sneer.
“Straight? No! Crooked as rattlesnakes! I wouldn’t trust a man like Kleinhans out of my sight. He actually thinks he’s an American, and God knows that makes him worse than one. Well? Goon. What else?”
“That’s all I know about Elberon. As for that other little matter ” He stopped to wet his lips.
Zimmerlein muttered hoarsely: “Little matter!”
“I’m lucky, that’s all,” said Scarf, and again passed his hand over his brow.
“Get on with it. You can’t stay here all afternoon,” commanded Thorsensel.
“We came within an ace of dropping into a pit a bottomless pit at that. Why didn’t you tell me that secret service men were trailing him, Zimmerlein?”
“What? What’s that you say?”
“Why, damn your eyes, Zimmerlein, that guy was suspected of giving information to the enemy. He’s been watched like a hawk. We got onto it just in time. Don’t you see what would have happened if they had followed us to his room? You don’t, eh? Well, I’ll tell you. We would have been nabbed with him, before anything could have happened, caught in the very net they were laying for him. His pals, that’s what they would have made of us, his comrades, mind you, not his enemies. How the devil could we have explained? And would they have believed him, no matter what he said about us? Not on your life. The very thing they were watching for would have happened. A rendezvous! They would have had him dead to rights, delivering information received earlier in the night to two German agents, oh, what a diabolical joke it would have been on him, and what a devil of a mess we would have been in! God, I shiver every time I think of it, and I’ve been shivering all day, let me tell you.”
“Secret service men after him?” muttered Thorsensel, incredulously. “What’s the angle, Zimmerlein, what’s the angle? You are supposed to be on the inside up there. What do you know about this?”
“I am completely in the dark. I can’t understand it, Thorsensel. It are you sure, Scarf?”
“Absolutely. They got Blechter, yanked him off the taxi when he stopped around in the next block, according to plans. He was to wait for us there,—fixing his engine as a blind, stalling for time. He put up a fight, poor fool. They got him just the same.”
“Will he squeal?” demanded Zimmerlein, pacing the floor.
“You ought to know. He’s your protégé,” said Scarf succinctly.
“Better dead than alive, I’d say,” said Thorsensel unfeelingly. “Go on.”
“Well, from all I could learn, two of them waited outside the building and two of ‘em were inside I don’t know just where. I think one of them was running the front elevator. All I know is that Ruddy and I barely had time to get out of the window and onto a little balcony and drop down to the one below, before they smashed in the door. Twelve foot drop, too, and the balcony wasn’t more than three feet wide. If we’d missed Lord!”
“You were in his room?” cried Thorsensel.
“Sure. We got in through the building next door, sneaked up ten flights of stairs to the top. Got out on the roof through the ‘dog-house,’ and dropped down to the other roof. Sort of penthouse arrangement up there. Very simple after that. We had his apartment pretty well marked. Ninth floor front. It’s closed except when he comes up occasionally from camp for a night or two. Family in the South somewhere, servants dismissed. We didn’t waste any time. Had it all doped out. Went to his door and rang the bell. Pretty soon he came and opened it and asked what we wanted. We told him right off the reel that we were in the secret service and had to have a talk with him at once about a certain party he knows. He told us to go to hell. Then I showed him my badge and mentioned a name that bowled him over. He said: ‘My God!’ and drew back into the room. We went in and closed the door.
“I asked him first if there was anybody in the apartment anybody that would be likely to hear our conversation. He said he was alone, his people were out of town for the winter. Ruddy asked him point blank just what he knew about a certain party, all of it. He came back with a question. ‘Has there been an arrest?’ ‘Yes,’ says I. He sat down, limp as a rag. ‘My God, it’s terrible horrible,’ he says. ‘Who put you wise? How much is actually known?’ That was enough for Ruddy. He stuck the gun under his ear and let him have it. He never knew what hit him. Ruddy dropped the revolver on the floor beside the chair, just where he would have dropped it himself, and then we started out to see if we could find anything in the apartment that oughtn’t to be lying around loose. I forgot to say there was a Maxim silencer on the gun. We had just entered the first bed-room when his door bell rang. Two hearts stopped beating right there and then. For a minute we were paralysed. Then there was pounding on the door, and we heard some one say, ‘Open up, or we ‘ll smash it in!’
“No use wasting time on minor details. After we got onto the balcony below, we opened the French windows, and sneaked into a big apartment, darker than Egypt except when the light from a big electric sign down the street flashed every few seconds. We got out into the hall without rousing anybody and started down the stairs. Of course, we thought it was the elevator man pounding on the door up there, he might have heard the muffled report if he happened to be near that floor. God was with us. We got down to the ground floor all right, but there we struck something worse than a stone wall. Two men were standing right in front of the passenger elevator. We jumped behind a curtain they have hanging there to hide the stairway. They didn’t hear us. They were talking about Blechter. We knew in a second what they were. There was a cubby hole under the stairs where they keep mops and brooms and such stuff. We got in there, leaving a crack through which we could hear. After awhile the front elevator came down. We heard ‘em all talking. They said he had shot himself, and they cursed their luck because they hadn’t been able to take him alive. He must have been warned that they were after him. That’s what they were roaring about. After a while we got out of the mop-hole and sneaked down to the basement. The doors were locked, and there were men in the engine room a night fireman and a friend of his who was drunk and had come in to sleep it off. Somebody was walking up and down in the little court outside. We didn’t dare risk a dash for it, so we hid under a pile of last summer’s awnings for a couple of hours. When we couldn’t stand it any longer, we decided to put on a bold front and pass ourselves off as plainclothes-men. It was dead easy. The employes about the place were scared stiff. All we had to do was to look hard at the head porter and the back elevator man, and tell ‘em not to let anybody go near the storeroom for apartment E 9,—not on their lives. Here’s the evening paper. You can read what it says.”
