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In this his judgment
was grievously in fault. Lanyard sidestepped, nipped a wrist, twitched it
smartly up between the man's shoulder-blades (with a wrench that won a
grunt of agony), caught the other arm from behind by the hollow of its
elbow, and held his victim helpless--though ill-advised enough to continue
to hiss and spit and squirm and kick.

A heel that struck Lanyard's shin earned Victor a shaking so thoroughgoing
that he felt the teeth rattle in his jaws. When it was suspended, he was
breathless but thoughtful, and offered no objection to being searched.
Lanyard relieved him of a revolver and a dirk, then with a push sent Victor
reeling to the table, where he stood panting, quivering, and glaring
murder, while his captor put the dagger away and examined the firearm.

"Wicked thing," he commented--"loaded, too. Really, monsieur le prince
should be more careful. One of these fine days, if you don't stop playing
with such weapons, one of these will go off right in your hand--and the
next high-light in your history will be when the judge says: 'And may the
Lord have mercy on your soul!'"

Victor confided his sentiments to a handkerchief with which he was mopping
his face. Lanyard sat down and wagged a reproving head.

"Didn't catch," he said; "perhaps it's just as well, though; sounded
like bad words. Hope I'm mistaken, of course: princes ought to set
impressionable plebeians a better pattern."

He cocked a critical eye. "You're a sight, if you don't mind my saying
so--look as if the sky had caved in on you. May one ask what happened? Did
it stub its toe and fall?"

Victor suspended operations with the handkerchief to bend upon his
tormentor a louring, distrustful stare. His head was still heavy, hot, and
painful, his mental processes thick with lees of coma; but now he began to
appreciate, what naturally seemed apparent, that Lanyard must be
unacquainted with the cause of his injuries.

A searching look round the room confirmed him in this error. The canvas lay
where Lanyard had dropped it on entering, not in the spot where Victor
remembered seeing it last, but where conceivably an unheeded kick might
have sent it in the course of his struggle with Sofia. She must have
forgotten it, then, when she fled from what she probably thought was
murder, and what might well have been.

He was much too sore and shaken to be subtle; and the general trend of his
conjectures was perfectly legible to Lanyard, who without delay set himself
to conjure away any lingering suspicion of his guilelessness.

"Not squiffy, are you, by any chance?" he enquired with the kindliest
interest. "You look as if you'd wound up a spree by picking a fight with a
bobby. Your cheek's cut and all (shall we say, in deference to the
well-known prejudices of the dear B.P.?) ensanguined. Sit down and pull
yourself together before you try to explain to what I owe this honour--and
so forth."

He got up, clapped a hand on Prince Victor's shoulder, and steered him into
an easy chair.

"Anything more I can do to put you at your ease? Would a brandy and soda
help, do you think?"

The suggestion was acceptable: Victor signified as much with an ungracious
mumble. Lanyard fetched glasses, a decanter, a siphon-bottle, and supplied
his guest with a liberal hand before helping himself.

Victor took the drink without a word of thanks and gulped it down noisily.
Lanyard drank sparingly, then crossed the room to a bell-push. Seeing his
finger on it Prince Victor started from his chair, but Lanyard hospitably
waved him back.

"Don't go yet," he pleaded. "You've only just dropped in, we haven't had
half a chance to chat. Besides, you mustn't forget I've got your pistol and
your dirk and the upper hand and a sustaining sense of moral superiority
and no end of other advantages over you."

"Why," the prince demanded, nervously--"why did you ring?"

"To call a cab for you, of course. I don't imagine you want to walk
home--do you?--in your present state of shocking disrepair. Of course, if
you'd rather ... But do sit down: compose yourself."

"Let me be," the other snapped as Lanyard offered good-naturedly to thrust
him back into the chair. "I am--quite composed."

"That's good! Excellent! Hand steady enough to write me a cheque, do you
think?"

"What the devil!"

"Oh, come now! Don't go off your bat so easily. I'm only going to do you a
service--"

"Damn your impudence! I want no services of you!"

"Oh, yes you do!" Lanyard insisted, unabashed--"or you will when you learn
what a kind heart I've got. Now do be nice and stop protesting! You see,
you've touched my heart. I'd no idea you were so passionate about that
painting. If I had for one instant imagined you cared enough about it to
burglarize my rooms ... But now that I do understand, my dear fellow, I
wouldn't deny you for worlds; I make you a free present of it, at the price
I paid--twenty thousand and one hundred guineas--exacting no bonus or
commission whatever. You'll find blank cheques in the upper right-hand
drawer of my desk there; fill in one to my order, and the Corot's yours."

