Part 5 out of 6
in every limb, ran on for several hundred yards. But time pressed, and
the usefulness of his car was at an end, as far as he was concerned;
there was no saying how many times its identity might not have been
established by the police in the course of that wild chase through
Paris, or how soon these last might contrive to overhaul and apprehend
him; and as soon as a bend in the road shut off the scene of wreck, he
stopped finally, jumped down, and plunged headlong into the dark
midnight heart of the Bois, seeking its silences where trees stood
thickest and lights were few.
Later, like some worried creature of the night, panting, dishevelled,
his rough clothing stained and muddied, he slunk across an open space,
a mile or so from his point of disappearance, dropped cautiously down
into the dry bed of the moat, climbed as stealthily a slippery glacis
of the fortifications, darted across the inner boulevard, and began to
describe a wide arc toward his destination, the hotel Omber.
He was singularly free from any sort of exultation over the manner in
which he had at once compassed his own escape and brought down
catastrophe upon his self-appointed murderers; his mood was quick with
wonder and foreboding and bewilderment. The more closely he examined
the affair, the more strange and inexplicable it bulked in his
understanding. He had not thought to defy the Pack and get off lightly;
but he had looked for no such overt effort at disciplining him so long
as he kept out of the way and suspended his criminal activities. An
unwilling recruit is a potential traitor in the camp; and retired
competition isn't to be feared. So it seemed that Wertheimer hadn't
believed his protestations, or else Bannon had rejected the report
which must have been made him by the girl. In either case, the Pack had
not waited for the Lone Wolf to prove his insincerity; it hadn't
bothered to declare war; it had simply struck; with less warning than
a rattlesnake gives, it had struck--out of the dark--at his back.
And so--Lanyard swore grimly--even so would he strike, now that it was
his turn, now that his hour dawned.
But he would have given much for a clue to the riddle. Why must he be
saddled with this necessity of striking in self-defence? Why had this
feud been forced upon him, who asked nothing better than to be let
alone? He told himself it wasn't altogether the professional jealousy
of De Morbihan, Popinot and Wertheimer; it was the strange, rancorous
spite that animated Bannon.
But, again, why? Could it be that Bannon so resented the aid and
encouragement Lanyard had afforded the girl in her abortive attempt to
escape? Or was it, perhaps, that Bannon held Lanyard responsible for the
arrest and death of Greggs?
Could it be possible that there was really anything substantial at the
bottom of Wertheimer's wild yarn about the pretentiously named
"International Underworld Unlimited"? Was this really a demonstration
of purpose to crush out competition--"and hang the expense"?
Or was there some less superficially tangible motive to be sought? Did
Bannon entertain some secret, personal animus against Michael Lanyard
himself as distinguished from the Lone Wolf?
Debating these questions from every angle but to no end, he worked
himself into a fine fury of exasperation, vowing he would consummate
this one final coup, sequestrate himself in England until the affair
had blown over, and in his own good time return to Paris to expose De
Morbihan (presuming he survived the wreck in the Bois) exterminate
Popinot utterly, drive Wertheimer into permanent retirement at Dartmoor,
and force an accounting from Bannon though it were surrendered together
with that invalid's last wheezing breaths....
In this temper he arrived, past one in the morning, under the walls of
the hotel Omber, and prudently selected a new point of attack. In the
course of his preliminary examinations of the walls, it hadn't escaped
him that their brick-and-plaster construction was in bad repair; he had
marked down several spots where the weather had eaten the outer coat of
plaster completely away. At one of these, midway between the avenue and
the junction of the side-streets, he hesitated.
As he had foreseen, the mortar that bound the bricks together was all
dry and crumbling; it was no great task to work one of them loose,
making a foothold from which he might grasp with a gloved hand the
glass-toothed curbing, cast his ulster across this for further
protection, and swing himself bodily atop the wall.
But there, momentarily, he paused in doubt and trembling. In that
exposed and comfortless perch, the lifeless street on one hand, the
black mystery of the neglected park on the other, he was seized and
shaken by a sudden revulsion of feeling like a sickness of his very
soul. Physical fear had nothing to do with this, for he was quite alone
and unobserved; had it been otherwise faculties trained through a
lifetime to such work as this and now keyed to concert pitch would not
have failed to give warning of whatever danger his grosser senses might
Notwithstanding, he was afraid as though Fear's very self had laid hold
of his soul by the heels and would not let it go until its vision of
itself was absolute. He was afraid with a great fear such as he had
never dreamed to know; who knew well the wincing of the flesh from risk
of pain, the shuddering of the spirit in the shadow of death, and
horror such as had gripped him that morning in poor Roddy's bed-chamber.
But none of these had in any way taught him the measure of such fear as
now possessed him, so absolute that he quaked like a naked soul in the
inexorable presence of the Eternal.
He was afraid of himself, in panic terror of that ego which tenanted
the shell of functioning, sensitive stuff called Michael Lanyard: he
was afraid of the strange, silent, incomprehensible Self lurking occult
in him, that masked mysterious Self which in its inscrutable whim could
make him fine or make him base, that Self impalpable and elusive as any
shadow yet invincibly strong, his master and his fate, in one the grave
of Yesterday, the cup of Today, the womb of Tomorrow....
He looked up at the tired, dull faces of those old dwellings that
loomed across the way with blind and lightless windows, sleeping
without suspicion that he had stolen in among them--the grim and deadly
thing that walked by night, the Lone Wolf, creature of pillage and
rapine, scourged slave of that Self which knew no law....
Then slowly that obsession lifted like the passing of a nightmare; and
with a start, a little shiver and a sigh, Lanyard roused and went on to
do the bidding of his Self for its unfathomable ends....
Dropping silently to the soft, damp turf, he made himself one with the
shadows of the park, as mute, intangible and fugitive as they, until
presently coming out beneath the stars, on an open lawn running up to
the library wing of the hotel, he approached a shallow stone balcony
which jutted forth eight feet above the lawn--an elevation so
inconsiderable that, with one bound grasping its stone balustrade,
the adventurer was upon it in a brace of seconds.
Nor did the long French windows that opened on the balcony offer him
any real hindrance: a penknife quickly removed the dried putty round
one small, lozenge-shaped pane, then pried out the pane itself; a hand
through this space readily found and turned the latch; a cautious
pressure opened the two wings far enough to admit his body; and--he
stood inside the library.
He had made no sound; and thanks to thorough familiarity with the
ground, he needed no light. The screen of cinnabar afforded all the
protection he required; and because he meant to accomplish his purpose
and be out of the house with the utmost expedition, he didn't trouble
to explore beyond a swift, casual review of the adjoining salons.
The clock was chiming the three-quarters as he knelt behind the screen
and grasped the combination-knob.
But he did not turn it. That mellow music died out slowly, and left him
transfixed, there in the silence and gloom, his eyes staring wide into
blackness at nothing, his jaw set and rigid, his forehead knotted and
damp with sweat, his hands so clenched that the nails bit deep into his
palms; while he looked back over the abyss yawning between the Lone
Wolf of tonight and the man who had, within the week, knelt in that
spot in company with the woman he loved, bent on making restitution
that his soul might be saved through her faith in him.
He was visited by clear vision of himself: the thief caught in his
crime by his conscience--or whatever it was, what for want of a better
name he must call his conscience: this thing within him that revolted
from his purpose, mutinied against the dictates of his Self, and
stopped his hand from reaping the harvest of his cunning and daring;
this sense of honour and of honesty that in a few brief days had grown
more dear to him than all else in life, knitting itself inextricably
into the fibre of his being, so that to deny it were against Nature....
He closed his eyes to shut out the accusing vision, and knelt on,
unstirring, though torn this way and that in the conflict of man's dual
Minutes passed without his knowledge.
But in time he grew more calm; his hands relaxed, the muscles of his
brow smoothed out, he breathed more slowly and deeply; his set lips
parted and a profound sigh whispered in the stillness. A great
weariness upon him, he rose slowly and heavily from the floor, and
stood erect, free at last and forever from that ancient evil which so
long had held his soul in bondage.
And in that moment of victory, through the deep hush reigning in the
house, he detected an incautious footfall on the parquetry of the
It was a sound so slight, so very small and still, that only a
super-subtle sense of hearing could have discriminated it from the
confused multiplicity of almost inaudible, interwoven, interdependent
sounds that make up the slumberous quiet of every human habitation, by
Lanyard, whose training had taught him how to listen, had learned that
the nocturnal hush of each and every house has its singular cadence,
its own gentle movement of muted but harmonious sound in which the
introduction of an alien sound produces immediate discord, and to which,
while at his work, he need attend only subconsciously since the least
variation from the norm would give him warning.
Now, in the silence of this old mansion, he detected a faint flutter of
discordance that sounded a note of stealth; such a note as no move of
his since entering had evoked.
He was no longer alone, but shared the empty magnificence of those vast
salons with one whose purpose was as furtive, as secret, as wary as his
own; no servant or watchman roused by an intuition of evil, but one who
had no more than he any lawful business there.
And while he stood at alert attention the sound was repeated from a
point less distant, indicating that the second intruder was moving
toward the library.
In two swift strides Lanyard left the shelter of the screen and took to
cover in the recess of one of the tall windows, behind its heavy velvet
hangings: an action that could have been timed no more precisely had it
been rehearsed; he was barely in hiding when a shape of shadow slipped
into the library, paused beside the massive desk, and raked the room
with the light of a powerful flash-lamp.