Louise Hansbury did not go out for her customary “constitutional” that morning. She arose, tired and depressed after a sleepless night. Soon after she had her breakfast, chocolate and toast and a prescribed porridge, she complained of a sudden and violent nausea.
Mrs. Carstairs went in to see her, and was alarmed. She took the girl’s temperature and then called up the doctor.
“You have a fever,” she said. “You must go back to bed. It’s nothing, I daresay, but we have to be on the safe side, dear.”
Louise betrayed her agitation. She pleaded to be allowed to dress and go out for her walk. There were moments when actual fear lurked in her dark eyes.
“I will be all right in a little while, Aunt Frieda. Don’t be cross with me. I must have eaten something last night that disagreed with me. The lobster, I ate a tiny bit of it.”
“Very likely,” said her aunt calmly. “All the more reason for being careful today. No, my dear, I must insist on your remaining in bed, at least until Dr. Browne has seen you.”
“When is he coming?”
“The attendant said she could locate him and would send him here as soon as possible. He is out making his calls.”
“The chocolate tasted queerly this morning, Aunt Frieda,” said the girl, feverishly.
“Imagination. Nothing tastes right when one’s stomach is upset.”
“Oh, I want so much to get out for a breath of fresh air. It is a perfectly lovely day. I am sure Dr. Browne will say it’s the best thing in the world”
“Dr. Browne doesn’t know everything,” interrupted Mrs. Carstairs. She laid her hand on the girl’s hot forehead. “You must go back to bed, just for a little while,” she said, and there was an inexorableness in her tone that roused swift resentment in Louise. A rebellious, angry light smouldered in her eyes. “I know what is best for you. If it should turn out to be ptomaine poisoning”
“It can’t be ptomaine if it came from the chocolate I drank,” sad Louise, excitement causing her voice to tremble and to take on a certain shrillness.
“I am confident it is all due to nervousness,” said Mrs. Carstairs. She spoke in a patient, consoling manner. “Dr. Browne will give you something to straighten out your digestion, and you will be all right by tomorrow. You are not strong yet, you know. Just be patient, my dear. It takes time.”
“I should like to telephone, Aunt Frieda,” said the girl abruptly. Submissive to the gentle but unyielding authority of the older woman, who dominated as one with the power to scourge if resistance continued, she had begun to divest herself, rather helplessly, of the gay peignoir in which she had breakfasted. With feverish haste, she slipped her arms through the loose folds, and faced her aunt. There was defiance in her glance. For an instant it held.
The calm smile and the tolerant shake of the head, as to a pleading child, shattered her resolve; she saw that argument was useless. The robe fell from her shoulders as she turned away with a sob in her throat.
“Is it important?” inquired the older woman.
“I—this afternoon will do as well, I suppose,” replied the girl, without turning her head.
“Let me call up for you, dear. It is no trouble at all. I can explain that you are ill.”
“No, thank you, Aunt Frieda. It doesn’t matter.”
She hesitated about confiding to Mrs. Car-stairs that she was going out to meet her lover. Something told her that it would be the wrong thing to do, something that for want of another name would have to go as cunning. She shared a vague, disturbing secret with Steele....
Mrs. Carstairs tucked the bedclothes about her.
“The doctor will be here soon, I am sure,” she said. “Do you feel any better? Are you more comfortable?”
“I am in no pain, if that’s what you mean. Just this wretched nausea. What do the morning papers say about the loss of the Elston, Aunt Frieda?”
“Nothing, I believe. Your uncle says there was no mention of it. I daresay the news has been held up for the time being. Waiting for full details. Wasn’t it fortunate, wasn’t it providential that the transfer to the Campion was so cleverly accomplished?”
A maid-servant came to the door.
“You are wanted on the telephone, Mrs. Car-stairs. Shall I say you are engaged?”
“Who is it, Wrenn?”
“A gentleman. I couldn’t catch the name, Mrs. Carstairs.”
“I will see who it is.”
After she had closed Louise’s door behind her, Frieda Carstairs stood stockstill in the long corridor. She put her hand to her breast and held it there lightly, as if to transmit its vital strength to the organ which pounded so violently. Her tall figure was tense; her face took on the pallor of death and its rigidity. For as long as fifteen or twenty seconds, she remained motionless. Then her lips moved stiffly; they twitched as in a spasm of pain. The two words they formed hut did not utter were:
Once, as she covered the short distance to her own sitting-room, her figure swayed slightly. She even put out a hand to steady herself against the wall, a needless precaution, for she instantly regained command of herself.
