WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY
THE WONDERFUL WOMAN
I MISS ISABEL THORNE
II MR. CAMPBELL AND THE CABLE
III THE LANGUAGE OF THE FAN
IV THE FLEEING WOMAN
V A VISIT TO THE COUNT
VII THE SIGNAL
VIII MISS THORNE AND NOT MISS THORNE
IX FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS
X A SAFE OPENING
XI THE LACE HANDKERCHIEF
XII THE VANISHING DIPLOMATIST
XIII A CONFERENCE IN THE DARK
XIV A RESCUE AND AN ESCAPE
XV MASTER OF THE SITUATION
XVI LETTERS FROM JAIL
XVII A CALL ON THE WARDEN
XVIII NOTICE TO LEAVE
XIX BY WIRELESS
XX THE LIGHT IN THE DOME
XXI A SLIP OF PAPER
XXII THE COMPACT
XXIII THE PERCUSSION CAP
XXIV THE PERSONAL EQUATION
XXV WE TWO
XXVI IN WHICH THEY BOTH WIN
MISS ISABEL THORNE
All the world rubs elbows in Washington. Outwardly it is merely a city of evasion, of conventionalities, sated with the commonplace pleasures of life, listless, blase even, and always exquisitely, albeit frigidly, courteous; but beneath the still, suave surface strange currents play at cross purposes, intrigue is endless, and the merciless war of diplomacy goes on unceasingly. Occasionally, only occasionally, a bubble comes to the surface, and when it bursts the echo goes crashing around the earth. Sometimes a dynasty is shaken, a nation trembles, a ministry topples over; but the ripple moves and all is placid again. No man may know all that happens there, for then he would be diplomatic master of the world.
"There is plenty of red blood in Washington," remarked a jesting legislative gray-beard, once upon a time, "but it's always frozen before they put it in circulation. Diplomatic negotiations are conducted in the drawing-room, but long before that the fight is fought down cellar. The diplomatists meet at table and there isn't any broken crockery, but you can always tell what the player thinks of the dealer by the way he draws three cards. Everybody is after results; and lots of monarchs of Europe sit up nights polishing their crowns waiting for word from Washington."
So, this is Washington! And here at dinner are the diplomatic representatives of all the nations. That is the British ambassador, that stolid-faced, distinguished-looking, elderly man; and this is the French ambassador, dapper, volatile, plus-correct; here Russia's highest representative wags a huge, blond beard; and yonder is the phlegmatic German ambassador. Scattered around the table, brilliant splotches of color, are the uniformed envoys of the Orient—the smaller the country the more brilliant the splotch. It is a state dinner, to be followed by a state ball, and they are all present.
The Italian ambassador, Count di Rosini, was trying to interpret a French bon mot into English for the benefit of the dainty, doll-like wife of the Chinese minister—who was educated at Radcliffe—when a servant leaned over him and laid a sealed envelope beside his plate. The count glanced around at the servant, excused himself to Mrs. Quong Li Wi, and opened the envelope. Inside was a single sheet of embassy note paper, and a terse line signed by his secretary:
"A lady is waiting for you here. She says she must see you immediately, on a matter of the greatest importance."
The count read the note twice, with wrinkled brow, then scribbled on it in pencil:
"Impossible to-night. Tell her to call at the embassy to-morrow morning at half-past ten o'clock."
He folded the note, handed it to the servant, and resumed his conversation with Mrs. Wi.
Half an hour later the same servant placed a second sealed envelope beside his plate. Recognizing the superscription, the ambassador impatiently shoved it aside, intending to disregard it. But irritated curiosity finally triumphed, and he opened it. A white card on which was written this command was his reward:
"It is necessary that you come to the embassy at once."
There was no signature. The handwriting was unmistakably that of a woman, and just as unmistakably strange to him. He frowned a little as he stared at it wonderingly, then idly turned the card over. There was no name on the reverse side—only a crest. Evidently the count recognized this, for his impassive face reflected surprise for an instant, and this was followed by a keen, bewildered interest. Finally he arose, made his apologies, and left the room. His automobile was at the door.
"To the embassy," he directed the chauffeur.
And within five minutes he was there. His secretary met him in the hall.
"The lady is waiting in your office," he explained apologetically. "I gave her your message, but she said she must see you and would write you a line herself. I sent it."
"Quite correct," commented the ambassador. "What name did she give?"
"None," was the reply. "She said none was necessary."
The ambassador laid aside hat and coat and entered his office with a slightly puzzled expression on his face. Standing before a window, gazing idly out into the light-spangled night, was a young woman, rather tall and severely gowned in some rich, glistening stuff which fell away sheerly from her splendid bare shoulders. She turned and he found himself looking into a pair of clear, blue-gray eyes, frank enough and yet in their very frankness possessing an alluring, indefinable subtlety. He would not have called her pretty, yet her smile, slight as it was, was singularly charming, and there radiated from her a something—personality, perhaps—which held his glance. He bowed low, and closed the door.
"I am at your service, Madam," he said in a tone of deep respect. "Please pardon my delay in coming to you."
"It is unfortunate that I didn't write the first note," she apologized graciously. "It would at least have saved a little time. You have the card?"
He produced it silently, crest down, and handed it to her. She struck a match, lighted the card, and it crumbled up in her gloved hand. The last tiny scrap found refuge in a silver tray, where she watched it burn to ashes, then she turned to the ambassador with a brilliant smile. He was still standing.
"The dinner isn't over yet?" she inquired.
"No, Madam, not for another hour, perhaps."
"Then there's no harm done," she went on lightly. "The dinner isn't of any consequence, but I should like very much to attend the ball afterward. Can you arrange it for me?"
"I don't know just how I would proceed, Madam," the ambassador objected diffidently. "It would be rather unusual, difficult, I may say, and—"
"But surely you can arrange it some way?" she interrupted demurely. "The highest diplomatic representative of a great nation should not find it difficult to arrange so simple a matter as—as this?" She was smiling.
"Pardon me for suggesting it, Madam," the ambassador persisted courteously, "but anything out of the usual attracts attention in Washington. I dare say, from the manner of your appearance to-night, that you would not care to attract attention to yourself."
She regarded him with an enigmatic smile.
"I'm afraid you don't know women, Count," she said slowly, at last. "There's nothing dearer to a woman's heart than to attract attention to herself." She laughed—a throaty, silvery note that was charming. "And if you hesitate now, then to-morrow—why, to-morrow I am going to ask that you open to me all this Washington world—this brilliant world of diplomatic society. You see what I ask now is simple."
The ambassador was respectfully silent and deeply thoughtful for a time. There was, perhaps, something of resentment struggling within him, and certainly there was an uneasy feeling of rebellion at this attempt to thrust him forward against all precedent.
"Your requests are of so extraordinary a nature that—" he began in courteous protestation.
There was no trace of impatience in the woman's manner; she was still smiling.
"It is necessary that I attend the ball to-night," she explained, "you may imagine how necessary when I say I sailed from Liverpool six days ago, reaching New York at half-past three o'clock this afternoon; and at half-past four I was on my way here. I have been here less than one hour. I came from Liverpool especially that I might be present; and I even dressed on the train so there would be no delay. Now do you see the necessity of it?"
Diplomatic procedure is along well-oiled grooves, and the diplomatist who steps out of the rut for an instant happens upon strange and unexpected obstacles. Knowing this, the ambassador still hesitated. The woman apparently understood.
"I had hoped that this would not be necessary," she remarked, and she produced a small, sealed envelope. "Please read it."
The ambassador received the envelope with uplifted brows, opened it and read what was written on a folded sheet of paper. Some subtle working of his brain brought a sudden change in the expression of his face. There was wonder in it, and amazement, and more than these. Again he bowed low.
"I am at your service, Madam," he repeated. "I shall take pleasure in making any arrangements that are necessary. Again, I beg your pardon."
"And it will not be so very difficult, after all, will it?" she inquired, and she smiled tauntingly.
"It will not be at all difficult, Madam," the ambassador assured her gravely. "I shall take steps at once to have an invitation issued to you for to-night; and to-morrow I shall be pleased to proceed as you may suggest."
She nodded. He folded the note, replaced it in the envelope and returned it to her with another deep bow. She drew her skirts about her and sat down; he stood.
"It will be necessary for your name to appear on the invitation," the ambassador went on to explain. "If you will give me your name I'll have my secretary—"
"Oh, yes, my name," she interrupted gaily. "Why, Count, you embarrass me. You know, really, I have no name. Isn't it awkward?"
"I understand perfectly, Madam," responded the count. "I should have said a name."
She meditated a moment.
"Well, say—Miss Thorne—Miss Isabel Thorne," she suggested at last. "That will do very nicely, don't you think?"
"Very nicely, Miss Thorne," and the ambassador bowed again. "Please excuse me a moment, and I'll give my secretary instructions how to proceed. There will be a delay of a few minutes."
He opened the door and went out. For a minute or more Miss Thorne sat perfectly still, gazing at the blank wooden panels, then she rose and went to the window again. In the distance, hazy in the soft night, the dome of the capitol rose mistily; over to the right was the congressional library, and out there where the lights sparkled lay Pennsylvania Avenue, a thread of commerce. Miss Thorne saw it all, and suddenly stretched out her arms with an all-enveloping gesture. She stood so for a minute, then they fell beside her, and she was motionless.
Count di Rosini entered.
"Everything is arranged, Miss Thorne," he announced. "Will you go with me in my automobile, or do you prefer to go alone?"
"I'll go alone, please," she answered after a moment. "I shall be there about eleven."
The ambassador bowed himself out.
And so Miss Isabel Thorne came to Washington!
