Several people rose at the sound of the falling body, and the new-comer hurried forward. His coat sleeve caught the empty demi-tasse, as he stooped, and swept it to the floor, where it was shattered. The head waiter and another came, pell-mell, and those diners who had risen came more slowly.
“What’s the matter?” asked the head waiter anxiously.
Already the new-comer was supporting Mr. Grimm on his knee, and flicking water in his face.
“Nothing serious, I fancy,” he answered shortly. “He’s subject to these little attacks.”
“What are they? Who is he?”
The stranger tore at Mr. Grimm’s collar until it came loose, then he fell to chafing the still hands.
“He is a Mr. Grimm, a government employee–I know him,” he answered again. “I imagine it’s nothing more serious than indigestion.”
A little knot had gathered about them, with offers of assistance.
“Waiter, hadn’t you better send for a physician?” some one suggested.
“I’m a physician,” the stranger put in impatiently. “Have some one call a cab, and I’ll see that he’s taken home. It happens that we live in the same apartment house, just a few blocks from here.”
Obedient to the crisply-spoken directions, a cab was called, and five minutes later Mr. Grimm, still insensible, was lifted into it. The stranger took a seat beside him, the cabby touched his horse with a whip, and the vehicle fell into the endless, moving line.
A SLIP OF PAPER
When the light of returning consciousness finally pierced the black lethargy that enshrouded him, Mr. Grimm’s mind was a chaos of vagrant, absurd fantasies; then slowly, slowly, realization struggled back to its own, and he came to know things. First was the knowledge that he was lying flat on his back, on a couch, it seemed; then, that he was in the dark–an utter, abject darkness. And finally came an overwhelming sense of silence.
For a while he lay motionless, with not even the movement of an eye-lash to indicate consciousness, wrapped in a delicious languor. Gradually this passed and the feeble flutter of his heart grew into a steady, rhythmic beat. The keen brain was awakening; he was beginning to remember. What had happened? He knew only that in some manner a drug had been administered to him, a bitter dose tasting of opium; that speechlessly, he had fought against it, that he had risen from the table in the restaurant, and that he had fallen. All the rest was blank.
With eyes still closed, and nerveless hands inert at his sides he listened, the while he turned the situation over in speculative mood. The waiter had administered the drug, of course, unless–unless it had been the courteous stranger who had replaced the newspaper on the table! That thought opened new fields of conjecture. Mr. Grimm had no recollection of ever having seen him before; and he had paid only the enforced attention of politeness to him. And why had the drug been administered? Vaguely, incoherently, Mr. Grimm imagined that in some way it had to do with the great international plot of war in which Miss Thorne was so delicate and vital an instrument.
Where was he? Conjecture stopped there. Evidently he was where the courteous gentleman in the restaurant wanted him to be. A prisoner? Probably. In danger? Long, careful attention to detail work in the Secret Service had convinced Mr. Grimm that he was always in danger. That was one reason–and the best–why he had lain motionless, without so much as lifting a finger, since that first glimmer of consciousness had entered his brain. He was probably under scrutiny, even in the darkness, and for the present it was desirable to accommodate any chance watcher by remaining apparently unconscious.
And so for a long time he lay, listening. Was there another person in the room? Mr. Grimm’s ears were keenly alive for the inadvertent shuffling of a foot; or the sound of breathing. Nothing. Even the night roar of the city was missing; the silence was oppressive. At last he opened his eyes. A pall of gloom encompassed him–a pall without one rift of light. His fingers, moving slowly, explored the limits of the couch whereon he lay.
Confident, at last, that wherever he was, he was unwatched, Mr. Grimm was on the point of concluding that further inaction was useless, when his straining ears caught the faint grating of metal against metal–perhaps the insertion of a key in the lock. His hands grew still; his eyes closed. And after a moment a door creaked slightly on its hinges, and a breath of cool air informed Mr. Grimm that that open door, wherever it was, led to the outside, and freedom.
There was another faint creaking as the door was shut. Mr. Grimm’s nerveless hands closed involuntarily, and his lips were set together tightly. Was it to be a knife thrust in the dark? If not–then what? He expected the flare of a match; instead there was a soft tread, and the rustle of skirts. A woman! Mr. Grimm’s caution was all but forgotten in his surprise. As the steps drew nearer his clenched fingers loosened; he waited.
Two hands stretched forward in the dark, touched him simultaneously–one on the face, one on the breast. A singular thrill shot through him, but there was not the flicker of an eye or the twitching of a finger. The woman–it _was_ a woman–seemed now to be bending over him, then he heard her drop on her knees beside him, and she pressed an inquiring ear to his left side. It was the heart test.
“Thank God!” she breathed softly.
It was only by a masterful effort that Mr. Grimm held himself limp and inert, for a strange fragrance was enveloping him–a fragrance he well knew.
The hands were fumbling at his breast again, and there was the sharp crackle of paper. At first he didn’t understand, then he knew that the woman had pinned a paper to the lapel of his coat. Finally she straightened up, and took two steps away from him, after which came a pause. His keenly attuned ears caught her faint breathing, then the rustle of her skirts as she turned back. She was leaning over him again–her lips touched his forehead, barely; again there was a quick rustling of skirts, the door creaked, and–silence, deep, oppressive, overwhelming silence.
Isabel! Was he dreaming? And then he ceased wondering and fell to remembering her kiss–light as air–and the softly spoken “Thank God!” She did care, then! She _had_ understood, that day!
The kiss of a woman beloved is a splendid heart tonic. Mr. Grimm straightened up suddenly on the couch, himself again. He touched the slip of paper which she had pinned to his coat to make sure it was not all a dream, after which he recalled the fact that while he had heard the door creak before she went out he had not heard it creak afterward. Therefore, the door was open. She had left it open. Purposely? That was beside the question at the moment.
And why–how–was she in Washington? Pondering that question, Mr. Grimm’s excellent teeth clicked sharply together and he rose. He knew the answer. The compact was to be signed–the alliance which would array the civilized world in arms. He had failed to block that, as he thought. If Miss Thorne had returned, then Prince Benedetto d’Abruzzi, who held absolute power to sign the compact for Italy, France and Spain, had also returned.
Stealthily, feeling his way as he went, Mr. Grimm moved toward the door leading to freedom, guided by the fresh draft of air. He reached the door–it was standing open–and a moment later stepped out into the star-lit night. It was open country here, with a thread of white road just ahead, and farther along a fringe of shrubbery. Mr. Grimm reached the road. Far down it, a pin point in the night, a light flickered through interlacing branches. The tail lamp of an automobile, of course!
Mr. Grimm left the road and skirted a sparse hedge in the direction of the light. After a moment he heard the engine of an automobile, and saw a woman–barely discernible–step into the car. As it started forward he staked everything on one bold move, and won, his reward being a narrow sitting space in the rear of the car, hidden from its occupants by the tonneau. One mile, two miles, three miles they charged through the night, and still he clung on. At last there came relief.
