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along the hall; and at that instant the lights went out again. For one
moment Grimm stood still, dazed and blinded by the sudden blackness, and
again he started toward the door. Miss Thorne was beside him.

"The lights!" he whispered tensely. "Find the switch!"

He heard the rustle of her skirts as she moved away, and stepped out
into the hall, feeling with both his hands along the wall. A few feet
away, in the direction the ambassador had gone, there seemed to be a
violent struggle in progress - there was the scuffling of feet, and
quick-drawn breaths as muscle strained against muscle. The lights! If he
could only find the switch! Then, as his hands moved along the wall,
they came in contact with another hand - a hand pressed firmly against
the plastering, barring his progress. A light blow in the face caused
him to step back quickly.

The scuffling sound suddenly resolved itself into moving footsteps, and
the front door opened and closed with a bang. Mr. Grimm's listless eyes
snapped, and his white teeth came together sharply as he started toward
the front door. But fate seemed to be against him still. He stumbled
over a chair, and his own impetus forward sent him sprawling; his head
struck the wall with a resounding whack; and then, over the house, came
utter silence. From outside he heard the clatter of a cab. Finally that
died away in the distance.

"Miss Thorne?" he inquired quietly.

"I'm here," she answered in a despairing voice. "But I can't find the
switch."

"Are you hurt?"

"No."

And then she found the switch; the lights flared up. Mr. Grimm was
sitting thoughtfully on the floor.

"That simplifies the matter considerably," he observed complacently, as
he rose. "The men who signaled to me when you entered the embassy will
never let that cab get out of their sight."

Miss Thorne stood leaning forward a little, eagerly gazing at him with
those wonderful blue-gray eyes, and an expression of - of - perhaps it was
admiration on her face.

"Are you sure?" she demanded, at last.

"I know it," was his response.

And just then Monsieur Rigolot, secretary of the embassy, thrust an
inquisitive head timidly around the corner of the stairs. The crash of
glass had aroused him.

"What happened?" he asked breathlessly.

"We don't know just yet," replied Mr. Grimm. "If the noise aroused any
one else please assure them that there's nothing the matter. And you
might inform Madame Boisségur that the ambassador will return home
to-morrow. Good night!"

At his hotel, when he reached there, Mr. Grimm found Miss Thorne's
card - and he drew a long breath; at his office he found another of her
cards, and he drew another long breath. He did like corroborative
details, did Mr. Grimm, and, of course, this - ! On the following day
Miss Thorne accompanied him to Alexandria, and they were driven in a
closed carriage out toward the western edge of the city. Finally the
carriage stopped at a signal from Mr. Grimm, and he assisted Miss Thorne
out, after which he turned and spoke to some one remaining inside - a
man.

"The house is two blocks west, along that street there," he explained,
and he indicated an intersecting thoroughfare just ahead. "It is number
ninety-seven. Five minutes after we enter you will drive up in front of
the door and wait. If we don't return in fifteen minutes - come in after
us!"

"Do you anticipate danger?" Miss Thorne queried quickly.

"If I had anticipated danger," replied Mr. Grimm, "I should not have
permitted you to come with me."

They entered the house - number ninety-seven - with a key which Mr. Grimm
produced, and a minute or so later walked into a room where three men
were sitting. One of them was of a coarse, repulsive type, large and
heavy; another rather dapper, of superficial polish, evidently a
foreigner, and the third - the third was Ambassador Boisségur!

"Good morning, gentlemen!" Mr. Grimm greeted them, then ceremoniously:
"Monsieur Boisségur, your carriage is at the door."

The three men came to their feet instantly, and one of them - he of the
heavy face - drew a revolver. Mr. Grimm faced him placidly.

"Do you know what would happen to you if you killed me?" he inquired
pleasantly. "You wouldn't live three minutes. Do you imagine I came in
here blindly? There are a dozen men guarding the entrances to the
house - a pistol shot would bring them in. Put down the gun!"

Eyes challenged eyes for one long tense instant, and the man carefully
laid the weapon on the table. Mr. Grimm strolled over and picked it up,
after which he glanced inquiringly at the other man - the ambassador's
second guard.

"And you are the gentleman, I dare say, who made the necessary trips to
the ambassador's house, probably using his latch-key?" he remarked
interrogatively. "First for the letters to be signed, and again for the
cigarettes?"

There was no answer and Mr. Grimm turned questioningly to Monsieur
Boisségur, silent, white of face, motionless.

