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question: Have you yourself formed any theory as to the identity of this
hostile intelligence which has so hindered us of late?"

"I'd be a raw fool if I hadn't," the Irishman retorted. "We know the Lone
Wolf has been hand-in-glove with the authorities ever since the British
Secret Service used him during the war."

"You think, then, it is Lanyard - ?"

"It's a wise saying: 'Set a thief to catch a thief.' I believe there's no
man in England but Lanyard who has the wit and vision and audacity to fight
us on our ground and win."

"I agree entirely. Therefore, I have this day tied the hands of the Lone
Wolf; he will not again dare to contend against us."

Eleven sat up with a startled gesture.

"Are you meaning you've got the girl?"

Number One indulged a remote and chilly smile.

"Then you, too, noticed the advertisement? Accept my compliments, Eleven.
Decidedly you might prove a dangerous rival - were I in a temper to
countenance competition.... But it is true: I have the girl Sofia - the Lone
Wolf's daughter."

"Where?"

The smile faded; the man on the dais looked down loftily.

"It is enough for you to know I have proved far-sighted and unfailing in my
fidelity to our common cause."

"So _you_ say ..."

Though the Irishman winced and fell silent under the cold glare of the
other's eyes, the voice that answered him was level and passionless.

"I am not here to have my word challenged - or my authority. If any one of
you imagines I am even thinking of surrendering the latter, under any
conceivable circumstances, he is mad. And if any one of you doubts my power
to enforce my will, I promise him ample proof of it before the night is
ended.... Let us now proceed to business, the question held over from our
last meeting. If Comrade Four will consult his minutes" - a nod singled out
the babu, who, beaming with importance, produced a note-book - "they will
show we adjourned to consider overtures made by the Smolny Institute of
Petrograd, seeking our coöperation toward accelerating the social
revolution in England."

"Thatt," the Bengali affirmed, "is true bill of factt."

"If the temper in which you received those proposals is fair criterion,"
Number One resumed, "there can be little doubt as to our decision. Speaking
for myself, I think it would be suicidal to reject the overtures of the
Soviet Government in Russia. Let me state why."

He bowed his forehead upon a hand and continued with thoughtful gaze
downcast:

"England is ripe for revolution. The social discontent resulting from the
war has reached an acute stage. Only a spark is needed. It remains for us
to decide whether to permit Russia to bring about the explosion or - bring
it about ourselves. The soviet movement is irresistible, it will sweep
England eventually as it has swept Russia, as it is now sweeping Germany,
Hungary, Austria, Italy, as it must soon sweep France and Spain. Our power
in England is great; even so, we could hope to do no more than delay the
soviet movement were we to set ourselves against it - we could never hope to
stop it. It would seem, then, self-preservation to set ourselves at the
head of it, seize with our own hands - in the name of the British
Soviet - the symbols of power now held by an antiquated and doddering
Government. So shall we become to England what the Smolny Institute is to
Russia. Otherwise, in the end, we must be crushed."

"If we adopt the indicated course, there will be an end forever to this
hole-and-corner business which so hampers us, we will be able to work in
the open, the police will become our tools rather than weapons in the hands
of our enemies; our power will be without limits, Soviet Russia itself must
bow to our dictation."

He paused and lifted his head, looking round the circle of intent faces.

"If I am wrong or too sanguine, I am ready to be corrected."

He heard only a murmur of admiration, never a note of dissent; and a smile
of gratification, yet half satiric, curved his thin lips.

"I take it, then, the Council endorses my decision to proceed with the
negotiations instituted by Soviet Russia; to accept its proposals and
pledge our cooperation in every way?"

This time there was no mistaking the accuracy with which he had gauged the
minds of his associates.

"One thing remains to be decided: a plan of action, something which will
demand all that we have of imagination, ingenuity, common sense, and far
prevision. We can afford to waste not a single ounce of strength: the blow,
when we strike, must be sudden, sharp, merciless - irresistible. But if
Thirteen is not over-confident of the discovery which he says he has to-day
perfected, the means to deal just such a blow is ready to our hands....
Thirteen?"

A nod and gracious smile invited that one to speak. He rose, trembling a
little with excitement, bowed to Number One and, delving into capacious
pockets, produced a number of small tin canisters together with three
sealed bottles of brown glass. Surveying these, as he arranged them on the
teakwood table before him, he smiled a little to himself: the stars, it
seemed to him, were warring in their courses in his behalf; this was to
prove his hour of hours.