She closed the door, and, before taking up the receiver, threw in the device which cut out the instrument from other extensions in the apartment, those in the butler’s pantry, her husband’s study, and the one that stood on the night-table at the head of his bed. Her knees suddenly became weak; they trembled as with the palsy. She sat down at the writing table and dropped her elbow heavily on the top. Again she feared that she was going to faint.
“Yes?” she murmured thickly into the transmitter, and, instantly realizing that her voice betrayed nervousness and even alarm, repeated the word firmly, crisply. “Yes, this is Mrs. Carstairs.”
“I am speaking for the Evening ” (the name of the newspaper was indistinctly pronounced)“and I called up, Mrs. Carstairs, to ask if it is true that Captain Derrol Steele was engaged to be married to your niece, Miss Louise Hansbury?”
She did not reply. Her lips parted but no sound issued forth.
Again the voice spoke in her ear. “Are you there?”
The “yes” she uttered in reply was little more than a hoarse gasp. And then: “I hear you quite distinctly.” There was a click at the other end. Slowly, as in a daze, she hung up the receiver. Not another word passed.
She did not leave the apartment that day, but spent most of the time with her niece, whose indisposition was promptly diagnosed as an acute attack of indigestion by the learned and complacent physician, who dosed her and went his way. He ordered her to remain in bed; he would run in and see her in the morning. If anything, ah!...alarming turned up, he murmured to Mrs. Carstairs, she was to call him at once. Not likely, of course, said he, nothing to be apprehensive about, but—well, you never can tell. Resistance not yet fully restored, and, “after all, as I’ve said all along, Mrs. Carstairs, one’s own resistance is the best chemistry going, and one has to fill his own prescription when it comes to that sort of thing, don’t you know.”
Being a very fashionable doctor he gave her pyromedan to bring down the temperature in a hurry, and codeine to quiet the pain.
Davenport Carstairs seldom reached his home before six or half-past. It was his custom, if business happened to be indulgent, to drop in at his favourite club about four in the afternoon. On this afternoon, however, he drove straight home from the office. The clock in the hall was striking four as he entered the apartment. The afternoon newspapers were under his arm, four or five of them.
“Has Mrs. Carstairs come in, Hollowell?” he asked.
“Mrs. Carstairs did not go out today, sir. Miss Hansbury is ill.”
Ordinarily Carstairs would have been disturbed by this information. He had been gravely worried over his niece’s condition. Hollowell’s supplementary statement, however, appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.
“Say that I’m home, Hollowell, and in my room.”
“Very good, sir. Is there anything I can do, sir?”
“Do? What do you mean?”
“I thought perhaps you might be ill, sir. I...”
“Not at all, not at all,” somewhat irascibly. “Ask Mrs. Carstairs to come to my room - Wait! Have you had any news here today?”
“No, sir, nothink as I am aware of, sir.”
“I think not, sir. It isn’t serious. Sort of, ah, what you might call stomach, ah, although cook says it can’t have been anything she ate last”
“By the way, what made you think I was ill?”
“Well, since you ask, sir, you do look a bit seedy, sir, that is to say pale and”
“I wish to see Mrs. Carstairs alone. Please avoid mentioning my return in Miss Hansbury’s presence.”
He went at once to his study, where, moved by the remark of the butler, he stared long and hard at his features in a mirror. His face was ashen grey, and suddenly, strangely old.
He had tossed the newspapers on the rare old Italian table in the centre of the room. After a few moments of complete abstraction, his dull, frowning gaze was raised from the floor to sweep the room, which, for some strange, almost uncanny cause, seemed almost unfamiliar to him. And yet it was the same, nothing had been changed. Only he had altered, his own perspective had undergone a vast, incomprehensible change. His eyes falling upon the papers, he took them up, one by one, and stared again at a certain headline in each, a raw caption that fascinated him and hurt him like the cut of a knife.
It did not occur to him until long afterwards, and then only in retrospective contemplation of events that filled the most important day in his life, that his wife was a long time in appearing. She came into the study at last, and, as was her unvarying custom, pressed her lips to his cheek. He noticed that her lips, always moist and soft and alive, were hot and dry and as dead as parchment. Before he spoke a word to her, he crossed the room and closed the door into the hall.
She was staring at him in amazement as he turned toward her again.
“What has happened, Davenport! You look so strange, so....Oh, something dreadful has happened! Is it Alfred! Tell me! For God’s sake, don’t”
“It isn’t Alfred, my dear,” said he. There was a dull, hollow note in his voice, a note that held to one key. “Where is Louise!”
“In bed. She hasn’t been well”
“We must manage somehow to break this thing gently to her. It might there is no telling what it may do to her, Frieda.”
She steadied herself against the table. Her face now was as white as his. It had been pale before; now it was livid.
