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The Pawns Count by E. Phillips Oppenheim

Part 4 out of 5

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fiercely, fighting for his consciousness, fighting against a wave of
giddiness, a deadly sinking of the heart, a strange slackening of all
his nerve power. The young stockbroker rose hastily to his feet.

"Anything wrong, old fellow?" he asked anxiously.

"A glass of water," Fischer begged.

He was conscious of drinking it, vaguely conscious that he was winning.
Soon the office had regained its ordinary appearance, his pulse was
beating more regularly. He had once more the feeling of living--of
living, though in a minor key.

"A touch of liver," he murmured. "What did you say about the markets?"

"You look pretty rotten," Van Teyl remarked sympathetically. "Shall I
send out for some brandy?"

"Not for me," Fischer scoffed. "I don't need it. What price are
Anglo-French?"

"Ninety-four. You've only done them in a point, after all, and that's
nominal. I daresay I could get ten thousand back at that."

"Let them alone," was the calm reply. "I'll sell another fifty thousand
at ninety-four."

"Look here," Van Teyl said, swinging round in his chair, "I like the
business and I know you can finance it, but are you sure that you
realise what you are doing? Every one believes Anglo-French have
touched their bottom. They've only to go back to where they were--say
five points--and you'd lose half a million."

Fischer smiled a little wearily.

"That small sum in arithmetic," he remonstrated, "had already passed
through my brain. Send in your selling order, Jim, and come out to
lunch with me. I've come straight through from Washington--only got in
this morning."

Van Teyl called in his clerk and gave a few orders. Then he took up his
hat and left the office with his client.

"From Washington, eh?" he remarked curiously, as they passed into the
crowded streets. "So that accounts--"

He broke off abruptly. His companion's warning fingers had tightened
upon his arm.

"Quite right!" Van Teyl confessed. "There's gossip enough about now,
and they seem to have tumbled to it that you're our client. The office
has been besieged this morning. Sorry, Ned, I'm busy," he went on, to a
man who tried to catch his arm. "See you later, Fred. I'll be in after
lunch, Mr. Borrodaile. No, nothing fresh that I know of."

Fischer smiled grimly.

"Got you into a kind of hornets' nest, eh?" he observed.

"It's been like this all the morning," Van Teyl told him. "They believe
I know something. Even the newspaper men are tumbling to it. We'll
lunch up at the club. Maybe we'll get a little peace there."

They stepped into the hall of a great building, and took one of the
interminable row of lifts. A few minutes later they were seated at a
side table in a dining room on the top floor of one of the huge modern
skyscrapers. Below them stretched a silent panorama of the city;
beyond, a picturesque view of the river. A fresh breeze blew in through
the opened window. They were above the noise, even, of the street cars.

"Order me a small bottle of champagne, James," Fischer begged, "and
some steak."

Van Teyl stared at his companion and laughed as he took up the wine
list.

"Well, that's the first time, Fischer, I've known you to touch a drop
of anything before the evening! I'll have a whisky and soda with you.
Thank God we're away from that inquisitive crowd for a few minutes! Are
you going to give me an idea of what's moving?"

Fischer watched the wine being poured into his glass.

"Not until this evening," he said. "I want you to bring your sister and
come and dine at the new roof-garden."

"I don't know whether Pamela has any engagement," Van Teyl began, a
little dubiously.

"Please go and see," Fischer begged earnestly. "The telephones are just
outside. Tell your sister that I particularly wish her to accept my
invitation. Tell her that there will be news."

Van Teyl went out to the telephone. Fischer sipped his champagne and
crumbled up his bread, his eyes fixed a little dreamily on the grey
river. He was already conscious of the glow of the wine in his veins.
The sensation was half pleasurable, in a sense distasteful to him. He
resented this artificial humanity. He had the feeling of a man who has
stooped to be doped by a quack doctor. And he was a little afraid.

His young companion returned triumphant.

"Had a little trouble with Pamela," he observed, as he resumed his
place at the table. "She was thinking of the opera with a girl friend
she picked up this morning. However, the idea of news, I think,
clinched it. We'll be at the Oriental at eight o'clock, eh?"

Fischer looked up from the fascinating patchwork below. Already there
was anticipation in his face.

"I am very glad," he said. "There will certainly be news."

CHAPTER XXIV

"Now indeed I feel that I am in New York," Pamela declared, as she
broke off one of the blossoms of the great cluster of deep red roses by
her side, and gazed downward over her shoulder at the far-flung carpet
of lights. "One sees little bits of America in every country of the
world, but never this."

Fischer, unusually grave and funereal-looking in his dinner clothes and
black tie, followed her gesture with thoughtful eyes. Everything that
was ugly in the stretching arms of the city seemed softened, shrouded
and bejewelled. Even the sounds, the rattle and roar of the overhead
railways, the clanging of the electric car bells, the shrieking of the
sirens upon the river, seemed somehow to have lost their harsh note, to
have become the human cry of the great live city, awaking and
stretching itself for the night.

"I agree with you," he said. "You dine at the Ritz-Carlton and you
might be in Paris. You dine here, and one knows that you are in
America."

"Yet even here we have become increasingly luxurious," Pamela remarked,
looking around. "The glass and linen upon the tables are quite French;
those shaded lights are exquisite. That little band, too, was playing
at the Ritz three years ago. I am sure that the maitre d'hotel who
brought us to our table was once at the Cafe de Paris."

"Money would draw all those things from Europe even to the Sahara,"
Fischer observed, "so long as there were plenty of it. But millions
could not buy our dining table in the clouds."

"A little effort of the imagination, fortunately," Pamela laughed,
looking upwards. "There are stars, but no clouds."

"I guess one of them is going to slip down to the next table before
long," Van Teyl observed, with a little movement of his head.

They all three turned around and looked at the wonderful bank of pink
roses within a few feet of them.

"One of the opera women, I daresay," the young man continued. "They are
rather fond of this place."

Pamela leaned forward. Fischer was watching the streets below; Only a
short distance away was a huge newspaper building, flaring with lights.
The pavements fringing it were thronged with a little stationary crowd.
A row of motor-bicycles was in waiting. A night edition of the paper
was almost due.

"Mr. Fischer," she asked, "what about that news?"

He withdrew his eyes from the street. Almost unconsciously he
straightened himself a little in his place. There was pride in his
tone. Behind his spectacles his eyes flashed.

"I would have told it you before," he said, "but you would not have
believed it. Soon--in a very few moments--the news will be known. You
will see it break away in waves from that building down there, so I
will bear with your incredulity. The German and British fleets have
met, and the victory has remained with us."

"With us?" Pamela repeated.

"With Germany," Fischer corrected himself hastily.

"Is this true?" James Van Teyl almost shouted. "Fischer, are you sure
of what you're saying? Why, it's incredible!"

"It is true," was the proud reply. "The German Navy has been a long
time proving itself. It has done so now. To-day every German citizen is
the proudest creature breathing. He knew before that his armies were
invincible. He knows now that his fleet is destined to make his country
the mistress of the seas. England's day is over. Her ships were badly
handled and foolishly flung into battle. She has lost many of her
finest units. Her Navy is to-day a crippled and maimed force. The
German fleet is out in the North Sea, waiting for an enemy who has
disappeared."

"It is inconceivable," Pamela gasped.

"I do not ask you to believe my word," Fischer exclaimed. "Look!"

As though the flood gates had been suddenly opened, the stream of
patient waiters broke away from the newspaper building below. Like
little fireflies, the motor-bicycles were tearing down the different
thoroughfares. Boys like ants, with their burden of news sheets, were
running in every direction. Motor-trucks had started on their furious
race. Even the distant echoes of their cries came faintly up. Fischer
called a messenger and sent him for a paper.

"I do not know what report you will see," he said, "but from whatever
source it comes it will confirm my story. The news is too great and
sweeping to be contradicted or ignored."

"If it's true," Van Teyl muttered, "you've made a fortune in my office
to-day. It looks like it, too. There was something wrong with
Anglo-French beside your selling for the last hour this afternoon. I
couldn't get buyers to listen for a moment."

"Yes, I shall have made a great deal of money," Fischer admitted,
"money which I shall value because it comes magnificently, but I hope
that this victory may help me to win other things."

He looked fixedly at Pamela, and she moved uneasily in her chair.
Almost unconsciously the man himself seemed somehow associated with his
cause, to be assuming a larger and more tolerant place in her thoughts.
Perhaps there was some measure of greatness about him after all. The
strain of waiting for the papers became almost intolerable. At last the
boy reappeared. The great black headlines were stretched out before
her. She felt the envelopment of Fischer's triumph. The words were
there in solid type, and the paper itself was one of the most reliable.

GREAT NAVAL BATTLE IN THE NORTH SEA.

BRITISH ADMIRALTY ADMITS SERIOUS LOSSES.

"QUEEN MARY," "INDEFATIGABLE," AND MANY FINE SHIPS LOST.

Pamela looked up from the sheet.

