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The False Faces by Vance, Louis Joseph

Part 6 out of 6

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"_Good God_!"

The interruption was Blensop's in a voice strangely out of tune.
Stanistreet wheeled sharply upon him.

"What the deuce--!" he snapped.

By every indication the secretary had suffered the most severe shock of his
experience. His face was ghastly, his eyes vacant; his knees shook beneath
him; one hand pressed convulsively the bosom of his waistcoat. His
endeavours to reply evoked only a husky, rattling sound.

"What the devil has come over you?" Stanistreet insisted.

The rattle became articulate: "I've lost it! It's gone!"

"What have you lost?"

"N-nothing, sir. That is--I mean to say--my fountain pen."

"The way you take it, I should say you'd lost your head," Stanistreet
commented. "You must have dropped the thing somewhere. Look about, see if
you can't find it."

Thus admonished, the secretary began to search the floor with frantic
glances, and as the footman ushered in Cecelia Brooke, Lanyard saw the
young man dart forward and retrieve the pen with a start of relief wellnigh
as unmanning as the shock of loss had seemed.

With that Lanyard's interest in the fellow waned; he was too poor a thing
to consider seriously; while here was one who compelled anew, as ever when
they met, the homage of sincere and marvelling admiration.

Yet another of those miracles of feminine adaptability and makeshift had
brought the girl to this meeting in the guise of one who had never known a
broken night or an hour's care, with a look of such fresh tranquility that
it seemed hardly possible she could be one and the same with that wilted
little woman whom Lanyard had left in the gray dawn at the entrance to the
Hotel Knickerbocker. A tailored suit, necessarily borrowed plumage, became
her so completely that it was difficult to believe it not her own. Her eyes
were calm and sweet with candour; her colour was a clear and artless glow;
the hand she offered the Briton was tremorless.

"Colonel Stanistreet?"

"I am he, Miss Brooke. It is kind of you to call so early to relieve my
mind about your brother. I have known Lionel so long...."

"He is resting easily," said the girl. "His complete recovery is merely a
matter of time and nursing."

"That is good news," said Stanistreet. "Monsieur Duchemin I believe you

"I have been fortunate in that at least."

Gravely Lanyard saluted the hand extended to him in turn. "Mademoiselle is
most gracious," he said humbly.

"Then--I understand--Monsieur Duchemin must have told you--?" The girl
addressed Stanistreet.

"Permit me to leave you--" Lanyard interposed.

"No," she begged--"please not! I've nothing to say that you may not hear.
You have been too much involved--"

"If mademoiselle insists," Lanyard demurred. "I feel it is not right I
should stay. And yet--if you will indulge me--I should like very much to
demonstrate the truth of an old saw...."

Two confused looks were his response.

"I fear I, for one, do not follow," Stanistreet admitted.

"I will explain quite briefly," Lanyard promised. "The adage I have in mind
is as old as human wit: Set a thief to catch a thief. And the last time it
was quoted in my hearing, it was not to my advantage. I recall, indeed,
resenting it enormously."

He paused with purpose, looking down at the desk. A pad of blank paper
caught his eye. He took it up and examined it with an abstracted manner.

"Well, monsieur: the application of your adage?"

"Colonel Stanistreet, what would you think if I were to tell you the
combination of your safe?"

"I should be inclined to suspect that you were the devil," Stanistreet

"By all accounts a gentleman of intelligence: one is flattered.... Very
well: I proceed to demonstrate black art with the aid of this white
paper pad. The combination, monsieur, is as follows: nine, twenty-seven,
eighteen, thirty-six."

A low cry of bewilderment greeted this announcement. Blensop had drawn near
and was eyeing Lanyard as if under the influence of hypnotism.

"How--how do you know that?" he asked in a broken voice.

"Clairvoyance, Mr. Blensop. I seem to see, as I hold this pad, somebody
writing upon it the combination for the information of another who had no
right to have it--somebody using a pencil with a hard lead, Mr. Blensop;
which was very foolish of him, since it made a distinct impression on the
under sheet. So you see my magic is rather colourless, after all.... Now,
a wiser man, Mr. Blensop, would have used a pen, a fountain pen by
preference, with a soft gold nib, well broken. That would leave no
impression. If you will lend me the beautiful pen I observe in your pocket,
I will give a further demonstration."

The eyes of the secretary shifted wildly. He hesitated, moistening dry lips
with the tip of a nervous tongue.

"And don't try to get out of it, Mr. Blensop, because I am armed and don't
mean to let you escape. Besides, that good Mr. Stone patrols the garden."
Lanyard's tone changed to one of command. "That pen, monsieur!"

Blensop's hand faltered to his waistcoat pocket, hesitated, withdrew, and
feebly extended the pen.