“What is it, Davenport?” He looked searchingly, anxiously into her eyes for a moment, and then said: “It will be a shock to you too, Frieda, but I know you. You can take it like a soldier. Derrol Steele shot himself last night. He is dead. He...There, there, dearest! I shouldn’t have blurted it out like sit down here, Frieda! That’s right! Poor old girl! Curse me for a blundering fool! I might have known it would be a dreadful shock to you. You were devoted to him. ”
“Tell me, tell me everything, Davenport,” she broke in, her eyes fixed on his lips. She did not look into his eyes. He was leaning over her, clasping one of her hands, a hand that suddenly became limp after the utmost rigidity. “Just a moment. Compose yourself. Pull yourself together, dear. It’s a cruel story an incredible story. I would have staked my soul on Derrol Steele. I’ve known him since he was a little boy. If I had been asked to name the most honourable, the most loyal man in the but, Frieda, I was wrong I was deceived in him, just as you were and Louise. Louise! God, how this will crush that poor, innocent, loving”
“Tell me!” she insisted, her fingers tightening on his, her voice scarcely more than a whisper.
For answer, he placed the newspaper in her hands, and pointed to the headline at the top of the page.
“Read it, Frieda. Read this first.”
He sat on the edge of the table, his arms folded across his breast, and waited for her to finish. At last the paper fell from her fingers and she looked up into his face. Her eyes were bleak.
“I can’t believe it, Davenport, I will not believe it of Derrol Steele.”
“As soon as I saw the paper, about two o’clock, I should say, I hurried over to the United States Attorney’s office. The story is true, Frieda. It appears that a secret service agent—‘gad, how marvellous they are! an agent overheard scraps of a conversation between two men late last night, in front of a little French restaurant, I think it was. Steele’s name was mentioned two or three times. He was not interested, however, until he heard them speak of a man long suspected by the department. Then he pricked up his ears. The marshal did not repeat the name, for obvious reasons. The man heard enough to convince him that this suspect and one or two other men were to be at Steele’s apartment before three o’clock this morning. The address was carefully, precisely given by one of the men, who was very greatly agitated. Captain Steele had vital information in his possession, that much, at least, the listener was able to grasp. One sentence he heard distinctly. I recall it clearly. ‘Tomorrow will be too late,’ This was enough for the agent. He was too clever to arrest these men on the spot. The way was clear for the seizure of at least four or five men, including an officer in the United States Army. So he ...are you listening, dear?”
“Yes, yes!” she replied, as if waking from a dream.
“This agent had been set there to watch for a man and a woman, posing as French people, who are under surveillance. As soon as the speakers parted, he rushed up the street to an hotel, and called up headquarters. This was too big a thing to be sidetracked for the French couple. Several operatives were dispatched immediately to assist him. They went to the building where Derrol lives or lived. They seized the driver of the taxi-cab, but the others evidently got wind of the raid, for when they went up to Steele’s apartment, hoping to catch them in the place with him, they found him alone. He had slipped a bath gown over his pajamas and was undoubtedly waiting for his fellow-conspirators. He realized in an instant that he was trapped. They smashed in the door. While the violent noise was going on, he shot himself. They did not hear the report, however, due to the clatter and to the fact that there was a silencer on the revolver. There was the faintest sign of a pulse, indicating that the shot had been fired only a minute or two before they burst in and discovered him sitting in a chair not twenty feet from the door.”
The tears rolled down the cheeks of Davenport Carstairs. His voice broke.
“I can’t believe it of him, Frieda, I can’t believe it.”
Her face was ghastly. “We have the proof, Davenport, the indisputable proof,” she murmured.
“The proof? What proof have we?”
“The best proof in the world. He shot himself. Only a guilty man would have taken his own life in the circumstances. We must believe it of him, Davenport. That poor, sick girl! How are we to tell her?”
Of the two, she was now by far the more composed. Except for the colourless lips and an almost lavender-like hue that stole slowly into her cheeks just below the temples, indicative of the vast effort she had been called upon to exert in order to regain command of her nerves, she was visibly calm and self-contained. Her husband had sunk dejectedly into a chair. For many minutes no word passed between them. It was she who spoke first.
“You say they caught one of the men, one of the others, I mean?” she inquired.
Her lips parted to form another question. She withheld it. With her handkerchief she wiped away the moisture that suddenly appeared at the corners of her mouth oozing from between close-pressed lips.
She read the accounts in the other papers, her face absolutely emotionless. After a while he looked up, and, unobserved, watched her face.
“You are a very wonderful woman, Frieda,” he said as she laid the last of the papers on the table. Her answer was a faint smile and a shake of the head.
She arose and started resolutely toward the door. As she neared it, she faltered, and then turned back to him.
“Davenport, I have just had a most disturbing thought. It also may have occurred to you. Derrol Steele was a trusted and familiar guest in this house. He heard many important, let me go on, please, I can see revulsion in your eyes. Whether we like it or not, we must look at it squarely from every point of view. Last night, for example, he heard the Admiral; he heard what the Countess had to say about the Italian situation. Going farther back, you yourself spoke in his presence of the sailing of the Elston with all those men on board.”
“I see what is in your mind, Frieda,” he said slowly. “You mean we may be dragged into it?”
“Not at all,” she said rather sharply. “We need not be drawn into it in the slightest degree unless we volunteer information that concerns no one but ourselves. Why should any one know that he came into possession of facts here in our home?”
“Such things are bound to leak out, my dear. The investigation will be thorough. They will go to the bottom of this. Of course, I can manage it so that we sha’n’t come in for any publicity, but we can’t escape questioning.”
