Part 2 out of 4
operation, "the last time I saw you you were in a pretty tight corner,
eh? You can't say it was my fault, either; I'd have put you wise if
you'd listened. But you weren't taking any--you knew better than I
did--and you strafed me, as the Dutchies say, to the kaiser's taste."
"Good advice seldom gets much thanks, I believe," was my grumpy
comment, which he unexpectedly chose to accept as an apology and with
a large, fine, generous gesture to blow away.
"That's all right," he declared. "I'm not holding it against you.
We've all got to learn. Next time you won't be so easy caught, I
guess. It makes a man do some thinking when he gets a dose like you
did; and those chaps at Gibraltar certainly gave you a rough deal!"
"On the contrary," I differed shortly,--I wasn't hunting sympathy,--
"considering all the circumstances, I think they were extremely fair."
"Not to shoot you on sight? Well, maybe." He was grinning. "But I
guess you weren't hunting for a chance to spend two days cooped up in
a cabin that measured six feet by five."
"It had advantages. One of them was solitude," I responded dryly. "And
it was less unpleasant than being relegated to a six-by-three grave.
See here, I don't enjoy this subject! Suppose we drop it. The fact is,
I've never understood why you came to my rescue on that occasion, you
didn't owe me any civility, you know, and you had to--well--we'll say
draw on your imagination when you claimed you saw what I threw
overboard that night."
"Sure, I lied like a trooper," he admitted placidly. "Glad to do it.
You didn't break any bones when you strafed me, and anyhow, I felt
sorry for you. It always goes against me to see a fellow being
Thanks to my determined coolness, the conversation lapsed. I buried
myself in the Paris "Herald," but found I could not read. Simmering
with wrath, I lived again the ill-starred voyage his words recalled to
me, breathed the close smothering air of the cabin that had held me
prisoner, tasted the knowledge that I was watched like any thief. An
armed sailor had stood outside my door by day and by night; and a
dozen times I had longed to fling open that frail partition, seize the
man by the collar, and hurl him far away.
Glancing out at the landscape, I saw that Turin lay back of us and
that our track was winding through dark chestnut forests toward the
heights. Confound Van Blarcom's reminiscences and the thoughts they
had set stirring! In ambush behind my paper I gloomily relived the
Our ship, following sealed instructions, had changed her course at
Gibraltar, conveying us by way of the Spanish coast to Genoa instead
of Naples. From my port-hole I had gazed glumly on blue skies and
bright, blue waters, purple hills, and white-walled cities, and
fishing boats with patched, gaudy sails and dark-complexioned crews.
Then Genoa rose from the sea, tier after tier of pink and green and
orange houses and shimmering groves of olive trees; and I was summoned
to the salon, to face the captain of the port, the chief of the police
of the city, and their bedizened suites.
Surrounded by plumes and swords and gold lace, I maintained my
innocence and heard Jack Herriott, on his opportune arrival, pour
forth in weird, but fluent, Italian an account of me that must have
surrounded me in the eyes of all present with a golden halo, and that
firmly established me in their minds as the probable next President of
the United States. Thanks to these exaggerations and to various
confirmatory cablegrams--Dunny had plainly set the wires humming on
receiving my S.O.S.,--I found myself a free man, at price of putting
my signature to a statement of it all. I shook the hand of the ever
non-committal Captain Cecchi, and left the ship. And an hour after
good old Jack was gazing at me in wrath unconcealed as I informed him
that I was in the mood for neither gadding, nor social intercourse,
and had made up my mind to proceed immediately to duty at the Front.
"You've been seasick; that's what ails you," he said, diagnosing my
condition. "Oh, I don't expect you to admit it--no man ever did that.
But you wait and see how you feel when we've had a few meals at the
Grand Hotel in Rome!"
This culinary bait leaving me cold, he lost his temper, expressed a
hope that the Germans would blow my ambulance to smithereens, and
assured me that the next time I brought the Huns' papers across the
ocean I might extricate myself without his assistance from what might
ensue. However, though he has a bark, Jack possesses no bite worth
mentioning. He even saw me off when I left by the north-bound train.
Leaning moodily forward, I looked again from the window and wished I
might hurry the creaking, grinding revolution of the wheels. We were
climbing higher and higher among the mountains. The chestnuts, growing
scanter, were replaced by dark firs and pines. Streams came winding
down like icy crystal threads; the little rivers we crossed looked
blue and glacial; pale-pink roses and mountain flowers showed
themselves as we approached the peaks. A polite official, entering,
examined our papers; and with snow surrounding us and cold clear air
blowing in at the window, we left Bardonnecchia, the last of the
I was speeding toward France; but where was the girl of the /Re
d'Italia/? To what dubious rendezvous, what haunt of spies, had she
hurried, once ashore? The thought of her stung my vanity almost beyond
endurance. She had pleaded with me that night, swayed against me
trustingly, appealed to me as to a chivalrous gentleman and, having
competently pulled the wool over my eyes, had laughed at me in her
I had held myself a canny fellow, not an easy prey to adventurers; a
fairly decent one, too, who didn't lie to a king's officer or help
treasonable plots. Yet had I not done just those things by my silence
on the steamer? And for what reason? Upon my soul I didn't know,
unless because she had gray eyes.
"Hang it all!" I exclaimed, flinging my unlucky paper into a corner,
and becoming aware too late that Van Blarcom was observing me with a
"I've got the black butterflies, as the French say," I explained
savagely. "This mountain travel is maddening; one might as well be a
"Sure, a slow train's tiresome," agreed Van Blarcom. "Specially if
you're not feeling overpleased with life anyway," he added, with a
An angry answer rose to my lips, but the Mont Cenis tunnel opportunely
enveloped us, and in the dark half-hour transit that followed I
regained my self-control. It was not worth while, I decided, to
quarrel with the fellow, to break his head or to give him the chance
of breaking mine. After all, I thought low-spiritedly, what right had
I to look down on him? We were pot and kettle, indistinguishably
black. It was true that he had perjured himself upon the liner; but
so, in spirit if not in words, had I!
Thus reflecting, I saw the train emerge from the tunnel, felt it jar
to a standstill in the station of Modane, and, in obedience to
staccato French outcries on the platform, alighted in the frontier
town. Followed by Van Blarcom and preceded by our porters, I strolled
in leisurely fashion towards the customs shed. The air was clear,
chilly, invigorating; snowy peaks were thick and near. And the scene
was picturesque, dotted as it was with mounted bayonets and blue
territorial uniforms--reminders that boundary lines were no longer
jests and that strangers might not enter France unchallenged in time
Van Blarcom's elbow at this juncture nudged me sharply.
"Say, Mr. Bayne," he was whispering, "look over there, will you? What
do you know about that?"
I looked indifferently. Then blank dismay took possession of me.
Across the shed, just visible between rows of trunks piled mountain
high, stood Miss Esme Falconer, as usual only too well worth seeing
from fur hat to modish shoe.
"Ain't that the limit," commented the grinning Van Blarcom; "us three
turning up again, all together like this? Well, I guess she won't have
to call a policeman to stop you talking to her. You know enough this
time to steer pretty clear of her. Isn't that so?"
But I had wheeled upon him; the coincidence was too striking!
"Look here!" I demanded, "are you following that young lady? Is that
your business on this side?"
"No!" he denied disgustedly, retreating a step. "Never saw her from
the time we docked till this minute; never wanted to see her! Anyhow,
what's the glare for? Suppose I was?"
"It's rather strange, you'll admit." I was regarding him fixedly. "You
seemed to have a good deal of information about her on the ship. Yet
when that affair occurred at Gibraltar, you were as dumb as an oyster.
Why didn't you tell the captain and the English officers the things
"Well, I had my reasons," he replied defiantly. "And at that, I don't
see as you've got anything on me, Mr. Bayne. You're no fool. You put
two and two together quick enough to know darned well who planted
those papers in your baggage; so if you thought it needed telling, why
didn't you tell it yourself?"
"I don't know who put them there," I denied hastily, "except that he
was a pale little runt of a German, pretending to be a thief, who will
wish he had died young if I ever see him again."
An inspector had just passed my traps through with bored indifference.
I turned a huffy back on Van Blarcom and went to stand in line before
a door which harbored, I was told, a special commission for the
examination of passports and the admission of travelers into France.
Reaching the inner room in due course, I saluted three uniformed men
who sat round an unimposing wooden table, exhibited the /vise/ that
Jack Herriott had secured for me at Genoa, and was welcomed to the
land. Then I stepped forth on the platform, retrieved my porter and my
baggage, and placed myself near the door to wait until the girl should
I must have been a grim sort of sentinel as I stood there watching. I
knew what I had to do, but I detested it with all my heart. There was
one thing to be said for this Miss Falconer--she had courage. She was
pressing on to French soil without lingering a day in Italy, though
she must be aware that by so swift a move she was risking suspicion,
As moment after moment dragged past, I grew uneasy. Would she come out
at all? Could she win past those trained, keen-eyed men? The more I
thought of it, the more desperate seemed the game she was playing.
This little Alpine town, high among the peaks, surrounded by pines and
snow, had been a setting for tragedies since the war began. These
territorials with their muskets were not mere supers, either. But no!
She was emerging; she was starting toward the /rapide/. There, no
doubt, a reserved compartment was awaiting her, and once inside its
shelter, she would not appear again.
I drew a deep breath in which resolve and distaste were mingled. She
had crossed the frontier, but she was not in Paris yet. I couldn't
shirk the thing twice, knowing as I did her charm, her beauty, her air
of proud, spirited graciousness--all the tools that equipped her. I
couldn't, if I was ever again to hold my head before a Frenchman, let
her pass on, so daring and dangerous and resourceful, to do her work
As she approached, I stepped in front of her, lifting my hat.
"This is a great surprise, Miss Falconer," said I.
DINNER FOR TWO
I was prepared for fear, for distress, for pleading as I confronted
Miss Falconer; the one thing I hadn't expected was that she should
seem pleased at the meeting, but she did. She flushed a little, smiled
brightly, and held out her gloved hand to me.
"Why, Mr. Bayne! I am so glad!" she exclaimed in frankly cordial
The crass coolness of her tactics, with its implied rating of my
intelligence, was the very bracer I needed for a most unpleasant task.
I accepted her hand, bowed over it formally, and released it. Then I
spoke with the most impersonal courtesy in the world.
"And I," I declared coolly, "am delighted, I assure you. It is great
luck meeting you like this; and I will not let you slip away. I
suppose that when we board the train they will serve us a meal of some
sort. Won't you give me the pleasure of having you for my guest?"
The brightness had left her face as she sensed my attitude. She drew
back, regarding me in a rebuffed, bewildered way.