Its initial glare struck squarely into Lanyard's eyes, dazzling them,
as he peered through a narrow opening in the portieres; and though the
light was instantly shifted, for several moments a blur of peacock
colour, blending, ebbing, hung like a curtain in the darkness, and he
could see nothing distinctly--only the trail traced by that dancing
spot-light over walls and furnishings.
When at length his vision cleared, the newcomer was kneeling in turn
before the safe; but more light was needed, and this one, lacking
Lanyard's patience and studious caution, turned back to the desk, and,
taking the reading-lamp, transferred it to the floor behind the screen.
But even before the flood of light followed the dull click of the
switch, Lanyard had recognized the woman.
For an instant he felt dazed, half-stunned, suffocating, much as he had
felt with Greggs' fingers tightening on his windpipe, that week-old
night at Troyon's; he experienced real difficulty about breathing, and
was conscious of a sickish throbbing in his temples and a pounding in
his bosom like the tolling of a great bell. He stared, swaying....
The light, gushing from the opaque hood, made the safe door a glare,
and was thrown back into her intent, masked face, throwing out in sharp
silhouette her lithe, sweet body, indisputably identified by the
individual poise of her head and shoulders and the gracious contours
of her tailored coat.
She was all in black, even to her hands, no trace of white or any
colour showing but the fair curve of the cheek below her mask and the
red of her lips. And if more evidence were needed, the intelligence
with which she attacked the combination, the confident, business-like
precision distinguishing her every action, proved her an apt pupil in
His thoughts were all in a welter of miserable confusion. He knew that
this explained many things he would have held questionable had not his
infatuation forbidden him to consider them at all, lest he be disloyal
to this woman whom he adored; but in the anguish of that moment he
could entertain but one thought, and that possessed him altogether--that
she must somehow be saved from the evil she contemplated....
But while he hesitated, she became sensitive to his presence; though he
had made no sound since her entrance, though he had not even stirred,
somehow she divined that he--someone--was there in the recess of the
window, watching her.
In the act of opening the safe--using the memorandum of its combination
which he had jotted down in her presence--he saw her pause, freeze to a
pose of attention, then turn to stare directly at the portiere that hid
him. And for an eternal second she remained kneeling there, so still
that she seemed not even to breathe, her gaze fixed and level, waiting
for some sound, some sign, some tremor of the curtain's folds, to
confirm her suspicion.
When at length she rose it was in one swift, alert movement. And as she
paused with her slight shoulders squared and her head thrown back
defiantly, challengingly, as one without will of his own but drawn
irresistibly by her gaze, he stepped out into the room.
And since he was no more the Lone Wolf, but now a simple man in agony,
with no thought for their circumstances--for the fact that they were
both house-breakers and that the slightest sound might raise a
hue-and-cry upon them--he took one faltering step toward her, stopped,
lifted a hand in a gesture of appeal, and stammered:
His voice broke and failed.
She didn't answer, more than by recoiling as though he had offered to
strike her, until the table stopped her, and she leaned back as if
glad of its support.
"Oh!" she cried, trembling--"why_--why_ did you do it?"
He might have answered her in kind, but self-justification passed his
power. He couldn't say, "Because this evening you made me lose faith
in everything, and I thought to forget you by going to the devil the
quickest way I knew--this way!"--though that was true. He couldn't say:
"Because, a thief from boyhood, habit proved too strong for me, and I
couldn't withstand temptation!"--for that was untrue. He could only
hang his head and mumble the wretched confession: "I don't know."
As if he hadn't spoken, she cried again: "Why--_why_ did you do it? I
was so proud of you, so sure of you, the man who had turned straight
because of me!... It compensated... But now...!"
Her voice broke in a short, dry sob.
"Compensated?" he repeated stupidly.
"Yes, compensated!" She lifted her head with a gesture of impatience:
"For this--don't you understand?--for this that I'm doing! You don't
imagine I'm here of my own will?--that I went back to Bannon for any
reason but to try to save you from him? I knew something of his power,
and you didn't; I knew if I went away with you he'd never rest until
he had you murdered. And I thought if I could mislead him by lies for
a little time--long enough to give you a chance to escape--I thought
--perhaps--I might be able to communicate with the police, denounce
She hesitated, breathless and appealing.
At her first words he had drawn close to her; and all their talk was
murmurings. But this was quite instinctive; for both were beyond
considerations of prudence, the one coherent thought of each being
that now, once and forever, all misunderstanding must be done away
Now, as naturally as though they had been lovers always, Lanyard took
her hand, and clasped it between his own.
"You cared as much as that!"
"I love you," she told him--"I love you so much I am ready to sacrifice
everything for you--life, liberty, honour----"
"Hush, dearest, hush!" he begged, half distracted.
"I mean it: if honour could hold me back, do you think I would have
broken in here tonight to steal for Bannon?"
"He sent you, eh?" Lanyard commented in a dangerous voice.
"He was too cunning for me... I was afraid to tell you... I meant to
tell--to warn you, this evening in the cab. But then I thought perhaps
if I said nothing and sent you away believing the worst of me--perhaps
you would save yourself and forget me----"
"I tried my best to deceive him, but couldn't. They got the truth from
me by threats----"
"They wouldn't dare----"
"They dare anything, I tell you! They knew enough of what had happened,
through their spies, to go on, and they tormented and bullied me until
I broke down and told them everything... And when they learned you had
brought the jewels back here, Bannon told me I must bring them to
him--that, if I refused, he'd have you killed. I held out until
tonight; then just as I was about to go to bed he received a telephone
message, and told me you were driving a taxi and followed by Apaches
and wouldn't live till daylight if I persisted in refusing."
"You came alone?"
"No. Three men brought me to the gate. They're waiting outside, in the
"Two of them. The other is Captain Ekstrom."
"Ekstrom!" Lanyard cried in despair. "Is he----"
The dull, heavy, crashing slam of the great front doors silenced him.
Before the echo of that crash ceased to reverberate from room to room,
Lanyard slipped to one side of the doorway, from which point he could
command the perspective of the salons together with a partial view of
the front doors. And he was no more than there, in the shadow of the
portieres, when light from an electrolier flooded the reception-hall.
It showed him a single figure, that of a handsome woman, considerably
beyond middle age but still a well-poised, vigorous, and commanding
presence, in full evening dress of such magnificence as to suggest
recent attendance at some State function.
Standing beneath the light, she was restoring a key to a brocaded
hand-bag. This done, she turned her head and spoke indistinguishably
over her shoulder. Promptly there came into view a second woman of
about the same age, but even more strong and able of appearance--a
serving-woman, in plain, dark garments, undoubtedly madame's maid.
Handing over the brocaded bag, madame unlatched the throat of her
ermine cloak and surrendered it to the servant's care.
Her next words were audible, and reassuring in as far as they
indicated ignorance of anything amiss.
"Thank you, Sidonie. You may go to bed now."
"Madame will not need me to undress her?"
"I'm not ready yet. When I am--I'm old enough to take care of myself.
Besides, I prefer you to go to bed, Sidonie. It doesn't improve your
temper to lose your beauty sleep."
"Many thanks, madame. Good night."
The maid moved off toward the main staircase, while her mistress turned
deliberately through the salons toward the library.
At this, swinging back to the girl in a stride, and grasping her wrist
to compel attention, Lanyard spoke in a rapid whisper, mouth close to
her ear, but his solicitude so unselfish and so intense that for the
moment he was altogether unconscious of either her allure or his
"This way," he said, imperatively drawing her toward the window by
which he had entered: "there's a balcony outside--a short drop to the
ground." And unlatching the window, he urged her through it. "Try to
leave by the back gateway--the one I showed you before--avoiding
"But surely you are coming too?" she insisted, hanging back.
"Impossible: there's no time for us both to escape undetected. I shall
keep madame interested only long enough for you to get away. But take
this"--and he pressed his automatic into her hand. "No--take it; I've
another," he lied, "and you may need it. Don't fear for me, but go--O
The footfalls of Madame Omber were sounding dangerously near, and
without giving the girl more opportunity to protest, Lanyard closed
the windows, shot the latch and stole like a cat round the farther
side of the desk, pausing within a few feet of the screen and safe.
The desk-lamp was still burning, where the girl had left it behind the
cinnabar screen; and Lanyard knew that the diffusion of its rays was
enough to render his figure distinctly and immediately visible to one
entering the doorway.
Now everything hung upon the temper of the house-holder, whether she
would take that apparition quietly, deceived by Lanyard's mumming into
believing she had only a poor thievish fool to deal with, or with a
storm of bourgeois hysteria. In the latter event, Lanyard's hand was
ready planted, palm down, on the top of the desk: should the woman
attempt to give the alarm, a single bound would carry the adventurer
across it in full flight for the front doors.
In the doorway the mistress of the house appeared and halted, her quick
bright eyes shifting from the light on the floor to the dark figure of
the thief. Then, in a stride, she found a switch and turned on the
chandelier, a blaze of light.
As this happened, Lanyard cowered, lifting an elbow as though to guard
his face--as though expecting to find himself under the muzzle of a
The gesture had the calculated effect of focussing the attention of the
woman exclusively to him, after one swift glance round had shown her a
room tenanted only by herself and a cringing thief. And immediately it
was made manifest that, whether or not deceived, she meant to take the
situation quietly, if in a strong hand.