“That’s the place, where the lights are–just ahead.”
There was no mistaking that voice raised above the clamor of the engine. The car slackened speed, and Mr. Grimm dropped off and darted behind some convenient bushes. And the first thing he did there was to light a match, and read what was written on the slip of paper pinned to his coat. It was, simply:
“My Dear Mr. Grimm:
“By the time you read this the compact will have been signed, and your efforts to prevent it, splendid as they were, futile. It is a tribute to you that it was unanimously agreed that you must be accounted for at the time of the signing, hence the drugging in the restaurant; it was only an act of kindness that I should come here to see that all was well with you, and leave the door open behind me.
“Believe me when I say that you are one man in whom I have never been disappointed. Accept this as my farewell, for now I assume again the name and position rightfully mine. And know, too, that I shall always cherish the belief that you will remember me as
“P. S. The prince and I left the steamer at Montauk Point, on a tug-boat.”
Mr. Grimm kissed the note twice, then burned it.
A room, low-ceilinged, dim, gloomy, sinister as an inquisition chamber; a single large table in the center, holding a kerosene lamp, writing materials and a metal spheroid a shade larger than a one-pound shell; and around it a semicircle of silent, masked and cowled figures. There were twelve of them, eleven men and a woman. In the shadows, which grew denser at the far end of the room, was a squat, globular object, a massive, smooth-sided, black, threatening thing of iron.
One of the men glanced at his watch–it was just two o’clock–then rose and took a position beside the table, facing the semicircle. He placed the timepiece on the table in front of him.
“Gentlemen,” he said, and there was the faintest trace of a foreign accent, “I shall speak English because I know that whatever your nationality all of you are familiar with that tongue. And now an apology for the theatric aspect of all this–the masks, the time and place of meeting, and the rest of it.” He paused a moment. “There is only one person living who knows the name and position of all of you,” and by a sweep of his hand he indicated the motionless figure of the woman. “It was by her decision that masks are worn, for, while we all know the details of the Latin compact, there is a bare chance that some one will not sign, and it is not desirable that the identity of that person be known to all of us. The reason for the selection of this time and place is obvious, for an inkling of the proposed signing has reached the Secret Service. I will add the United States was chosen as the birthplace of this new epoch in history for several reasons, one being the proximity to Central and South America; and another the inadequate police system which enables greater freedom of action.”
He stopped and drew from his pocket a folded parchment. He tapped the tips of his fingers with it from time to time as he talked.
“The Latin compact, gentlemen, is not the dream, of a night, nor of a decade. As long as fifty years ago it was suggested, and whatever differences the Latin countries of the world have had among themselves, they have always realized that ultimately they must stand together against–against the other nations of the world. This idea germinated into action three years ago, and since that time agents have covered the world in its interest. This meeting is the fruition of all that work, and this,” he held the parchment aloft, “is the instrument that will unite us. Never has a diplomatic secret been kept as this has been kept; never has a greater reprisal been planned. It means, gentlemen, the domination of the world–socially, spiritually, commercially and artistically; it means that England and the United States, whose sphere of influence has extended around the globe, will be beaten back, that the flag of the Latin countries will wave again over lost possessions. It means all of that, and more.”
His voice had risen as he talked until it had grown vibrant with enthusiasm; and his hands pointed his remarks with quick, sharp gestures.
“All this,” he went on, “was never possible until three years ago, when the navies of the world were given over into the hands of one nation–my country. Five years ago a fellow-countryman of mine happened to be present at an electrical exhibition in New York City, and there he witnessed an interesting experiment–practical demonstration of the fact that a submarine mine may be exploded by the use of the Marconi wireless system. He was a practical electrician himself, and the idea lingered in his mind. For two years he experimented, and finally this resulted.” He picked up the metal spheroid and held it out for their inspection. “As it stands it is absolutely perfect and gives a world’s supremacy to the Latin countries because it places all the navies of the world at our mercy. It is a variation of the well-known percussion cap or fuse by which mines and torpedoes are exploded.
“The theory of it is simple, as are the theories of all great inventions; the secret of its construction is known only to its inventor–a man of whom you never heard. It is merely that the mechanism of the cap is so delicate that the Marconi wireless waves–and _only_ those–will fire the cap. In other words, this cap is tuned, if I may use the word, to a certain number of vibrations and half-vibrations; a wireless instrument of high power, with a modifying addition which the inventor has added, has only to be set in motion to discharge it at any distance up to twenty-five miles. High power wireless waves recognize no obstacle, so the explosion of a submarine mine is as easily brought about as would be the explosion of a mine on dry land. You will readily see its value as a protective agency for our seaports.”
He replaced the spheroid on the table.
“But its chief value is not in that,” he resumed. “Its chief value to the Latin compact, gentlemen, is that the United States and England are now concluding negotiations, unknown to each other, by which _they_ will protect _their_ seaports by means of mines primed with this cap. The tuning of the caps which we will use is known only to us; _the tuning of the caps which they will use is also known to us_! The addition to the wireless apparatus which they will use is such that they _can not_, even by accident, explode a mine guarding our seaports; but, on the other hand, the addition to the wireless apparatus which _we_ will use permits of the extreme high charge which will explode their mines. To make it clearer, we could send a navy against such a city as New York or Liverpool, and explode every mine in front of us as we went; and meanwhile our mines are impervious.
“Another word, and I have finished. Five gentlemen, whom I imagine are present now, have witnessed a test of this cap, by direct command of their home governments. For the benefit of the others of you a simple test has been arranged for to-night. This cap on the table is charged; its inventor is at his wireless instrument, fifteen miles away. At three o’clock he will turn on the current that will explode it.” Four of the eleven men looked at their watches. “It is now seventeen minutes past two. I am instructed, for the purposes of the test, to place this cap anywhere you may select–in this house or outside of it, in a box, sealed, or under water. The purpose is merely to demonstrate its efficacy; to prove to your complete satisfaction that it can be exploded under practically any conditions.”
His entire manner underwent a change; he drew a chair up to the table, and stood for an instant with his hand resting on the back.
“The compact is written in three languages–English, French and Italian. I shall ask you to sign, after reading either or all, precisely as the directions you have received from your home government instruct. On behalf of the three greatest Latin countries, as special envoy of each, I will sign first.”
He dropped into the chair, signed each of the three parchment pages three times, then rose and offered the pen to the cowled figure at one end of the semicircle. The man came forward, read the English transcript, studied the three signatures already there with a certain air of surprise, then signed. The second man signed, the third man, and the fourth.
The fifth had just risen to go forward when the door opened silently and Mr. Grimm entered. Without a glance either to right or left, he went straight toward the table, and extended a hand to take the compact.
