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Chapter 5 A LOST CIGARETTE CASE

  • > To other woods the trail leads on, >   To other worlds and new, > Where they who keep the secret here >   Will keep the promise too.
  • >
  • > —Henry A. Beers.
  • The man clenched Armitage about the body with his legs while he struck a matc_n a box he produced from his pocket. The suddenness with which he had bee_lung into the kitchen had knocked the breath out of Armitage, and the hug_highs of his captor pinned his arms tight. The match spurted fire and h_ooked into the face of the servant whom he had seen in the room above. Hi_ound head was covered with short, wire-like hair that grew low upon hi_arrow forehead. Armitage noted, too, the man's bull-like neck, small shar_yes and bristling mustache. The fitful flash of the match disclosed the roug_urniture of a kitchen; the brick flooring and his wet inverness lay cold a_rmitage's back.
  • The fellow growled an execration in Servian; then with ponderous difficult_sked a question in German.
  • "Who are you and what do you want here?"
  • Armitage shook his head; and replied in English:
  • "I do not understand."
  • The man struck a series of matches that he might scrutinize his captive'_ace, then ran his hands over Armitage's pockets to make sure he had no arms.
  • The big fellow was clearly puzzled to find that he had caught a gentleman i_ater-soaked evening clothes lurking in the area, and as the matter was beyon_is wits it only remained for him to communicate with his master. This, however, was not so readily accomplished. He had reasons of his own for no_alling out, and there were difficulties in the way of holding the prisone_nd at the same time bringing down the men who had gone to the most distan_oom in the house for their own security.
  • Several minutes passed during which the burly Servian struck his matches an_ook account of his prisoner; and meanwhile Armitage lay perfectly still, hi_rms fast numbing from the rough clasp of the stalwart servant's legs. Ther_as nothing to be gained by a struggle in this position, and he knew that th_ervian would not risk losing him in the effort to summon the odd pair wh_ere bent over their papers at the top of the house. The Servian was evidentl_ man of action.
  • "Get up," he commanded, still in rough German, and he rose in the dark an_erked Armitage after him. There was a moment of silence in which Armitag_hook and stretched himself, and then the Servian struck another match an_eld it close to a revolver which he held pointed at Armitage's head.
  • "I will shoot," he said again in his halting German.
  • "Undoubtedly you will!" and something in the fellow's manner caused Armitag_o laugh. He had been caught and he did not at once see any safe issue out o_is predicament; but his plight had its preposterous side and the ease wit_hich he had been taken at the very outset of his quest touched his humor.
  • Then he sobered instantly and concentrated his wits upon the immediat_ituation.
  • The Servian backed away with a match upheld in one hand and the levele_evolver in the other, leaving Armitage in the middle of the kitchen.
  • "I am going to light a lamp and if you move I will kill you," admonished th_ellow, and Armitage heard his feet scraping over the brick floor of th_itchen as he backed toward a table that stood against the wall near the oute_oor.
  • Armitage stood perfectly still. The neighborhood and the house itself wer_uiet; the two men in the third-story room were probably engrossed with th_usiness at which Armitage had left them; and his immediate affair was wit_he Servian alone. The fellow continued to mumble his threats; but Armitag_ad resolved to play the part of an Englishman who understood no German, an_e addressed the man sharply in English several times to signify that he di_ot understand.
  • The Servian half turned toward his prisoner, the revolver in his left hand, while with the fingers of his right he felt laboriously for a lamp that ha_een revealed by the fitful flashes of the matches. It is not an easy matte_o light a lamp when you have only one hand to work with, particularly whe_ou are obliged to keep an eye on a mysterious prisoner of whose character yo_re ignorant; and it was several minutes before the job was done.
  • "You will go to that corner;" and the Servian translated for his prisoner'_enefit with a gesture of the revolver.
  • "Anything to please you, worthy fellow," replied Armitage, and he obeyed wit_miable alacrity. The man's object was to get him as far from the inner doo_s possible while he called help from above, which was, of course, the wis_hing from his point of view, as Armitage recognized.
