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XXIV. Historic Repetition

Phinuit grinned, then smothered a little yawn. Liane Delorme gave a small, disdainful movement of shoulders, and posed herself becomingly, resting an elbow on the arm of her chair and inclining her cheek upon two fingers of a jewelled hand. Thus she sat somewhat turned from Monk and Phinuit, but facing Lanyard, to whom her grave but friendly eyes gave undivided heed, for all the world as if there were no others present: she seemed to wait to hear him speak again rather than to care in the least what Monk would find to say.

Captain Monk filled in that pause with an impressive arrangement of eyebrows. Then, fixing his gaze, not upon Lanyard, but upon the point of a pencil with which his incredibly thin fingers traced elaborate but empty designs upon the blotter, he opened his lips, hemmed in warning that he was about to speak, and seemed tremendously upset to find that Liane was inconsiderately forestalling him.

Her voice was at its most musical pitch, rather low for her, fluting, infinitely disarming and seductive.

"Let me say to you, mon ami, that--naturally I know what is coming--I disapprove absolutely of this method of treating with you."

"But it is such an honour to be considered important enough to be treated with at all!"

"You have the true gift for sarcasm: a pity to waste it on an audience two-thirds incapable of appreciation."

"Oh, you're wrong!" Phinuit declared earnestly. "I'm appreciative, I think the dear man's immense."

"Might I suggest"--the unctuous tones of Captain Monk issued from under mildly wounded eyebrows--"if any one of us were unappreciative of Monsieur Lanyard's undoubted talents, he would not be with us tonight."

"You might suggest it," Phinuit assented, "but that wouldn't make it so, it is to mademoiselle's appreciation that you and I owe this treat, and you know it. Now quit cocking those automatic eyebrows at me; you've been doing that ever since we met, and they haven't gone off yet, not once."

Irrepressible, Liane's laughter pealed; and though he couldn't help smiling, Lanyard hastened to offer up himself on the altar of peace.

"But--messieurs!--you interest me so much. Won't you tell me quickly what possible value my poor talents can have found in your sight?"

"You tell him, Monk," Phinuit said irreverently--"I'm no tale-bearer."

Monk elevated his eyebrows above recognition of the impertinence, and offered Lanyard a bow of formidable courtesy.

"They are such, monsieur," he said with that deliberation which becomes a diplomatic personage--"your talents are such that you can, if you will, become invaluable to us."

Phinuit chuckled outright at Lanyard's look of polite obtuseness.

"Never sail a straight course--can you skipper?--when you can get there by tacking. Here: I'm a plain-spoken guy, let me act as an interpreter. Mr. Lanyard: this giddy association of malefactors here present has the honour to invite you to become a full-fledged working member and stockholder of equal interest with the rest of us, participating in all benefits of the organization, including police protection. And as added inducement we're willing to waive initiation fee and dues. Do I make myself clear?"

"But perfectly."

"It's like this: I've told you how we came together, the five of us, including Jules and Monsieur le Comte de Lorgnes. Now we expect this venture, our first, to pan out handsomely. There'll be a juicy melon cut when we get to New York. There's a lot more--I think you understand--than the Montalais plunder to whack up on. We'll make the average get-rich-quick scheme look like playing store in the back-yard with two pins the top price for anything on the shelves. And there isn't any sane reason why we need stop at that. In fact, we don't mean to. The Sybarite will make more voyages, and if anything should happen to stop it, there are other means of making the U. S. Customs look foolish. Each of us contributes valuable and essential services, mademoiselle, the skipper, my kid-brother, even I--and I pull a strong oar with the New York Police Department into the bargain. But there's a vacancy in our ranks, the opening left by the death of de Lorgnes, an opening that nobody could hope to fill so well as you. So we put it up to you squarely: If you'll sign on and work with us, we'll turn over to you a round fifth share of the profits of this voyage as well as everything that comes after. That's fair enough, isn't it?"

"But more than fair, monsieur."

"Well, it's true you've done nothing to earn a fifth interest in the first division..."

"Then, too, I am here, quite helpless in your hands."