"Thank you, no. I am not hungry."
By Jove, but she was an actress! I should have sworn I had hurt her if
I hadn't known the truth.
"Don't say that!" I protested. "Of course it is unconventional to dine
with a stranger; but then so is almost everything that is happening to
you and me. Think of those lord high executioners in there round the
table. See this platform with its guards and bayonets and guns. And
then remember our odd experiences on the /Re d'Italia/. Won't you risk
one more informality and come and dine?"
She hesitated a moment, watching me steadily; then, with proud
reluctance, she walked beside me toward the train.
"You helped me once," she said, her eyes averted now, "and I haven't
forgotten. I don't understand at all,--but I shall do as you say."
The passengers were being herded aboard by eager, bustling officials.
I saw my baggage and the girl's installed, disposed of the porters,
and guided my companion to the /wagon/ restaurant. The horn was
sounding as we entered, and at six-thirty promptly, just as I put Miss
Falconer in her chair, we pulled out of the snowy station of Modane.
As I studied the menu, the girl sat with lowered lashes, all things
about her, from her darkened eyes and high head to her pallor,
proclaiming her feeling of offense, her sense of hurt. She knew her
game, I admitted, and she had first-class weapons. Though she could
not weaken my resolution, she made my beginning hard.
"We are going to have a discouraging meal," I gossiped
procrastinatingly. "But, since we are in France, it will be a little
less horrible than the usual dining-car. The wine is probably
hopeless; I suggest Evian or Vichy. These radishes look promising.
Will you have some?"
"No. I am not hungry," she repeated briefly. "Won't you please tell me
what you have to say?"
Though I didn't in the least want them, I ate a few of the radishes
just to show that I was not abashed by her haughty, reproachful air.
Other passengers were strolling in. Here was Mr. John Van Blarcom,
who, at the sight of Miss Falconer and myself to all appearances
cozily established for a tete-a-tete meal, stopped in his tracks and
fastened on me the hard, appraising scrutiny that a policeman might
turn on a hitherto respectable acquaintance discovered in converse
with some notorious crook. For an instant he seemed disposed to
buttonhole me and remonstrate. Then he shrugged his stocky shoulders,
the gesture indicating that one can't save a fool from his folly, and
established himself at a near-by table, from which coign of vantage he
kept us under steady watch.
Given such an audience, my outward mien must be impeccable.
"There is something," I admitted cautiously, "that I want to say to
you. But I wish you would eat something first. People are watching
us," I added beneath my breath as the soup appeared.
She took a sip under protest, and then replaced her spoon and sat with
fingers twisting her gloves and eyes fixed smolderingly on mine. I
shifted furtively in my seat. This was a charming experience. I was
being, from my point of view, almost quixotically generous; yet with
one glance she could make me feel like a bully and a brute.
"I am sure," I stumbled, fumbling desperately with my serviette, "that
you came over without realizing what war conditions are. Strangers
aren't wanted just now. Travel is dangerous for women. You may think
me all kinds of a presumptuous idiot,--I shan't blame you,--but I am
going to urge you most strongly to go home."
Whatever she had looked for, obviously it was not that.
"Mr. Bayne," she exclaimed, regarding me wonderingly, "what do you
"Just this, Miss Falconer," I answered with almost Teutonic
ruthlessness. Confound it! I couldn't sit here forever bullying her;
sheer desperation lent me strength. "The /Espagne/ sails from Bordeaux
on Saturday, I see by the Herald, and if I were you, I should most
certainly be on board. In fact, if you lose the chance, I am sure
you'll regret it later. The French police authorities are--er--very
inquisitive about foreigners; and if you stop in France in these
anxious times, I think it likely that they may--well--"
She drew a quick, hard breath as I trailed off into silence. Her eyes,
darkened, horrified, were gazing full into mine.
"You wouldn't tell them about me! You couldn't be so cruel!" The words
came almost fiercely, yet with a sound like a stifled sob.
By its sheer preposterousness the speech left me dumb a moment, and
then gave me back the self-possession I had been clutching at
throughout the meal. For the first time since entering I sat erect and
squared my shoulders. I even confronted her with a rather glittering
"I am very sorry," I said, with a cool stare, "if I appear so; but I
am consideration itself compared with the people you would meet in
Paris, say. That's the very point I'm making--that you can't travel
now in comfort. I'm simply trying to spare you future contretemps,
Miss Falconer; such as I had on the /Re d'Italia/, you may recall."
She leaned impulsively across the table.
"Oh, Mr. Bayne, I knew it! You are angry about that wretched extra,
and you have a right to be. Of course you thought it cowardly of me--
yes, and ungrateful--to stand there without a word and let those
officers question you. Mr. Bayne, if the worst had come to the worst,
I should have spoken, I should, indeed; but I had to wait. I had to
give myself every chance. It meant so much, so much! You had nothing
to hide from them. You were certain to win through. And then, you
seemed so undisturbed, so unruffled, so able to take care of yourself;
I knew you were not afraid. It was different with me. If they began to
suspect, if they learned who I was, I could never have entered France.
This route through Italy was my one hope! I am so sorry. But still--"
Hitherto she had been appealing; but now she defied frankly. That tint
of hers, like nothing but a wild rose, drove away her pallor; her gray
"But still," she flashed at me, "you won't inform on me just for that?
I asked you to help me; you were free to refuse--and you agreed!
Because it inconvenienced you a little, are you going to turn police
agent?" Her red lips twisted proudly, scornfully. "I don't believe it,
I laughed shortly. She was indeed an artist.
"I wasn't thinking of that particular episode--" I began.
"But you did resent it. I saw it when you first joined me. And I was
so glad to see you--to have the chance of thanking you!" she broke in,
"No, I didn't resent it. I didn't even blame you. If I blamed any one,
Miss Falconer, it would certainly be myself. I've concluded I ought
not to go about without a keeper. My gullibility must have amused you
tremendously." I laughed.
"I never thought you gullible," she denied, suddenly wistful. "I
thought you very generous and very chivalrous, Mr. Bayne."
This was carrying mockery too far.
"I am afraid," I said meaningly, "that the authorities at Gibraltar
would take a less flattering view. For instance, if those Englishmen
learned that I had refrained from telling them of our meeting at the
St. Ives, I should hear from them, I fancy."
Again her eyes were widening. What attractive eyes she had!
"The St. Ives?" she repeated wonderingly. "Why should that interest
them? What do you mean?" Then, suddenly, she bent forward, propped her
elbows on the table, and amazed me with a slow, astonished,
comprehending smile. "I see!" she murmured, studying me intently. "You
thought that I screened the man who hid those papers, that I crossed
the ocean on--similar business, perhaps even that on this side I was
to take the documents from your trunk?"
"Naturally," I rejoined stiffly. "And I congratulate you. It was a
brilliant piece of work; though, as its victim, I fail to see it in
the rosiest light."
"I understand," she went on, still smiling faintly. "You thought I
was--well-- Look over yonder."
Her glance, seeking the opposite wall unostentatiously, directed my
attention to a black-lettered, conspicuously posted sign:
THE EARS OF THE ENEMY ARE LISTENING!
Thus it shouted its warning, like the thousands of its kind that are
scattered about the trains, the boats, the railroad stations, and all
the public places of France.
"You thought I was the ears of the enemy, didn't you?" the girl was
asking. "You thought I was a German agent. I might have guessed! Well,
in that case it was kind of you not to hand me over to the Modane
gendarmes. I ought to thank you. But I wasn't so suspicious when they
searched your trunk and found the papers--I simply felt that they must
be crazy to think you could be a spy."
I achieved a shrug of my shoulders, a polite air of incredulity; but,
to tell the truth, I was a little less skeptical than I appeared.
There was something in her manner that by no means suggested pretense.
And she had said a true word about the occurrences on the /Re
d'Italia/. If appearances meant facts, I myself had been proved guilty
up to the hilt.
"Mr. Bayne," she was saying soberly, "I should like you to believe me
--please! I am an American, and I have had cause lately to hate the
Germans; all my bonds are with our own country and with France. There
is some one very dear to me to whom this war has worked a cruel
injustice. I have come to try to help that person; and for certain
reasons--I can't explain them--I had to come in secret or not at all.
But I have done nothing wrong, nothing dishonorable. And so"--again
her eyes challenged me--"I shall not sail from Bordeaux on the
/Espagne/ on Saturday; and you shall choose for yourself whether you
will speak of me to the French police."
It was not much of an argument, regarded dispassionately; yet it shook
me. With sudden craftiness I resolved to trap her if I could.
"I ought to tell them on the mere chance that they would send you
home," I grumbled irritably. "You have no business here, you know,
helping people and being suspected and pursued and outrageously
annoyed by fools like me. Yes, and by other fools--and worse," I added
with feigned sulphurousness, indicated Van Blarcom. "Miss Falconer,
would you mind glancing at the third man on the right--the dark man
who is staring at us--and telling me whether or not you ever saw him
before you sailed?"
"I am sure I never did," she declared, knitting puzzled brows; "and
yet on the /Re d'Italia/ he insisted that we had met. It frightened me
a little. I wondered whether or not he suspected something. And every
time I see him he watches me in that same way."
I was thawing, despite myself.
"There's one other thing," I ventured, "if you won't think me too
impertinent: Did you ever hear of a man named Franz von Blenheim?"
"No," she said blankly; "I never did. Who is he?"
No birds out of that covert! If this was acting it was marvelous;
there had not been the slightest flicker of confusion in her face.
"Oh, he isn't anybody of importance--just a man," I evaded. "Look
here, Miss Falconer, you'll have to forgive me if you can. You shall
stay in Paris, and I'll be as silent as the grave concerning you; but
I'd like to do more than that. Won't you let me come and call? Really,
you know, I'm not such a duffer as you have cause to think me. After
we got acquainted you might be willing to trust me with this business,
whatever it is. And then, if it's not too desperate, I have friends
who could be of help to you." Such was the sop I threw to conscience,
the bargain I struck between sober reason and the instinct that made
me trust her against all odds. My theories must have been moonshine.
Everything was all right, probably. But for the sake of prudence I
ought to keep track of her. Besides, I wanted to.
Gratitude and consternation, a most becoming mixture, were in her
eyes. She drew back a little.
"Oh, thank you, but that's impossible," she said uncertainly. "I have
friends, too; but they can't help me. Nobody can."
"Well," I admitted sadly, "I know the rudiments of manners. I can
recognize a conge, but consider me a persistent boor. Come, Miss
Falconer, why mayn't I call? Because we are strangers? If that's it,
you can assure yourself at the embassy that I am perfectly
respectable; and you see I don't eat with my knife or tuck my napkin
under my chin or spill my soup."