For an instant there had come amazement, a dumb astonishment, at the intrusion. It passed, and the hand of the man who had done the talking darted out, seized the compact, and held it behind him.
“If you will be good enough to give that to me, your Highness,” suggested Mr. Grimm quietly.
For half a minute the masked man stared straight into the listless eyes of the intruder, and then:
“Mr. Grimm, you are in very grave danger.”
“That is beside the question,” was the reply. “Be good enough to give me that document.”
He backed away as he spoke, kicked the door closed with one heel, then leaned against it, facing them.
“Or better yet,” he went on after a moment, “burn it. There is a lamp in front of you.” He paused for an answer. “It would be absurd of me to attempt to take it by force,” he added.
THE PERCUSSION CAP
There was a long, tense silence. The cowled figures had risen ominously; Miss Thorne paled behind her mask, and her fingers gripped her palms fiercely, still she sat motionless. Prince d’Abruzzi broke the silence. He seemed perfectly calm and self-possessed.
“How did you get in?” he demanded.
“Throttled your guard at the front door, took him down cellar and locked him in the coal-bin,” replied Mr. Grimm tersely. “I am waiting for you to burn it.”
“And how did you escape from–from the other place?”
Mr. Grimm shrugged his shoulders.
“The lamp is in front of you,” he said.
“And find your way here?” the prince pursued.
Again Mr. Grimm shrugged his shoulders. For an instant longer the prince gazed straight into his inscrutable face, then turned accusing eyes on the masked figures about him.
“Is there a traitor?” he demanded suddenly. His gaze settled on Miss Thorne and lingered there.
“I can relieve your mind on that point–there is not,” Mr. Grimm assured him. “Just a final word, your Highness, if you will permit me. I have heard everything that has been said here for the last fifteen minutes. The details of your percussion cap are interesting. I shall lay them before my government and my government may take it upon itself to lay them before the British government. You yourself said a few minutes ago that this compact was not possible before this cap was invented and perfected. It isn’t possible the minute my government is warned against its use. That will be my first duty.”
“You are giving some very excellent reasons, Mr. Grimm,” was the deliberate reply, “why you should not be permitted to leave this room alive.”
“Further,” Mr. Grimm resumed in the same tone, “I have been ordered to prevent the signing of that compact, at least in this country. It seems that I am barely in time. If it is signed–and it will be useless now on your own statement unless you murder me–every man who signs it will have to reckon with the highest power of this country. Will you destroy it? I don’t want to know what countries already stand committed by the signatures there.”
“I will not,” was the steady response. And then, after a little: “Mr. Grimm, the inventor of this little cap, insignificant as it seems, will receive millions for it. Your silence would be worth–just how much?”
Mr. Grimm’s face turned red, then white again.
“Which would you prefer? An independence by virtue of a great fortune, or–or the other thing?”
Suddenly Miss Thorne tore the mask from her face and came forward. Her cheeks were scarlet, and anger flamed in the blue-gray eyes.
“Mr. Grimm has no price–I happen to know that,” she declared hotly. “Neither money nor a consideration for his own personal safety will make him turn traitor.” She stared coldly into the prince’s eyes. “And we are not assassins here,” she added.
“Miss Thorne has stated the matter fairly, I believe, your Highness,” and Mr. Grimm permitted his eyes to linger a moment on the flushed face of this woman who, in a way, was defending him. “But there is only one thing to do, Miss Thorne.” He was talking to her now. “There is no middle course. It is a problem that has only one possible answer–the destruction of that document, and the departure of you, and you, your Highness, for Italy under my personal care all the way. I imagined this matter had ended that day on the steamer; it _will_ end here, now, to-night.”
The prince glanced again at his watch, then thoughtfully weighed the percussion cap in his hand, after which, with a curious laugh, he walked over to the squat iron globe in an opposite corner of the room. He bent over it half a minute, then straightened up.
“That cap, Mr. Grimm, has one disadvantage,” he remarked casually. “When it is attached to a mine or torpedo it can not be disconnected without firing it. It is attached.” He turned to the others. “It is needless to discuss the matter further just now. If you will follow me? We will leave Mr. Grimm here.”
With a strange little cry, neither anger nor anguish, yet oddly partaking of the quality of each, Isabel went quickly to the prince.
“How dare you do such a thing?” she demanded fiercely. “It is murder.”
“This is not a time, Miss Thorne, for your interference,” replied the prince coldly. “It has all passed beyond the point where the feelings of any one person, even the feelings of the woman who has engineered the compact, can be considered. A single life can not be permitted to stand in the way of the consummation of this world project. Mr. Grimm alive means the compact would be useless, if not impossible; Mr. Grimm dead means the fruition of all our plans and hopes. You have done your duty and you have done it well; but now your authority ends, and I, the special envoy of–“
“Just a moment, please,” Mr. Grimm interrupted courteously. “As I understand it, your Highness, the mine there in the corner is charged?”
“Yes. It just happened to be here for purposes of experiment.”
“The cap is attached?”
“Quite right.” The prince laughed.
“And at three o’clock, by your watch, the mine will be fired by a wireless operator fifteen miles from here?”
“Something like that; yes, very much like that,” assented the prince.
“Thank you. I merely wanted to understand it.” Mr. Grimm pulled a chair up against the door and sat down, crossing his legs. On his knees rested the barrel of a revolver, glittering, fascinating, in the semi-darkness. “Now, gentlemen,” and he glanced at his watch, “it’s twenty-one minutes of three o’clock. At three that mine will explode. We will all be in the room when it happens, unless his Highness sees fit to destroy the compact.”
Eyes sought eyes, and the prince removed his mask with a sudden gesture. His face was bloodless.
“If any man,” and Mr. Grimm gave Miss Thorne a quick glance, “I should say, _any person_, attempts to leave this room I _know_ he will die; and there’s a bare chance that the percussion cap will fail to work. I can account for six of you, if there is a rush.”
“But, man, if that mine explodes we shall all be killed–blown to pieces!” burst from one of the cowled figures.
“If the percussion cap works,” supplemented Mr. Grimm.
Mingled emotions struggled in the flushed face of Isabel as she studied Mr. Grimm’s impassive countenance.
“I have never disappointed you yet, Miss Thorne,” he remarked as if it were an explanation. “I shall not now.”
She turned to the prince.
“Your Highness, I think it needless to argue further,” she said. “We have no choice in the matter; there is only one course–destroy the compact.”
“No!” was the curt answer.
“I believe I know Mr. Grimm better than you do,” she argued. “You think he will weaken; I know he will not. I am not arguing for him, nor for myself; I am arguing against the frightful loss that will come here in this room if the compact is not destroyed.”
[Illustration: “You think he will weaken; I know he will not.”]
“It’s absurd to let one man stand in the way,” declared the prince angrily.
