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What was he doing, that you should--?"

"Dabbling in all manner of infamy, from financing a thieves' fence to
organizing an association of common criminals to bring it business; from
maintaining a corps of agitators to foment social discontent to fostering
this last, most imbecile scheme of all, which comes to naught to-night, an
attempt to overthrow the British Empire and set up in its stead a Soviet
England, with Victor Vassilyevski in the dual rôle of Trotsky and Lenine!"

The girl made a sign of bewilderment and incredulity.

"What are you telling me? Are you mad?"

"No--but Victor is, mad with lust for power, insane with illusions of
personal aggrandizement. You don't believe? Listen to me, then, appreciate
to what demoniac lengths he was prepared to go to flatter his insane
ambitions:"

"Sturm has invented a new poison gas, odourless, colourless, the most
deadly known, and easily manufactured in vast quantities by adding simple
ingredients to ordinary illuminating gas. Fanatic Bolshevist that he was,
Sturm offered his formula to Victor, to be used to clear the way for social
revolution; and Victor jumped at the offer--has spent vast sums preparing
to employ it. His money paid for the recent strike at the Westminster works
of the Gas Light and Coke Company, by means of which Victor was able to
smuggle a round number of his creatures into its service. His money has
corrupted servants employed in Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, in
the homes of the nobility, even in Buckingham Palace itself, men ready at a
given signal secretly to turn on gas jets in remote corners and flood the
buildings with the very breath of Death itself. And that signal was to have
been given to-night. Well, it will not be."

"But could any scheme be more grotesquely diabolical? Do you ask more proof
of the man's madness? Do you require more excuse for my permitting you to
be deceived by Victor for a few weeks, rather than wreck our plans to
frustrate his, when all the while Karslake and I were near you, watching
over you, learning to love you--he in his fashion, I as your father--and
both ready at all times to die in your protection, if it had ever come to
that?"

Lanyard had drawn so near that only a few inches separated them, and had
his voice in such control that at three paces' distance a vague and
inarticulate murmur at most might have been heard; but in Sofia's hearing
his accents rang with passionate sincerity, persuading her against the
reason which would have rejected his indictment of Victor as too fantastic,
too imaginative, and too hopelessly overdrawn to be given credence. She
believed him, knowing in her heart that he believed his statements to the
last word; and knowing more, that he was surely what he represented himself
to be, her father.

Inscrutable the processes of human hearts: even as from the very first
Sofia had instinctively yet unconsciously recognized the intrinsic falsity
of Victor's pretensions, so now she perceived the integral honesty that
informed Lanyard's every word and nuance of expression, and accepted him
without further inquisition.

To his insistent "Have I made you understand?" she returned a wan wraith of
a smile, pitiful with entreaty, while one of her hands found the way to
his.

"I think so," she replied in halting apology--"at least, I believe you. But
be a little patient with me. It is all so new and strange, what you tell
me, it's hard at first to grasp, there's so much I must accept on faith
alone, so much I don't understand ..."

"I know." Lanyard pressed her hand gently.

"But try to have faith; I promise you it shall be fairly rewarded. Only a
little longer now, an hour or two at most, and Karslake will be here to
prove the truth of all I have asserted. You will believe him, at least."

"Of course," the girl said, simply. "I love him. You knew that?"

"I guessed, and I am glad, glad for both of you."

"But he is safe?" Sofia demanded in sudden access of alarm so strong that
her voice rose above the pitch of discretion.

"Quietly. Yes, he is safe enough."

"You know that for a fact? How do you know--?"

"I've seen him to-night, talked with him--not two hours since."

"You have been in London?" she questioned--"to-night?"

"Rather! Victor sent me." Lanyard laughed lightly. "You didn't know, of
course, but--well, I gave him reason to suspect me, so he sent me up to be
assassinated by Shaik Tsin. As it turned out, however, Herr Sturm most
obligingly understudied for me.... Before coming back, I looked Karslake
up. He'd been busy, playing a lone hand, ever since Victor trumped up an
errand to keep him out of your way all day. No need to go into tedious
details; I found Karslake had matters well in hand: the gas works
surrounded by a cordon of troops, the house under close watch, and--best
of all--a sworn confession from an Irish Member of Parliament whom Victor
had managed to buy with a promise to free Ireland once Soviet England was
an accomplished fact. So I left Karslake to wind up loose ends in London,
and posted back with my heart in my mouth for fear I'd be too late."

"Too late?" Sofia queried with arching brows.

"Need I remind you where we are?"