Again that warm flush.
"Mr. Bayne!" she exclaimed indignantly. "Did I need an introduction to
speak to you on the ship, to ask unreasonable favors of you, to make
people think you a spy? If you are going to imagine such absurd
things, I shall have to--"
"To consent? I hoped you might see it that way."
"Of course," she pondered aloud, "I may find good news waiting. If I
do, it will change everything. I could see you once, at least, and let
you know. I really owe you that, I think, when you've been so kind to
"Yes," I agreed bitterly, with a pang of conscience, "I've been very
"Well, perhaps to-night you were just a little difficult." She was
smiling, but I didn't mind; I rather liked her mockery now. "Still,
even when you thought the worst of me, Mr. Bayne, you kept my secret.
And--do you really wish to come to see me?"
"I most emphatically do."
She drew a card from her beaded bag, rummaged vainly for a pencil,
ended by accepting mine, and scribbled a brief address.
"Then," she commanded, handing me the bit of pasteboard, "come to this
number at noon to-morrow and ask for me. And now, since I'm not to go
to prison, Mr. Bayne, I believe I am hungry. This is war bread, I
suppose; but it tastes delicious. And isn't the saltless butter nice?"
"And here are the chicken and the salad arriving!" I exclaimed
hopefully. "And there never was a French cook yet, however unspeakable
otherwise, who failed at those."
What had come to pass I could not have told; but we were eating
celestial viands, and my black butterflies having fled away, a swarm
of their gorgeous-tinted kindred were fluttering radiantly over Miss
Esme Falconer's plate and mine.
IN THE RUE ST.-DOMINIQUE
Arriving in Paris at the highly inconvenient hour of 8 A.M., our
/rapide/ deposited its breakfastless and grumpy passengers on the
platform of the Gare de Lyon, washed its hands of us with the final
formality of collecting our tickets, and turned us forth into a gray,
foggy morning to seek the food and shelter adapted to our purses and
tastes. Every one, of course, emerged from seclusion only at the
ultimate moment; and, far from holding any lengthy conversation with
Miss Falconer, I was lucky to stumble upon her in the vestibule, help
her descend, find a taxi for her at the exit, and see her smile back
at me where I stood hatless as she drove away.
While I waited for my own cab I found myself beside Mr. John Van
Blarcom, who eyed me with mingled hostility and pity, as if I were a
cross between a lunatic and a thief. I returned his stare coolly;
indeed, I found it braced me. Left to myself, I had experienced a
creeping doubt as to the girl's activities and my own intelligence;
but as soon as this fellow glared at me, all my confidence returned.
"Well, Mr. Bayne," he remarked sardonically, breaking the silence, "I
suppose you're worrying for fear I'll give you another piece of good
advice. Don't you fret! From now on you can hang yourself any way you
want to. I'd as soon talk to a man in a padded cell and a strait-
jacket. Only don't blame me when the gendarmes come for you next
"Oh, go to the devil!" I retorted curtly. It was a relief; I had been
wanting to say it ever since we had first met. His jaw shot out
menacingly, and for an instant he squared off from me with the look of
the professional boxer; but, rather to my disappointment, he thought
better of it and turned a contemptuous back.
Upon leaving Genoa I had reserved a room at the Ritz by telegraph. I
drove there now, and refreshed myself with a bath and breakfast,
casting about me meanwhile for some mode of occupying the hours till
noon. There were various tasks, I knew, that should have claimed me; a
visit to the police to secure a /carte de sejour/, the presentation of
my credentials as an ambulance-driver, a polite notification to
friends that I had arrived. These things should have been my duty and
pleasure, but somehow they were uninviting. Nothing appealed to me, I
realized with sudden enlightenment, except a certain appointment that
I had already made.
I went out, to find that the fog was lifting and spring was in the
air. Since my dinner the previous night I had felt an odd
exhilaration, a pleasure quickened by the staccato sparkle of the
French tongue against my ears, the pale-blue uniforms, and gay French
faces glimpsed as the train had stopped at various lighted stations.
Saluting Napoleon's statue, I strolled up the rue de la Paix, took a
table on a cafe pavement, and, ordering a glass of something fizzy for
the form of it, sat content and happy, watching the whole gigantic
pageant of Paris in war-time defile before my eyes.
The Cook's tourists and their like, bane of the past, had disappeared;
but all nationalities that the world holds seemed to be about. At the
next table two Russian officers, with high cheek-bones and wide-set
eyes, were drinking, chatting together in their purring,
unintelligible tongue. Beyond them a party of Englishmen in khaki,
cool-mannered, clear of gaze, were talking in low tones of the spring
offensive. The uniforms of France swarmed round me in all their
variety, and close at hand a general, gorgeous in red and blue and
gold, sat with his hand resting affectionately on the knee of a lad in
the horizon blue of a simple poilu, who was so like him that I guessed
them at a glance for father and son.
A cab drew up before me, and a Belgian officer with crutches was
helped out by the cafe starter, who himself limped slightly and wore
two medals on his breast. First one troop and then another defiled
across the Place l'Opera: a company of infantry with bayonets mounted,
a picturesque regiment of Moroccans, turbaned, of magnificently
impassive bearing, sitting their horses like images of bronze. Men of
the Flying Corps, in dark blue with wings on their sleeves, strolled
past me; and once, roused by exclamations and pointing fingers, I
looked up to see a monoplane, light and graceful as a darting bird,
skimming above our heads.
Even the faces had a different look, the voices a different ring. It
was another country from that of the days of peace. Superb and
dauntless, tried by the most searing of fires and not found wanting,
France was standing girt with her shining armor, barring the invader
from her cities, her villages, her homes.
Deep in my heart--too deep to be talked of often--there had lain
always a tenderness for this heroic France. "A man's other country,"
some wise person had christened it; and so it was for me, since by a
chance I had been born here, and since here my father and then my
mother had died. I was glad I had run the gauntlet and had reached
Paris to do my part in a mighty work. An ambulance drove heavily past
me, and with a thrill I wondered how soon I should bend over such a
steering wheel, within sound of the great guns.
Leaving the cafe at last, I beckoned a taxi and settled myself on its
cushions for a drive. Each new vista that greeted me was enchanting.
The pavements, the river, the buildings, the stately bridges,--all
held the same soft, silvery tint of pale French gray. In the Place de
la Concorde the fountains played as always, but--heart-warming change
--the Strasburg statue, symbol of the lost Lorraine and Alsace, no
longer drooped under wreaths of mourning, but sat crowned and
garlanded with triumphant flowers.
Like diminishing flies, the same eternal swarm of cabs and motors
filled the long vista of the Champs-Elysees between the green branches
of the chestnut trees. At the end loomed the Arc de Triomphe, beneath
which the hordes of the kaiser, in their first madness of conquest,
had sworn to march. Farther on, in the Bois, along the shady paths and
about the lakes, the French still walked in safety, because on the
frontier their soldiers had cried to the Teutons the famous watchword,
"You do not pass!" Noon was approaching, and at the Porte Maillot I
consulted Miss Falconer's card.
"Number 630, rue St.-Dominique," I bade the driver, the address
falling comfortably on my ears. I knew the neighborhood. Deep in the
Faubourg St.-Germain, it was a stronghold of the old noblesse,
suggesting eminent respectability, ancient and honorable customs, and
family connections of a highly desirable kind. It would be a point in
Miss Falconer's favor if I found her conventionally established--a
decided point. Along most lines I was in the dark concerning her, but
to one dictum I dared to hold: no girl of twenty-two or thereabouts,
more than ordinarily attractive, ought to be traveling unchaperoned
about this wicked world.
I felt very cheerful, very contented, as my taxi bore me into old
Paris. The ancient streets, had a decided lure and charm. Now we
passed a quaint church, now a dim and winding alley, now a house with
mansard windows or a portal of carved stone. On all sides were
buildings that in the old days had been the /hotels/ of famous gentry,
this one sheltering a Montmorency, that one a Clisson or Soubise. It
was just the setting for a romance by Dumas. And, with a chuckle, I
felt myself in sudden sympathy with that writer's heroes, none of whom
had, it seemed to me, been enmeshed in a mystery more baffling or
involved than mine.
"They've got nothing on my affair," I decided, "with their masks and
poisoned drinks and swords. For a fellow who leads a cut-and-dried
existence generally, I've been having quite a lively time. And now, to
cap the climax, I'm going to call on a girl about whom I know just one
thing--her name. By Jove, it's exactly like a story! I've got the
data. If I had any gray matter I could probably work out the facts.
"Take the St. Ives business. It's plain enough that some one wished
those papers on me, intending to unwish them in short order once we
got across. The logical suspect, judging by appearances, was Miss
Falconer. The little German went out through her room; she was the one
person I saw both at the hotel and on the /Re d'Italia/; and she acted
in a suspicious manner that first night aboard the ship. But she says
she didn't do it, and probably she didn't; it seemed infernally odd,
all along, for her to be a spy.
"Still, if she is innocent, who can be responsible? And if that affair
didn't bring her over here, what the dickens did? Something
mysterious, something dangerous, something that the French police
wouldn't appreciate, but that her conscience sanctions--that is all
she deigns to say. And why on earth did she ask me to destroy that
extra? I thought it was because she was Franz von Blenheim's agent and
the paper had an account of him that might have served as a clue to
her. She says, though, that she never heard of him. And I may be all
kinds of a fool, but it sounded straight.
"Then, there's Van Blarcom, hang him! He seemed to take a fancy to me.
He warned me about the girl, but he kept a still tongue to Captain
Cecchi and the rest. He lied deliberately, for no earthly reason, to
shield me in that interrogation; yet when those papers materialized in
my trunk, though he must have thought just what I thought as to Miss
Falconer's share in it, he didn't breathe a word. He claimed that he
had met her. She said she had never seen him. And then--rather strong
for a coincidence--we all three met again on the express. What is he
doing on this side? Shadowing her? Nonsense? And yet he seemed
almighty keen about her--Oh, hang it! I'm no Sherlock Holmes!"
The taxi pausing at this juncture, I willingly abandoned my attempt at
sleuthing and got out in the highest spirits compatible with a
strictly correct mien. I dismissed my driver. If asked to remain to
/dejeuner/, I should certainly do so. Then, with feelings of natural
interest, I gazed at the house before which I stood.
In the outward seeming, at least, it was all that the most fastidious
could have required; a gem of Renaissance architecture in its turrets,
its quaint, scrolled windows, and the carving of its stone facade. Age
and romance breathed from every inch of it. For not less than four
hundred years it had watched the changing life of Paris; and even to a
lay person like myself a glance proclaimed it one of those ancestral
/hotels/, the pride of noble French families, about which many
romantic stories cling.
