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Red Masquerade by Louis Joseph Vance

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[Illustration: "_Prince Victor gave a gesture of pain and reluctance. 'Must
I tell you?_'"]



This tale quite brazenly derives from the author's invention for motion
pictures which Mr. J. Parker Read, Jr., produced in the autumn of 1919
under the title of "The Lone Wolf's Daughter."

It is only fair to state, however, that the author has in this version
taken as many high-handed liberties with the version used by the photoplay
director as the latter took with the original.

The chance to get even for once was too tempting....

Messrs. Doubleday, Page & Company in the first instance, and then Mr.
Arthur T. Vance, editor of _The Pictorial Review_, in which the story was
published as a serial, were equally guilty of the encouragement which
results in its appearance in its present guise.


Westport--31 December, 1920.

Books by Louis Joseph Vance


















_Stories About "The Lone Wolf"_












































The gentleman was not in the least bored who might have been and was seen
on that wintry afternoon in Nineteen hundred, lounging with one shoulder to
a wall of the dingy salesroom and idly thumbing a catalogue of effects
about to be put up at auction; but his insouciance was so unaffected that
the inevitable innocent bystander might have been pardoned for perceiving
in him a pitiable victim of the utterest ennui.

In point of fact, he was privately relishing life with enviable gusto. In
those days he could and did: being alive was the most satisfying pastime he
could imagine, or cared to, who was a thundering success in his own conceit
and in fact as well; since all the world for whose regard he cared a
twopenny-bit admired, respected, and esteemed him in his public status, and
admired, respected, and feared him in his private capacity, and paid him
heavy tribute to boot.

More than that, he was young, still very young indeed, barely beyond the
threshold of his chosen career. To his eagerly exploring eye the future
unrolled itself in the likeness of an endless scroll illuminated with
adventures all piquant, picturesque, and profitable. With the happy
assurance of lucky young impudence he figured the world to himself as his
oyster; and if his method of helping himself to the succulent contents of
its stubborn shell might have been thought questionable (as unquestionably
it was) he was no more conscious of a conscience to give him qualms than he
was of pangs of indigestion. Whereas his digestive powers were superb....

This way of killing an empty afternoon, too, was much to his taste. The man
adored auctions. To his mind a most delectable flavour of discreet scandal
inhered in such collections of shabby properties from anonymous homes.
Nothing so piqued his imagination as some well-worn piece of furniture--say
an ancient escritoire with ink stains on its green baize writing-bed (dried
life-blood of love letters long since dead!) and all its pigeon-holes and
little drawers empty of everything but dust and the seductive smell of
secrets; or a dressing-table whose bewildered mirror, to-day reflecting
surroundings cold and strange, had once been quick and warm to the beauty
of eyes brilliant with delight or blurred with tears; or perchance a

And even aside from such stimuli to a lively and ingenious fancy, there was
always the chance that one might pick up some priceless treasure at an
auction sale, some rare work of art dim with desuetude and the disrespect
of ignorance: jewellery of quaintest old-time artistry; a misprized bit of
bronze; a book, it might be an overlooked copy of a first edition inscribed
by some immortal author to a forgotten love; or even--if one were in rare
luck--a picture, its pristine brilliance faded, the signature of the artist
illegible beneath the grime of years, evidence of its origin perceptible
only to the discerning eye--to such an eye, for instance, as Michael
Lanyard boasted. For paintings were his passion.

Already, indeed, at this early age, he was by way of being something of a
celebrity, in England and on the Continent, as a collector of the nicest

And then he found unfailing human interest in the attendance attracted by
auction sales; in the dealers, gentlemen generally of pronounced
idiosyncrasies; in the auctioneers themselves, robust fellows, wielding a
sort of rugged wit singular to their calling, masters of deep guile,
endowed with intuitions which enabled them at a glance or from the mere
intonation of a voice to discriminate between the serious-minded and those
frivolous souls who bid without meaning to buy, but as a rule for nothing
more than the curious satisfaction of being able to brag that they had been

But it was in the ranks of the general public that one found most
amusement; seldom did a sale pass off undistinguished by at least one
incident uniquely revealing or provocative. And for such moments Lanyard
was always on the qui vive, but quietly, who knew that nothing so quickly
stifles spontaneity as self-consciousness. So, if he studied his company
closely, he was studious to do it covertly; as now, when he seemed
altogether engrossed in the catalogue, whereas his gaze was freely roving.

Thus far to-day a mere handful of people other than dealers had drifted in
to wait for the sale to begin--something for which the weather was largely
to blame, for the day was dismal with a clammy drizzle settling from a low
and leaden sky--and with a solitary exception these few were commonplace

This one Lanyard had marked down midway across the room, in the foremost
row of chairs beneath the salesman's pulpit: by his attire a person of
fashion (though his taste might have been thought a trace florid) who
carried himself with an air difficult of definition but distinctive enough
in its way.

Whoever he was and what his quality, he was unmistakably somebody of
consequence in his own reckoning, and sufficiently well-to-do to dress the
part he chose to play in life. Certainly he had a conscientious tailor and
a busy valet, both saturate with British tradition. Yet the man they served
was no Englishman.

Aside from his clothing, everything about him had an exotic tang, though
what precisely his racial antecedents might have been was rather a riddle;
a habit so thoroughly European went oddly with the hints of Asiatic strain
which one thought to detect in his lineaments. Nevertheless, it were
difficult otherwise to account for the faintly indicated slant of those
little black eyes, the blurred modelling of the nose, the high cheekbones,
and the thin thatch of coarse black hair which was plastered down with
abundant brilliantine above that mask of pallid features.

The grayish pallor of the man, indeed, was startling, so that Lanyard for
some time sought an adjective to suit it, and was content only when he hit
on the word _evil_. Indeed, evil seemed the inevitable and only word; none
other could possibly so well fit that strange personality.

His interest thus fixed, he awaited confidently what could hardly fail to
come, a moment of self-betrayal.

That fell more quickly than he had hoped. Of a sudden the decent quiet of
King Street, thus far accentuated rather than disturbed by the routine
grind of hansoms and four-wheelers, was enlivened by spirited hoofs whose
clatter stilled abruptly in front of the auction room.

Turning a speciously languid eye toward the weeping window, Lanyard had a
partial view of a handsomely appointed private equipage, a pair of spanking
bays, a liveried coachman on the box.

The carriage door slammed with a hollow clap; a footman furled an umbrella
and climbed to his place beside the driver. As the vehicle drew away, one
caught a glimpse of a crest upon the panel.

Two women entered the auction room.



These ladies were young, neither much older than Lanyard, both were very
much alive, openly betraying an infatuation with existence very like his
own, and both were lovely enough to excuse the exquisite insolence of their
young vitality.

As is frequently the case in such associations, since a pretty woman seldom
courts comparison with another of her own colouring, one was dark, the
other fair.

With the first, Lanyard was, like all London, on terms of visual
acquaintance. The reigning beauty of the hour, her portrait was enjoying a
vogue of its own in the public prints. Furthermore, Lady Diantha Mainwaring
was moderately the talk of the town, in those prim, remotely ante-bellum
days--thanks to high spirits and a whimsical tendency to flout the late
Victorian proprieties; something which, however, had yet to lead her into
any prank perilous to her good repute.

The other, a girl whose hair of golden bronze was well set off by Russian
sables, Lanyard did not know at all; but he knew at sight that she was far
too charming a creature to be neglected if ever opportunity offered to be
presented to her. And though the first article of his creed proscribed
women of such disastrous attractions as deadly dangerous to his kind, he
chose without hesitation to forget all that, and at once began to cudgel
his wits for a way to scrape acquaintance with the companion of Lady

Their arrival created an interesting bustle, a buzz of comment, a craning
of necks--flattery accepted by the young women with ostensible unconcern, a
cliche of their caste. As they had entered in a humour keyed to the highest
pitch of gaiety consistent with good breeding, so with more half-stifled
laughter they settled into chairs well apart from all others but, as it
happened, in a direct line between Lanyard and the man whose repellent cast
of countenance had first taken his interest.

Thus it was that Lanyard, after eyeing the young women unobserved as long
as he liked, lifted his glance to discover upon that face a look that
amazed him.

It wasn't too much to say (he thought) that the man was transfigured by
malevolence, so that he blazed with it, so that hatred fairly flowed, an
invisible yet manifest current of poisoned fire, between him and the girl
with the hair of burnished bronze.

All the evil in him seemed to be concentrated in that glare. And yet its
object remained unconscious of it or, if at all sensitive, dissembled
superbly. The man was apparently no more present to her perceptions than
any other person there, except her companion.

Presently, becoming sensible of Lanyard's intrigued regard, the man looked
up, caught him in a stare and, mortally affronted, rewarded him with a look
of virulent enmity.