“And are we to admit that we discussed these very grave and important matters in his presence?”
“We are to tell the truth, Frieda. You should not forget that we spoke of them in the presence of an officer in the United States Army.”
After a moment she said: “I daresay you are right, Davenport. You are always right. I was only thinking that in view of the fact that there is no proof against him except the few words overheard by that man in front of the café, well, it is possible, don’t you see, that there may have been some horrid, appalling mistake. They have no other proof,—unless the United States Attorney withheld something from you.”
“They have the best proof in the world. He shot himself, as you have said.”
She half closed her eyes. A queer little spasm twisted her lips apart.
“Yes,” she said unsteadily, “yes, he shot himself.”
Her hand was on the door-knob.
“Are you going in to tell her now, Frieda?”
“I must have a little time, just a little, dear. I am more shaken than you think. I must have time to collect myself. It will be very difficult, Davenport. Stay here. Do not come unless I call to you.”
“I leave it all to you, Frieda, God bless you and God give you strength.”
The door closed behind her. He sat motionless for a long time, wondering whether he could hear her call to him with that door and doubtless another intervening. Strange that she should have closed it. He would wait a little while, a few minutes only, and then he would open it and listen.
She went straight to her own room.... Presently she lifted the telephone receiver from the hook. The next moment she replaced it, but did not release it from her tense fingers.
She sat rigid, staring at the instrument, resolve and indecision struggling for mastery. At last she pushed the instrument away and sank back in the chair as if exhausted.
THE doctor arrived at eight. He could not afford to disregard the summons of such a man as Davenport Carstairs. So he told his wife to go on to the Opera without him; he would join her as soon as possible, in fact, it might be possible to get there before the overture was ended, or, at the very latest, soon after the curtain went up. Make his apologies, and all that. This was an urgent case.
Close on his heels came two men to see Mr. Carstairs....
Miss Hansbury was in a pitiable condition. For the better part of two hours, Frieda Carstairs had been with her. Every one else, not excepting her uncle, was denied admission to the room. From time to time, the sound of voices came through the closed door, one shrill and rising to the pitch of frenzy, the other firm, gentle, soothing one that seemed to croon. A sharp-eared listener outside would have caught an occasional sentence wailed in the despairing treble, but he would have made little of it, for it dwindled away into a smothered, inarticulate jumble of words. He might have distinguished the oft-repeated cry: “You know it isn’t true! You know it! You know it!”
Carstairs grasped the doctor’s arm the instant he entered the apartment.
“For God’s sake, Doctor, give her something to quiet her immediately. I cannot endure it. We should have waited. I had no idea it would be like this. Mrs. Carstairs hasn’t left her for an instant. I can hear her moaning and....”
“Is it this, ah, news about young Steele?” inquired the doctor blandly. He rubbed his hands.
“Yes ! We thought it best to tell her before she got it from the servants, or the papers, or... ”
“Dreadful affair, most shocking. I knew him very slightly, but he seemed a most delightful chap. By Jove, it is really distressing, the way the Germans have undermined our very”
“She is in a most deplorable condition, Doctor. Don’t delay an instant, please, and do not leave her until you are convinced there is no danger of” He broke off abruptly.
“Ahem! Yes, yes, ah, I’ll remain as long as...ah, I feel the least bit uneasy about her.”
“All right, Doctor, if there is the remotest danger of ”
“Oh, I fancy there isn’t any real danger of that, Mr. Carstairs. Compose yourself. We ‘ll have her sleeping like a baby in no time at all. Had you an inkling that Steele was that sort of a....”
“And will you please send Mrs. Carstairs out of the room at once?”
“Yes, yes, immediately. Leave it to me, leave it to me,” and off he went, with a sprightliness that would have, surprised his dignity if he had had the slightest notion at that moment that he still possessed such a thing.
But Mrs. Carstairs refused to be sent out of the room. She remained steadfast at the girl’s side, holding and stroking her hand.
“I cannot, I will not leave her, Doctor Browne,” she said, compressing her lips.
The butler apologetically stuck his head into Mr. Carstairs’ study a few minutes after the doctor’s arrival.
“Sorry, sir, but there’s two gentlemen asking to see you.”
“I told you I was not at home to any one, Hollowell. Is it necessary for me to repeat your instructions?”
“No, sir,—thank you, sir. But these gentlemen say they must see you, sir. They are outside, sir, in the hall. I asked ”
“Who are they? What is their business?”
“I asked both those questions, sir,” said the butler, in evident distress.
“Yes, yes, well, and what did they say?”
“They simply said ‘Never mind,’” said Hollowell, with a great deal of feeling.
Carstairs stopped suddenly in his tracks.
“I thought you said they were gentlemen.”
His brow darkened. He had sensed the truth. Secret service men.