At another time it would have charmed me hugely, but to-day, as I
stood gazing, somehow, my spirits fell. Was it the almost sepulchral
silence of the place, the careful drawing of every shutter, the fact
that the grilled gateway leading to the court of honor was locked? I
did not know; I don't know yet; but I had an odd, eerie feeling. It
seemed like a place of waiting, of watching, and of gloom.
This was unreasonable; it was even down-right ridiculous. I began to
think that late events were throwing me off my base. "It's a house
like any other, and a jolly fine old one!" I assured myself,
approaching the grilled entrance and producing one of my cards.
An entirely modern electric button was installed there, beneath a now
merely ornamental knocker in grotesque gargoyle form. I pressed it,
peering through the iron latticework at the stately court. The answer
was prompt. Down the steps of the hotel came a white-headed majordomo,
gorgeously arrayed, and so pictorial that he might have been a family
retainer stepping from the pages of an old tale.
There was something queer about him, I thought, as he crossed the
courtyard; just as there was about the house, I appended doggedly,
with growing belief. His air was tremulous, his step slow, his gaze
far-off and anxious.
"For Miss Falconer, who waits for me," I announced in French, offering
him my card through the grille.
He bowed to me with the deference of a Latin, the grand manner of an
ambassador; but he made no motion to let me in.
"Mademoiselle," he replied, "sends all her excuses, all her regrets to
monsieur, but she leaves Paris within the hour and, therefore may not
I had feared it for a good sixty seconds. None the less, it was a blow
to me. My suspicions, never more than half laid, promptly raised their
"Have the kindness," I requested, with a calm air of command that I
had known to prove hypnotic, "to convey my card to mademoiselle, and
to say that I beg of her, before her departure, one little instant of
But the old fellow's faded blue eyes were gazing past me, hopelessly
sad, supremely mournful. What the deuce ailed him? I wondered angrily.
The thing was almost weird. Of a sudden, with irritation, yet with
dread, too, I felt myself on the threshold of a house of tragedy. The
man might, from the look of him, have been watching some loved young
"Mademoiselle regrets greatly," he intoned, "but she may not receive.
Mademoiselle sends this letter to monsieur that he may understand." He
passed me, through the locked grille, a slender missive; then he
saluted me once more and, still staring before him with that fixed,
uncanny look, withdrew.
THE GRAY CAR
I was divided between exasperation and pity. The old fellow was in a
bad way; I felt sorry for him. Dunny had an ancient butler, a
household institution, who had presided over our destinies since my
childhood and would, I fancied, look something like this if he should
hear that I was dead. But in heaven's name, what was wrong here, and
was nothing in the world clear and aboveboard any longer? On the
chance that the letter might enlighten me I tore open the envelope and
read with mixed feelings the following note:
DEAR Mr. BAYNE:
The news that I found waiting for me was not good, as I had hoped.
It was bad, very bad--as bad as news can be. I must leave Paris at
once, and I can see no one, talk to no one, before I go. Please
believe that I am sorry, and that I shall never forget the
kindness you showed me on the ship.
That was all. Well, the episode was ended--ended, moreover, with a
good deal of cavalierness. She had treated me like a meddlesome,
pertinacious idiot who had insisted on calling and had to be taught
his place. This was a Christian country where the formalities of life
prevailed; I could not--unless escorted and countenanced by gendarmes
--seize upon a club and batter down that grille.
I was resentful, wrathful, in the very deuce of a humor. Black gloom
settled over me. I admitted that Van Blarcom had been right. I
recalled the girl's vague explanations as we sat over our dinner; her
denials, unbolstered save by my willingness to accept them; all the
chain of incriminating circumstances that I had pondered over in the
cab. Her charm and the mystery that enveloped her had thrilled and
stirred me; she had seen it. To gain a few hours' leeway she had once
again duped me; and this hotel, with its deceptive air of family and
respectability, was a blind, a rendezvous, another such setting for
intrigue as the St. Ives.
Her work might be already accomplished. Perhaps she had left Paris. I
told myself with some savageness that I did not know and did not care.
From the first my presence in this luridly adventurous galley had been
incongruous; I would get back with all despatch to the Ritz and the
orderly world it typified.
I had gone perhaps twenty feet when a grating noise attracted me.
Glancing back across my shoulder, I saw that the old majordomo was
unlocking and setting wide the gate. The hum of a self-starter reached
me faintly, and a moment later there rolled slowly forth a dark-blue
touring-car of luxurious aspect, driven by a chauffeur whose coat and
cap and goggles gave him rather the appearance of a leather brownie,
and bearing in the tonneau Miss Falconer, elaborately coated and
She was turning to the right, not the left; she would not pass me. I
stood transfixed, watching from my post against the wall. As the car
crept by the old majordomo, he saluted, and she spoke to him, bending
forward for a moment to rest her fingers on his sleeve.
"Be of courage, Marcel, my friend! All will be well if /le bon Dieu/
wills it," I heard her say. Then to the chauffeur she added: "/En
avant, Georges! Vite, a/ Bleau!" The motor snorted as the car gained
speed, and they were gone.
The ancient Marcel, reentering, locked the grille behind him. I was
left alone, more astounded than before. The girl's kind speech to the
old servant, her gentle tones, her womanly gesture, had been
bewildering. Despite all the accusing features her case offered, I
should have said just then, as I watched Miss Esme Falconer, that she
was nothing more or less than a superlatively nice girl.
"Honk! Honk! Honk!"
I swung round, startled. A moment earlier the length and breadth of
the street had stretched before me, empty; yet now I saw, sprung
apparently out of nowhere, a long, lean, gray car, low-built like a
racer, carrying four masked and goggled men. Steadily gaining speed as
it came, it bore down upon me and, after grazing me with its running-
board and nearly deafening me with the powerful blast of its horn,
flew on down the street and vanished in Miss Falconer's wake.
Trying to clarify my emotions, I stared after this Juggernaut. Was it
merely the sudden appearance of the thing, its look, so lean and
snake-like and somber-colored, and the muffled air of its occupants
that had struck me as sinister when it went flashing by? I wasn't
sure, but I had formed the impression that these men were following
Miss Falconer. A patently foolish idea! And yet, and yet--
My experiences at the St. Ives and on the /Re d'Italia/ had
contributed to my education. I could no longer deny that melodrama,
however unwelcome, did sometimes intrude itself into the most unlikely
lives. The girl was bound somewhere on a secret purpose. Could these
four men be her accomplices? Were they going too?
Those had been her words to the chauffeur; for Bleau, then, she was
bound. But where did such a place exist? I had never heard of it; and
yet I possessed, I flattered myself, through the medium of motor-
touring, a fairly comprehensive knowledge of the map of France.
The affair was becoming a veritable nightmare. It seemed incredible
that a few minutes earlier I had resolved to wash my hands of it all.
If the girl had a disloyal mission, it was my plain duty to intercept
her. I could not denounce her to the police. I didn't analyze the why
and wherefore of my inability to take this step; I simply knew and
accepted it. If I interfered with what she was doing, I must interfere
Ordinarily I have as much imagination as a turnip, but now I indulged
in a sudden and surprising flight of fancy. Might it be, I found
myself wondering, that the men in the gray care were not Miss
Falconer's accomplices, but her pursuers? In that case, high as was
her courage, keen as were her wits,--I found myself thinking of them
with a sort of pride,--she was laboring under a handicap of which she
could not dream.
Again, where had that long, lean, pursuing streak sprung from? Could
it have lurked somewhere in the neighborhood, spying on the hotel that
Miss Falconer had just left, waiting for her to emerge? I was aware of
my absurdity, but I couldn't put an end to it; with each instant that
went by my uneasiness seemed to grow. So I yielded, not without qualms
as to whether the quarter would take me for a gibbering idiot. Grimly
and doggedly I stalked the length of the rue St.-Dominique, and the
stately houses on both sides seemed to scorn me, their shutters to eye
me pityingly, as I peered to right and left for the possible cache of
And within four hundred feet I found it. Against all reason and
probability, there it was. At my left there opened unostentatiously
one of those short, dark, neglected blind alleys so common in the
older part of Paris, with the houses meeting over it and forming an
arched roof. Running back twenty feet or so, it ended in a blank wall
of stone; and, amid the dust and debris that covered its rough paving,
I distinctly made out the tracks of tires, with between them, freshly
spilt, a tiny, gleaming pool of oil.
At this psychological moment a taxicab came meandering up the street.
It was unoccupied, but its red flag was turned down. The driver shook
his head vigorously as I signaled him.
"I go to my /dejeuner/, Monsieur!" he explained.
"On the contrary," said I fiercely, "you go to the tourist bureau of
Monsieur Cook in the Place de l'Opera, at the greatest speed the
/sergents de ville/ allow!"
I must have mesmerized him, for he took me there obediently, casting
hunted glances back at me from time to time when the traffic
momentarily halted us, as if fearing to find that I was leveling a
pistol at his head.
It being noon, the office of the tourist bureau was almost deserted, a
single, bored-looking, young French clerk keeping vigil behind the
travelers' counter. With the sociable instinct of his nation he
brightened up at my appearance.
"I want," I announced, "to ask about trains to Bleau."
For a moment he looked blank; then he smiled in understanding.
"Monsieur is without doubt an artist," he declared.
I was not, decidedly; but the words had been an affirmation and not a
question. It seemed clear that for some cryptic reason I ought to have
been an artist. Accordingly, I thought it best to bow.
He seemed childishly pleased with his acumen.
"Monsieur will understand," he explained, "that before the war we sold
tickets to many artists, who, like monsieur, desired to paint the old
mill on the stream near Bleau. It has appeared at the Salon many
times, that mill! Also, we have furnished tickets to archaeologists
who desired to see the ruins of the antique chapel, a veritable gem!
But monsieur has not an archaeologist's aspect. Therefore, monsieur is
"Perfectly," I agreed.
"As to the trains," he continued contentedly, "there is but one a day.
It departs at two and a half hours, upon the Le Moreau route. Monsieur
will be wise to secure, before leaving Paris, a safe-conduct from the
/prefecture/; for the village is, as one might say, on the edge of the
zone of war. With such a permit monsieur will find his visit charming;
regrettable incidents will not occur; undesirable conjectures about
monsieur's identity will not be roused. I should strongly advise that
monsieur provide himself with such a credential, though it is not,
perhaps, absolutely /de rigueur/."
Back in my room at the Ritz, I consulted my watch. It was a quarter of
two; certainly time had marched apace. Should I, like a sensible man,
descend to the restaurant and enjoy a sample of the justly famous
cuisine of the hotel? Or should I throw all reason overboard and post
off on--what was it Dunny had called my mission--a wild-goose chase?