Not to be outdone, Lanyard gave a fleeting smile, a bare curving of lips
together with an almost imperceptible narrowing of amused eyes--goading the
other to the last stage of exasperation--then calmly ignored the fellow,
returning indifferent attention to the progress of the sale.

Since nothing was being offered at the moment to draw a bid from him, he
maintained a semblance of interest solely to cover his thoughts, meanwhile
lending a civil ear to the garrulous tongue of a dealer of his acquaintance
who, having edged nearer to indulge a failing for gossip, found a ready
auditor. For when Lanyard began to heed the sense of the other's words,
their subject was the companion of Lady Diantha Mainwaring.

"... Princess Sofia Vassilyevski, you know, the Russian beauty."

Lanyard lifted his eyebrows the fraction of an inch, meaning to say he
didn't know but at the same time didn't object to enlightenment.

"But you must have heard of her! For weeks all London has been talking
about her jewels, her escapades, her unhappy marriage."

"Married?" Lanyard made a sympathetic mouth. "And so young! Quel dommage!"

"But separated from her husband."

"Ah!" Lanyard brightened up. "And who, may one ask, is the husband?"

"Why, he's here, too--over there in the front row--chap with the waxed
moustache and putty-coloured face, staring at her now."

"Oh, that animal! And what right has he got to look like that?"

The buzz of the scandalmonger grew more confidential: "They say he's never
forgiven her for leaving him--though the Lord knows she had every reason,
if half they tell is true. They say he's mad about her still, gives her no
rest, follows her everywhere, is all the time begging her to return to

"But who the deuce is the beast?" Lanyard interrupted, impatiently. "You
know, I don't like his face."

"Prince Victor," the whisper pursued with relish--"by-blow, they say, of a
Russian grand duke and a Manchu princess--half Russian, half Chinese, all

Without looking, Lanyard felt that Prince Victor's stare had again shifted
from the women, and that the mongrel son of the alleged grand duke was
aware he had become a subject of comment. So the eminent collector of works
of art elected to dismiss the subject with a negligent lift of one

"Ah, well! Daresay he can't help his ugly make-up. All the same, he's
spoiling my afternoon. Be a good fellow, do, and put him out."

The Briton chuckled a deprecating chuckle; meaning to say, he hoped Lanyard
was spoofing; but since one couldn't be sure, one's only wise course was to
play safe.

"Really, Monsieur Lanyard! I'm afraid one couldn't quite do _that_, you



The sale dragged monotonously. The paintings offered were mostly of
mediocre value. The gathering was apathetic.

Lanyard bid in two or three sketches, more out of idleness than because he
wanted them, and succeeded admirably in seeming ignorant of the existence
of the Princess Sofia and the husband whose surface of a blackguard was so
harmonious with his reputation.

In time, however, a change was presaged by an abrupt muting of that
murmured conversation between the beautiful Russian and the almost equally
beautiful Englishwoman. An inquisitive look discovered the princess sitting
slightly forward and intently watching the auctioneer.

The pose of an animated, delightful child, hanging breathlessly upon the
progress of some fascinating game: one's gaze lingered approvingly upon a
bewitching profile with half-parted lips, saw that excitement was faintly
colouring the cheeks beneath shadowy and enigmatic eyes, remarked the sweet
spirit that poised that lovely head.

And then one looked farther, and saw the prince, like the princess,
absorbed in the business at the auction block, his slack elegance of the
raffish aristocrat forgotten, all his being tense with purpose, strung
taut--as taut at least as that soft body, only half-masculine in mould and
enervated by loose living, could ever be. One thought of a rather elderly
and unfit snake, stirred by the sting of some long-buried passion out of
the lassitude of years of slothful self-indulgence, poising to strike....

At the elbow of the auctioneer an attendant was placing on exhibition a
landscape that was either an excellent example of the work of Corot or an
imitation no less excellent. At that distance Lanyard felt inclined to dub
it genuine, though he knew well that Europe was sown thick with spurious
Corots, and would never have risked his judgment without closer inspection.

He was accordingly perplexed when, after a brief exhortation by the
auctioneer, discreetly noncommittal as to the antecedents of the
canvas--"attributed to Corot"--Prince Victor, who had been straining
forward like a hound in leash, half rose in his eagerness to offer:

"One thousand guineas!"

The entire company stirred as one and sat up sharply. Even the auctioneer
was momentarily stricken dumb. And for the first time the Princess Sofia
acknowledged the presence of her husband, and got from him that look of
white hatred with a sneer of triumph thrown in for good measure.

Though she affected indifference, Lanyard saw her slender body transiently
shaken by a shudder, it might have been of dread. But she was quick to pull
herself together, and the auctioneer had scarcely found his tongue--"One
thousand guineas for this magnificent canvas attributed to Corot"--when her
clear and youthful voice cut in:

"Two thousand guineas!"

This the prince capped with a monosyllable:


Stupefaction settled upon the audience. The auctioneer hesitated, blinked
astonished eyes, framed unspoken phrases with halting lips. Prince Victor,
again gave his wife the full value of his vindictive snarl. She would not
see, but it was plain that she was cruelly dismayed, that it cost her an
effort to rise to the topping bid:

"Thirty-five hundred guineas!"

"Four thousand!"

"Four thousand I am offered ..."

The auctioneer faltered, a spasm of honesty shook him, he proceeded:

"It is only fair, ladies and gentlemen, that I should state that this
canvas is not put up as an authentic Corot. It very possibly is such, in
fact"--the seizure was passing swiftly--"it bears every evidence of having
come from the brush of the master. But we cannot guarantee it. There is,
however, a gentleman present who is amply qualified to pass upon the merits
of this work. With his permission"--his eye sought Lanyard's--"I venture to
request the opinion of Monsieur Michael Lanyard, the noted connoisseur!"

Lanyard detached a deprecating smile from the pages of his catalogue, but
his contemplated response was cut short by Prince Victor.

"I am not aware," that one said, icily, "that the authenticity of this
painting is a material question. Nor have I any need of the opinion of this
gentleman, whatever his qualifications. I have bid four thousand guineas,
and insist that the sale proceed. If there are no further bids, the canvas
is mine."

The auctioneer shrugged, and offered Lanyard an apologetic bow. "I am
sorry--" he began.

"Four thousand guineas!" snapped the prince.

Resigned, the auctioneer resumed:

"Four thousand guineas offered. Are there any more bids? Going--"

"Forty-five hundred!"

Beyond reasonable doubt the princess had spurred herself mercilessly to
find sufficient courage to make this latest bid. Lanyard saw her in a
rigour of despair, hoping against hope. Only too surely something in the
picture, some association--heaven knew what!--was more precious to her,
almost, than life, though she had gone already to the limit of her means
and perhaps a bit beyond. If this bid failed, she was lost. Her anxiety was

"Five thousand!"

In the princess something snapped: she recoiled upon herself, sat crushed,
head drooping, white-gloved hands working in her lap. One detected an
appealing quiver on her lips, and noted, or imagined, a suspicious
brightness beneath the long dark lashes that swiftly screened her eyes. Her
young bosom moved convulsively. She was beaten, near to tears.

"Five thousand guineas ... going ... going ..."

The face of the prince was a mocking devil-mask in gray and black. Lanyard
found himself loathing it. Impossible to stand idle and see the creature
get the better of an unhappy girl ...

"Five thousand one hundred guineas!"

With his wits in a blur of amaze, Lanyard knew the echo of his own voice.



One reflected rather bitterly on the many and obvious oversights of a
putatively all-wise Providence, in especial on its failure so to fashion
the body of man as to enable him on occasion to discipline his own flesh in
the most ignominious manner imaginable.

Lanyard could have kicked himself; that is to say, he wanted to, and
thought it rather a pity he couldn't, and publicly, at that. For the freak
he had just indulged was rank quixotism, something which had as much place
in the code of a man of his calling as milk of human kindness in the
management of a pawnshop.

On second thought, he wasn't so sure. It might have been that quixotism had
inspired his infatuate gesture, but it might quite as conceivably have been
everyday vanity or plain cussedness: a noble impulse to serve a pretty lady
in distress, a spontaneous device to engage her interest, or a low desire
to plague a personality as antipathetic to his own as that of a

In point of simple fact (he decided), his impelling motive had been a
mixture of all three.

In all three respects, furthermore, it proved notably successful; in the
two last named without delay.

The Princess Sofia at once took note of Lanyard, with wonder, some
misgivings, and a hint of admiration. For he was not only a personable
person in those days, with a suggestion of devil-may-care in his air that
measurably lifted the curse of his superficial foppishness, but he was
putting a spoke in Prince Victor's wheel. And whosoever did that, by
chance, out of sheer voluptuousness, or with malice prepense, won immediate
title to Sofia's favourable regard. If she couldn't thwart Victor herself,
she would be much obliged to anybody who could and did; and she was nothing
loath to betray her bias by looking kindly upon her self-appointed

A whispered communication from Lady Diantha did nothing to abate her overt

As for Victor, his face of leaden gray took on a tinge of green; he quaked
with rage, and the glare he loosed on Lanyard made that young man wonder if
he were mistaken in believing that the eyes of the prince shone in that
dusky room with something nearly akin to the phosphorescence to be seen in
the eyes of an animal at night.

