> 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.