I glanced at myself in the mirror and shook a disapproving head.
"You're no knight-errant," I told my impassive image. "You're too
correct, too indifferent-looking altogether. Better not get beyond
your depth!" I decided for luncheon, followed by a leisurely knotting
of the threads of my Parisian acquaintance. Then, as if some malign
hypnotist had projected it before me, I saw again a vision of that
flashing, lean, gray car.
"I'm hanged if I don't have a shot at this thing!"
The words seemed to pop out of my mouth entirely of their own accord.
By no conscious agency of my own, I found myself madly hurling
collars, handkerchiefs, toilet articles, whatever I seemed likeliest
to need in a brief journey, into a bag. Lastly I realized that I was
standing, hat in hand, overcoat across my arm, considering my
revolver, and wondering whether taking it with me would be too stagy
"No more so than all the rest of it," I decided, shrugging. Dropping
the thing into my pocket, I made for the /ascenseur/.
"I shan't be back to-night," I informed the hall porter woodenly. "Or
perhaps to-morrow night. But, of course, I'm keeping my room."
With his wish for a charming trip to speed me, I left the Ritz, and
luckily no vision was vouchsafed me of the condition in which I should
return: Two crutches, a bandaged head, an utterly disreputable aspect;
my bedraggled state equaled--and this I would maintain with swords and
pistols if necessary--that of any poilu of them all.
As I drove toward the station, various headlines stared at me from the
kiosks. "Franz von Blenheim Rumored on Way to France," ran one of
them. Hang Franz. I had had enough of him to last the rest of my life.
"Duke of Raincy-la-Tour Still Missing," proclaimed another. I knew
something about him, too; but what? Ah, to be sure, he was the Firefly
of France, the hero of the Flying Corps, the young nobleman of whose
suspected treason I had read in that extra on the ship. In that damned
extra, I amended, with natural feeling. For it was like Rome;
everything seemed to lead its way.
AT THE THREE KINGS
"What's the best hotel in the place?" I inquired somewhat dubiously.
The man in the blouse, who had performed the three functions of
opening my compartment-door, carrying my bag to the gate, and
relieving me of my ticket, achieved a thoroughly Gallic shrug.
"Monsieur," said he, "what shall I tell you? The best hotel, the worst
hotel--these are one. There is only the Hotel des Trois Rois in the
town of Bleau. Let monsieur proceed by the street of the Three Kings
and he will reach it. Formerly there was an omnibus, but now the
horses are taken. And if they remained, who could drive them with all
the men at the war?"
Carrying my bag and feeling none too amiable, I set off along the
indicated route. In Paris, rushing from the rue St.-Dominique to
Cook's office, from that office to the hotel, from the hotel to the
/gare/, I had been a sort of whirling dervish with no time for sober
thought. My trip of four hours on a slow, stuffy, crowded train had,
however, afforded me ample leisure; and I had spent the time in grimly
envisaging the possibilities that, I decided, were most likely to
First and foremost disagreeable; that the men in the gray automobile
were helping Miss Falconer in some nefarious business. In this case,
it would be up to me to fight the gentlemen single-handed, rescue the
girl, and escort her back to Paris, all without scandal. Easier said
Second possibility: that Miss falconer, pausing at Bleau only en
route, might already have departed, and that I would be left with my
journey for my pains.
Third: that the gray car had no connection with her; that she had some
entirely blameless errand. I hoped so, I was sure. If this proved
true, I was bound to stand branded as a meddling, officious idiot, one
who, in defiance of the most elementary social rules, persisted in
trailing her against her will. Vastly pleasant, indeed!
Fuming, I shifted my bag from one hand to the other and walked faster.
Night was falling, but it was not yet really dark, and I formed a
clear enough notion of the village as I traversed it. It was one of
the hundreds of its kind which make an artists' paradise of France.
Entirely unmodernized, it was the more picturesque for that. If I
tripped sometimes on the roughly paved street I could console myself
with the knowledge that these cobbles, like the odd, jutting houses
rising on both sides of them, were at least three hundred years old.
Green woods, clear against a background of rosy sunset, ran up to the
very borders of the town. I passed a little, gray old church. I
crossed a quaint bridge built over a winding stream lined with
dwellings and broken by mossy washing-stones. It was all very
peaceful, very simple, and very rustic. Without second sight I could
not possibly have visioned the grim little drama for which it was to
serve as setting.
A blue sign with gilded letters beckoned me, and I paused to read it.
The Touring Club of France recommended to the passing stranger the
Hotel of the Three Kings. Here I was, then. From the street a dark,
arched, stone passage of distinctly /moyen-age/ flavor led me into a
courtyard paved with great square cobbles, round the four sides of
which were built the walls of the inn. Winding, somewhat crazy-
looking, stone staircases ran up to the galleries from which the
bedroom doors informally opened; vines, as yet leafless, wreathed the
gray walls and framed the shuttered windows; before me I glimpsed a
kitchen with a magnificent oaken ceiling and a medieval fireplace in
which a fire roared redly; and at my right yawned what had doubtless
been a stable once upon a time, but with the advent of the motor, had
become a primitive garage.
I took the liberty of peering inside. Eureka! There, resting
comfortably from its day's labors, stood a dark-blue automobile. If
this was not the motor that had brought Miss Falconer from the rue
St.-Dominique, it was its twin.
"You'll notice it's alone, though," I told myself. "Where's the gray
My mood was grumpy in the extreme. The inn was charming, but I knew
from sad experience that no place combines all attractions, and that a
spot so picturesque as this would probably lack running water and
A buxom, smiling, bare-armed woman had emerged from the kitchen door.
She was plainly the hostess. I set down my bag and removed my hat.
"Madame," I responded, "I wish you a good evening. I desire a room for
the night in the Hotel of the Three Kings."
"To accommodate monsieur," she assured me warmly, "will be a pleasure.
Monsieur is an artist without doubt?"
I wanted to say "/Et tu, Brute!/" but I didn't. When one came to think
of it, I had no very good reason to advance for having appeared at
Bleau. It wasn't the sort of place into which one would drop from the
skies by pure chance, either. I was lucky to find a ready-made
"But assuredly," said I.
She disappeared into the kitchen, returned immediately with a candle,
and led me up the stone staircase on the left of the courtyard,
talking volubly all the while.
"We have had many artists here," she declared; "many friends of
monsieur, doubtless. Since monsieur is of that fine profession, his
room will be but four francs daily; his dinner, three francs; his
little breakfast, a franc alone."
"Madame," I responded, "it is plain that the high cost of living,
which terrorizes my country, does not exist at Bleau."
Equally plain, I thought pessimistically, was the explanation. My
saddest forebodings were realized; if the name of the hotel meant
anything and three kings ever tarried here, that conjunction of
sovereigns had put up with housing of a distinctly primitive sort. My
room was clean, I acknowledged thankfully, but that was all I could
say for it. I eyed the bowl and pitcher gloomily, the hard-looking
bed, the tiny square of carpeting in the center of the stone floor.
"Your house, Madame," I suggested craftily, with a view to
reconnoissance, "is, of course, full?"
She heaved a sigh.
"It is war-time, Monsieur," she lamented. "None travel now. Yet why
should I mourn, since I make enough to keep me till the war is ended
and my man comes home? There are those who eat here daily at the noon
hour--the cure, the mayor, the mayor's secretary, sometimes the notary
of the town, as well. And to-night I have two guests, monsieur and the
young lady--the nurse who goes to the hospital at Carrefonds with the
great new remedy for burns and scars. /Au revoir, Monsieur/. In one
little moment I will send the hot water, and in half an hour monsieur
I closed the door behind her and flung down my bag, fuming. So Miss
Falconer was a nurse, carrying a panacea to the wounded, doubtless a
specimen of the sensational new remedy just recognized by the medical
authorities, of which the one newspaper I had glanced through in Paris
had been full. The masquerade was too preposterous to gain an
instant's credence. It gave me, as the French say, furiously to think;
it resolved all doubts.
I felt inexplicably angry, then preternaturally cool and competent.
For the first time since the Modane episode I was my clear-sighted
self. I had been trying futilely to blindfold my eyes, to explain the
inexplicable, to be unaware of the obvious. Now with a sort of grim
relief I looked the facts in the face.
My hot water appearing, I made a sketchy toilet, and then descended to
the courtyard where I lounged and smoked. My state of mind was
peculiar. As I struck a match I noticed with a queer pride that my
hand was steady. With a cold, almost sardonic clarity, I thought of
Miss Falconer. First a prosperous tourist, next a dweller in an
aristocratic French mansion, then a nurse. She equaled, I told myself,
certain heroines of our Sunday supplements, queens of the smugglers,
moving spirits of the diamond ring.
Upstairs in the right-hand gallery a door opened. A light footstep
sounded on the winding stairs. The critical moment was upon me; she
was coming. I threw away my cigarette and advanced.
She was playing her part, I saw, with due regard for detail. Now that
her furs were off she stood forth in the white costume, the flowing
head-dress, the red cross--all the panoply of the /infirmiere/. She
came half-way down the stairs before perceiving me; then, with a low
exclamation, grasping the balustrade, she stood still.
I didn't even pretend surprise. What was the use of it?
"Good-evening, Miss Falconer," was all I said.
It seemed a long time before she answered. Rigid, uncompromising, she
faced me; and I read storm signals in the deep flush of her cheeks,
the gray flash of her eyes, the stiffness of her white-draped head.
"Oh, Lord!" I groaned to myself in cold compassion, "she means to
bluff it! Can't she see that the game's played out?"
"This is very strange, Mr. Bayne," she was saying idly. "I understood
that you were to drive an ambulance at the Front."
How young, how lovely, how glowing she looked as she stood there in
her snowy dress. I found myself wondering impersonally what had led
her to these devious paths.
"So I am," I responded with accentuated coolness. "My time is
valuable; it was a sacrifice to come to Bleau; but I had no choice.
What's wrong, Miss Falconer? You don't object to my presence surely?
If you go on freezing me like this, I shall think there's something
about my turning up here that worries you--upon my soul I shall!"
She should by rights have been trembling, but her eyes blazed at me
disdainfully. I felt almost like a caitiff, whatever that may be.
"It doesn't worry me," she denied, with the same crisp iciness, "but
it does surprise me. Will you tell me, please, what you are doing
Should I return, "And you?" in a voice of obvious meaning? Should I
take a leaf from the book of my hostess and say: "I'm a bit of an
artist. I've sketched all over Europe, and I've come to have a go at
the old mill that so many fellows try"? Such a claim would just match
the assumption of her costume. But no.