The notion was amusing: Lanyard paid it the tribute of a quiet smile, in
direct acknowledgment of which Prince Victor snarled:

"Six thousand guineas!"

"And a hundred," Lanyard added.

Brief pause prefaced a bid designed to squelch him completely:

"Ten thousand!"

In a fatigued voice he uttered: "One hundred more."


This time Lanyard contented himself with nodding to the auctioneer; and the
lips of the latter had barely parted to parrot the bid when Victor sprang
to his feet, his features working, his limbs shaking so that the legs of
the chair beside him, whose back he seized, chattered on the floor, while
the high-pitched voice broke into a screech:


And Lanyard said: "And one."

"Twenty thousand one hundred guineas!" chanted the auctioneer. "Are there
any more bids? You, sir--?" He aimed a respectful bow at Prince Victor, who
snubbed him with a sign of fury. "Going--going--gone! Sold to Monsieur
Lanyard for twenty thousand and one hundred guineas!"

And Lanyard had the satisfaction of seeing Prince Victor, after a vain
effort to master his emotion, snatch up his topper, clap it on his head,
and make for the door with footsteps whose stuttering haste was in poor
accord with the dignity of his exalted station.

But it was debatable whether this satisfaction plus the possession of a
questionable Corot was worth its cost. And Lanyard wasn't in the humour,
now that the heat of contest began to abate, to look to Princess Sofia for
promise of further reward. Even if he could have been guilty of such
impertinence, indeed, he must have forborne for very shame. After all (he
told himself) he hadn't figured very creditably, permitting petty prejudice
to sway him as it had. He felt singularly sure he had played the gratuitous
ass in this affair, and he didn't in the least desire to see the reflection
of a like conviction in the eyes of a pretty young woman with a flair for
the ridiculous.

He dissembled his diminished self-esteem, however, most successfully, as he
proceeded to the desk of the auctioneer's clerk, filled in a cheque for the
amount of his purchase, and gave instructions for its delivery.

Whether by intention or inadvertence, he was followed from the auction room
by the Princess Sofia and Lady Diantha Mainwaring; and just outside the
entrance he found Prince Victor waiting with all the air of a gentleman
impatient for a cab to happen along and pick him up out of the drizzle.

But in view of the fact that he made no overtures to a passing hansom,
which swerved in to the curb in response to a signal of Lanyard's cane,
this last concluded that the prince was up to his reputedly favourite game
of waylaying his rebel wife.

If such were the case, Lanyard had no wish to witness a public wrangle
between the two. So he stepped briskly up on the carriage-block, and only
hesitated when he saw that the prince, utterly ignoring the presence of the
princess and Lady Diantha, was edging forward and cocking an alert ear to
catch the address which Lanyard was on the point of giving the cabby.

Hugely diverted, the adventurer looked round with a quirk of his brows, and
amiably commented:

"Monsieur's interest is so flattering! If he really must know, I'm going
home now, to my rooms in Halfmoon Street. Au revoir, monsieur le prince!"

He beamed benignly upon that convulsed countenance, and saw crestfallen
Prince Victor slink away, to the music of smothered laughter from the
ladies in the doorway--toward which Lanyard was careful not to look.

Then, in high feather with himself, he chirped to the driver and hopped
into the hansom.



As Lanyard's cab swung away, the carriage wheeled in to take up the
Princess Sofia and Lady Diantha Mainwaring. Observing this, Lanyard poked
his stick through the little trap in the roof of the hansom and suggested
that the driver pull up, climb down, adjust some imaginary fault with the
harness and, when the carriage had passed, follow it with discretion.

Enchanted by sight of a half-sovereign in the palm of his fare, the cabby
executed this manoeuvre to admiration; with the upshot that Lanyard got
home half an hour later than he would have had he proceeded to his rooms
direct, but with information of value to recompense him.

It wasn't his habit to lose time in those days of his youth. And lest his
character be misconstrued (which would be deplorable) it may as well be
stated now that he had not laid down upward of twenty thousand good golden
guineas for a colourable Corot without having a tolerably clear notion of
how he meant to reimburse himself if it should turn out that he had paid
too dear for his whistle.

The hint imparted by his garrulous acquaintance of the auction room--to the
effect that the Princess Sofia was famous, among other things, for the
magnificence of her personal jewellery--had found a good home where it
wasn't in danger of suffering for want of doting interest.

And now one knew where their owner lived, and in what state ...

Alighting at his own door, the adventurer surprised Prince Victor, morosely
ambling by, in his vast fatuity no doubt imagining that his passage through
Halfmoon Street would go unremarked in the dusk of that early winter
evening. He wasn't at all pleased to find himself mistaken; and though
Lanyard did his best with his blandest smile to make amends for having
discomfited the prince by getting home later than he had promised to, his
good-natured effort was repaid only by a spiteful scowl.

So he laughed aloud, and went indoors rejoicing.

An hour or so later the painting was delivered by a porter from the auction
room. But Lanyard was in his bath at the time and postponed examining his
doubtful prize till he had dressed for dinner. For, though it was his whim
to dine in his rooms alone, and though he had no fixed plans for the
evening, Lanyard was too thoroughly cosmopolitan not to do in Cockaigne as
the Cockneys do.

Besides, in this uncertain life one never knows what the next hour will
bring forth; whereas if one is in evening dress after six o'clock, one is
armoured against every emergency.

At seven he sat down to the morbid sort of a meal one gets in London
lodgings: a calm soup; a segment of vague fish smothered painlessly in a
pale pink blanket of sauce; a cut from the joint, rare and lukewarm;
potatoes boiled dead; sad sea-kale; nonconformist pudding; conservative
biscuit, and radical cheese.

With the aid and abetment of a bottle of excellent Montrachet, however, one
contrived to worry through.

Meanwhile, Lanyard inspected his recent purchase, which occupied a place of
honour, propped up on the arms of the chair on his right.

It was seldom that Lanyard entertained a guest of such equivocal character.
Wagging a reproving head--"My friend," he harangued the canvas, "you are
lucky to have been sold. Sorry I can't say as much for myself."

It was really too bad it wasn't a bit better. It wasn't often that one
encountered so genuine a counterfeit. The hand of an artist had painted it,
but never the hand of Corot. Everything Corot was accustomed to put into
his painting was there, except himself. The abode had been prepared in all
respects as the master would have had it, but his spirit had not entered
into it, it remained without life.

Still, Lanyard concluded, surveying his prize through the illusioning fumes
of his cigar, while the waiter cleared away, it wasn't so bad after all, it
wouldn't be in the end a total loss. He could afford to cart the thing back
to Paris with him and give it room in his private gallery; and some day,
doubtless, some rich American would pay a handsome price for it on the
strength of its having found place in the collection of Michael Lanyard,
even though it lacked the cachet of his guarantee.

But what the devil had made it so precious to the soi-disant Prince Victor
and his charming wife?

But for a single circumstance Lanyard would have been tempted to believe he
had been craftily rooked by an accomplished chevalier d'industrie and his
female confederate; but too much and too real passion had been betrayed in
the auction room to countenance that suspicion.

No: he hadn't been rigged; at least, not by design. Something more than its
intrinsic value had rendered the canvas priceless in the esteem of those
two, something had been at stake more than mere possession of what they
might have believed to be a real Corot.

But what?

Perplexed, Lanyard took the picture in his hands--it was not too unwieldy,
even in its frame--and examined it with nose so close to the painted
surface that he seemed to be smelling it. Then he turned it over and
scowled at its reverse. And shook a baffled head.

But when he tapped the face of the picture smartly with a finger-nail, he
gave a slight start, passed a hand over it with the palm pressed flat, and
suddenly assumed the humanly intelligent expression of a hunting-dog that
has hit on a warm scent.

Strong fingers and a fruit knife quickly extracted the painting from its
frame and loosened the canvas from its stretcher, proving that the latter
held in fact two canvases instead of one. Between these had been secreted
several sheets of notepaper of two kinds, stamped with two crests, all
black with closely penned handwriting.

Lanyard gathered them into a sheaf and scanned them cursorily, even with
distaste. True enough, it might be argued that he had bought and paid for
the right to pry into the secrets they betrayed; but it was not a right he
enjoyed exercising. A fairly thoroughgoing state of sophistication,
together with some innate instincts of delicacy, worked to render him to a
degree immune to such gratification as others might derive from being made
privy to an exotic affair of the heart. Revelation of human weakness was no
special treat to him. And if his eyebrows mounted as he read, if the
corners of his mouth drew down, if once and again he uttered an "_Oh! oh!_"
of shocked expostulation, he was (like most of us, incurably an actor in
private as well as in public life) merely running through business which
convention has designated as appropriate to such circumstances. At bottom
he was being stimulated to thought more than to derision.