He began to speak in a quivering voice which soon grew more steady.

"It is true, Excellency - it is true, comrades - I have perfected a discovery
which I offer as a free gift to the cause, and by means of which,
intelligently employed, we can, if we will, make all London a graveyard.
Put the resources of this organization at my command, give me a week to
make the essential preparations, select a time of national crisis when the
Houses of Parliament are sitting and the Cabinet meets in Downing Street
with the King attending or in Buckingham Palace ..."

He paused and held the pause with a keen feeling for dramatic effect, his
eyes seeking in turn the faces of his fellow conspirators, an
insuppressible grin of malicious exultation twisting his scornful and
mutinous mouth.

"Let this be done," he concluded, "and by means of these few tins and
bottles which you see before you, in one brief hour the ruling classes will
have perished almost to a man, there will be no more government of a
tyrannical bourgeoisie to grind down the proletariat, a bloodless
revolution will have made England the cradle of the new liberty!"

"Bloodless?" the man on the dais repeated; and even he was seen perceptibly
to shudder at the prospect unfolded to the vision of his mind. "Yes - but
more terrible than the massacre of the Huguenots, more savage than the
French Revolution!"

"But I believe," the inventor commented, "your Excellency said we required
the means to deal a 'blow sudden, sharp, merciless - irresistible'."

"Surely now," the Irishman suggested, mockingly - where a wiser man would
have held his tongue - "you'll not be sticking at a small matter like
wholesale murder if it's to make us masters of England?"

"Of England?" the German echoed. "Herr Gott! Of the world!"

"And you, Excellency, our master," the inventor added, shrewdly.

A sign at once impatient and imperative demanded silence, and for a few
minutes it obtained unbroken, while the gathering, keyed to high tension,
studied closely the face of their leader and found it altogether illegible.

On his part he seemed forgetful of the existence of anybody but himself,
forgetful almost of himself as well: sitting low in his great chair, his
body as stirless as it were bound by some spell of black magic, his far
gaze probing unfathomable remotenesses of thought.

Slowly he recalled himself to his surroundings; with a suggestion of
weariness he sat up and reviewed the little company that hung so
breathlessly upon the issue of his judgment. The shadow of that satiric
smile returned.

"If the thing be feasible," he promised, "it shall be done. It remains for
Thirteen to be more explicit."

With an extravagant flourish the inventor whipped from his breastpocket a
folded paper, and spread it out face uppermost on the table.

"A map of London," he announced, "based on the latest Ordnance Survey and
coloured to show the districts supplied by the mains of each individual gas
depot. Thus you will observe" - what his long, bony finger indicated - "the
district supplied by the mains of the Westminster gas works, comprising
Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the War Office, and the
Admiralty, Downing Street, the homes of hundreds of the aristocracy. All
these we can at will turn into the deadliest of death traps."

A tense voice interrupted with the demand: "How?"

"Quite easily, comrade: with the ramifications of our power throughout
London, all under the control of his Excellency" - the inventor bowed to
Number One - "it should be an easy matter to place a few trustworthy men
with the Westminster gas works."

"It can readily be done," Number One affirmed. "And then - ?"

"While this is being done means must be found to smuggle other men, in the
guise of servants, into the various buildings selected, or to corrupt those
already so employed therein. At the designated hour - "

The words dried upon his lips as somewhere a hidden bell stabbed the quiet
with short, sharp thrills of sound, a code that spelled a message of
terrifying significance. The inventor started violently, but no more so
than every man about the table. Even Number One, shocked out of his
lounging pose, grasped the arms of his throne with convulsive hands.

Quietly and without a hint of hurry, the Chinese, Shaik Tsin, moved back
into the shadows and, unnoticed, disappeared behind a screen.

For a moment, when the bell had ceased, nobody spoke; but pallid face
consulted face and eyes grown wide with dread sought eyes that winced in
terror.

Then the Bengali leaped from his chair, jabbering with bloodless lips.

"Police! Raid! We are betrayed!"

