Part 3 out of 4
through the passage, and a considerable distance down the street.
What comes next, I ask no one to credit. Retrospectively, I myself
have doubted it. It lives in my memory as a grisly nightmare rather
than as a fact. To be brief, I returned to the scene of the crime,
shut out any possible audience by closing the door, and disrobed
hastily. Then I removed the leather costume of the victim, donned it,
laced on his boots, which by good fortune were loose instead of tight,
and, picking up his visored cap from the floor where it had fallen,
stood forth to all seeming as genuine a member of the proletariate as
ever wore goggles and held a wheel.
By this time my teeth were clenched as if in the throes of lockjaw.
Had I paused to think for a single instant, all my nerve would have
oozed away. But I had no time to spend on thought; I had to work on,
to save Miss Falconer. The whole ghoulish business would be futile if
the inn servants found the body. The mere flight of all the guests
would certainly stir suspicion; let the murder transpire as well, and
at once we should be pursued.
The garage, from the looks of it, was not often put to service. A
dusty spot, festooned with cobwebs, it cried to the skies for brooms
and mops. In the background, apparently undisturbed since the days of
the First Empire, a great pile of straw mixed with junk of various
kinds lay against the wall; and most reluctantly, my every fiber
shrieking protest, I saw what use I might make of this debris--if I
"Go for it!" I told myself inexorably, but miserably. "It's not a
question of liking it, you know. You've got to do it." Grimly I
wrapped my discarded clothes about the poor chap's body, dragged it to
the straw, and covered it from head to foot. By this action, I
surmised, I was rendering myself a probable accessory and a certain
suspect; but the one thing I really cared about was my last glimpse of
that patient face.
"Sorry, old man," was all the apology I could muster. "And if I ever
get a chance at the people who did it, you can count on me!"
With a sigh of complete exhaustion, I rose and looked about. All signs
of the crime had been obliterated from the garage. "I must be crazy!"
I thought, as the enormity of the thing rushed on me. "I wonder why I
did it? And I wonder whether I can forget it some day--maybe after
As I opened the door to the garden the dim light was growing clearer.
I was late; the girl, coated and hatted, ready for flitting, was
already at the rendezvous. At sight of me in my leather togs she
started backward; then, resolutely controlled, she drew herself up and
faced me silently, her hands clutching at her furs, her lips a little
"Won't you sit down?" I began lamely, indicating an iron bench. It was
all so different from the interview I had planned last night! "I want
to speak to you about your chauffeur, Miss Falconer. This morning I
found him hurt--very badly hurt--"
She drove straight through my pretense.
"Not dead? Oh, Mr. Bayne, not dead?"
"Yes," I said gently. "He had been dead some time. I would have liked
to take my chances with him; but I came too late. No, please!" She had
moved forward, and I was barring her passage. "You mustn't go. You
can't help him, and you wouldn't like the sight."
How black her eyes were in her white face!
"I don't understand," she faltered. "You mean that he was murdered?
But who would have killed Georges?"
"The men who came last night--if you can call them men. At least,
appearances point that way," I said.
"The men in the gray car?" She swayed a little. "But why?"
"I'm afraid I can't tell you that." My tone was grim; there were so
many things about this matter that I couldn't tell.
Her eyes flashed for an instant.
"But how cowardly, how cruel! He never hurt anyone; he was just like a
good watchdog, the truest, most faithful soul! If they killed him they
did it for some deliberate purpose. And when I think that I brought
him here--oh, oh, Mr. Bayne--"
"Yes," I broke in hastily; "I should like to see them boil in oil or
fry on gridirons or something of the sort, myself. But this is very
serious; we must keep calm, Miss Falconer. And I know you are going to
help me. You have such splendid self-control."
Though there were sobs in her throat, she pressed her hands to her
lips and stifled them. Only her pallor and her wet lashes showed the
horror and grief she felt. I wanted desperately to comfort her, but
there was no time for it; and besides, who ever heard of a leather-
coated comforter in a kitchen garden at 5 A.M.?
"What I wanted to speak about," I went on rapidly, "was our plans.
This may prove a rather nasty mess, I'm sorry to say. The French
police, you know, are--well, they're capable and very thorough; and
since you are here at the scene of a murder in an /infirmiere's/
costume, they will never rest till they have seen your papers, learned
your errand, asked you a hundred things. Unless your replies are
absolutely satisfactory, the whole business will be--er--awkward for
you. That is why I put on these togs. Yes, I know it is ghastly," I
owned as she shuddered. "And that is why I want to beg you, very
seriously indeed, to let me drive you back to Paris and put you under
your friends' protection. After that, of course, I'll return here to
see the thing through and give my testimony about it all."
It was not going to be so simple, the course I had outlined airily.
When I visioned myself explaining to a French /commissaire/ why I had
come to Bleau at all; why I had set up a false claim to be an artist,
--for that circumstance was sure to leak out and look darkly
incriminating,--and what had inspired me to take a murdered man's
clothes and conceal his body, I can't pretend that I felt much zest.
Still, if the police and the girl came together, worse would follow, I
was certain; and it seemed like a real catastrophe when she slowly
shook her head.
"I can't," she murmured. "Oh, it's kind of you, and I'm sorry; but I
can't go back to Paris--not yet, Mr. Bayne. You won't understand, of
course, but I left there to--to accomplish something. And since poor
Georges can't help me now, I must go on--alone."
I BURN MY BRIDGES
If I live to be a hundred, and it is not improbable since I am
healthy, I shall never forget that little garden at the inn at Bleau.
It was a vegetable garden too, which is not in itself romantic. I
recall vaguely that there were beds all about us, which in due course
would doubtless sprout into rows of pale green objects--peas and
artichokes, or beans and cabbages maybe; I don't know, I am sure. But
then, there was the stream running just outside the wall of masonry;
there was the sky, flushing with that faint, very delicate, very
lovely pink that an early spring morning brings in France; there was
the quaint building, wrapped up in slumber, beside us; and in the air
a silent, fragrant dimness, the promise of the dawn.
And then there was the girl. I suppose that was the main thing. Not
that I felt sentimental. I should have scouted the notion. If I meant
to fall in love,--which, I should have said, I had no idea of doing,--
I would certainly not begin the process in this unheard-of spot. No;
it was simply that the whole business of caring for Miss Esme Falconer
had suddenly devolved upon my shoulders; and that instead of my
feeling bored, or annoyed, or exasperated at the prospect, my spirits
rose inexplicably to face the need.
Here, if ever, was the time for the questions I had planned last
evening. But I didn't ask them; I knew I should never ask them. In
those few long unforgetable moments when I stood in the gallery and
wondered whether she were living, my point of view had altered. I was
through with suspecting her; I was prepared to laugh at evidence,
however damning. As for the men in the gray car and their detailed
accusations, I didn't give--well, a loud outcry in the infernal
regions for them. I knew the standards of the land they served, and I
had seen their work this morning. If they were French officers, I
would do France a service by going after them with a gun.
The girl had sunk down on the ancient bench beside me. Her eyes, wide
and distressed, yet resolute, went to my heart. Not a figure, I
thought again, for this atmosphere of intrigue and secrecy and danger.
Rather a girl, beautiful, brilliant, spirited, to be shielded from
every jostle of existence; the sort of girl whom men hold it a test of
manhood to protect from even the most passing discomfiture!
But time was moving apace. We must settle on something in short order.
I spoke in the most matter-of-fact tones that I could summon, not,
heaven knows, out of a feeling of levity concerning what had happened,
but to try to lighten the grim business a degree or so and keep us
"I think, Miss Falconer," I began, standing before her, "that we have
got to thrash this matter out at last. You think I've behaved
unspeakably, trailing you everywhere, and I don't deny I have,
according to your point of view. But the fact is, I didn't follow you
to annoy you; I'm a half-way decent fellow. You have simply got to
trust me until I've seen you through this tangle. After that, if you
like you need never look at me again."
Her troubled eyes rested on me, half bewildered.
"Why, I'd forgotten all that," she murmured. "I do trust you, Mr.
Bayne. Of course I must have misunderstood you to some way last
evening, and I'm afraid I was disagreeable."
"Naturally. You had to be. Now, if that's all right and I'm forgiven,
may I ask a question? About those men who arrived last night and
apparently killed your chauffeur--can you guess who they are?"
"Yes," she faltered, looking down at the pebbled walk. "They must have
been sent by the Government or the army or the police. If the French
knew what I was doing, they wouldn't understand my motives. I've been
afraid from the first that they would learn."
Another of my precious theories was going up in smoke. Not seeing why
a set of bonafide officers should gratuitously murder a chauffeur, I
had been wondering whether the quartet might not be impostors, tricked
out in uniforms to which they had no claim. Still, of course, I
couldn't judge. If she would only confide in me! I was fairly aching
to help her; yet how could I, in this blindfold way?
"I don't wish to be impertinent," I ventured at length, meekly, "and I
give you my word I'm not trying to find out anything you don't want me
to. Only, assuming I've got some sense,--in case you care to be so
amiable,--I'd like to put it at your service. Do you think you could
give me just a vague outline of your plans?"
She looked at me in a piteous, uncertain manner. I braced myself for a
"No." Then, suddenly, she seemed to decide to trust me--in sheer
desperate loneliness, I dare say.
"I am going," she whispered, "to a village in the war zone--where
there is a chateau. There are things in it--some papers; at least I
believe there are. It is just a chance, just a forlorn hope; but it
means all the world to certain people. I have to act in secret till I
have succeeded, and then every one in France, every one on earth may
know all that I have done!"
If I had not burned my bridges, this announcement might have worried
me; it was too vague, and what little I grasped tallied startlingly
with Van Blarcom's rigmarole. However, having bowed allegiance, I
didn't blink an eyelid.
"Yes," I said encouragingly. "Is it very far?"
Her eyes went past me anxiously, watching the inn and its blank
windows, as she fumbled in her coat and brought forth a motor map.
"Take it," she breathed, thrusting it toward me. "Look at it. Do you
see? The route in red!"
As I realized the astounding thing I choked down an exclamation.
There, beneath my finger, lay the village of Bleau, a tiny dot; and
from it, straight into the war zone, the traced line ran through Le
Moreau and Croix-le-Valois and St. Remilly; ran to--what was the name?
I spelled it out: P-r-e-z-e-l-a-y.
Though it was early in the game to be a wet blanket, I found myself
"But," I protested weakly, "you can't do that! It's in the war
country; it's forbidden territory. One has to have safe-conducts,
/laissez-passers/, all sorts of documents to get into that part of
"I didn't come unprepared," she answered stubbornly. "Before I started
I knew just what I should need. I can get as far as the hospital at
Carrefonds; and Carrefonds is beyond Prezelay, ten miles nearer to the
"But--" The monosyllable was distinctly tactless.