“It might not be an impertinent question, your Highness,” commented Mr. Grimm, “for me to ask how you are going to _prevent_ one man standing in the way?”
A quick change came over Miss Thorne’s face. The eyes hardened, the lips were set, and lines Mr. Grimm had never seen appeared about the mouth. Here, in a flash, the cloak of dissimulation was cast aside, and the woman stood forth, this keen, brilliant, determined woman who did things.
“The compact will be destroyed,” she said.
“No,” declared the prince.
“It _must_ be destroyed.”
“_Must? Must?_ Do you say _must to me?_”
“Yes, _must_,” she repeated steadily.
“And by what authority, please, do–“
“By that authority!” She drew a tiny, filigreed gold box from her bosom and cast it upon the table; the prince stared at it. “In the name of your sovereign–_must_!” she said again.
The prince turned away and began pacing, back and forth across the room with the parchment crumpled in his hand. For a minute or more Isabel stood watching him.
“Thirteen minutes!” Mr. Grimm announced coldly.
And now broke out an excited chatter, a babel of French, English, Italian, Spanish; those masked and cowled ones who had held silence for so long all began talking at once. One of them snatched at the crumpled compact in the prince’s hand, while all crowded around him arguing. Mr. Grimm sat perfectly still with the revolver barrel resting on his knees.
“Eleven minutes!” he announced again.
Suddenly the prince turned violently on Miss Thorne with rage-distorted face.
“Do you know what it means to you if I do as you say?” he demanded savagely. “It means you will be branded as traitor, that your name, your property–“
“If you will pardon me, your Highness,” she interrupted, “the power that I have used was given to me to use; I have used it. It is a matter to be settled between me and my government, and as far as it affects my person is of no consequence now. You will destroy the compact.”
“Nine minutes!” said Mr. Grimm monotonously.
Again the babel broke out.
“Do we understand that you want to see the compact?” one of the cowled men asked suddenly of Mr. Grimm as he turned.
“No, I don’t want to see it. I’d prefer not to see it.”
With hatred blazing in his eyes the prince made his way toward the lamp, holding a parchment toward the blaze.
“There’s nothing else to be done,” he exclaimed savagely.
“Just a moment, please,” Mr. Grimm interposed quickly. “Miss Thorne, is that the compact?”
She glanced at it, nodded her head, and then the flame caught the fringed edge of paper. It crackled, flashed, flamed, and at last, a thing of ashes, was scattered on the floor. Mr. Grimm rose.
“That is all, gentlemen,” he announced courteously. “You are free to go. You, your Highness, and Miss Thorne, will accompany me.”
He held open the door and there was almost a scramble to get out. The prince and Miss Thorne waited until the last.
“And, Miss Thorne, if you will give us a lift in your car?” Mr. Grimm suggested. “It is now four minutes of three.”
The automobile came in answer to a signal and the three in silence entered it. The car trembled and had just begun to move when Mr. Grimm remembered something, and leaped out.
“Wait for me!” he called. “There’s a man locked in the coal-bin!”
He disappeared into the house, and Miss Thorne, with a gasp of horror sank back in her seat with face like chalk. The prince glanced uneasily at his watch, then spoke curtly to the chauffeur.
“Run the car up out of danger; there’ll be an explosion there in a moment.”
They had gone perhaps a hundred feet when the building they had just left seemed to be lifted bodily from the ground by a great spurt of flame which tore through its center, then collapsed like a thing of cards. The prince, unmoved, glanced around at Miss Thorne; she lay in a dead faint beside him.
“Go ahead,” he commanded. “Baltimore.”
THE PERSONAL EQUATION
Mr. Campbell ceased talking and the deep earnestness that had settled on his face passed, leaving instead the blank, inscrutable mask of benevolence behind which his clock-like genius was habitually hidden. The choleric blue eyes of the president of the United States shifted inquiringly to the thoughtful countenance of the secretary of state at his right, thence along the table around which the official family was gathered. It was a special meeting of the cabinet called at the suggestion of Chief Campbell, and for more than an hour he had done the talking. There had been no interruption.
“So much!” he concluded, at last. “If there is any point I have not made clear Mr. Grimm is here to explain it in person.”
Mr. Grimm rose at the mention of his name and stood with his hands clasped behind his back. His eyes met those of the chief executive listlessly.
“We understand, Mr. Grimm,” the president began, and he paused for an instant to regard the tall, clean-cut young man with a certain admiration, “we understand that there does not actually exist such a thing as a Latin compact against the English-speaking peoples?”
“On paper, no,” was the reply.
“You personally prevented the signing of the compact?”
“I personally caused the destruction of the compact after several signatures had been attached,” Mr. Grimm amended. “Throughout I have acted under the direction of Mr. Campbell, of course.”
“You were in very grave personal danger?” the president went on.
“It was of no consequence,” said Mr. Grimm simply.
The president glanced at Mr. Campbell and the chief shrugged his shoulders.
“You are certain, Mr. Grimm,” and the president spoke with great deliberation, “you are certain that the representatives of the Latin countries have not met since and signed the compact?”
“I am not certain–no,” replied Mr. Grimm promptly. “I am certain, however, that the backbone of the alliance was broken–its only excuse for existence destroyed–when they permitted me to learn of the wireless percussion cap which would have placed the navies of the world at their mercy. Believe me, gentlemen, if they had kept their secret it would have given them dominion of the earth. They made one mistake,” he added in a most matter-of-fact tone. “They should have killed me; it was their only chance.”
The president seemed a little startled at the suggestion.
“That would have been murder,” he remarked.
“True,” Mr. Grimm acquiesced, “but it seems an absurd thing that they should have permitted the life of one man to stand between them and the world power for which they had so long planned and schemed. His Highness, Prince Benedetto d’Abruzzi believed as I do, and so expressed himself.” He paused a moment; there was a hint of surprise in his manner. “I expected to be killed, of course. It seemed to me the only thing that could happen.”
“They must have known of the far-reaching consequences which would follow upon your escape, Mr. Grimm. Why _didn’t_ they kill you?”
Mr. Grimm made a little gesture with both hands and was silent.
“May they not yet attempt it?” the president insisted.
“It’s too late now,” Mr. Grimm explained. “They had everything to gain by killing me there as I stood in the room where I had interrupted the signing of the compact, because that would have been before I had placed the facts in the hands of my government. I was the only person outside of their circle who knew all of them. Only the basest motive could inspire them to attempt my life now.”
There was a pause. The secretary of state glanced from Mr. Grimm to Mr. Campbell with a question in his deep-set eyes.
“Do I understand that you placed a Miss Thorne and the prince under–that is, you detained them?” he queried. “If so, where are they now?”