"It is too wonderful," she whispered, with a note of awe in her tone.
"I don't think that any one ever expected this. We all believed in the
British Navy."

"There is nothing," Fischer declared, "that England can do which
Germany cannot do better."

"And America best of all," Pamela said.

Fischer bowed.

"That is one comparison which will never now be made," he declared,
"for from to-night Germany and America will draw nearer together. The
bubble of British naval omnipotence is pricked."

"Meanwhile," Van Teyl observed, putting his paper away, "we are
neglecting our dinner. Nothing like a good dose of sensationalism for
giving us an appetite."

Fischer was watching his glass being filled with champagne. He seized
it by the stem. His eyes for a moment travelled upwards.

"I am an American citizen," he said, with a strange fervour in his
tone, "but for the moment I am called back. And so I lift my glass and
I drink--I alone, without invitation to you others--to those brave
souls who have made of the North Sea a holy battle-ground."

He drained his glass and set it down empty. Pamela watched him as
though fascinated. For a single moment she was conscious of a queer
sensation of personal pity for some shadowy and absent friend, of
something almost like a lump in her throat, a strange instinct of
antagonism towards the man by her side so enveloped in beatific
satisfaction--then she frowned when she realised that she had been
thinking of Lutchester, that her first impulse had been one of sympathy
for him. The moment passed. The service of dinner was pressed more
insistently upon them. James Van Teyl, who had been leaning back in his
chair, talking to one of the maitres d'hotel, dismissed him with a
little nod and entrusted them with a confidence.

"Say, do you know who's coming to the next table?" he exclaimed.
"Sonia!"

They were all interested.

"You won't mind?" Fischer asked diffidently.

"In a restaurant, how absurd!" Pamela laughed. "Why, I'm dying to see
her. I wonder how it is that some of these greatest singers in the
world lead such extraordinary lives that people can never know anything
of them."

"Society is tolerant enough nowadays," her brother observed, "but Sonia
won't give them even a decent chance to wink at her eccentricities. She
crossed, you know, on the Prince Doronda's yacht, for fear they
wouldn't let her land."

"Here she comes," Pamela whispered.

There was a moment's spellbound silence. Two maitres d'hotel were
hurrying in front. A pathway from the lift had been cleared as though
for a royal personage. Sonia, in white from head to foot, a dream of
white lace and chinchilla, with a Russian crown of pearls in her glossy
black hair, and a rope of pearls around her neck, came like a waxen
figure, with scarlet lips and flashing eyes, towards her table. And
behind her--Lutchester! Pamela felt her fingers gripping the
tablecloth. Her first impulse, curiously enough, was one of wild fury
with herself for that single instant's pity. Her face grew cold and
hard. She felt herself sitting a little more upright. Her eyes remained
fixed upon the newcomers.

Lutchester's behaviour was admirable. His glance swept their little
table without even a shadow of interest. He ignored with passive
unconcern the mistake of Van Teyl's attempted greeting. He looked
through Fischer as though he had been a ghost. He stood by Sonia's side
while she seated herself, and listened with courteous pleasure to her
excited admiration of the flowers and the wonderful vista. Then he took
his own place. In his right hand he was carrying an evening paper with
its flaming headlines.

"That," Fischer pronounced, struggling to keep the joy from his tone,
"is very British and very magnificent!"

* * * * *

Pamela had imperfect recollections of the rest of the evening. She
remembered that she was more than usually gay throughout dinner-time,
but that she was the first to jump at the idea of a hurried departure
and a visit to a cabaret. Every now and then she caught a glimpse of
Sonia's face, saw the challenging light in her brilliant eyes, heard
little scraps of her conversation. The Frenchwoman spoke always in her
own language, with a rather shrill voice, which made Lutchester's
replies sound graver and quieter than usual. More than once Pamela's
eyes rested upon the broad lines of his back. He sat all the time like
a rock, courteous, at times obviously amusing, but underneath it all
she fancied that she saw some signs of the disturbance from which she
herself was suffering. She rose to her feet at last with a little sigh
of relief. It was an ordeal through which she had passed.

Once in the lift, her brother and Fischer discussed Lutchester's
indiscretion volubly.

"I suppose," Van Teyl declared, "that there isn't a man in New York who
wouldn't have jumped at the chance of dining alone with Sonia, but for
an Englishman, on a night like this," he went on, glancing at the
paper, "say, he must have some nerve!"

"Or else," Fischer remarked, "a wonderful indifference. So far as I
have studied the Anglo-Saxon temperament, I should be inclined to vote
for the indifference. That is why I think Germany will win the war.
Every man in that country prays for his country's success, not only in
words, but with his soul. I have not found the same spirit in England."

"The English people," Pamela interposed, "have a genius for concealment
which amounts to stupidity."

"I have a theory," Fischer said, "that to be phlegmatic after a certain
pitch is a sign of low vitality. However, we shall see. Certainly, if
England is to be saved from her present trouble, it will not be the
Lutchesters of the world who will do it, nor, it seems, her Navy."

They found their way to a large cabaret, where Pamela listened to an
indifferent performance a little wearily. The news of what was termed a
naval disaster to Great Britain was flashed upon the screen, and,
generally speaking, the audience was stunned. Fischer behaved
throughout the evening with tact and discretion. He made few references
to the matter, and was careful not to indulge in any undue
exhilaration. Once, when Van Teyl had left the box, however, to speak
to some friends, he turned earnestly to Pamela.

"Will it please you soon," he begged, "to resume our conversation of
the other day? However you may look at it, things have changed, have
they not? An invincible British Navy has been one of the fundamental
principles of beliefs in American politics. Now that it is destroyed,
the outlook is different. I could go myself to the proper quarter in
Washington, or Von Schwerin is here to be my spokesman. I have a fancy,
though, to work with you. You know why."

She moved uneasily in her place.

"I have no idea," she objected, "what it is that you have to propose.
Besides, I am only just a woman who has been entrusted with a few
diplomatic errands."

"You are the niece of Senator Hastings," Fischer reminded her, "and
Hastings is the man through whom I should like my proposal to go to the
President. It is an honest offer which I have to make, and although it
cannot pass through official channels, it is official in the highest
sense of the word, because it comes to me from the one man who is in a
position to make himself responsible for it."

Her brother came back to the box before Pamela could reply, but, as
they parted that night, she gave Fischer her hand.

"Come and see our new quarters," she invited. "I shall be at home any
time to-morrow afternoon."

It was one of the moments of Fischer's life. He bowed low over her
fingers.

"I accept, with great pleasure," he murmured.

CHAPTER XXV

Sonia had the air of one steeped in an almost ecstatic content. On her
return from the roof garden she had exchanged her wonderful gown for a
white silk negligee, and her headdress of pearls for a quaint little
cap. She was stretched upon a sofa drawn before the wide-flung French
windows of her little sitting-room at the Ritz-Carlton, a salon
decorated in pink and white, and filled almost to overflowing with the
roses which she loved. By her side, in an easy chair which she had
pressed him to draw up to her couch, sat Lutchester.

"This," she murmured, "is one of the evenings which I adore. I have no
work, no engagements--just one friend with whom to talk. My fine
clothes have done. I am myself," she added, stretching out her arms. "I
have my cigarettes, my iced sherbet, and the lights and murmur of the
city there below to soothe me. And you to talk with me, my friend. What
are you thinking of me--that I am a little animal who loves comfort too
much, eh?"

Lutchester smiled.

"We all love comfort," he replied. "Some of us are franker than others
about it."

She made a little grimace.

"Comfort! It is my own word, but what a word! It is luxury I
worship--luxury--and a friend. Is that, perhaps, another
word too slight, eh?"

He met the provocative gleam of her eyes with a smile of amusement.

"You are just the same child, Sonia," he remarked. "Neither climate nor
country, nor the few passing years, can change you."

"It is you who have grown older and sterner," she pouted. "It is you who
have lost the gift of living to-day as though to-morrow were not. There
was a time, was there not, John, when you did not care to sit always so
far away?"

She laid her hand--ringless, over-manicured, but delicately white----
upon his. He smoothed it gently.

"You see, Sonia," he sighed, "troubles have come that harden the hearts
even of the gayest of us."

She frowned.

"You are not going to remind me--" she began.

"If I reminded you of anything, Sonia," he interrupted, "I would remind
you that you are a Frenchwoman."

She stretched out her hand restlessly and took one of the Russian
cigarettes from a bowl by her side.

"You are not, by any chance, going to talk seriously, dear John?"

"I am," he assured her, "very seriously."

"Oh, la, la!" she laughed. "You, my dear, gay companion, you who have
shaken the bells all your life, you are going to talk seriously! And
to-night, when we meet again after so long. Ah, well, why should I be
surprised?" she went on, with a pout.

"You have changed. When one looks into your face, one sees the
difference. But to me, of all people in the world! Why talk seriously
to me! I am just Sonia, the gipsy nightingale. I know nothing of
serious things."