She straightened, challenging me with brave, defiant eyes.
"I know," she flashed. "You mean it looks suspicious. Well, it does;
and if I told you everything, it would look more suspicious still. You
shouldn't have followed me; when they learn that we both spent the
night here they will think you are my--my accomplice. The best advice
I can give you, Mr. Bayne, is to go away."
"Perhaps we had better," I agreed stolidly. I had deserved the
outburst. "Shall we be off at once, before the servants come
She drew back, her eyes widening.
"We?" she repeated.
"Naturally!" I replied, with some temper. "I /must/ have disgusted you
last night. What sort of a miserable, spineless, cowardly, caddish
travesty of a man do you take me for, to think I would let you go
"Please don't joke," she urged. "It simply isn't possible. You would
get into trouble with the French Government, and--"
"Do you know," I grinned, "it is rather exhilarating to snap one's
fingers at governments? Just see what success I made of it with Great
Britain and Italy, on the ship!"
"You don't realize what you are laughing at," she pleaded. "It is
"I won't disgrace you. I seldom tremble visibly, Miss Falconer, though
I often shake inside."
Her great gray eyes were glowing mistily.
"Mr. Bayne, this is splendid of you. I--I shall go on more bravely
because you have been so kind. But I won't let you make such a
sacrifice or mix in a thing that others may think disloyal,
treacherous. You know how it looks. Why, on the steamer and on the way
up to France and even last evening--you see I've guessed now why you
followed me--you didn't trust me yourself."
"I know it," I confessed humbly. "I can't believe I was such an idiot.
Somebody ought to perform a surgical operation on my brain. I
apologize; I'm down in the dust; I feel like groveling. Won't you
forgive me? I promise you won't have to do it twice."
This time it was she who said: "But--" and paused uncertainly. I could
see she was wavering, and I massed my horse, foot, and dragoons for
"You'll please consider me," I proclaimed firmly, "to be a tyrant. I
am so much bigger than you are that you can't possibly drive me off. I
don't mean to interfere or to ask questions, or to bother you. But I
vow I'm coming with you if I cling to the running-board!"
Her lashes fluttered as she racked her brains for new protests.
"The car is a French make," she urged,--"which you couldn't drive--"
"I can drive any car with four wheels!" I exclaimed vaingloriously.
"It's kismet, Miss Falconer; it's the hand of Providence, no less.
Now, we'll leave these notes in the /salle a manger/ to pay for our
lodging, which would have been dear at twopence, and be off, if you
please, for Prezelay."
She had yielded. We were standing side by side in the silence of the
morning, the dimness fading round us, the air taking a golden tinge.
My surroundings were plebeian; my costume was comic; yet I felt oddly
"Jolly old garden, isn't it?" said I.
IN THE HIGH GEAR
To pass straight from a humdrum, comfortable, conventionally ordered
life into a career of insane adventure is a step that is radical; but
it can be exhilarating, and I proved the fact that day. To dwell on
present danger was to forget the past hour in the garage, which I had
to forget or begin gibbering. Once committed to the adventure and away
from the scene of the murder, I found a positive relief in facing the
madness of the affair.
While the girl sat silent and listless, blotted against the cushions,
rousing from her thoughts only to indicate the turns of the road, I
had time for cogitation; and I began to feel like a man who has drunk
freely of champagne. Hitherto I had been a law-abiding citizen. Now I
had kicked over the traces. Like the distinguished fraternity that
includes Raffles and Arsene Lupin, I should be "wanted" by the police,
those good-natured, deferential beings so given to saluting and
grinning, with whom, save for occasional episodes not unconnected with
the speed laws,--Dunny says libelously that my progress in an
automobile resembles a fabulous monster with a flying car for the
head, a cloud of smoke and gasoline for the body, and a cohort of
incensed motor-cycle men for the tail,--I had lived on the most
I was not certain whether they would accuse me of murder or espionage.
There were pegs enough, undeniably, on which to hang either charge.
Myself, I rather inclined to the latter; the case was so clear, so
detailed! My rush from Paris to Bleau,--in order, no doubt, that I
might at an unostentatious spot join forces with my confederate, Miss
Falconer, whom I had been meeting at intervals ever since we left New
York in company,--my behavior there, and the fashion in which we were
vanishing should suffice to doom me as a spy.
When the French began tracing my movements, when they joined my
present activities to the fact that only by the skin of my teeth had I
escaped a charge of bringing German papers into Italy, there would be
the devil to pay. I acknowledged it; then--really, this brand-new,
unfounded, cast-iron trust of mine in Miss Falconer was changing me
beyond recognition--I recalled the old recipe for the preparation of
Welsh rabbit, and light-heartedly challenged the authorities to "catch
me first." I had a disguise; if I bore any superior earmarks my
leather coat obliterated them; and I could drive; even Dario Resta
could not have sniffed at my technic. Better still, my French, learned
even before my English, would not betray me. As nurse and as
/mecanicien/, we stood a fair chance in our masquerade.
I might have to pay my shot, but I was enjoying it. This was a good
world through which we were speeding; life was in the high gear
to-day. The car purred beneath us like a splendid, harnessed tiger;
the spring air was fresh and fragrant, the country charming, with here
a forest, there a valley, farther off the tiled, colored roofs of some
little town. Our road, like a white ribbon, wound itself out endlessly
between stone walls or brown fields. In my content I forgot food and
such prosaic details till I noticed that the girl looked pale.
"I say," I exclaimed remorsefully: "we've been omitting rolls and
coffee! I'm going to get you some at the first town we pass."
"We are coming to a town now, to Le Moreau." She was looking anxious.
"Yes? I'm afraid I don't place it exactly. Ought I to?"
"It is the first town in the war zone. And--and our road passes
"Oh!" I was enlightened. "Then they will probably ask to see our
papers at the /octroi/?"
The car was eating up the smooth white road; I could see the little
/octroi/ building at the town boundary-line, and a group of gendarmes
in readiness close by. It was a critical moment. Miss Falconer, I
recalled, had said she could get through to Carrefonds; but glittering
generalities were not likely to convince these sentries; one needed
safe-conducts, passes, identity cards, and such concrete aids. She
couldn't give a reasonable account of herself, I felt quite certain;
and even if she did, how was she to account for me?
As I brought the car to a standstill, my conscience clamored, and my
costume seemed to shriek incongruity from every seam. In this dilemma
I trusted to sheer blind luck--a rather thrilling business. As a gray-
headed sergeant stepped forward to welcome us, I looked him
unfalteringly in the eye, though I wondered if he would not say:
"Monsieur, kindly remove that childish travesty with which you are
trying to impose on justice. We know all about you. Your name is
Devereux Bayne. You are a German agent and intriguer; you have
smuggled papers; you have murdered a man and concealed his body.
Unless you can give a satisfactory explanation of all your actions
since leaving New York, your last hour has arrived!"
What he really said was:
"Mademoiselle's papers?" He spoke quite amiably, a catlike pretense,
Miss Falconer was no longer looking anxious. Her hands were steady;
she was even smiling as she produced two neat little packets that, on
being unfolded, proved to have all the air of permits, /laissez-
passers/, and police cards. Two nondescript photographs, which might
have represented almost any one, adorned them, and of these our
sergeant made a perfunctory survey.
"Mademoiselle's name," he recited in a high singsong, "is Marie Le
Clair. She is a nurse, on her way to the hospital at Carrefonds. And
this is Jacques Carton, who is her chauffeur?"
A singularly stupid person, on the whole, he must have thought me,
hardly fit to be trusted with so superb a car. My mouth, I fancy, was
wide open; I can't swear that I wasn't pop-eyed. This last development
had complete addled me. Marie Le Clair! Jacques Carton! Who were they?
"I wish," I remarked into the air as we drove on, "that some one would
She smiled faintly. Now it was over, she looked a little tremulous.
"Oh, no," she answered, "we were not dreaming. Poor Georges! I wish we
Such was the incredible beginning of our adventure. And as it began,
so it continued. We breakfasted at Le Moreau. Miss Falconer ate in the
dining-room of the small hotel; I sought the kitchen and, warmed by
our late success, I did not shrink from playing my role. Then we
resumed our journey, and though we showed our papers twenty times at
least as the control grew stricter, they were never challenged. I
rubbed my eyes sometimes. Surely I should wake up presently! We
couldn't be here in the forbidden region, in the war zone, plunging
deeper every instant, in peril of our lives.
Yet the proof was thick about us. In the towns we passed we saw troops
alight from the trains and enter them; we saw farewells and reunions,
the latter sometimes tearful, but the former invariably brave. We saw
/depots/ where trucks and ambulances and commissary carts were filled,
and canteens and soup kitchens where soldiers were being fed. At
Croix-le-Valois we saw the air turn black with the smoke of the
munition factories that were working day and night. At St. Remilly
above the towers of the old chateau we saw the Red Cross flying, and
on the terraces the reclining figures of wounded men. It seemed
impossible that sight-seers and pleasure-seekers had thronged along
this road so lately. The signs of the Touring Club of France, posted
at intervals, were survivals of an era that was now utterly gone.
With the coming of afternoon, the country grew still more beautiful.
Orchards were thick about us, though the trees were leafless now. The
little thatched cottages had odd fungi sprouting from their roofs like
rosy mushrooms; the trees and streams had a silvery shimmer, like a
Then, set like sign-posts of desolation in this loveliness, came the
ravaged villages. We were on the soil where in the first month of the
war the Germans had trod as conquerors, and where, step by step, the
French had driven them back. We passed Cormizy, burnt to the ground to
celebrate its taking; Le Remy, where the heroic mayor had died,
transfixed by twenty bayonets; Bar-Villers, a group of ruined houses
about a mourning, shattered church. It was the region where the Hun
triumph had spoken aloud, unbridled. Miss Falconer sat white and
silent as we drove through it; my hands tightened on the wheel.
We had lunched at Tolbiac, late and abominably. Then, leaving the
highway, we had taken a country road. Two punctures befell us; once
our carburetor betrayed the trust we placed in it. By the time these
deficiencies were remedied I had collected dust and grease enough to
look my part.
It had been, by and large, a singularly speechless day, which my
spasmodic efforts at entertainment had failed to cheer. The girl tried
to respond, but her eyes were strained, eager, shadowed; her answers
came at random. My talk, I suppose, teased her ears like the
troublesome buzzing of a fly.
"She is thinking," I decided at last, "about those papers. Lord, if
she doesn't find them she is going to take it hard!"
I left her in peace after that and drove the faster. Luck was with us!
