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judicious."

Phineas Duge took up his hat.

"As to that," he said, "I have nothing to say, beyond this. However
things may shape themselves in the immediate future, my influence will,
I believe, still prove something to be reckoned with on the other side.
That influence, Mr. Deane, I use for those who show themselves
my friends."

The two men parted with some restraint. Deane, after a few minutes'
hesitation, went to the telephone and called up Vine at his club.

"I want to talk to you, Vine, at once," he said. "Can you come round?"

"In ten minutes," was the answer.

"I shall wait for you," the ambassador answered, ringing off.



CHAPTER XIX


THE CRISIS

In a small, shabbily furnished room at the top of a tall apartment
house, Virginia was living through what seemed to her, as indeed it was,
a grim little tragedy. On the table before her was her little purse,
turned inside out, and by its side a few, a very few coins. The roll of
notes, which she had not changed, and which formed the larger part of
her little capital, was gone, hopelessly, absolutely gone. It was
nothing less than a disaster this, which she was forced to face. She had
left the purse about in her rooms in Coniston Mansions, or there were
many other places in which an expert thief would have found it a very
easy matter to remove the little bundle and replace it with that roll of
paper which she found in its place.

Her first wild thought of rushing to the police-station she had
dismissed as useless. She had no idea when or where the theft had been
accomplished; only she knew that she was alone in a strange city, and
that the few shillings left to her were not even sufficient to pay for
the rent she already owed for her room.

She dragged herself to the window and stood looking out across the grimy
house-tops. Her eyes were blurred with tears. It is doubtful whether she
saw anything of the uninspiring view, but it seemed to her that she
could certainly see the wreck of her own short life. She seemed to
realize then the mad folly of her journey, the hopelessness of it from
beginning to end. Quite apart from her failure, there was also a madness
of which she refused even to think, the aftertaste of those few hours of
delicious happiness. Had he ever tried to find her out, she wondered,
since that day when she had fled with burning cheeks and aching heart
from her rooms in Coniston Mansions, and sought to hide herself in the
cold bosom of this unlovely city. In any case she would never see him
again. Her one desire now, if it amounted to a desire, when all ways in
life seemed to her alike flat and profitless, was to find her way
somehow or other back to America, and to carry the bad news herself to
the little farmhouse in the valley.

She looked at her pitiful little store of coins, and the problem of
existence seemed to become more and more difficult. After all, there was
another way for those who did not care to live. She found herself
harbouring the thought without a single sign of any revulsion of
feeling, accepting it as a matter to be seriously considered with dull,
calculating fatalism. What was the use of life when nothing remained to
hope for! It was, after all, an easy way out.

She opened the window and looked below. The seven stories made her
dizzy. Nevertheless, she looked with a curious fascination to the stone
courtyard immediately underneath the window. Death would probably be
instantaneous. She leaned a little further out and then started suddenly
back into the room. A revulsion of feeling had overtaken her. It was a
hideous idea, this. For the sake of the others she must put it away from
her. She walked up and down the narrow confines of her room, and then
the necessity for action of some sort drove her out into the street.
Curiously enough, though she was being searched for by at least half a
dozen detectives and inquiry agents, she had taken no particular pains
to conceal herself beyond the fact that she had chosen a crowded and
low-class neighbourhood, and had seldom ventured out before dark. She
walked now to the office of a shipping agent which she had noticed on
her way here, and addressed herself to the clerk who hastened forward to
ascertain her wishes.

"I want," she said, "to get to America, and have no money. All that I
had has been stolen. Could I get a passage and pay for it when I arrive?
A second class passage, of course."

The clerk shook his head dubiously.

"Have you no friends in London," he asked, "to whom you could apply for
a loan?"

"Not a single one," she answered.

"Why not cable?" he suggested. "You could have money wired over here to
your credit."

"I do not wish to do that," Virginia answered.

The young man shrugged his shoulders.

"The only other course," he said, "would be to apply to the Embassy.
They might advance the money."

Virginia walked out thoughtfully. After all, why not? Mr. Deane, she
knew, was a friend of her uncle's. He would perhaps let her have the
money, and she could send it back later on. She walked to the great
house in Ormande Gardens and asked to see Mr. Deane. The servant who
admitted her hesitated a little.