Her eyes narrowed and the muscles of her square, almost masculine jaw
hardened ominously as she looked the intruder up and down. Then a
flicker of contempt modified the grimness of her countenance. She took
three steps forward, pausing on the other side of the desk, her back to
Lanyard trembled visibly....
"Well!"--the word boomed like the opening gun of an engagement--"Well,
my man!"--the shrewd eyes swerved to the closed door of the safe and
quickly back again--"you don't seem to have accomplished much!"
"For God's sake, madame!" Lanyard blurted in a husky, shaken voice,
nothing like his own--"don't have me arrested! Give me a chance! I
haven't taken anything. Don't call the flics!"
He checked, moving an uncertain hand towards his throat as if his
tongue had gone dry.
"Come, come!" the woman answered, with a look almost of pity. "I
haven't called anyone--as yet."
The fingers of one strong white hand were drumming gently on the top of
the desk; then, with a movement so quick and sure that Lanyard himself
could hardly have bettered it, they slipped down to a handle of a
drawer, jerked it open, closed round the butt of a revolver, and
presented it at the adventurer's head.
Automatically he raised both hands.
"Don't shoot!" he cried. "I'm not armed----"
"Is that the truth?"
"You've only to search me, madame!"
"Thanks!" Madame's accents now discovered a trace of dry humour. "I'll
leave that to you. Turn out your pockets on the desk there--and,
remember, I'll stand no nonsense!"
The weapon covered Lanyard steadily, leaving him no choice but to obey.
As it happened, he was glad of the excuse to listen for sounds to tell
how the girl was faring in her flight, and made a pretence of trembling
fingers cover the slowness with which he complied.
But he heard nothing.
When he had visibly turned every pocket inside out, and their contents
lay upon the desk, the woman looked the exhibits over incuriously.
"Put them back," she said curtly. "And then fetch that chair over
there--the one in the corner. I've a notion I'd like to talk to you.
That's the usual thing, isn't it?"
"How?" Lanyard demanded with a vacant stare.
"In all the criminal novels I've ever read, the law-abiding householder
always sits down and has a sociable chat with the house-breaker--before
calling in the police. I'm afraid that's part of the price you've got
to pay for my hospitality."
She paused, eyeing Lanyard inquisitively while he restored his
belongings to his pockets. "Now, get that chair!" she ordered; and
waited, standing, until she had been obeyed. "That's it--there!
Leaning against the desk, her revolver held negligently, the speaker
favoured Lanyard with a more leisurely inspection; the harshness of
her stare was softened, and the anger which at first had darkened her
countenance was gone by the time she chose to pursue her catechism.
"What's your name? No--don't answer! I saw your eyes waver, and I'm
not interested in a makeshift alias. But it's the stock question, you
know.... Do you care for a cigar?"
She opened a mahogany humidor on the desk.
"Right--according to Hoyle: the criminal always refuses to smoke in
these scenes. But let's forget the book and write our own lines. I'll
ask you an original question: Why were you acting just now?"
"Acting?" Lanyard repeated, intrigued by the acuteness of this
masterful woman's mentality.
"Precisely--pretending you were a common thief. For a moment you
actually made me think you afraid of me. But you're neither the one
nor the other. How do I know? Because you're unarmed, your voice has
changed in the last two minutes to that of a cultivated man, you've
stopped cringing and started thinking, and the way you walked across
the floor and handled that chair showed how powerfully you're made. If
I didn't have this revolver, you could overpower me in an instant--and
I'm no weakling, as women go. So--why the acting?"
Studying his captor with narrow interest, Lanyard smiled faintly and
shrugged, but made no answer. He could do no more than this--no more
than spare for time: the longer he indulged madame in her whim, the
better Lucy's chances of scot-free escape. By this time, he reckoned,
she would have found her way through the service gate to the street.
But he was on edge with unending apprehension of mischance.
"Come, come!" Madame Omber insisted. "You're hardly civil, my man.
Answer my question!"
"You don't expect me to--do you?"
"Why not? You owe me at least satisfaction of my curiosity, in return
for breaking into my house."
"But if, as you suggest, I am--or was--acting with a purpose, why
expect me to give the show away?"
"That's logic. I knew you could think. More's the pity!"
"Pity I can think?"
"Pity you can get your own consent to waste yourself like this. I'm
an old woman, and I know men better than most; I can see ability in
you. So I say, it's a pity you won't use yourself to better advantage.
Don't misunderstand me: this isn't the conventional act; I don't hold
with encouraging a fool in his folly. You're a fool, for all your
intelligence, and the only cure I can see for you is drastic
"Meaning the Sante, madame?"
"Quite so. I tell you frankly, when I'm finished lecturing you, off you
go to prison."
"If that's the case I don't see I stand to gain much by retailing the
history of my life. This seems to be your cue to ring for servants to
call the police."
A trace of anger shone in the woman's eyes. "You're right," she said
shortly; "I dare say Sidonie isn't asleep yet. I'll get her to
telephone while I keep an eye on you."
Bending over the desk, without removing her gaze from the adventurer,
his captor groped for, found, and pressed a call-button.
From some remote quarter of the house sounded the grumble of an
"Pity you're so brazen," she observed. "Just a little less side, and
you'd be a rather engaging person!"
Lanyard made no reply. In fact he wasn't listening.
Under the strain of that suspense, the iron control which had always
been his was breaking down--since now it was for another he was
concerned. And he wasted no strength trying to enforce it. The stress
of his anxiety was both undisguised and undisguisable. Nor did Madame
Omber overlook it.
"What's the trouble, eh? Is it that already you hear the cell door
clang in your ears?"
As she spoke, Lanyard left his chair with a movement in the execution
of which all his wits co-operated, with a spring as lithe and sure
and swift as an animal's, that carried him like a shot across the two
yards or so between them.
The slightest error in his reckoning would have finished him: for the
other had been watching for just such a move, and the revolver was
nearly level with Lanyard's head when he grasped it by the barrel,
turned that to the ceiling, imprisoned the woman's wrist with his
other hand, and in two movements had captured the weapon without
injuring its owner.
"Don't be alarmed," he said quietly. "I'm not going to do anything
more violent than to put this weapon out of commission."
Breaking it smartly, he shot a shower of cartridges to the door, and
tossed the now-useless weapon into a wastebasket beneath the desk.
"Hope I didn't hurt you," he added abstractedly--"but your pistol was
in my way!"
He took a stride toward the door, pulled up, and hung in hesitation,
frowning absently at the woman; who, without moving, laughed quietly
and watched him with a twinkle of malicious diversion.
He repaid this with a stare of thoughtful appraisal; from the first he
had recognized in her a character of uncommon tolerance and amiability.
"Pardon, madame, but----" he began abruptly--and checked in constrained
appreciation of his impudence.
"If that's permission to interrupt your reverie," Madame Omber remarked,
"I don't mind telling you, you're the most extraordinary burglar I ever
Footfalls became audible on the staircase--the hasty scuffling of
"Is that you, Sidonie?" madame called.
The voice of the maid replied: "Yes, madame--coming!"
"Well--don't, just yet--not till I call you."
"Very good, madame."
The woman returned complete attention to Lanyard.
"Now, monsieur-of-two-minds, what is it you wish to say to me?"
"Why did you do that?" the adventurer asked, with a jerk of his head
toward the hall.
"Tell Sidonie to wait instead of calling for help? Because--well,
because you interest me strangely. I've got a theory you're in a
desperate quandary and are about to throw yourself on my mercy."
"You are right," Lanyard admitted tersely.
"Ah! Now you do begin to grow interesting! Would you mind explaining
why you think I'll be merciful?"
"Because, madame, I've done you a great service, and feel I can count
upon your gratitude."
The Frenchwoman's eyebrows lifted at this. "Doubtless, monsieur knows
what he's talking about----"
"Listen, madame: I am in love with a young woman, an American, a
stranger and friendless in Paris. If anything happens to me
tonight, if I am arrested or assassinated----"
"Is that likely?"
"Quite likely, madame: I have enemies among the Apaches, and in my own
profession as well; and I have reason to believe that several of them
are in this neighbourhood tonight. I may possibly not escape their
attentions. In that event, this young lady of whom I speak will need
"And why must I interest myself in her fate, pray?"
"Because, madame, of this service I have done you ... Recently, in
London, you were robbed----"
The woman started and coloured with excitement: "You know something of
"Everything, madame: it was I who stole them."
"You? You are, then, that Lone Wolf?"
"I was, madame."
"Why the past tense?" the woman demanded, eyeing him with a portentous
"Because I am done with thieving."
She threw back her head and laughed, but without mirth: "A likely story,
monsieur! Have you reformed since I caught you here----?"
"Does it matter when? I take it that proof, visible, tangible proof of
my sincerity, more than a meaningless date, would be needed to convince
"No doubt of that, Monsieur the Lone Wolf!"
"Could you ask better proof than the restoration of your stolen
"Are you trying to bribe me to let you off with an offer to return my
"I'm afraid emergency reformation wouldn't persuade you----"
"You may well be afraid, monsieur!"
"But if I can prove I've already restored your jewels----?"
"But you have not."
"If madame will do me the favour to open her safe, she will find them
"Am I wrong in assuming that madame didn't return from England until
"But today, in fact----"
"And you haven't troubled to investigate your safe since returning?"
"It had not occurred to me----"
"Then why not test my statement before denying it?"