At the end of our journey everything would be all right.
As evening settled down on us the road grew increasingly lonely. Woods
of oak-trees were about us, their trunks mossy, their branches lacing;
on our left was a narrow river thick with rushes and smooth green
stones. So rutty was the earth that our wheels sank into it and our
engine labored. There was a charming sylvan look about the scenery; we
seemed to be alone in the universe: I could not recall when we had
last seen a peasant or passed a hut.
Suddenly I realized that there was a sound in the distance, not
continuous, but steadily recurrent, a faint booming, I thought.
"What's that noise off yonder?" I asked, with one ear cocked toward
Miss Falconer roused herself.
"It is the cannonading," she answered. "We have come a long way, Mr.
Bayne. In two hours--in less than that--we could drive to the Front.
The dark was coming fast; a crimson sunset was reddening the river. A
little below us on the opposite bank, I saw what had been a village
once upon a time. But some agency of destruction had done its work
there; blackened spaces and heaped stones and the shells of dwellings
rose tier on tier among trees that seemed trying to hide them; only on
the crest of the bank, overlooking the wreck like a gloomy sentinel,
one building loomed intact, a dark, scarred, frowning castle with
medieval walls and towers. I stared at the scene of desolation.
"The Germans again!" I said.
"Yes," the girl assented, gazing across the water. "They came here at
the beginning of the war. They burned the houses and the huts and the
little church with the image of the Virgin and the tomb of the old
constable--all Prezelay except the chateau; and they only left that
standing to give their officers a home."
With an automatic action of feet and fingers, I stopped the car. Here
was the town that she had shown me on the map that morning when we sat
like a pair of whispering conspirators in the garden of the Three
Kings. The obstacles which had seemed so great had melted away before
us. This ruined village, this heap of stones cross the river, was our
goal, the key to our mystery, the last scene of our drama--Prezelay.
THE CASTLE AT PREZELAY
In the midst of my triumph, which was as intense as if I myself,
instead of pure luck, had engineered our journey, I became aware of a
tiny qualm as I sat gazing across the stream. Perhaps the gathering
night affected me, or the air, which was growing chilly, or the
remnants of the village, which were cheerless, to say the least. But
that castle, perched so darkly on its crag, with a strip of blood-red
sky framing it, was at the heart of my feeling. If it had been a nice,
worldly-looking, well-kept chateau, with poplared walks and a formal
garden, I should have welcomed it with open arms; but it wasn't,
decidedly! It was the threatening age-blackened sort of place that
inevitably suggests Fulc of Anjou, strongholds on the Loire, marauding
barons, and the good old days with their concomitants of rapine and
robbery and death.
It was picturesque, but it was intensely gloomy; the proper spot for a
catastrophe rather than a happy denouement. I was not impressionable,
of course; but now that I thought of it, our jaunt had been going with
a smoothness almost ominous. Could one expect such clock-like
regularity to run forever without a break?
Take the utter disappearance of the gray car, for instance. That had
seemed to me reassuring; but was it? Those four men had cared enough
about Miss Falconer's movements to involve themselves in a murder.
Why, then, should they have given up the chase in so mysterious a way?
And the girl herself! When I looked at her I felt horribly worried.
She was shivering through her furs; yet it was not with the cold, I
felt quite sure. With her hands clasped, she sat staring at that
confounded castle with a look of actual hunger. She cared too much
about this thing; she couldn't stand a great deal more.
Well, she wouldn't have to, I concluded, my brief misgivings fading.
We were out of the woods; another hour would see the business closed.
As for the men in the car, they were victims of their guilty
consciences, were no doubt in full flight or hiding somewhere in
terror of the law.
At any rate, there was no point in my sitting here like a graven
image; so I roused myself and wrapped the rugs closer about the girl.
"I'm to drive to the chateau?" I inquired with recovered cheerfulness.
I had to repeat the words before they broke her trance.
"Yes," she answered. Suddenly, impulsively, she turned toward me, her
face almost feverish, her eyes astonishingly large and bright. "I
haven't told you much," she acknowledged tremulously; "but you won't
think that I don't trust you. It is only that I couldn't talk of it
and keep my courage; and I must keep it a little longer--until we know
"That's quite all right, Miss Falconer." I was switching on the lamps.
Then I extinguished them; their clear acetylene glare seemed almost
weirdly out of place. "We can muddle along without any lights. Not
much traffic here," I muttered. I had a feeling, anyhow, that
unostentatiousness of approach might not be bad.
There was intense silence about us; not even a breeze was stirring. A
thin crescent moon was out, silvering the river and the trees. The
road was atrocious; on one dark stretch the car, rocking into a rut,
jolted us viciously and brought my teeth together on the tip of my
"Sorry," I gasped, between humiliation and pain.
With the silence and the dimness, we were like ghosts, the car like a
phantom. An old stone bridge seemed to beckon us, and we crossed to
the other side. There, at Miss Falconer's gesture, I drew the
automobile off the road at the edge of the town, halted it beneath
some trees, and helped her to alight. We started up the hill together
without a word.
Two ghosts! More and more, as we climbed through the wreck and
desolation, that was what we seemed. The road was choked with stones
between which the grass was sprouting; there was nothing left of the
little church save a single pointed shaft. We climbed rapidly, the
girl always gazing up at the castle with that same feverish eagerness.
She had forgotten, I think, that I was there.
At last we were coming to the hilltop and the chateau. Rather
breathless, I studied its looming walls, its turrets, its three round
towers. It looked dark and inexplicably menacing, but I had recovered
my form and could defy it. When we halted at a great iron-studded oak
gate and Miss Falconer pulled the bell-rope, I was astonished. It had
not occurred to me that the castle would be more inhabited than the
Nor was it, apparently; for no one answered its summons, though I
could hear the bell jingling faintly somewhere within. Miss Falconer
rang a second time, then a third; her face shone white in the
moonlight; she was growing anxious.
"Did you think," I ventured finally, "that there was some one here?"
"Yes; Marie-Jeanne," she answered, listening intently. Then she roused
herself. "I mean the /gardienne/. She never left, not even when the
Germans came. They made her cook for them; she said she had been born
in the keeper's lodge, and her grandfather before her, and that she
would rather die at Prezelay than go to any other place. But of course
she may have walked down the river for the evening. Her son's wife is
at Santierre, two miles off. She may be there."
"That's it," I agreed hastily, the more hastily because I doubted.
"She's sitting over a fire, toasting her toes, and gossiping and
having a cup of tea, or whatever people like that use for an
equivalent in these parts." I suppressed the unwelcome thought that a
woman living here alone ran a first-rate chance of getting her throat
cut by strolling vagrants. "Shall we have to wait until she comes
back?" I asked. "Then let's sit down. I choose this stone!"
On my last word, however, something surprising happened. Miss
Falconer, in her impatience, put a hand on the bolt of the gate, shook
it, and raised it, and, lo and behold! the oak frame swung open.
Before I quite realized the situation, we were inside, in a square
courtyard, with the /gardienne's/ lodge at the right of us,
impenetrably barred and shuttered, and before us the portal of the
castle, surmounted with quaint stone carvings of men in armor riding
prancing steeds. The court, as revealed by the moonlight, was intact,
but neglected. Weeds were sprouting between the square blocks of stone
that paved it, and in the center a wide circular space, charred and
blackened, showed where the German sentries had built their fires. It
was not cheerful, nor was it homey. I scarcely blamed Marie-Jeanne for
flitting. The faint sound of the cannonading had begun again in the
distance, but otherwise the place was as silent as a tomb.
"It seems strange!" Miss Falconer murmured, looking about in puzzled
fashion. "Why in the world should she have left the gate open in this
careless way? Of course there is nothing here for thieves; the Germans
saw to that; but still, as keeper-- Oh, well, it doesn't matter. It
saves us from waiting till she comes home."
As I followed her toward the castle entrance, she opened the bag she
carried, and produced a candle, which I hastened to take and light. I
nearly said, "The latest thing in the housebreaking line, madame, is
electric torches, not tapers"; but I decided not to. After all,
perhaps we were housebreakers. How could I tell?
Hot candle wax splashed my fingers and scorched them, but I scarcely
noticed. My sense of high-gear adventure had reached its zenith now.
There was something thrilling, something stimulating in this stealthy
night entrance into a deserted castle. It was an experience, at all
events; there was no /concierge/ to stump before one through dim
passages and up winding staircases; no flood of dates and names and
anecdotes poured inexorably into one's bored ears to insure a
/douceur/ when the tour of the chateau should be done.
The door--faithless Marie-Jeanne!--opened as readily as the outer
gate. We were entering. I glimpsed in a dim vista a superb Gothic hall
of magnificent architecture and most imposing proportions, arched and
carved and stretching off with apparent endlessness into the gloom.
Holding up my light, I scanned the place with growing interest. It had
not been demolished, but neither had it been spared. The furniture was
gone, save for a few scattered chairs and a table; the walls were
defaced with cartoons and scrawled inscriptions; the floor was
stained, and littered with empty bottles and broken plates. From the
chimney-place--a medieval-art jewel topped with carved and colored
enamels--pieces had been hacked away by some deliberately destructive
hand. I glanced at Miss Falconer, whose eyes had been following mine.
"They tore down the tapestries," she said beneath her breath. "They
slashed the old portraits with their swords and broke the windows and
took away the statues and candlesticks and plate. They cut up the
furniture and had it used for fire-wood; and the German captain and
his officers had a feast here and drank to the fall of Paris and
ordered their soldiers to burn the village to the ground. Oh, I don't
like the place any more; too much has happened. And--and I don't like
Marie-Jeanne's not being here, Mr. Bayne. I feel as if there were
something wrong about it. I believe I am a little--just a little
"Come, now, you don't expect me to believe that, do you?" I countered
promptly. "Because I won't. Why, it's your pluck that has kept me up
all day. Just the same, on general principles, I'll take a look round
if you'll allow me. Here's a chair, and if you will rest a minute,
I'll guarantee to find out."
The chair I mentioned was standing near the chimney, and as I spoke I
walked over to it and started to spin it round. It resisted me
heavily; I bent over it, lifting my candle. Then I uttered an
exclamation, stood petrified, and stared.
In the chair, concealed from us until now by the high carved back of
wood, was something which at first looked like a huddled mass of
garments, but which on closer scrutiny resolved itself into a woman in
a striped dress, an apron, and a pair of heavy shoes. There was a cut
on her cheek, a bruise on her forehead. Locks of graying hair
straggled from beneath her disarranged white cap, and she glared at me
from a lean, sallow face with a pair of terrified eyes.