  • Armitage stood with his back against a rack of pots; the table was at his lef_nd beyond it the door opening upon the court; a barred window was at hi_ight; opposite him was another door that communicated with the interior o_he house and disclosed the lower steps of a rude stairway leading upward. Th_ervian now closed and locked the outer kitchen door with care.
  • Armitage had lost his hat in the area; his light walking-stick lay in th_iddle of the floor; his inverness coat hung wet and bedraggled about him; hi_hirt was crumpled and soiled. But his air of good humor and his tam_cceptance of capture seemed to increase the Servian's caution, and he backe_way toward the inner door with his revolver still pointed at Armitage's head.
  • He began calling lustily up the narrow stair-well in Servian, changing in _oment to German. He made a ludicrous figure, as he held his revolver at arm'_ength, craning his neck into the passage, and howling until he was red in th_ace. He paused to listen, then renewed his cries, while Armitage, with hi_ack against the rack of pots, studied the room and made his plans.
  • "There is a thief here! I have caught a thief!" yelled the Servian, no_xasperated by the silence above. Then, as he relaxed a moment and turned t_ake sure that his revolver still covered Armitage, there was a sudden soun_f steps above and a voice bawled angrily down the stairway:
  • "Zmai, stop your noise and tell me what's the trouble."
  • It was the voice of Durand speaking in the Servian dialect; and Zmai opene_is mouth to explain.
  • As the big fellow roared his reply Armitage snatched from the rack a heav_ron boiling-pot, swung it high by the bail with both hands and let it fl_ith all his might at the Servian's head, upturned in the earnestness of hi_awling. On the instant the revolver roared loudly in the narrow kitchen an_rmitage seized the brass lamp and flung it from him upon the hearth, where i_ell with a great clatter without exploding.
  • It was instantly pitch dark. The Servian had gone down like a felled ox an_rmitage at the threshold leaped over him into the hall past the rear stair_own which the men were stumbling, cursing volubly as they came.
  • Armitage had assumed the existence of a front stairway, and now that he wa_aunched upon an unexpected adventure, he was in a humor to prolong it for _oment, even at further risk. He crept along a dark passage to the front door, found and turned the key to provide himself with a ready exit, then, as h_eard the men from above stumble over the prostrate Servian, he bounded up th_ront stairway, gained the second floor, then the third, and readily found b_ts light the room that he had observed earlier from the outside.
  • Below there was smothered confusion and the crackling of matches as Durand an_hauvenet sought to grasp the unexpected situation that confronted them. Th_ig servant, Armitage knew, would hardly be able to clear matters for them a_nce, and he hurriedly turned over the packets of papers that lay on th_able. They were claims of one kind and another against several South an_entral American republics, chiefly for naval and military supplies, and h_erely noted their general character. They were, on the face of it, certifie_ccounts in the usual manner of business. On the back of each had been printe_ith a rubber stamp the words:
  • "Vienna, Paris, Washington. Chauvenet et Durand."
  • Armitage snatched up the coat which Chauvenet had so carefully placed on th_ack of his chair, ran his hands through the pockets, found them empty, the_athered the garment tightly in his hands, laughed a little to himself to fee_apers sewn into the lining, and laughed again as he tore the lining loose an_rew forth a flat linen envelope brilliant with three seals of red wax.
  • Steps sounded below; a man was running up the back stairs; and from th_itchen rose sounds of mighty groanings and cursings in the heavy gutturals o_he Servian, as he regained his wits and sought to explain his plight.
  • Armitage picked up a chair, ran noiselessly to the head of the back stairs, and looked down upon Chauvenet, who was hurrying up with a flaming candle hel_igh above his head, its light showing anxiety and fear upon his face. He wa_alf-way up the last flight, and Armitage stood in the dark, watching him wit_ mixture of curiosity and something, too, of humor. Then he spoke—i_rench—in a tone that imitated the cool irony he had noted in Durand's tone:
  • "A few murders more or less! But Von Stroebel was hardly a fair mark, deares_ules!"
  • With this he sent the chair clattering down the steps, where it struck Jule_hauvenet's legs with a force that carried him howling lustily backward to th_econd landing.
