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Fearful lest, left to herself, Liane Delorme would do an injury to his eardrums as well as to her own vocal chords, Lanyard stepped across the dead bulk of the Apache and planted himself squarely in front of the woman. Seizing her forearms with his two hands, he used force to drag them down to the level of her waist, and purposely made his grasp so strong that his fingers sank deep into the soft flesh. At the same time, staring fixedly into her vacant eyes, he smiled his most winning smile, but with the muscles of his mouth alone, and said quietly:
"Shut up, Liane! Stop making a fool of yourself! Shut up--do you hear?"
The incongruity of his brutal grasp with his smile, added to the incongruity of an ordinary conversational tone with his peremptory and savage phrases had the expected effect.
Sanity began to inform the violet eyes, a shrill, empty scream was cut sharply in two, the woman stared for an instant with a look of confusion; then her lashes drooped, her body relaxed, she fell limply against the partition and was quiet save for fits of trembling that shook her body from head to foot; still, each successive seizure was sensibly less severe. Lanyard let go her wrists.
"There!" he said--"that's over, Liane. The beast is done for--no more to fear from him. Now forget him--brace up, and realise the debt you owe good Monsieur Phinuit."
With a grin, that gentleman looked up from his efforts to revive Captain Monk.
"I'm a shy, retiring violet," he stated somewhat superfluously, "but if the world will kindly lend its ears, I'll inform it coyly that was some shootin'. Have a look, will you, Lanyard, like a good fellow, and make sure our little friend over there isn't playing 'possum on us. Seems to me I've heard of his doing something like that before--maybe you remember. And, mademoiselle, if you'll be kind enough to fetch me that carafe of ice water, I'll see if we can't bring the skipper to his senses, such as they are."
His tone was sufficiently urgent to rouse Liane out of the lassitude into which reaction from terror had let her slip. She passed a hand over still dazed eyes, looked uncertainly about, then with perceptible exertion of will power collected herself, stood away from the partition and picked up the carafe.
Lanyard adopted the sensible suggestion of Phinuit, dropping on a knee to rest his hand above the heart of Popinot. To his complete satisfaction, if not at all to his surprise, no least flutter of life was to be detected in that barrel-like chest.
A moment longer he lingered, looking the corpse over with inquisitive eyes. No sign that he could see suggested that Popinot had suffered hardship during his two weeks of close sequestration; he seemed to have fared well as to food and drink, and his clothing, if nothing to boast of in respect of cut or cloth, and though wrinkled and stretched with constant wear, was tolerably clean--unstained by bilge, grease, or coal smuts, as it must have been had the man been hiding in the hold or bunkers, those traditional refuges of your simon-pure stowaway.
No: Monsieur Popinot had been well taken care of--and Lanyard could name an officer of prestige ponderable enough to secure his quarters, wherein presumably Popinot had lain perdu, against search when the yacht has been "turned inside out," according to its commander.
So this was the source of Mr. Mussey's exact understanding of the business!
As to the question of how the Apache had been smuggled aboard, and when, Lanyard never learned the truth. Circumstances were to prevent his interrogating Mr. Mussey, and he could only assume that--since Popinot could hardly have been in the motor car wrecked on the road from Paris--he must have left that pursuit to trusted confreres, and, anticipating their possible failure, have hurried on to Cherbourg by another route to make precautionary arrangements with Mr. Mussey.
Ah, well! no fault could be found with the fellow for lack of determination and tenacity. On the point of rising, Lanyard reconsidered and, bending over the body, ran clever hands rapidly through the clothing, turning out every pocket and heaping the miscellany of rubbish thus brought to light upon the floor--with a single exception; Popinot had possessed a pistol, an excellent automatic. Why he hadn't used it to protect himself, Heaven only knew. Presumably he had been too thoroughly engrossed in the exercise of his favourite sport to think of the weapon up to the time when Phinuit had opened fire on him; and then, thrown into panic, he had been able to entertain one thought only, that of escape.
Lanyard entertained for a moment a vivid imaginary picture of the scene in the saloon when Phinuit had surprised the Apache in the act of strangling Monk; a picture that Phinuit subsequently confirmed substantially in every detail....