She must be dead, I thought. No living woman could sit so still and
stare so wildly. The scene in the inn garage rushed back upon me, and
I must say that my blood turned cold. But she was alive, I saw now;
she was certainly breathing. And an instant later I realized why she
stayed so immobile; she was bound hand and foot to the chair she sat
in, and a colored handkerchief, her own doubtless, had been twisted
across her mouth to form a gag.
"I think," I head myself saying, "that we have been maligning Marie-
A choked, frightened cry from Miss Falconer made me wheel about
sharply, to find her staring not a me, but at the further wall.
Prepared now for anything under heaven, I followed her gaze. Above us,
circling the whole hall, there ran a gallery from which at a distance
of some fifteen feet from where we stood a wide stone staircase
descended; and half-way down this, as motionless as statues, as
indistinct as shadows, I saw four men in the uniform of officers of
For an uncanny moment I wondered whether they were specters. For a
stupid one, I thought they might be people whom the girl had come here
to meet. Still, if they were, she wouldn't be looking at them in this
paralyzed fashion. I could not see them plainly,--but they must be the
men from Bleau.
"Well, Mr. Bayne," the foremost was asking, "did you think we had
deserted you? Not a bit of it! We came on ahead and rang up the old
woman there and commandeered her keys. We've been killing time here
for a good half hour, waiting for you. You must have had tire trouble.
And you don't seem very pleased to see us now that you've come--eh,
At Bleau the previous night, I was recalling dazedly, there had been
only three men wearing the horizon blue. Who was this fourth figure,
who knew my name and spoke such colloquial English? I raised my candle
as high as possible and scanned him. Then I stood transfixed.
"Van Blarcom!" I gasped. "And in a uniform, by all that's holy!"
"No. You haven't got that quite right," he told me. "What's the use
keeping up the game now that we're here, all friends together? My name
isn't Van Blarcom. It's Franz von Blenheim, Mr. Bayne.
INTRODUCING HERR FRANZ VON BLENHEIM
The words of Franz von Blenheim seemed to fill the hall and reecho
from the walls and arches, deafening me, leaving me stunned as if by
an earthquake or by a flash of lightning from clear skies. Yet I never
though of doubting them. Comatose as my state was, slowly as my brain
was working, I recognized vaguely how many features of the mystery,
both past and present, these words explained.
It was odd, but never once had it occurred to me that Van Blarcom
might be a German. He himself, I began to realize, had taken care of
that. With considerable acumen he had filled every one of our brief
interviews with vigorous denunciations of somebody else, dark hints as
to intrigues that surrounded me and might enmesh me, and solemn
warnings and prudent counsels, which had brilliantly served his turn.
He had kept me so busy suspecting Miss Falconer--at the thought I
could have beaten my head against the wall in token of my abject shame
--that my doubts had never glanced in his direction; a most
humiliating confession, since I couldn't deny, reviewing the past in
this new light, that circumstances had afforded me every opportunity
to guess the truth.
There was no time, however, for dwelling on my deficiencies. The next
half hour would be an uncommonly lively one, I felt quite sure. I
might call the thing bizarre, fantastic; I might dub it an
extravaganza; the fact remained that I was shut up in this lonely spot
with four entirely able-bodied Germans and must match wits with them
over some affair that apparently was of international consequence; for
if it had been a twopenny business, Herr von Blenheim, the star agent
of the kaiser, would never have thought it worth his pains.
With all my fighting spirit rising to meet the odds against us, I cast
a speculative eye over the Teutons, who had now dissolved their group.
Van Blarcom himself--Blenheim, rather--descended in a leisurely
fashion while one of his friends, remaining on the staircase, fixed me
with a look of intentness almost ominous and the other two placed
themselves as if casually before the door. They were stalwart, well
set-up men, I acknowledged as I surveyed them. Though not bad at what
our French friends call /la boxe/, I was outnumbered. It was obviously
a case of strategy--but of what sort?
A much defaced table, flanked with a few battered chairs, stood near
me, and with a premonition that I should want two hands presently, I
set my candle there. Then I drew a chair forward and turned to the
girl with outward coolness.
"Please sit down, Miss Falconer," I invited. I wanted time.
She inclined her head and obeyed me very quietly. She was not afraid;
I saw it with a rush of pride. As she sat erect, her head thrown back,
on gloved hand resting on the table, she was a picture of spirit and
steadiness and courage. If I had needed strength I should have found
it in the fact that her eyes, oddly darkened as always when her errand
was threatened did not rest on our captors, but turned toward me.
"We'll all sit down," Franz von Blenheim agreed most amiably. It
evidently amused him to retain the late Mr. Van Blarcom's dialect and
air. "We can fix this business up in no time; so why not be sociable?"
He strolled to a chair and sank into it and motioned me to do the
"Thanks," I returned, not complying. "If you don't mind, I'd like
first to untie that woman. I confess to a queer sort of prejudice
against seeing women bound and gagged. In fact I feel so strongly on
the subject that it might spoil our whole conference for me." I took a
step toward the shadowy figure of Marie-Jeanne.
Blenheim did not move, but his eyes seemed to narrow and darken.
"Just leave her alone for the present. She is too fond of shrieking--
might interrupt our argument," he declared. "And see here, Mr. Bayne,"
he added, warned by my manner, "I want to call your attention to the
gentleman on the stairs, my friend Schwartzmann. He's a crack shot,
none better, and he has got you covered. Hadn't you better sit down
and have a friendly chat?"
Though the stairs were dim, I could see something glittering in the
hand of the person mentioned, who was impersonating for the evening a
dashing young captain of the general staff. My fingers strayed toward
my pocket and my own revolver. Then I pried them away, temporarily,
and took a provisional seat.
"That's sensible," Franz von Blenheim approved me blandly. "Now, Miss
Falconer, you know what I'm here for, isn't that so? Just hand me
those papers and you'll be as free as air. I'll take myself off;
you'll never see me again probably. That's a fair bargain, isn't it?
What do you say?"
I was sitting close to the girl, so close that her soft furs brushed
me and I could feel the flutter of her breath against my cheek. At
Blenheim's proposition I glanced at her. She was measuring him
steadily. Then she looked at me, and her eyes seemed to hold some
message that I could not read.
"Perhaps, Miss Falconer," I interposed, "you have not quite grasped
the situation." I was sparring for time; she wanted to convey
something to me, I was sure. "It is rather complicated. This gentleman
has turned out to be a well-known agent of the kaiser. He was
traveling on the /Re d'Italia/, I gather, on a forged passport, and
had helped himself to my baggage as the most convenient way of
smuggling some papers to the other side."
He grinned assentingly.
"You owe me one for that," he owned. "You see, it was my second trip
on that line, and I thought they might have me spotted; I had a lot of
things to carry home,--reports, information, confidential letters, and
I concluded they would be safer with a nice, innocent young man like
you. It didn't work, as things went. It was just a little too clever.
But if you hadn't mixed yourself up with this young lady, and tossed
packages overboard for her under the noses of the stewards, and got
yourself suspected and your baggage searched, I should have turned the
His share in the tangled episode on board the steamer was unfolding. I
understood now why he had sprung to my rescue in the salon when I was
accused. Naturally he had not wanted my traps searched, considering
what was in them.
"As you say, you were a little too clever," I agreed.
His eyes glinted viciously.
"Well, it's no use crying over spilt milk," he retorted; "and besides,
the papers you are going to hand me to-night will even up the score.
It was a piece of luck, my running across Miss Falconer on the liner.
Of course the minute I heard her name I knew what she was crossing
for." The dickens he did! "All I had to do was to follow her, and by
the time we reached Bleau I had guessed enough to come ahead of her.
But I'll admit, Mr. Bayne, now it's all over, it made me nervous to
have you popping up at every turn! I began to think that you suspected
me--that you were trailing me. If you had, you know, I shouldn't have
stood a chance on earth. You could have said a word to the first
gendarme you met and had me laid by the heels and ended it. That was
why I kept warning you off. But I needn't have worried. You drank in
everything I told you as innocent as a babe!"
If he wanted revenge for my last remark, he had it. I looked at the
girl beside me, so watchfully composed and fearless, then at the
fixed, terrified glare of the motionless Marie-Jeanne. With a little
rudimentary intelligence on my part this situation would have been
"Yes," I acknowledged bitterly; "I did."
"Except for that," he grinned, "it went like clockwork. There wasn't
even enough danger in the thing to give it spice. Do you know, there
isn't a capital in Europe where I can't get disguises, money,
passports within twelve hours if I want them. Oh, you have a bit to
learn about us, you people on the other side! I've crossed the ocean
four times since the war started; I've been in London, Rome, Paris,
Petrograd--pretty much everywhere. I'm getting homesick, though. The
/laissez-passer/ I've picked up, or forged, no matter which, takes me
straight through to the Front; and I've got friends even in the
trenches. Before the Frenchies know it I'll be across no-man's-land
and inside the German lines!"
For a moment, as I listened, I was dangerously near admiring him. He
was certainly exaggerating; but it couldn't all be brag. The life of
this spy of the first water, of international fame, must be rather
marvelous; to defy one's enemies with success, to journey calmly
through their capitals, to stroll undetected among their agents of
justice--were not things any fool could do. He carried his life in his
hand, this Franz von Blenheim. He had courage; he even had genius
along his special lines. His impersonation on the liner, shrewd,
slangy, coarse-grained, patronizing, had been a triumph. Then,
suddenly, I remembered a murdered boy beside whom I had knelt that
morning, and my brief flicker of homage died.
"You think I can't do it, eh?" He had misinterpreted my expression.
"Well, let me tell you I did just a year ago and got over without a
scratch. To get across no-man's-land you have to play dead, as you
Yankees put it; you lie flat on the ground and pull yourself forward a
foot at a time and keep your eye on the search-lights so that when
they come your way you can drop on your face and lie like a corpse
until they move on. It's not pleasant, of course; but in this game we
take our chances. And now I think I'll be claiming my winnings if you
I straightened in my chair, recognizing a crisis. With his last phrase
he had shed the bearing of Mr. John Van Blarcom, and from the disguise
all in an instant there emerged the Prussian, insolent, overbearing,
fixing us with a look of challenge, and addressing us with crisp
command. No; the kaiser's agent was not a figure of romance or of
adventure. He was a force as able, as ruthless, as cruel as the land
"Miss Falconer," he demanded briefly, "where are those papers? I am
not to be played with, I assure you. If you think I am, just recall
this morning, and your chauffeur. We didn't kill him for the pleasure
of it; he had his chance as you have. But when we went for our car he
was there in the garage, sleeping; he seemed to think we had designs
on him, and tried to rouse the inn."