Putting the letters aside, he bowed his head upon a hand and reflected
sagely that love was the very deuce.

He wondered if he could or ever would love or be loved so madly.

He rather hoped not ...

Here, if you please, was the scion of a reigning royal family risking as
pretty a scandal as one could well imagine--and all for love! Given a few
more days of life, and he would have jeopardized his right of succession
and set half-a-dozen European chancelleries by the ears--and all for love!
But for his untimely end, that poor, pretty creature would have joined her
life to his, consummating at one stroke her freedom from the intolerable
conditions of existence with Victor and a diplomatic convulsion which might
only too easily have precipitated all Europe into a great war--and all for
lawless love!

So once more in history Death had served well the interests of public

After a year these letters alone survived ...

How they had survived, what hands had collected and secreted them, and for
what purpose, intrigued the imagination no end. Lanyard inclined to credit
Princess Sofia with the indiscretion of saving these souvenirs of a grande
passion that had almost made history. There was the sentimental motive to
account for such action, and another: the satisfaction of knowing she had
concrete proof of her intention to treat Victor as he had treated her.

Then somehow the painting must have passed out of her possession; and in
all likelihood she had made frantic and awkward efforts to regain it which
had aroused the suspicions of Victor; with the sequel of that afternoon....

Lanyard's speculations were interrupted by the peremptory telephone.
Without premonition he picked up the combination receiver and transmitter.
But his memory was still so haunted by echoes of that delightful voice
which he had heard in the auction room, he couldn't entertain any doubt
that he heard it now.

"Are you there?" it said "Will you be good enough to put me through to
Monsieur Lanyard?"

The inspiration to mischief was instantaneous: Lanyard replied promptly in
accents as much unlike his own as he could manage:

"Sorry, ma'am; Mister Lanyard dined hout to-night. Would there be any
message, ma'am?"

"Oh, how annoying!"

"Sorry, ma'am."

"Do you know when he will be home?"

"If this is the lidy 'e was expectin' to call this evenin'--"

"Yes?" the dulcet voice said, encouragingly.

"--Mister Lanyard sed as 'ow 'e might be quite lite, but 'e'd 'urry all 'e
could, ma'am, and would the lidy please wite."

"Thank you _so_ much."

"'Nk-you, ma'am."

Smiling, Lanyard replaced the receiver and rang for the waiter.

When that one answered, the adventurer was hatted and coated and opening
his door.

"I'm called out," he said--"can't quite say when I'll be back. But I'm
expecting a lady to call. Will you tell the doorman to show her into my
rooms, please, and ask her to wait."



Posed in a blaze of lights, the Princess Sofia contemplated captiously the
charming image reflected in her cheval-glass. One little wrinkle, not
precisely of dissatisfaction, rather of enquiry, nestled between her
delicately arched brows. A look of misgiving clouded her wide eyes of a
wondering child. The bow of an exquisitely modelled mouth, whose single
fault lay in its being perhaps a trace too wide, described a shadowy pout.

She was beautiful: yes. Nobody could question that. La beaute du diable, no
doubt, to Anglo-Saxon eyes, with that skin of incomparable texture and
whiteness relieved by a heavily coiled crown of living bronze, the crimson
insolence of that matchless mouth, those luminous and changeable eyes so
like the sea, whose green melted into blue with the swiftness of thought,
whose blue at times as swiftly shaded into stormy purple-black: but however
bizarre and barbaric, beauty none the less, and under the most meticulous
examination indisputable.

But was she as radiant as she had been?

On this her birthday she was twenty-five. Appalling age! Five years hence
she would be thirty, in ten more--forty! And woman's beauty fades so
swiftly: everybody said so. Was the shadow of to-morrow already dimming her
loveliness? How could it be otherwise? She had lived so long and so fully,
she had begun to live so young. Six years of marriage to Victor--that alone
should have been enough, one would think, to metamorphose the fairest face
into a blasted battlefield of passions.

She had a little shiver of voluptuous horror, remembering what she had
endured and escaped. The sweet, true lines of her flawlessly made body were
transiently undulant within a sheath of shimmering sequins: a daring gown,
by British standards of that day, but permissible because she was Russian;
foreigners, you know, are so frightfully weird even when they're quite all

And yet she was growing old, she was twenty-five! Though she didn't feel in
the least like one on the threshold of middle age. Indeed, she had never
felt younger, more thrillingly instinct with the power and the will to live
extravagantly in one endless riot of youth unquenchable....

Reaction, of course: the swing of the pendulum to its farthest extreme. It
was now two years since she had been forced to separate from Victor,
finding herself unable longer to countenance and suffer his many-sided
beastliness; and a year since the hand of Death had penned an inexorable
finis to the too-brief chapter of her one great romance.

For there had never been love in her life with Victor. She had been too
young at first to appreciate what love and marriage meant, she had been led
to the altar and sacrificed upon it as an animal is led in sacrificial
rites--without premonition or understanding, only wondering (perhaps) to
find itself so groomed and garlanded, so flattered and adored. She had
hardly known Victor before she was given to him in marriage by Imperial
ukase ... to get rid of her, probably, for some inscrutable reason related
to the mysterious circumstances of her parentage.

And now after six years of hell with her husband and one of mourning in
solitude for her love that was lost, she was coming back to life again ...
at last!

She lifted up arms that might have been a dream of Phidias chiselled in
Parian marble, and stretched them luxuriously. She was superbly alive,
indeed--and henceforth she meant to live. Only she must be careful to
retain her looks ... If Youth must surely go, Beauty must linger and reign
long in its stead.

A maid, a comely creature, trim and smart in black and white, with that
vividly coloured prettiness which is too often the omen of premature
decline into the fat and florid thirties, fetched a wrap and settled it
upon Sofia's shoulders.

Long and dark, it disguised her figure as completely as it covered her
toilette. She nodded her satisfaction, and accepted the veil which she had
desired to complete her disguise, a thing of Spanish lace, black and ample,
like a mantilla. But before donning it she delayed one minute more before
the mirror.

"Therese! Am I still beautiful?"

"Madame la princesse is always beautiful."

"As beautiful as I used to be?"

"But madame la princesse grows more lovely every day."

"Beautiful enough to-night, to keep out of jail, do you think?"

To the mirth in the voice of her mistress the maid responded with a smile
demure and discreet.

"Oh, madame!" was all she said; but the manner of her saying it was rarely

Sofia laughed lightly, and affectionately pinched the cheek of the maid.

"And you, my little one," she said in liquid French--"you yourself are too
ravishingly pretty to keep out of trouble. Do you know that?"

Her little one looked more than ever demure as she enquired after the
hidden meaning of madame la princesse.

"Because you will marry too soon, Therese--too soon some worthless man will
persuade you to dedicate all those charms to him alone."

"Oh, madame!"

"Is it not so?"

"Who knows, madame?" said Therese, as who should say: "What must be, must."

"Then there is a man! I suspected as much."

"But, madame la princesse, is there not always a man?"

"Then beware!"

"Madame la princesse need not fear for me," Therese replied. "Me, my head
is not so easily turned. There is always some man, naturally--there are so
many men!--but when I marry, rest assured, it will be for something more."

With the compressed lips of self-approbation she deftly assisted her
mistress to swathe her head in the mantilla-like veil.

"Something more than a man?" Sofia enquired through its folds. "What then?"

"Independence, madame la princesse."

"What an idea! Marriage and independence: how do you reconcile that

"Madame la princesse means love, I think, when she speaks of marriage. But
love--that is all over and done with when one marries. One is then ready to
settle down; one has put by one's dot, and marries a worthy, industrious
man with a little fortune of his own. With such a husband one collaborates
in the maintenance of the menage and the management of a small business,
something substantial if small. And so one ends one's days in comfortable
companionship. That, madame la princesse, is the marriage for Therese! It
may not sound romantic, madame, but it has this rare virtue--it lasts!"



The London night was normal: that is to say, wet. Darkness had transformed
the streets into vast sheets of black satin shot with golden strands and
studded with lamp-posts like sturdy stems for ethereal blooms of golden
haze. Within their areas of glow the air teemed with atoms of liquid gold.
The ring of hoofs on wet pavements was at once disturbing and inspiriting.

Alone in her hired hansom the Princess Sofia sat with the window raised,
drinking deep of the soft damp air, finding it as heady as strange wine.
Under cover of the veil her eyes were brilliant with awareness of her
audacity, her lips were parted with the promise of a smile.

She loved it all, she adored this mood of London: its nights of rain were
sheer enchantment, arabesque, nights of secrecy and stealth, mystery, and
romance under the rose. On nights such as this lovers prospered, adventures
were to the venturesome, brave rewards to the bold.