With an incredulous shrug Madame Omber terminated a puzzled scrutiny
of Lanyard's countenance, and turned to the safe.
"But to have done what you declare you have," she argued, "you must
have known the combination--since it appears you haven't broken this
The combination ran glibly off Lanyard's tongue. And at this, with
every evidence of excitement, at length beginning to hope if not to
believe, the woman set herself to open the safe. Within a minute she
had succeeded, the morocco-bound jewel-case was in her hand, and a
hasty examination had assured her its treasure was intact.
"But why----?" she stammered, pale with emotion--"why, monsieur, _why_?"
"Because I decided to leave off stealing for a livelihood."
"When did you bring these jewels here?"
"Within the week--four or five nights since----"
"And then--repented, eh?"
"I own it."
"But came here again tonight, to steal a second time what you had
"That's true, too."
"And I interrupted you----"
"Pardon, madame: not you, but my better self. I came to steal--I could
"Monsieur--you do not convince. I fail to fathom your motives, but----"
A sudden shock of heavy trampling feet in the reception-hall,
accompanied by a clash of excited voices, silenced her and brought
Lanyard instantly to the face-about.
Above that loud wrangle--of which neither had received the least
warning, so completely had their argument absorbed them--Sidonie's
accents were audible:
"Madame--madame!"--a cry of protest.
"What is it?" madame demanded of Lanyard.
He threw her the word "Police!" as he turned and flung himself into the
recess of the window.
But when he wrenched it open the voice of a picket on the lawn saluted
him in sharp warning; and when, involuntarily, he stepped out upon the
balcony, a flash of flame split the gloom below, a loud report rang in
the quiet of the park, and a bullet slapped viciously the stone facing
of the window.
With as little ceremony as though the bullet had lodged in himself,
Lanyard tumbled back into the room, tripped, and fell sprawling; while
to a tune of clattering boots two sergents de ville lumbered valiantly
into the library and pulled up to discover Madame Omber standing
calmly, safe and sound, beside her desk, and Lanyard picking himself
up from the floor by the open window.
Behind them Sidonie trotted, wringing her hands.
"Madame!" she bleated--"they wouldn't listen to me, madame--I couldn't
"All right, Sidonie. Go back to the hall. I'll call you when needed....
Messieurs, good morning!"
One of the sergents advanced with an uncertain salute and a superfluous
question: "Madame Omber----?" The other waited on the threshold,
barring the way.
Lanyard measured the two speculatively: the spokesman seemed a bit old
and fat, ripe for his pension, little apt to prove seriously effective
in a rough-and-tumble; but the other was young, sturdy, and
broad-chested, with the poise of an athlete, and carried in addition to
his sword a pistol naked in his hand, while his clear blue eyes, meeting
the adventurer's, lighted up with a glint of invitation.
For the present, however, Lanyard wasn't taking any. He met that
challenge with a look of utter stupidity, folded his arms, lounged
against the desk, and watched Madame Omber acknowledge, none too
cordially, the other sergent's query.
"I am Madame Omber--yes. What can I do for you?"
The sergent gaped. "Pardon!" he stammered, then laughed as one who
tardily appreciates a joke. "It is well we are arrived in time,
madame," he added--"though it would seem you have not had great trouble
with this miscreant. Where is the woman?"
He moved a pace toward Lanyard: hand-cuffs jingled in his grasp.
"But a moment!" madame interposed. "Woman? What woman?"
Pausing, the older sergent explained in a tone of surprise:
"But his accomplice, naturally! Such were our instructions--to proceed
at once to madame's hotel, come in quietly by the servants' entrance--
which would be open--and arrest a burglar with his female accomplice."
Again the stout sergent moved toward Lanyard; again Madame Omber
"But one moment more, if you please!"
Her eyes, dense with suspicion, questioned Lanyard; who, with a
significant nod toward the jewel-case still in her hands, gave her a
glance of dumb entreaty.
After brief hesitation, "It is a mistake," madame declared; "there is
no woman in this house, to my certain knowledge, who has no right to be
here... But you say you received a message? I sent none!"
The fat sergent shrugged. "That is not for me to dispute, madame. I
have only my orders to go by."
He glared sullenly at Lanyard; who returned a placid smile that
(despite such hope as he might derive from madame's irresolute manner)
masked a vast amount of trepidation. He felt tolerably sure Madame
Omber had not sent for police on prior knowledge of his presence in
the library. All this, then, would seem to indicate a new form of
attack on the part of the Pack. He had probably been followed and seen
to enter; or else the girl had been caught attempting to steal away and
the information wrung from her by _force majeure_.... Moreover, he
could hear two more pair of feet tramping through the salons.
Pending the arrival of these last, Madame Omber said nothing more.
And, unceremoniously enough, the newcomers shouldered into the
library--one pompous uniformed body, of otherwise undistinguished
appearance, promptly identified by the sergents de ville as monsieur
le commissaire of that quarter; the other, a puffy mediocrity, known
to Lanyard at least (if apparently to no one else) as Popinot.
At this confirmation of his darkest fears, the adventurer abandoned
hope of aid from Madame Omber and began quietly to reckon his chances
of escape through his own efforts.
But he was quite unarmed, and the odds were heavy: four against one,
all four no doubt under arms, and two at least--the sergents--men of
sound military training.
"Madame Omber?" enquired the commissaire, saluting that lady with
immense dignity. "One trusts that this intrusion may be pardoned, the
circumstances remembered. In an affair of this nature, involving this
repository of so historic treasures--"
"That is quite well understood, monsieur le commissaire," madame
replied distantly. "And this monsieur is, no doubt, your aide?"
"Pardon!" the official hastened to identify his companion: "Monsieur
Popinot, agent de la Surete, who lays these informations!"
With a profound obeisance to Madame Omber, Popinot strode dramatically
over to confront Lanyard and explore his features with his small, keen,
shifty eyes of a pig; a scrutiny which the adventurer suffered with
"It is he!" Popinot announced with a gesture. "Messieurs, I call upon
you to arrest this man, Michael Lanyard, alias 'The Lone Wolf.'"
He stepped back a pace, expanding his chest in vain effort to eclipse
his abdomen, and glanced triumphantly at his respectful audience.
"Accused," he added with intense relish, "of the murder of Inspector
Roddy of Scotland Yard at Troyon's, as well as of setting fire to that
"For this, Popinot," Lanyard interrupted in an undertone, "I shall some
day cut off your ears!" He turned to Madame Omber: "Accept, if you
please, madame, my sincere regrets ... but this charge happens to be
one of which I am altogether innocent."
Instantly, from lounging against the desk, Lanyard straightened up: and
the heavy humidor of brass and mahogany, on which his right hand had
been resting, seemed fairly to leap from its place as, with a sweep of
his arm, he sent it spinning point-blank at the younger sergent.
Before that one, wholly unprepared, could more than gasp, the humidor
caught him a blow like a kick just below the breastbone. He reeled, the
breath left him in one great gust, he sat down abruptly--blue eyes wide
with a look of aggrieved surprise--clapped both hands to his middle,
blinked, turned pale, and keeled over on his side.
But Lanyard hadn't waited to note results. He was busy. The fat sergent
had leaped snarling upon his arm, and was struggling to hold it still
long enough to snap a hand-cuff round the wrist; while the commissaire
had started forward with a bellow of rage and two hands extended and
itching for the adventurer's throat.
The first received a half-arm jab on the point of his chin that jarred
his entire system, and without in the least understanding how it
happened, found himself whirled around and laid prostrate in the
commissaire's path. The latter tripped, fell, and planted two hard
knees, with the bulk of his weight atop them, on the apex of the
At the same time Lanyard, leaping toward the doorway, noticed Popinot
tugging at something in his hip-pocket.
Followed a vivid flash, then complete darkness: with a well-aimed
kick--an elementary movement of la savate--Lanyard had dislocated the
switch of the electric lights, knocking its porcelain box from the
wall, breaking the connection, and creating a short-circuit which
extinguished every light in that part of the house.
With his way thus apparently cleared, the police in confusion, darkness
aiding him, Lanyard plunged on; but in mid-stride, as he crossed the
threshold, his ankle was caught by the still prostrate younger sergent
and jerked from under him.
His momentum threw him with a crash--and may have spared him a worse
mishap; for in the same breath he heard the report of a pistol and knew
that Popinot had fired at his fugitive shadow.
As he brought one heel down with crushing force on the sergent's wrist,
freeing his foot, he was dimly conscious of the voice of the commissaire
shouting frantic prayers to cease firing. Then the pain-maddened sergent
crawled to his knees, lunged blindly forward, knocked the adventurer
back in the act of rising, and fell on top of him.
Hampered by two hundred pounds of fighting Frenchman, Lanyard felt his
cause was lost, yet battled on--and would while breath was in him.
With a heave, a twist and a squirm, he slipped from under, and swinging
a fist at random barked his knuckles against the mouth of the sergent.
Momentarily that one relaxed his hold, and Lanyard struggled to his
knees, only to go down as the indomitable Frenchman grappled yet a
Now, however, as they fell, Lanyard was on top: and shifting both hands
to his antagonist's left forearm, he wrenched it up and around. There
was a cry of pain, and he jumped clear of one no longer to be reckoned
Nevertheless, as he had feared, the delay had proved ruinous. He had
only found his feet when an unidentified person hurled himself bodily
through the gloom and wrapped his arms round Lanyard's thighs. And as
both went down, two others piled up on top....