“I don’t know,” was the reply. “Just before the explosion the three of us entered an automobile together, and then as we were starting away I remembered something which made it necessary for me to reenter the house. When I came out again, just a few seconds before the explosion, the prince and Miss Thorne had gone.”
The secretary’s lips curled down in disapproval.
“Wasn’t it rather unusual, to put it mildly, to leave your prisoners to their own devices that way?” he asked.
“Well, yes,” Mr. Grimm admitted. “But the circumstances were unusual. When I entered the house I had locked a man in the cellar. I had to go back to save his life, otherwise–“
“Oh, the guard at the door, you mean?” came the interruption. “Who was it?”
Mr. Grimm glanced at his chief, who nodded.
“It was Mr. Charles Winthrop Rankin of the German embassy,” said the young man.
“Mr. Rankin of the German embassy was on guard at the door?” demanded the president quickly.
“Yes. We got out safely.”
“And that means that Germany was–!”
The president paused and startled glances passed around the table. After a moment of deep abstraction the secretary went on:
“So Miss Thorne and the prince escaped. Are they still in this country?”
“That I don’t know,” replied Mr. Grimm. He stood silent a moment, staring at the president. Some subtle change crept into the listless eyes, and his lips were set. “Perhaps I had better explain here that the personal equation enters largely into an affair of this kind,” he said at last, slowly. “It happens that it entered into this. Unless I am ordered to pursue the matter further I think it would be best for all concerned to accept the fact of Miss Thorne’s escape, and–” He stopped.
There was a long, thoughtful silence. Every man in the room was studying Mr. Grimm’s impassive face.
“Personal equation,” mused the president. “Just how, Mr. Grimm, does the personal equation enter into the affair?”
The young man’s lips closed tightly, and then:
“There are some people, Mr. President, whom we meet frankly as enemies, and we deal with them accordingly; and there are others who oppose us and yet are not enemies. It is merely that our paths of duty cross. We may have the greatest respect for them and they for us, but purposes are unalterably different. In other words there is a personal enmity and a political enmity. You, for instance, might be a close personal friend of the man whom you defeated for president. There might”–he stopped suddenly.
“Go on,” urged the president.
“I think every man meets once in his life an individual with whom he would like to reckon personally,” the young man continued. “That reckoning may not be a severe one; it may be less severe than the law would provide; but it would be a personal reckoning. There is one individual in this affair with whom I should like to reckon, hence the personal equation enters very largely into the case.”
For a little while the silence of the room was unbroken, save for the steady tick-tock of a great clock in one corner. Mr. Grimm’s eyes were fixed unwaveringly upon those of the chief executive. At last the secretary of war crumpled a sheet of paper impatiently and hitched his chair up to the table.
“Coming down to the facts it’s like this, isn’t it?” he demanded briskly. “The Latin countries, by an invention of their own which the United States and England were to be duped into purchasing, would have had power to explode every submarine mine before attacking a port? Very well. This thing, of course, would have given them the freedom of the seas as long as we were unable to explode their submarines as they were able to explode ours. And this is the condition which made the Latin compact possible, isn’t it?”
He looked straight at Mr. Grimm, who nodded.
“Therefore,” he went on, “if the Latin compact is not a reality on paper; if the United States and England do not purchase this–this wireless percussion cap, we are right back where we were before it all happened, aren’t we? Every possible danger from that direction has passed, hasn’t it? The world-war of which we have been talking is rendered impossible, isn’t it?”
“That’s a question,” answered Mr. Grimm. “If you will pardon me for suggesting it, I would venture to say that as long as there is an invention of that importance in the hands of nations whom we now know have been conspiring against us for fifty years, there is always danger. It seems to me, if you will pardon me again, that for the sake of peace we must either get complete control of that invention or else understand it so well that there can be no further danger. And again, please let me call your attention to the fact that the brain which brought this thing into existence is still to be reckoned with. There may, some day, come a time when our submarines may be exploded at will regardless of this percussion cap.”
The secretary of war turned flatly upon Chief Campbell.
“This woman who is mixed up in this affair?” he demanded. “This Miss Thorne. Who is she?”
“Who is she?” repeated the chief. “She’s a secret agent of Italy, one of the most brilliant, perhaps, that has ever operated in this or any other country. She is the pivot around which the intrigue moved. We know her by a dozen names; any one of them may be correct.”
The brows of the secretary of war were drawn down in thought as he turned to the president.
“Mr. Grimm was speaking of the personal equation,” he remarked pointedly. “I think perhaps his meaning is clear when we know there is a woman in the case. We know that Mr. Grimm has done his duty to the last inch in this matter; we know that alone and unaided, practically, he has done a thing that no living man of his relative position has ever done before–prevented a world-war. But there is further danger–he himself has called our attention to it–therefore, I would suggest that Mr. Grimm be relieved of further duty in this particular case. This is not a moment when the peace of the world may be imperiled by personal feelings of–of kindliness for an individual.”
Mr. Grimm received the blow without a tremor. His hands were still idly clasped behind his back; the eyes fastened upon the president’s face were still listless; the mouth absolutely without expression.
“As Mr. Grimm has pointed out,” the secretary went on, “we have been negotiating for this wireless percussion cap. I have somewhere in my office the name and address of the individual with whom these negotiations have been conducted. Through that it is possible to reach the inventor, and then–! I suggest that we vote our thanks to Mr. Grimm and relieve him of this particular case.”
The choleric eyes of the president softened a little, and grew grave as they studied the impassive face of the young man.
“It’s a strange situation, Mr. Grimm,” he said evenly. “What do you say to withdrawing?”
“I am at your orders, Mr. President,” was the reply.
“No one knows better what you have done than the gentlemen here at this table,” the president went on slowly. “No one questions that you have done more than any other man could have done under the circumstances. We understand, I think, that indirectly you are asking immunity for an individual. I don’t happen to know the liability of that individual under our law, but we can’t make any mistake now, Mr. Grimm, and so–and so–” He stopped and was silent.
“I had hoped, Mr. President, that what I have done so far–and I don’t underestimate it–would have, at least, earned for me the privilege of remaining in this case until its conclusion,” said Mr. Grimm steadily. “If it is to be otherwise, of course I am at–“
“History tells us, Mr. Grimm,” interrupted the president irrelevantly, “that the frou-frou of a woman’s skirt has changed the map of the world. Do you believe,” he went on suddenly, “that a man can mete out justice fairly, severely if necessary, to one for whom he has a personal regard?”
“I do, sir.”
“Perhaps even to one–to a woman whom he might love?”
“I do, sir.”
The president rose.
“Please wait in the anteroom for a few minutes,” he directed.
Mr. Grimm bowed himself out. At the end of half an hour he was again summoned into the cabinet chamber. The president met him with outstretched hand. There was more than mere perfunctory thanks in this–there was the understanding of man and man.