He made an uncertain turn, as if thinking to seek safety in flight but
doubting which way to choose; and the movement struck panic into the minds
and hearts of his fellows. In a twinkling all were on their feet. But
before one could move a step the lamp in the ceiling winked out, the room
was left in darkness unrelieved, and the accents of Number One were heard,
coldly imperative.

"Gentlemen! be good enough to resume your places - let no one move before
there is light again. We are in no immediate danger: Shaik Tsin will show
you out by a secret way long before the police can hope to find and break
into this chamber. In the meantime - "

The infuriated voice of the Englishman interrupted:

"And 'oo're you to give us orders? - you 'oo talked so big about 'avin' tied
the 'ands of the Lone Wolf and Scotland Yard! You blarsted blow'ard! Bli'me
if I don't believe it's you 'oo - "

"Quietly, Seven! Have you forgotten you have a bad heart? - that excitement
may mean your sudden death?"

The rage of the Englishman ran out in a gasp and a whisper.

"In the meantime," Number One resumed as if there had been no break, "I
promised that, before the night was out, you should have proof of my
ability to enforce my will."

A groan of agony answered him, followed by an oath of witless fear. From a
distance the voice, now thin but still sonorous, added:

"Thirteen will hold himself ready to wait on me when I send for him
to-morrow. Gentlemen of the Council, I bow to you all."

Again silence held for a long minute during which no man stirred or spoke.
Then overhead the lamp burned bright again, discovering six frightened men
upon their feet and one who, still seated, did not stir, and never would
again.

His head fallen forward, chin resting on his chest, mouth ajar, inert arms
dangling over the arms of the chair, heavy legs lax, the Englishman sat
quite dead, dead without a sign to show how death had come to him.

Number One had disappeared.

There was a remote rumour of cries and shouts, the muffled sound of axes
crashing into woodwork....



IX

MRS. WARING


Late in the forenoon a pencil of golden light found a chink in jealously
drawn draperies, and groped the rich dusk of the bedchamber till it came to
rest, as if happy that its search had found so lovely a reward, upon the
face of a young girl who lay sleeping in a bed whose exquisite adornment
must have flattered even the exalted person of a princess.

With a swift but silent movement another girl, who had been sitting
patiently on a low stool near by, rose and put herself in the way of the
sunbeam. But too late: already long lashes were a-flutter upon the
delicately modelled cheeks of the sleeper.

A gentle sigh brushed parting lips; the sweet body stirred luxuriously;
unclouded by any shadow of misgiving, the blue eyes of the Princess Sofia
looked out upon the first day of her new world.

Then they grew wide with wonder, comprehending the sleek, pretty face of a
Chinese girl of about her own age who, with eyes downcast, demure mouth and
folded hands, submissively awaited recognition.

"Who are you?" Sofia demanded in a breath.

A bob of courtesy, wholly charming, prefaced a reply pattered in English
of quaintest accent:

"You' handmaiden - Chou Nu is my name."

"My handmaiden!"

"Les, Plincess Sofia."

"But I don't understand. How - when - ?"

"Las' night Numbe' One he send for me, but when I come you go-sleep."

"Number One?"

Surprise coloured faintly the explanation: "Plince Victo', honol'ble fathe'
of Plincess Sofia. You like get up now, take bath, have blekfuss?"

The smile was irresistibly ingratiating: Sofia could not but return it.
Delighted, Chou Nu ran to the windows, threw wide their draperies, and
darted into the bathroom.

Autumnal sunlight kindled to burning beauty the golden-bronze tresses
coiled upon the pillows where Sofia lay unstirring, like a princess
enchanted - as indeed she was. Surely nothing less potent than magic had
wrought this metamorphosis in the fabric of her life! And whether the magic
were white or black - what matter? Its work was good.

No more the Café des Exiles, no more the deadly tedium of daily service at
the desk of the caisse, no more the shrewish tongue of Mama Thérèse, the
odious oglings of Papa Dupont, the ceaseless cark of discontent....

Incredible!

As one who moves in a dream, Sofia rose presently and bathed, then, robed
in a ravishing negligée of rare brocade, breakfasted on melon, tea, and
toast from a service of eggshell china.

In a long mirror she saw and watched but did not know herself. Like Goody
Twoshoes of nursery fame she could have cried: Lawkamercy! this is never I!