For herself she was unafraid, she foretasted entire success. How should it
be otherwise? Consider how famously chance had prospered her designs,
playing into her hands the information that this Monsieur Lanyard was not
at home, might not return till very late, and was expecting a call from
somebody whom he desired to await his return in his rooms!

With such an open occasion, how could one fail?

Sofia asked only three minutes alone with the painting....

And if by any mishap she were caught, still she would not be dismayed. The
letters were hers, were they not? They had been stolen from her, he had no
right title to them who had purchased only the picture which had served as
their hiding-place. By all means, let him keep that stupid canvas; he could
hardly refuse to let her have her letters, not if she pleaded her
prettiest. And even if he should prove obtuse, ungenerous....

Her smile was definite and confident. She was beautiful--and Monsieur
Lanyard was aware of that. Had she not, that afternoon, in the auction
room, without his knowledge detected admiration in his eyes, a look warm
with something more than admiration only?

He was impressionable, then. And it would be no distasteful task to play
upon his susceptibilities. He was not only personally attractive
("magnetic" was the catch-word of the period), but if half that Lady
Diantha had hinted concerning him were true, to make a conquest of Michael
Lanyard would be a feather in the cap of any woman, to attempt it a
temptation all but irresistible to one--like Sofia--in whose veins ran the
ichor of progenitors to whom the scent of danger had been as breath of life
itself. It was hardly conceivable; even now Sofia must smile at her
friend's amiable endeavours to identify this mysterious monsieur with a
celebrated and preposterous criminal.

It might be true that, as Lady Diantha had declared, wherever Michael
Lanyard showed himself in open pursuit of his avowed avocation as a
collector of rare works of art--in London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, or
where-not--there in due sequence the Lone Wolf would consummate one of his
fantastic coups.

And it was indisputable that Lanyard was at present living in London, where
for some time past the Lone Wolf had been perniciously busy; or else his
bad name had been taken in vain by a baffled and exasperated Scotland Yard.

Again: Diantha had insisted that the Lone Wolf was by every evidence
completely woman-proof; and there might be something in her contention that
such an elusive yet spectacularly successful thief could hardly have won
the high place he held in the annals of criminology and in the esteem of
the sensation-loving public, if he were one who maintained normal relations
with his kind.

Sooner or later (so ran Diantha's borrowed reasoning) the criminal who has
close friends, a wife, a mistress, children, family ties of any sort, or
even body-servants, must willy-nilly repose confidence in one of these, and
then inevitably will be betrayed. Depend upon envy, jealousy, spite, or
plain venal disloyalty, if accident or inadvertence fail, to lay the
law-breaker by the heels.

Therefore (Diantha argued) the Lone Wolf must be a confirmed solitary and
misogynist--very much like this Monsieur Lanyard, according to reports
which declared the latter to be a man who kept to himself, had many
acquaintances and not one intimate, and was positively insulated against
wiles of woman.

But--granting all this--it was none the less true that the utmost
diligence, spurred by the pique, ill-will, and ambition of the police of
all Europe, had failed as yet to forge any link between the supercriminal
of the age and the distinguished connoisseur of art. Other than Lady
Diantha and the gossips whose arguments she was retailing, never a soul (so
far as Sofia knew) had ventured to breathe a breath of suspicion upon the
good repute of Monsieur Lanyard.

In short, Diantha's conjectures had been entirely second-hand, and not even
meant to be taken seriously.

And yet the suggestion had fastened firm hold upon the imagination of the
Princess Sofia.

If it were true ... what an adventure!

There was unaccustomed light of daring in the eyes of the princess,
unwonted colour tinted her cheeks.

The hansom stopped, discharged the fairest fare it had ever carried, and
rattled off, leaving Sofia just a trifle daunted and dubious, the animation
of her anticipations something dashed by the uncompromising respectability,
the self-conscious worthiness of Halfmoon Street.

Enfolded in the very heart of Mayfair, its brief length bounded on the
north by Curzon Street (its name alone sufficient voucher for its
character), on the south by Piccadilly (hereabouts somewhat oppressive with
its hedge of stately clubs, membership in any one of which is equivalent to
two years' unchallenged credit) Halfmoon Street is largely given over to
furnished lodgings. But it doesn't advertise the fact, its landlords are
apt to be retired butlers to the nobility and gentry, its lodgers English
gentlemen who have brought home livers from India, or assorted disabilities
from all known quarters of the globe, and who desire nothing better than to
lead steady-paced lives within walking distance of their favourite clubs.
So Halfmoon Street remains quietly estimable, a desirable address, and
knows it, and doggedly means to hold fast to that repute.

A strange environment (Sofia thought) for an adventurer like the Lone Wolf.

But then--of course!--Diantha's innuendoes had been based on flimsiest
hearsay. The chances were that Michael Lanyard was an utterly uninteresting
person of blameless life.

So thinking, the Princess Sofia was sensible of a pang of regret, and tried
to be prepared against bitter disappointment as she rang the bell. Either
she would fail to obtain admittance (perhaps the lady whom he was really
expecting had forestalled her) or else Lanyard would fail to come home in
time to catch her! Quite probably it would turn out to be a dull and
depressing evening, after all....

The servant who admitted her in manner and appearance lent colour to these
forebodings. A creature hopelessly commonplace, resigned, and unemotional,
to her enquiry for Monsieur Lanyard he returned the discounted response:
Mister Lanyard was hout, 'e might not be 'ome till quite lite, but 'ad left
word that if a lidy called she was to be awsked to wite. The princess
indicating her desire to wite, the man turned to the nearest door
(Lanyard's rooms were on the street level), opened it with a pass-key,
stepped inside to make a light, and when Sofia entered silently bowed
himself out.

Now when the latch clicked behind him, the Princess Sofia forgot that the
simplicity of her success thus far was almost discouraging. Her heart began
to beat more quickly, and a little tremor shook the hands that lifted and
threw back her veil. After all, she was committing an act of lawless
trespass, she was on the errand of a thief; if caught the penalty might
prove most painful and humiliating.

Of a sudden she lost appetite entirely for a piquant encounter with the
prepossessing tenant of these rooms. Now she desired nothing so dearly as
to consummate her business and escape with all possible expedition.

A swift and searching survey of the living-room descried nothing that
seemed apt to hinder or detain her. A large room, unusually wide and deep,
it had two windows overlooking the street, with a curtained doorway at the
back that led (one surmised) to a bedchamber. It was furnished in such
excellent taste that one suspected Monsieur Lanyard must have brought in
his own belongings on taking possession. The handsome rug, the well-chosen
draperies, the several excellent pictures and bronzes, were little in
character with the furnished lodgings of the London average, even with
those of the better sort.

She had no time, however, to squander on appreciation of artistic
atmosphere, however pleasing, and needed to waste none searching for the
object of her desires. It faced her, distant not six paces from the
door--that shameless little "Corot"!--resting on the arms of a
straight-backed chair.

A low laugh of delight on her lips, she went swiftly to the chair and laid
hold of the picture by its frame. In that act she checked, startled,
transfixed, the laugh freezing into a gasp of alarm.

Brass rings slithered on a pole supporting the portieres at the back of the
room. These parted. Through them a man emerged.

Her grasp on the picture relaxed. It struck a corner against the chair and
clattered on the floor--the canvas on its stretcher simultaneously flying
out of the frame.


"Sweet of you to remember me!"

He advanced slowly with that noiseless, cat-like tread of his which she had
always hated, perceiving in it a true index to his character: the prowl of
a beast of prey, furtive, cowardly, cruel. It was so: Victor was as feline
and as vicious as a jungle-cat. Watching him with this thought in mind, one
could almost credit old tales of beasts bewitched and walking in human

Near by he paused, alertly poised, prepared to spring. The slotted black
eyes glimmered malignantly. His lips drew back in mockery from his teeth.
His hands were hidden in the pockets of his dinner-coat; but she could
guess how they were held, like claws, in that concealment, claws itching
for her throat. She dared not stir lest she feel them there, digging deep
into her soft white flesh.

Witless, in the extremity of her terror, she stammered: "What do you want?"

A nod indicated the picture that lay between them, at their feet.

"My errand," the man said in a silken tone that gloved grimmest menace, "is
much the same as yours--quite naturally--but more fortunate; for I shall
get not only what I came for, but something more."


"The opportunity to plead with you, face to face. I think you will hardly
refuse to listen to me now."

"How--how did you get in?"

"Oh, secretly! By the window, if you must know; but quite unseen. You see,
_I_ had no invitation."

"I never thought you had--"

"Nor did I think you had--till now."

Puzzled, she faltered: "I don't understand--"

"Surely you don't wish me to believe my pretty Sofia has turned thief?"

That stung her pride. She drew upon an unsuspected store of spirit,
confronting him bravely.

"What is it to me, what you choose to think?"

"I refuse to think that of you. My reason will not let me believe it."