"You carry one very serious secret in your heart," he told her gravely,
"one little pain which must sometimes stab you. You are a Frenchwoman,
and yet--"

Lutchester paused for a moment. Sonia, too, seemed suddenly to have
awakened into a state of tense and vivid emotion. The cigarette burned
away between her fingers. Her great eyes were fixed upon Lutchester.
There was something almost like fear in their questioning depths.

"Finish! Finish!" she insisted. "Continue!"

"And yet," he went on, "your very dear friend, the friend for whose
sake you are here in America, is your country's enemy."

She raised herself a little upon the couch.

"That is not true," she declared furiously. "Maurice loves France. His
heart aches for the misery that has come upon her. It is your country
only which he hates. If France had but possessed the courage to stand
by herself, to resist when England forced her friendship upon her, none
of this tragedy would ever have happened. Maurice has told me so
himself. France could have peace today, peace at her own price."

"There is no peace which would leave France with a soul, save the peace
which follows victory," Lutchester replied sternly.

She crushed her cigarette nervously in her fingers, threw it away, and
lit another.

"I will not talk of these things with you," she cried. "It was not for
this that you sought me out, eh? Tell me at once? Were these the
thoughts you had in your mind when you sent your little note?--when you
chose to show yourself once more in my life?"

For the first time of his own accord, he drew his chair a little nearer
to hers. He took her hand. She gave him both unresistingly.

"Listen, dear Sonia," he said, "it is true that I am a changed man. I
am older than when we met last, and there are the other things. You
remember the Chateau d'Albert?"

"Of course!" she murmured. "And the young Due d'Albert's wonderful
house party. We all motored there from Paris. You and I were together!
You have forgotten that, eh?"

"I lay in that orchard for two days," he went on grimly, "with a hole
in my side and one leg pretty nearly done for. I saw things I can never
forget, in those days, Sonia. D'Albert himself was killed. It was in
that first mad rush. Of the Chateau there remains but four blackened
walls."

"_Pauvre enfant_!" she murmured. "But you are well and strong again
now, is it not so? You will not fight again, eh? You were never a
soldier, dear friend."

"Just now," he confided, "I have other work to do. It is that other
work which has brought me to America."

She drew him a little closer to her. Her eyes questioned him.

"There is, perhaps, now," she asked, "a woman in your life?"

"There is," he admitted.

She made a grimace.

"But how clumsy to tell me, even though I asked," she exclaimed. "What
is she like? ... But no, I do not wish to hear of her! If she is all
the world to you, why did you send me that little note? Why are you
here?"

"Because we were once dear friends, Sonia," he said, "because I wish to
save you from great trouble."

She shrank from him a little fearfully.

"What do you mean?"

"Sonia," he continued, with a note of sternness in his tone, "during
the last two years you have gone back and forth between New York and
Paris, six times. I do not think that you can make that journey again."

She was standing now, with one hand gripping the edge of the table.

"John! ... John! ... What do you mean?" she demanded, and this time her
own voice was hard.

"I mean," he said, "that when you leave here for Paris you will be
watched day and night. The moment you set foot upon French soil you
will be arrested and searched. If anything is found upon you, such as a
message from your friend in Washington--well, you know what it would
mean. Can't you see, you foolish child, the risk you have been running?
Would you care to be branded as a spy?--you, a daughter of France?"

She struck at him. Her lace sleeves had fallen back, and her white arm,
with its little clenched fist, flashed through the twilight, aimlessly
yet passionately.

"You dare to call me a spy! You, John?" she shrieked. "But it is
horrible."

"It is the work of a spy," he told her gravely, "to bring a letter from
any person in a friendly capital and deliver it to an enemy. That is
what you have done, Sonia, many times since the beginning of the war,
so far without detection. It is because you are Sonia that I have come
to save you from doing it again."

She groped her way back to the couch. She threw herself upon it with
her back towards him, her head buried in her hands.

"The letters are only between friends," she faltered. "They have
nothing to do with the war."

"You may have believed that," Lutchester replied gently, "but it is not
true. You have been made the bearer of confidential communications from
the Austrian Embassy here to certain people in Paris whom we will not
name. I have pledged my word, Sonia, that this shall cease."

She sprang to her feet. All the feline joy of her languorous ease
seemed to have departed. She was quivering and nervous. She stood over
her writing-table.

"A telegraph blank!" she exclaimed. "Quick! I will not see Maurice
again. Oh, how I have suffered! This shall end it. See, I have written
'Good-by!' He will understand. If he comes, I will not see him. Ring
the bell quickly. There--it is finished!"

A page-boy appeared, and she handed him the telegram. Then she turned a
little pathetically to Lutchester.

"Maurice was foolish--very often foolish," she went on unsteadily, "but
he has loved me, and a woman loves love so much. Now I shall be lonely.
And yet, there is a great weight gone from my mind. Always I wondered
about those letters. You will be my friend, John? You will not leave me
all alone?"

He patted her hand.

"Dear Sonia," he whispered, "solitude is not the worst thing one has to
bear, these days. Try and remember, won't you, that all the men who
might have loved you are fighting for your country, one way or
another."

"It is all so sad," she faltered, "and you--you are so stern and
changed."

"It is with me only as it is with the whole world," he told her.
"To-night, though, you have relieved me of one anxiety."

Her eyes once more were for a moment frightened.

"There was danger for poor little me?"

He nodded.

"It is past," he assured her.

"And it is you who have saved me," she murmured. "Ah, Mr. John," she
added, as she walked with him to the door, "if ever there comes to me a
lover, not for the days only but _pour la vie,_ I hope that he may be
an Englishman like you, whom all the world trusts."

He laughed and raised her fingers to his lips.

"Over-faithful, you called us once," he reminded her.

"But that was when I was a child," she said, "and in days like these we
are children no longer."

CHAPTER XXVI

Lutchester left Sonia and the Ritz-Carlton a few minutes before
midnight, to find a great yellow moon overhead, which seemed to have
risen somewhere at the back of Central Park. The broad thoroughfare up
which he turned seemed to have developed a new and unfamiliar beauty.
The electric lamps shone with a pale and almost unnatural glow. The
flashing lights of the automobiles passing up and down were almost
whimsically unnecessary. Lutchester walked slowly up Fifth Avenue in
the direction of his hotel.

Something--the beauty of the night, perhaps, or some faint aftermath of
sentimentality born of Sonia's emotion--tempted him during those few
moments to relax. He threw aside his mask and breathed the freer for
it. Once more he was a human being, treading the streets of a real
city, his feet very much upon the earth, his heart full of the simplest
things. All the scheming of the last few days was forgotten, the great
issues, the fine yet devious way to be steered amidst the rocks which
beset him; even the depression of the calamitous news from the North
Sea passed away. He was a very simple human being, and he was in love.
It was all so unpractical, so illusionary, and yet so real. Events,
actual happenings--he thrust all thoughts of these away from his mind.
What she might be thinking of him at the moment he ignored. He was
content to let his thoughts rest upon her, to walk through the moonlit
street, his brain and heart revelling in that subtle facility of the
imagination which brought her so easily to his presence. It was such a
vividly real Pamela, too, who spoke and walked and moved by his side.
His memory failed him nowhere, followed faithfully the kaleidoscopic
changes in her face and tone, showed him even that long, grateful,
searching glance when their eyes had met in Von Teyl's sitting-room.
There had been times when she had shown clearly enough that she was
anxious to understand, anxious to believe in him. He clung to the
memory of these; pushed into the background that faint impression he
had had of her at the roof-garden, serene and proud, yet with a faint
look of something like pain in her startled eyes.

A large limousine passed him slowly, crawling up Fifth Avenue.
Lutchester, with all his gifts of observation dormant, took no notice
of its occupant, who leaned forward, raised the speaking-tube to his
lips, and talked for a moment to his chauffeur. The car glided round a
side street and came to a standstill against the curb. Its solitary
passenger stepped quietly out and entered a restaurant. The chauffeur
backed the car a little, slipped from his place, and followed
Lutchester.

By chance the little throng of people here became thicker for a few
moments and then ceased. Lutchester drew a little sigh of relief as he
saw before him almost an empty pavement. Then, just as he was relapsing
once more into thought, some part of his subconscious instinct suddenly
leaped into warning life. Without any actual perception of what it
might mean, he felt the thrill of imminent danger, connected it with
that soft footfall behind him, and swung round in time to seize a
deadly uplifted hand which seemed to end in a shimmer of dull steel.
His assailant flung himself upon Lutchester with the lithe ferocity of
a cat, clinging to his body, twisting and turning his arm to wrest it
free. It was a matter of seconds only before his intended victim, with
a fierce backward twist, broke the man's wrist and, wrenching himself
free from the knees which clung around him, flung him forcibly against
the railings which bordered the pavement. Lutchester paused for a
moment to recover his breath and looked around. A man from the other
side of the street was running towards them, but no one else seemed to
have noticed the struggle which had begun and finished in less than
thirty seconds. The man, who was half-way across the thoroughfare,
suddenly stopped short. He shouted a warning to Lutchester, who swung
around. His late assailant, who had been lying motionless, had raised
himself slightly, with a revolver clenched in his left hand.
Lutchester's spring on one side saved his life, for the bullet passed
so close to his cheek that he felt the rush and heat of the air. The
man in the center of the road was busy shouting an alarm vociferously,
and other people on both sides of the thoroughfare were running up.
Lutchester's eyes now never left the dark, doubled-up figure upon the
pavement. His whole body was tense. He was prepared at the slightest
movement to spring in upon his would-be murderer. The man's eyes seemed
to be burning in his white face. He called out to Lutchester hoarsely.