“You will proceed with the case to the end, Mr. Grimm,” he instructed abruptly. “If you need assistance ask for it; if not, proceed alone. You will rely upon your own judgment entirely. If there are circumstances which make it inadvisable to move against an individual by legal process, even if that individual is amenable to our laws, you are not constrained so to do if your judgment is against it. There is one stipulation: You will either secure the complete rights of the wireless percussion cap to this government or learn the secret of the invention so that at no future time can we be endangered by it.”
“Thank you,” said Mr. Grimm quietly. “I understand.”
“I may add that it is a matter of deep regret to me,” and the president brought one vigorous hand down on the young man’s shoulder, “that our government has so few men of your type in its service. Good day.”
Mr. Grimm turned from Pennsylvania Avenue into a cross street, walked along half a block or so, climbed a short flight of stairs and entered an office.
“Is Mr. Howard in?” he queried of a boy in attendance.
Mr. Grimm handed over a sealed envelope which bore the official imprint of the Department of War in the upper left hand corner; and the boy disappeared into a room beyond. A moment later he emerged and held open the door for Mr. Grimm. A gentleman–Mr. Howard–rose from his seat and stared at him as he entered.
“This note, Mr. Grimm, is surprising,” he remarked.
“It is only a request from the secretary of war that I be permitted to meet the inventor of the wireless percussion cap,” Mr. Grimm explained carelessly. “The negotiations have reached a point where the War Department must have one or two questions answered directly by the inventor. Simple enough, you see.”
“But it has been understood, and I have personally impressed it upon the secretary of war that such a meeting is impossible,” objected Mr. Howard. “All negotiations have been conducted through me, and I have, as attorney for the inventor, the right to answer any question that may properly be answered. This now is a request for a personal interview with the inventor.”
“The necessity for such an interview has risen unexpectedly, because of a pressing need of either closing the deal or allowing it to drop,” Mr. Grimm stated. “I may add that the success of the deal depends entirely on this interview.”
Mr. Howard was leaning forward in his chair with wrinkled brow intently studying the calm face of the young man. Innocent himself of all the intrigue and international chicanery back of the affair, representing only an individual in these secret negotiations, he saw in the statement, as Mr. Grimm intended that he should, the possible climax of a great business contract. His greed was aroused; it might mean hundreds of thousands of dollars to him.
“Do you think the deal can be made?” he asked at last.
“I have no doubt there will be some sort of a deal,” replied Mr. Grimm. “As I say, however, it is absolutely dependent on an interview between the inventor and myself at once–this afternoon.”
Mr. Howard thoughtfully drummed on his desk for a little while. From the first, save in so far as the patent rights were concerned, he had seen no reasons for the obligations of utter secrecy which had been enforced upon him. Perhaps, if he laid it before the inventor in this new light, with the deal practically closed, the interview would be possible!
“I have no choice in the matter, Mr. Grimm,” he said at last. “I shall have to put it to my client, of course. Can you give me, say, half an hour to communicate with him?”
“Certainly,” and Mr. Grimm rose obligingly. “Shall I wait outside here or call again?”
“You may wait if you don’t mind,” said Mr. Howard. “I’ll be able to let you know in a few minutes, I hope.”
Mr. Grimm bowed and passed out. At the end of twenty-five minutes the door of Mr. Howard’s private office opened and he appeared. His face was violently red, evidently from anger, and perspiration stood on his forehead.
“I can’t do anything with him,” he declared savagely. “He says simply that negotiations must be conducted through me or not at all.”
Mr. Grimm had risen; he bowed courteously.
“Very well,” he said placidly. “You understand, of course, as the note says, that this refusal of his terminates the negotiations, so–“
“But just a moment–” interposed Mr. Howard quickly.
“Good day,” said Mr. Grimm.
The door opened and closed; he was gone. Three minutes later he stepped into a telephone booth at a near-by corner and took down the receiver.
“Hello, central!” he called, and then: “This is Mr. Grimm of the Secret Service. What number was Mr. Howard talking to?”
“Eleven double-nought six, Alexandria,” was the reply.
“Where is the connection? In whose name?”
“The connection is five miles out from Alexandria in a farm-house on the old Baltimore Road,” came the crisp, business-like answer. “The name is Murdock Williams.”
“Thank you,” said Mr. Grimm. “Good-by.”
A moment later he was standing by the curb waiting for a car, when Howard, still angry, and with an expression of deep chagrin on his face, came bustling up.
“If you can give me until to-morrow afternoon, then–” he began.
Mr. Grimm glanced around at him, and with a slight motion of his head summoned two men who had been chatting near-by. One of them was Blair, and the other Hastings.
“Take this man in charge,” he directed. “Hold him in solitary confinement until you hear from me. Don’t talk to him, don’t let any one else talk to him, and don’t let him talk. If any person speaks to him before he is locked up, take that person in charge also. He is guilty of no crime, but a single word from him now will endanger my life.”
That was all. It was said and done so quickly that Howard, dazed, confused and utterly unable to account for anything, was led away without a protest. Mr. Grimm, musing gently on the stupidity of mankind in general and the ease with which it is possible to lead even a clever individual into a trap, if the bait appeals to greed, took a car and went up town.
Some three hours later he walked briskly along a narrow path strewn with pine needles, which led tortuously up to an old colonial farmhouse. Outwardly the place seemed to be deserted. The blinds, battered and stripped of paint by wind and rain, were all closed and one corner of the small veranda had crumbled away from age and neglect. In the rear of the house, rising from an old barn, a thin pole with a cup-like attachment at the apex, thrust its point into the open above the dense, odorous pines. Mr. Grimm noted these things as he came along.
He stepped up quietly on the veranda and had just extended one hand to rap on the door when it was opened from within, and Miss Thorne stood before him. He was not surprised; intuition had told him he would meet her again, perhaps here in hiding. A sudden quick tenderness lighted the listless eyes. For an instant she stood staring, her face pallid against the gloom of the hallway beyond, and she drew a long breath of relief, as she pressed one hand to her breast. The blue-gray eyes were veiled by drooping lids, then she recovered herself and they opened into his. In them he saw anxiety, apprehension, fear even.
“Miss Thorne!” he greeted, and he bowed low over the white hand which she impulsively thrust toward him.
“I–I knew some one was coming,” she stammered in a half whisper. “I didn’t know it was you; I hadn’t known definitely until this instant that you were safe from the explosion. I am glad–glad, you understand; glad that you were not–” She stopped and fought back her emotions, then went on: “But you must not come in; you must go away at once. Your–your life is in danger here.”
“_How_ did you know I was coming?” inquired Mr. Grimm.
“From the moment Mr. Howard telephoned,” she replied, still hastily, still in the mysterious half whisper. “I knew that it could only be some one from your bureau, and I hoped that it was you. I saw how you forced him to call us up here, and that was all you needed. It was simple, of course, to trace the telephone call.” Both of her hands closed over one of his desperately. “Now, go, please. The Latin compact is at an end; you merely invite death here. Now, go!”