She saw that he was shaking with rage; so she shrugged and drawled: "Oh,
your _reason_--!"

"It tells me you for one did not come here to-night uninvited." He was
rapidly losing grip on his temper. "Oh, it's plain enough! I was a fool not
to understand, there in the auction room, when my face was slapped with
proof of your liaison with this Lanyard!"

She said in mild expostulation: "But you are quite mad."

"Perhaps--but not so as to be blind to the truth. You had him there this
afternoon to bid that picture in for you if your own means failed. Why else
should the man, who knows pictures as I know you, pay twenty thousand
guineas for a footling copy of a Corot that wouldn't deceive a--a Royal
Academician! Yes: he bid it in for you--the sorry fool!--bought with his
own money the evidence of your infatuation for his predecessor in your
affections--and expects you here to-night to receive it from him and--pay
him _his_ price! Ah, don't try to deny it!"

He growled like a very animal, beside himself. "Why else should you be
admitted to these rooms without question in his absence?"

Without visible resentment, the Princess Sofia nodded thoughtfully into
those distorted features.

"Yes," she commented: "quite, quite mad."

As if she had offered without warning to strike him, Victor recoiled and
for an instant stood gibbering. And she took advantage of this moment in
one lithe bound to put the table between them.

The manoeuvre sobered him. He did not move, but in two breaths forced
himself to cease to tremble, and subdued every symptom of his passion. Only
his face remained sinister.

"Graceful creature!" he observed, sardonic. "Such agility! But what good
will that do you, do you think? Eh? Tell me that!"

It was her turn to shiver, and inwardly she did, who was never quite able
to combat the fear which Victor could inspire in her by such demonstrations
of the power of his will. The self-control which he had always at his
command was something that passed her understanding; it seemed inhuman, it
terrified her.

Nevertheless, so exigent was this strait, she continued to confront him
with a face of unflinching defiance.

In a voice whose steadiness surprised her she declared: "The letters are
mine. You shan't have them."

"Undeceive yourself: I'll have them though you never leave this room

More to give herself time to think than in any hope of moving him, she
began to plead:

"Let me have them, Victor--let me go."

Smiling darkly, he shook his head.

"The letters mean nothing to you. What good--?"

He interrupted impatiently: "I shall publish them."


"But I shall."

Aghast, she protested: "You can't mean that!"

"Why not? The world shall know your true reason for leaving me--that you
were the mistress of another man--and who that man was!"

Staring, she uttered in a low voice: "Never!"

"Or," he amended, deliberately, "you may keep them, burn them, do what you
will with them--on fair terms--_my_ terms."

She said nothing, but her dilate eyes held fixedly to his. He moved a pace
or two nearer, his voice dropped to a lower key, the light she had learned
to loathe flickered in the depths of his eyes.

"Come back to me, Sofia! I can't live without you ..."

Her lips moved to deny him, but made no sound. Now it was revealed to her,
the way.

"Come back to me, Sofia!"

His hand crept along the edge of the table and lifted, quivering, to
capture hers. She steeled herself to endure its touch, against sickening
repulsion she fought to achieve a smile that would carry a suggestion of at
least forgetfulness.

"And if I do--?" she murmured.

He gave a violent start, blood suffused his face darkly, his arms leapt out
to enfold her. She stepped back, evading him with a movement of coquetry
that served, as it was intended, to inflame him the more.

"Wait!" she insisted. "Answer me first: If I return to you--then what?"

"Everything shall be as you wish--everything forgotten--I will think of
nothing but how to make you happy--"

"And I may have my letters?"

He nodded, swallowing hard, as if the concession well-nigh choked him.

Under his gloating gaze her flesh crawled. Only by supreme effort did she
succeed in resisting a mad impulse to risk a rush for door or windows, and
whipped her will into maintaining what seemed to be frank response.

"Very well," she said; "I agree."

Again he offered to touch her, again she moved slightly, eluding him.

"No," she stipulated with an arch glance--"not yet! First prove you mean to
make good your word."


"Let me go--with my letters--and call on me to-morrow."

His look clouded. "Can I trust you?" He was putting the question to himself
more than to her. "Dare I?" He added in a tone colourless and flat: "I've
half a mind to take you at your word. Only--forgive my doubts--appearances
are against you--you seem almost too keen for the bargain. How can I

"What proof do you want?"

"Something definite.... You pledge yourself to me?" A movement of her head
assented. "You will give yourself back to me?" He came nearer, but she
contrived to repeat the sign of assent. "Wholly, without reserve?"

An invincible disgust shook her as the full sense of his insistence struck
home. Still she whipped herself to play out the scene--and win!

"As you say, Victor, as you will...."

He moved still nearer. She became conscious of his nearness as if a
palpable aura of vileness emanated from his person.

"Then give me proof--here and now."


He laughed a throaty, evil laugh. "Need you ask? Not much, my Sofia ...
only a little ... something on account..." Suddenly she could no more:
memories unspeakable rose like disturbed dregs to the surface of her
consciousness. Involuntarily, not knowing what she did, she flung out an
arm and struck down his hands.


The epithet was like a knout cutting through the decayed fibre of the man
and raising a livid welt on his diseased soul. Galled beyond endurance, his
countenance convulsed with fury, he struck wickedly; and the vicious blow
of his open palm across her mouth brought flecks of blood to the lips as
her teeth cut into the tender flesh.

It did far more, it shattered at one stroke the brittle casing of
self-command with which centuries of civilization had sought to veneer the
Slav. In a trice a woman whose existence neither of them had suspected was
revealed, a fury incarnate flew at the dismayed prince, clawing, tearing,
raining blows upon his face and bosom. Overcome by surprise, blinded,
dazed, staggered, he gave ground, stumbled, caught at a chair to steady

As abruptly as it had begun, the assault ceased. Panting and frantic, the
girl fell back, paused, renewed her grasp upon herself, gazed momentarily
in contempt on that dashed and quaking figure, then swiftly swooped down to
retrieve the picture, and madly pelted toward the door.

In an instant, Victor was after her. His clutching fingers barely missed
her shoulder but caught a flying end of the veil that swathed her throat
and head. With finger-tips touching the door-knob Sofia was checked and
twitched back so violently that she was all but thrown off her feet.

She tried desperately to regain her balance, but the pressure round her
throat, tightening, bade fair to suffocate her; and reeling, while her
hands tore ineffectually at the folds of the veil, she was drawn back and
back, and tripped, falling half on, half off the table.

Already her vision was darkening, her lungs were labouring painfully, her
head throbbed with the revolt of strangulated arteries as if sledge hammers
were seeking to smash through her skull.

Through closing shadows she saw that savage mask which hovered over her,
moping and mowing, as Victor twisted and drew ever more tight the murderous
bindings round her throat.

A groping hand encountered something on the table, a lump of metal, cold
and heavy. She seized and dashed it brutally into that hateful face, saw
his head jerk back and heard him grunt with pain, and struck again,
blindly, with all her might.

Instantly the pressure upon her throat was eased. She heard a groan, a
fall ...



She found herself standing, partly resting upon the table. Great, tearing
sobs racked her slight young body--but at least she was breathing, there
was no more constriction of her windpipe; Her head still ached, however,
her neck felt stiff and sore, and she remained somewhat giddy and confused.

She eyed rather wildly her hands. One held torn and ragged folds of the
veil ripped from her throat, the other the weapon with which she had
cheated death: a bronze paperweight, probably a miniature copy of a Barye,
an elephant trumpeting. The up-flung trunk was darkly stained and

With a shudder she dropped the bronze, and looked down. Victor lay at her
feet, supine, grotesquely asprawl. His face was bruised and livid; the
cheek laid open by the bronze was smeared with scarlet, accentuating the
leaden colour of his skin. His mouth was ajar; his eyes, half closed,
hideously revealed slender slits of white. More blood discoloured his right
temple, welling from under the matted, coarse black hair.

He was terribly motionless. If he breathed, Sofia could detect no sign of

In panic she knelt beside the body, threw back Victor's dinner-coat, and
laid an ear above his heart.

At first, in her mad anxiety, she could hear nothing. But presently a
beating registered, slow and harsh but steady-paced.

With a sob of relief she sat back on her heels, and after a little while
got unsteadily to her feet.

The house door closed with a dull bang, and from the entrance hallway came
a sound of voices. She stood petrified in dread till the voices fell and
she heard stairs creak under an ascending tread.

Thus reminded that Lanyard's return might occur at any moment, she made all
haste to patch up the disarray of veil and coiffure. Fortunately her
costume, protected by the cloak of heavy and sturdy stuff, was quite

Not till on the point of leaving did she remember the painting. It lay
unharmed where it had fallen when Victor seized her veil. She was calm
enough now to consider herself fortunate in finding it so poorly secured in
its frame; without the latter it would be far easier to smuggle the canvas
away under her cloak.