"Yes, Monsieur," the ambassador burst out suddenly. His eyes were fixed
unwaveringly on Miss Thorne.

"And your escape, Monsieur?" continued Mr. Grimm.

"I did escape, Monsieur, last night," the ambassador explained, "but
they knew it immediately - they pursued me into my own house, these two
and another - and dragged me back here! _Mon Dieu, Monsieur, c'est - !_"

"That's all that's necessary," remarked Mr. Grimm. "You are free to go
now."

"But there are others," Monsieur Boisségur interposed desperately, "two
more somewhere below, and they will not allow - they will attack - !"

Mr. Grimm's listless eyes narrowed slightly and he turned to Miss
Thorne. She was a little white, but he saw enough in her face to satisfy
him.

"I shall escort Monsieur Boisségur to his carriage, Miss Thorne," he
said calmly. "These men will remain here until I return. Take the
revolver. If either of them so much as wags his head - _shoot_! You are
not - not afraid?"

"No." She smiled faintly. "I am not afraid."

Mr. Grimm and the ambassador went down the stairs, and out the front
door. Mr. Grimm was just turning to reenter the house when from above
came a muffled, venomous cra-as-ash! - a shot! He took the steps going
up, two at a time. Miss Thorne was leaning against the wall as if dazed;
the revolver lay at her feet. A door in a far corner of the room stood
open; and the clatter of footsteps echoed through the house.

"One of them leaped at me and I fired," she gasped in explanation. "He
struck me, but I'm - I'm not hurt."

She stooped quickly, picked up the revolver and made as if to follow the
dying footsteps. Mr. Grimm stopped her.

"It doesn't matter," he said quietly. "Let them go." And after a while,
earnestly: "If I had dreamed of such a - such a thing as this I should
never have consented to allow you - "

"I understand," she interrupted, and for one instant her outstretched
hand rested on his arm. "The ambassador?"

"Perfectly safe," responded Mr. Grimm. "Two of my men are with him."




XV

MASTER OF THE SITUATION


As the women rose and started out, leaving the gentlemen over their
coffee and cigars, Miss Thorne paused at the door and the blue-gray eyes
flashed some subtle message to the French ambassador who, after an
instant, nodded comprehendingly, then resumed his conversation. As he
left the room a few minutes later he noticed that Mr. Grimm had joined a
group of automaniacs of which Mr. Cadwallader was the enthusiastic
center. He spoke to his hostess, the wife of the minister from Portugal,
for a moment, then went to Miss Thorne and dropped into a seat beside
her. She greeted him with a smile and was still smiling as she talked.

"I believe, Monsieur," she said in French, "you sent a code message to
the cable office this afternoon?"

His eyes questioned hers quickly.

"And please bear in mind that we probably are being watched as we talk,"
she went on pleasantly. "Mr. Grimm is the man to be afraid of.
Smile - don't look so serious!" She laughed outright.

"Yes, I sent a code message," he replied.

"It was your resignation?"

"Yes."

"Well, it wasn't sent, of course," she informed him, and her eyes were
sparkling as if something amusing had been said. "One of my agents
stopped it. I may add that it will not be sent."

The ambassador's eyes grew steely, then blank again.

"Mademoiselle, what am I to understand from that?" he demanded.

"You are to understand that I am absolute master of the situation in
Washington at this moment," she replied positively. The smile on her
lips and the tone of her voice were strangely at variance. "From the
beginning I let you understand that ultimately you would receive your
instructions from Paris; now I know they will reach you by cable
to-morrow. Within a week the compact will be signed. Whether you approve
of it or not it will be signed for your country by a special envoy whose
authority is greater than yours - his Highness, the Prince Benedetto
d'Abruzzi."

"Has he reached Washington?"

"He is in Washington. He has been here for some time, incognito." She
was silent a moment. "You have been a source of danger to our plans,"
she added. "If it had not been for an accident you would still have been
comfortably kept out in Alexandria where Mr. Grimm and I found you.
Please remember, Monsieur, that we will accomplish what we set out to
do. Nothing can stop us - nothing."

At just about the same moment the name of Prince d'Abruzzi had been used
in the dining-room, but in a different connection. Mr. Cadwallader was
reciting some incident of an automobile trip in Italy when he had been
connected with the British embassy there.