For the next minute or two, Lanyard fought blindly, madly, viciously,
striking and kicking at random. For all that--even with one sergent
hors de combat--they were three to one; and though with the ferocity of
sheer desperation he shook them all off, at one time, and gained a few
yards more, it was only again to be overcome and borne down, crushed
beneath the weight of three.
His wind was going, his strength was leaving him. He mustered up every
ounce of energy, all his wit and courage, for one last effort: fought
like a cat, tooth and nail; toiled once more to his knees, with two
clinging to him like wolves to the flanks of a stag; shook one off,
regained his feet, swayed; and in one final gust of ferocity dashed
both fists repeatedly into the face of him who still clung to him.
That one was Popinot; he knew instinctively that this was so; and a
grim joy filled him as he felt the man's clutches relax and fall away,
and guessed how brutal was the damage he had done that fat, evil face.
At length free, he made off, running, stumbling, reeling: gained the
hall; flung open the door; and heedless of the picket who had fired on
him from below the window, dashed down the steps and away....
Three shots sped him through that intricate tangle of night-bound park.
But all went wide; the pursuit--what little there was--blundered off
at hap-hazard and lost itself, as well.
He came to the wall, crept along in shelter of its shadow until he
found a tree with a low-swung branch that jutted out over the street,
climbed this, edged out over the wall, and dropped to the sidewalk.
A shout from the quarter of the carriage gates greeted his appearance.
He turned and ran again. Flying footsteps for a time pursued him; and
once, with a sinking heart, he heard the rumble of a motor. But he
recovered quickly, regained his wind, and ran well, with long, steady,
ground-consuming strides; and he doubled, turned and twisted in a
manner to wake the envy of the most subtle fox.
In time he felt warranted in slowing down to a rapid walk.
Weariness was now a heavy burden upon him, and his spirit numb with
desperate need of rest; but his pace did not flag, nor his purpose
falter from its goal.
It was a long walk if a direct one to which he set himself as soon as
confident the pursuit had failed once more. He plodded on, without
faltering, to the one place where he might feel sure of finding his
beloved, if she lived and were free. He knew that she had not
forgotten, and in his heart he knew that she would never again of her
own will fail him....
Nor had she: when--weary and spent from that heartbreaking climb up the
merciless acclivity of the Butte Montmartre--he staggered rather than
walked past the sleepy verger and found his way through the crowding
shadows to the softly luminous heart of the basilica of the Sacre-Cour,
he found her there, kneeling, her head bowed upon hands resting on the
back of the chair before her: a slight and timid figure, lost and lonely
in the long ranks of empty chairs that filled the nave.
Slowly, almost fearfully, he went to her, and silently he slipped into
the chair by her side.
She knew, without looking up, that it was he....
After a little her hand stole out, closed round his fingers, and drew
him forward with a gentle, insistent pressure. He knelt then with her,
hand in hand--filled with the wonder of it, that he to whom religion
had been nothing should have been brought to this by a woman's hand.
He knelt for a long time, for many minutes, profoundly intrigued, his
sombre gaze questioning the golden shadows and ancient mystery of the
distant choir and shining altar: and there was no question in his heart
but that, whatever should ensue of this, the unquiet spirit of the Lone
Wolf was forevermore at rest.
WINGS OF THE MORNING
About half-past six Lanyard left the dressing-room assigned him in the
barracks at Port Aviation and, waddling quaintly in the heavy
wind-resisting garments supplied him at the instance of Ducroy, made
his way between two hangars toward the practice field.
Now the eastern skies were pulsing with fitful promise of the dawn; but
within the vast enclosure of the aerodrome the gloom of night lingered
so stubbornly that two huge search-lights had been pressed into the
service of those engaged in tuning up the motor of the Parrott biplane.
In the intense, white, concentrated glare--that rippled oddly upon the
wrinkled, oily garments of the dozen or so mechanics busy about the
machine--the under sides of those wide, motionless planes hung against
the dark with an effect of impermanence: as though they were already
afloat and needed but a breath to send them winging skyward....
To one side a number of young and keen-faced Frenchmen, officers of the
corps, were lounging and watching the preparations with alert and
To the other, all the majesty of Mars was incarnate in the person of
Monsieur Ducroy, posing valiantly in fur-lined coat and shining top-hat
while he chatted with an officer whose trim, athletic figure was well
set off by his aviating uniform.
As Lanyard drew near, this last brought his heels together smartly,
saluted the Minister of War, and strode off toward the flying-machine.
"Captain Vauquelin informs me he will be ready to start in five
minutes, monsieur," Ducroy announced. "You are in good time."
"And mademoiselle?" the adventurer asked, peering
Almost immediately the girl came forward from the shadows, with a smile
apologetic for the strangeness of her attire.
She had donned, over her street dress, an ample leather garment which
enveloped her completely, buttoning tight at throat and wrists and
ankles. Her small hat had been replaced by a leather helmet which left
only her eyes, nose, mouth and chin exposed, and even these were soon
to be hidden by a heavy veil for protection against spattering oil.
"Mademoiselle is not nervous?" Ducroy enquired politely.
Lucy smiled brightly.
"I? Why should I be, monsieur?"
"I trust mademoiselle will permit me to commend her courage. But
pardon! I have one last word for the ear of Captain Vauquelin."
Lifting his hat, the Frenchman joined the group near the machine.
Lanyard stared unaffectedly at the girl, unable to disguise his wonder
at the high spirits advertised by her rekindled colour and brilliant
"Well?" she demanded gaily. "Don't tell me I don't look like a fright!
I know I do!"
"I daren't tell you how you look to me," Lanyard replied soberly. "But
I will say this, that for sheer, down right pluck, you--"
"Thank you, monsieur! And you?"
He glanced with a deprecatory smile at the flimsy-looking contrivance
to which they were presently to entrust their lives.
"Somehow," said he doubtfully, "I don't feel in the least upset or
exhilarated. It seems little out of the average run of life--all in the
"I think," she said, judgmatical, "that you're very like the other lone
wolf, the fictitious one--Lupin, you know--a bit of a blagueur. If
you're not nervous, why keep glancing over there?--as if you were
rather expecting somebody--as if you wouldn't be surprised to see
Popinot or De Morbihan pop out of the ground--or Ekstrom!"
"Hum!" he said gravely. "I don't mind telling you now, that's precisely
what I am afraid of."
"Nonsense!" the girl cried in open contempt. "What could they do?"
"Please don't ask me," Lanyard begged seriously. "I might try to tell
"But don't worry, my dear!" Fugitively her hand touched his. "We're
It was true enough: Ducroy was moving impressively back toward them.
"All is prepared," he announced in sonorous accents.
A bit sobered, in silence they approached the machine.
Vauquelin kept himself aloof while Lanyard and a young officer helped
the girl to the seat to the right of the pilot, and strapped her in.
When Lanyard had been similarly secured in the place on the left, the
two sat, imprisoned, some six feet above the ground.
Lanyard found his perch comfortable enough. A broad band of webbing
furnished support for his back; another crossed his chest by way of
provision against forward pitching; there were rests for his feet, and
for his hands cloth-wound grips fixed to struts on either side.
He smiled at Lucy across the empty seat, and was surprised at the
clearness with which her answering smile was visible. But he wasn't to
see it again for a long and weary time; almost immediately she began to
adjust her veil.
The morning had grown much lighter within the last few minutes.
A long wait ensued, during which the swarm of mechanics, assistants and
military aviators buzzed round their feet like bees.
The sky was now pale to the western horizon. A fleet of heavy clouds
was drifting off into the south, leaving in their wake thin veils of
mist that promised soon to disappear before the rays of the sun. The
air seemed tolerably clear and not unseasonably cold.
The light grew stronger still: features of distant objects defined
themselves; traces of colour warmed the winter landscape.
At length their pilot, wearing his wind-mask, appeared and began to
climb to his perch. With a cool nod for Lanyard and a civil bow to his
woman passenger, he settled himself, adjusted several levers, and
flirted a gay hand to his brother-officers.
There was a warning cry. The crowd dropped back rapidly to either side.
Ducroy lifted his hat in parting salute, cried "Bon voyage!" and
scuttled clear like a startled rooster before a motor-car. And the
motor and propeller broke loose with a mighty roar comparable only, in
Lanyard's fancy, to the chant of ten thousand rivetting locusts.
He felt momentarily as if his ear-drums must burst with the incessant
and tremendous concussions registered upon them; but presently this
sensation passed, leaving him with that of permanent deafness.
Before he could recover and regain control of his startled wits the
aviator had thrown down a lever, and the great fabric was in motion.
It swept down the field like a frightened swan; and the wheels of its
chassis, registering every infinitesimal irregularity in the surface of
the ground, magnified them all a hundred-fold. It was like riding in a
tumbril driven at top-speed over the Giant's Causeway. Lanyard was
shaken violently to the very marrow of his bones; he believed that even
his eyes must be rattling in their sockets....
Then the Parrott began to ascend. Singularly enough, this change was
marked, at first, by no more than slight lessening of the vibration:
still the machine seemed to be dashing over a cobbled thoroughfare at
breakneck speed; and Lanyard found it difficult to appreciate that they
were afloat, even when he looked down and discovered a hundred feet of
space between himself and the practice-field.
In another breath they were soaring over housetops.