In the final glance she bent upon Victor's beaten and insensible body there
was no pity, no regret, no trace of compunction. What he had suffered he
had ten times--no, a hundred, a thousand--earned. Long before she left him
Sofia had lost count of the blows she had taken at his hands, the insults
worse than blows, the lesser indignities innumerable.

But in those abolished days she had never once struck back, she had been
faint of heart, cowed and terrified, and had lacked what two years of
separation had given her, that spiritual independence which never before
had been able to realize itself, lift up its head, and grow strong in the
assurance of its own integrity.

Two years ago she would not have dared to lift a hand to Victor, no matter
how sore the provocation. To-night--if she had one regret it was that she
had struck so feebly: not that she desired his death, but that she knew it
was now her life or his. She knew the man too well to flatter herself that
he would rest before he had compassed such revenge as the baseness of his
degenerate soul would deem adequate. Half the world were not too much to
put between them if she were now to sleep of nights in comfortable
consciousness of security from his quenchless hatred.

Callously enough she switched off the lights and left him lying there, in
darkness but for the ash-dimmed glimmer of a dying fire.

In the entrance hallway she hesitated, coldly composed and alert. But
seemingly the noise of their struggle had not carried beyond the door.
There was no one about.

With neither haste nor faltering, without the least misadventure, she let
herself quietly out into the empty, silent, rain-swept street, and scurried
toward the lights of Piccadilly.

Before long a cruising four-wheeler overhauled her. In its obscure and
stuffy refuge she sat hugging her precious canvas and pondering her plight.

It was borne in upon her that she would do well to leave London, yes, and
England, too, before Victor recovered sufficiently to scheme and put a
watch upon her movements.

She had need henceforth to be swift and wary and shrewd....

A singular elation began to colour her temper, a quickening sense of
emancipation. Necessity at a stroke had set her free. Because she must fly
and hide to save her life, society had no more hold upon her, she need no
longer fight to keep up appearances in spite of her status as a woman
living apart from her husband, little better than a divorcee--an estate
anathema to the English of those days.

She experienced, through the play of her imagination upon this new and
startling conception of life, an intoxicating prelibation of freedom such
as she had never dreamed to savour.

That waywardness which was a legitimate inheritance from generations of
wilful forebears, impatient of all those restraints which a fixed
environment imposes upon the individual, an impatience which had always
been hers though it slumbered in unsuspected latency, asserted itself of a
sudden, possessed her wholly, and warmed, her being like forbidden wine.

In this humour she was set down at her door.

None saw her enter. In a moment of vaguely prophetic foresight she had
bidden Therese not to wait up for her and to tell the other servants there
was no necessity for their doing so. She might be detained, Heaven alone
knew how late she might be; but she had her latch-key and was quite
competent to undress and put herself to bed.

And Therese had taken her at her word.

She was glad of that. In event that anything should leak out and be printed
by the newspapers concerning the theft of Monsieur Lanyard's famous "Corot"
by a strange, closely veiled woman, it was just as well that none of the
servants was about to see her come in with the canvas clumsily hidden under
her cloak.

So she exercised much circumspection in shutting and bolting the door,
mounted the stairs without making any unnecessary stir, and at the door of
her boudoir waited, listening, for several moments, in the course of which
she heard, or fancied she heard, a slight noise on the far side of the door
which made her suspect Therese might after all still be up and about.

The sound was not repeated, but to make sure Sofia slipped out of her cloak
and wrapped it round the canvas before she went in; which last she did
sharply, with head up and eyes flashing ominously beneath scowling
brows--prepared to give Therese a rare taste of temper if she found she had
been disobeyed.

But though the maid had left the lights on, she was nowhere to be seen. Nor
did she answer from the bedchamber when the princess called her.

With a sigh of relief that ran into the chuckle of a child absorbed in
mischief, Sofia threw the cloak across a chaise-longue, and bore her prize
in triumph to the escritoire.

It was her intention to rip the canvas off with a knife, to get at the
letters; and a long, thin-bladed Spanish dagger that now did service as a
paper-knife was actually in her hand when she noticed how slightly the
painting was tacked to its stretcher, and for the first time was visited by

Dropping the knife, she caught a loose edge of the canvas and with one
swift tug stripped it clear of the unpainted fabric beneath.

The cry that disappointment wrung from her was bitter with protest and

Fortune had failed her, then, the jade had tricked her heartlessly. With
success within her grasp, it had trickled like quicksilver through her
fingers. Victor had been beforehand with her, had purloined the letters and
restored the canvas to its frame. She might have suspected as much if she
had only had the wit to draw a natural inference from the way the painting
had parted company with its frame when she dropped it.

So the letters for which she had risked and suffered so much must be back
there, in Lanyard's lodgings, in Victor's possession--lost irretrievably,
since she would never find the courage to go back for them, even if she
dared assume that Victor had not yet recovered and escaped or that Lanyard
had not yet come home.

If only she had thought to rifle Victor's pockets ...

"Too late," she uttered in despair.

"Ah, madame, never say that!"

She swung round but, shocked as she was to the verge of stupefaction, made
no outcry.

The intruder stood within arm's-length, collected, amiable, debonair,
nothing threatening in his attitude, merely an easy and at the same time
quite respectful suggestion of interest.

"Monsieur Lanyard!"

His bow was humorous without mockery: "Madame la princesse does me much

She was silent another instant, in a wide stare comprehending the
incredible, the utterly impossible fact of his presence there. The one
conceivable explanation voiced itself without her volition:

"The Lone Wolf!"

"Oh, come now!" he remonstrated, indulgently--"that's downright flattery."

She moved aside, lifting a hand toward the bell-cord.


Involuntarily she deferred, her arm dropped. Then, appreciating that she
had yielded where he had no right to command, she mutinied.

"Why?" she demanded, resentfully.

"Why ring?" he countered, smiling.

"To call my servants--to have them call in the police."

"But surely madame la princesse must appreciate the police might be at a
loss to know which housebreaker to arrest."

He cocked an eye of mocking significance toward the purloined "Corot," and
in sharp revulsion of feeling Sofia had need to bite her lip to keep from
laughing. She hesitated. He was right and reasonable enough, this impudent
and imperturbable young elegant. Yet she could not afford to concede so
much to him. She was quick to accept his gage.

"Who knows," she enquired, obliquely, "why Monsieur the Lone Wolf brought
with him this counterfeit Corot when he broke in to steal--"

"The counterfeit jewels of a titled adventuress!"

An interruption brusque enough to silence her; or else it was its innuendo
that struck the princess dumb with indignation. Lanyard's laugh offered
amends for the rudeness, as if he said: "Sorry--but you asked for it, you
know." He stepped aside, caught up a handful of her jewels that had been
left, a tempting heap, openly exposed on her dressing-table (as much her
own carelessness as anybody's, Sofia admitted) and tossed them lightly upon
the face of the fraudulent canvas.

"Birds of a feather," was his comment, whimsical; "coals to Newcastle!"

"My jewels!" The princess gathered them up tenderly and faced him, blazing
with resentment. He returned a twisted smile, an apologetic shrug.

"Madame la princesse didn't know? I'm so sorry."

"How dare you say they're paste?"

"I'm sorry," he repeated; "but somebody seems to have taken advantage of
madame's confidence. Excellent imitations, I grant you, but articles de
Paris none the less."

"It isn't true!" she stormed, near to tears.

"But really, you must believe me. A knowledge of jewels is one of my
hobbies: I _know!_"

She looked down in consternation at the exquisite trinkets he had condemned
so bluntly. Then in a fit of temper she flung them from her with all her
might, threw herself upon the chaise-longue, and wept passionately into its
cushions. Then the young man proved himself tolerably instructed in the
ways of womankind. He said nothing more, made no offer to comfort her by
those futile and empty pats on the shoulder which are instinctive with man
on such occasions, but simply sat him down and waited.

In time the tempest passed, Sofia sat up and dabbled her eyes with a web of
lace and linen. Then she looked round with a tentative smile that was
wholly captivating. She was one of those rare women who can afford to cry.

"It's so humiliating!" she protested with racial ingenuousness--one of her
most compelling charms. "But it's ridiculous, too. I was so sure no one
would ever know."

"No one but an expert ever would, madame."

"You see"--apparently she had forgotten that Lanyard was anything but a
lifelong friend--"I needed money so badly, I had them reproduced and sold
the originals."

"Madame la princesse--if she will permit--commands my profound sympathy."

"But," she remembered, drying her eyes, "you called me an adventuress,

"But," he contended, gravely, "you had already called me the Lone Wolf."

"But what do you expect, monsieur, when I find you in my rooms--?"

"But what does madame la princesse expect when I find she had been to
mine--and brought something valuable away with her, too!"

"I had a reason--"

"So had I."

"What was it?"