"The prince was driving," he said, "and one of the best I ever saw.
Corking chap, the prince; democratic, you know, and all that sort of
thing. He was one scion of royalty who didn't mind soiling his hands by
diving in under a car and fixing it himself. At that time he was
inclined to be wild - that was eight or nine years ago - but they say now
he has settled down to work, and is one of the real diplomatic powers of
Italy. I haven't seen him for a half dozen years."

"How old a man is he?" asked Mr. Grimm carelessly.

"Thirty-five, thirty-eight, perhaps; I don't know," replied Mr.
Cadwallader. "It's odd, you know, the number of princes and blue-bloods
and all that sort of thing one can find knocking about in Italy and
Germany and Spain. One never hears of half of them. I never had heard
of the Prince d'Abruzzi until I went to Italy, and I've heard jolly well
little of him since, except indirectly."

Mr. Cadwallader lapsed into silence as he sat staring at a large group
photograph which was framed on a wall of the dining-room.

"Isn't that the royal family of Italy?" he asked. He rose and went over
to it. "By Jove, it is, and here is the prince in the group. The picture
was taken, I should say, about the time I knew him."

Mr. Grimm strolled over idly and stood for a long time staring at the
photograph.

"He can drive a motor, you know," said Mr. Cadwallader admiringly. "And
Italy is the place to drive them. They forgot to make any speed laws
over there, and if a chap gets in your way and you knock him silly they
arrest him for obstructing traffic, you know. Over here if a chap really
starts to go any place in a hurry some bally idiot holds him up."

"Have you ever been held up?" queried Mr. Grimm.

"No, but I expect to be every day," was the reply. "I've got a new
motor, you know, and I've never been able to see how fast it is. The
other evening I ran up to Baltimore with it in an hour and thirty-seven
minutes from Alexandria to Druid Hill Park, and that's better than forty
miles. I never did let the motor out, you know, because we ran in the
dark most of the way."

Mr. Grimm was still gazing at the photograph.

"Did you go alone?" he asked.

"There's no fun motoring alone, you know. Señorita Rodriguez was with
me. Charming girl, what?"

A little while later Mr. Grimm sauntered out into the drawing-room and
made his way toward Miss Thorne and the French ambassador. Monsieur
Boisségur rose, and offered his hand cordially.

"I hope, Monsieur," said Mr. Grimm, "that you are no worse off for
your - your unpleasant experience?"

"Not at all, thanks to you," was the reply. "I have just thanked Miss
Thorne for her part in the affair, and - "

"I'm glad to have been of service," interrupted Mr. Grimm lightly.

The ambassador bowed ceremoniously and moved away. Mr. Grimm dropped
into the seat he had just left.

"You've left the legation, haven't you?" he asked.

"You drove me out," she laughed.

"Drove you out?" he repeated. "Drove you out?"

"Why, it was not only uncomfortable, but it was rather conspicuous
because of the constant espionage of your Mr. Blair and your Mr. Johnson
and your Mr. Hastings," she explained, still laughing. "So I have moved
to the Hotel Hilliard."

Mr. Grimm was twisting the seal ring on his little finger.

"I'm sorry if I've made it uncomfortable for you," he apologized. "You
see it's necessary to - "

"No explanation," Miss Thorne interrupted. "I understand."

"I'm glad you do," he replied seriously. "How long do you intend to
remain in the city?"

"Really I don't know - two, three, four weeks, perhaps. Why?"

"I was just wondering."

Señorita Rodriguez came toward them.

"We're going to play bridge," she said, "and we need you, Isabel, to
make the four. Come. I hate to take her away, Mr. Grimm."

Mr. Grimm and Miss Thorne rose together. For an instant her slim white
hand rested on Mr. Grimm's sleeve and she stared into his eyes
understandingly with a little of melancholy in her own. They left Mr.
Grimm there.




XVI

LETTERS FROM JAIL


For two weeks Signor Pietro Petrozinni, known to the Secret Service as
an unaccredited agent of the Italian government, and the self-confessed
assailant of Señor Alvarez of the Mexican legation, had been taking his
ease in a cell. He had been formally arraigned and committed without
bail to await the result of the bullet wound which had been inflicted
upon the diplomatist from Mexico at the German Embassy Ball, and, since
then, undisturbed and apparently careless of the outcome, he had spent
his time in reading and smoking. He had answered questions with only a
curt yes or no when he deigned to answer them at all; and there had been
no callers or inquiries for him. He had abruptly declined a suggestion
of counsel.