"There is no one in just now, miss," he said, "except Mr. Deane, and he
is busy with a gentleman. If you will come into the waiting-room, I
will ask him whether he can spare you a moment when the gentleman
has gone."

Virginia sat upon a very hard horsehair chair in a barely furnished
room, and waited. The table was covered with magazines, but she did not
touch them. She sat nervously twisting and untwisting her fingers. Then
the sudden sound of voices outside attracted her attention. The door of
the room in which she sat had been left ajar, and apparently two men,
passing down the hall from a room on the other side, had paused just
outside it.

"Of course, I don't know what you will do with it, Vine," she heard some
one say, "but if you take my advice, you will find a secure hiding place
without a moment's delay. I am very sorry indeed that I cannot help you
out any longer, but I know you don't want me to run risks."

"Rather not," Vine answered. "To tell you the truth, I think my mind is
made up. I am going to spend a little fortune cabling to-night."

"Well, I am not sure but that you are wise," was the reply. "It's one of
those things the result of which it is quite impossible to prophesy.
Good luck to you anyway, Vine, and do, for the next few hours, take care
of yourself."

Then Virginia heard a parting between the two men. One of them
apparently left the house, the other returned to the room from which
they had issued. Virginia did not hesitate for a moment. She passed on
tiptoe out of the room into the hall. A servant stood at the front door,
having that moment let Vine out.

"I have decided not to wait for Mr. Deane any longer," she said. "I
will call and see one of the secretaries sometime to-morrow."

The man let her out without question. She was just in time to see Vine
turn the corner of the square. She followed him breathlessly, then
paused and stopped a passing hansom.

"Coniston Mansions," she told the man. "Please go as quickly as you
can."

She was driven there, and passed quickly through the hall and entered
the lift. The commissionaire hurried up to her.

"Several people, miss, have been asking for your address since you
left," he announced.

"I will leave it before I go," she answered hurriedly.

She got out at the fifth floor, and without hesitation she walked
straight across to Norris Vine's rooms. She was as pale as death. After
that last visit of hers she felt a horrible shrinking from entering the
place. Nevertheless, she drew a key from her pocket, turned the lock,
entered, and found, as she supposed, that she was there first. She
looked around, at first in vain, for some hiding place. All the while
she was struggling to put everything else out of her mind except two
great facts. Norris Vine was going to bring that paper back to his
rooms! It was her last chance! If she failed this time, there was
nothing left for her but despair! On the right of the outside door was
a small clothes cupboard. It was the only place in the two rooms where
concealment seemed in any way possible, and Virginia, with beating
heart, stepped into it and drew the door to after her. She was scarcely
there before she heard the sound of a key in the lock. She drew back,
holding her breath as he passed. Norris Vine entered and stepped into
the sitting-room. She heard him take off his hat and coat and throw them
down. She heard the sound of a chair drawn up to the table. He was
preparing, then, to write out his cable!



CHAPTER XX


BEWITCHED

Very softly Virginia pushed open the door one, two, three inches. She
could see Vine now sitting at the table with several sheets of paper
before him, and a book which seemed to be a code, the leaves of which he
was turning over meditatively. Her eyes were fastened upon that roll of
paper at his left-hand side. She had no doubt but that it was the
document which had been stolen, the document to recover which had
brought her upon this wild-goose chase. The very sight of it, even at
this distance, thrilled her. Scheme after scheme rushed through her
brain. There were overcoats hanging up in the closet. Could she steal
out on tiptoe, throw one over his head, and escape with the paper
before he could stop her? Even then, unless she had time to lock him in,
what chance would she have of leaving the building?

She watched him write, without undue haste, but referring every now and
then to the code-book by his side. If only he would get up and go into
the bedroom for a moment, it might give her a chance. She could feel
her heart beating underneath her gown. Every sense was thrilling with
excitement; and then, all of a sudden, she had a great surprise. Almost
a cry broke from her lips; almost she had taken that swift involuntary
movement forward, for she realized suddenly that she was not the only
one who was watching Norris Vine. Very softly a man, coatless and in his
socks, had stolen out from the bedroom where he had lain concealed, and
was looking in through the opening of the partly closed study door.
Virginia felt her finger-nails dig into her flesh. She stood there rapt
and breathless. Instinctively she felt that the cards had been taken
from her hand, that she was to be a witness of events more swift and
definite than any in which she herself could have borne the
principal part.