“My mistake, sir, my mistake,” mumbled Hollowell. “Ahem! I can only add, Mr. Carstairs, that they seem to think you are at home, and ah ”
“Conduct them to this room,” said Carstairs. A few minutes later: “Come in, gentlemen, and be seated. I suppose you are here to ascertain if I can throw any light on the Derrol Steele affair. It is no secret, of course, that he was my niece’s fiance, and that he was a constant visitor here. I am afraid, however, that I can be of no assistance to you. Captain Steele ”
“Pardon me, Mr. Carstairs,” said one of his visitors, a sharp-eyed, clean-cut man of forty, “but, as a matter of fact, our business here is really with Mrs. Carstairs. Will you be good enough to ask her to step into this room?”
His companion had closed the door, and both remained standing.
“I assure you she knows as little as I do about this distressing affair. My niece is very ill. She cannot leave her. You must allow me, for the present, at least, to speak for Mrs. Carstairs.”
“Deeply as I regret it, Mr. Carstairs, I must insist that your wife ”
“You heard what I said, didn’t you?” demanded Carstairs coldly. Two vivid red blotches shot into his cheeks.
The two men looked at each other. Then the spokesman gave a significant jerk of his head. His companion opened the door and stepped quickly into the hall. As the door closed, the one who remained drew nearer to Carstairs.
“In the first place, Mr. Carstairs, you cannot speak for your wife. I am not here to make inquiries, sir, but to escort her to the offices of the United States Attorney, who will...”
Carstairs started up from his chair. “What infernal nonsense is this?”
“I am afraid it isn’t nonsense,” said the other quietly. “My instructions, my orders, I may say, are to confront Mrs. Carstairs with certain charges, in your presence, by the way, and to remain in this apartment until further orders. There is no alternative.”
“Charges?” gasped Davenport Carstairs, incredulously. “What do you mean? What charges have been brought against us?”
“There is nothing against you, sir. I am instructed to exercise the greatest consideration for you. A great deal, I may add, is left to my discretion, after all. Your wife, I am compelled to inform you, is charged with a very serious offence. In plain words, we have indisputable proof that she is and has been for several years in direct communication with the German Government through ”
“It is a damned, outrageous lie!” shouted Carstairs, furiously. “How dare you come here ”
“Just a moment, please,” interrupted the other sharply. “My instructions are to treat you with the utmost respect and consideration. I must ask you to accord me the same treatment. Will you send for your wife, or must I resort to the authority that...”
“For God’s sake, man, wait! Let me get this thing through my head. I will try to control myself. There has been some terrible mistake. Let us discuss the matter calmly. I can explain everything. We must spare her the mortification, the humiliation of being - Why, my dear sir, it would kill her. She would not survive the...”
The agent held up his hand. “There is no mistake. It may be possible to spare her the disgrace, the ignominy of public exposure. That, sir, rests with her and with you. We recognize your position, Mr. Carstairs. There is a disposition on the part of the authorities to protect you. With that object in view, I am instructed to grant Mrs. Carstairs the privilege of remaining in her own room until tomorrow morning. We are to take no definite action tonight, unless, of course, you and she decide that it is best for her to accompany me to the headquarters. It is up to you and Mrs. Carstairs, sir.”
Davenport Carstairs was a strong, virile character. He possessed the arrogance born of power and a confidence in himself that had never been shaken. His home was his stronghold, his wife its treasure. In his serene strength he could not conceive of discredit falling upon either. Instead of faltering, now that the first shock had been weathered, he drew himself up and faced the situation with a courage that excited the wonder and admiration of the man who came with evil tidings.
“Be seated,” said he, indicating a chair. The man sat down. “You may be partially if not entirely ignorant of the nature of these charges. Am I right in assuming that you are not at liberty to discuss them with me?”
“On the contrary, Mr. Carstairs, I have been advised to do nothing until I have talked the matter over with you. I am in possession of all the facts.”
“Is the department content to allow me to pass judgment on my wife?” inquired Car-stairs, with a touch of irony. He maintained a calm exterior, at what cost no one but he will ever know. The secret service man made no response. “In any case, I shall have to ask you to explain everything to me before permitting you to approach my wife.”
The agent, who shall be called Jones, nodded his head, and then leaned forward in his chair.
“A man named Hodges was in your employ as a butler up to a fortnight ago. He had worked for you exactly seven weeks and one day. Do you know where he came from and who he really was, Mr. Carstairs?”
“No. Mrs. Carstairs engages the servants here. Are you going to tell me that he was a German spy?”
“Far from it, sir. ‘He was a British secret service agent. His name was Bridgeford. He was killed by an automobile, but not accidentally as you have been led to believe. We have been looking for the driver of that car for two weeks. Last night we got him. He has confessed. Since six o’clock this evening three other men have been arrested, all subordinate figures in the game. Before morning we expect to land at least one or two of the principal members of the shrewdest gang of spies operating in the name and interest of the Kaiser.”
“Including my wife,” said Carstairs, lifting his eyebrows.
Jones allowed the remark to pass without comment.
“Bridgeford, or Hodges, as you knew him, was sent to this city from London. For a long time he worked independently. A few days before his death, we received instructions from Washington to get in touch with him. That was the first we knew of him, I’ll confess. The British Foreign Office advised our department that he had finally got hold of something big and tangible. But evidently the German Foreign Office also was wise to him. He reported to us on the afternoon of the day he was killed. He said that the time was not yet ripe to take positive steps, but that he would soon have the goods on four or five prominent people. He gave us the names of these people. Two of them he was sure about, the others were in doubt. Believe me, they were prominent. We were to hold off till he said the word. That night he was killed. But they didn’t do it soon enough. We had all his data, incomplete as it was, and we’ve followed it up. That’s why I am here this evening.”