"Do you call that an excuse for a murder?" I exclaimed. "You cold-
"I don't make excuses." His voice was hard and arrogant. "I am calling
the matter to your notice as a kind warning, Mr. Bayne. You said a
little while ago that to see a woman gagged and bound distressed you.
Well, unless I have those papers within five minutes, you will see
something worse than that!"
At the moment what I saw was red. There was something beating in my
throat, choking me; I knew neither myself nor the primitive impulses I
"If you lay a finger on Miss Falconer," I heard myself saying slowly,
"I swear I'll kill you."
Then through the crimson mist that enveloped me I saw Blenheim laugh.
"Come, Mr. Bayne," he taunted me, "remember our friend Schwartzmann.
This is your business, Miss Falconer, I take it. What are you going to
The girl flung her head back, and her eyes blazed as she answered him.
"You can torture me," she said scornfully. "You can kill me. But I
will never give you the papers; you may be sure of that."
IN THE DARK
I thought of a number of things in the ensuing thirty seconds, but
they all narrowed down swiftly to a mere thankfulness that I had been
born. Suppose I hadn't; or suppose I had not happened to stop at the
St. Ives Hotel and sail on the /Re d'Italia/; or that I had remained
in Rome with Jack Herriott instead of hurrying on to Paris; or had let
my quest of the girl end in the rue St.-Dominique instead of trailing
her to Bleau. If one of these links had been omitted, the chain of
circumstance would have been broken, and Miss Falconer would have sat
here confronting these four men alone.
It was extremely hard for me to believe that the scene was genuine.
The dark hall, the one wavering, flickering candle lighting only the
immediate area of our conference, the bound woman in the chair, the
watchful attitude of our captors. Mr. Schwartzmann's ready weapon--all
were the sort of thing that does not happen to people in our prosaic
day and age. It was like an old-time romantic drama; I felt
inadequate, cast for the hero. I might have been Francois Villon, or
some such Sothern-like incarnation, for all the civilized resources
that I could summon. There were no bells here to be rung for servants,
no telephones to be utilized, no police station round the corner from
which to commandeer prompt aid.
The most alarming feature of the affair, however, was the manner of
Franz von Blenheim, which was not so much melodramatic as businesslike
and hard. At Miss Falconer's defiance he looked her up and down quite
coolly. Then, turning in his seat, he began giving orders to his men.
"Schwartzmann," ran the first of these, "I want you to watch this
gentleman. He will probably make some movement presently; if he does,
you are to fire, and not to miss. And you"--he turned to the men by
the door--"pile some wood in the chimney-place and light it. There are
some sticks over yonder,--but if you don't find enough, break up a
chair. Then when you get a good blaze, heat me one of the fire-irons.
Heat it red-hot. And be quick! We are wasting time!"
The color was leaving the girl's cheeks, but she sat even straighter,
prouder. As for me, for one instant I experienced a blessed relief. I
had been right; it was all impossible. One didn't talk seriously of
"You must think you are King John," I laughed. "But you're
overplaying. Don't worry, Miss Falconer; he won't touch you. There are
things that men don't do."
He looked at me, not angrily, not in resentment, but in pure contempt;
and I remembered. There were people, hundreds of them, in the burning
villages of Belgium, in the ravaged lands of northern France, who had
once felt the same assurance that certain things couldn't be done and
had learned that they could. I glanced at the men who were piling wood
on the hearth, at their sullen blue eyes, their air of rather stupid
arrogance. I had walked, it seemed, into a nightmare; but then, so had
"This isn't a tea party, Mr. Bayne," said Franz von Blenheim. "It is
war. Those papers belong to my government and they are going back. I
shall stop at nothing, nothing on earth, to get them; so if you have
any influence with this young lady, you had better use it now."
"I am not afraid." The girl's voice was unshaken, bless her. "I said
you could kill me--and I meant it. But I will not tell."
"And I will not kill you, Miss Falconer." The German's tones were
level, and his eyes, as they dwelt steadily on her, were as hard and
cold as steel. "I don't want you dead; I want you living, with a
tongue and using it; and you will use it. You talk bravely, but you
have no conception--how should you have?--of physical pain. When that
iron is red-hot, if you have not spoken, I shall hold it to your arm
and press it--"
"Damn you!" The cry was wrenched out of me. "Not while I am here!"
"You will be here, Mr. Bayne, just so long as it suits me." A sort of
cold ferocity was growing in Blenheim's tones. "And you have yourself
to thank for your position, let me remind you; you would thrust
yourself in. I don't know what you are doing in the business--a
ridiculous mountebank in a leather cap and coat! It's a way you
Yankees have, meddling in things that don't concern you. You seem to
think that you have special rights under Providence, that you own
everything in the universe, even to the high seas. Well, we'll settle
with your country for its munitions and its notes and its driveling
talk about atrocities a little later, when we have finished up the
Allies. And I'll deal with you to-night if you dare to lift a hand."
There seemed only one answer possible, and my muscles were stiffening
for it when suddenly Miss Falconer's handkerchief, a mere wisp of
linen which she had been clenching between her fingers, dropped to the
floor. With a purely automatic movement, I bent to recover it for her;
she leaned down to receive it. Her pale face and lovely dilated eyes
were close to me for a fleeting second, and though her lips did not
move, I seemed to catch the merest breath, the faintest gossamer
whisper that said:
Blenheim's gaze, full of suspicion, was upon us as we straightened,
but he could not possibly have heard anything; I had barely heard
myself. I racked my brains. The stairs! But the man Schwartzmann was
guarding them with his revolver. I couldn't imagine what she meant;
and then suddenly I knew.
Throughout the entire scene, whenever I had glanced at her, I had
noticed the steady way in which her look met mine and then turned
aside. It had seemed almost like a signal or a message she was trying
to give me. And which way had her eyes always gone? Why, down the
I looked in that direction and felt my heart leap up exultantly.
Perhaps twenty feet from us, just where the radius of the candle-light
merged off into the darkness, I glimpsed what seemed the merest ghost
of a circular stone staircase, carved and sculptured cunningly, like
lacy foam. Up into the dusk it wound, to the gallery, and to a door.
Behold our objective! I wasted no precious time in pondering the whys
and the wherefores. At any rate, once inside with the bolts shot we
could count on a breathing-space.
I cast a final glance at Blenheim where he lolled across the table,
and at the shadowy menacing figure of the armed sentinel on the
stairs. The men at the hearth had piled their wood and were bending
forward to light it.
"Be ready, please!" I said to the girl, aloud.
As I spoke I bent forward, seized the table by its legs, and raised
it, and concentrated all the wrath, resentment and detestation that
had boiled in me for half an hour into the force with which I dashed
it forward against Blenheim's face. He grunted profoundly as it struck
him. Toppling over with a crash, he rolled upon the floor. The candle,
falling, extinguished itself promptly, and we were left standing in a
hall as black as ink.
Simultaneously with the blow I had struck there came a spit of flame
from the staircase, a sharp crack, and as I ducked hastily a bullet
spurted past me, within three inches of my head. Miss Falconer was
beside me. Together we retreated, while a second shot, which this time
went wide, struck the wall beyond us and proved that Schwartzmann,
though handicapped, was not giving up the fight.
So far things had gone better than I had dared to think was possible.
Now, however, they took a sudden and most unwelcome turn. One of the
men by the chimney-place must have wasted no time in leaping for me;
for at this instant, quite without warning, he catapulted on me
through the darkness with the force of a battering-ram.
The table, which I still held clutched with a view to emergencies,
broke the force of his onslaught. He reeled, stumbled, and collapsed
on his knees. However, he was lacking neither in Teutonic efficiency
nor in resource. Putting out a prompt hand, he seized my ankle and
jerked my foot from under me; the table dropped from my grasp with a
splintering uproar, and I fell.
Before I could recover myself my enemy had rolled on top of me, and I
felt his fingers at my throat as he clamored in German for a light. He
was a heavy man; his bulk was paralyzing; but I stiffened every
muscle. With a mighty heave I turned half over, rose on my elbow, and
delivered a blow at what, I fondly hoped, might prove the point of his
Dark as it was, I had made no miscalculation. He dropped on me once
again, but this time as an inert mass. Burrowing out from under him, I
sprang to my feet aglow with triumph--and found myself in the clutch
of the second gentleman from the chimney-place, who apparently had
come hotfoot to his comrade's aid.
I was fairly caught. His arms went round me like steel girders,
pinioning mine to my sides before I knew what he was about. In sheer
desperation I summoned all the strength I possessed and a little more.
Ah! I had wrenched my right arm loose; now we should see! I raised it
and managed, despite the close quarters at which we were contending,
to plant a series of crashing blows on my adversary's face.
The fellow, I must say, bore up pluckily beneath the punishment. He
hung on. There would be a light in a moment, he was doubtless
thinking, and when once that came to pass, it would be all over with
me. But at my fifth blow he wavered groggily, and at my sixth,
endurance failed him. He groaned softly. Then his grasp relaxed, and
he collapsed quietly on the floor.
Throughout the swift march of these events we had heard nothing of
Herr von Blenheim, a fact from which I deduced with thankfulness that
he was temporarily stunned. Unluckily, he now recovered. As I stood
victorious, but breathless, my cap lost in the scuffle and my coat
torn, I heard him stirring, and an instant later he pulled himself to
his feet and flashed on an electric torch.
By its weird beam I saw that Miss Falconer was close beside me. Good
heavens! Why, I though in anguish, wasn't she already upstairs? But I
knew only too well; she wouldn't desert her champion. It was probably
too late now. Blenheim, much congested as to countenance, seemed on
the point of springing; his battered aids were struggling up in
menacing, if unsteady, fashion; and Mr. Schwartzmann, at length
provided with the light he wanted, was aiming at me with ominous
deliberation from his coign of vantage above.
However, we were at the circular staircase. Again I caught up the
table and held it before us as a shield while we climbed upward, side
by side. In the distance my friend Schwartzmann was hopefully potting
at us. A bullet, with a sharp ping, embedded itself in the thick wood
in harmless fashion; another struck the shaft beside me, splintering
its stone. We were at the last turn--but our pursuers were climbing
also. I bent forward and let them have the table, hurling it with all
As it catapulted down upon them it knocked Blenheim off his balance,
and he in his unforeseen descent swept the others from their feet. A
swearing, groaning mass, a conglomeration of helplessly waving arms
and legs, they rolled downward. Victory! I was about to join Miss
Falconer in the doorway when there came a final flash from the
opposite staircase, and I felt a stinging sensation across my forehead
and a spurt of blood into my eyes.
The pain of the slight wound promptly altered my intentions. Instead
of leaving the gallery, I sprang forward to the balustrade. Whipping
my revolver out at last, I aimed deliberately and fired; whereupon I
had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Schwartzmann rock, struggle, apparently
regain his equilibrium, and then suddenly crumple up and pitch
headlong down the stairs.