One saw the garroter creeping through the blackness of the saloon from his hiding place, forward in the cabin of the chief engineer; stationing himself at the door to Monk's quarters, with his chosen weapon, that deadly handkerchief of his trade, ready for the throat of the Lone Wolf when he should emerge, in accordance with his agreement with Mr. Mussey, the spoils of the captain's safe in his hands. Then one saw Monk, alarmed by the sudden failure of the lights, hurrying out to return to the bridge, the pantherish spring upon the victim's back, the swift, dextrous noosing of the handkerchief about his windpipe, the merciless tightening of it--all abruptly illuminated by the white glare of Phinuit's electric torch. And then the truncated crimson of the first pistol flash, the frantic effort to escape, the hunting of that gross shape of flesh by the beam of light and the bullets as Popinot doubled and twisted round the saloon like a rat in a pit, the last mad plunge for the companionway, the flight up its steps that had by the narrowest margin failed to save him...
Phinuit and Liane Delorme were too busy to heed; quietly Lanyard slipped the pistol into a pocket and got to his feet. Then Swain came charging down the steps to find out what all the row was about, and to report--which he did as soon as Monk was sufficiently recovered to understand--those outrageous and darkly mysterious assaults upon the helmsman and Mr. Collison. Both men, he stated, were unfit for further duty that night, though neither (Lanyard was happy to learn) had suffered any permanent injury.
But what--in the name of insanity!--could have inspired such a meaningless atrocity? What could its perpetrator have hoped to gain? What--!
Monk, stretched out upon a leather couch in his sitting-room, levelled eyebrows of suspicion at Lanyard, who countered with a guilelessness so perfect as to make it appear that he did not even comprehend the insinuation.
"If I may offer a suggestion..." he said with becoming diffidence.
"Well?" Monk demanded with a snap, despite his languors. "What's on your mind?"
"It would seem to a benevolent neutral like myself... You understand I was in my deck-chair by the taffrail throughout all this affair. The men at the sounding machine nearby can tell you I did not move before the shots in the saloon----"
"How the devil could they know that in the dark?"
"I was smoking, monsieur; they must, if they looked, have seen the fire of my cigarette... As I was about to suggest: It would seem to me that there must be some obscure but not necessarily unfathomable connection between the three events; else how should they synchronise so perfectly? How did Popinot know the lights would go out a few minutes after five bells? He was prepared, he lost no time. How did the other miscreant, whoever he was, know it would be safe to commit that wickedness, whatever its purpose, upon the bridge at precisely that time? For plainly he, too, was prepared to act upon the instant--that is, if I understand Mr. Swain's report correctly. And how did it happen that the dynamo went out of commission just then? What did happen in the engine-room? Does anybody know? I think, messieurs, if you find out the answer to that last question you will have gone some way toward solving your mystery."
Captain Monk addressed Mr. Swain curtly: "It's the chief's watch in the engine-room?"
"I'll have a talk with him presently, and go further into this affair. In the meantime, how does she stand?"
"Under steerage way only"--Mr. Swain consulted the tell-tale compass affixed to the deck-beam overhead--"sou'west-by-south, sir."
"Must've swung off during that cursed dark spell. When I came below, two or three minutes before, we were heading into The Race, west-nor'west, having left Cerberus Shoal whistling buoy to port about fifteen minutes earlier. Get her back on that course, if you please, Mr. Swain, and proceed at half-speed. Don't neglect your soundings. I'll join you as soon as I feel fit."
"Very good, sir."
Mr. Swain withdrew. Captain Monk let his head sink back on its pillows and shut his eyes. Liane Delorme solicitously stroked his forehead. The captain opened his eyes long enough to register adoration with the able assistance of the eyebrows. Liane smiled down upon him divinely. Lanyard thought that affection was a beautiful thing, but preserved a duly concerned countenance.
"I could do with a whiskey and soda," Monk confessed feebly. "No, not you, please"--as Liane offered to withdraw the compassionate hand--"Phin isn't busy."
Mr. Phinuit hastened to make himself useful.
A muted echo of the engine-room telegraph was audible then, and the engines took up again their tireless chant. Lanyard cocked a sly eye at the tell-tale; it designated their course as west-by-north a quarter west. He was cheered to think that his labours at the binnacle were bearing fruit, and grateful that Monk was so busy being an invalid waited upon and pitied by a beautiful volunteer nurse that he was willing to trust the navigation to Mr. Swain and had no time to observe by the tell-tale whether or not the course he had prescribed was being followed.