MR. CAMPBELL AND THE CABLE
Just as it is one man's business to manufacture watches, and another man's business to peddle shoe-strings, so it was Mr. Campbell's business to know things. He was a human card index, a governmental ready reference posted to the minute and backed by all the tremendous resources of a nation. From the little office in the Secret Service Bureau, where he sat day after day, radiating threads connected with the huge outer world, and enabled him to keep a firm hand on the diplomatic and departmental pulse of Washington. Perhaps he came nearer knowing everything that happened there than any other man living; and no man realized more perfectly than he just how little of all of it he did know.
In person Mr. Campbell was not unlike a retired grocer who had shaken the butter and eggs from his soul and settled back to enjoy a life of placid idleness. He was a little beyond middle age, pleasant of face, white of hair, and blessed with guileless blue eyes. His genius had no sparkle to it; it consisted solely of detail and system and indefatigability, coupled with a memory that was well nigh infallible. His brain was as serene and orderly as a cash register; one almost expected to hear it click.
He sat at his desk intently studying a cable despatch which lay before him. It was in the Secret Service code. Leaning over his shoulder was Mr. Grimm—the Mr. Grimm of the bureau. Mr. Grimm was an utterly different type from his chief. He was younger, perhaps thirty-one or two, physically well proportioned, a little above the average height, with regular features and listless, purposeless eyes—a replica of a hundred other young men who dawdle idly in the windows of their clubs and watch the world hurry by. His manner was languid; his dress showed fastidious care.
Sentence by sentence the bewildering intricacies of the code gave way before the placid understanding of Chief Campbell, and word by word, from the chaos of it, a translation took intelligible form upon a sheet of paper under his right hand. Mr. Grimm, looking on, exhibited only a most perfunctory interest in the extraordinary message he was reading; the listless eyes narrowed a little, that was all. It was a special despatch from Lisbon dated that morning, and signed simply "Gault." Completely translated it ran thus:
"Secret offensive and defensive alliance of the Latin against the English-speaking nations of the world is planned. Italy, France, Spain and two South American republics will soon sign compact in Washington. Proposition just made to Portugal, and may be accepted. Special envoys now working in Mexico and Central and South America. Germany invited to join, but refuses as yet, giving, however, tacit support; attitude of Russia and Japan unknown to me. Prince Benedetto d'Abruzzi, believed to be in Washington at present, has absolute power to sign for Italy, France and Spain. Profound secrecy enjoined and preserved. I learned of it by underground. Shall I inform our minister? Cable instructions."
"So much!" commented Mr. Campbell.
He clasped his hands behind his head, lay back in his chair and sat for a long time, staring with steadfast, thoughtful eyes into the impassive face of his subordinate. Mr. Grimm perched himself on the edge of the desk and with his legs dangling read the despatch a second time, and a third.
"If," he observed slowly, "if any other man than Gault had sent that I should have said he was crazy."
"The peace of the world is in peril, Mr. Grimm," said Campbell impressively, at last. "It had to come, of course, the United States and England against a large part of Europe and all of Central and South America. It had to come, and yet—!"
He broke off abruptly, and picked up the receiver of his desk telephone.
"The White House, please," he requested curtly, and then, after a moment: "Hello! Please ask the president if he will receive Mr. Campbell immediately. Yes, Mr. Campbell of the Secret Service." There was a pause. Mr. Grimm removed his immaculate person from the desk, and took a chair. "Hello! In half an hour? So much!"
The pages of the Almanac de Gotha fluttered through his fingers, and finally he leaned forward and studied a paragraph of it closely. When he raised his eyes again there was that in them which Mr. Grimm had never seen before—a settled, darkening shadow.
"The world-war has long been a chimera, Mr. Grimm," he remarked at last, "but now—now! Think of it! Of course, the Central and South American countries, taken separately, are inconsequential, and that is true, too, of the Latin countries of Europe, except France, but taken in combination, under one directing mind, the allied navies would be—would be formidable, at least. Backed by the moral support of Germany, and perhaps Japan—! Don't you see? Don't you see?"
He lapsed into silence. Mr. Grimm opened his lips to ask a question: Mr. Campbell anticipated it unerringly:
"The purpose of such an alliance? It is not too much to construe it into the first step toward a world-war—a war of reprisal and conquest beside which the other great wars of the world would seem trivial. For the fact has at last come home to the nations of the world that ultimately the English-speaking peoples will dominate it—dominate it, because they are the practical peoples. They have given to the world all its great practical inventions—the railroad, the steamship, electricity, the telegraph and cable—all of them; they are the great civilizing forces, rounding the world up to new moral understanding, for what England has done in Africa and India we have done in a smaller way in the Philippines and Cuba and Porto Rico; they are the great commercial peoples, slowly but surely winning the market-places of the earth; wherever the English or the American flag is planted there the English tongue is being spoken, and there the peoples are being taught the sanity of right living and square dealing.
"It requires no great effort of the imagination, Mr. Grimm, to foresee that day when the traditional power of Paris, and Berlin, and St. Petersburg, and Madrid will be honey-combed by the steady encroachment of our methods. This alliance would indicate that already that day has been foreseen; that there is now a resentment which is about to find expression in one great, desperate struggle for world supremacy. A few hundred years ago Italy—or Rome—was stripped of her power; only recently the United States dispelled the illusion that Spain was anything but a shell; and France—! One can't help but wonder if the power she boasts is not principally on paper. But if their forces are combined? Do you see? It would be an enormous power to reckon with, with a hundred bases of supplies right at our doors."
He rose suddenly and walked over to the window, where he stood for a moment, staring out with unseeing eyes.
"Given a yard of canvas, Mr. Grimm," he went on finally, "a Spanish boy will waste it, a French boy will paint a picture on it, an English boy will built a sail-boat, and an American boy will erect a tent. That fully illustrates the difference in the races."
He abandoned the didactic tone, and returned to the material matter in hand. Mr. Grimm passed him the despatch and he sat down again.
"'Will soon sign compact in Washington,'" he read musingly. "Now I don't know that the signing of that compact can be prevented, but the signing of it on United States soil can be prevented. You will see to that, Mr. Grimm."
"Very well," the young man agreed carelessly. The magnitude of such a task made, apparently, not the slightest impression on him. He languidly drew on his gloves.
"And meanwhile I shall take steps to ascertain the attitude of Russian and Japanese representatives in this city."
Mr. Grimm nodded.
"And now, for Prince Benedetto d'Abruzzi," Mr. Campbell went on slowly. "Officially he is not in Washington, nor the United States, for that matter. Naturally, on such a mission, he would not come as a publicly accredited agent, therefore, I imagine, he is to be sought under another name."
"Of course," Mr. Grimm acquiesced.
"And he would avoid the big hotels."
Mr. Campbell permitted his guileless blue eyes to linger inquiringly upon those of the young man for half a minute. He caught himself wondering, sometimes, at the perfection of the deliberate indifference with which Mr. Grimm masked his emotions. In his admiration of this quality he quite overlooked the remarkable mask of benevolence behind which he himself hid.
"And the name, D'Abruzzi," he remarked, after a time. "What does it mean to you, Mr. Grimm?"
"It means that I am to deal with a prince of the royal blood of Italy," was the unhesitating response. Mr. Grimm picked up the Almanac de Gotha and glanced at the open page. "Of course, the first thing to do is to find him; the rest will be simple enough." He perused the page carelessly. "I will begin work at once."
THE LANGUAGE OF THE FAN
Mr. Grimm was chatting idly with Senorita Rodriguez, daughter of the minister from Venezuela, the while he permitted his listless eyes to wander aimlessly about the spacious ball-room of the German embassy, ablaze with festooned lights, and brilliant with a multi-colored chaos of uniforms. Gleaming pearl-white, translucent in the mass, were the bare shoulders of women; and from far off came the plaintive whine of an orchestra, a pulsing sense rather than a living sound, of music, pointed here and there by the staccato cry of a flute. A zephyr, perfumed with the clean, fresh odor of lilacs, stirred the draperies of the archway which led into the conservatory and rustled the bending branches of palms and ferns.
For a scant instant Mr. Grimm's eyes rested on a young woman who sat a dozen feet away, talking, in playful animation, with an undersecretary of the British embassy—a young woman severely gowned in some glistening stuff which fell away sheerly from her splendid bare shoulders. She glanced up, as if in acknowledgment of his look, and her eyes met his. Frank, blue-gray eyes they were, stirred to their depths now by amusement. She smiled at Senorita Rodriguez, in token of recognition.
"Aren't they wonderful?" asked Senorita Rodriguez with the quick, bubbling enthusiasm of her race.
"What?" asked Mr. Grimm.
"Her eyes," was the reply. "Every person has one dominant feature—with Miss Thorne it is her eyes."
"Miss Thorne?" Mr. Grimm repeated.
"Haven't you met her?" the senorita went on. "Miss Isabel Thorne? She only arrived a few days ago—the night of the state ball. She's my guest at the legation. When an opportunity comes I shall present you to her."
She ran on, about other things, with only an occasional remark from Mr. Grimm, who was thoughtfully nursing his knee. Somewhere through the chatter and effervescent gaiety, mingling with the sound of the pulsing music, he had a singular impression of a rhythmical beat, an indistinct tattoo, noticeable, perhaps, only because of its monotony. After a moment he shot a quick glance at Miss Thorne and understood; it was the tapping of an exquisitely wrought ivory fan against one of her tapering, gloved fingers. She was talking and smiling.
"Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot!" said the fan.
Mr. Grimm twisted around in his seat and regaled his listless eyes with a long stare into the senorita's pretty face. Behind the careless ease of repose he was mechanically isolating the faint clatter of the fan.
"Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot!"
"Did any one ever accuse you of staring, Mr. Grimm?" demanded the senorita banteringly.
For an instant Mr. Grimm continued to stare, and then his listless eyes swept the ball-room, pausing involuntarily at the scarlet splendor of the minister from Turkey.