"Oh, we don't look at it that way----"

"Which," Liane sweetly interrupted, "is the one rational gesture you have yet offered in this conference, Monsieur Phinuit."

"Meaning, I suppose, Mr. Lanyard is far from being what he says, helpless in our hands."

"Nor ever will be, my poor friend, while he breathes and thinks."

"But, Liane!" Lanyard deprecated, modestly casting down his eyes--"you overwhelm me."

"I don't believe you," Liane retorted coolly.

For some moments Lanyard continued to stare reflectively at his feet. Nothing whatever of his thought was to be gathered from his countenance, though eyes more shrewd to read than those of Phinuit or Monk were watching it intently.

"Well, Mr. Lanyard, what do you say?"

Lanyard lifted his meditative gaze to the face of Phinuit. "But surely there is more...." he suggested in a puzzled way.

"More what?"

"I find something lacking.... You have shown me but one side of the coin. What is the reverse? I appreciate the honour you do me, I comprehend fully the strong inducements I am offered. But you have neglected--an odd oversight on the part of the plain-spoken man you profess to be--you have forgotten to name the penalty which would attach to a possible refusal."

"I guess it's safe to leave that to your imagination."

"There would be a penalty, however?"

"Well, naturally, if you're not with us, you're against us. And to take that stand would oblige us, as a simple matter of self-preservation, to defend ourselves with every means at our command."

"Means which," Lanyard murmured, "you prefer not to name."

"Well, one doesn't like to be crude."

"I have my answer, monsieur--and many thanks. The parallel is complete."

With a dim smile playing in his eyes and twitching at the corners of his lips, Lanyard leaned back and studied the deck beams. Liane Delorme sat up with a movement of sharp uneasiness.

"Of what, my friend, are you thinking?"

"I am marvelling at something everybody knows--that history does repeat itself."

The woman made a sudden hissing sound, of breath drawn shortly between closed teeth. "I hope not!" she sighed.

Lanyard opened his eyes wide at her. "You hope not, Liane?"

"I hope this time history will not altogether repeat itself. You see, my friend, I think I know what is in your mind, memories of old times...."

"True: I am thinking of those days when the Pack hunted the Lone Wolf in Paris, ran him to earth at last, and made him much the same offer as you have made to-night.... The Pack, you should know, messieurs, was the name assumed by an association of Parisian criminals, ambitious like you, who had grown envious of the Lone Wolf's success, and wished to persuade him to run with them."

"And what happened?" Phinuit enquired.

"Why it so happened that they chose the time when I had made up my mind to be good for the rest of my days. It was all most unfortunate."

"What answer did you give them, then?"

"As memory serves, I told them they could all go plumb to hell."

"So I hope history will not repeat, this time," Liane interjected.

"And did they go?" Monk asked.

"Presently, some of them, ultimately all; for some lingered a few years in French prisons, like that great Popinot, the father of monsieur who has caused us so much trouble."

"And you----?"

"Why," Lanyard laughed, "I have managed to keep out of jail, so I presume I must have kept my vow to be good."

"And no backsliding?" Phinuit suggested with a leer.

"Ah! you must not ask me to tell you everything. That is a matter between me and my conscience."

"Well," Phinuit hazarded with a good show of confidence, "I guess you won't tell us to go plumb to hell, will you?"

"No; I promise to be more original than that."

"Then you refuse!" Liane breathed tensely.

"Oh, I haven't said that! You must give me time to think this over."

"I knew that would be his answer," Monk proclaimed, pride in his perspicuity shaping the set of his eyebrows. "That is why I was firm that we should wait no longer. You have four days in which to make up your mind, monsieur."

"I shall need them."

"I don't see why," Phinuit argued: "it's an open and shut proposition, if ever there was one."

"But you are asking me to renounce something upon which I have set much store for many years, monsieur. I can't be expected to do that in an hour or even a day."

You shall have your answer, I promise you, by the time we make our landfall--perhaps before."

"The sooner, the better."

"Are you sure, monsieur? But one thought it was the tortoise who won the famous race."

"Take all the time you need," Captain Monk conceded generously, "to come to a sensible decision."

"But how good you are to me, monsieur!"

Louis Joseph Vance