Norris Vine was absorbed in his work. She saw him bend lower and lower
over the table, and she heard his pen drive faster across the paper. His
attention was riveted upon his task. She saw the man lurking behind the
door come gradually more into evidence. He was a stranger to her, but
she could see that he was an athlete by his broad shoulders, his long
arms, and his graceful poise, as he lurked there almost like a tiger
preparing for a spring. Of what his plan might be she could form no
idea. Every pulse in her body was beating as it had never beat before.
Her breath was coming sharply and quickly, and it was all that she could
do to keep back the sobs which seemed to rise in her throat from pure
excitement. What was he going to do, this man who crouched there,
nerving himself as though for some great effort! Very soon she knew.

He stole to the limit of the protection afforded him by the door. She
saw his head turn a little sideways, and she saw his eyes fixed upon a
certain spot in the wall. Then he glanced back again toward the man
writing, as though he measured the distance between them, as though he
wished even to calculate the exact nature of the movement which it was
necessary to make. Then in the midst of her wondering came the
elucidation of these things. The man poised himself. She could see him
in the act of springing. He made a dash, hit something with his hand,
and the room was in darkness! She heard him leap across the room toward
the table, and she heard the low cry of Norris Vine as he sprang to his
feet to meet this unknown assailant. She knew very well in the darkness
which way the struggle must go. Norris Vine, slim, a hater of exercise,
unmuscular, unprepared, could have no chance against an attack
like this.

Virginia's brain moved swiftly in those few moments. She heard the
quick breath of the two men as they swayed in one another's arms, and
she did not hesitate for a moment. On tiptoe, and with all the grace and
lightness which were hers, by right of her buoyant figure and buoyant
youth, she crossed the room with swift, silent footsteps, and gathered
into her hands the roll of papers upon the table. As softly as she had
come she went. The deep sobbing breaths of the two men, the half-stifled
cries with which Vine was seeking for outside help, effectually deadened
the faint swish of her skirts and the tremor of her footsteps upon the
carpeted floor.

She came and went like a dream, and when the man, in whose arms Norris
Vine was after all but a child, finally dragged his victim across the
floor by the collar and turned up the electric light, the table towards
which he looked was bare. He dropped Vine heavily upon the floor, and
stood there rooted to the spot, gazing at the place where only a few
moments before he had seen that roll of paper. A hoarse imprecation
broke from his lips, and Norris Vine, who was still conscious though
badly winded, seeing what was amiss, sat up on the carpet and gazed too,
bewildered, at the empty table. The papers were gone! There was no sign
of them there. There was no sign of any one else in the apartment. There
was nothing to indicate that any one had entered it or left it. The man
who had thought himself the victor stood there with his hands to his
head, an unimaginative person, but suddenly dazed with a curious crowd
of apprehensions. Norris Vine staggered up to his feet, and groped his
way toward the sideboard, where a decanter of brandy was standing.

"Good God!" he muttered to himself, as he poured some of the liquor into
a glass and raised it to his lips. "Are we all mad or bewitched
or what?"

His assailant did not answer. He raised the table-cloth and looked
underneath, retreated into the bedroom, sought in vain for any signs of
an intruder. Then he came slowly back into the sitting-room, and the
eyes of the two men met. Norris Vine was leaning back against the
sideboard, his clothes disarranged, his collar torn, his tie hanging
down in strips. In his shaking hand was the glass of brandy, half
consumed. There was a livid mark upon his face, and his eyes were wide
open and staring.

"My muscular friend," he said, "the ghosts have robbed you."

"Ghosts be d - - d!" the other man answered, a little wildly. "I wish
this job were at the bottom of the ocean before I'd touched it."