"I beg your pardon," he apologized contritely. There was a pause. "The minister from Turkey looks like a barn on fire, doesn't he?"
Senorita Rodriguez laughed, and Mr. Grimm glanced idly toward Miss Thorne. She was still talking, her face alive with interest; and the fan was still tapping rhythmically, steadily, now on the arm of her chair.
"Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot!"
"Pretty women who don't want to be stared at should go with their faces swathed," Mr. Grimm suggested indolently. "Haroun el Raschid there would agree with me on that point, I have no doubt. What a shock he would get if he should happen up at Atlantic City for a week-end in August!"
"Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash-dot!"
Mr. Grimm read it with perfect understanding; it was "F—F—F" in the Morse code, the call of one operator to another. Was it accident? Mr. Grimm wondered, and wondering he went on talking lazily:
"Curious, isn't it, the smaller the nation the more color it crowds into the uniforms of its diplomatists? The British ambassador, you will observe, is clothed sanely and modestly, as befits the representative of a great nation; but coming on down by way of Spain and Italy, they get more gorgeous. However, I dare say as stout a heart beats beneath a sky-blue sash as behind the unembellished black of evening dress."
"F—F—F," the fan was calling insistently.
And then the answer came. It took the unexpectedly prosaic form of a violent sneeze, a vociferous outburst on a bench directly behind Mr. Grimm. Senorita Rodriguez jumped, then laughed nervously.
"It startled me," she explained.
"I think there must be a draft from the conservatory," said a man's voice apologetically. "Do you ladies feel it? No? Well, if you'll excuse me—?"
Mr. Grimm glanced back languidly. The speaker was Charles Winthrop Rankin, a brilliant young American lawyer who was attached to the German embassy in an advisory capacity. Among other things he was a Heidelberg man, having spent some dozen years of his life in Germany, where he established influential connections. Mr. Grimm knew him only by sight.
And now the rhythmical tapping of Miss Thorne's fan underwent a change. There was a flutter of gaiety in her voice the while the ivory fan tapped steadily.
"Dot-dot-dot! Dash! Dash-dash-dash! Dot-dot-dash! Dash!"
"S—t—5—u—t," Mr. Grimm read in Morse. He laughed pleasantly at some remark of his companion.
"Dash-dash! Dot-dash! Dash-dot!" said the fan.
"M—a—n," Mr. Grimm spelled it out, the while his listless eyes roved aimlessly over the throng. "S—t—5—u—t m—a—n!" Was it meant for "stout man?" Mr. Grimm wondered.
"Dot-dash-dot! Dot! Dash-dot-dot!"
"F—e—d," that was.
"Dot-dot-dash-dot! Dot-dash! Dash-dot-dash-dot! Dot!"
"Q—a—j—e!" Mr. Grimm was puzzled a little now, but there was not a wrinkle, nor the tiniest indication of perplexity in his face. Instead he began talking of Raphael's cherubs, the remark being called into life by the high complexion of a young man who was passing. Miss Thorne glanced at him once keenly, her splendid eyes fairly aglow, and the fan rattled on in the code.
"Dash-dot! Dot! Dot-dash! Dot-dash-dot!"
"N—e—a—f." Mr. Grimm was still spelling it out.
Then came a perfect jumble. Mr. Grimm followed it with difficulty, a difficulty utterly belied by the quizzical lines about his mouth. As he caught it, it was like this: "J—5—n—s—e—f—v—a—t—5—f," followed by an arbitrary signal which is not in the Morse code: "Dash-dot-dash-dash!"
Mr. Grimm carefully stored that jumble away in some recess of his brain, along with the unknown signal.
"D—5—5—f," he read, and then, on to the end: "B—f—i—n—g 5—v—e—f w—h—e—n g g—5—e—s."
That was all, apparently. The soft clatter of the fan against the arm of the chair ran on meaninglessly after that.
"May I bring you an ice?" Mr. Grimm asked at last.
"If you will, please," responded the senorita, "and when you come back I'll reward you by presenting you to Miss Thorne. You'll find her charming; and Mr. Cadwallader has monopolized her long enough."
Mr. Grimm bowed and left her. He had barely disappeared when Mr. Rankin lounged along in front of Miss Thorne. He glanced at her, paused and greeted her effusively.
"Why, Miss Thorne!" he exclaimed. "I'm delighted to see you here. I understood you would not be present, and—"
Their hands met in a friendly clasp as she rose and moved away, with a nod of excuse to Mr. Cadwallader. A thin slip of paper, thrice folded, passed from Mr. Rankin to her. She tugged at her glove, and thrust the little paper, still folded, inside the palm.
"Is it yes, or no?" Miss Thorne asked in a low tone.
"Frankly, I can't say," was the reply.
"He read the message," she explained hastily, "and now he has gone to decipher it."
She gathered up her trailing skirts over one arm, and together they glided away through the crowd to the strains of a Strauss waltz.
"I'm going to faint in a moment," she said quite calmly to Mr. Rankin. "Please have me sent to the ladies' dressing-room."
"I understand," he replied quietly.
THE FLEEING WOMAN
Mr. Grimm went straight to a quiet nook of the smoking-room and there, after a moment, Mr. Campbell joined him. The bland benevolence of the chief's face was disturbed by the slightest questioning uplift of his brows as he dropped into a seat opposite Mr. Grimm, and lighted a cigar. Mr. Grimm raised his hand, and a servant who stood near, approached them.
"An ice—here," Mr. Grimm directed tersely.
The servant bowed and disappeared, and Mr. Grimm hastily scribbled something on a sheet of paper and handed it to his chief.
"There is a reading, in the Morse code, of a message that seems to be unintelligible," Mr. Grimm explained. "I have reason to believe it is in the Continental code. You know the Continental—I don't."
Mr. Campbell read this:
"St5ut man fed qaje neaf j5nsefvat5f," and then came the unknown, dash-dot-dash-dash. "That," he explained, "is Y in the Continental code." It went on: "d55f bfing 5vef when g g5es."
The chief read it off glibly:
"Stout man, red face, near conservatory door. Bring over when G goes."
"Very well!" commented Mr. Grimm ambiguously.
With no word of explanation, he rose and went out, pausing at the door to take the ice which the servant was bringing in. The seat where he had left Senorita Rodriguez was vacant; so was the chair where Miss Thorne had been. He glanced about inquiringly, and a servant who stood stolidly near the conservatory door approached him.
"Pardon, sir, but the lady who was sitting here," and he indicated the chair where Miss Thorne had been sitting, "fainted while dancing, and the lady who was with you went along when she was removed to the ladies' dressing-room, sir."
Mr. Grimm's teeth closed with a little snap.
"Did you happen to notice any time this evening a stout gentleman, with red face, near the conservatory door?" he asked.
The servant pondered a moment, then shook his head.
Mr. Grimm was just turning away, when there came the sharp, vibrant cra-a-sh! of a revolver, somewhere off to his left. The president! That was his first thought. One glance across the room to where the chief executive stood, in conversation with two other gentlemen, reassured him. The choleric blue eyes of the president had opened a little at the sound, then he calmly resumed the conversation. Mr. Grimm impulsively started toward the little group, but already a cordon was being drawn there—a cordon of quiet-faced, keen-eyed men, unobstrusively forcing their way through the crowd. There was Johnson, and Hastings, and Blair, and half a dozen others.
The room had been struck dumb. The dancers stopped, with tense, inquiring looks, and the plaintive whine of the orchestra, far away, faltered, then ceased. There was one brief instant of utter silence in which white-faced women clung to the arms of their escorts, and the brilliant galaxy of colors halted. Then, after a moment, there came clearly through the stillness, the excited, guttural command of the German ambassador.
"Keep on blaying, you tam fools! Keep on blaying!"
The orchestra started again tremulously. Mr. Grimm nodded a silent approval of the ambassador's command, then turned away toward his left, in the direction of the shot. After the first dismay, there was a general movement of the crowd in that direction, a movement which was checked by Mr. Campbell's appearance upon a chair, with a smile on his bland face.
"No harm done," he called. "One of the officers present dropped his revolver, and it was accidently discharged. No harm done."
There was a moment's excited chatter, deep-drawn breaths of relief, the orchestra swung again into the interrupted rhythm, and the dancers moved on. Mr. Grimm went straight to his chief, who had stepped down from the chair. Two other Secret Service men stood behind him, blocking the doorway that opened into a narrow hall.
"This way," directed the chief tersely.
Mr. Grimm walked along beside him. They skirted the end of the ball-room until they came to another door opening into the hall. Chief Campbell pushed it open, and entered. One of his men stood just inside.
"What was it, Gray?" asked the chief.
"Senor Alvarez, of the Mexican legation, was shot," was the reply.
"Only wounded. He's in that room," and he indicated a door a little way down the hall. "Fairchild, two servants, and a physician are with him."
"Who shot him?"
"Don't know. We found him lying in the hall here."
Still followed by Mr. Grimm, the chief entered the room, and together they bent over the wounded man. The bullet had entered the torso just below the ribs on the left side.
"It's a clean wound," the physician was explaining. "The bullet passed through. There's no immediate danger."
Senor Alvarez opened his eyes, and stared about him in bewilderment; then alarm overspread his face, and he made spasmodic efforts to reach the inside breast pocket of his coat. Mr. Grimm obligingly thrust his hand into the pocket and drew out its contents, the while Senor Alvarez struggled frantically.
"Just a moment," Mr. Grimm advised quietly. "I'm only going to let you see if it is here. Is it?"
He held the papers, one by one, in front of the wounded man, and each time a shake of the head was his answer. At the last Senor Alvarez closed his eyes again.
"What sort of paper was it?" inquired Mr. Grimm.
"None of your business," came the curt answer.
"Who shot you?"
"None of your business."