"The fact is," I said serenely, "I came straight from the rue St.-
Dominique to keep the appointment you forgot."
The announcement, it was plain, exasperated her, for slightly, but
undeniably, she stamped one arched, slender, attractively shod foot.
"Mr. Bayne," she demanded, "are you a secret-service agent?"
"Good heavens!" I exclaimed, startled. No!"
"Then I'm sorry. That would have been a better reason for following me
than--than the only one there is," she swept on stormily. "You knew I
didn't wish to see any one at present. I said so in the note I left.
Yet you spied on me and you tracked me deliberately, when I had
trusted you with my address. It's outrageous of you. You ought to be
ashamed of doing it, Mr. Bayne."
A stunned realization burst on me of the line that she was taking, the
position into which, willy-nilly, she was crowding me. I had trailed
her here, she assumed, to thrust my company on her; and, upon the
surface, I had to own that my behavior really had that air. If I had
followed her with equal brazenness along Fifth Avenue, I should have
had a chance to explain my conduct to the first police officer who
noticed it, later to an indignant magistrate. But, heavens and earth!
She knew why I had come. And knowing, how did she dare defy me? I
retained just sufficient presence of mind to stare back impassively
and to mumble with feeble sarcasm:
"I'm very sorry you think so."
She came down a step.
"Are you?" she asked imperiously. "Then--will you prove it? Will you
go back to Paris by to-night's train?"
I had recovered myself.
"There isn't any train to-night," I protested, civil, but adamant.
"And--I'm sorry, but if there was I wouldn't take it--not until I've
accomplished what I came to do!"
The girl seemed to concentrate all the world's disdain in the look
that measured me, running from my head to my unoffending feet, from my
feet back to my head.
"Most men would go, Mr. Bayne," she flung at me, her red lips
scornful. "But then, most men wouldn't have come, of course. And all
you will accomplish is to make me dine up here in this--this wretched,
stuffy room." Before I could lift a hand in protest, she had turned,
mounted the stairs again, and vanished. The door--shall I own it?--
THE PLOT THICKENS
Presently, summoned by the hostess, I went to my lonely meal in a mood
that nobody on earth had cause to envy me. One thing was certain:
Should it ever be disclosed that Miss Esme Falconer was not a spy, I
should lack courage to go on living. Remembering the coolly brazen
line I had taken and the assumptions she had drawn from it, I could
think of no desert wide enough to hide my confusion, no pit
sufficiently deep to shelter my utterly crestfallen head.
In any case, I had not managed my attack at all triumphantly. From the
first skirmish the adversary had retired with all the honors on her
side. Carrying the matter with a high hand, she had dazed me into
brief inaction, and then, as I gave signs of rally, had retreated in
what to say the least was a highly strategic way. Well, let her go for
the moment! She could scarcely escape me. I would see the thing
through, I told myself with growing stubbornness; but I didn't feel
that the doing of a civic duty was what it is cracked up to be. Not at
I felt the need of a cocktail with a kick to it. But I did not get
one. However, the cabbage soup was eatable, if primitive; and, in
fact, no part of the dinner could be called distinctly bad.
Having finished my coffee, I went outside feeling more cheerful. It
was dark now. A lantern swinging from the entrance cast flickering
darts of light about the courtyard, the rough paving-stones, the odd
old galleries and stairs. Upstairs a candle shone through the window
of Miss Falconer's room. In the kitchen by the great chimney place I
could see a leather-clad chauffeur eating, the same fellow that had
driven the blue car from the rue St.-Dominique; and while I watched,
madame emerged, bearing the girl's dinner tray, which with much
groaning and panting she carried up the winding stairs.
It was foolish of Miss Falconer, I thought, to insist on this comedy.
She might better have dined with me, heard what I had to say, and
yielded with a good grace. However, let her have her dinner in peace
and solitude, I resolved magnanimously. The moon had come out, the
stars too; I would take a stroll and mature my plans.
Lighting a cigarette, I lounged into the street and addressed myself
forthwith to an unhurried tour of Bleau. I was gone perhaps an hour,
not a very lengthy interval, but one in which a variety of things can
occur, as I was to learn. My walk led me outside the village, down a
water path between trees, and even to the famous mill, which was
charming. Had I been of the fraternity of artists, as I had claimed, I
should have asked no better fate than to come there with canvas and
brushes and immortalize the quiet beauty of the scene.
A rustic bridge invited me, and I stood and smoked upon it, listening
to the ripple of the half-golden, half-shadowy water, watching the
revolutions of the green old wheel. I had laid out my plan of action.
On my return to the inn I would insist on an interview with Miss
Falconer, and would tell her that either she must return with me to
Paris or that the police of Bleau--I supposed it had police--must take
My metamorphosis into a hero of adventure, racing about the country,
visiting places I had never heard of, coolly assuming the control of
international spy plots, brutally determining to kidnap women if
necessary, was astounding to say the least. That dinner in the St.
Ives restaurant rose before me, and I heard again Dunny's charge that
I was growing stodgy with advancing years. Suppose he should see me
now, involved in these insane developments? He might call me various
unflattering things, but not stodgy--not with truth. I chuckled half-
heartedly, my last chuckle, by the by, for a long time. Unknown to me
and unsuspected, the darker, more deadly side of the adventure was
steadily drawing near.
When I entered the courtyard of the Three Kings, the door of the
garage stood open, and the first object my eyes met within it was the
pursuing gray car. I stared at the thing, transfixed. In the march of
events I had forgotten it. I was still gaping at it when madame came
"I have been watching," she informed me, "for monsieur's return.
Friends of his arrived here soon after he left the house."
"The deuce they did!" I thought, dumb-founded. I judged prudence
"They have names, these friends?" I inquired warily.
"Without doubt, Monsieur," she agreed, "but they did not offer them;
and who am I to ask questions of the officers of France? They are
bound on a mission, plainly. In time of war those so engaged talk
little. They have eaten, and they have gone to their rooms, off the
gallery to the west. And the fourth of their party--he alone wears no
uniform; he is doubtless of monsieur's land--asked of me a description
of my guests, and exclaimed in great delight, saying that monsieur was
his old friend, whom he had hoped to find here and with whom he must
have speech the very moment that monsieur should return. I know no
It was enough.
"He's mistaken," I said shortly. For the moment I really thought that
this must be the case.
Her broad, good-natured face was all astonishment.
"But, Monsieur," she burst forth, "he even told me, this gentleman,
that such might be monsieur's reply! And in that event he commanded me
to beg monsieur to walk upstairs, since he had a thing of importance
to reveal to monsieur--one best said behind closed doors!"
I stared at her, my head humming like a top. Then, scrutinizingly, I
looked about the court. The light in Miss Falconer's room had been
extinguished. Did that have some significance? Was she lying perdue
because these people had come? In the rooms opening from the west
gallery above the street entrance I could see moving shadows. The gray
car had arrived, and it bore three officers of France for passengers.
What could this mean?
Of course, whoever had left the message had mistaken me for a
confederate. I could not know any of the new arrivals; it was equally
impossible that they could know me. None the less, with a slight,
unaccustomed thrill of excitement, I resolved to accept the invitation
as if in absolute good faith. It was a first-class chance to get
inside those rooms, to use my eyes, to sound this affair a little, to
learn whether these men were the girl's pursuers. As army officers
they could scarcely be her accomplices. Would they forestall me by
arresting her, by taking her back to Paris? It was astonishing how
distasteful I found the idea of that.
I told madame that I thought I knew, now, who the gentlemen were. I
climbed the west staircase with determination and knocked on the door
of the first room that had a light. A voice from within, vaguely
familiar, bade me enter, I did so immediately and closed the door.
Through an inner entrance I saw three men grouped about a table in the
next room, all smoking cigarettes, all clad in horizon blue. They
glanced up at me for a moment, and then, politely, they looked away.
But a fourth man, who had stood beside them, came striding out to meet
me, and I confronted Mr. John Van Blarcom face to face.
Officers fresh from the trenches have told me that one can lose
through sheer accustomedness all horror at the grim sights of warfare,
all consciousness of ear-splitting noises, all interest in gas and
shrapnel and bursting shells. In the same way one can lose all
capacity for astonishment, I suppose. I don't think I manifested much
surprise at this unexpected meeting; and I heard myself remarking
quite coolly that there had been a mistake, that I had been told
downstairs that a friend of mine was here.
"That's right, Mr. Bayne," cut in Van Blarcom shortly. "I've been a
friend of yours clear through, and I'm acting as one now. Just a
minute, sir, please!"
He had shut the door between ourselves and the officers, and now he
was drawing the shutters close. Coming back into the room, he seated
himself, and motioned me toward a chair, which I didn't take. His
authoritative manner was, I must say, not unimpressive. And he knew
how to arrange a rather crude stage-setting; the room, with all air
and sound excluded, seemed tense and breathless; the one dim candle on
the table lent a certain solemnity to the scene.
"Look here, Mr. Bayne," he began bluffly, "last time you spoke to me
you told me to-- Well, we'll let bygones by bygones; I guess you
remember what you said. You don't like me, and I'm not wasting any
love on you; as far as you're personally concerned, I'd just as soon
see you hang! But I've got to think of the United States. I'm in the
service, and it doesn't do her any good to have her citizens get in
bad with France."
Standing there, gazing at him with an air of bored inquiry, behind my
mask of indifference I racked my brain. What did he want of me? What
did he want of Miss Falconer? What was he doing in this military
galley? Hopeless queries, without the key to the puzzle!
"Well?" I said.
"I don't ask you," he went on crisply, "what you're doing here--"
"You had better not!" I snapped. "What tomfoolery is this? Do you
think you are a police officer heckling a crook? And why should you
ask me such a question any more than I should ask you?"
He grinned meaningly.
"Well," he commented, "there might be reasons. I'm here on business,
with papers in order, and three French officers to answer for me; but
you're a kind of a funny person to make a bee-line for a place like
Bleau. An inn like this doesn't seem your style, somehow. I'd say the
Ritz was more your type. And while we're at it, did you go to the
Paris /Prefecture/ this morning, like all foreigners are told to, and
show your passport, and get your police card? Have you got it with
you? If you have you stepped pretty lively, considering you left Paris
by three o'clock."
"If any one in authority asks me that," I said, "I'll answer him. I
certainly don't propose to answer you." My arms were folded; I looked
haughtily indifferent; but it was pure bluff. The only paper I had
with me was my passport. What the dickens could I do if he turned
nasty along such lines.