"I think you _are_ the devil," he stammered in an under-tone--"the devil

Deftly unscrewing the pen-point, Lanyard inverted the barrel above the

The cylinder of paper dropped out.

"And now, Colonel Stanistreet, if you will call Mr. Stone and have this
traitor removed...."



When Stanistreet had gone out in company with Stone, and the broken,
weeping Blensop, ending a scene indescribably painful, a lull almost as
uncomfortable to Lanyard ensued.

Then--"How did you guess?" Cecelia Brooke asked in wonder.

Discountenanced by the admiration glowing in her eyes, Lanyard stood
fumbling with the disjointed members of Blensop's pen.

"Do not give me too much credit," he depreciated: "anybody acquainted with
that roll of paper could have guessed that an empty fountain pen would
furnish an ideal place of concealment for it. Moreover, just before you
came in, that traitor missed his pen, and his consternation betrayed him
beyond more doubt to one whose distrust was already astir. As for the
other, it was true: Blensop did write down the combination on this pad,
using a pencil with a hard lead; the marks are very plain."

"But for whose use?"

"Ekstrom--Anderson--was here last night, and saw Blensop alone. Colonel
Stanistreet was not at home. Knowing what we know now, that Blensop was
a creature of the German system here, bought body, soul, and conscience
through its studied pandering to his vices, we know he could not well have
refused to surrender the combination on demand."

"Still I fail to understand...."

"Ekstrom, being Ekstrom, could not resist the opportunity to play double.
Here was a property he could sell to England at a stiff price. Why not
despoil the enemy, put the money in pocket, then return, steal the paper
anew for the use of Germany, and collect the stipulated reward from that
source? But he reckoned without Blensop's avarice, there; he showed Blensop
too plainly the way to profit through betraying both parties to a bargain;
Blensop saw no reason why he should not play the game that Ekstrom played.
So he stole it for himself, to sell to Germany, but being a poor, witless
fool, lacking Ekstrom's dash and audacity, was foredoomed to failure and

The girl continued to eye him steadfastly, and he as steadfastly to evade
her direct gaze.

"Nothing that you tell me detracts from the wonder of your guessing so
accurately," she insisted. "Now I know what Mr. Crane said of you was true,
that you are one of the most extraordinary of men."

"He was too kind when he said that," Lanyard protested wretchedly. "It is
not true. If you must know...."

"Well, Monsieur Lanyard?"

Her tone was that of a light-hearted girl, arch with provocation. Of a
sudden Lanyard understood that he might no longer stop here alone with her.

"If you will be a little indulgent with me," he suggested, "I will try to
explain what I mean."

"And how indulgent, monsieur?"

"I have a whim to take the air in this garden. Will you accompany me?"

"Why not?"

As she led the way through the French windows, he noted with deeper
misgivings how her action matched the temper of her voice, how she seemed
to-day more deliciously alive and happier than any common mortal.

So light her heart! And all since she had found him here!

At his wits' ends, he conceded now what he had so long denied. With all her
wit and wisdom, with all her charm of beauty, winsomeness, and breeding,
with all her ingrained love of truth and honesty, she was no more than
Nature had meant her to be, a woman with woman's weakness for the man
she must admire. She liked him, divined in him latent qualities somehow
excellent. Something in him worked upon her imagination, something, no
doubt, in the overcoloured, romantic yarns current about the Lone Wolf,
and so had touched her heart. She liked him too well already, and she was
willing to like him better.

But that must never be. He must rend ruthlessly apart this illusion of
romance with which she chose to transfigure the prowling parasite of night,
the sneaking thief....

The garden was sweet with the bright promise of Spring. A few weeks more,
and its formal walks would wend a riot of flowers. Now its sunlight made
amends for what it lacked in beauty of growing things; and its air was warm
and fragrant and still in the shelter of the red-brick walls.

Midway down that walk, by the side of which a thief had skulked nine hours
ago, near that door whose lock had yielded to his cunning keys, the girl
paused and confronted Lanyard spiritedly as he came up with heavy step and
hang-dog head.

"Well, monsieur?" she demanded. "Do you mean to tantalize me longer with
your reticence?"

But something in the haggard eyes he showed her made the girl catch her

"What is it?" she cried anxiously. "Monsieur Duchemin, what is your

"Only this truth that I must tell you," he said bitterly: "I merely played
a part back there, just now. There was neither wit nor guess-work in that
business; once I had seen Blensop's panic over the fancied loss of his pen,
the rest was knowledge. I saw him and Ekstrom together last night--skulking
in those windows, I watched them; and though in my denseness I didn't
understand, I saw him write upon that pad, tear off and give the sheet to
Ekstrom. And I knew Ekstrom had not succeeded in stealing back what he had
sold to Colonel Stanistreet, knew he was guiltless in fact if not in deed."