"Don't move or I shall shoot!"

He looked up and down the street. One of the nearest of the hastening
figures was a policeman. He turned the revolver against his own temple
and pulled the trigger....

Lutchester and a policeman walked slowly back along Fifth Avenue.
Behind them, a little crowd was still gathered around the spot from
which the body of the dead man had already been removed in an
ambulance.

"I really remember nothing," Lutchester told his companion, "until I
heard the footsteps behind me, and, turning round, saw the knife. This
is simply an impression of mine--that he might have descended from the
car which passed me and stopped just round the corner of that street."

"He's a chauffeur, right enough," the inspector remarked. "It don't
seem to have been a chance job, either. Looks as though he meant doing
you in. Got any enemies?"

"None that I know of," Lutchester answered cautiously. "Why, the car's
there still," he added, as they reached the corner.

"And no chauffeur," the other muttered.

The officer searched the car and drew out a license from the flap
pocket. The commissionaire from the restaurant approached them.

"Say, what are you doing with that car?" he demanded.

"Better fetch the gentleman to whom it belongs," the inspector
directed.

"What's up, anyway?" the man persisted.

"You do as you're told," was the sharp reply.

The commissionaire disappeared. The officer studied the license which
he had just opened.

"What's the name?" Lutchester inquired.

The man hesitated for a moment, then passed it over.

"Oscar H. Fischer," he said. "Happen to know the name?"

Lutchester's face was immovable. He passed the license back again. They
both turned round. Mr. Fischer had issued from the restaurant.

"What's wrong?" he asked hastily. "The commissionaire says you want me,
Mr. Officer?"

The inspector produced his pocketbook.

"Just want to ask you a few questions about your chauffeur, sir."

Fischer glanced at the driver's seat of the car, as though aware of the
man's disappearance for the first time.

"What's become of the fellow?" he inquired.

"Shot himself," the inspector replied, "after a deliberate attempt to
murder this gentleman."

Mr. Fischer's composure was admirable. There was a touch of gravity
mingled with his bewilderment. Nevertheless, he avoided meeting
Lutchester's eyes.

"You horrify me!" he exclaimed. "Why, the fellow's only been driving
for me for a few hours."

"That so?" the officer remarked, with a grunt. "Get any references with
him?"

"As a matter of fact, I did not," Fischer admitted frankly. "I
discharged my chauffeur yesterday, at a moment's notice, and this man
happened to call just as I was wanting the car out this afternoon. He
promised to bring me references to-morrow from Mr. Gould and others. I
engaged him on that understanding. He told me that his name was Kay--
Robert Kay. That is all that I know about him, except that he was an
excellent driver. I am exceedingly sorry Mr. Lutchester," he went on,
turning towards him, "that this should have happened."

"So you two know one another, eh?" the officer observed.

"Oh, yes, we know one another!" Lutchester admitted drily.

"I shall have to ask you both for your names and addresses," the
official continued. "I think I won't ask you any more questions at
present. Seems to me headquarters had better take this on."

"I shall be quite at your service," Lutchester promised.

The man made a few more notes, saluted, and took his leave. Fischer and
Lutchester remained for a moment upon the pavement.

"It is a dangerous custom," Lutchester remarked, "to take a servant
without a reference."

"It will be a warning to me for the remainder of my life," Fischer
declared.

"I, too, have learnt something," Lutchester concluded, as he turned
away.

CHAPTER XXVII

Fischer, as he waited for Pamela the following afternoon in the
sitting-room of her flat on Fifty-eighth Street, felt that although the
practical future of his life might be decided in other places, it was
here that its real climax would be reached. Pamela herself was to
pronounce sentence upon him. He was feeling scarcely at his best. An
examination in the courthouse, which he had imagined would last only a
few minutes, had been protracted throughout the afternoon. The district
attorney had asked him a great many questions, some rather awkward
ones, and the inquiry itself had been almost grudgingly adjourned for a
few hours. And here, in Pamela's sitting-room, the first things which
caught his eye were the headlines of one of the afternoon papers:

WESTERN MILLIONAIRE ENGAGES
THE GIRL HESTE'S MURDERER
AS CHAUFFEUR!

ATTEMPTED MURDER AND SUICIDE
IN FIFTH AVENUE
LAST NIGHT.

Fischer pushed the newspaper impatiently away, and, in the act of doing
so, the door was opened and Pamela entered. She came towards him with
outstretched hand.

"I see you are looking at the account of your misdeeds," she said, as
she seated herself behind a tea tray. "Will you tell me why a cautious
man like you engages, without reference, a chauffeur who turns out to
be a murderer?"

Fischer frowned irritably.

"For four hours," he complained, "several lawyers and a most
inquisitive police captain have been asking me the same question in a
hundred different ways. I engaged the man because I needed a chauffeur
badly. He was to have brought his references this morning. I was only
trusting him for a matter of a few hours."

"And during those few hours," she observed, "he seems to have developed
a violent antipathy to Mr. Lutchester."

"I do not understand the affair at all," Mr. Fischer declared, "and, if
I may say so, I am a little weary of it. I came here to discuss another
matter altogether."

She leaned back in her place.

"What have you come to discuss, Mr. Fischer?"

"That depends so much upon you," he replied. "If you give me any
encouragement, I can put before you a great proposition. If your
prejudices, however, remain as I think they always have been, on the
side of England, why then I can do nothing."

"If I counted for anything," Pamela said, "I mean to say if it mattered
to any one what my attitude was, I would start by admitting that my
sympathies are somewhat on the side of the Allies. On the other hand,
my sympathies amount to nothing at all compared with my interest in the
welfare of the United States. I am perfectly selfish in that respect."

"Then you have an open mind to hear what I have to say," Fischer
remarked. "I am glad of it. You encourage me to proceed."

"That is all very well," Pamela said, stirring her tea, "but I cannot
help asking once more why you come to me at all? What have I to do with
any proposition you may have to make?"

"Just this," he explained. "I have a serious and authentic proposition
to make to the American Government. I cannot make it officially--
although it comes from the highest of all sources--for the most obvious
reasons. It may seem better worth listening to to-day, perhaps, than a
week ago, so far as you are concerned. That is because you believed in
British invincibility upon the sea. I never did."

"Go on, please," Pamela begged. "I am still waiting to realise my
position in all this."

"I should like," Fischer declared, "my proposition to reach the
President through Senator Hastings, and Senator Hastings is your
uncle."

"I see," Pamela murmured.

"My offer itself is a very simple one," Fischer continued. "Your secret
service is so bad that you probably know nothing of what is happening.
Ours, on the other hand, is still marvellously good, and what I am
going to tell you is surely the truth. Japan is accumulating great
wealth. She is saving her ships and men for one purpose, and one purpose
only. Europe could not bribe her highly enough to take a more active part
in this war. Her price was one which could not be paid. She demanded a
free hand with the United States."

"This," Pamela admitted, "is quite interesting, but it is entirely in
the realms of conjecture, is it not?"

"Not wholly," Fischer insisted. "At the proper time I should be
prepared to bring you evidence that tentative proposals were made by
Japan to both England and France, asking what would be their attitude,
should she provide them with half a million men and undertake
transport, if at the conclusion of the war she desired a settlement
with the United States. The answer from France and England was the
same--that they could not countenance an inimical attitude towards the
States."

"You are bound to admit, then," Pamela remarked, "that England played
the game here."

"The bribe was not big enough," Fischer replied drily. "England would
sell her soul, but not for a mess of pottage. To proceed, however,
Japan has practically kept out of the war. She is enjoying a prosperity
never known before, and for every million pounds' worth of munitions
she exports to Russia, she puts calmly on one side twenty-five per
cent, to accumulate for her own use. At the conclusion of the war she
will be in a position she has never occupied before, and while the rest
of the world is still gasping, she will proceed to carry out what has
been the dream of her life--the invasion of your Western States."

"I admit that this is plausible," Pamela confessed, "but you are only
pointing out a very obvious danger, for which I imagine that we are
already fairly well prepared."

"Believe me," Fischer said earnestly, "you are not. It is this fact
which makes the whole situation so vital to you. Later on in our
negotiations, I will show you proof of your danger. Meanwhile, let me
proceed to the offer which I am empowered to make, which comes direct
from the one person in Germany whose word is unshakable."