He paused; and Carstairs said, harshly: “Well, go on, why do you hesitate?”
“We know now, beyond all possible doubt, that information of the most vital character has reached the German Admiralty and the Foreign Office through Mrs. Carstairs,” said Jones deliberately.
“I may be pardoned if I repeat that it is a damned lie,” said Carstairs, gripping the arms of his chair.
“You have said just what you were expected to say, Mr. Carstairs. Before I have finished, however, you will realize that it is not a damned lie. I am authorized to exhibit certain memoranda from the Department. You will then agree with us that the information came from this house, from this apartment, in fact.”
“In the light of what happened last night, I may go so far as to concede that such may have been the case. Permit me to remind you of the suicide of Captain”
He broke off abruptly, struck by the expression in the other’s face. Jones shook his head slowly. There was genuine distress in his voice when he spoke.
“Captain Steele was murdered, Mr. Carstairs,” he said. “He did not kill himself.” Carstairs sprang to his feet. For an instant a flash of joy transfigured his face.
“By ‘gad, I knew it, I knew it! I would have staked my soul on that boy’s honour. Murdered? My God! And for what hellish purpose is his name blackened by the foul reports given to the press by your”
“A very grave injustice has been done an honourable gentleman,” interrupted Jones, with real feeling. “Captain Steele was murdered by assassins in the employ of persons connected with the German Government. When I have finished my story, I shall make it brief, you will understand that, far from being a traitor to his country, Derrol Steele was a patriot who would not have hesitated to denounce” He withheld the words that rose to his lips in vindication of the maligned officer. “A careful search of his rooms today resulted in the discovery of a document in his own handwriting, written after he left your apartment last night, and put under lock and key some time prior to the arrival of the assassins. I have a copy of it with me. You will observe that he does not make definite accusations against any one, and that he employs initials only in designating the persons involved. He goes no farther than to express his own misgivings, his suspicions and certain observations that prove how keenly alive he was to the real situation. Sit down, Mr. Carstairs, and look over these papers. Begin here, sir, with the data obtained by the man you knew as Hodges. I beg to assure you, in advance, that my superiors entertain no thought that you were at any time cognizant of what has been going on in your own home, and there is the profoundest desire on their part to spare you”
“Enough, sir! Let me see the papers.”
“Just a moment, please. There is one gap in the sequence of events leading up to the death of Captain Steele. We are confident that the leaders of this great conspiracy were warned late last night that Captain Steele suspected a certain person, but we have been unable to discover by what means, or through whom, this warning was delivered. The men under arrest, with the exception of the chauffeur, absolutely refuse to make a statement of any kind, and he, we are confident, does not know who the go-between was. All he knows, or thinks, at least, is that he and his pals were double-crossed last night by well, by Mrs. Carstairs.”
Davenport Carstairs read the papers placed in his hands by the Secret Service man. One by one, they fell from his stiff, trembling fingers, fluttering to the floor, each in its succeeding turn. At the end, he looked not into Jones’s eyes, but past them, and from his own the light was gone.
“Will you ask your wife to come in now, Mr. Carstairs?” said Jones, a trifle unsteadily.
Carstairs stared at him for a moment, unseeingly. Then he passed his hand over his eyes as if to clear them of something revolting. The moment was tense, spasmodic, prophetic of approaching collapse. The strength and courage and confidence of the man had sustained a shock that made ruin of them all. He wondered dumbly whether he would ever have the power and the desire to lift his head again and look into the eye of this man who sat there with him. The whole fabric of existence was torn to shreds by the merciless revelations contained in the papers he had read with the steel in his heart. They were complete, irrefutable indictments. There was no such thing as going behind them. Steele’s blighting conjectures suddenly became truths of the most appalling nature; the astonishing record of Hodges the butler laid bare a multitude of secrets; the brief, almost laconic summing-up of facts in the possession of the Department took the heart out of his body and scorched it with conviction, for he knew that the Secret Eye had looked into the very soul of the woman he loved and cherished and trusted....
“If you do not object, I will speak with her alone,” said he, lifelessly. He struggled to his feet, and, by the mightiest effort of the will, lifted his head and fixed his haggard eyes upon the face of the man who had cast the bomb at his feet: a far more potent agent of destruction than any that Germany herself had ever hurled! It was to destroy heaven and earth for him.
Jones, cleared his throat. “That is for you to decide, Mr. Carstairs,” he said, and there was something significant in his voice and manner. “Will you take these documents ”
“No. I do not wish her to see them. Be good enough to step into the drawing-room, and wait. This way through this door. And please call your companion. It is not necessary for him to stand guard over her. You have my word that she shall not escape.”
“We are to respect your wishes in every particular, Mr. Carstairs. The authorities appreciate your position. It is their desire to spare you, if possible, the disgrace, the pain ” He stopped.
“I think I understand,” said Davenport Car-stairs slowly. A moment later he was alone.