Senor Alvarez was silent.
With some new idea Mr. Grimm turned away suddenly and started out into the hall. He met a maid-servant at the door, coming in. Her face was blanched, and she stuttered through sheer excitement.
"A lady, sir—a lady—" she began babblingly.
Mr. Grimm calmly closed the door, shutting in the wounded man, Chief Campbell and the others. Then he caught the maid sharply by the arm and shook some coherence into her disordered brain.
"A lady—she ran away, sir," the girl went on, in blank surprise.
"What lady?" demanded Mr. Grimm coldly. "Where did she run from? Why did she run?" The maid stared at him with mouth agape. "Begin at the beginning."
"I was in that room, farther down the hall, sir," the maid explained. "The door was open. I heard the shot, and it frightened me so—I don't know—I was afraid to look out right away, sir. Then, an instant later, a lady come running along the hall, sir—that way," and she indicated the rear of the house. "Then I came to the door and looked out to see who it was, and what was the matter, sir. I was standing there when a man—a man came along after the lady, and banged the door in my face, sir. The door had a spring lock, and I was so—so frightened and excited I couldn't open it right away, sir, and—and when I did I came here to see what was the matter." She drew a deep breath and stopped.
"That all?" demanded Mr. Grimm.
"Yes, sir, except—except the lady had a pistol in her hand, sir—"
Mr. Grimm regarded her in silence for a moment.
"Who was the lady?" he asked at last.
"I forget her name, sir. She was the lady who—who fainted in the ball-room, sir, just a few minutes ago."
Whatever emotion may have been aroused within Mr. Grimm it certainly found no expression in his face. When he spoke again his voice was quite calm.
"Miss Thorne, perhaps?"
"Yes, sir, that's the name—Miss Thorne. I was in the ladies' dressing-room when she was brought in, sir, and I remember some one called her name."
Mr. Grimm took the girl, still a-quiver with excitement, and led her along the hall to where Gray stood.
"Take this girl in charge, Gray," he directed. "Lock her up, if necessary. Don't permit her to say one word to anybody—anybody you understand, except the chief."
Mr. Grimm left them there. He passed along the hall, glancing in each room as he went, until he came to a short flight of stairs leading toward the kitchen. He went on down silently. The lights were burning, but the place was still, deserted. All the servants who belonged there were evidently, for the moment, transferred to other posts. He passed on through the kitchen and out the back door into the street.
A little distance away, leaning against a lamp-post, a man was standing. He might have been waiting for a car. Mr. Grimm approached him.
"Beg pardon," he said, "did you see a woman come out of the back door, there?"
"Yes, just a moment or so ago," replied the stranger. "She got into an automobile at the corner. I imagine this is hers," and he extended a handkerchief, a dainty, perfumed trifle of lace. "I picked it up immediately after she passed."
Mr. Grimm took the handkerchief and examined it under the light. For a time he was thoughtful, with lowered eyes, which, finally raised, met those of the stranger with a scrutinizing stare.
"Why," asked Mr. Grimm slowly and distinctly, "why did you slam the door in the girl's face?"
"Why did I—what?" came the answering question.
"Why did you slam the door in the girl's face?" Mr. Grimm repeated slowly.
The stranger stared in utter amazement—an amazement so frank, so unacted, so genuine, that Mr. Grimm was satisfied.
"Did you see a man come out the door?" Mr. Grimm pursued.
"No. Say, young fellow, I guess you've had a little too much to drink, haven't you?"
But by that time Mr. Grimm was turning the corner.
A VISIT TO THE COUNT
The bland serenity of Mr. Campbell's face was disturbed by thin, spidery lines of perplexity, and the guileless blue eyes were vacant as he stared at the top of his desk. Mr. Grimm was talking.
"From the moment Miss Thorne turned the corner I lost all trace of her," he said. "Either she had an automobile in waiting, or else she was lucky enough to find one immediately she came out. She did not return to the embassy ball last night—that much is certain." He paused reflectively. "She is a guest of Senorita Inez Rodriguez at the Venezuelan legation," he added.
"Yes, I know," his chief nodded.
"I didn't attempt to see her there last night for two reasons," Mr. Grimm continued. "First, she can have no possible knowledge of the fact that she is suspected, unless perhaps the man who slammed the door—" He paused. "Anyway, she will not attempt to leave Washington; I am confident of that. Again, it didn't seem wise to me to employ the ordinary crude police methods in the case—that is, go to the Venezuelan legation and kick up a row."
For a long time Campbell was silent; the perplexed lines still furrowed his benevolent forehead.
"The president is very anxious that we get to facts in this reported Latin alliance as soon as possible," he said at last, irrelevantly. "He mentioned the matter last night, and he has been keeping in constant communication with Gault, in Lisbon, who, however, has not been able to add materially to the original despatch. Under all the circumstances don't you think it would be best for me to relieve you of the investigation of this shooting affair so that you can concentrate on this greater and more important thing?"
"Will Senor Alvarez die?" asked Mr. Grimm in turn.
"His condition is serious, although the wound is not necessarily fatal," was the reply.
Mr. Grimm arose, stretched his long legs and stood for a little while gazing out the window. Finally he turned to his chief:
"What do we know, here in the bureau, about Miss Thorne?"
"Thus far the reports on her are of the usual perfunctory nature," Mr. Campbell explained. He drew a card from a pigeonhole of his desk and glanced at it. "She arrived in Washington two weeks and two days ago from New York, off the Lusitania, from Liverpool. She brought some sort of an introduction to Count di Rosini, the Italian ambassador, and he obtained for her a special invitation to the state ball, which was held that night. Until four days ago she was a guest at the Italian embassy, but now, as you know, is a guest at the Venezuelan legation. Since her arrival here she has been prominently pushed forward into society; she has gone everywhere, and been received everywhere in the diplomatic set. We have no knowledge of her beyond this."
There was a question in Mr. Grimm's listless eyes as they met those of his chief. The same line of thought was running in both their minds, born, perhaps, of the association of ideas—Italy as one of three great nations known to be in the Latin compact; Prince Benedetto d'Abruzzi, of Italy, the secret envoy of three countries; the sudden appearance of Miss Thorne at the Italian embassy. And in the mind of the younger man there was more than this—a definite knowledge of a message cunningly transmitted to Mr. Rankin, of the German embassy, by Miss Thorne there in the ball-room.
"Can you imagine—" he asked slowly, "can you imagine a person who would be of more value to the Latin governments in Washington right at this stage of the negotiations than a brilliant woman agent?"
"I most certainly can not," was the chief's unhesitating response.
"In that case I don't think it would be wise to transfer the investigation of the shooting affair to another man," said Mr. Grimm emphatically, reverting to his chief's question. "I think, on the contrary, we should find out more about Miss Thorne."
"Precisely," Campbell agreed.
"Ask all the great capitals about her—Madrid, Paris and Rome, particularly; then, perhaps, London and Berlin and St. Petersburg."
Mr. Campbell thoughtfully scribbled the names of the cities on a slip of paper.
"Do you intend to arrest Miss Thorne for the shooting?" he queried.
"I don't know," replied Mr. Grimm frankly. "I don't know," he repeated musingly. "If I do arrest her immediately I may cut off a clue which will lead to the other affair. I don't know," he concluded.
"Use your own judgment, and bear in mind that a man—a man slammed the door in the maid's face."
"I shall not forget him," Mr. Grimm answered. "Now I'm going over to talk to Count di Rosini for a while."
The young man went out, thoughtfully tugging at his gloves. The Italian ambassador received him with an inquiring uplift of his dark brows.
"I came to make some inquiries in regard to Miss Thorne—Miss Isabel Thorne," Mr. Grimm informed him frankly.
The count was surprised, but it didn't appear in his face.
"As I understand it," the young man pursued, "you are sponsor for her in Washington?"
The count, evasively diplomatic, born and bred in a school of caution, considered the question from every standpoint.
"It may be that I am so regarded," he admitted at last.
"May I inquire if the sponsorship is official, personal, social, or all three?" Mr. Grimm continued.
There was silence for a long time.
"I don't see the trend of your questioning," said the ambassador finally. "Miss Thorne is worthy of my protection in every way."
"Let's suppose a case," suggested Mr. Grimm blandly. "Suppose Miss Thorne had—had, let us say, shot a man, and he was about to die, would you feel justified in withdrawing that—that protection, as you call it?"
"Such a thing is preposterous!" exclaimed the ambassador. "The utter absurdity of such a charge would impel me to offer her every assistance."
Mr. Grimm nodded.
"And if it were proved to your satisfaction that she did shoot him?" he went on evenly.
The count's lips were drawn together in a straight line.
"Whom, may I ask," he inquired frigidly, "are we supposing that Miss Thorne shot?"
"No one, particularly," Mr. Grimm assured him easily. "Just suppose that she had shot anybody—me, say, or Senor Alvarez?"
"I can't answer a question so ridiculous as that."
"And suppose we go a little further," Mr. Grimm insisted pleasantly, "and assume that you knew she had shot some one, say Senor Alvarez, and you could protect her from the consequences, would you?"
"I decline to suppose anything so utterly absurd," was the rejoinder.
Mr. Grimm sat with his elbows on his knees, idly twisting a seal ring on his little finger. The searching eyes of the ambassador found his face blankly inscrutable.
"Diplomatic representatives in Washington have certain obligations to this government," the young man reminded him. "We—that is, the government of the United States—undertake to guarantee the personal safety of every accredited representative; in return for that protection we must insist upon the name and identity of a dangerous person who may be known to any foreign representative. Understand, please, I'm not asserting that Miss Thorne is a dangerous person. You are sponsor for her here. Is she, in every way, worthy of your protection?"
"Yes," said the ambassador flatly.