Her eyes were searching the listless face with entreaty in them; the slender fingers were fiercely gripping one of Mr. Grimm’s nerveless hands. For an instant some strange, softening light flickered in the young man’s eyes, then it passed.
“I have no choice, Miss Thorne,” he said gravely at last. “I am honor bound by my government to do one of two things. If I fail in the first of those–the greater–it can only be because–“
He stopped; hope flamed up in her eyes and she leaned forward eagerly studying the impassive face.
“Because–?” she repeated.
“It can only be because I am killed,” he added quietly. Suddenly his whole manner changed. “I should like to see the–the inventor?”
“But don’t you see–don’t you see you _will_ be killed if–?” she began tensely.
“May I see the inventor, please?” Mr. Grimm interrupted.
For a little time she stood, white and rigid, staring at him. Then her lids fluttered down wearily, as if to veil some crushing agony within her, and she stepped aside. Mr. Grimm entered and the door closed noiselessly behind him. After a moment her hand rested lightly on his arm, and he was led into a room to his left. This door, too, she closed, immediately turning to face him.
“We may talk here a few minutes without interruption,” she said in a low tone. Her voice was quite calm now. “If you will be–?”
“Please understand, Miss Thorne,” he interposed mercilessly, “that I must see the inventor, whoever he is. What assurance have I that this is not some ruse to permit him to escape?”
“You have my word of honor,” she said quite simply.
“Please go on.” He sat down.
“You will see him too soon, I fear,” she continued slowly. “If you had not come to him he would have gone to you.” She swayed a little and pressed one hand to her eyes. “I would to God it were in my power to prevent that meeting!” she exclaimed desperately. Then, with an effort: “There are some things I want to explain to you. It may be that you will be willing to go then of your own free will. If I lay bare to you every step I have taken since I have been in Washington; if I make clear to you every obscure point in this hideous intrigue; if I confess to you that the Latin compact has been given up for all time, won’t that be enough? Won’t you go then?”
Mr. Grimm’s teeth closed with a snap.
“I don’t want that–from you,” he declared.
“But if I should tell it all to you?” she pleaded.
“I won’t listen, Miss Thorne. You once paid me the compliment of saying that I was one man you knew in whom you had never been disappointed.” The listless eyes were blazing into her own now. “_I_ have never been disappointed in you. I will not permit you to disappoint me now. The secrets of your government are mine if I can get them–but I won’t allow you to tell them to me.”
“My government!” Miss Thorne repeated, and her lips curled sadly. “I–I have no government. I have been cast off by that government, stripped of my rank, and branded as a traitor!”
“Traitor!” Mr. Grimm’s lips formed the word silently.
“I failed, don’t you see?” she rushed on. “Ignominy is the reward of failure. Prince d’Abruzzi went on to New York that night, cabled a full account of the destruction of the compact to my government, and sailed home on the following day. I was the responsible one, and now it all comes back on me.” For a moment she was silent. “It’s so singular, Mr. Grimm. The fight from the first was between us–we two; and you won.”
IN WHICH THEY BOTH WIN
Mr. Grimm dropped into a chair with his teeth clenched, and his face like chalk. For a minute or more he sat there turning it all over in his mind. Truly the triumph had been robbed of its splendor when the blow fell here–here upon a woman he loved.
“There’s no shame in the confession of one who is fairly beaten,” Isabel went on softly, after a little. “There are many things that you don’t understand. I came to Washington with an authority from my sovereign higher even than that vested in the ambassador; I came _as_ I did and compelled Count di Rosini to obtain an invitation to the state ball for me in order that I might meet a representative of Russia there that night and receive an answer as to whether or not they would join the compact. I received that answer; its substance is of no consequence now.
“And you remember where I first met you? It was while you were investigating the shooting of Senor Alvarez in the German embassy. That shooting, as you know, was done by Prince d’Abruzzi, so almost from the beginning my plans went wrong because of the assumption of authority by the prince. The paper he took from Senor Alvarez after the shooting was supposed to bear vitally upon Mexico’s attitude toward our plan, but, as it developed, it was about another matter entirely.”
“Yes, I know,” said Mr. Grimm.
“The event of that night which you did _not_ learn was that Germany agreed to join the compact upon conditions. Mr. Rankin, who was attached to the German embassy in an advisory capacity, delivered the answer to me, and I pretended to faint in order that I might reasonably avoid you.”
“I surmised that much,” remarked Mr. Grimm.
“The telegraphing I did with my fan was as much to distract your attention as anything else, and at the same time to identify myself to Mr. Rankin, whom I had never met. You knew him, of course; I didn’t.”
She was silent a while as her eyes steadily met those of Mr. Grimm. Finally she went on:
“When next I met you it was in the Venezuelan legation; you were investigating the theft of the fifty thousand dollars in gold from the safe. I thrust myself into that case, because I was afraid of you; and mercilessly destroyed a woman’s name in your eyes to further my plans. I made you believe that Senorita Rodriguez stole that fifty thousand dollars, and I returned it to you, presumably, while we stood in her room that night. Only it was not her room–it was _mine!_ _I_ stole the fifty thousand dollars! All the details, even to her trip to see Mr. Griswold in Baltimore in company with Mr. Cadwallader, had been carefully worked out; and she _did_ bring me the combination of the safe from Mr. Griswold on the strength of a forged letter. But she didn’t know it. There was no theft, of course. I had no intention of keeping the money. It was necessary to take it to distract attention from the thing I _did_ do–break a lock inside the safe to get a sealed packet that contained Venezuela’s answer to our plan. I sealed that packet again, and there was never a suspicion that it had been opened.”
“Only a suspicion,” Mr. Grimm corrected.
“Then came the abduction of Monsieur Boissegur, the French ambassador. I plunged into that case as I did in the other because I was afraid of you and had to know just how much you knew. It was explained to you as an attempt at extortion with details which I carefully supplied. As a matter of fact, Monsieur Boissegur opposed our plans, even endangered them; and it was not advisable to have him recalled or even permit him to resign at the moment. So we abducted him, intending to hold him until direct orders could reach him from Paris. Understand, please, that all these things were made possible by the aid and cooperation of dozens, scores, of agents who were under my orders; every person who appeared in that abduction was working at my direction. The ambassador’s unexpected escape disarranged our plans; but he was taken out of the embassy by force the second time under your very eyes. The darkness which made this possible was due to the fact that while you were looking for the switch, and I was apparently aiding, I was holding my hand over it all the time to keep you from turning on the light. You remember that?”
Mr. Grimm nodded.