Presently he unlocked and opened a small drawer in his desk. He took out something that glittered, examined it carefully, and then stuck it into his coat pocket. His jaws were set; in his eyes lay the hard, cold light of steel.
He did not falter.
She had not been fair with him, but he would be fair with her. He would stand by her to the end.... She should have her chance. He would see to it that the newspapers, and the world, dealt kindly with her. He had loved her.
If possible, he would see to it that he was the only one in all the world to hate her.
He went to her room.
FAR in the night he said to her: “It is the only way. I shall leave you to yourself now, Frieda. The rest is with God and you. Tomorrow morning they will take you away. They may they probably will shoot you as a spy. I cannot save you, nothing that I can do will be of avail in turning aside or tempering the wrath of Justice.”
She sat, limply, with bowed head. Her fine body seemed to have shrivelled; emptied of its vitality, it had shrunk as with age before his eyes. Everything that had fed her blood for years seeped away, leaving a waste of sunken flesh: pride, arrogance, defiance, and, last of all, fury, all had gone out of the house of her soul. There was nothing left but the pitiful thing called life.
She raised her eyes.
“I cannot take your way out, Davenport,” she said dully.
He pointed to the revolver he had laid on her dressing-table.
“That, Frieda, is the only friend you have in all this world tonight.”
“Oh, my God! Are you heartless? Have you no pity, no love, no”
“I have pity, nothing more. Love? I have given you love for twenty years and more. You have defiled it. Do not speak of love!”
“You know I love you you know I would die for you a thousand times over. You are my man, my master, my ”
“Enough, Frieda! You have played a great game, but an ignoble one, and you have lost. You have begged me to become your executioner. You ask me to kill you. You”
“I do not ask it now,” she broke in, looking him full in the eye. “Go, Davenport. Leave me to myself. Thank you for being kind to me tonight, after all. I have told you the truth, you know everything that my conscience permits me to reveal. You know more than that man who sits out there like a vulture, waiting for waiting for me. What I have confessed to you I would die a thousand times over rather than confess to another living soul. They could take me away tonight and torture me till I died, and not one word of what I have said to you would pass my lips. They know enough, but you alone know all. You say the world will never know what I have done. I do not care. Let the world know. I am proud of my blood I rejoice in the little I have been able to do for...”
“Hush! Do not say it.”
“Very well. It hurts you. I do not want to hurt you now, husband. The world is to believe that I ...that an accident a sudden ” She buried her face in her hands. Her body shook.
“I would spare your son, Frieda,” said he.
She looked up, dry-eyed. A quick flash, could it have been of joy? lighted her haggard face.
“Yes, yes, he must be spared,” she cried. A deep, inscrutable expression came into her eyes. She drew a deep, full breath. “Thank God! He is young, he has a long and useful life to live. I gave it him. That is the best, the biggest thing I have done. Now, go, Davenport. Shall we say good-night?”
The following day, in the noon issues all of the New York evening papers printed, under varied headlines, the details, so far as available, of the shocking accident which resulted in the death of Mrs. Davenport Carstairs. She had fallen from a window in her bed-chamber to the brick-paved courtyard ten stories below. Death was instantaneous. “Accidental,” was the prompt decision of the coroner.
Deduction readily established the fact. Mrs. Carstairs must have become ill in the night. A bottle of smelling salts was found on the floor near the window which was open to the full. Evidently, she had gone to the window for air. After opening it wide, a sudden faintness or dizziness caused her to topple forward.... Before retiring for the night, she had complained to her husband of a dull, throbbing headache, due, no doubt, to anxiety over the alarming illness of her niece, Miss Hansbury.... Sometime after one o’clock, Mr. Carstairs, in the adjoining bed-room, heard her moaning as if in pain. He arose instantly and opened the connecting door. She was lying on her bed, and, in response to his inquiry, begged him not to worry about her. Dr. Browne, called in to attend Miss Hansbury, had decided to remain for the night. He was lying down in a guest-chamber, and had fallen asleep.
Uneasy over his wife’s condition, Mr. Car-stairs awoke the physician and together they returned to her room. A knock on the door brought no response, but some relief in the thought that she was asleep. The husband opened the door slightly and listened. There was no sound. He entered the room, which was dark, and approached the bed. Then, he called out to the doctor to switch on the lights.... A cold icy draft, the Night-Wind, rushing into the room through the open window....
Continuing, the papers spoke profoundly of the great loss to society, of the qualities that made Mrs. Davenport Carstairs one of the most sincerely beloved women in all the great city, of her prominence in the conduct of important war charities and reliefs, of her unswerving devotion to the cause for which America and her sons were fighting, of her manifold charms and graces. Her untimely death created a void that could never be filled. Eulogy upon eulogy!
Among the hundreds of telegrams of condolence received by Davenport Carstairs was one from Mr. Paul Zimmerlein, couched in most exquisite terms, conveying tribute to the dead and sympathy to the living. It was sent on the second day from the smart club to which he belonged; on the third flowers went up with his card.
As business went on as usual at the offices of Mr. Paul Zimmerlein, it would be sheer presumption to even suggest that this unhappy chronicle has reached .