Momentarily, now, the shocks became less frequent. And presently they
ceased almost altogether, to be repeated only at rare intervals, when
the drift of air opposing the planes developed irregularities in its
velocity. There succeeded, in contrast, the sublimest peace; even the
roaring of the propeller dwindled to a sustained drone; the biplane
seemed to float without an effort upon a vast, still sea, flawed only
occasionally by inconsiderable ripples.
Still rising, they surprised the earliest rays of the sun; and in their
virgin light the aeroplane was transformed into a thing of gossamer gold.
Continually the air buffeted their faces like a flood of icy water.
Below, the scroll of the world unrolled like some vast and intricately
illuminated missal, or like some strange mosaic, marvellously minute....
Lanyard could see the dial of the compass, fixed to a strut on the
pilot's left. By that telltale their course lay nearly due northeast.
Already the weltering roofs of Paris were in sight, to the right,
the Eiffel Tower spearing up like a fairy pillar of gold lace-work,
the Seine looping the cluttered acres like a sleek brown serpent, the
Sacre-Coeur a dream-palace of opalescent walls.
Versailles broke the horizon to port and slipped astern. Paris closed
up, telescoped its panorama, became a mere blur, a smoky smudge. But
it was long before the distance eclipsed that admonitory finger of
Vauquelin manipulating the levers, the plane tilted its nose and swam
higher and yet higher. The song of the motor dropped an octave to a
richer tone. The speed was sensibly increased.
Lanyard contemplated with untempered wonder the fact of his equanimity:
there seemed nothing at all strange in this extraordinary experience;
he was by no means excited, remained merely if deeply interested. And
he could detect in his physical sensations no trace of that qualmish
dread he always experienced in high places: the sense he had of
security, of solidity, was and ever remained wholly unaccountable in
Of a sudden, surprised by a touch on his arm, he turned to see through
the mica windows of the wind-mask the eyes of the aviator informed with
importunate doubt. Infinitely mystified and so an easy prey to
sickening fear lest something were going wrong with the machine,
Lanyard shook his head to indicate lack of comprehension. With an
impatient gesture the aviator pointed downward. Appreciating the fact
that speech was impossible, Lanyard clutched the struts and bent
forward. But the pace was now so fast and their elevation so great that
the landscape swimming beneath his vision was no more than a brownish
plain fugitively maculated with blots of contrasting colour.
He looked up blankly, but only to be treated to the same gesture.
Piqued, he concentrated attention more closely upon the flat, streaming
landscape. And suddenly he recognized something oddly familiar in an
approaching bend of the Seine.
"St.-Germain-en-Laye!" he exclaimed with a start of alarm.
This was the danger point....
"And over there," he reminded himself--"to the left--that wide field
with a queer white thing in the middle that looks like a winged
grub--that must be De Morbiban's aerodrome and his Valkyr monoplane!
Are they bringing it out? Is that what Vauquelin means? And if so--what
of it? I don't see ..."
Suddenly doubt and wonder chilled the adventurer.
Temporarily Vauquelin returned entire attention to the management of
the biplane. The wind was now blowing more fitfully, creating
pockets--those holes in the air so dreaded by cloud pilots--and in
quest of more constant resistance the aviator was swinging his craft in
a wide northerly curve, climbing ever higher and more high.
The earth soon lost all semblance of design; even the twisted silver
wire of the Seine vanished, far over to the left; remained only the
effect of firm suspension in that high blue vault, of a continuous low
of iced water in the face, together with the tuneless chanting of the
After some forty minutes of this--it may have been an hour, for time
was then an incalculable thing--Lanyard, in a mood of abnormal
sensitiveness, began to divine additional disquiet in the mind of the
aviator, and stared until he caught his eye.
"What is it?" he screamed in futile effort to lift his voice above the
But the Frenchman understood, and responded with a sweep of his arm
toward the horizon ahead. And seeing nothing but cloud in the quarter
indicated, Lanyard grasped the nature of a phenomenon which, from the
first, had been vaguely troubling him. The reason why he had been able
to perceive no real rim to the world was that the earth was all a-steam
from the recent heavy rains; all the more remote distances were veiled
with rising vapour. And now they were approaching the coast, to which,
it seemed, the mists clung closest; for all the world before them slept
beneath a blanket of dull grey.
Nor was it difficult now to understand why the aviator was ill at ease
facing the prospect of navigating a Channel fog.
Several minutes later, he startled Lanyard with another peremptory
touch on his arm followed by a significant glance over his shoulder.
Lanyard turned quickly.
Behind them, at a distance which he calculated roughly as two miles,
the silhouette of a monoplane hung against the brilliant firmament,
resembling, with its single spread of wings, more a solitary, soaring
gull than any man-directed mechanism.
Only an infrequent and almost imperceptible shifting of the wings
proved that it was moving.
He watched it for several seconds, in deepening perplexity and anxiety,
finding it impossible to guess whether it were gaining or losing in
that long chase, or who might be its pilot.
Yet he had little doubt but that the pursuing machine had risen from
the aerodrome of Count Remy de Morbihan at St.-Germain-en-Laye; that it
was nothing less, in fact, than De Morbihan's Valkyr, reputed the
fastest monoplane in Europe and winner of a dozen International events;
and that it was guided, if not by De Morbihan himself, by one of the
creatures of the Pack--quite possibly, even more probably, by Ekstrom!
But--assuming all this--what evil could such pursuit portend? In what
conceivable manner could the Pack reckon to further its ends by
commissioning the monoplane to overtake or distance the Parrott? They
could not hinder the escape of Lanyard and Lucy Shannon to England in
any way, by any means reasonably to be imagined.
Was this simply one more move to keep the pair under espionage? But
that might more readily have been accomplished by telegraphing or
telephoning the Pack's confreres, Wertheimer's associates in England!
Lanyard gave it up, admitting his inability to trump up any sane excuse
for such conduct; but the riddle continued to fret his mind without
From the first, from that moment when Lucy's disappearance had required
postponement of this flight, he had feared trouble; it hadn't seemed
reasonable to hope that the Parrott could be held in waiting on his
convenience for many days without the secret leaking out; but it was
trouble to develop before the start from Port Aviation that he had
anticipated. The possibility that the Pack would be able to work any
mischief to him, after that, had never entered his calculations. Even
now he found it difficult to give it serious consideration.
Again he glanced back. Now, in his judgment, the monoplane loomed
larger than before against the glowing sky, indicating that it was
Beneath his breath Lanyard swore from a brimming heart.
The Parrott was capable of a speed of eighty miles an hour; and
unquestionably Vauquelin was wheedling every ounce of power out of its
willing motor. Since drawing Lanyard's attention to the pursuer he had
brought about appreciable acceleration.
But would even that pace serve to hold the Valkyr if not to distance it?
His next backward look reckoned the monoplane no nearer.
And another thirty minutes or go elapsed without the relative positions
of the two flying machines undergoing any perceptible change.
In the course of this period the Parrott rose to an altitude, indicated
by the barograph at Lanyard's elbow, of more than half a mile. Below,
the Channel fog spread itself out like a sea of milk, slowly churning.
Staring down in fascination, Lanyard told himself gravely: "Blue water
below that, my friend!"
It seemed difficult to credit the fact that they had made the flight
from Paris in so short a time.
By his reckoning--a very rough one--the Parrott was then somewhere off
Dieppe: it ought to pick up England, in such case, not far from
Brighton. If only one could see...!
By bending forward a little and staring past the aviator Lanyard could
catch a glimpse of Lucy Shannon.
Though all her beauty and grace of person were lost in the clumsy
swaddling of her makeshift costume, she seemed to be comfortable
enough; and the rushing air, keen with the chill of that great
altitude, moulded her wind-veil precisely to the exquisite contours of
her face and stung her firm cheeks until they glowed with a rare fire
that even that thick dark mesh could not wholly quench.
The sun crept above the floor of mist, played upon it with iridescent
rays, shot it through and through with a warm, pulsating glow like that
of a fire opal, and suddenly turned it to a tumbled sea of gold which,
apparently boundless, baffled every effort to surmise their position,
whether they were above land or sea.
None the less Lanyard's rough and rapid calculations persuaded him that
they were then about Mid-Channel.
He had no more than arrived at this conclusion when a sharp, startled
movement, that rocked the planes, drew his attention to the man at
Glancing in alarm at the aviator's face, he saw it as white as
marble--what little of it was visible beyond and beneath the wind-mask.
Vauquelin was holding out an arm, and staring at it incredulously;
Lanyard's gaze was drawn to the same spot--a ragged perforation in the
sleeve of the pilot's leather surtout, just above the elbow.
"What is it?" he enquired stupidly, again forgetting that he could not
The eyes of the aviator, lifting from the perforation to meet Lanyard's
stare, were clouded with consternation.
Then Vauquelin turned quickly and looked back. Simultaneously he ducked
his head and something slipped whining past Lanyard's cheek, touching
his flesh with a touch more chill than that of the icy air itself.
"Damnation!" he shrieked, almost hysterically. "That madman in the
Valkyr is firing at us!"
THE FLYING DEATH
Steadying himself with a splendid display of self-control and sheer
courage, Captain Vauquelin concentrated upon the management of the
The drone of its motor thickened again, its speed became greater, and
the machine began to rise still higher, tracing a long, graceful curve.