"Perhaps it was to see madame la princesse alone--secretly--without
exciting the jealousy, which I understand is supernormal, of monsieur le

"But why should you wish to see me alone?" she demanded, with widening

"Perhaps to beg madame's permission to offer her what may possibly prove
some slight consolation."

She weighed his words in dark distrust. What was this consolation? What his
game? His attitude remained consistently too deferential and punctilious
for one to suspect that by consolation he meant love-making.

"But how did you get in?"

"By the front door, madame. I find it ajar--one assumes, through oversight
on the part of one of the servants--it opens to a touch, I walk in--et

His levity was infectious. In spite of herself, she smiled in sympathy.

"And what, pray, is this wonderful consolation you would offer me?"

He produced from a pocket a packet of papers.

"I think madame la princesse is interested in these," he said. "If she will
be so amiable as to accept them from me, with my compliments and one little
word of advice...."

"Ah, monsieur!" Look and tone thanked him more than words could ever. "You
are too kind! And your advice--?"

"They tell too much, madame, those letters. And I see you have a fire in
the grate ..."

"Monsieur has reason...."

She rose, went to the fireplace and, half kneeling, thrust the letters one
by one into the incandescent bed of coals. A ceremony of sentiment at any
other time, but not now: her thoughts were far from the man with whose
memory these letters were linked, they were in fact not wholly articulate.
Just what was passing through her mind she herself would have found it hard
to define; she was mainly conscious of a flooding emotion of gratitude
to Lanyard; but there was something more, a feeling not unakin to

The reaction of her vital young body from a desperate physical conflict,
the rapid play of her passions from anger and despair through triumph and
delight to gratification and content, from the bitterest sense of
frustration and peril to one of security; the uprush of those strange
instincts which had lain dormant till roused by the knowledge that she was
free at length from the maddening stupidity of social life, together with
her recent, implicit self-dedication to a life in all things its converse:
these influences were working upon her so strongly as to render her mood
more dangerous than she guessed.

Disturbed in her formless reverie, an aimless groping through a bewildering
maze of emotions but vaguely apprehended, she started up, faced round and
saw Lanyard, topcoat over arm and hat in hand, about to open the door.


He looked back, coolly quizzical. "Madame?"

"What are you doing?"

"Taking my unobtrusive departure, madame la princesse, by the way I came."

"But--wait--come back!"

He shrugged agreeably, released the door-knob, and stood before her, or
rather over her--for he was the taller by a good five inches--looking down,
quietly at her service.

"I haven't thanked you."

"For what, madame? For treating myself to an amusing adventure?"

"It has cost you dear!"

"The fortunes of war ..."

Her hands rose unconsciously, with an uncertain movement. Her face was soft
with an elusive bloom of unwonted feeling. Her eyes held a puzzled look, as
if she did not quite understand what was moving her so deeply.

"You are a strange man, monsieur...."

"And what shall one say of madame la princesse?"

She could but laugh; and laughter rings the death-knell of constraint.

But Lanyard remembered uneasily that somebody--Solomon or some other who
must have led an interesting life--had remarked that the lips of a strange
woman are smoother than oil.

"None the less, monsieur, I am deeply in your debt."

His smile of impersonal courtesy failed. He was becoming more sensitive
than he liked to her charm and the warm sentiment she was giving out to
him. This strange access in her of haunting loveliness, the gentle shadows
that lay beneath her wide--yet languorous eyes, the almost imperceptible
tremor of her sweetly fashioned lips, all troubled him profoundly. He
exerted himself to break the spell upon his senses which this woman,
wittingly or not, was weaving. But the effort was at best half-hearted.

"I am well repaid," he said a bit stiffly, "by the knowledge that the
honour of madame la princesse is safe."

Sofia laughed breathlessly. Somehow her hands had found the way to his. Her
glance wavered and fell.

"But is it?" she asked in a tone so intimate that it was barely audible.
And she laughed once more. "I am not so sure ... as long as monsieur is

Lanyard's mouth twitched, slow colour mounted in his face, the light in his
eyes was lambent. He found himself looking deep into other eyes that were
like pools of violet shadow troubled by a deep surge and resurge of feeling
for which there was no name. Aware that they revealed more than he ought to
know, he sought to escape them by bending his lips to Sofia's hands.

Sighing softly, she resigned them to his kisses.



It was late when Lanyard got home, but not too late: when he entered his
living-room enough life lingered in the embers in the grate to betray to
him a feline shape on all-fours creeping toward his bedchamber door. As he
switched up the lights it bounded to its feet and dived through the
portieres with such celerity that he saw little more of it than coat-tails
level on the wind.

Dropping hat and canvas, Lanyard gave chase and overhauled the marauder as
he was clambering out through the open window, where a firm hand on his
collar checked his preparations to drop half a dozen feet to the flagged

Victor swore fretfully and lashed out a random fist, which struck Lanyard's
cheek a glancing blow that carried just enough sting to kindle resentment.
So the virtuous householder was rather more than unceremonious about
yanking the princely housebreaker inside and lending him a foot to
accelerate his return to the living-room; where Victor brought up, on
all-fours again, in almost precisely the spot from which he had risen.

He bounced up, however, with a surprising amount of animation and ambition,
and flew back to the offensive with flailing fists. In this his judgment
was grievously in fault. Lanyard sidestepped, nipped a wrist, twitched it
smartly up between the man's shoulder-blades (with a wrench that won a
grunt of agony), caught the other arm from behind by the hollow of its
elbow, and held his victim helpless--though ill-advised enough to continue
to hiss and spit and squirm and kick.

A heel that struck Lanyard's shin earned Victor a shaking so thoroughgoing
that he felt the teeth rattle in his jaws. When it was suspended, he was
breathless but thoughtful, and offered no objection to being searched.
Lanyard relieved him of a revolver and a dirk, then with a push sent Victor
reeling to the table, where he stood panting, quivering, and glaring
murder, while his captor put the dagger away and examined the firearm.

"Wicked thing," he commented--"loaded, too. Really, monsieur le prince
should be more careful. One of these fine days, if you don't stop playing
with such weapons, one of these will go off right in your hand--and the
next high-light in your history will be when the judge says: 'And may the
Lord have mercy on your soul!'"

Victor confided his sentiments to a handkerchief with which he was mopping
his face. Lanyard sat down and wagged a reproving head.

"Didn't catch," he said; "perhaps it's just as well, though; sounded
like bad words. Hope I'm mistaken, of course: princes ought to set
impressionable plebeians a better pattern."

He cocked a critical eye. "You're a sight, if you don't mind my saying
so--look as if the sky had caved in on you. May one ask what happened? Did
it stub its toe and fall?"

Victor suspended operations with the handkerchief to bend upon his
tormentor a louring, distrustful stare. His head was still heavy, hot, and
painful, his mental processes thick with lees of coma; but now he began to
appreciate, what naturally seemed apparent, that Lanyard must be
unacquainted with the cause of his injuries.

A searching look round the room confirmed him in this error. The canvas lay
where Lanyard had dropped it on entering, not in the spot where Victor
remembered seeing it last, but where conceivably an unheeded kick might
have sent it in the course of his struggle with Sofia. She must have
forgotten it, then, when she fled from what she probably thought was
murder, and what might well have been.

He was much too sore and shaken to be subtle; and the general trend of his
conjectures was perfectly legible to Lanyard, who without delay set himself
to conjure away any lingering suspicion of his guilelessness.

"Not squiffy, are you, by any chance?" he enquired with the kindliest
interest. "You look as if you'd wound up a spree by picking a fight with a
bobby. Your cheek's cut and all (shall we say, in deference to the
well-known prejudices of the dear B.P.?) ensanguined. Sit down and pull
yourself together before you try to explain to what I owe this honour--and
so forth."

He got up, clapped a hand on Prince Victor's shoulder, and steered him into
an easy chair.

"Anything more I can do to put you at your ease? Would a brandy and soda
help, do you think?"

The suggestion was acceptable: Victor signified as much with an ungracious
mumble. Lanyard fetched glasses, a decanter, a siphon-bottle, and supplied
his guest with a liberal hand before helping himself.

Victor took the drink without a word of thanks and gulped it down noisily.
Lanyard drank sparingly, then crossed the room to a bell-push. Seeing his
finger on it Prince Victor started from his chair, but Lanyard hospitably
waved him back.

"Don't go yet," he pleaded. "You've only just dropped in, we haven't had
half a chance to chat. Besides, you mustn't forget I've got your pistol and
your dirk and the upper hand and a sustaining sense of moral superiority
and no end of other advantages over you."

"Why," the prince demanded, nervously--"why did you ring?"

"To call a cab for you, of course. I don't imagine you want to walk
home--do you?--in your present state of shocking disrepair. Of course, if
you'd rather ... But do sit down: compose yourself."

"Let me be," the other snapped as Lanyard offered good-naturedly to thrust
him back into the chair. "I am--quite composed."

"That's good! Excellent! Hand steady enough to write me a cheque, do you

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