Pamela changed her position a little, as though to escape from the
sunlight which was finding its way underneath the broad blinds. Her
eyes were fixed upon her visitor. She listened intently to every word
he had to say. Despite some vague feeling of mistrust, which she
acknowledged to herself might well have been prejudiced, she found the
situation interesting, even stimulating. Her few excursions into the
world of high politics had never brought her into such a position as
this. She felt both flattered and interested--attracted, too, in some
nameless way, by the man's personality, his persistence, his daring,
his whole-heartedness. The situation was instinct with interest to her.

"But why make it to me?" she murmured.

"You are to be my delegate," he answered. "Take the substance of what I
say to you, to your uncle. Try, for your country's sake, to interest
him in it. The offer which I make shall save you a vast amount of
sacrifice. It shall save your dislocating the industries of the country
and sowing the seeds of a disturbing and yet inadequate militarism. I
offer you, in short, a German alliance against Japan."

"The value of that offer," Pamela remarked thoughtfully, "would depend
rather upon the issue of the present war, wouldn't it?"

Fischer's face darkened. His tone was almost irritable.

"That is already preordained," he said firmly. "You see, I will be
quite frank with you. Germany has lost her chance of sweeping and
complete victory. The result of the war will be a return to the
status-quo-ante. Yet, believe me, Germany will be strong enough to
settle some of the debts she owes, and the debt to Japan is one of
these."

"Still, there is the practical question of getting men and ships over
from Germany to America," Pamela persisted.

"It is already solved," was the swift reply. "At the proper time I will
show you and prove how it can be done. At present, not one word can
pass my lips. It is one of the secrets on which the future of Germany
depends."

"And the price?" Pamela asked.

"That America adopts our view as to the high seas traffic," Fischer
replied. "This would mean the stopping of all supplies, munitions and
ammunition from America to England. We offer you an alliance. We ask
only for your real and actual neutrality for the remainder of the war.
We offer a great and substantial advantage, a safeguard for your
country's future, in return for what? Simply that America will pursue
the course of honour and integrity to all nations."

"America," Pamela declared, "has never failed in this."

Fischer shrugged his shoulders.

"There is more than one point of view," he reminded her. "Will you take
my message with you to Washington to-morrow?"

"Yes," Pamela promised, "I will do that. The rest, of course, remains
with others. I do not myself go so far, even," she added, "as to
declare myself in sympathy with you."

"And yet," he insisted, with swift violence, "it is your sympathy which
I desire more than anything in the world--your sympathy, your help,
your companionship; a little--a very little at first--of your love."

"I am afraid that I am not a very satisfactory person from that point
of view," Pamela confessed. "I have a great sympathy with every man who
is really out for the great things, but so far as you are concerned,
Mr. Fischer, or any one else," she went on, after a moment's
hesitation, "I have no personal feeling."

"That shall come," he declared.

"Then please wait a little time before you talk to me again like this,"
she said, rising and holding out her hand. "At present there is no sign
of it."

"There is so much that I could offer you," he pleaded, gripping the
hand which she had given him in farewell, "so much that I could do for
your country. Believe me, I am not talking idly."

"I do believe that," she admitted. "You are a very clever man, Mr.
Fischer, and I think that you represent all that you claim. Perhaps, if
we really do negotiate--"

"But you must!" he interrupted impatiently. "You must listen to me for
every reason--politically for your country's sake, personally because I
shall offer you and give you happiness and a position you could never
find elsewhere."

For a moment her eyes seemed to be looking through him, as though some
vision of things outside the room were troubling her. Her finger had
already touched the bell and a servant was standing upon the threshold.

"We shall meet in Washington," Mr. Fischer concluded, with an air of a
prophet, as he took his leave.

CHAPTER XXVIII

It was within half an hour of closing time that same afternoon when
Lutchester walked into James Van Teyl's office. The young man greeted
him with some surprise.

"Will you do some business for me?" Lutchester asked, without any
preliminaries.

"Sure!"

"How many Anglo-French will you buy for me? I can obtain credit by
cable to-morrow through any bank for twenty or thirty thousand pounds."

"You want to buy Anglo-French?" Van Teyl repeated softly.

His visitor nodded.

"Any news?"

Lutchester hesitated, and Van Teyl continued with an apologetic
gesture.

"I beg your pardon. That's not my job, anyway, to ask questions. I'll
buy you twenty-five thousand, if you like. Guess they can't drop much
lower."

Lutchester sat down.

"Thank you," he said, "I will wait."

A little ripple of excitement went through the office as Van Teyl
started his negotiations. It seemed to Lutchester that several
telephones and half a dozen perspiring young men were called into his
service. In the end Van Teyl made out a note and handed it to him.

"I could have done better for you yesterday," he observed. "The market
is strengthening all the time. There are probably some rumours."

A boy went by along the pavement outside waving a handful of papers.
His cry floated in through the open window:

REPORTED LOSS OF MANY MORE GERMAN
BATTLESHIPS.
BRITISH CLAIM VICTORY.

Van Teyl grinned.

"You got here just in time," he murmured, "but I suppose you knew all
about this."

"I have known since three o'clock," Lutchester replied, "that all the
reports of a German victory were false. You will find, when the truth
is known, that the German losses were greater than the British."

"Then if that's so," Van Teyl remarked, "I've got one client who'll
lose a hatful which you ought to make. Coming up town?"

"I should like, if I may?" Lutchester said, "to be permitted to pay my
respects to your sister."

"Why, that's fine!" Van Teyl exclaimed unconvincingly. "We'll take the
subway up."

They left the office and plunged into the indescribable horrors of
their journey. When they stepped out into the sunlit street in another
atmosphere, Van Teyl laid his hand upon his companion's arm in friendly
fashion.

"Say, Lutchester," he began, "I don't know that you are going to find
Pamela exactly all that she might be in the way of amiability and so
on. I know these things are done on the other side, but here it's
considered trying your friends pretty high to take a lady of Sonia's
reputation where you are likely to meet your friends. No offence, eh?"

"Certainly not," Lutchester replied. "I was sorry, of course, to see
you last night. On the other hand, Sonia is an old friend, and my
dinner with her had an object. I think I could explain it to your
sister."

"I don't know that I should try," Van Teyl advised. "For all her
cosmopolitanism, Pamela has some quaint ideas. However, I thought I'd
warn you, in case she's a bit awkward."

Pamela, however, had no idea of being awkward. She welcomed Lutchester
with a very sweet smile, and gave him the tips of her fingers.

"I was wondering whether we should see you again before we went," she
said. "We are leaving for Washington to-morrow."

"By the three o'clock train, I hope?" he ventured.

She raised her eyebrows.

"Why, are you going, too?"

"I hope so."

"I should have thought most of the munition works," she observed, "were
further north."

"They are," he acknowledged, "but I have business in Washington. By the
bye, will you both come out and dine with me to-night?"

Van Teyl glanced at his sister. She shook her head.

"I am so sorry," she said, "but we are engaged. Perhaps we shall see
something of you in Washington."

"I have no doubt you will," Lutchester replied "All the same," he
added, "it would give me very great pleasure to entertain you at dinner
this evening."

"Why particularly this evening?" she asked.

He looked at her with a queer directness, and Pamela felt certain very
excellent resolutions crumbling. She suffered her brother to leave the
room without a word.

"Because," he explained, "I think you will find a different atmosphere
everywhere. There will be news in the evening papers."

"News?" she repeated eagerly. "You know I am always interested in
that."

"The reports of a German naval victory were not only exaggerated,"
Lutchester said calmly; "they were untrue. Our own official
announcement was clumsy and tactless, but you will find it amplified
and explained to-night."

Pamela listened with an interest which bordered upon excitement.

"You are sure?" she exclaimed.

"Absolutely," he replied. "My notification is official."

"So you think if we dined with you, the atmosphere to-night would be
different?" she observed, with a sudden attempt at the recondite.

Lutchester looked into her eyes without flinching. Pamela, to her
annoyance, was worsted in the momentary duel.

"We cannot always choose our atmosphere," he reminded her.

"Mademoiselle Sonia is perhaps connected with the regulation of the
munition supplies from America?"

"Mademoiselle Sonia," Lutchester asserted, "is an old friend of mine.
Apart from that, it was my business to talk to her."

"Your business?"

Lutchester assented with perfect gravity.

"Within a day or two," he said, "now, if you made a point of it, I
could explain a great deal."

Pamela threw herself into a chair almost irritably.

"You have the cult of being mysterious, Mr. Lutchester," she declared.
"To be quite frank with you, you seem to be the queerest mixture of any
man I ever knew."

"It is the fault of circumstances," he regretted, "if I am sometimes
compelled to present myself to you in an unfavourable light. Those
circumstances are passing. You will soon begin to value me at my true
worth."

"We had half promised," Pamela murmured, "to go out with Mr. Fischer
this evening."

"The more reason for my intervention," Lutchester observed. "Fischer is
not a fit person for you to associate with."

She laughed curiously.