CHAPTER XXI


A LESSON LEARNED

The American ambassador was giving the third of his great
dinner-parties. At the last moment he had prevailed upon Phineas Duge to
accept an invitation. Littleson, also, was of the party, and the ladies
having departed, these three, separated only by the German ambassador,
who was engaged in an animated conversation with a Russian Grand Duke,
found themselves for a minute or two detached from the rest of the
party. Littleson took the opportunity to move his chair over until he
was able to whisper into Duge's ear.

"Any news?"

"None!" Duge answered shortly.

Mr. Deane leaned forward in his chair.

"I suppose you have heard," he said, "that a warrant was issued this
afternoon for the arrest of your friends, Higgins and Weiss?"

"It was a matter of form only," Duge replied.

"Unless they pass this new bill through the Senate, nothing more than a
little temporary inconvenience can happen to them. I wonder why our
great President has developed so sudden and violent an antipathy
to capital."

"I am not sure," Mr. Deane replied, "whether his position is logical.
Capital must be the backbone of any great country, and the very elements
of human nature demand its concentration. I think myself that this will
all blow over."

"Unless - " Littleson whispered.

"Unless," Mr. Deane continued, "some greater scandal than any at present
known were to attach itself to our two friends."

"One cannot tell," Phineas Duge said slowly. "Such a scandal might come.
It is hard to say. The ways that lead to great wealth are full of
pitfalls, and they are not ways that stand very well the blinding glare
of daylight."

Littleson was looking pale and nervous. He drew a little breath and
fanned himself with his handkerchief.

"You men love to talk in riddles," he said, or rather whispered,
hoarsely. "Why not admit that they are safe enough so long as Norris
Vine does not move!"

A servant approached the ambassador and whispered in apologetic fashion
in his ear.

"There is a young lady, sir," he said, "who has just arrived, and who
insists upon seeing you. She says that her business is of the utmost
importance. I have done my best to make her understand that you are
engaged, but she will not listen to reason. She is, I think, sir, an
American young lady, and she is very much disturbed."

Phineas Duge leaned forward in his place. His eyes were fixed upon the
servant. He said nothing. He only waited.

"A young American lady!" Mr. Deane repeated slowly. "Have you seen her
before?"

"I believe, sir," the man answered, "that it is the same young lady who
came here some weeks ago to inquire after Mr. Norris Vine."

Phineas Duge was on his feet with a sudden soft, half-stifled
exclamation. Mr. Deane looked around the table. His other guests were
all talking amongst themselves. Littleson, ignorant of what this might
mean, was looking a little bewildered. The ambassador addressed one of
the men a little lower down the table.

"Sinclair," he said, "will you take my place for a moment? A little
matter of business has turned up, and I am wanted. I shall not be
away long."

The man addressed nodded, and, pushing back his chair, strolled toward
the ambassador's vacant seat, his cigar in his mouth. Phineas Duge and
Mr. Deane left the room together, and close behind them Littleson
followed. They left the room without any appearance of haste, but once
in the hall Phineas Duge showed signs of a rare impatience, and pushed
his way on ahead. The door of the waiting-room was half open. He strode
in, and a little exclamation broke from his lips. It was Virginia who
stood there, and her hands were crossed upon her bosom, as though there
were something there which she was guarding. Nevertheless, at the sight
of her uncle they fell away, and she started back.

"You!" she exclaimed. "Uncle Phineas! Here in London!"

He saw the signs stamped into her face of the evil times through which
she had passed, and the more immediate traces of the crisis which lay so
close behind her. He held out both his hands, and stepped quickly toward
her. He was only just in time to save her from falling.

"I came," she faltered, "to get money from Mr. Deane to send you a
cable, to catch a steamer to come back to America. I have got it!" she
cried suddenly, her voice rising almost to a hysterical shriek. "I have
got it! It is here! See!"

She dragged something from the front of her dress - a roll of papers, and
held them out. She was swaying upon her feet now, and Phineas Duge, his
arm around her waist, half led, half carried her to a chair. Littleson,
who had darted out of the room, came back with a glass of water. All
three men stood around her. The papers were there upon her knee, but her
fingers seemed wound around them with some unnatural force. Her burning
eyes were fixed upon her uncle's.

"Take them!" she begged. "Read them! Tell me that it is all right. Tell
me that you will keep your promise."