"I can take it, then, that the introduction she brought to you is from a person whose position is high enough to insure Miss Thorne's position?"
"That is correct."
And Mr. Grimm went away.
Some vague, indefinable shadow darkened Miss Thorne's clear, blue-gray eyes, in sharp contrast to the glow of radiant health in her cheeks, as she stepped from an automobile in front of the Venezuelan legation, and ran lightly up the steps. A liveried servant opened the door.
"A gentleman is waiting for you, Madam," he announced. "His card is here on the—"
"I was expecting him," she interrupted.
"Which room, please?"
"The blue room, Madam."
Miss Thorne passed along the hallway which led to a suite of small drawing-rooms opening on a garden in the rear, pushed aside the portieres, and entered.
"I'm sorry I've kept you—" she began, and then, in a tone of surprise: "I beg your pardon."
A gentleman rose and bowed gravely.
"I am Mr. Grimm of the Secret Service," he informed her with frank courtesy. "I am afraid you were expecting some one else; I handed my card to the footman."
For an instant the blue-gray eyes opened wide in astonishment, and then some quick, subtle change swept over Miss Thorne's face. She smiled graciously and motioned him to a seat.
"This is quite a different meeting from the one Senorita Rodriguez had planned, isn't it?" she asked.
There was a taunting curve on her scarlet lips; the shadow passed from her eyes; her slim, white hands lay idle in her lap. Mr. Grimm regarded her reflectively. There was a determination of steel back of this charming exterior; there was an indomitable will, a keen brain, and all of a woman's intuition to reckon with. She was silent, with a questioning upward slant of her arched brows.
"I am not mistaken in assuming that you are a secret agent of the Italian government, am I?" he queried finally.
"No," she responded readily.
"In that event I may speak with perfect frankness?" he went on. "It would be as useless as it would be absurd to approach the matter in any other manner?" It was a question.
Miss Thorne was still smiling, but again the vague, indefinable shadow, momentarily lifted, darkened her eyes.
"You may be frank, of course," she said pleasantly. "Please go on."
"Senor Alvarez was shot at the German Embassy Ball last night," Mr. Grimm told her.
Miss Thorne nodded, as if in wonder.
"Did you, or did you not, shoot him?"
It was quite casual. She received the question without change of countenance, but involuntarily she caught her breath. It might have been a sigh of relief.
"Why do you come to me with such a query?" she asked in turn.
"I beg your pardon," interposed Mr. Grimm steadily. "Did you, or did you not, shoot him?"
"No, of course I didn't shoot him," was the reply. If there was any emotion in the tone it was merely impatience. "Why do you come to me?" she repeated.
"Why do I come to you?" Mr. Grimm echoed the question, while his listless eyes rested on her face. "I will be absolutely frank, as I feel sure you would be under the same circumstances." He paused a moment; she nodded. "Well, immediately after the shooting you ran along the hallway with a revolver in your hand; you ran down the steps into the kitchen, and out through the back door, where you entered an automobile. That is not conjecture; it is susceptible of proof by eye witnesses."
Miss Thorne rose suddenly with a queer, helpless little gesture of her arms, and walked to the window. She stood there for a long time with her hands clasped behind her back.
"That brings us to another question," Mr. Grimm continued mercilessly. "If you did not shoot Senor Alvarez, do you know who did?"
There was another long pause.
"I want to believe you, Miss Thorne," he supplemented.
She turned quickly with something of defiance in her attitude.
"Yes, I know," she said slowly. "It were useless to deny it."
"Who was it?"
"I won't tell you."
Mr. Grimm leaned forward in his chair, and spoke earnestly.
"Understand, please, that by that answer you assume equal guilt with the person who actually did the shooting," he explained. "If you adhere to it you compel me to regard you as an accomplice." His questioning took a different line.
"Will you explain how the revolver came into your possession?"
"Oh, I—I picked it up in the hallway there," she replied vaguely.
"I want to believe you, Miss Thorne," Mr. Grimm said again.
"You may. I picked it up in the hallway," she repeated. "I saw it lying there and picked it up."
"Why that, instead of giving an alarm?"
"No alarm was necessary. The shot itself was an alarm."
"Then why," Mr. Grimm persisted coldly, "did you run along the hallway and escape by way of the kitchen? If you did not do the shooting, why the necessity of escape, carrying the revolver?"
There was that in the blue-gray eyes which brought Mr. Grimm to his feet. His hands gripped each other cruelly; his tone was calm as always.
"Why did you take the revolver?" he asked.
Miss Thorne's head drooped forward a little, and she was silent.
"There are only two possibilities, of course," he went on. "First, that you, in spite of your denial, did the shooting."
"I did not!" The words fairly burst from her tightly closed lips.
"Or that you knew the revolver, and took it to save the person, man or woman, who fired the shot. I will assume, for the moment, that this is correct. Where is the revolver?"
From the adjoining room there came a slight noise, a faint breath of sound; or it might have been only an echo of silence. Their eyes were fixed each upon the others unwaveringly, with not a flicker to indicate that either had heard. After a moment Miss Thorne returned to her chair and sat down.
"It's rather a singular situation, isn't it, Mr. Grimm?" she inquired irrelevantly. "You, Mr. Grimm of the Secret Service of the United States; I, Isabel Thorne, a secret agent of Italy together here, one accusing the other of a crime, and perhaps with good reason."
"Where is the revolver?" Mr. Grimm insisted.
"If you were any one else but you! I could not afford to be frank with you and—"
"If you had been any one else but you I should have placed you under arrest when I entered the room."
She smiled, and inclined her head.
"I understand," she said pleasantly. "For the reason that you are Mr. Grimm of the Secret Service I shall tell you the truth. I did take the revolver because I knew who had fired the shot. Believe me when I tell you that that person did not act with my knowledge or consent. You do believe that? You do?" She was pleading, eager to convince him.
After a while Mr. Grimm nodded.
"The revolver is beyond your reach and shall remain so," she resumed. "According to your laws I suppose I am an accomplice. That is my misfortune. It will in no way alter my determination to keep silent. If I am arrested I can't help it." She studied his face with hopeful eyes. "Am I to be arrested?"
"Where is the paper that was taken from Senor Alvarez immediately after he was shot?" Mr. Grimm queried.
"I don't know," she replied frankly.
"As I understand it, then, the motive for the shooting was to obtain possession of that paper? For your government?"
"The individual who shot Senor Alvarez did obtain the paper, yes. And now, please, am I to be arrested?"
"And just what was the purpose, may I inquire, of the message you telegraphed with your fan in the ball-room?"
"You read that?" exclaimed Miss Thorne in mock astonishment. "You read that?"
"And the man who read that message? Perhaps he shot the senor?"
"Perhaps," she taunted.
For a long time Mr. Grimm stood staring at her, staring, staring. She, too, rose, and faced him quietly.
"Am I to be arrested?" she asked again.
"Why do you make me do it?" he demanded.
"That is my affair."
Mr. Grimm laid a hand upon her arm, a hand that had never known nervousness. A moment longer he stared, and then:
"Madam, you are my prisoner for the attempted murder of Senor Alvarez!"
The rings on the portieres behind him clicked sharply, and the draperies parted. Mr. Grimm stood motionless, with his hand on Miss Thorne's arm.
"You were inquiring a moment ago for a revolver," came in a man's voice. "Here it is!"
Mr. Grimm found himself inspecting the weapon from the barrel end. After a moment his glance shifted to the blazing eyes of the man who held it—a young man, rather slight, with clean-cut, aristocratic features, and of the pronounced Italian type.
"My God!" The words came from Miss Thorne's lips almost in a scream. "Don't—!"
"I did make some inquiries about a revolver, yes," Mr. Grimm interrupted quietly. "Is this the one?"
He raised his hand quite casually, and his fingers closed like steel around the weapon. Behind his back Miss Thorne made some quick emphatic gesture, and the new-comer released the revolver.
"I shall ask you, please, to free Miss Thorne," he requested courteously. "I shot Senor Alvarez. I, too, am a secret agent of the Italian government, willing and able to defend myself. Miss Thorne has told you the truth; she had nothing whatever to do with it. She took the weapon and escaped because it was mine. Here is the paper that was taken from Senor Alvarez," and he offered a sealed envelope. "I have read it; it is not what I expected. You may return it to Senor Alvarez with my compliments."
After a moment Mr. Grimm's hand fell away from Miss Thorne's arm, and he regarded the new-comer with an interest in which admiration, even, played a part.
"Your name?" he asked finally.
"Pietro Petrozinni," was the ready reply. "As I say, I accept all responsibility."
A few minutes later Mr. Grimm and his prisoner passed out of the legation side by side, and strolled down the street together, in amicable conversation. Half an hour later Senor Alvarez identified Pietro Petrozinni as the man who shot him; and the maid servant expressed a belief that he was the man who slammed the door in her face.
"And the original question remains unanswered," remarked Mr. Campbell.
"The original question?" repeated Mr. Grimm.
"Where is Prince Benedetto d'Abruzzi, the secret envoy?" his chief reminded him.
"I wonder!" mused the young man.
"If the Latin compact is signed in the United States—?"
"The Latin compact will not be signed in the United States," Mr. Grimm interrupted. And then, after a moment: "Have we received any further reports on Miss Thorne? I mean reports from our foreign agents?"
The chief shook his head.
"Inevitably, by some act or word, she will lead us to the prince," declared Mr. Grimm, "and the moment he is known to us everything becomes plain sailing. We know she is a secret agent—I expected a denial, but she was quite frank about it. And I had no intention whatever of placing her under arrest. I knew some one was in the adjoining room because of a slight noise in there, and I knew she knew it. She raised her voice a little, obviously for the benefit of whoever was there. From that point everything I said and did was to compel that person, whoever it was, to show himself."