"People who saw you at the roof-garden last night might say that you
were scarcely a judge," Pamela retorted.

"People who did not know the circumstances might have considered me
guilty of an indiscretion," Lutchester admitted, "but they would have
been entirely wrong. On the other hand, your friend Fischer is a
would-be murderer, a liar, and is at the present moment engaged in
intrigues which are a most immoral compound of duplicity and cunning."

"I shall begin to think," Pamela murmured, "that you don't like Mr.
Fischer!"

"I detest him heartily," Lutchester confessed.

"I find him singularly interesting," Pamela announced, sitting up in
her chair.

"I dare say you do," Lutchester replied. "Women are always bad judges
of our sex. All the same, you are not going to marry him."

"How do you know he wants to marry me?" Pamela demanded.

"Instinct!"

"And what do you mean by saying that I am not going to marry him?"

"Because," Lutchester announced, "you are going to marry some one
else."

Pamela rose to her feet. There was a little spot
of colour in her cheeks.

"Am I indeed!" she exclaimed. "And whom, pray?"

"That I will tell you at Washington," Lutchester promised.

"You know his name, then?"

"I know him intimately," was the cool reply. "What about our dinner
to-night?"

"We are going to dine with Mr. Fischer," Pamela decided.

"I really don't think so," Lutchester objected. "For one thing, Mr.
Fischer will probably have to attend the police court again later on."

"What about?"

"For having hired a famous murderer to try and get rid of me."
Lutchester explained suavely.

"Do you really believe that?" Pamela scoffed. "Why should he want to
get rid of you? What harm can you do him?"

"I am trying to find out," Lutchester replied grimly. "Still, since you
ask the question, the pocketbook which is on its way to Germany, and
which I picked up when Nikasti was taken ill--"

"Oh, yes, I know about that!" Pamela interrupted. "That is the one
thing that always sets me thinking about you. What did you do it for?
How did you know what it meant to me?"

"Divination, I imagine," Lutchester answered, "or perhaps I was
thinking what it might mean to Mr. Fischer."

She looked at him and her face was a study in mixed expressions. Her
forehead was a little knitted, her eyes almost strained in their desire
to read him; her lips were petulant.

"Dear me, what a puzzle you are!" she exclaimed. "All the same, I am
going to wait for Mr. Fischer. It doesn't matter whether one dines or
sups. I suppose he will get away from the police court sometime or
other."

"But anyway," he protested, "you've heard all that Mr. Fischer has to
say. Now I, on the other hand, haven't shown you my hand yet."

"Heard all that Mr. Fischer has to say?" she repeated.

"Certainly! Wasn't he here for several hours with you this afternoon?
Didn't he promise you an alliance with Germany against Japan, if you
could persuade certain people at Washington to change their tone and
attitude towards the export of munitions?"

"This," she declared, trying to keep a certain agitation from her tone,
"is mere bluff."

Lutchester was suddenly very serious indeed.

"Listen," he said, "I can prove to you, if you will, that it is not
bluff. I can prove to you that I really know something of what I am
talking about."

"There is nothing I should like better," she declared.

"To begin with then," Lutchester said, "the pocketbook which Nikasti is
supposed to have stolen from your room, the pocketbook of young Sandy
Graham, which Mr. Fischer has sent to Germany, does not contain the
formula of the new explosive, or any other formula that amounts to
anything."

"Just how do you know that?" she demanded.

"To continue," Lutchester said, playing with a little ornament upon the
mantelpiece, "you have an appointment--within half an hour, I
believe--with Mr. Paul Haskall, who is a specialist in explosives,
having an official position with the American Government."

She had ceased to struggle any longer with her surprise. She looked at
him fixedly but remained silent.

"It is your belief," he proceeded, "that you are going to hand over to
him the formula of which we were speaking."

"It is no belief," she replied. "It is certainty. I took it myself from
Graham's pocket."

Lutchester nodded.

"Good! Have you opened it?"

"I have," she declared. "It is without doubt, the formula."

"On the other hand, I am here to assure you that it is not," Lutchester
replied.

Her hand was tearing at the cushion by her side. She moistened her
lips. There was something about Lutchester hatefully convincing.

"What do you mean?" she demanded. "Is this a trick. You won't get it!
No one but Mr. Haskall will get that formula from me!"

Lutchester smiled.

"It will only puzzle him when he gets it! To tell you the truth, the
formula is rubbish."

"I don't believe you," she said firmly. "If you think you are going to
interfere with my handing it over to him, you are mistaken."

"I have no wish to do anything of the sort," Lutchester assured her.
"Make a bargain with me. Mr. Haskall will be here soon. Unfasten the
little package you are carrying somewhere about your person, hand him
the envelope and watch his face. If he tells you that what you have
offered him is a coherent and possible formula for an explosive, then
you can look upon me for ever afterwards as the poor, foolish person
you sometimes seem to consider me. If, on the other hand, he tells you
that it is rubbish, I shall expect you at the Ritz-Carlton at half-past
eight."

There was a ring at the bell. She rose to her feet.

"I accept," she declared. "That is Mr. Haskall. And, by the bye, Mr.
Lutchester, don't order too elaborate a dinner, for I am very much
afraid you will have to eat it all yourself. Now, an revoir," she
added, as the door was opened in obedience to her summons and a servant
stood prepared to show him out. "If we don't turn up to-night, you will
know the reason."

"I am very hopeful," Lutchester replied, as he turned away.

CHAPTER XXIX

At five-and-twenty minutes past eight that evening Lutchester, who was
waiting in the entrance hall of the Ritz-Carlton, became just a little
restless. At half-past, his absorption in an evening paper, over the
top of which he looked at every newcomer, was almost farcical. At
five-and-twenty to nine Pamela arrived. He advanced down the lounge to
meet her. Her face was inscrutable, her smile conventional. Yet she had
come! He looked over his shoulder towards the men's coat room.

"Your brother?"

"I sent Jim to his club," she said. "I want to have a confidential talk
with you, Mr. Lutchester."

"I am very flattered," he told her, with real earnestness.

She vanished for a few moments in the cloakroom, and reappeared, a
radiant vision in deep blue silk. Her hair was gathered in a coil at
the top of her head, and surmounted with an ornament of pearls.

"You are looking at my headdress," she remarked, as they walked into
the room. "It is the style you admire, is it not?"

He murmured something vague, but he knew that he was forgiven. They
were ushered to their places by a portly maitre d'hotel, and she
approved of his table. It was set almost in an alcove, and was
partially hidden from the other diners.

"Is this seclusion vanity or flattery?"

"As a matter of fact, it is rather a popular table," he told her. "We
have an excellent view of the room, and yet one can talk here without
being disturbed."

"To talk to you is exactly what I wish to do," she said, as they took
their places. "We commence, if you please, with a question. Mr. Fischer
thought that he had that formula and he hasn't. I could have sworn that
it was in my possession--and it isn't. Where is it?"

"I took it to the War Office before I left England," he told her
simply. "They will have the first few tons of the stuff ready next
month."

"You!" she cried, "But where did you get it?"

"I happened to be first, that's all," he explained. "You see, I had the
advantage of a little inside information. I could have exposed the
whole affair if I had thought it wise. I preferred, however, to let
matters take their course. Young Graham deserved all he got there, and
I made sure of being the first to go through his papers. I'm afraid I
must confess that I left a bogus formula for you."

"I had begun to suspect this," Pamela confessed. "You don't mind being
put into the witness box, do you?" she added, as she pushed aside the
menu with a little sigh of satisfaction. "How wonderfully you order an
American dinner!"

"I am so glad I have chosen what you like," he said, "and as to being
in the witness box--well, I am going to place myself in the
confessional, and that is very much the same thing, isn't it?"

"To begin at the beginning, then--about that destroyer?"

"My mission over here was really important," he admitted. "I couldn't
catch the _Lapland_, so the Admiralty sent me over."

"And your golf with Senator Hamblin? It wasn't altogether by accident
you met him down at Baltusrol, was it?"

"It was not," he confessed, "I had reason to suspect that certain
proposals from Berlin were to be put forward to the President either
through his or Senator Hastings' mediation. There were certain facts in
connection with them, which I desired to be the first to lay before the
authorities."

She looked around the room and recognised some of her friends. For some
reason or other she felt remarkably light-hearted.

"For a poor vanquished woman," she observed, turning back to
Lutchester, "I feel extraordinarily gay to-night. Tell me some more."

He bowed.

"Mademoiselle Sonia," he proceeded, "has been a friend of mine since
she sang in the cafes of Buda Pesth. I dined with her, however, because
it had come to my knowledge that she was behaving in a very foolish
manner."

Pamela nodded understandingly.

"She was the friend of Count Maurice Ziduski, wasn't she?"

"She is no longer," Lutchester replied. "She sailed for France this
morning without seeing him. She has remembered that she is a
Frenchwoman."

"It was you who reminded her!"

"Love so easily makes people forgetful," he said, "and I think that
Sonia was very fond of Maurice Ziduski. She is a thoughtless,
passionate woman, easily swayed through her affections, and she had no
idea of the evil she was doing."