A sweep of Lanyard's hand indicated the boudoir; and Sofia started sharply
in perplexity and alarm.

"Where we are!" she echoed in a frightened whisper.

Of a sudden memory returned of what had passed in that room before Lanyard
had revealed himself to her, and knowledge of her peril so narrowly escaped
drove home like a knife to her heart.

"What am I doing here?" she breathed in horror. "What have I done?"

"Nothing more dreadful than prove yourself as true as you are fine, by
revolting in the end against the most powerful force known to man, the
force of suggestion implanted in hypnotism. You couldn't know that it was
hypnotic not natural sleep you passed into last night, when Victor tricked
you with that damned crystal, or that, while you slept, he willed you to do
here to-night what, when it came to the final test, your nature would not
let you do."

"But he so often told me I had the instincts of a thief--!"

"So often--_I_ know--that you were, against your will and reason, by dint
of the very iteration of it, coming to accept that lie as a truth whose
power there was no contesting. That is why, that you might prove yourself
by your own acts, I had to let you undergo your ordeal here to-night, only
standing by to make sure no ill came of it. Otherwise you might have
carried to your grave the fear instilled into your soul by that blackguard.
But now you know he lied, and will never doubt again--or reproach your
father for the dark record of his younger years."

He checked, lifting hands of desolate appeal, then let them fall.

"Dear, if you knew you would not judge me harshly. If only you could know
what I have fought up from, a foundling without a name abandoned in a
third-rate Parisian hotel, reared a scullion, butt and scapegoat, with
associates only of the lowest, scullions, beggars, pickpockets, Apaches,
and worse--!"

"As if that mattered!"

The girl turned a softly suffused face with shining eyes to Lanyard's. Now
at last she knew him, now the romance of her dreams of yesterday came true:
through the mean masquerade of Nogam the man emerged, identifying himself
in her sight unmistakably with that splendid stranger whom she had never
quite forgotten since that old-time afternoon when he had met Karslake in
the Café des Exiles and talked so intimately of his antecedents, hinting
at a history of youthful years strangely analogous with her own.

Involuntarily her arms lifted and settled upon his shoulders.

"I am so proud to think--"

A shrill scream drowned out her words, a woman's voice ranging swiftly the
staccato gamut of terror and cracking discordantly on its most piercing
note.

Then with a bang that shook the flooring and must have been heard in the
farthest corners of the house, the bedchamber door was slammed behind their
backs. But beyond it the screaming went on in volume imperceptibly muffled
by its barrier, one ear-splitting caterwaul following another with such
continuity that the wonder was where Lady Randolph West found breath to
keep up that atrocious row, and whether any dozen women of average
lung-power could have rivalled it.

In one sharp movement Lanyard and Sofia disengaged and fell apart, their
eyes consulting, hers in dismay, his in mixed exasperation and remorse.

"I ought to be shot," he declared, bitterly--"who knew better!--to have
delayed here, exposing you to this danger--!"

"It couldn't be helped," Sofia insisted; "you had to make me understand.
Besides, if I hurry back--"

In quick strides Lanyard crossed to the corridor door, unlatched and opened
it an inch, peered out, and gave the sum of what he saw in a gesture of
finality, then leaving the door ajar turned swiftly back to the girl.

"Too late," he said: "they're swarming out into the hall like bees. In
another minute ..."

Of a sudden he closed with Sofia, roughly clasping her body to him.

"Struggle with me!" he pleaded--"get me by the throat, throw me back across
the desk--"

"What do you mean? Let me go!"

In answer to her efforts to wrench away, Lanyard only tightened his hold
and swung her toward the desk.

"Do as I bid you! It's the only way out. Let them think you heard a noise,
got up to investigate, found me here, rifling the safe--"

"No," she insisted--"no! Why should I save myself at your expense?--betray
you--my father--!"

"Then give me the obedience of a daughter ... or let Victor succeed in
branding you a thief, the daughter of a thief!"

He stilled the protest she would have uttered by placing fingers over her
lips.

"Listen!"

In the corridor an angry rumour of voices, alarmed calls and cries, with
thumps and scuffles of hasty feet, in the bedchamber the shrieks persisting
without the least hint of failing: as a damned soul might bawl upon its bed
of coals ...

"Sofia, I implore you!"

Still she hesitated.

"But you--?"

"Never fear for me, remember that I am of the Secret Service: two minutes
after I see the inside of the nearest police station, I shall be free--and
happy in the assurance that your name is without stain.



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