Liane's exquisite and tender arm supported the suffering head of Captain Monk as he absorbed the nourishment served by Phinuit. The eyebrows made an affectingly faint try at a gesture of gratitude. The eyes closed, once more Monk's head reposed upon the pillow. He sighed like a weary child.
From the saloon came sounds of shuffling feet and mumbling voices as seamen carried away all that was mortal of Monsieur Popinot.
Between roars of the fog signal, six bells vibrated on the air. Phinuit cocked his head intelligently to one side, ransacked his memory, and looked brightly to Lanyard.
"Ar-har!" he murmured--"the fatal hour!"
Lanyard gave him a gracious smile.
In attenuated accents Captain Monk, without opening his eyes or stirring under the caresses of that lovely hand, enquired:
"What say, Phin?"
"I was just reminding Monsieur Lanyard the fatal hour has struck, old thing."
The eyebrows knitted in painful effort to understand. When one has narrowly escaped death by strangulation one may be pardoned some slight mental haziness. Besides, it makes to retain sympathy, not to be too confoundedly clear-headed.
"The dear man promised to turn in his answer to our unselfish little proposition at six bells to-night and not later."
"Really?" The voice was interested, and so were the eyebrows; but Monk was at pains not to move. "And has he?"
"Not yet, old egg."
Monk opened expectant eyes and fixed them upon Lanyard's face, the eyebrows acquiring a slant of amiable enquiry.
"There is much to be said," Lanyard temporised. "That is, if you feel strong enough..."
"Oh, quite," Monk assured him in tones barely audible.
"Must it be a blow to the poor dear?" Phinuit enquired.
"I hope not, very truly."
(The tell-tale now betrayed a course northwest-by-north. Had the binnacle compass, then, gone out of its head altogether, on finding itself bereft of its accustomed court of counter-attractions?)
"Well, here we all are, sitting forward on the edges of our chairs, holding onto the seats with both hands, ears pricked forward, eyes shining... The suspense," Phinuit avowed, "is something fierce!"
"I am sorry."
"What d'you mean, you're sorry? You're not going to back out?"
"Having never walked into the arrangement you propose, it would be difficult to back out--would it not?"
Monk forgot that he was suffering acutely, forgot even the beautiful and precious hand that was soothing his fevered brow, and rudely shaking it off, sat up suddenly. The eyebrows were distinctly minatory above eyes that loosed ugly gleams.
Lanyard slowly inclined his head: "I regret I must beg to be excused."
"You damned fool!"
A look of fury convulsed Liane's face. Phinuit, too, was glaring, no longer a humourist. Monk's mouth was working, and his eyebrows had got out of hand altogether.
"I said you were a damned fool--"
"But is not that a matter of personal viewpoint? At least, the question would seem to be open to debate."
"If you think arguments will satisfy us--!"
"But, my dear Captain Monk, I am really not at all concerned to satisfy you. However, if you wish to know my reasons for declining the honour you would thrust upon me, they are at your service."
"I'll be glad to hear them," said Monk grimly.
"One, I fancy, will do as well as a dozen. It is, then, my considered judgment that, were I in the least inclined to resume the evil ways of my past--as I am not--I would be, as you so vividly put it, a damned fool to associate myself with people of a low grade of intelligence, wanting even enough to hold fast that which they have thieved!"
"By God!" Monk brought down a thumping fist. "What are you getting at?"
"Your hopeless inefficiency, monsieur.... Forgive my bluntness."
"Come through," Phinuit advised in a dangerous voice. "Just what do you mean?"
"I mean that you, knowing I have but one object in submitting to association with you in any way, to wit, the recovery of the jewels of Madame de Montalais and their restoration to that lady, have not had sufficient wit to prevent my securing those jewels under your very noses."
"You mean to say you've stolen them?"
Lanyard nodded. "They are at present in my possession--if that confesses an act of theft."
Monk laughed discordantly. "Then I say you're a liar, Monsieur the Lone Wolf, as well as a fool!" His fist smote the desk again. "The Montalais jewels are here."
"When did you lift them?" Phinuit demanded with sarcasm. "Tell us that!"
Lanyard smiled an exasperating smile, lounged low in his chair, and looked at the deck beams--taking occasion to note that the tell-tale had swung to true northwest. Ca va bien!
"Why, you insane impostor!" Monk stormed--"I had that box in my own hands no later than this afternoon."
Without moving, Lanyard directed his voice toward the ceiling.