“All the rest of it you know,” she concluded wearily. “You compelled me to leave the Venezuelan legation by your espionage, but in the crowded hotel to which I moved I had little difficulty avoiding your Mr. Hastings, your Mr. Blair and your Mr. Johnson, so I came and went freely without your knowledge. The escape of the prince from prison you arranged, so you understand all of that, as well as the meeting and attempted signing of the compact, and the rapid recovery of Senor Alvarez. And, after all, it was my fault that our plans failed, because if I had not been–been uneasy as to your condition and had not made the mistake of going to the deserted little house where you were a prisoner, the plans would have succeeded, the compact been signed.”
“I’m beginning to understand,” said Mr. Grimm gravely, and a wistful, tender look crept into his eyes. “If it had not been for that act of–consideration and kindness to me–“
“We would have succeeded in spite of you,” explained Isabel. “We were afraid of you, Mr. Grimm. It was a compliment to you that we considered it necessary to account for your whereabouts at the time of the signing of the compact.”
“And if you had succeeded,” remarked Mr. Grimm, “the whole civilized world would have come to war.”
“I never permitted myself to think of it that way,” she replied frankly. “There is something splendid to me in a battle of brains; there is exaltation, stimulation, excitement in it. It has always possessed the greatest fascination for me. I have always won, you know, until now. I failed! And my reward is ‘Traitor!'”
“Just a word of assurance now,” she went on after a moment. “The Latin compact has been definitely given up; the plan has been dismissed, thanks to you; the peace of the world is unbroken. And who am I? I know you have wondered; I know your agents have scoured the world to find out. I am the daughter of a former Italian ambassador to the Court of St. James. My mother was an English woman. I was born and received my early education in England, hence my perfect knowledge of that tongue. In Rome I am, or have been, alas, the Countess Rosa d’Orsetti; now I am an exile with a price on my head. That is all, except for several years I was a trusted agent of my government, and a friend of my queen.”
She rose and extended both hands graciously. Mr. Grimm seized the slender white fingers and stood with eyes fixed upon hers. Slowly a flush crept into her pallid cheeks, and she bowed her head.
“Wonderful woman!” he said softly.
“I shall ask a favor of you now,” she went on gently. “Let all this that you have learned take the place of whatever you expected to learn, and go. Believe me, there can only be one result if you meet–if you meet the inventor of the wireless cap upon which so much was staked, and so much lost.” She shuddered a little, then raised the blue-gray eyes beseechingly to his face. “Please go.”
Go! The word straightened Mr. Grimm in his tracks and he allowed her hands to fall limply. Suddenly his face grew hard. In the ecstasy of adoration he had momentarily forgotten his purpose here. His eyes lost their ardor; his nerveless hands dropped beside him.
“No,” he said.
“You must–you must,” she urged gently. “I know what it means to you. You feel it your duty to unravel the secret of the percussion cap? You can’t; no man can. No one knows the inventor more intimately than I, and even I couldn’t get it from him. There are no plans for it in existence, and even if there were he would no more sell them than you would have accepted a fortune at the hands of Prince d’Abruzzi to remain silent. The compact has failed; you did that. The agents have scattered–gone to other duties. That is enough.”
“No,” said Mr. Grimm. There was a strange fear tearing at his heart,–“No one knows the inventor more intimately than I.” “No,” he said again. “I won from my government a promise to be made good upon a condition–I must fulfil that condition.”
“But there is nothing, promotion, honor, reward, that would compensate you for the loss of your life,” she entreated. “There is still time.” She was pleading now, with her slim white hands resting on his shoulders, and the blue-gray eyes fixed upon his face.
“It’s more than all that,” he said. “That condition is you–your safety.”
“For me?” she repeated. “For me? Then, won’t you go for–for my sake?”
“Won’t you go if you know you will be killed,” and suddenly her face turned scarlet, “and that your life is dear to me?”
Isabel dropped upon her knees before him.
“This inventor–this man whom you insist on seeing is half insane with disappointment and anger,” she rushed on desperately. “Remember that a vast fortune, honor, fame were at his finger tips when you–you placed them beyond his reach by the destruction of the compact. He has sworn to kill you.”
“I can’t go!”
“If you _know_ that when you meet one of you will die?”
“No.” The answer came fiercely, through clenched teeth. Mr. Grimm disengaged his right hand and drew his revolver; the barrel clicked under his fingers as it spun.
“If I tell you that of the two human beings in this world whom I love this man is one?”
A shuffling step sounded in the hallway just outside. Mr. Grimm stepped back from the kneeling figure, and turned to face the door with his revolver ready.
“Great God!” It was a scream of agony. “He is my brother! Don’t you see?”
She came to her feet and went staggering across to the door. The key clicked in the lock.
“Your brother!” exclaimed Mr. Grimm.
“He wouldn’t listen to me–_you_ wouldn’t listen to me, and now–and _now_! God have mercy!”
There was a sharp rattling, a clamor at the door, and Isabel turned to Mr. Grimm mutely, with arms outstretched. The revolver barrel clicked under his hand, then, after a moment, he replaced the weapon in his pocket.
“Please open the door,” he requested quietly.
“He’ll kill you!” she screamed.
Exhausted, helpless, she leaned against a chair with her face in her hands. Mr. Grimm went to her suddenly, tore the hands from her face, and met the tear-stained eyes.
“I love you,” he said. “I want you to know that!”
“And I love you–that’s why it matters so.”
Leaving her there, Mr. Grimm strode straight to the door and threw it open. He saw only the outline of a thin little man of indeterminate age, then came a blinding flash under his eyes, and he leaped forward. There was a short, sharp struggle, and both went down. The revolver! He must get that! He reached for it with the one idea of disarming this madman. The muzzle was thrust toward him, he threw up his arm to protect his head, and then came a second flash. Instantly he felt the figure in his arms grow limp; and after a moment he rose. The face of the man on the floor was pearly gray; and a thin, scarlet thread flowed from his temple.
[Illustration: In a stride Mr. Grimm was beside her.]
He turned toward Isabel. She lay near the chair, a little crumpled heap. In a stride he was beside her, and had lifted her head to his knee. The blue-gray eyes opened into his once, then they closed. She had fainted. The first bullet had pierced her arm; it was only a flesh wound. He lifted her gently and placed her on a couch, after which he disappeared into another room. In a little while there came the cheerful ting-a-ling of a telephone bell.
“Is this the county constable’s office?” he inquired. “Well, there’s been a little shooting accident at the Murdock Williams’ place, five miles out from Alexandria on the old Baltimore Road. Please send some of your men over to take charge. Two hours from now call up Mr. Grimm at Secret Service headquarters in Washington and he will explain. Good-by.”
And a few minutes later Mr. Grimm walked along the road toward an automobile a hundred yards away, bearing Miss Thorne in his arms. The chauffeur cranked the machine and climbed to his seat.
“Washington!” directed Mr. Grimm. “Never mind the speed laws.”