Below, Blenheim and his friend were extricating themselves from that
blessed table. I passed through the door and thrust it shut and shot
the bolts. We were safe for the present. I could not see Miss
Falconer, nor did she speak to me; but her hand groped for my arm and
rested there, and I covered it with one of mine.
Then, as we stood contentedly drawing breath, we heard steps mounting
the staircase. Some one struck a vicious blow against the heavy door.
Blenheim's voice, hoarse and muffled, reached us through the panels.
"Can you hear me there?" it asked.
If tones could kill! I summoned breath enough to answer with cheerful
"Every syllable," I responded. "What did you wish to say?"
"Just this." He was panting, either with exhaustion or fury, and there
were slow, labored pauses between his words. "I will give you half an
hour, exactly, to come out--with the papers. After that we will break
the door down. And then you can say your prayers."
THE GUEST OF PREZELAY
The sanctuary into which we had stumbled was as black as Erebus save
for one dimly grayish patch, which, I surmised, meant a window. When
those heavy feet had clumped down the staircase, silence enveloped us
again, beatific silence. Instantly I banished the late Mr. Van Blarcom
from my consciousness. With a good stout door between us what
importance had his threats?
The truth was that my blood was singing through my veins and my
spirits were soaring. I would gladly have stood there forever,
triumphant in the dark, with Miss Falconer's soft, warm fingers
trembling a little, but lying in contented, almost cosy, fashion under
mine. Had there ever been such a girl, at once so sweet and so daring?
To think how she had waited for me all through that battle below!
A little breathless murmur came to me through the darkness.
"Oh, Mr. Bayne! You were so wonderful! How am I ever going to thank
you?" was what it said.
"You needn't. Let me thank you for letting me in on it!" I exulted
happily. "I give you my word, I haven't enjoyed anything so much in
years. It was all a hallucination, of course; but it was jolly while
it lasted. I was only worried every instant for fear the hall and the
men would vanish, like an Arabian Nights' palace or the Great Horn
Spoon or Aladdin's jinn!"
Very gently she withdrew her fingers, and my mood toppled ludicrously.
Why had I been rejoicing? We were in the deuce of a mess! So far I had
simply won a half hour's respite to be followed by the deluge; for if
Blenheim had been ruthless before, what were his probable intentions
"We have lost our candle in the fracas," I muttered lamely.
"It doesn't matter. I have another," she answered in a soft, unsteady
As she coaxed the light into being, I made a rapid survey. We were in
a room of gray stone, of no great size and quite bare of furnishing,
save for a few stone benches built into alcoves in the wall. The
bareness of the scene emphasized our lack of resources. As a sole ray
of hope, I perceived a possible line of retreat if things should grow
too warm for us, a door facing the one by which we had come in.
With all the excitement, I had forgotten Mr. Schwartzmann's bullet,
which, I have no doubt, had left me a gory spectacle. At any rate, I
frightened Miss Falconer when the candle-light revealed me. In an
instant she was bending over me, forcing me gently down upon a
particularly cold, hard bench.
"They shot you!" she was exclaiming. Her voice was low, but it held an
astonishing protective fierceness. "They--they dared to hurt you! Oh,
why didn't you tell me? Is it very bad?"
"No! no!" I protested, dabbing futilely at my forehead. "It isn't of
the least importance. I assure you it is only a scratch. In fact," I
groaned, "nobody could hurt my head; it is too solid. It must be
ivory. If I had had a vestige of intelligence, an iota of it, the
palest glimmer, I should have known from the beginning exactly who
these fellows were!"
She was sitting beside me now, bending forward, all consoling
"That is ridiculous!" she declared. "How could you guess?"
"Easily enough," I murmured. "I had all the clues at Gibraltar. Why,
yesterday, on my way to your house in the rue St.-Dominique, I went
over the whole case in the taxi, and still I didn't see. I let the
fellow confide in me on the ship and warn me on the train and give me
a final solemn ultimatum at the inn last night and come on here to
frighten you and threaten you--when just a word to the police would
have settled him forever. By George, I can't believe it! I should take
a prize at an idiot show."
She laughed unsteadily.
"I don't see that," she answered. "Why should you have suspected him
when even the authorities didn't guess? You are not a detective. You
are a--a very brave, generous gentleman, who trusted a girl against
all the evidence and helped her and protected her and risked your life
for hers. Isn't that enough? And about their frightening me downstairs
--they didn't. You see, Mr. Bayne--you were there."
A wisp of red-brown hair had come loose across her forehead. Her face,
flushed and royally grateful, was smiling into mine. Till that moment
I had never dreamed that eyes could be so dazzling. I thrust my hands
deep into my pockets; I felt they were safer so.
"What is it?" she faltered, a little startled, as I rose.
"Nothing--now," I replied firmly. "I'll tell you later, to-morrow
maybe, when we have seen this thing through. And in the meantime,
whatever happens, I don't want you to give a thought to it. The German
doesn't live who can get the better of me--not after what you have
The situation suddenly presented itself in rosy colors. I saw how
strong the door was, what a lot of breaking it would take. And if they
did force a way in, then I could try some sharp-shooting. But Miss
Falconer was getting up slowly.
"Now the papers, Mr. Bayne," said she.
To be sure, the papers! I had temporarily forgotten them.
"They can't be here," I said blankly, gazing about the room.
"No, not here. In there." She motioned toward the inner door. "This is
the old suite of the lords of Prezelay. We are in the room of the
guards, where the armed retainers used to lie all night before the
fire, watching. Then comes the antechamber and then the room of the
squires and then the bedchamber of the lord." Her voice had fallen now
as if she thought that the walls were listening. "In the lord's room
there is a secret hiding-place behind a panel; and if the papers are
at Prezelay, they will be there."
I took the candle from her, turned to the door, and opened it.
"I hope they are," I said. "Let us go and see."
The antechamber, the room of the squires, the bedchamber of the lord.
Such terms were fascinating; they called up before me a whole picture
of feudal life. Thanks to the attentions of the Germans, the rooms
were mere empty shells, however, though they must have been rather
splendid when decked out with furniture and portraits and tapestries
before the war.
Our steps echoed on the stone as we traversed the antechamber, a
quaint round place, lined with bull's-eye windows and presided over by
the statues of four armed men. Another door gave us entrance to the
quarter of the squires. We started across it, but in the center of the
floor I stopped. In all the other rooms of the castle dust had lain
thick, but there was none here. Elsewhere the windows had been closed
and the air heavy and musty, but here the soft night breeze was
drifting in. On a table, in odd conjunction, stood the remains of a
meal, a roll of bandages, and a half-burned candle; and finally,
against the wall lay a bed of a sort, a mattress piled with tumbled
Were these Marie-Jeanne's quarters? I did not know, but I doubted. I
turned to the girl.
"Miss Falconer," I said, attempting naturalness, "will you go back to
the guard-room and wait there a few minutes, please? I think--that is,
it seems just possible that some one is hiding in yonder. I'd prefer
to investigate alone if you don't mind."
I broke off, suddenly aware of the look she was casting round her. It
did not mean fear; it could mean nothing but an incredulous, dawning
hope. These signs of occupancy suggested to her something so
wonderful, so desirable that she simply dared not credit them; she was
dreading that they might slip through her fingers and fade away! I
made a valiant effort at understanding.
"Perhaps," I said, "you're expecting some one. Did you think that a--a
friend of yours might have arrived here before we came?" She did not
glance at me, but she bent her head, assenting. All her attention was
focused raptly on that bed beside the wall.
"Yes," she whispered; "a long time before us. A month ago at least."
Her eyes had begun to shine. "Oh, I don't dare to believe it; I've
hardly dared to hope for it. But if it is true, I am going to be
happier than I ever thought I could be again."
She made a swift movement toward the door, but I forestalled her.
Whatever that room held, I must have a look at it before she went. I
flung the door open, blocked her passage, and stopped in my tracks,
for the best of reasons. A young man was sitting on a battered oak
chest beneath a window, facing me, and in his right hand, propped on
his knees, there glittered a revolver that was pointed straight at my
I stood petrified, measuring him. He was lightly built and slender. He
had a manner as glittering as his weapon, and a pair of remarkably
cool and clear gray eyes. His picturesqueness seemed wasted on mere
flesh and blood it was so perfect. Coatless, but wearing a shirt of
the finest linen, he looked like some old French duelist and ought, I
felt, to be gazing at me, rapier in hand, from a gilt-framed canvas on
In the brief pause before he spoke I gathered some further data. He
was a sick man and he had recently been wounded; at present he was
keeping up by sheer courage, not by strength. His lips were pressed in
a straight line, his eyes were shadowed, and his pallor was ghastly.
Finally, he was wearing his left arm in a sling across his breast.
"Monsieur," he now enunciated clearly, "will raise both hands and keep
them lifted. Monsieur sees, doubtless, that I am in no state for a
wrestling-match. For that very reason he must take all pains not to
forget himself--for should he stir, however slightly, I grieve to say
that I must shoot."
The casualness of his tones made Blenheim's menaces seem childish and
futile. I had not the slightest doubt that he would keep his word.
Yet, without any reason whatever, I liked him and I had no fear of
him; I did not feel for a single instant that Miss Falconer was in
danger; she was as safe with him, I knew instinctively, as she was
I opened my lips to parley, but found myself interrupted. A cry came
from behind me, a low, utterly rapturous cry. I was thrust aside, and
saw the girl spring past me. An instant later she was by the stranger,
kneeling, with her arms about him and her bright head against his
"Jean! Dear Jean!" she was crying between tears and laughter. "We
thought you were dead! We thought you were never coming back to
It seemed to me that some one had struck my head a stunning blow. For
an interval I stood dazed; then, painfully, my brain stirred. Things
went dancing across it like sharp, stabbing little flames, guesses,
memories, scraps of talk I had heard, items I had read; but they were
scattered, without cohesion; like will-o'-the-wisps, they could not be
There was a young man, a noble of France, who had been a hero. I had
read of him in a certain extra, as my steamer left New York. He had
disappeared. Certain papers had vanished with him. He had been
suspected, because it was known that the Germans wanted those special
documents. All the world, I thought dully, seemed to be hunting
papers; the French, the Germans, Miss Falconer, and I.
Once more I looked at the man on the chest. He had dropped his pistol
and was clasping the girl to him, soothing her, stroking her hair. My
brain began to work more rapidly. The little flashes of light seemed
to run together, to crystallize into a whole. I knew.