His chief nodded, understandingly. Mr. Grimm was silent for a little, then went on:
"The last possibility in my mind at that moment," he confessed, "was that the person in there was the man who shot Senor Alvarez. Frankly I had half an idea that—that it might be the prince in person." Suddenly his mood changed: "And now our lady of mystery may come and go as she likes because I know, even if a dozen of our men have ransacked Washington in vain for the prince, she will inevitably lead us to him. And that reminds me: I should like to borrow Blair, and Hastings, and Johnson. Please plant them so they may keep constant watch on Miss Thorne. Let them report to you, and, wherever I am, I will reach you over the 'phone."
"By the way, what was in that sealed packet that was taken from Senor Alvarez?" Campbell inquired curiously.
"It had something to do with some railroad franchises," responded Mr. Grimm as he rose. "I sealed it again and returned it to the senor. Evidently it was not what Signor Petrozinni expected to find—in fact, he admitted it wasn't what he was looking for."
For a little while the two men gazed thoughtfully, each into the eyes of the other, then Mr. Grimm entered his private office where he sat for an hour with his immaculate boots on his desk, thinking. A world-war—he had been thrust forward by his government to prevent it—subtle blue-gray eyes—his Highness, Prince Benedetto d'Abruzzi—a haunting smile and scarlet lips.
At about the moment he rose to go out, Miss Thorne, closely veiled, left the Venezuelan legation and walked rapidly down the street to a corner, where, without a word, she entered a waiting automobile. The wheels spun and the car leaped forward. For a mile or more it wound aimlessly in and out, occasionally bisecting its own path; finally Miss Thorne leaned forward and touched the chauffeur on the arm.
"Now!" she said.
The car straightened out into a street of stately residences and scuttled along until the placid bosom of the Potomac came into view; beside that for a few minutes, then over the bridge to the Virginia side, in the dilapidated little city of Alexandria. The car did not slacken its speed, but wound in and out through dingy streets, past tumble-down negro huts, for half an hour before it came to a standstill in front of an old brick mansion.
"This is number ninety-seven," the chauffeur announced.
Miss Thorne entered the house with a key and was gone for ten minutes, perhaps. She was readjusting her veil when she came out and stepped into the car silently. Again it moved forward, on to the end of the dingy street, and finally into the open country. Three, four, five miles, perhaps, out the old Baltimore Road, and again the car stopped, this time in front of an ancient colonial farm-house.
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. A narrow path, strewn with pine needles, led tortuously up to the door. 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. It appeared to be a wireless mast. Miss Thorne passed around the house, and entered the barn.
A man came forward and kissed her—a thin, little man of indeterminate age—drying his hands on a piece of cotton waste. His face was pale with the pallor of one who knows little outdoor life, his eyes deep-set and a-glitter with some feverish inward fire, and the thin lips were pressed together in a sharp line. Behind him was a long bench on which were scattered tools of various sorts, fantastically shaped chemical apparatus, two or three electric batteries of odd sizes, and ranged along one end of it, in a row, were a score or more metal spheroids, a shade larger than a one-pound shell. From somewhere in the rear came the clatter of a small gasoline engine, and still farther away was an electric dynamo.
"Is the test arranged, Rosa?" the little man queried eagerly in Italian.
"The date is not fixed yet," she replied in the same language. "It will be, I hope, within the next two weeks. And then—"
"Fame and fortune for both of us," he interrupted with quick enthusiasm. "Ah, Rosa, I have worked and waited so long for this, and now it will come, and with it the dominion of the world again by our country. How will I know when the date is fixed? It would not be well to write me here."
My lady of mystery stroked the slender, nervous hand caressingly, and a great affection shone in the blue-gray eyes.
"At eight o'clock on the night of the test," she explained, still speaking Italian, "a single light will appear at the apex of the capitol dome in Washington. That is the signal agreed upon; it can be seen by all in the city, and is visible here from the window of your bedroom."
"Yes, yes," he exclaimed. The feverish glitter in his eyes deepened.
"If there is a fog, of course you will not attempt the test," she went on.
"No, not in a fog," he put in quickly. "It must be clear."
"And if it is clear you can see the light in the dome without difficulty."
"And all your plans are working out well?"
"Yes. And yours?"
"I don't think there is any question but that both England and the United States will buy. Do you know what it means? Do you know what it means?" He was silent a moment, his hands working nervously. Then, with an effort: "And his Highness?"
"His Highness is safe." The subtle eyes grew misty, thoughtful for a moment, then cleared again. "He is safe," she repeated.
"Mexico and Venezuela were—?" he began.
"We don't know, yet, what they will do. The Venezuelan answer is locked in the safe at the legation; I will know what it is within forty-eight hours." She was silent a little. "Our difficulty now, our greatest difficulty, is the hostility of the French ambassador to the compact. His government has not yet notified him of the presence of Prince d'Abruzzi; he does not believe in the feasibility of the plan, and we have to—to proceed to extremes to prevent him working against us."
"But they must see the incalculable advantages to follow upon such a compact, with the vast power that will be given to them over the whole earth by this." He indicated the long, littered work-table. "They must see it."
"They will see it, Luigi," said Miss Thorne gently. "And now, how are you? Are you well? Are you comfortable? It's such a dreary old place here."
"I suppose so," he replied, and he met the solicitous blue-gray eyes for an instant. "Yes, I am quite comfortable," he added. "I have no time to be otherwise with all the work I must do. It will mean so much!"
They were both silent for a time. Finally Miss Thorne walked over to the long table and curiously lifted one of the spheroids. It was a sinister looking thing, nickeled, glittering. At one end of it was a delicate, vibratory apparatus, not unlike the transmitter of a telephone, and the other end was threaded, as if the spheroid was made as an attachment to some other device.
"With that we control the world!" exclaimed the man triumphantly. "And it's mine, Rosa, mine!"
"It's wonderful!" she mused softly. "Wonderful! And now I must go. I may not see you again until after the test, because I shall be watched and followed wherever I go. If I get an opportunity I shall reach you by telephone, but not even that unless it is necessary. There is always danger, always danger!" she repeated thoughtfully. She was thinking of Mr. Grimm.
"I understand," said the man simply.
"And look out for the signal—the light in the apex of the capitol dome," she went on. "I understand the night must be perfectly clear; and you understand that the test is to be made promptly at three o'clock by your chronometer?"
"At three o'clock," he repeated.
For a moment they stood with their arms around each other, then tenderly his visitor kissed him, and went out. He remained looking after her vacantly until the chug-chug of her automobile, as it moved off down the road, was lost in the distance, then turned again to the long work-table.
MISS THORNE AND NOT MISS THORNE
From a pleasant, wide-open bay-window of her apartments on the second floor, Miss Thorne looked out upon the avenue with inscrutable eyes. Behind the closely drawn shutters of another bay-window, farther down the avenue, on the corner, she knew a man named Hastings was hiding; she knew that for an hour or more he had been watching her as she wrote. In the other direction, in a house near the corner, another man named Blair was similarly ensconced, and he, too, had been watching as she wrote. There should be a third man, Johnson. Miss Thorne curiously studied the face of each passer-by, seeking therein something to remember.
She sat at the little mahogany desk and a note with the ink yet wet upon it lay face up before her. It was addressed to Signor Pietro Petrozinni in the district prison, and read:
"My Dear Friend:
"I have been waiting to write you with the hope that I could report Senor Alvarez out of danger, but his condition, I regret to say, remains unchanged. Shall I send an attorney to you? Would you like a book of any kind? Or some delicacy sent in from a restaurant? Can I be of any service to you in any way? If I can please drop me a line.
At last she rose and standing in the window read the note over, folded it, placed it in an envelope and sealed it. A maid came in answer to her ring, and there at the window, under the watchful eyes of Blair and Hastings—and, perhaps, Johnson—she handed the note to the maid with instructions to mail it immediately. Two minutes later she saw the maid go out along the avenue to a post-box on the corner.
Then she drew back into the shadow of the room, slipped on a dark-colored wrap, and, standing away from the window, safe beyond the reach of prying eyes, waited patiently for the postman. He appeared about five o'clock and simultaneously another man turned the corner near the post-box and spoke to him. Then, together, they disappeared from view around the corner.
"So that's Johnson, is it?" mused Miss Thorne, and she smiled a little. "Mr. Grimm certainly pays me the compliment of having me carefully watched."
A few minutes later she dropped into the seat at the desk again. The dark wrap had been thrown aside and Hastings and Blair from their hiding-places could see her distinctly. After a while they saw her rise quickly, as an automobile turned into the avenue, and lean toward the window eagerly looking out. The car came to a standstill in front of the legation, and Mr. Cadwallader, an under-secretary of the British embassy, who was alone in the car, raised his cap. She nodded and smiled, then disappeared in the shadows of the room again.
Mr. Cadwallader went to the door, spoke to the servant there, then returned and busied himself about the car. Hastings and Blair watched intently both the door and the window for a long time; finally a closely veiled and muffled figure appeared at the bay-window, and waved a gloved hand at Mr. Cadwallader, who again lifted his cap. A minute later the veiled woman came out of the front door, shook hands with Mr. Cadwallader, and got in the car. He also climbed in, and the car moved slowly away.
Simultaneously the front door of the house on the corner, where Hastings had been hiding, and the front door of the house near the corner, where Blair had been hiding, opened and two heads peered out. As the car approached Hastings' hiding-place he withdrew into the hallway; but Blair came out and hurried past the legation in the direction of the rapidly disappearing motor. Hastings joined him; they spoke together, then turned the corner.
It was about ten o'clock that night when Hastings reported to Mr. Campbell at his home.
"We followed the car in a rented automobile from the time it turned the corner, out through Alexandria, and along the old Baltimore Road into the city of Baltimore," he explained. "It was dark by the time we reached Alexandria, but we stuck to the car ahead, running without lights until we came in sight of Druid Hill Park, and then we had to show lights or be held up. We covered those forty miles going in less than two hours.