"So that disposes of Sonia," Pamela reflected.

"Sonia was only an interlude," Lutchester declared. "She really doesn't
come into this affair at all. The one person who does come into it,
whom you and I must speak of, is Fischer."

"A most interesting man," Pamela sighed. "I really think his wife would
have a most exciting life."

"She would!" Lutchester agreed. "She'd probably be allowed to visit him
once every fourteen days in care of a warder."

"Spite!" Pamela exclaimed, with a suspicious little quiver at the
corner of her lips.

Lutchester shook his head.

"Fischer is too near the end of his rope for me to feel spiteful," he
said, "though I am quite prepared to grant that he may be capable of
considerable mischief yet. A man who has the sublime effrontery to
attempt to come to an agreement with two countries, each behind the
other's back, is a little more than Machiavellian, isn't he?"

"Is that true of Mr. Fischer?"

"Absolutely," Lutchester assured her. "He is over here for the purpose
of somehow or other making it known informally in Washington that
Germany would be willing to pledge herself to an alliance with America
against Japan, after the war, if America will alter her views as to the
export of munitions to the Allies."

"Well, that's a reasonable proposition, isn't it, from his point of
view?" Pamela remarked. "It may not be a very agreeable one from yours,
but it is certainly one which he has a right to make."

"Entirely," Lutchester agreed, "but where he goes wrong is that his
primary object in coming here was to meet Hie chief of the Japanese
Secret Service, to whom he has made a proposition of precisely similar
character."

Pamela set down her glass.

"You are not in earnest!"

"Absolutely."

"Nikasti?"

"Precisely! He came all the way from Japan to confer with Fischer.
Probably, if we knew the whole truth, those rooms at the Plaza Hotel,
and the social partnership of your brother and Fischer, were arranged
for no other reason than to provide a safe personality for Nikasti in
this country, and a safe place for him to talk things over with
Fischer."

"Mr. Fischer was paying nearly the whole of the expenses of the Plaza
suite," Pamela observed thoughtfully.

"Naturally," Lutchester replied. "Your brother's name was a good, safe
name to get behind. But to conclude with our friend Nikasti. He is
supposed to leave New York next Saturday, and to carry to the Emperor
of Japan an autograph letter from a nameless person, promising him, if
Japan will cease the export of munitions to Russia, the aid of Germany
in her impending campaign against America."

"An autograph letter, did you say?" Pamela almost gasped.

"An autograph letter," Lutchester repeated firmly. "Now don't you agree
with me that Fischer's game is just a little too daring?"

"It is preposterous!" she cried.

"I have a theory," Lutchester continued, "that Fischer was never
intended to use more than one of these letters. It was intended that he
should study the situation here, approach one side, and, if
unsuccessful, try the other. Fischer, however, conceived a more
magnificent idea. He seems to be trying both at the same time. It is
the sublime egotism of the Teutonic mind."

"It is monstrous!" Pamela exclaimed indignantly.

"It is almost as monstrous," Lutchester agreed, "as his daring to raise
his eyes to you, although, so far as you are concerned, I believe that
he is as honest as the man knows how to be."

"And why," she asked, "do you credit him with so much good faith?"

"Because," Lutchester replied, "if he had not been actuated by personal
motives, he would never have sought you out as an intermediary. There
are other sources open to him, by means of which he could make equally
sure of reaching the President's ear. His idea was to impress you. It
was foolish but natural."

Pamela was deep in thought. There was an angry spot of colour burning
in her cheek.

"Do you mean to tell me, Mr. Lutchester," she persisted, "that this
afternoon, say, when with every appearance of earnestness he was
begging me to put these propositions before my uncle, he had really
made precisely similar overtures to Japan?"

"I give you my word that this is the truth," Lutchester assured her
solemnly.

She looked at him with something almost like wonder in her eyes.

"But you?" she exclaimed. "How do you know this? How can you be sure of
it?"

"I have seen the autograph letter which Nikasti has in his possession,"
he announced.

"You mean that Mr. Fischer showed it to you?" she exclaimed
incredulously.

Lutchester hesitated.

"There are methods," he said, "which those who fight in the dark places
for their country are forced sometimes to make use of. I have seen the
letter. I have half convinced those who represent Japan in this matter
of Fischer's duplicity. With your help I am hoping wholly to do so."

Pamela leaned for a moment back in her chair.

"Really," she declared, "I am beginning to have the feeling that I am
living almost too rapidly. Let us have a breathing spell. I wonder what
all these other people are talking about."

"Probably," he suggested, with a little glance around, "about
themselves. We will follow their example. Will you marry me, please,
Miss Van Teyl?"

"We haven't even come to the ice yet," she sighed, "and you pass from
high politics to flagrant personalities. Are you a sensationalist, Mr.
Lutchester?"

"Not in the least," he protested. "I simply asked you an extremely
important question quite calmly."

"It isn't a question that should be asked calmly," she objected.

"I have immense self-control," he told her, "but if you'd like me to
abandon it--"

"For heaven's sake, no!" she interrupted. "Tell me more about Mr.
Fischer."

"You won't forget to answer my little question later on, will you?" he
begged. "To proceed, then. I spent some little time this afternoon with
your chief of the police here, and I fancy that the person you speak of
is becoming a little too blatant even for a broad-minded country like
this. He belongs to an informal company of wealthy sympathisers with
Germany, who propose to start a campaign of destruction at all the
factories manufacturing munitions for the Allies. They have put
aside--I believe it is several million dollars, for purposes of
bribery. They don't seem to realise, as my friend pointed out to me
this afternoon, that the days for this sort of thing in New York have
passed. Some of them will be in prison before they know where they
are."

"Exactly why did you come to America?" she asked, a little abruptly.

"To meet Nikasti and to look after Fischer."

"Well, you seem to have done that pretty effectually!"

"Also," he went on calmly, "to keep an eye upon you."

"Professionally?"

"You ask me to give away too many secrets," he whispered, leaning
towards her.

She made a little grimace.

"Tell me some more about your little adventure in Fifth Avenue?" she
begged.

He smiled grimly.

"You wouldn't believe me," he reminded her, "but it really was one of
Fischer's little jokes. It very nearly came off, too. As a matter of
fact," he went on, "Fischer isn't really clever. He is too obstinate,
too convinced in his own mind that things must go the way he wants them
to, that Fate is the servant of his will. It's a sort of national
trait, you know, very much like the way we English bury our heads in
the sand when we hear unpleasant truths. The last thing Fischer wants
is advertisement, and yet he goes to some of his Fourteenth Street
friends and unearths a popular desperado to get rid of me. The fellow
happens most unexpectedly to fail, and now Fischer has to face a good
many awkward questions and a good deal of notoriety. No, I don't think
Fischer is really clever."

Pamela sighed.

"In that case, I suppose I shall have to say 'No' to him," she decided.
"After waiting all this time, I couldn't bear to be married to a fool."

"You won't be," he assured her cheerfully.

"More British arrogance," she murmured. "Now see what's going to happen
to us!"

A tall, elderly man, with smooth white hair plastered over his
forehead, very precisely dressed, and with a gait so careful as to be
almost mincing, was approaching their table. Pamela held out her hands.

"My dear uncle!" she exclaimed. "And I thought that you and aunt never
dined at restaurants!"

Mr. Hastings stood with his fingers resting lightly upon the table. He
glanced at Lutchester without apparent recognition.

"You remember Mr. Lutchester?" Pamela murmured.

Mr. Hastings' manner lacked the true American cordiality, but he
hastened to extend his hand.

"Of course!" he declared. "I was not fortunate enough, however, to see
much of you the other evening, Mr. Lutchester. We have several mutual
friends whom I should be glad to hear about."

"I shall pay my respects to Mrs. Hastings, if I may, very shortly,"
Lutchester promised.

"Are you with friends here, uncle?" Pamela inquired.

"We are the guests of Mr. Oscar Fischer," the Senator announced.

Pamela raised her eyebrows.

"So you know Mr. Fischer, uncle?"

"Naturally," Mr. Hastings replied, with some dignity. "Oscar Fischer is
one of the most important men in the State which I represent. He is a
man of great wealth and industry and immense influence."

Pamela made a little grimace. Her uncle noticed it and frowned.

"He has just been telling us of his voyage with you, Pamela. Perhaps,
if Mr. Lutchester can spare you," he went on, with a little bow across
the table, "you will come and take your coffee with us. Your aunt is
leaving for Washington, probably to-morrow, and wishes to arrange for
you to travel with her. Mr. Lutchester may also, perhaps, give us the
pleasure of his company for a few minutes," he added, after a slight
but obvious pause.

"Thank you," Pamela answered quickly, "I am Mr. Lutchester's guest this
evening. If you are still here, I shall love to come and speak to aunt
for a moment later on. If not, I will ring up to-morrow morning."