  • Armitage turned and sped down the front stairway, hearing renewed clamor fro_he rear and cries of rage and pain from the second story. In fumbling for th_ront door he found a hat, and, having lost his own, placed it upon his head, drew his inverness about his shoulders, and went quickly out. A moment late_e slipped the catch in the wall door and stepped into the boulevard.
  • The stars were shining among the flying clouds overhead and he drew dee_reaths of the freshened air into his lungs as he walked back to the Mont_osa. Occasionally he laughed quietly to himself, for he still grasped tightl_n his hand, safe under his coat, the envelope which Chauvenet had carried s_arefully concealed; and several times Armitage muttered to himself:
  • "A few murders, more or less!"
  • At the hotel he changed his clothes, threw the things from his dressing-tabl_nto a bag, and announced his departure for Paris by the night express.
  • As he drove to the railway station he felt for his cigarette case, an_iscovered that it was missing. The loss evidently gave him great concern, fo_e searched and researched his pockets and opened his bags at the station t_ee if he had by any chance overlooked it, but it was not to be found.
  • His annoyance at the loss was balanced—could he have known it—by the interes_ith which, almost before the wall door had closed upon him, two gentlemen—on_f them still in his shirt sleeves and with a purple lump over hi_orehead—bent over a gold cigarette case in the dark house on the Boulevar_roissart. It was a pretty trinket, and contained, when found on the kitche_loor, exactly four cigarettes of excellent Turkish tobacco. On one side of i_as etched, in shadings of blue and white enamel, a helmet, surmounted by _alcon, poised for flight, and, beneath, the motto _Fide non armis_. The bac_ore in English script, written large, the letters _F.A._
  • The men stared at each other wonderingly for an instant, then both leaped t_heir feet.
  • "It isn't possible!" gasped Durand.
  • "It is quite possible," replied Chauvenet. "The emblem is unmistakable. Goo_od, look!"
  • The sweat had broken out on Chauvenet's face and he leaped to the chair wher_is coat hung, and caught up the garment with shaking hands. The silk linin_luttered loose where Armitage had roughly torn out the envelope.
  • "Who is he? Who is he?" whispered Durand, very white of face.
  • "It may be—it must be some one deeply concerned."
  • Chauvenet paused, drawing his hand across his forehead slowly; then the colo_eaped back into his face, and he caught Durand's arm so tight that the ma_linched.
  • "There has been a man following me about; I thought he was interested in th_laibornes. He's here—I saw him at the Monte Rosa to-night. God!"
  • He dropped his hand from Durand's arm and struck the table fiercely with hi_lenched hand.
  • "John Armitage—John Armitage! I heard his name in Florence."
  • His eyes were snapping with excitement, and amazement grew in his face.
  • "Who is John Armitage?" demanded Durand sharply; but Chauvenet stared at hi_n stupefaction for a tense moment, then muttered to himself:
  • "Is it possible? Is it possible?" and his voice was hoarse and his han_rembled as he picked up the cigarette case.
  • "My dear Jules, you act as though you had seen a ghost. Who the devil i_rmitage?"
  • Chauvenet glanced about the room cautiously, then bent forward and whispere_ery low, close to Durand's ear:
  • "Suppose he were the son of the crazy Karl! Suppose he were Frederic_ugustus!"
  • "Bah! It is impossible! What is your man Armitage like?" asked Duran_rritably.
  • "He is the right age. He is a big fellow and has quite an air. He seems to b_ithout occupation."
  • "Clearly so," remarked Durand ironically. "But he has evidently been watchin_s. Quite possibly the lamented Stroebel employed him. He may have see_troebel here—"
  • Chauvenet again struck the table smartly.
  • "Of course he would see Stroebel! Stroebel was the Archduke's friend; Stroebe_nd this fellow between them—"
  • "Stroebel is dead. The Archduke is dead; there can be no manner of doubt o_hat," said Durand; but doubt was in his tone and in his eyes.
  • "Nothing is certain; it would be like Karl to turn up again with a son to bac_is claims. They may both be living. This Armitage is not the ordinary pig o_ secret agent. We must find him."
  • "And quickly. There must be—"
  • "—another death added to our little list before we are quite masters of th_ituation in Vienna."
  • They gave Zmai orders to remain on guard at the house and went hurriedly ou_ogether.