He took them gently away. A single glance at the sheet of foolscap was
enough.

"You are a wonderful child, Virginia," he said calmly. "It is as you
say. These are the papers which Stella stole. I blamed you for the loss
of them too hardly, but you shall never be sorry that you succeeded in
regaining them."

She drew a queer little breath of relief, and leaned back in her chair.
She was still as pale as death, but the terrible strain had gone
from her face.

"I snatched them up," she murmured, "and ran. I am sure they will come
after me. And Vine - I think that that man will kill Vine. His fingers
were upon his throat when I left."

"You brought them," Phineas Duge asked calmly, "from Norris Vine's
rooms?"

She had no time to answer. The door was opened. Norris Vine stood there
on the threshold. He looked in upon the little group and shrugged his
shoulders.

"I am too late, then," he said slowly.

Phineas Duge thrust his hand into the flames and held the papers there.
Norris Vine seemed for a moment as though he would have sprung forward,
but Littleson intervened, and Deane himself.

"They shall burn!" Duge cried. "If you are really the altruist you claim
to be, Mr. Vine, you need not fear their destruction. We are changing
our tactics. If the bill becomes law we will face its effect, whatever
it may be. There shall be no bribery. There shall be no underground
history. If the people of America attack us, we will fight our
own battles."

Norris Vine sighed.

"In another half an hour," he said, "my cable would have been sent.
To-morrow New York would have been indeed the city of unrest."

Phineas Duge turned upon him coldly.

"You," he said, "are one of those unpractical persons, who bring to the
affairs of a purely utilitarian epoch the 'fainéant' scruples of the
dilettante and romanticist. You cannot regulate the flow of wealth any
more than you can dam a river with shifting sand. Don't you know that
destiny, whether it be guided by other powers or not, was never meant to
be shaped by the lookers-on?"

Norris Vine shrugged his shoulders and turned toward the door.

"Well," he said, "I will not argue with you. Perhaps those papers are
better where they are. You will learn your lesson. You, sir," he added,
turning to Littleson, "and those other of your friends who, at any
rate, have known the shadow of an American prison, in some other way."



CHAPTER XXII


A SURPRISE

Norris Vine put on his coat, lit a cigarette, and looked around the room
with the satisfied air of a man who has successfully accomplished a
difficult task. In front of him were two steamer trunks, a hold-all,
hat-box, a case of guns, golf clubs, and some smaller packages, all
fastened up and labelled "Vine, New York." He moved toward the bell,
meaning to ring for a porter, but was interrupted by a knock at
the door.

"Come in!" he called out, and Virginia entered. He looked at her in cold
surprise. He recognized her, of course, but he recognized also that this
young lady had nothing whatever to do with the pale-faced, desperate
child, whose visits to him before had always seemed in a sense pathetic.
He was an artist in such things, and he realized at once the dainty
perfection of her muslin gown and large drooping hat. Her whole
expression, too, had changed. She had no longer the look of a hunted and
frightened child. She carried herself with confidence and with colour in
her cheeks, and though she held out her hand to him with some show of
timidity, the smile upon her lips was delightful, if a little appealing.
"Mr. Vine," she said, "please forgive my coming. I have something so
important to say to you and I heard that you were going back to the
States. You will spare me a few minutes, will you not?"

Vine was only human, and hers was an appeal it was not easy to refuse.
He placed a chair for her, and stood in a listening attitude.

"My dear young lady," he said, "I will listen gladly to anything that
you have to say. But as I have nothing more left which it would be of
any interest to you to steal, I scarcely understand to what I am
indebted for this unexpected" - he hesitated for a moment and concluded
his sentence with a not ungracious bow - "unexpected pleasure!" he said.

She smiled up at him delightfully.

"I am so glad, Mr. Vine," she said, "that you are going to be generous
and nice, because what I have to say to you is so difficult, and if you
were angry with me it would be very hard to say."

"I trust," he answered, "that I can accept a defeat; and you had all the
luck, you know."

"I had," she admitted. "It was, after all, nothing to do with me. I see
you have cleared your cupboard out. I can assure you that it was a
terribly stuffy place with all those clothes of yours hanging there."

He smiled.


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