"Did you by any chance open it and see what was inside?"
There was no answer, and though he was careful not to betray any interest by watching them, he was well aware that looks of alarm and suspicion were being exchanged by those three. So much for enjoying the prestige of a stupendously successful criminal past! A single thought was in the mind of Liane Delorme, Captain Monk, and Mr. Phinuit: With the Lone Wolf, nothing was impossible.
Liane Delorme said abruptly, in a choking voice: "Open the safe, please, Captain Monk."
"I'll do nothing of the sort."
"Go on," Phinuit advised--"make sure. If it's true, we get them back, don't we? If it isn't, we show him up for a pitiful bluff."
"It's a dodge," Monk declared, "to get the jewels where he can lay hands on them. The safe stays shut."
"Open it, I beg you!" Liane implored in tremulous accents.
"Why not?" Phinuit argued. "What can he do? I've got him covered."
"And I," Lanyard interjected softly, "as you all know, am unarmed."
"Please!" Liane insisted.
There was a pause which ended in a sullen grunt from Monk. Lanyard smiled cheerfully and sat up in his chair, watching the captain while he unlocked the door in the pedestal and with shaking fingers manipulated the combination dial. Liane Delorme left her chair to stand nearby, in undissembled anxiety. Only Phinuit remained as he had been, lounging back and watching Lanyard narrowly, his automatic pistol dangling between his knees.
Lanyard offered him a pleasant smile. Phinuit scowled forbiddingly in response.
Monk swung open the safe-door, seized the metal despatch-box by the handle, and set it upon the desk with a bang. Then, extracting his pocket key-ring, he selected the proper key and made several attempts to insert it in the slot of the lock. But his confidence was so shaken, his morale so impaired by Lanyard's sublime effrontery added to his recent shocking experience, that the gaunt hands trembled beyond his control, and it was several seconds before he succeeded.
Lanyard gave no sign, but his heart sank. He had exhausted his last resource to gain time, he was now at his wits' ends. Only his star could save him now....
Monk turned the keys, but all at once forgot his purpose, and with hands stayed upon the lid of the box paused and cocked his ears attentively to rumours of excitement and confusion on the deck. The instinct of the seafaring man uppermost, Monk stiffened, grew rigid from head to foot.
One heard hurried feet, outcries, a sudden jangle of the engine-room telegraph...
"Monsieur! monsieur!" Liane implored. "Open that box!"
The words were on her lips when she was thrown off her feet by a frightful shock which stopped the Sybarite dead in full career, before the screw, reversed in obedience to the telegraph, could grip the water and lessen her momentum. The woman cannoned against Monk, shouldering him bodily aside. Instinctively snatching at the box, Monk succeeded only in dragging it to the edge of the desk before a second shock, accompanied by a grinding crash of steel and timbers, seemed to make the yacht leap like a live thing stricken mortally. She heeled heavily to starboard, the despatch-box went to the floor with a thump lost in the greater din, Liane Delorme was propelled headlong into a corner, Monk thrown to his knees, Phinuit lifted out of his chair and flung sprawling into the arms of Lanyard, who, pinned down by the other's weight in his own chair, felt this last slide backwards to starboard and bring up against a partition with a bang that drove the breath out of him in one enormous gust.
He retained, however, sufficient presence of mind neatly to disarm Phinuit before that one guessed what he was about.
After that second blow, the Sybarite remained at a standstill, but the continued beating of her engines caused her to quiver painfully from trucks to keelson, as if in agonies of death such as those which had marked the end of Popinot. Of a sudden the engines ceased, and there was no more movement of any sort, only an appalling repose with silence more dreadful still.
Lanyard had no means to measure how long that dumb suspense lasted which was imposed by the stunned faculties of all on board. It seemed interminable. Eventually he saw Monk pick himself up and, making strange moaning noises, like a wounded animal, throw himself upon the door, jerk it open, and dash out.
As if he had only needed that vision of action to animate him, Lanyard threw Phinuit off, so that he staggered across the slanting floor toward the door. When he brought himself up by catching hold of its frame, he was under the threat of his own pistol in Lanyard's hands. He lingered for a moment, showing Lanyard a distraught and vacant face, then apparently realising his danger faded away into the saloon.
With a roughness dictated by the desperate extremity, Lanyard strode over to Liane Delorme, where she still crouched in her corner, staring witlessly, caught her by one arm, fairly jerked her to her feet, and thrust her stumbling out into the saloon. Closing the door behind her, he shot its bolts.