"As I was saying," he resumed, unruffled, "I'm not asking you why
you're here--because I know. I've got to hand it to you that you're a
dead-game sport. Most men's hair would have turned white at Gibraltar
after the fuss you had. And here you are again--in the ring for all
"I suppose you mean something," I said wearily, "but it's too subtle
and cryptic. Please use words of one syllable."
He nodded tolerantly. Leaning back, thumbs in his waistcoat-pockets,
swelling visibly, he was an offensive picture of self-satisfaction and
"You can't get away with it, Mr. Bayne," he declared impressively.
"You've taken on too much; I'm giving it to you straight. You can do a
lot with money and good clothes, and being born a gentleman and acting
like one, and having friends to help you; but you can't buck the
French Government and the French army and the French police. In a
little affair of this sort you wouldn't have a leg to stand on. Even
your ambassador would turn you down cold. He wouldn't dare do anything
else. This is the last call for dinner in the dining-car, for you.
Last time I wanted to tell you the facts of the case you wouldn't
listen. Will you listen now?"
"Yes," I said, "I'll listen. Go ahead!"
He foundered for a moment, and then plunged in boldly.
"About this young lady who's brought you and me to Bleau. Oh, you
needn't lift your eyebrows, much as to say, 'What young lady?' You
know she's here, and I know it; and she knows I've come and has put
her light out and is shaking in her shoes over there. I can swear to
that. Well, I want to tell you I never started out to get her; I just
stumbled across her on the steamer by a fluke. But I kept my eyes open
and I saw a lot of things; and when I got to Paris to-day I told them
at the /Prefecture/. You can see what they thought of the business by
my being here. I wasn't keen to come. I've got my own work to do. But
they want me to identify her; and they've sent three officers with me
--not policemen, you'll notice, because this is an army matter, and
before we make an end of it we'll be in the army zone."
I don't know just what he saw in my eyes; but it seemed to bother him.
He fidgeted a little; as he approached the crucial point, his gaze
"Now, then, we'll come down to brass tacks, Mr. Bayne," said he. "I
don't know what kind of story the girl told you; but I know it wasn't
the truth or you wouldn't be here. That's sure. She's a German agent;
she's come to get the Germans some papers that they want about as bad
as anything under heaven. There's one man who tried the job already.
He got killed for his pains; but he hid the papers before he died, and
she knows where; and she's on her way to get them and carry the
business through. I don't say she hasn't plenty of courage. Why, she's
gone up against the whole of France; but I guess you're not very
anxious to be mixed up in this underhand, spying sort of matter, eh?"
My hands were doubling themselves with automatic vigor. I wanted--
consumedly--to knock the fellow down. However, I controlled myself.
"What's your offer?" I asked.
"It's this." He was obviously relieved, positively swelling in his
tolerant, good-humored patronage. "I said once before I was sorry for
you, and that still goes; we won't be hard on you if we have got the
whip-hand, Mr. Bayne. You just stay in your room to-morrow until she's
gone and we're gone, and you needn't be afraid your name will ever
figure in this thing. I've made it all right with my friends in the
next room. They know a pretty girl can fool a man sometimes, and
they've got a soft spot for Americans, like all the Frenchies here.
Take it from me, you'd better draw out quietly, instead of being
arrested, tried, shot, or imprisoned maybe--or being sent home with an
unproved charge hanging over you, and having all your friends fight
shy of you as a suspected pro-German. Isn't that so?"
"You certainly," I agreed, "draw a most uninviting picture. I'll have
to consider this, Mr. Van Blarcom, if you'll give me time?"
"Sure!" with his hearty response. "Take as long as you like to think
it over; I know how you'll decide. You don't belong in a thing like
this anyhow; you never did. It's bound to end in a nasty mess for all
concerned. There's a train goes to Paris to-morrow morning at eleven.
You just take it, sir, and forget this business, and you'll thank me
all your life."
GEORGES THE CHAUFFEUR
Upon descending to the courtyard, I took a seat on a bench beneath a
vine-covered trellis. To stop here for a time, smoking, would seem a
natural proceeding, and while I held such a post of recognizance
nothing overt could transpire in the environs without my taking note
of the fact. Enough had developed already, though, heaven was witness!
I lit a cigarette and prepared for a resume.
Like a sleuth noting salient points, I glanced round the rectangular
court. At my right, off the gallery, was Miss Falconer's room shrouded
in darkness; at the left, up another flight of stairs, my own
uninviting domain. The quarters of Van Blarcom and his uniformed
friends opened from the gallery above the street passage, facing the
main portion of the inn which sheltered the kitchen and /salle a
manger/. Such was the simple, homely stage-setting. What of the play?
Bleau, I now felt tolerably sure, was merely a mile-stone on the route
of Miss Falconer. Next morning, at sunrise probably, she would resume
her journey for parts unknown. Would they arrest her before she left
the inn or merely follow her? The latter, doubtless, since they
asserted that she was on her way to get the papers that they wanted
Upstairs in the room where Van Blarcom and I had held our conference
the shutters had been reopened. There was just one light to be seen, a
glowing point, which was obviously the tip of a cigar. If I was
keeping vigil below, from above he returned the compliment; nor did he
mean that I should hold any secret colloquy with the girl that night.
I swore softly, but earnestly. Considering his rather decent attitude,
his efforts from the very first to enlighten me as to the dangers I
was running, it was odd that my detestation of the man was so
thoroughly ingrained and so profound.
The mystery of the gray car had been solved with a vengeance. Instead
of being freighted with accomplices, as I had at first thought
possible, it had carried the representatives of justice, in the
persons of three officers and my secret-service friend. A queer
conjunction, that; but then, my ignorance of French methods was
abysmal. Perhaps this was the usual mode of doing things in time of
Van Blarcom's explanation, though it made me furious, had brought
conviction. There was a certain grim appositeness about it all. The
night in New York, the events of the steamer, the unsatisfactory
character of the girl's actions, all fitted neatly into the plan; and
the mere personnel of the pursuing party was sufficient assurance, for
French officers, as I well knew, were neither liars nor fools.
Neither, I patriotically assumed, were the men of my country's secret-
service, however humble their part as cogs in that great machinery, or
however distasteful Mr. Van Blarcom, personally, might be to me. And
finally, I could not deny that women, clever, well-born, and
beautiful, had served as spies a thousand times in the world's
history, urged to it by some sense of duty, some tie of blood.
Yes, that was it, I told myself in sudden pity, recalling how Miss
Falconer had stood on the steps in her nurse's costume, straight and
slender, her gray eyes full of fire, her face glowing like a rose.
Perhaps she was of the enemy's country. Perhaps those she loved, those
who made up her life, had set her feet in this path that she was
treading. If she was a spy,--Lord! How the mere word hurt one!--it
wasn't for ignoble motives; it wasn't for pay.
I came impulsively to the conclusion that there was just one course
for my taking: to see her and to beg, bully, or wheedle from her the
unvarnished truth. Then, if it was as I feared, she should go back to
Paris if I had to carry her; she should accompany me to Bordeaux, and
on the first steamer she should sail from France. Yes; and the army
should have its papers, for she should tell me where they were hidden.
Her work should end; but these men upstairs should not track her and
trap her and drag her off to prison, perhaps to death.
There was danger in the plan, even if I should accomplish it. I should
get myself into trouble, dark and deep. Well, if I had to languish
behind bars for a while I could survive it. But she might not. As I
thought of this I knew that I had made up my mind irrevocably.
It was a problem, nevertheless, to arrange an interview, with Van
Blarcom sitting at his window, watching me like a lynx. I couldn't go
up the stairs and batter on her door till she opened it; apart from
the reception she would give me it would simply amount to making a
present of my intentions to the men across the way. Yet who knew how
long they would keep up their surveillance? Till I retired, probably!
"I'd give something to choke you and be done with it!" was the
benediction I wafted toward the sentinel above.
I was owning myself at my wit's end when a ray of hope was vouchsafed
me. The kitchen door opened and let out a leather-clad figure which
strode across the courtyard, lantern in hand, and let itself into the
garage. Despite the dimness, I recognized Miss Falconer's chauffeur,
the man she had addressed as Georges when they left the rue St.-
Dominique. The very link I needed, provided I could get into
communication with him in some unostentatious way.
I rose, stretched myself lazily, and began to pace the court. Perhaps
a dozen times I crossed and recrossed it, each turn taking me past the
garage and affording me a brief glance within. The chauffeur, coat
flung aside, sleeves rolled up, was hard at work overhauling his
engine, with an obvious view to efficiency upon the morrow. Up at the
window I could see the glowing cigar-tip move now to this side, now to
that. Not for an instant was Van Blarcom allowing me to escape from
After taking one more turn I halted, yawned audibly for the sentry's
benefit, and seated myself once more, this time on a bench by the door
of the garage. Van Blarcom's cigar became stationary again. The
chauffeur, who had satisfied himself as to the engine and was now
passing critical fingers over the gashes in the tires, looked up at me
casually and then resumed his work. Kneeling there, his tools about
him, he was plainly visible in the light of the smoky lantern. He was
a young man, twenty-three or-four perhaps, strongly built and
obviously of French-peasant stock, with honest blue eyes and a face
not unduly intelligent, but thoroughly frank and open in the cast. The
actors in my drama, I had to own, were puzzling. This lad looked no
more fitted than Miss Falconer for a treacherous role.
How theatrical it all was! And yet it had its zest. I confess I
experienced a certain thrill, entirely new to me, as I bent forward
with my arms on my knees and my head lowered to hide my face.
"/Attention, Georges!/" I muttered beneath my breath.
The chauffeur started, knocking a tool from the running-board beside
him. His eyes, half-startled, half-fierce, fixed themselves on me; his
hand went toward his pocket in a most significant way. In a minute he
would be shooting me, I reflected grimly. And upstairs the very
stillness of Van Blarcom shrieked suspicion; he could not have helped
hearing the clatter that the falling tool had made.
"Don't be a fool," I muttered, low, but sharply. "I know where you and
mademoiselle come from; I know she is upstairs now; if I wished you
any harm I could have had the mayor and the gendarmes here an hour
ago! Keep your head--we are being watched. Have a good look at me
first if you feel you want to. Then take your hand off that revolver
and pretend to go to work."
Throwing my head back, I began blowing clouds of smoke, wondering
every instant whether a bullet would whiz through my brain. I could
feel Georges' gaze upon me; I knew it was a critical moment. But as
his kind are quick, shrewd judges of caste and character, I had my
They were justified; for presently I heard him draw a breath of
relief. His hand came out of his pocket.
"Pardon, Monsieur," he whispered, and began a vigorous pretense of
polishing the car.
Again I leaned forward to hide the fact that my lips were moving.
"When you speak to me, keep your head bent as I do."