Lanyard glanced apprehensively toward the girl, but apparently she
remained unconscious of anything out of the ordinary. Her face was
still turned forward, and still the wind-veil trembled against her
Thanks to the racket of the motor, no audible reports had accompanied
the sharp-shooting of the man in the monoplane; while Lanyard's cry of
horror and dismay had been audible to himself exclusively. Hearing
nothing, Lucy suspected nothing.
Again Lanyard looked back.
Now the Valkyr seemed to have crept up to within the quarter of a mile
of the biplane, and was boring on at a tremendous pace, its single
spread of wings on an approximate level with that of the lower plane of
But this last was rising steadily....
The driver's seat of the Valkyr held a muffled, burly figure that might
be anybody--De Morbihan, Ekstrom, or any other homicidal maniac. At the
distance its actions were as illegible as their results were
unquestionable: Lanyard saw a little tongue of flame lick out from a
point close beside the head of the figure--he couldn't distinguish the
firearm itself--and, like Vauquelin, quite without premeditation, he
At the same time there sounded a harsh, ripping noise immediately above
his head; and he found himself staring up at a long ragged tear in the
canvas, caused by the bullet striking it aslant.
"What's to be done?" he screamed passionately at Vauquelin.
The aviator shook his head impatiently; and they continued to ascend;
already the web of gold that cloaked earth and sea seemed thrice as far
beneath their feet as it had when Vauquelin made the appalling
discovery of his bullet-punctured sleeve.
But the monoplane was doggedly following suit; as the Parrott rose, so
did the Valkyr, if a trace more slowly and less flexibly.
Lanyard had read somewhere, or heard it said, that monoplanes were poor
machines for climbing. He told himself that, if this were true,
Vauquelin knew his business; and from this reflection drew what comfort
And he was glad, very glad of the dark wind-veil that shrouded his face,
which he believed to be nothing less than a mask of panic terror.
He was, in fact, quite rigid with fright and horror. It were idle to
argue that only unlikely chance would wing one of the bullets from the
Valkyr to a vital point: there was the torn canvas overhead, there was
that hole through Vauquelin's sleeve....
And then the barograph on the strut beside Lanyard disappeared as if by
magic. He was aware of a slight jar; the framework of the biplane
quivered as from a heavy blow; something that resembled a handful of
black crumbs sprayed out into the air ahead and vanished: and where the
instrument had been, nothing remained but an iron clamp gripping the
And even as any one of these bullets might have proved fatal, their
first successor might disable the aviator if it did not slay him
outright; in either case, the inevitable result would be death
following a fall from a height, as recorded on the barograph dial an
instant before its destruction, of more than four thousand feet.
They were still climbing....
Now the pursuer was losing some of the advantage of his superior speed;
the Parrott was perceptibly higher; the Valkyr must needs mount in a
more sweeping curve.
None the less, Lanyard, peering down, saw still another tongue of flame
spit out at him; and two bullet-holes appeared in the port-side wings
of the biplane, one in the lower, one in the upper spread of canvas.
White-lipped and trembling, the adventurer began to work at the
fastenings of his surtout. After a moment he plucked off one of his
gloves and cast it impatiently from him. A-sprawl, it sailed down the
wind like a wounded sparrow. He caught Vauquelin's eye upon him, quick
with a curiosity which changed to a sudden gleam of comprehension as
Lanyard, thrusting his hand under the leather coat, groped for his
pocket and produced an automatic pistol which Ducroy had pressed upon
They were now perhaps a hundred feet higher than the Valkyr, which was
soaring a quarter of a mile off to starboard. Under the guidance of the
Frenchman, the Parrott swooped round in a narrow circle until it hung
almost immediately above the other--a manoeuvre requiring, first and
last, something more than five minutes to effect.
Meanwhile, Lanyard rebuttoned his surtout and clutched the pistol,
trying hard not to think. But already his imagination was sick with
the thought of what would ensue when the time came for him to carry
out his purpose.
Vauquelin touched his arm with urgent pressure; but Lanyard only shook
his head, gulped, and without looking surrendered the weapon to the
Bearing heavily against the chest-band, he commanded the broad white
spread of the Valkyr's back and wings. Invisible beneath these hung
the motor and driver's seat.
An instant more, and he was aware that Vauquelin was leaning forward
and looking down.
Aiming with what deliberation was possible, the aviator emptied the
clip of its eight cartridges in less than a minute.
The vicious reports rang out against the drum of the motor like the
cracking of a blacksnake-whip.
Momentarily, Lanyard doubted if any one bullet had taken effect. He
could not, with his swimming vision, detect sign of damage in the
canvas of the Valkyr.
He saw the empty automatic slip from Vauquelin'p numb and nerveless
fingers. It vanished....
A frightful fascination kept his gaze constant to the soaring Valkyr.
Beyond it, down, deep down a mile of emptiness, was that golden floor
of tumbled cloud, waiting ...
He saw the monoplane check abruptly in its strong onward surge--as if
it had run, full-tilt, head-on, against an invisible obstacle--and for
what seemed a round minute it hung so, veering and wobbling, nuzzling
the wind. Then like a sounding whale it turned and dived headlong,
propeller spinning like a top.
Down through the eighth of a mile of space it plunged plummet-like;
then, perhaps caught in a flaw of wind, it turned sideways and began to
revolve, at first slowly, but with increasing rapidity in its fatally
Toward the beginning of its revolutions, something was thrown off,
something small, dark and sprawling ... like that glove which Lanyard
had discarded. But this object dropped with a speed even greater than
that of the Valkyr, in a brace of seconds had diminished to the
proportions of a gnat, in another was engulfed in that vast sea of
Even so the monoplane itself, scarcely less precipitate, spun down
through the abyss and plunged to oblivion in the fog-rack....
And Lanyard was still hanging against the chest-band, limp and spent
and trying not to vomit, when, of a sudden and without any warning
whatever, the stentorian chant of the motor ceased and was blotted up
by that immense silence, by the terrible silence of those vast
solitudes of the upper air, where never a sound is heard save the
voices of the elements at war among themselves: a silence that rang
with an accent as dreadful as the crack of Doom in the ears of those
three suspended there, in the heart of that unimaginably pellucid and
immaculate radiance, in the vast hollow of the heavens, midway between
the deep blue of the eternal dome and the rose and golden welter of the
fog--that fog which, cloaking earth and sea, hid as well every vestige
of the tragedy they had wrought, every sign of the murder that they had
done that they themselves might not be murdered and cast down to
And, its propeller no longer gripping the air, the aeroplane drifted on
at ever-lessening speed, until it had no way whatever and rested
without motion of any sort; as it might have been in the cup of some
mighty and invisible hand, held up to that stark and merciless light,
under the passionless eye of the Infinite, to await a Judgment....
Then, with a little shudder of hesitation, the planes dipped, inclined
slightly earthwards, and began slowly and as if reluctantly to slip
down the long and empty channels of the air.
At this, rousing, Lanyard became aware of his own voice yammering
wildly at Vauquelin:
"Good God, man! Why did you do that?"
Vauquelin answered only with a pale grimace and a barely perceptible
Momentarily gathering momentum, the biplane sped downward with a
resistless rush, with the speed of a great wind--a speed so great that
when Lanyard again attempted speech, the breath was whipped from his
lips and he could utter no sound.
Thus from that awful height, from the still heart of that immeasurable
void, they swept down and ever down, in a long series of sickening
swoops, broken only by negligible pauses. And though they approached it
on a long slant, the floor of vapour rose to meet them like a mighty
rushing wave: in a trice the biplane was hovering instantaneously
before plunging on down into that cold, grey world of fog.
In that moment of hesitation, while still the adventurer gasped for
breath and pawed at his streaming eyes with an aching hand, pierced
through and through with cold, the fog showed itself as something less
substantial than it had seemed; blurs of colour glowed through its
folds of gauze, and with these the rounded summit of a brownish, knoll.
Then they plunged on, down out of the bleak, bright sunshine into cool
twilight depths of clinging vapours; and the good green earth lifted
its warm bosom to receive them.
Tilting its nose a trifle, fluttering as though undecided, the Parrott
settled gracefully, with scarcely a Jar, upon a wide sweep of untilled
land covered with short coarse grass.
For some time the three remained in their perches like petrified things,
quite moveless and--with the possible exception of the aviator--hardly
But presently Lanyard became aware that he was regularly filling his
lungs with air sweet, damp, wholesome, and by comparison warm, and that
the blood was tingling painfully in his half-frozen hands and feet.
He sighed as one waking from a strange dream.
At the same time the aviator bestirred himself, and began a bit stiffly
to climb down.
Feeling the earth beneath his feet, he took a step or two away from the
machine, reeling and stumbling like a drunken man, then turned back.
"Come, my friend!" he urged Lanyard in a voice of strangely normal
intonation--"look alive--if you're able--and lend me a hand with
mademoiselle. I'm afraid she has fainted."
The girl was reclining inertly in the bands of webbing, her eyes closed,
her lips ajar, her limbs slackened.
"Small blame to her!" Lanyard commented, fumbling clumsily with the
chest-band. "That dive was enough to drive a body mad!"
"But I had to do it!" the aviator protested earnestly. "I dared not
remain longer up there. I have never before been afraid in the air, but
after _that_ I was terribly afraid. I could feel myself going--taking
leave of my senses--and I knew I must act if we were not to follow that
other... God! what a death!"
He paused, shuddered, and drew the back of his hand across his eyes
before continuing: "So I cut off the ignition and volplaned. Here--my
hand. So-o! All right, eh?"