He went to work swiftly then, in a fever of haste. In his ears the clamour of the shipwrecked men upon the decks was only a distant droning, hardly recognised for what it was by him who had not one thought other than to make all possible advantage of every precious instant; and so with the roar of steam from the escape-valves.
Stripping off coat and waistcoat, he took from the pocket of the latter the wallet that held his papers, then ripped open his shirt and unbuckled the money belt round his waist. Its pockets were ample and fitted with trustworthy fastenings; and all but one, that held a few English sovereigns, were empty. The jewels of Madame de Montalais went into them as rapidly as his fingers could move.
Thus engaged, he heard a pistol explode in the saloon, and saw the polished writing-bed of the captain's desk scored by a bullet. His gaze shifting to the door, he discovered a neat round hole in one of its rosewood panels. At the same time, to the tune of another report, a second hole appeared, and the bullet, winging above the desk, buried itself in the after-bulkhead, between the dead-lights. A stream of bullets followed, one after another boring the stout panels as if their consistency had been that of cheese.
Lanyard stepped out of their path and hugged the partition while he finished stuffing the jewels into the belt and, placing the thin wallet beneath it, strapped it tightly round him once more....
That would be Phinuit out there, no doubt, disdaining to waste time breaking in the door, or perhaps fearing his reception once it was down. An innocent and harmless amusement, if he enjoyed it, that it seemed a pity to interrupt. At the same time it grew annoying. The door was taking on the look of a sieve, and the neighbourhood of the deadlights, Lanyard's sole avenue of escape, was being well peppered. Something would have to be done about it...
Lanyard completed his preparations by kicking off his shoes and taking up another notch in the belt that supported his trousers. If the swim before him proved a long one, he could get rid of his garments in the water readily enough; if on the other hand the shore proved to be close at hand, it would be more convenable to land at least half clothed.
Then--the fusillade continuing without intermission save when the man outside stopped long enough to extract an empty clip and replace it with one loaded--Lanyard edged along the partition to the door, calculated the stand of the lunatic in the saloon from the angle at which the bullets were coming through, and emptied the pistol he had taken from Phinuit at the panels as fast as he could pull trigger.
There was no more firing...
He tossed aside the empty weapon, made sure of Popinot's on his hip, approached one of the deadlights, placed a chair, climbed upon it, and with infinite pains managed to wriggle and squirm head and shoulders through the opening. It was very fortunate for him indeed that the Sybarite happened to have been built for pleasure yachting, with deadlights uncommonly large for the sake of air and light, else he would have been obliged to run the risk of opening the door to the saloon and fighting his way out and up to the deck.
As it was, the business was difficult enough. He had to work one of his arms out after his shoulders and then, twisting round, strain and claw at the smooth overhang of the stern until able to catch the outer lip of the scuppers above.
After that he had to lift and drag the rest of him out through the deadlight and, hanging by fingertips, work his way round, inch by inch, until it seemed possible to drop into the sea and escape hitting the screw.
In point of fact, he barely missed splitting himself in two on the thing, and on coming to the surface clung to it while taking such observations as one might in that befogged blackness.
Impossible to guess which way to strike out: the fog hung low upon the water, greying its smooth, gently heaving black surface, he could see nothing on either beam.
At length, however, he heard through the hissing uproar of escaping steam a mournful bell somewhere off to port, which he at first took for a buoy, then perceived to be tolling with a regularity inconsistent with the eccentric action of waves. Timed by pulsebeats, it struck once every fifteen seconds or thereabouts: undoubtedly the fog signal of some minor light-house.
In confirmation of this conclusion, Lanyard heard, from the deck above, the resonant accents of Captain Monk, clearly articulate in that riot of voices, apparently storming at hapless Mr. Swain.
"Don't you hear that bell, you ass? Doesn't that tell you what you've done? You've piled us on the rocks off the eastern end of Plum Island. And God in Heaven only knows how you managed to get so far off the course!"
Breathing to the night air thanks which would have driven Captain Monk mad could he have heard them, Lanyard let go the bronze blade and struck out for the melancholy bell.
Ten minutes later the fingers of one hand--he was swimming on his side--at the bottom of its stroke touched pebbles.
He lowered his feet and waded through extensive shallows to a wide and sandy beach.
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