Jean-Herve-Marie-Olivier, the Duke of Raincy-la-Tour, the Firefly of
THE FIREFLY OF FRANCE
He was very weak indeed; it seemed a miracle that, at the sounds
below, he had found strength to drag himself from his bed and crawl
inch by inch to the room of the secret panel to mount guard there; and
no sooner had he soothed Miss Falconer than he collapsed in a sort of
swoon. We laid him on the chest, and I fetched a pillow for his head
and stripped off my coat and spread it over him. I took out my pocket-
flask, too, and forced a few drops between his teeth. In short I tried
to play the game.
When his eyes opened, however, my endurance had reached its limits.
With a muttered excuse,--not that I flattered myself they wanted me to
stay!--I left them and stumbled into the room of the squires, taking
refuge in the grateful dark. I don't know how long I sat there, elbows
on knees, hands propping my head; but it was a ghastly vigil. In this
round, unlike the battle in the hall, I had not been victor. Instead,
I had taken the count.
I knew now, of course, that I was in love with Esme Falconer. Judging
from the violence of the sensation, I must have loved her for quite a
while. Probably it had begun that night in the St. Ives restaurant;
for when before had I watched any girl with such special, ecstatic,
almost proprietary rapture? Yes, that was why, ever since, I had been
cutting such crazy capers. From first to last they were the natural
thing, the prerogative of a man in my state of mind or heart.
Many threads of the affair still remained to be unraveled. I didn't
know what the duke was doing here, what he had been about for a month
past, how the girl, far off in America, had guessed his whereabouts
and his need; nor did I care. His mere existence was enough--that and
Esme's love for him. All my interest in my Chinese puzzle had come to
a wretched end.
"Confound him!" I thought savagely. "We could have spared him
perfectly. What business has he turning up at the eleventh hour? He
didn't cross the ocean with her. He didn't suspect her unforgivably.
He didn't help her, and disguise himself as a chauffeur for her, and
wing Schwartzmann, and bruise up the other chaps and send them rolling
in a heap. This is my adventure. He must have had a hundred. Why
couldn't he stick to his high-flying and dazzling and let me alone?"
The murmur of voices drifted from the lord's bedchamber. I could guess
what they had to say to each other, Miss Falconer and her duke. The
Firefly of France! Even I, a benighted foreigner, knew the things that
title stood for: heroism, in a land where every soldier was a hero;
praise and medals and glory; thirty conquered aeroplanes--a record
over which his ancestors, those old marshals and constables lying
effigied on their tombs of marble with their feet resting on carved
lions, must nod their heads with pride.
It was Miss Falconer's voice. I rose reluctantly and obeyed the
summons. The Firefly was sitting propped on the chest, white, but
steadier, while Esme still knelt beside him, holding his hand in hers.
"I have been telling Jean, Mr. Bayne, how you have helped us." The
radiance of her face, the lilt of her voice, stabbed me with a jealous
pang. I wanted to see her happy, Heaven knew, but not quite in this
manner. "And he wants to thank you for all that you have done."
The Duke of Raincy-la-Tour spoke to me in English that was correct,
but quaintly formal, of a decided charm.
"Monsieur," he said, "I offer you my gratitude. And if you will touch
the hand of one concerning whom, I fear, very evil things are
I forced a smile and a hearty pressure.
"I'll risk it," I assured him. "The chain of evidence against you
seemed far-fetched to say the least. They pointed out accusingly that
your father and your grandfather had been royalists, and that
He made a gesture.
"May their souls find repose! Monsieur, it is true that they were. But
if they lived to-day, my father and grandfather, they would not be
traitors. They would wear, like me, the uniform of France."
He smiled, and I knew once for all that I could never hate him; that
mere envy and a shame of it were the worst that I could feel.
Everything about him won me, his simplicity, his fine pride, his
clearness of eye and voice, his look of a swift, polished sword blade.
I had never seen a man like him. The Duchess of Raincy-la-Tour would
be a lucky woman; so much was plain.
I found a seat on the window ledge, the girl remained kneeling by him,
and he told us his story, always in that quaint, formal speech. As it
went on it absorbed me. I even forgot those clasped hands for an
occasional instant. In every detail, in every quiet sentence, there
was some note that brought before me the Firefly's achievements, the
marauding airships he had climbed into the air to meet, the foes he
had swooped from the blue to conquer, his darts into the land of his
enemies where there was a price upon his head.
The story had to do with a night when he had left the French lines
behind him. His commander had been quite frank. The mission meant his
probable death. He was to wear a German uniform; to land inside the
lines of the kaiser, to conceal his plane, if luck favored him, among
the trees in the grounds of the old chateau of Ranceville; to get what
knowledge and sketch what plans he could of defenses against which the
French attacks had hitherto broken vainly, and to bring them home.
All had gone well at first. His gallant little plane had winged its
way into the unknown like a darting swallow; he had landed safely; and
after he had walked for hours with the Germans about him and death
beside him, he had gained his spoils. It was as he rose for the return
flight that the alarm was given. He got away; but he had five hostile
aircraft after him. Could he hope to elude them and to land safely at
the French lines?
It was in that hour, while the night lingered and the stars still
shone and the cannon of the two armies challenged each other steadily,
that the Firefly of France fought his greatest battle in the air.
Since his whole aim was escape, it was bloodless; he had to trust to
skill and cunning; he dared manoeuvers that appalled others, dropped
plummet-like, looped dizzily, soared to the sheerest heights. He had
been wounded. The framework of his plane was damaged. Still he gained
on his foes and won through to the lines of France.
"But I might not land there," he explained. "The Germans followed. A
mist had closed about us, hiding us from my friends below. I heard
only my propeller; and that, by now, sounded faint to me, for I was
weakening; one shot had hit my shoulder and another had wounded my
The girl swayed closer against him, watching him with eyes of worship.
Well, I didn't wonder, though it cut me to the heart. Even a fairy
prince could have been no worthier of her than this Jean-Herve-Marie-
Olivier; of that at least, I told myself dourly, I must be glad.
"As I raced on," said the duke, "there came a certain thought to me.
We had traveled far; we were in the country near Prezelay, my cousin's
house. The village, I knew, was ruined, but the chateau stood; and if
I could reach it, old Marie-Jeanne would help me. You comprehend, my
weakness was growing. I knew I had little more time."
The shrouding mist had aided him to lose those pursuing vultures. The
last of them fell off, baffled,--or afraid to go deeper into France.
Now he emerged again into the clear air and the starlight. The land
beneath him was a scudding blur, with a dark-green mass in its center,
the forest of La Fay.
And then, suddenly, he knew he must land if he were not to lose
consciousness and hurtle down blindly; and with set teeth and sweat
beading his forehead, he began the descent. At the end his strength
failed him. The plane crashed among the trees. "But Saint Denis, who
helps all Frenchmen, helped me,"--he smiled--"and I was thrown clear."
From that thicket where his machine lay hidden it was a mile to
Prezelay. He dragged himself over this distance, sometimes on his
hands and knees. Soon after dawn Marie-Jeanne, answering a discordant
ringing, found a man lying outside the gate and babbling deliriously,
her master's cousin, in a blood-soaked uniform, holding out a bundle
of papers, and begging her by the soul of her mother to put them in
the castle's secret hiding-place.
She did it. Then she coaxed the wounded man to the rooms opening from
the gallery and tended him day and night through the weeks of fever
that ensued. From his ravings she learned that he was in danger and
feared pursuers; and with the peasant's instinct for caution, she had
not dared to send for help.
"It was yesterday," the duke told us, "that my mind came back. I knew
then what must be thought of me, what must be said of me, all over
France." He was leaning on the wall now, exhausted and white, but
dauntless. "No matter for that--I have the papers. You recall the
He smiled as he asked the question, and Miss Falconer smiled back at
him. Getting to her feet, she ran her fingers across the oak panel
over his head, where for centuries a huntsman had been riding across a
forest glade and blowing his horn. The bundle of his hunting-knife
protruded just a little; and as the girl pressed it, the panel glided
silently open, revealing a space, square and dark and cobwebby.
Something was lying there, a thin, wafer-like packet of papers, the
papers for which the Firefly of France had shed his blood. She held
them up in triumph. But the duke was still smiling faintly. He thrust
one hand into his shirt and drew out a duplicate package, which he
raised for us to see.
"Behold!" he said. "They are copies. All that I sketched that night
near Ranceville, all that I wrote--I did not once, but twice. These I
carried openly, to be found if I were captured. But those you hold
went hidden in the sole of my boot, which was hollowed for them, so
that if I were taken and then escaped, they might go too!"
I had read of such devices, I remembered vaguely. There was a story of
a young French captain who had tried the trick in Champagne and
succeeded with it, a rather famous exploit. Then I thought of
something else. I got up slowly.
"You have two sets of papers?" I repeated.
"As you see, Monsieur."
"Then I'll take one of them," said I.
Miss Falconer was looking at me in a puzzled fashion. As for the duke,
his brows drew together; his figure straightened; the cool glint grew
in his eyes.
"Monsieur," he stated somewhat icily, "such things as these are not
souvenirs. When they leave my possession they will go to the supreme
"Certainly," I agreed, unruffled. "That will do admirably for the
first package; but about the second--no doubt Miss Falconer told you
that we have German guests downstairs? Perhaps she forgot to mention
the leader's name, though. It is Franz von Blenheim. And I don't care
to have him break down the door and burst in on us, on her specially;
I would rather, all things considered, interview him in the hall."
The Firefly's face had altered at the name of the secret agent; he was
now regarding me with intentness, but without a frown. As for Miss
Falconer, the trouble in her eyes was growing. I should have to be
careful. Accordingly I summoned a debonair manner as I went on.
"If you'll allow me," I said, "I will take the papers down to him. He
won't know that they are copies; he will snatch at them, glad of the
chance. And since he is in a hurry, he probably won't stop to parley.
He will simply be off at top speed, and leave us safe.
"Of course, that is the one unpleasant feature of the affair, his
going." At this point I glanced in a casual manner at the Duke of
Raincy-la-Tour. "It seems a pity to let him walk off scot-free, to
plan more trouble for France; but that is past praying for. I could
hardly hope to stop him, except by a miracle. If there is one, I'll be
Would the duke guess the hope with which I was going downstairs, I
wondered. I thought he did, for his eyes flashed slightly, and he
stirred a little on the chest.
"Such a miracle, Monsieur," he remarked, "would serve France greatly.
As a good son of the Church, I will pray for it with all my heart!"
"I hope to come back," I went on, "and rejoin you. But if I shouldn't
for any reason,"--with careful vagueness,--"you must stay here,
barricaded, till they are gone. Then Miss Falconer can drive her car
to the nearest town and bring back help for you. You see, it will be
entirely simple, either way."