"Now listen. Men of the French army are here, with powers from the
police. They accuse mademoiselle of serious things, of acts of
treason, of being on her way to secure papers for the foes of France.
They are watching. To-morrow, if she departs, they mean to follow and
to arrest her when they have gained proof of what she is hunting."
"/Mon Dieu, Monsieur!/ What shall I do?"
There was appeal in his voice. Convinced of my good faith, he was
quite simply shifting the business to my shoulders--the French peasant
trusting the man he ranked as of his master's class. And oddly enough
I found myself responding as if to a trusted person. I smoked a
little, wondering whether Van Blarcom could catch the faint mutter of
our voices. Then I gave my orders in the same muffled tones:
"You will tell the servants that you wish to sleep here to-night, to
watch the car. You will stay here very quietly until it is nearly
dawn. Then you will creep to mademoiselle's door and whisper what I
have told you and say that I beg her to meet me before those others
have awakened at five o'clock in--"
Pondering a rendezvous, I hesitated. The room where I had dined, with
its stone floor, its beamed ceiling, and dark panels, came first to my
mind. I fancied, though, that some outdoor spot might be safer. I
remembered opportunely that a passage led past this room, and that at
its end I had glimpsed a little garden behind the inn.
"In the garden," I finished, and risked one straight look at him. "I
can trust you, Georges?"
The young man's throat seemed to close.
"/Monsieur le duc/ was my foster-brother, /Monsieur/," he whispered.
"I would die for him."
Who the deuce /monsieur le duc/ might be I did not tarry to discover.
I had done all I could; the future was on the knees of the gods.
Having smoked one more cigarette for the sake of verisimilitude, I
rose, stretched myself ostentatiously, and crossed the courtyard to
the stairs, where madame was descending. She had, she informed me,
been preparing my bed.
"And I wish monsieur good repose," she ended volubly. "Hitherto, no
Zeppelins have come to Bleau to disturb our dreams. Though, alas, who
knows what they will do, now that we have lost our most gallant hero?
Monsieur has heard of the Firefly of France, he who is missing?"
That name again! Odd how it seemed to pursue me.
"I believe I shall meet that fellow sometime if he's living," I
reflected as I climbed the stairs.
In my room, my candle lighted, I resigned myself to a ghastly night. I
don't like discomfort, though I can put up with it when I must. The
bed looked as hard as nails; the bowl made cleanliness a duty, not a
pleasure. And to think that I might have been sleeping in comfort at
Tossing from side to side, pounding a cast-iron pillow, I dozed
through uneasy intervals, and woke with groans and starts. I could not
rid myself of the sense of something ominous hanging over me. The gray
car ramped through my dreams; so did Van Blarcom; and between sleeping
and waking, I pictured my coming interview with the girl, her probable
terror, the force and menaces I should have to use, our hurried
At length I fell into a heavy, exhausted slumber, from which, toward
morning I fancied, I sat up suddenly with the dazed impression of some
sound echoing in my ears. Springing out of bed, I groped my way to the
window. The galleries lay peaceful and empty in the moonlight, and
down in the courtyard there was not the slightest sign of life.
I went back to bed in a state of jangled nerves. Again I dozed, and a
dim light was creeping through the window when I woke. I looked out
"Hello!" I muttered, for though the hotel seemed wrapped in slumber,
the door of the garage now stood ajar. Was it possible that Miss
Falconer had stolen a march on me, that the automobile could have left
the premises without my being roused? It was only four o'clock, but
all wish for sleep had left me. I decided to investigate without any
I made the best toilet that cold water and a cracked mirror permitted,
longing the while for a bath, for a breakfast tray, for a hundred
civilized things. Taking my hat and coat, I went quietly down the
staircase. The garage door beckoned me, and all unprepared, I walked
into the tragedy of the affair.
In the dim place there were signs of a desperate struggle. The rugs
and cushions of Miss Falconer's automobile were scattered far and
wide. The gray car had vanished; and in the center of the floor was
Georges, the chauffeur, lying on his back with arms extended, staring
up at the ceiling with wide, unseeing blue eyes.
"I MUST GO ON"
Kneeling by the young man's side, I felt for his pulse; but the moment
that my fingers touched his cold wrist I knew the truth. There flashed
into my mind queerly, as things do at grim moments, an often-heard
expression about rigor mortis setting in. With this poor fellow it had
not started, but he was dead for all that. The most skilful surgeon in
Europe could not have helped him now.
I never doubted that it was murder. The confusion of the garage was
proof of it; and the instrument, once I looked about me, was not far
to seek. Divided between rage, horror, and pity, I saw a sort of sharp
stiletto suitable for use as a penknife or letter opener, which, after
doing its work, had been cast upon the floor.
I remained on my knees beside the lad, smitten with a keen remorse. I
knew no good of him; I had even suspected him; but he had an honest
face. Why had I not kept watch all night? The instructions I had
given, the plan I had thought so clever, might be responsible for the
killing; it must have been some echo of the struggle that had roused
me when I had wakened and glanced out and gone placidly back to sleep.
Had Van Blarcom caught our whispered colloquy, or surmised it? Helped
by his precious colleagues, he must have taken Georges unprepared,
throttled him to prevent his shouting, and ended his frantic struggles
with one swift, ruthless blow. But why? What sort of soldiers could
these be who wore the uniform of a brave, chivalrous country and yet
did murder? What sort of mission were they bound upon that for no
visible gain or motive they risked desperate work like this?
And the girl upstairs? The thought was like a knife thrust; it brought
me to my feet, my heart pounding, my forehead cold and wet. I told
myself that she must be safe, that wholesale killing could not be the
aim of these wretches, that the gray automobile was not what our one-
cent sheets in their tales of gunmen like to call a "murder car." But
what did I know about it? I was in a funk, a funk of the bluest
variety. In that one age-long moment I learned what sheer fright
Without knowing how I got there, I found myself in the gallery. The
doors that lined it were rickety and worm-eaten; I stared weakly at
them. A mere twist of practised fingers, and they could be forced open
by any one who cared to try. I thought I heard a faint breathing
inside the girl's room, but I was not sure; I was too rattled. Very
guardedly I knocked and got no answer. Then, in utter panic, I knocked
louder, at risk of disturbing the whole house.
"Georges, /c'est vous/?" It was the drowsiest of murmurs, but few
things have been so welcome to me in all my life.
"Yes, Mademoiselle." Though my knees were wobbling under me I summoned
presence of mind to impersonate the poor huddled mass of flesh in the
I could hear her stirring; she believed I had come with some summons,
with some news. Well, it was imperative that I should see her. I
waited obediently until the door swung open and revealed her in a
loose robe of blue, with her hair in a ruddy mass about her shoulders
and the sleep still lingering in her eyes.
Such was my relief at finding my fears uncalled for that I could have
danced a breakdown on that crazy gallery, snapping my fingers in
castanet fashion above my head. I had forgotten entirely the strained
terms of our parting; but she remembered. A bright wave of scarlet ran
over her face, her neck, her forehead. She gasped, clutched her robe
about her, would have shut the door if I had not foreseen the
strategic movement and inserted a foot in the diminishing crack, just
"I beg your pardon," I began hastily. "I am really extremely sorry.
But something has occurred that forces me to speak to you."
"There can be nothing that forces you to come here--nothing!" Her lips
were trembling; her voice wavered; the apparent shamelessness of my
behavior was driving her to the verge of tears. "Is there no place
where I am safe from you? Mr. Bayne, how can you? I shan't listen to a
single word while you keep your foot in the door!"
"And I can't take it away until you listen," I protested. "It is
perfectly obvious that if I did, you would shut me out. But you can
see for yourself that I'm not trying to force an entrance--and I wish
that you would speak lower; if we waken anybody, there will be the
mischief to pay."
My voice, I suppose, had an impatient note that was reassuring, or
perhaps I looked encouragingly respectable, viewed at closer range. At
any rate, she spoke less angrily, though she still stood erect and
"Well, what is it?" she asked, barring the opening with one slender
"May I ask if you have had a message from me, Miss Falconer?"
"A message? Certainly not!" There was renewed suspicion in her voice.
"H'm." Then they had intercepted the man before he reached her. "I'm
going to ask you to dress as quickly and quietly as possible and come
downstairs. Don't stop in the court, and don't go near the garage, I
beg of you. Just walk on past the /salle a manger/ to the garden, and
wait for me."
I expected exclamations, questions, indignant protests, anything but
the sudden white calm that fell on her at my request.
"You mean," she whispered, "that something dreadful has happened. Is
it about the--the men who came last night?"
"Yes. But please don't worry," I urged with false heartiness. "I'll
explain when you come down." To cut the discussion short, I turned to
Once her door had closed, however, I halted at the staircase, retraced
my steps, and, without hesitation, circled the gallery to the rooms of
Mr. John Van Blarcom and his friends. I had had enough of
uncertainties; henceforth I meant to deal with facts. It was barely
possible that I was unjustly anathematizing these gentlemen, that,
while they were peacefully sleeping, thieves had broken in below.
Two knocks, the first rather tentative, the second brisker, netting no
response, I deliberately tried the knob and felt the door promptly
yield to me; then, with equal deliberation, I dropped my hand into my
pocket where my revolver lay. If some one sprang at me and tried to
crack my head or stab me,--stabbing was popular hereabouts,--I was in
a state of armed preparedness. But when I stepped inside I found an
empty room, a bed in which no one had slept.
Grown brazen, I strode across to the inner door and opened it. More
emptiness greeted me; the four men had plainly taken French leave in
their gray car. It was strange that the hum of their departure had not
roused me; they must, before starting the motor, have pushed their
automobile from the courtyard and out of ear-shot down the street.
For a moment I stood in the deserted room, reflecting swiftly. The
situation was desperate; in another hour the inn would be stirring,
and Miss Falconer, I felt sure, could not afford to be found here when
that came to pass. Murder investigations are searching things. All
strangers beneath this roof would be interrogated narrowly. If any one
had a secret,--and she certainly had several,--the chances were heavy
that it would be dragged to light.
For some reason this prospect was unspeakably frightful to me. Under
its spur I hatched the craziest scheme that man ever thought of, and
took steps which, as I look back at them, seem almost beyond belief. I
must get Miss Falconer off for Paris, I determined. And since it was
possible that the villagers would see us leaving, she must appear to
go, as she had come, with her chauffeur.
I descended, forthwith, to the garage where the murdered man was
lying, shook out and folded the rugs that had been scattered in the
struggle, picked up the cushions, and replaced them in the car. Then,
borrowing a ruse from the enemy, I set the door wide open, and,
puffing and panting, pushed the blue automobile into the courtyard,