The presence of Chou Nu served merely to stress the sense of unreality:
for, obviously, only the heroine of a true fairy tale could have broken
from a chrysalis stage of sordid Soho to the brilliant butterfly existence
of a Russian princess domiciled in the most aristocratic quarter of London
and attended by a Chinese maid!

And Chou Nu proved a delight. Once satisfied she need fear neither
ill-temper nor arrogance from her new mistress, she indulged an even and
constant flow of artless high spirits, her amusing, clipped English
affording Sofia considerable entertainment together with not a little food
for thought.

Thus one learned that the main body of the service staff was Chinese under
a major domo named Shaik Tsin - Chou Nu's "second-uncle" - who enjoyed Prince
Victor's completest confidence and was, second to the latter only, the real
head of the establishment, its presiding genius. The front of the house
alone was dressed with a handful of English servants nominally under the
man Nogam, but actually, like him, answerable in the last instance to Shaik
Tsin.

Why this should be Chou Nu couldn't say. Sofia supposed it was because
Prince Victor thought his Occidental guests would feel more at ease with
English servants; or perhaps he himself preferred them, when it came to the
question of personal attendance.

No success rewarded efforts to extract from Chou Nu her reason for
referring to Victor as "Number One." She stated simply that all Chinamans
in London called him that; and being pressed further added, with as near an
approach to impatience as her gentle nature could muster, that it was
obviously because Plince Victo' _was_ Numbe' One: ev'-body knew _that_.

A knock at the door interrupted Sofia's questioning. Answering, Chou
brought back word that the honourable father of Princess Sofia submitted
his august felicitations and solicited the immediate favour of her serene
attendance in his study.

Hasty search failed to locate the garments discarded on going to bed and,
in the indifference of depression and fatigue, left in a tumble on the
floor. All had vanished while Sofia slept; Chou Nu professed blank
ignorance of their fate; and apparently nothing had been provided in their
stead but Chinese robes, of sumptuous vestments well suited to one of high
estate. With these, then, and with Chou Nu's guidance as to choice and
ceremonious arrangement, Sofia was obliged to make shift; and anything but
unbecoming she found them - or truly it was a shape of dream that looked
out from her mirror.

Yet it was with reluctant feet that she left her room, descended the broad
staircase to the entrance hall, and addressed herself to the study door. It
had been so beautiful, that waking dream the sequel to her night of
dreamless sleep, too beautiful to be foregone without regret.

For Sofia had not forgotten, she could never forget, she had merely been
successful temporarily in banishing from mind that bitter disillusionment
which had poisoned what should have been her time of greatest joy.

To be told, by the father of whose dear existence one had only learned
within the hour, that one was the child of a notorious thief and an
adventuress ...

It needed more than common fortitude to face renewed reminder of that
shame.

Oddly enough, it seemed to help a bit, somehow to lend her courage and
assurance, to pass the man Nogam in the hall and acknowledge his bow and
smile. Sofia wondered vaguely what it was that made his smile seem so kind;
it was entirely respectful, there was nothing more in it that she could fix
on; and yet ...

She was able to offer Victor a composed, almost a happy countenance, and to
return cheerful assurances to punctilious enquiries after her well-being
and her comfort overnight. To the real affection in which he held her, the
warmth of his embrace, and the lingering pressure of his lips gave
convincing testimony; and in time, no doubt, as she grew to know him
better, her response would become more spontaneous and true. Indeed, she
insisted, it must; she would school herself, if need be, to remember that
this strange man was the author of her being, the natural object of her
affections - deserving all her love if only because of that nobility which
had enabled him to renounce those evil ways of years long dead.

But to-day - and this, of course, she couldn't understand - a slight but
invincible shiver, perceptible to herself alone, attended her submission to
paternal caresses; and the eyes were too dispassionate with which she saw
Prince Victor. Still, they found little to which fair exception might be
taken. If Life had thus far been callously frank with Sofia as to its
broader aspects, the niceties of its technique remained measurably a
mystery, she was insufficiently instructed to perceive that Victor's
morning coat (for example) had been cut a shade too cleverly, or that the
ensemble of his raiment was a trace ornate; and where a mind more mondain
would have marked ponderable constraint in his manner, she saw only dignity
and reserve. But for all that she recognized intuitively a lack of
something in the man, the sum of this second impression of him was formless
disappointment, she felt somehow cheated, disheartened, chilled.