Twice each day, morning and night, he had asked a question of the
jailer who brought his simple meals.

"How is Señor Alvarez?"

"He is still in a critical condition." The answer was always the same.

Whereupon the secret agent would return to his reading with not a shadow
of uneasiness or concern on his face.

Occasionally there came a courteous little note from Miss Thorne, which
he read without emotion, afterward casting them aside or tearing them
up. He never answered them. And then one day there came another note
which, for no apparent reason, seemed to stir him from his lethargy.
Outwardly it was like all the others, but when Signor Petrozinni scanned
the sheet his eyes lighted strangely, and he stood staring down at it as
though to hide a sudden change of expression in his face. His gaze was
concentrated on two small splotches of ink where, it seemed, the pen
had scratched as Miss Thorne signed her name.

The guard stood at the barred door for a moment, then started to turn
away. The prisoner stopped him with a quick gesture.

"Oh, Guard, may I have a glass of milk, please?" he asked. "No ice. I
prefer it tepid."

He thrust a small coin between the bars; the guard accepted it and
passed on. Then, still standing at the door, the prisoner read the note
again:

"MY DEAR FRIEND:

"I understand, from an indirect source, that there has been a marked
improvement in Señor Alvarez's condition, and I am hastening to send you
the good news. There is every hope that within a short while, if he
continues to improve, we can arrange a bail bond, and you will be free
until the time of trial anyway.

"Might it not be well for you to consult an attorney at once? Drop me a
line to let me know you received this.

"Sincerely,

"ISABEL THORNE."

Finally the prisoner tossed the note on a tiny table in a corner of his
cell, and resumed his reading. After a time the guard returned with the
milk.

"Would it be against the rules for me to write an answer to this?"
queried Signor Petrozinni, and he indicated the note.

"Certainly not," was the reply.

"If I might trouble you, then, for pen and ink and paper?" suggested the
signor and he smiled a little. "Believe me, I would prefer to get them
for myself."

"I guess that's right," the guard grinned good-naturedly.

Again he went away and the prisoner sat thoughtfully sipping the milk.
He took half of it, then lighted a cigarette, puffed it once or twice
and permitted the light to die. After a little there came again the
clatter of the guard's feet on the cement pavement, and the writing
materials were thrust through the bars.

"Thank you," said the prisoner.

The guard went on, with a nod, and a moment later the signor heard the
clangor of a steel door down the corridor as it was closed and locked.
He leaned forward in his chair with half-closed eyes, listening for a
long time, then rose and noiselessly approached the cell door. Again he
listened intently, after which he resumed his seat. He tossed away the
cigarette he had and lighted a fresh one, afterward holding the note
over the flame of the match. Here and there, where the paper charred in
the heat, a letter or word stood out from the bare whiteness of the
paper, and finally, a message complete appeared between the innocuous
ink-written lines. The prisoner read it greedily:

"Am privately informed there is little chance of Alvarez's recovery.
Shall I arrange escape for you, or have ambassador intercede? Would
advise former, as the other might take months, and meeting to sign
treaty alliance would be dangerously delayed."

Signor Petrozinni permitted the sputtering flame to ignite the paper,
and thoughtfully watched the blaze destroy it. The last tiny scrap
dropped on the floor, burned out, and he crushed the ashes under his
heel. Then he began to write:

"My Dear Miss Thorne:

"Many thanks for your courteous little note. I am delighted to know of
the improvement in Señor Alvarez's condition. I had hoped that my
impulsive act in shooting him would not end in a tragedy. Please keep me
informed of any further change in his condition. As yet I do not see the
necessity of consulting an attorney, but later I may be compelled to do
so.

"Respectfully,

"Pietro Petrozinni."

This done the secret agent carefully cleaned the ink from the pen,
wiping it dry with his handkerchief, then thrust it into the half empty
glass of milk. The fluid clung to the steel nib thinly; he went on
writing with it, between the lines of ink:

"I am in no danger. I hold credentials to United States, which, when
presented, will make me responsible only to the Italian government as
special envoy, according to international law. Arrange escape for one
week from to-night; use any money necessary. Make careful arrangements
for the test and signing of compact for two nights after."

Again the prisoner cleaned the steel nib, after which he put it back in
the bottle of ink, leaving it there. He waved the sheet of paper back
and forth to dry it, and at last scrutinized it minutely, standing under
the light from the high-up window of his cell. Letter by letter the milk
evaporated, leaving the sheet perfectly clean and white except for the
ink-written message. This sheet he folded, placed in an envelope, and
addressed.