"Oh, I'm all right," Lanyard insisted confidently.
But his confidence was belied by a look of daze; for the earth was
billowing and reeling round him as though bewitched; and before he knew
what had happened he sat down hard and stared foolishly up at the aviator.
"Here!" said the latter courteously, his wind-mask hiding a smile--"my
hand again, monsieur. You've endured more than you know. And now for
But when they approached the girl, she surprised both by shivering,
sitting up, and obviously pulling herself together.
"You feel better now, mademoiselle?" Vauquelin enquired, hastening to
loosen her fastenings.
"I'm better--yes, thank you," she admitted in a small, broken
voice--"but not yet quite myself."
She gave a hand to the aviator, the other to Lanyard, and as they
helped her to the ground, Lanyard, warned by his experience, stood by
with a ready arm.
She needed that support, and for a few minutes didn't seem even
conscious of it. Then gently disengaging, she moved a foot or two away.
"Where are we--do you know?"
"On the South Downs, somewhere?" Lanyard suggested, consulting
"That is probable," this last affirmed--"at all events, judging from
the course I steered. Somewhere well in from the coast, at a venture;
I don't hear the sea."
"Near Lewes, perhaps?"
"I have no reason to doubt that."
A constrained pause ensued. The girl looked from the aviator to Lanyard,
then turned away from both and, trembling with fatigue and enforcing
self-control by clenching her hands, stared aimlessly off into the mist.
Painfully, Lanyard set himself to consider their position.
The Parrott had come to rest in what seemed to be a wide, shallow,
saucer-like depression, whose irregular bounds were cloaked in fog. In
this space no living thing stirred save themselves; and the waste was
crossed by not so much as a sheep track. In brief, they were lost.
There might be a road running past the saucer ten yards from its brim
in any quarter. There might not. Possibly there was a town or village
immediately adjacent. Quite as possibly the Downs billowed away for
desolate miles on either hand.
"Well--what do we do now?" the girl demanded suddenly, in a nervous
voice, sharp and jarring.
"Oh, we'll find a way out of this somehow," Vauquelin asserted
confidently. "England isn't big enough for anybody to remain lost in
it--not for long, at all events. I'm sorry only on Miss Shannon's
"We'll manage, somehow," Lanyard affirmed stoutly.
The aviator smiled curiously. "To begin with," he advanced, "I daresay
we might as well get rid of these awkward costumes. They'll hamper
In spite of his fatigue Lanyard was so struck by the circumstances that
he couldn't help remarking it as he tore off his wind-veil.
"Your English is remarkably good, Captain Vauquelin," he observed.
The other laughed shortly.
"Why not?" said he, removing his mask.
Lanyard looked up into his face, stared, and fell back a pace.
"Wertheimer!" he gasped.
The Englishman smiled cheerfully in response to Lanyard's cry of
"In effect," he observed, stripping off his gauntlets, "you're right,
Mr. Lanyard. 'Wertheimer' isn't my name, but it is so closely
identified with my--ah--insinuative personality as to warrant the
misapprehension. I shan't demand an apology so long as you permit me to
preserve an incognito which may yet prove somewhat useful."
"Incognito!" Lanyard stammered, utterly discountenanced. "Useful!"
"You have my meaning exactly; although my work in Paris is now ended,
there's no saying when it may not be convenient to be able to go back
without establishing a new identity."
Before Lanyard replied to this the look of wonder in his eyes had
yielded to one of understanding.
"Scotland Yard, eh?" he queried curtly.
Wertheimer bowed. "Special agent," he added.
"I might have guessed, if I'd had the wit of a goose!" Lanyard affirmed
bitterly. "But I must admit..."
"Yes," the Englishman assented pleasantly; "I did pull your leg--didn't
I? But not more than our other friends. Of course, it's taken some
time: I had to establish myself firmly as a shining light of the swell
mob over here before De Morbihan would take me to his hospitable bosom."
"I presume I'm to consider myself under arrest?"
With a laugh, the Englishman shook his head vigorously.
"No, thank you!" he declared. "I've had too convincing proof of your
distaste for interference in your affairs. You fight too sincerely,
Mr. Lanyard--and I'm a tired sleuth this very morning as ever was! I
would need a week's rest to fit me for the job of taking you into
custody--a week and some able-bodied assistance!... But," he amended
with graver countenance, "I will say this: if you're in England a week
hence, I'll be tempted to undertake the job on general principles. I
don't in the least question the sincerity of your intention to behave
yourself hereafter; but as a servant of the King, it's my duty to
advise you that England would prefer you to start life anew--as they
say--in another country. Several steamers sail for the States before
the end of the week: further details I leave entirely to your
discretion. But go you must," he concluded firmly.
"I understand..." said Lanyard; and would have said more, but couldn't.
There was something suspiciously like a mist before his eyes.
Avoiding the faces of his sweetheart and the Englishman, he turned
aside, put forth a hand blindly to a wing of the biplane to steady
himself, and stood with head bowed and limbs trembling.
Moving quietly to his side, the girl took his other hand and held it
Presently Lanyard shook himself impatiently and lifted his head again.
"Sorry," he said, apologetic--"but your generosity--when I looked for
nothing better than arrest--was a bit too much for my nerves!"
"Nonsense!" the Englishman commented with brusque good-humour. "We're
all upset. A drop of brandy will do us no end of good."
Unbuttoning his leather surtout, he produced a flask from an inner
pocket, filled its metal cup, and offered it to the girl.
"You first, if you please, Miss Shannon. No--I insist. You positively
She allowed herself to be persuaded, drank, coughed, gasped, and
returned the cup, which Wertheimer promptly refilled and passed to
The raw spirits stung like fire, but proved an instant aid to the badly
jangled nerves of the adventurer. In another moment he was much more
Drinking in turn, Wertheimer put away the flask. "That's better!" he
commented. "Now I'll be able to cut along with this blessed machine
without fretting over the fate of Ekstrom. But till now I haven't been
able to forget----"
He paused and drew a hand across his eyes.
"It was, then, Ekstrom--you think?" Lanyard demanded.
"Unquestionably! De Morbihan had learned--I know--of your bargain with
Ducroy; and I know, too, that he and Ekstrom spent each morning in the
hangars at St. Germain, after your sensational evasion. It never
entered my head, of course, that they had any such insane scheme
brewing as that--else I would never have so giddily arranged with
Ducroy--through the Surete, you understand--to take Vauquelin's
place.... Besides, who else could it have been? Not De Morbihan, for
he's crippled for life, thanks to that affair in the Bois; not
Popinot, who was on his way to the Sante, last I saw of him; and never
Bannon--he was dead before I left Paris for Port Aviation."
"Oh, quite!" the Englishman affirmed nonchalantly, "When we arrested
him at three this morning--charged with complicity in the murder of
Roddy--he flew into a passion that brought on a fatal haemorrhage. He
died within ten minutes."
There was a little silence....
"I may tell you, Mr. Lanyard," the Englishman resumed, looking up from
the motor, to which he was paying attentions with monkey-wrench and
oil-can, "that you were quite off your bat when you ridiculed the idea
of the 'International Underworld Unlimited.' Of course, if you _hadn't_
laughed, I shouldn't feel quite as much respect for you as I do; in
fact, the chances are you'd be in handcuffs or in a cell of the Sante,
this very minute.... But, absurd as it sounded--and was--the
'Underworld' project was a pet hobby of Bannon's--who'd been the brains
of a gang of criminals in New York for many years. He was a bit touched
on the subject: a monomaniac, if you ask me. And his enthusiasm won De
Morbihan and Popinot over ... and me! He took a wonderful fancy to me,
Bannon did; I really was appointed first-lieutenant in Greggs'
stead.... So you first won my sympathy by laughing at my offer," said
Wertheimer, restoring the oil-can to its place in the tool-kit;
"wherein you were very wise.... In fact, my personal feeling for you is
one of growing esteem, if you'll permit me to say so. You've most of
the makings of a man. Will you shake hands--with a copper's nark?"
He gave Lanyard's hand a firm and friendly grasp, and turned to the girl.
"Good-bye, Miss Shannon. I'm truly grateful for the assistance you gave
us. Without you, we'd have been sadly handicapped. I understand you have
sent in your resignation? It's too bad: the Service will feel the loss
of you. But I think you were right to leave us, the circumstances
considered.... And now it's good-bye and good luck! I hope you may be
happy.... I'm sure you can't go far without coming across a highroad or
a village; but--for reasons not unconnected with my profession--I prefer
to remain in ignorance of the way you go."
Releasing her hand, he stepped back, saluted the lovers with a smile
and gay gesture, and clambered briskly to the pilot's seat of the
When firmly established, he turned the switch of the starting mechanism.
The heavy, distinctive hum of the great motor filled that isolated
hollow in the Downs like the purring of a dynamo.
With a final wave of his hand, Wertheimer grasped the starting-lever.
Its _brool_ deepening, the Parrott stirred, shot forward abruptly. In
two seconds it was fifty yards distant, its silhouette already blurred,
its wheels lifting from the rim of the hollow.
Then lightly it leaped, soared, parted the mists, vanished....
For some time Lanyard and Lucy Shannon remained motionless, clinging
together, hand-in-hand, listening to the drone that presently dwindled
to a mere thread of sound and died out altogether in the obscurity
Then, turning, they faced each other, smiling a trace uncertainly, a
smile that said: "So all that is finished! ... Or, perhaps, we dreamed