That she was able at all to dissemble this sense of dashed expectations
was thanks in the main to a third party, a stranger whose presence she
overlooked on entering, when Prince Victor met her near the door, while the
other remained aside, half hidden in the recess of a window.

Directly, however, that Victor half turned away, saying "I have found a
friend for you, my dear," Sofia, following his glance, discovered a woman
whose every detail of dress and deportment was unmistakably of the
fashionable world and whose face carried souvenirs of loveliness as
unmistakable.

Smiling and offering her hands, she approached, while Victor's voice of
heavy modulations uttered formally:

"Sybil, permit me to present my daughter. Sofia, Mrs. Waring has graciously
offered to sponsor your introduction to Society, to guide and instruct you
and be in every way your mentor."

"My dear!" the woman exclaimed, holding Sofia's hands and kissing her
cheek. And then, looking aside to Victor, "But how very like!" she added
with the air of tender reminiscence.

"Oh!" Sofia cried, "you knew my mother?"

"Indeed - and loved her." Sofia never dreamed to question the woman's
sincerity; and her charm of manner was irresistible. "You must try to like
me a little for her sake - "

"As if one could help liking you for your own, Mrs. Waring!"

"Prettily said, my dear. You have inherited more from your mother than
your good looks alone. Is it not so, mon prince?"

"Much more." Victor's enigmatic smile gave place to a look of regret and
uneasiness. "Let us hope, however, not too much. Heredity," he mused in
sombre mood, "is a force of such fatality in our lives...."

He gave a gesture of solicitude and continued with characteristic
deliberation, and that preciseness of diction which he seemed never able to
forget, even though deeply moved.

"More than ever, now that Sofia is restored to me, I could wish the past
other than what it was, that she might start life with a handicap less
cruel of inherited tendencies. But when I reflect that both her parents - "

"Please!" Sofia begged, piteous. "Oh, please!"

"I am sorry, my dear." Victor closed tender hands over those which the girl
had lifted in appeal. "It is for your own good only I give myself this pain
of warning you against your worst enemy, I mean yourself, the self that is
so strange a compound of hereditary weaknesses.... Please remember always
that, no matter what may happen, however far you may be led into
transgression of the social codes, I shall never reproach you, on the
contrary, you may count implicitly on my sympathetic understanding. Never
forget, I, too, have known, have suffered and fought myself - and in the end
won at a cost I am not yet finished paying, nor will be, I fear, this side
my grave."

He sighed from his heart, and bowing a stricken head, seemed to lose
himself in disconsolate reverie - but not so far as to suffer the
interruption which Sofia made to offer and which he stayed with an eloquent
hand.

"You do not understand? But naturally. Let me explain. No: there is no
reason why Sybil - Mrs. Waring - should not hear. She is a dear friend of
long years, she understands."

With a quiet murmur - "Oh, quite!" - Mrs. Waring ran an affectionate arm
round Sofia's shoulders and gently held the girl to her.

"When I determined to forsake the bad old ways," Victor pursued - "this you
must know, my dear - I had friends - of a sort - who resented my defection,
set themselves against my will and, when they found they could not swerve
me from my purpose, became my enemies. That was long ago, but to this day
some of them persist in their enmity - I have to be constantly on my guard."

"You mean there is danger?" Sofia asked in quick anxiety. "Your life - ?"

"Always," Victor assented, gravely. With a shrug he added: "It is nothing;
for myself, I am used to it, I do not greatly care. But for you - that is
another matter altogether. I have a great fear for you, my child. That,
indeed, is why I never tried to find you till yesterday - believing, as I
mistakenly did, you were in good hands, well cared for, happy - lest my
enemies seek to strike at me through you. But when I saw that unfortunate
advertisement I dared delay not another hour about bringing you within the
compass of my protection. Even now, untiring as my care for you shall ever
be, I know my enemies will be as tireless in endeavours to rob me of you.
You will be followed, hounded, importuned, lied to, threatened - all without
rest. If they cannot take you from me bodily, they will seek to poison your
mind against me. Therefore, rather than keep you practically a prisoner in
your home, I feel obliged to require a promise of you."

Deeply stirred by the melancholy gravity that informed his pose, the girl
protested earnestly: "Anything - I will promise anything, rather than be an


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