"After the car passed Druid Hill it slowed up a little, and ran off the turnpike into North Avenue, then into North Charles Street, and slowly along that as if they were looking for a number. At last it stopped and Miss Thorne got out and entered a house. She was gone for more than half an hour, leaving Mr. Cadwallader with the car. While she was gone I made some inquiries and learned that the house was occupied by a Mr. Thomas Q. Griswold. I don't know anything else about him; Blair may have learned something.
"Now comes the curious part of it," and Hastings looked a little sheepish. "When Miss Thorne came out of the house she was not Miss Thorne at all—she was Senorita Inez Rodriguez, daughter of the Venezuelan minister. She wore the same clothing Miss Thorne had worn going, but her veil was lifted. Veiled and all muffled up one would have taken oath it was the same woman. She and Cadwallader are back in Washington now, or are coming. That's all, except Blair is still in Baltimore, awaiting orders. I caught the train from the Charles Street station and came back. Johnson, you know—"
"Yes, I've seen Johnson," interrupted Campbell. "Are you absolutely positive that the woman you saw get into the automobile with Mr. Cadwallader was Miss Thorne?"
"Absolutely," replied Hastings without hesitation. "I saw her in her own room with her wraps on, then saw her come down and get into the car."
"That's all," said the chief. "Good night." For an hour or more he sat in a great, comfortable chair in the smoking-room of his own home, the guileless blue eyes vacant, staring, and spidery lines in the benevolent forehead.
* * * * *
On the morning of the second day following, Senor Rodriguez, the minister from Venezuela, reported to the Secret Service Bureau the disappearance of fifty thousand dollars in gold from a safe in his private office at the legation.
FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS
Mr. Campbell was talking.
"For several months past," he said, "the International Investment Company, through its representative, Mr. Cressy, has been secretly negotiating with Senor Rodriguez for certain asphalt properties in Venezuela. Three days ago these negotiations were successfully concluded, and yesterday afternoon Mr. Cressy, in secret, paid to Senor Rodriguez, fifty thousand dollars in American gold, the first of four payments of similar sums. This gold was to have been shipped to Philadelphia by express to-day to catch a steamer for Venezuela." Mr. Grimm nodded.
"The fact that this gold was in Senor Rodriguez's possession could not have been known to more than half a dozen persons, as the negotiations throughout have been in strict secrecy," and Mr. Campbell smiled benignly. "So much! Now, Senor Rodriguez has just telephoned asking that I send a man to the legation at once. The gold was kept there over night; or perhaps I should say that the senor intended to keep it there over night." Mr. Campbell stared at Mr. Grimm for a moment, then: "Miss Thorne, you know, is a guest at the legation, that is why I am referring the matter to you."
"I understand," said Mr. Grimm.
And ten minutes later Mr. Grimm presented himself to Senor Rodriguez. The minister from Venezuela, bubbling with excitement, was pacing forth and back across his office, ruffling his gray-black hair with nervous, twining fingers. Mr. Grimm sat down.
"Senor," he inquired placidly, "fifty thousand dollars in gold would weigh nearly two hundred pounds, wouldn't it?"
Senor Rodriguez stared at him blankly.
"Si, Senor," he agreed absently. And then, in English: "Yes, I should imagine so."
"Well, was all of it stolen, or only a part of it?" Mr. Grimm went on.
The minister gazed into the listless eyes for a time, then, apparently bewildered, walked forth and back across the room again. Finally he sat down.
"All of it," he admitted. "I can't understand it. No one, not a soul in this house, except myself, knew it was here."
"In addition to this weight of, say two hundred pounds, fifty thousand dollars would make considerable bulk," mused Mr. Grimm. "Very well! Therefore it would appear that the person, or persons, who got it must have gone away from here heavily laden?"
Senor Rodriguez nodded.
"And now, Senor," Mr. Grimm continued, "if you will kindly state the circumstances immediately preceding and following the theft?"
A slight frown which had been growing upon the smooth brow of the diplomatist was instantly dissipated.
"The money—fifty thousand dollars in gold coin—was paid to me yesterday afternoon about four o'clock," he began slowly, in explanation.
"By Mr. Cressy of the International Investment Company," supplemented Mr. Grimm. "Yes. Go on."
The diplomatist favored the young man with one sharp, inquiring glance, and continued:
"The gentleman who paid the money remained here from four until nine o'clock while I, personally, counted it. As I counted it I placed it in canvas bags and when he had gone I took these bags from this room into that," he indicated a closed door to his right, "and personally stowed them away in the safe. I closed and locked the door of the safe myself; I know that it was locked. And that's all, except this morning the money was gone—every dollar of it."
"Safe blown?" inquired Mr. Grimm.
"No, Senor!" exclaimed the diplomatist with sudden violence. "No, the safe was not blown! It was closed and locked, exactly as I had left it!"
Mr. Grimm was idly twisting the seal ring on his little finger.
"Just as I left it!" Senor Rodriguez repeated excitedly. "Last night after I locked the safe door I tried it to make certain that it was locked. I happened to notice then that the pointer on the dial had stopped precisely at number forty-five. This morning, when I unlocked the safe—and, of course, I didn't know then that the money had been taken—the pointer was still at number forty-five."
He paused with one hand in the air; Mr. Grimm continued to twist the seal ring.
"It was all like—like some trick on the stage," the minister went on, "like the magician's disappearing lady, or—or—! It was as though I had not put the money into the safe at all!"
"Did you?" inquired Mr. Grimm amiably.
"Did I?" blazed Senor Rodriguez. "Why, Senor—! I did!" he concluded meekly.
Mr. Grimm believed him.
"Who else knows the combination of the safe?" he queried.
"No one, Senor—not a living soul."
"Your secretary, for instance?"
"Not even my secretary."
"Some servant—some member of your family?"
"I tell you, Senor, not one person in all the world knew that combination except myself," Senor Rodriguez insisted.
"Your secretary—a servant—some member of your family might have seen you unlock the safe some time, and thus learned the combination?"
Senor Rodriguez did not quite know whether to be annoyed at Mr. Grimm's persistence, or to admire the tenacity with which he held to this one point.
"You must understand, Senor Grimm, that many state documents are kept in the safe," he said finally, "therefore it is not advisable that any one should know the combination. I have made it an absolute rule, as did my predecessors here, never to unlock the safe in the presence of another person."
"State documents!" Mr. Grimm's lips silently repeated the words. Then aloud: "Perhaps there's a record of the combination somewhere? If you had died suddenly, for instance, how would the safe have been opened?"
"There would have been only one way, Senor—blow it open. There is no record."
"Well, if we accept all that as true," observed Mr. Grimm musingly, "it would seem that you either didn't put the money into the safe at all, or—please sit down, there's nothing personal in this—or else the money was taken out of the safe without it being unlocked. This last would have been a miracle, and this is not the day of miracles, therefore—!"
Mr. Grimm's well modulated voice trailed off into silence. Senor Rodriguez came to his feet with a blaze of anger in his eyes; Mr. Grimm was watching him curiously.
"I understand then, Senor," said the minister deliberately, "that you believe that I—!"
"I believe that you have told the truth," interrupted Mr. Grimm placidly, "that is the truth so far as you know it. But you have stated one thing in error. Somebody besides yourself does know the combination. Whether they knew it or not at this time yesterday I can't say, but somebody knows it now."
Senor Rodriguez drew a deep breath of relief. The implied accusation had been withdrawn as pleasantly and frankly as it had been put forward.
"I ran across a chap in New York once, for instance," Mr. Grimm took the trouble to explain, "who could unlock any safe—that is, any safe of the kind used at that time—twelve or fourteen years ago. So you see. I doubt if he would be so successful with the new models, with all their improvements, but then—! You know he would have made an ideal burglar, that chap. Now, Senor, who lives here in the legation with you?"
"My secretary, Senor Diaz, my daughter Inez, and just at the moment, a Miss Thorne—Miss Isabel Thorne," the senor informed him. "Also four servants—two men and two women."
"I've had the pleasure of meeting your daughter and Miss Thorne," Mr. Grimm informed him. "Now, suppose we take a look at the safe?"
Senor Rodriguez started toward the closed door just as there came a timid knock from the hall. He glanced at Mr. Grimm, who nodded, then he called:
The door opened, and Miss Thorne entered. She was clad in some filmy, gossamer-like morning gown with her radiant hair caught up on her white neck. At sight of Mr. Grimm the blue-gray eyes opened as if in surprise, and she paused irresolutely.
"I beg your pardon, Senor," she said, addressing the diplomatist. "I did not know you were engaged. And Mr. Grimm!" She extended a slim, white hand, and the young man bowed low over it. "We are old friends," she explained, smilingly, to the minister. Then: "I think I must have dropped my handkerchief when I was in here yesterday with Inez. Perhaps you found it?"
"Si, Senorita," replied Senor Rodriguez gallantly. "It is on my desk in here. Just a moment."
He opened the door and passed into the adjoining room. Mr. Grimm's eyes met those of Miss Isabel Thorne, and there was no listlessness in them now, only interest. She smiled at him tauntingly and lowered her lids. Senor Rodriguez appeared from the other room with the handkerchief.
"Mil gracias, Senor," she thanked him.
"No hay de que, Senorita," he returned, as he opened the door for her.
"Monsieur Grimm, au revoir!" She dropped a little curtsey, and still smiling, went out.
"She is charming, Senor," the diplomatist assured him enthusiastically, albeit irrelevantly. "Such vivacity, such personality, such—such—she is charming."
"The safe, please," Mr. Grimm reminded him.