"But--how could you know that?"

"Because I was there, in the room, when he entered it after it had been
shut up for the night."

Conscious of her hands that fluttered like wounded things to her bosom, he
looked away in misery.

"What were you doing there?" she whispered in the end.

"Trying to find that paper, which I had seen Ekstrom sell to Colonel
Stanistreet, so that I might make good my promise and relieve your distress
by returning it to you. I had opened the safe before he entered, and
searched it thoroughly, and knew the paper was not there--though at that
time it never entered my thick head to suspect Blensop of treachery. It
was neither Blensop nor Ekstrom, Miss Brooke ... it was I who stole that

She made no sound and did not stir; and though he dared not look he knew
her stricken gaze was steadfast to his face.

"I will say this much in my defence: I did not come with intent to steal,
but only to take back what had been stolen from me, and return it to you,
who had trusted it to my care. I wanted to do that, because I did not then
understand the ins and outs of this intrigue, and had no means of knowing
how deeply your honour might be involved."

"But you did _not_ take that necklace!"

"I am sorry.... I saw it, and could not resist it."

"But Mr. Crane assured me you had given up all that sort of thing years

"Notwithstanding that, it seems I may not be trusted...."

After another trying silence she declared vehemently: "I do not believe
you! You say this thing for some secret purpose of your own. For some
reason I can't understand you wish to abase yourself in my sight, to make
me think you capable of such infamy. Why--ah, monsieur!--why must you do

"Because it isn't fair to represent myself as what I am not, mademoiselle.
Once a thief, always--"

"No! It isn't true!"

"Again I am sorry, but I know. You have been most generous to believe in
me. If anything could save me from myself, it would be your confidence.
That, I presume, is why I felt called upon to undo my thieving, and make
good the loss. The money Colonel Stanistreet paid Ekstrom is now in the
safe, back there in the library. The necklace is ... here."

Blindly he thrust the tissue packet into her hands.

"If you will consent to return it to its owner, when I have gone, I shall
be most grateful."

Her hands shook so that, when she would open the packet, it escaped her
grasp and dropped into a little pool of rain-water which had collected in
a hollow of the walk. Lanyard picked it up, stripped off the soiled and
sodden paper, dried the necklace with his handkerchief, replaced it in her

He heard the deep intake of her breath as she recognized its beauty, then
her quavering voice: "You give this back because of me...!"

"Because I cannot be an ingrate. I know no other way to prove how I have
prized your faith in me.... And now, with your leave, I will go away
quietly by this garden gate--"

"No--please, no!"


"I have more to say to you. It isn't fair of you to go like this, when I--"

She interrupted herself, and when next she spoke he was dashed by a change
in her voice from a tone of passionate expostulation to one of amused

"Colonel Stanistreet!" she called clearly. "Do come here at once, please!"

Startled, Lanyard saw that Stanistreet had appeared in the French windows
in company with Crane. In response to Cecelia's hail both came out into the
garden, Stanistreet briskly leading, Crane lounging at his heels, champing
his cigar, his weathered features knitted against the brightness of the

"Good morning, Miss Brooke. Howdy, Lanyard--or are you Duchemin again?" he
said; but his salutations were lost in the wonder excited by the girl's
next move.

"See, Colonel Stanistreet, what we have found!" she cried, and showed him
the necklace. "I mean, what Monsieur Duchemin found. It was he who saw it,
lying beneath that rose-bush over there. Your burglar must have dropped it
in making his escape; you can see the paper he wrapped it in, all rain-wet
and muddied."

Stanistreet's eyes protruded alarmingly, and his face grew very red before
he found breath enough to ejaculate: "God bless my soul!" Breathing hard,
he accepted the necklace from Cecelia's hands. "I must--excuse me--I must
tell my sister-in-law about this immediately!"

He turned and trotted hastily back into the house.

Crane lingered but a moment longer. His cheek, as ever, was bulging round
his everlasting cigar. Was his tongue therein as well? Lanyard never knew;
the man's eyes remained inscrutable for all the kindly shrewdness that
glimmered amid their netted wrinkles.

"Excuse _me_!" he said suddenly. "I got to tell the colonel something."

He got lankily into motion and presently passed in through the windows....

Irresistibly her gaze drew Lanyard's. He lifted careworn eyes and realized
her with a great wistfulness upon him.

She awaited in silence his verdict, her chin proudly high, her face
adorably flushed, her shining eyes level and brave to his, her generous
hands outstretched.

"Must you go now?" she said tenderly, as he stood hesitant and shamed.
"Must you go now, my dear?"


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