Later the guard passed along the corridor, and Signor Petrozinni thrust
the letter out to him.

"Be good enough to post that, please," he requested. "It isn't sealed. I
don't know if your prison rules require you to read the letters that go
out. If so, read it, or have it read, then seal it."

For answer the guard dampened the flap of the envelope, sealed it,
thrust it into his pocket and passed on. The secret agent sat down
again, and sipped his milk meditatively.

One hour later Mr. Grimm, accompanied by Johnson, came out of a
photographer's dark room in Pennsylvania Avenue with a developed
negative which he set on a rack to dry. At the end of another hour he
was sitting at his desk studying, under a magnifying glass, a finished
print of the negative. Word by word he was writing on a slip of paper
what his magnifying glass gave him and so, curiously enough, it came to
pass that Miss Thorne and Chief Campbell of the Secret Service were
reading the hidden, milk-written message at almost the identical moment.

"Johnson got Petrozinni's letter from the postman," Mr. Grimm was
explaining. "I opened it, photographed it, sealed it again and remailed
it. There was not more than half an hour's delay; and Miss Thorne can
not possibly know of it." He paused a moment. "It's an odd thing that
writing such as that is absolutely invisible to the naked eye, and yet
when photographed becomes decipherable in the negative."

"What do you make of it?" Mr. Campbell asked. The guileless blue eyes
were alive with eagerness.

"Well, he's right, of course, about not being in danger," said Mr.
Grimm. "If he came with credentials as special envoy this government
must respect them, even if Señor Alvarez dies, and leave it to his own
government to punish him. If we were officially aware that he has such
credentials I doubt if we would have the right to keep him confined; we
would merely have to hand him over to the Italian embassy and demand his
punishment. And, of course, all that makes him more dangerous than
ever."

"Yes, I know that," said the chief a little impatiently. "But who is
this man?"

"Who is this man?" Mr. Grimm repeated as if surprised at the question.
"I was looking for Prince Benedetto d'Abruzzi, of Italy. I have found
him."

Mr. Campbell's clock-like brain ticked over the situation in detail.

"It's like this," Mr. Grimm elucidated. "He has credentials which he
knows will free him if he is forced to present them, but I imagine they
were given to him more for protection in an emergency like this than for
introducing him to our government. As the matter stands he can't afford
to discover himself by using those credentials, and yet, if the Latin
compact is signed, he must be free. Remember, too, that he is accredited
from three countries - Italy, France and Spain." He was silent for a
moment. "Naturally his escape from prison would preserve his incognito,
and at the same time permit him to sign the compact."

There was silence for a long time.

"I believe the situation is without precedent," said Mr. Campbell
slowly. "The special envoy of three great powers held for attempted - !"

"Officially we are not aware of his purpose, or his identity," Mr. Grimm
reminded him. "If he escaped it would clarify the situation
tremendously."

"If he escaped!" repeated Mr. Campbell musingly.

"But, of course, the compact would not be signed, at least in this
country," Mr. Grimm went on tentatively.

Mr. Campbell gazed straight into the listless eyes of the young man for
a minute or more, and gradually full understanding came home to him.
Finally he nodded his head.

"Use your own judgment, Mr. Grimm," he directed.




XVII

A CALL ON THE WARDEN


The restful silence of night lay over the great prison. Here and there
in the grim corridors a guard dozed in the glare of an electric light;
and in the office, too, a desk light glimmered where the warden sat at
his desk, poring over a report. Once he glanced up at the clock - it was
five minutes of eleven - and then he went on with his reading.

After a little the silence was broken by the whir of the clock and the
first sharp stroke of the hour; and at just that moment the door from
the street opened and a man entered. He was rather tall and slender, and
a sinister black mask hid his face from the quickly raised eyes of the
warden. For a bare fraction of a second the two men stared at each
other, then, instinctively, the warden's right hand moved toward the
open drawer of his desk where a revolver lay, and his left toward
several electrically connected levers. The intruder noted both gestures,
and, unarmed himself, stood silent. The warden was first to speak.

"Well, what is it?"

"You have a prisoner here, Pietro Petrozinni," was the reply, in a
pleasant voice. "I have come to demand his release."

The warden's right hand was raised above the desk top, and the revolver


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