A SAFE OPENING
Together they entered the adjoining room, which was small compared to the one they had just left. Senor Rodriguez used it as a private office. His desk was on their right between two windows overlooking the same pleasant little garden which was visible from the suite of tiny drawing-rooms farther along. The safe, a formidable looking receptacle of black enameled steel, stood at their left, closed and locked. The remaining wall space of the room was given over to oak cabinets, evidently a storage place for the less important legation papers.
"Has any one besides yourself been in this room to-day?" Mr. Grimm inquired.
"Not a soul, Senor," was the reply.
Mr. Grimm went over and examined the windows. They were both locked inside; and there were no marks of any sort on the sills.
"They are just as I left them last night," explained Senor Rodriguez. "I have not touched them to-day."
"And there's only one door," mused Mr. Grimm, meaning that by which they had entered. "So it would appear that whoever was here last night entered through that room. Very well."
He walked around the room once, opening and shutting the doors of the cabinets as he passed, and finally paused in front of the safe. A brief examination of the nickeled dial and handle and of the enameled edges of the heavy door satisfied him that no force had been employed—the safe had merely been unlocked. Whereupon he sat himself down, cross-legged on the floor, in front of it.
"What are the first and second figures of the combination?" he asked.
"Thirty-six, then back to ten."
Mr. Grimm set the dial at thirty-six, and then, with his ear pressed closely against the polished door, turned the dial slowly back. Senor Rodriguez stood looking on helplessly, but none the less intently. The pointer read ten, then nine, eight, seven, five. Mr. Grimm gazed at it thoughtfully, after which he did it all over again, placidly and without haste.
"Now, we'll look inside, please," he requested, rising.
Senor Rodriguez unlocked the safe the while Mr. Grimm respectfully turned his eyes away, then pulled the door wide open. The books had been piled one on top of another and thrust into various pigeonholes at the top. Mr. Grimm understood that this disorder was the result of making room at the bottom for the bulk of gold, and asked no questions. Instead, he sat down upon the floor again.
"The lock on this private compartment at the top is broken," he remarked after a moment.
"Si, Senor," the diplomatist agreed. "Evidently the robbers were not content with only fifty thousand dollars in gold—they imagined that something else of value was hidden there."
"Was there?" asked Mr. Grimm naively. He didn't look around.
"Nothing of monetary value," the senor explained. "There were some important state papers in there—they are there yet—but no money."
"None of the papers was stolen?"
"No, Senor. There were only nine packets—they are there yet."
"Contents all right?"
"Yes. I personally looked them over."
Mr. Grimm drew out the packets of papers, one by one. They were all unsealed save the last. When he reached for that, Senor Rodriguez made a quick, involuntary motion toward it with his hand.
"This one's sealed," commented Mr. Grimm. "It doesn't happen that you opened it and sealed it again?"
Senor Rodriguez stood staring at him blankly for a moment, then some sudden apprehension was aroused, for a startled look came into his eyes, and again he reached for the packet.
"Dios mio!" he exclaimed, "let me see, Senor."
"Going to open it?" asked Mr. Grimm.
"Yes, Senor. I had not thought of it before."
Mr. Grimm rose and walked over to the window where the light was better. He scrutinized the sealed packet closely. There were three red splotches of wax upon it, each impressed with the legation seal; the envelope was without marks otherwise. He turned and twisted it aimlessly, and peered curiously at the various seals, after which he handed it to the frankly impatient diplomatist.
Senor Rodriguez opened it, with nervous, twitching fingers. Mr. Grimm had turned toward the safe again, but he heard the crackle of parchment as some document was drawn out of the envelope, and then came a deep sigh of relief. Having satisfied his sudden fears for the safety of the paper, whatever it was, the senor placed it in another envelope and sealed it again with elaborate care. Mr. Grimm dropped into the swivel chair at the desk.
"Senor," he inquired pleasantly, "your daughter and Miss Thorne were in this room yesterday afternoon?"
"Yes," replied the diplomatist as if surprised at the question.
"What time, please?"
"About three o'clock. They were going out driving. Why?"
"And just where, please, did you find that handkerchief?" continued Mr. Grimm.
"Handkerchief?" repeated the diplomatist. "You mean Miss Thorne's handkerchief?" He paused and regarded Mr. Grimm keenly. "Senor, what am I to understand from that question?"
"It was plain enough," replied Mr. Grimm. "Where did you find that handkerchief?" There was silence for an instant. "In this room?"
"Yes," replied Senor Rodriguez at last.
"Near the safe?" Mr. Grimm persisted.
"Yes," came the slow reply, again. "Just here," and he indicated a spot a little to the left of the safe.
"And when did you find it? Yesterday afternoon? Last night? This morning?"
"This morning," and without any apparent reason the diplomatist's face turned deathly white.
"But, Senor—Senor, you are mistaken! There can be nothing—! A woman! Two hundred pounds of gold! Senor!"
Mr. Grimm was still pleasant about it; his curiosity was absolutely impersonal; his eyes, grown listless again, were turned straight into the other's face.
"If that handkerchief had been there last night, Senor," he resumed quietly, "wouldn't you have noticed it when you placed the gold in the safe?"
Senor Rodriguez stared at him a long time.
"I don't know," he said, at last. He dropped back into a chair with his face in his hands. "Senor," he burst out suddenly, impetuously, after a moment, "if the gold is not recovered I am ruined. You understand that better than I can tell you. It's the kind of thing that could not be explained to my government." He rose suddenly and faced the impassive young man, with merciless determination in his face. "You must find the gold, Senor," he said.
"No matter who may be—who may suffer?" inquired Mr. Grimm.
"Find the gold, Senor!"
"Very well," commented Mr. Grimm, without moving. "Do me the favor, please, to regain possession of the handkerchief you just returned to Miss Thorne, and to send to me here your secretary, Senor Diaz, and your servants, one by one. I shall question them alone. No, don't be alarmed. Unless they know of the robbery they shall get no inkling of it from me. First, be good enough to replace the packet in the safe, and lock it."
Senor Rodriguez replaced the packet without question, afterward locking the door, then went out. A moment later Senor Diaz appeared. He remained with Mr. Grimm for just eight minutes. Senor Rodriguez entered again as his secretary passed on, and laid a lace handkerchief on the desk. Mr. Grimm stared at it curiously for a long time.
"It's the same handkerchief?"
"There's no doubt whatever about it?"
"No, Senor, I got it by—!"
"It's of no consequence," interrupted Mr. Grimm. "Now the servants, please—the men first."
The first of the men servants was in the room two minutes; the second—the butler—was there five minutes; one of the women was not questioned at all; the other remained ten minutes. Mr. Grimm followed her into the hall; Senor Rodriguez stood there helpless, impatient.
"Well?" he demanded eagerly.
"I'm going out a little while," replied Mr. Grimm placidly. "No one has even an intimation of the affair—please keep the matter absolutely to yourself until I return."
That was all. The door opened and closed, and he was gone.
At the end of an hour he returned, passed on through to the diplomatist's private office, sat down in front of the locked safe again, and set the dial at thirty-six. Senor Rodriguez looked on, astonished, as Mr. Grimm pressed the soft rubber sounder of a stethoscope against the safe door and began turning the dial back toward ten, slowly, slowly. Thirty-five minutes later the lock clicked. Mr. Grimm rose, turned the handle, and pulled the safe door open.
"That's how it was done," he explained to the amazed diplomatist. "And now, please, have a servant hand my card to Miss Thorne."
THE LACE HANDKERCHIEF
Still wearing the graceful, filmy morning gown, with an added touch, of scarlet in her hair—a single red rose—Miss Thorne came into the drawing-room where Mr. Grimm sat waiting. There was curiosity in her manner, thinly veiled, but the haunting smile still lingered about her lips. Mr. Grimm bowed low, and placed a chair for her, after which he stood for a time staring down at one slim, white hand at rest on the arm of the seat. At last, he, too, sat down.
"I believe," he said slowly, without preliminaries, "this is your handkerchief?"
He offered the lacy trifle, odd in design, unique in workmanship, obviously of foreign texture, and she accepted it.
"Yes," she agreed readily, "I must have dropped it again."
"That is the one handed to you by Senor Rodriguez," Mr. Grimm told her. "I think you said you lost it in his office yesterday afternoon?"
"Yes?" She nodded inquiringly.
"It may interest you to know that Senor Rodriguez's butler positively identifies it as one he restored to you twice at dinner last evening, between seven and nine o'clock," Mr. Grimm went on dispassionately.
"Indeed!" exclaimed Miss Thorne.
"The senor identifies it as one he found this morning in his office," Mr. Grimm explained obligingly. "During the night fifty thousand dollars in gold were stolen from his safe."
There was not the slightest change of expression in her face; the blue-gray eyes were still inquiring in their gaze, the white hands still at rest, the scarlet lips still curled slightly, an echo of a smile.
"No force was used in opening the safe," Mr. Grimm resumed. "It was unlocked. It's an old model and I have demonstrated how it could have been opened either with the assistance of a stethoscope, which catches the sound of the tumbler in the lock, or by a person of acute hearing."
Miss Thorne sat motionless, waiting.
"All this means—what?" she inquired, at length.
"I'll trouble you, please, to return the money," requested Mr. Grimm courteously. "No reason appears why you should have taken it. But I'm not seeking reasons, nor am I seeking disagreeable publicity—only the money."
"It seems to me you attach undue importance to the handkerchief," she objected.
"That's a matter of opinion," Mr. Grimm remarked. "It would be useless, even tedious, to attempt to disprove a burglar theory, but against it is the difficulty of entrance, the weight of the gold, the ingenious method of opening the safe, and the assumption that not more than six persons knew the money was in the safe; while a person in the house might have learned it in any of a dozen ways. And, in addition, is the fact that the handkerchief is odd, therefore noticeable. A lace expert assures me there's probably not another like it in the world."