The bland, almost episcopal serenity of Senator Hastings' face was
somewhat disturbed. It was obvious that the situation displeased him.

"I think, Pamela," he said, "that you had better come and speak to your
aunt before you leave."

His bow to Lutchester was the bow of a politician to an adversary. He
made his way back in leisurely fashion to the table from which he had
come, exchanging a few words with many acquaintances. Pamela watched
him with a twinkle in her eyes.

"I am becoming so unpopular," she murmured. "I can read in my uncle's
tone that my aunt and he disapprove of our dining together here. And as
for Mr. Fischer. I'm afraid he'll break off our prospective alliance."

Lutchester smiled.

"Prospective is the only word to use," he observed. "By the bye, are
you particularly fond of your uncle?"

"Not riotously," she admitted. "He has been kind to me once or twice,
but he's rather a starchy old person."

"In that case," Lutchester decided, "we won't interfere."

CHAPTER XXX

Fischer had by no means the appearance of a discomfited man that
evening, when some time later Pamela and Lutchester approached the
little group of which he seemed, somehow, to have become the central
figure. It was a small party, but, in its way, a distinguished one.
Pamela's aunt was a member of an historic American family, and a woman
of great social position, not only in New York but in Washington
itself. Of the remaining guests, one was a financial magnate of
world-wide fame, and the other, Senator Joyce, a politician of such
eminence that his name was freely mentioned as a possible future
president. Mrs. Hastings greeted Pamela and her escort without
enthusiasm.

"My dear child," she exclaimed, "how extraordinary to find you here!"

"Is it?" Pamela observed indifferently. "You know Mr. Lutchester, don't
you, aunt?"

Mrs. Hastings remembered her late dinner guest, but her recognition was
icy and barely polite. She turned away at once and resumed her
conversation with Fischer. Lutchester was not introduced to either of
the other members of the party. He laid his hand on the back of an
empty chair and turned it round for Pamela, but she stopped him with a
word of thanks. Something had gone from her own naturally pleasant
tone. She held her hand higher, even, than her aunt's, as she turned a
little insistently towards her.

"So sorry, aunt," she announced, "but we are going now. Good night!"

Mrs. Hastings disapproved.

"We have seen nothing of you yet, Pamela," she said stiffly. "You had
better stay with us and we will drop you on our way home."

Pamela shook her head.

"I am coming with you to-morrow, you know," she reminded her aunt.
"To-night I am Mr. Lutchester's guest and he will see me home."

Mrs. Hastings drew her niece a little closer to her.

"Is this part of your European manners, Pamela?" she whispered, "that
you dine alone in a restaurant with an acquaintance? Let me tell you
frankly that I dislike the idea most heartily. My chaperonage is always
at your service, and any girl of your age in America would be delighted
to avail herself of it."

"It is very kind of you, aunt," Pamela replied, "but in a general way I
finished with chaperons long ago."

"Where is Jimmy?" Mrs. Hastings inquired.

"He was coming with us to-night," Pamela explained, "but I asked him
particularly to stay away. I have seen so little of Mr. Lutchester
since he arrived, and I want to talk to him."

The financial magnate awoke from a comatose inertia and suddenly
gripped Lutchester by the hand.

"Lutchester," he repeated to himself. "I thought I knew your face.
Stayed with your uncle down at Monte Carlo once. You came there for a
week."

Lutchester acknowledged his recollection of the fact and the two men
exchanged a few commonplace remarks. Mrs. Hastings took the opportunity
to try and induce Pamela to converse with Fischer.

"We have all been so interested to-night," she said, "in hearing what
Mr. Fischer has to say about the situation on the other side."

Pamela was primed for combat.

"Has Mr. Fischer been telling you fairy tales?" she laughed.

"Fairy tales?" her aunt repeated severely. "I don't understand."

Fischer's steel grey eyes flashed behind his spectacles.

"I'm afraid that Miss Van Teyl's prejudices," he observed bitterly,
"are very firmly fixed."

"Then she is no true American," Mrs. Hastings pronounced didactically.

"Oh, I can assure you that I am not prejudiced," Pamela declared,
"only, you see, I, too, have just arrived from the other side, and I
have been able to use my own eyes and judgment. If there is any
prejudice in the matter, why should it not come from Mr. Fischer? He
has the very good excuse of his German birth."

"Mr. Fischer is an American citizen," Mrs. Hastings reminded her niece,
"and personally, I think that the American of German birth is one of
the most loyal and long-suffering persons I know. I cannot say as much
for the English people who are living over here. And as to fairy
stories--"

Pamela intervened, turning towards Fischer with a little laugh.

"Oh, he can't even deny those! What about the great German victory in
the North Sea, Mr. Fischer? Do you happen to have seen the latest
telegrams?"

"Our first reports were perhaps a little too glowing," Mr. Fischer
acknowledged. "That, under the circumstances, is, I think, only
natural. But the facts remain that the invincible English and the
untried German fleets have met, to the advantage of the German."

Pamela shook her head.

"I cannot even allow that," she objected. "The advantage, if there was
any, rested on the other side. But I just want you to remember what we
were told in that first wonderful outpouring of fabricated news--that
the naval supremacy of England was gone for ever, that the freedom of
the seas was assured, that German merchant vessels were steaming home
from all directions! No, Mr. Fischer! Between ourselves, I think that
your cause needs a few fairy stories, and I look upon you as one of the
greatest experts in the world when it comes to concocting them."

Fischer, who had risen to his feet half way through Pamela's speech,
was obviously a little taken aback by her direct attack. Mrs. Hastings
took no pains to conceal her annoyance.

"For a young girl of your age, Pamela," she said sternly, "I consider
that you express your opinions far too freely. Your attitude, too, is
unjustifiable."

"Ah, well, you see, I am a little prejudiced against Mr. Fischer,"
Pamela laughed, turning towards him. "He happened to defeat one of my
pet schemes."

"But I am ready to further your dearest one," he reminded her, dropping
his voice, and leading her a little on one side. "What about our
alliance?"

"You scarcely need my aid," she observed, with a shrug of the
shoulders.

He remonstrated vigorously. There was a revived hopefulness in his
tone. Perhaps, after all, here was the secret of her displeasure with
him.

"You wonder, perhaps, to see me with your uncle. I give you my word
that it is a dinner of courtesy only. I give you my word that I have
not opened my lips on political matters. I have been waiting for your
answer."

"I have lost faith in you," she told him calmly. "I am not even certain
that you possess the authority you spoke of."

"If that is all," he replied eagerly, "you shall see it with your own
eyes. You are staying with your uncle and aunt in Washington, are you
not? I shall call upon you immediately I arrive, and bring it with me."

She nodded.

"Well, that remains a challenge, then, Mr. Fischer. And now, if you are
quite ready," she added, turning to Lutchester.... "Good-by,
everybody!"

"Aren't your ears burning?" Pamela asked, after Lutchester had handed
her into a taxicab and taken his place by her side. "I can absolutely
feel them talking about us."

"I seem to be most regrettably unpopular," Lutchester remarked.

"Even now I am puzzled about that," Pamela confessed, "but you see my
aunt considers herself the arbitress of what is right or wrong in
social matters, and she is exceedingly narrow-minded. In her eyes it is
no doubt a greater misdemeanour for me to have dined at the
Ritz-Carlton alone with you, than if I had conspired against the
Government."

"And this, I thought, was the land of freedom for your sex!"

"Ah, but my aunt is rather an exception," Pamela reminded him. "The one
thing I cannot understand, however, is that she should have allowed
herself to be seen dining with Mr. Oscar Fischer at the Ritz-Carlton. I
should have thought that would have been almost as heinous to her as my
own little slip from grace."

"Is your aunt by way of being interested in politics?" Lutchester
inquired.

"Not in a general way," Pamela replied, "but she is intensely
ambitious, and she'd give her soul if Uncle Theodore could get a
nomination for the Presidency."

"Perhaps she is taking up the German-American cause, then," Lutchester
suggested. "It is a possible platform, at any rate."

"I foresee a new party," Pamela murmured thoughtfully. "Now I come to
think of it, Mr. Elsworthy, the fat old gentleman who knew your uncle,
is very pro-German."

He leaned towards her.

"We have had enough politics," he insisted. "There is the other thing.
Couldn't I have my answer?"

She let him take her fingers. In the cool darkness through which they
were rushing her face seemed white, her head was a little averted. He
tried to draw her to him, but she was unyielding.

"Please not," she begged. "I like you--and I'm glad I like you," she
added, "but I don't feel certain about anything. Couldn't we be just
friends a little longer?"

"It must be as you say, but I am horribly in love with you," he
confessed. "That may sound rather a bald way of saying so, but it's the
truth, Pamela, dear."

His clasp upon her fingers was tightened. She turned towards him. Her
expression was serious but delightful.

"Well, let me tell you this much, at least," she confided. "I have
never before in my life been so glad to hear any one say so.... And
here we are at home, and there's Jimmy on the doorstep. What is it,
Jimmy," she asked, waving her hand.

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