The girl, very white now, took a swift step toward me.
"Simple?" she cried. "They will kill you! They hate you, Mr. Bayne,
and they are four to one. You mustn't go."
But the duke's hand was on her arm.
"My dear," he said, "he has reason. This friend of yours, I perceive,
is a gallant gentleman. Believe me, if I had strength to stand, he
would not go alone."
He held out the papers to me, and I took them. Then we clasped hands,
the Firefly and I.
"/Bonne chance, Monsieur/," he bade me with the pressure.
"Good luck and good-bye," I answered. "Miss Falconer, will you come to
She took up the candle and came forward to light me, and we went in
silence through the room of the squires and through the ante-chamber
and into the room of the guards. She walked close beside me; her eyes
shone wet; her lips trembled. There were things I would have given the
world to say, but I suppressed them. To the very end, I had resolved,
I would play fair. We were at the outer door.
"Good-by, Miss Falconer," I said, halting. "You mustn't worry;
everything is going to turn out splendidly, I am sure. Only, now that
we have the papers, it ends our little adventure, doesn't it? So
before I go I want to thank you for our day together. It has been
wonderful. There never was another like it. I shall always be thankful
for it, no matter what I have to pay."
I stopped abruptly, realizing that this was not cricket. To make up, I
put out my hand quite coolly; but she grasped it in both of hers and
held it in a soft, warm clasp.
"I shall never forget," she whispered. "Come back to us, Mr. Bayne!"
For a moment I looked at her in the light of the candle, at her lovely
face, at the ruddy hair framing it, at the tears heavy on her lashes.
Then I drew the bolt and went out and heard her fasten the door.
I stood in the gallery for an instant, indulging in a reconnoissance.
The hall was now illuminated by an electric torch and three guttering
candles; at the foot of the staircase lay the table which had done
such yeoman's service, split in two. As for the besiegers, they were
gathered near the chimney-place in a worse-for-wear group, one nursing
a nosebleed; another feeling gingerly of a loose tooth; Blenheim
himself frankly raging, and decorated with a broad cut across his
forehead and a cheek that was rapidly taking on assorted shades of
blue, green, and black; and the redoubtable Mr. Schwartzmann, worst
off of all, lying in a heap, groaning at intervals, but apparently
quite unaware of what was going on.
My abrupt sally seemed transfixing. I might have been Medusa. I had a
welcome minute in which to contemplate the victims of my prowess and
to exult unchristianly in their scars. Then the tableau dissolved, the
three men sprang up, and I took action. As I emerged I had drawn out a
handkerchief and I now proceeded to raise and wave it.
"Well, Herr von Blenheim, I have come to parley with you," I
announced, "white flag and all."
He tried to look as if he had expected me, though it was obvious that
he hadn't. To give verisimilitude to the pretense, he even pulled out
"I thought you would. You had just two minutes' grace," he commented,
watching me narrowly. "Suppose you come down. You have brought the
papers, I hope--for your own sake?"
"Oh, yes!" I assured him with all possible blandness. "I have brought
them. What else was there to do? You had us in the palm of your hand.
That door is old and worm-eaten; you could have crumpled it up like
paper. When we thought the situation over we saw its hopelessness at
once; so here I am."
"That is sensible," he agreed curtly, though I could see that he was
puzzled. Casting a baffled glance beyond me, he scanned the gallery
door. It by no means merited my description, being heavy, solid,
almost immovable in aspect. "Well, let's have the papers!" he said,
with suspicion in his tone.
I descended in a deliberate manner, casting alert eyes about me, for,
to use an expressive idiom, I was not doing this for my health. On the
contrary I had two very definite purposes; the first, which I could
probably compass, was to save Miss Falconer from further intercourse
with Blenheim and to conceal the presence of the wounded, helpless
Firefly from his enemies; the second, surprisingly modest, was to make
the four Germans prisoners and hand them over in triumph to the
gendarmes of the nearest town, Santierre.
I was perfectly aware of the absurdity of this ambition. I lacked the
ghost of an idea of how to set about the thing. But the general
craziness of events had unhinged me. I was forming the habit of
trusting to pure luck and /vogue la galere/! I can't swear that I
hadn't visions of conquering all my adversaries in some miraculous
single-handed fashion, disarming them, and, as a final sweet touch of
revenge, tying them up in chairs, to keep Marie-Jeanne company and
meditate on the turns of fate.
"Here they are," I said, obligingly offering the package. "We found
them nestling behind a panel--old family hiding place, you know. I
can't vouch for their contents, not being an expert, but Miss Falconer
was satisfied. How about it, now you look at them? Do they seem all
Not paying the slightest attention to my conversational efforts,
Blenheim had snatched the papers, torn them hungrily open, and run
them through. He was bristling with suspicion; but he evidently knew
his business. It did not take him long to conclude that he really had
Folding them up carefully, he thrust them into his coat and stored
them, displaying, however, less triumph than I had thought he would.
The truth was that he looked preoccupied, and I wondered why. For the
first time in all the hair-trigger situations that I had seen him face
I sensed a strain in him.
"So much for that. Now, Mr. Bayne, what do you think we mean to do to
you?" he asked.
"I don't know, I am sure," I answered rather absently; I was weighing
the relative merits of jiu-jitsu and my five remaining revolver-shots.
"Is there anything sufficiently lingering? Let me suggest boiling oil;
or I understand that roasting over a slow fire is considered tasty.
Either of those methods would appeal to you, wouldn't it?"
"I don't deny it!" Blenheim answered in a tone that was convincing.
"You haven't endeared yourself to us, my friend, in the last hour. But
we can't spare you yet; our plans for the evening are lively ones and
they include you. I told you, didn't I, that we were going to no
man's-land via the trenches, when we finished this affair?"
"You told me many interesting things. I've forgotten some of the
details." I was aware of a thrill of excitement. The man was worried;
so much was sure.
"You will recall them presently, or if you don't, I'll refresh your
memory. The fact is, Mr. Bayne, you have put a pretty spoke in our
wheel. It stands this way: our papers are made out for a party of four
officers, and you have eliminated Schwartzmann. Don't you owe us some
amends for that? You like disguises, I gather from your costume. What
do you say to putting on a new one, a pale-blue uniform, and seeing us
through the lines?"
He looked, while uttering this wild pleasantry, about as humorous as
King Attila. Could he possibly be in earnest? After all, perhaps he
was! War rules were cast-iron things; if his pass called for four men,
four he must have or rouse suspicion; and it was certain that Herr
Schwartzmann would do no gadding to-night or for many nights to come.
That shot of mine from the gallery had upset Blenheim's plans very
neatly. I stared at him, fascinated.
"Well?" said he. "Do you understand?"
"I understand," I exclaimed indignantly, "that this is too much! It
is, really. I was getting hardened; I could stand a mere impossibility
or two and not blink; but this! It is beyond the bounds. I shall begin
to see green snakes presently or writhing sea-serpents--"
"No," Blenheim cut me short savagely, "you are underestimating. Unless
you oblige us what you will see is the hereafter, Mr. Bayne!"
Yes, he meant it. His very fierceness, eloquent of frazzled nerves,
was proof conclusive. With another thrill, triumphant this time, I
recognized my chance. His campaign, instead of going according to
specifications, had been interfered with; his position was dangerous;
he had no time to lose; for all he knew, at any point along the road
his masquerade might have been suspected, the authorities notified,
vengeance put on his track. In desperation he meant to risk my
denouncing him, use me till he reached the Front trenches and his
friends there, and then, no doubt, get rid of me. What he couldn't
guess was that I would have turned the earth upside down to make this
opportunity that he was offering me on a silver tray.
"Oh, I'll oblige you," I assured him with what must have seemed insane
cheerfulness. "I'll oblige you, Her von Blenheim, with all the
pleasure in the world. If you really want me, that is. If my presence
won't make you nervous. Aren't you afraid, for instance, that I might
be tempted to share my knowledge of your name and your profession with
the first French soldiers we meet?"
"As to that, we will take our chances." Blenheim's face was adamant,
though my suggestion had produced a not entirely enlivening effect on
his two friends. "You see, Mr. Bayne, in this business the risks will
be mostly yours. There will be no flights of stairs to dart up and no
tables to over turn and no candles to extinguish; you will sit in the
tonneau with a man beside you, a very watchful man, and a pistol
against your side. You don't want to die, do you? I thought not, since
you surrendered those papers. Well, then, you'll be wise not to say a
word or stir a muscle. And now we are in a hurry. Will you make your
It was the bizarre curtain scene of what I had called an extravaganza.
Blenheim's confederates, taking no special pains for gentleness,
stripped off the outer garments of the prostrate Schwartzmann, who
moaned and groaned throughout the process, though he never opened his
eyes. Blenheim urged haste upon us; he was getting more fidgety every
instant; he bit his lip, drummed with his fingers, kept an ear cocked,
as if expecting to hear pursuers at the door. Still, he neglected no
precautions. He demanded my revolver. I surrendered it amiably, and
then doffed my chauffeur's outfit and took, from a social standpoint,
a gratifying step upward, donning one by one the insignia of France.
The fit was not perfect by any means. Schwartzmann was a giant, a
mountain. My feet swished aloud groggily in his burnished putties; his
garments hung round me in ample, rather than graceful, folds. However,
the loose cape of horizon blue resembled charity in covering defects.
As a dummy, sitting motionless in the rear of the automobile, my
captors felt that I would pass.
By this time I was enchanted with the plans I was concocting. I might
look like an opera-bouffe hero,--no doubt I did,--but my hour would
come. Meanwhile events were marching. My transformation being
complete, Blenheim gave a curt order in German, the candles were blown
out, and lighted only by the torch, we turned toward the door. There
was an inarticulate cry from Schwartzmann, just conscious enough, poor
beggar, to grasp the fact of his abandonment in the strategic retreat
his friends were beating. Then we were out in the courtyard, beneath
Down the hill, sheltered behind the stones of a ruined house, the gray
car was waiting, and Blenheim climbed into the driver's seat,
meanwhile giving brief directions. There was no noise, no flurry; the
affair, I must say, went with an efficiency in keeping with the
proudest Prussian traditions. I was installed in the tonneau, and I
was hardly seated before the motor hummed into life, and we jolted
into the moonlit road.
For perhaps the hundredth time I asked myself if I was dreaming; if
this person in a French disguise, speeding through the night with a
blue-clad German beside him,--a German suffering, by the way, from a
headache, the last stages of a nosebleed, and a pronounced dislike for
me as the agency responsible for his ailments,--was really Devereux
Bayne. But the air was cold on my face; a revolver pressed my side; I
saw three set, hard profiles. It was not a dream; it was a dash for