For a moment longer the prince stared, hate and perplexity in equal measure
tincturing his regard. Then slowly the look of doubt gave way to the ghost
of a crafty smile.

What a blazing fool the fellow was (he thought) to accept a cheque on which
payment could be stopped before banking hours in the morning--!

Such fatuity seemed incredible. Yet there it was, egregious, indisputable.
Why not profit by it, turn it to his own advantage? To secure what he had
sought, the letters concealed between the canvases, and turn them against
Sofia, and to play this Lanyard for a fool, all at one stroke--the
opportunity was too rich to be slighted.

He dissembled his exultation--or plumed himself on doing so.

"Very well," he mumbled, sulkily. "I'll draw the cheque."

"That's the right spirit!" Lanyard declared, and escorted him to the desk.

A knock sounded. Lanyard called: "Come in!" A sleepy manservant,
half-dressed and warm from his bed, entered.

"You rang, sir?"

"Yes, Harris." Lanyard tossed him a sovereign. "Sorry to rout you out so
late, but I need a cab. Whistle up a growler, will you?"

"'Nk-you, sir."

The man retired cheerfully, rewarded for many a night of broken slumber.
Prince Victor got up from the desk and proffered Lanyard the cheque.

"I fancy," he said with a leer, "you'll find that all right."

Lanyard scrutinized the cheque minutely, nodded his satisfaction.

"Thanks ever so ... No, not a word!" He forbade inflexibly a wholly
imaginary interposition on the part of Prince Victor. "You don't know how
to thank me--do you? Then why try? I know I'm too good, but I really can't
help it, it's my nature--and there you are! So what's the good of bickering
about it?... Now where did you leave your coat and hat? On my bed, as you
came in?"

He smiled charmingly and darted through the portières, returning with the
articles in question. "Do let me help you."

The prince struggled into the coat and grunted an acknowledgment of the
service. Lanyard pressed the hat into his hand, picked up the canvas,
replaced it in its frame, and tucked both under the princely arm.

Another knock: Harris returned.

"The four-wheeler is w'iting, sir."

"Thanks, Harris. Half a moment: I want a word with you. You see this
gentleman?" Lanyard caught Victor's look of angry resentment and
interrupted himself. "Don't forget yourself, monsieur le prince.
Remember ..."

He patted significantly the pocket which held the revolver, and turned back
to Harris.

"This gentleman," he said, consulting the signature to the cheque, "is
Prince Victor Vassilyevski. Please remember him. You may have to bear
witness against him in court."

"What insolence is this?" Victor demanded, hotly.

"Calm yourself, monsieur le prince." Lanyard repeated the warning gesture.
"He is a nobleman of Russia, or says he is, and--strangely enough,
Harris!--a burglar. I caught him burglarizing my rooms when I came home
just now. You may judge from his appearance what difficulty I had in
subduing him."

"'E do seem fair used up, sir," Harris admitted, eyeing Victor indignantly.
"Would you wish me to call a bobby and give 'im in charge?"

"Thanks, no. Prince Victor and I have compromised. He doesn't relish going
to jail, and I've no particular desire to send him there. But he does want
what he broke in to steal--that painting you see under his arm--and I've
agreed to sell it to him. Here's the cheque he has just given me. Providing
payment is not stopped on it, Harris, you will hear no more of this
incident. But if by any chance the cheque should come back from his bank--I
may ask you to testify to what you have seen and heard here to-night."

"It is a lie!" Prince Victor shrilled. "You brought me in with you,
assaulted me, blackmailed that cheque out of me! Nobody saw us--"

"Sorry," Lanyard cut in; "but it so happens, that the gentleman who has the
rooms immediately above came in when I did, and can testify that I was
alone. That's all, monsieur le prince. Your carriage waits."

Harris opened the door. Choking with rage, the prince shuffled out, Lanyard
politely escorting him to the curb. There, with a foot lifted to enter the
four-wheeler, Prince Victor turned, shaking an impassioned hand in
Lanyard's face.

"You'll pay me for this!" he spluttered. "I'll square accounts with you,
Lanyard, if I have to follow you to the gates of hell!"

"Better not," Lanyard warned him fairly, "if you do, I'll push you in ...
Bon soir, monsieur le prince!"




BOOK II


THE LONE WOLF'S DAUGHTER



I

THE GIRL SOFIA


She sat all day long--from noon, that is, till late at night--on a high
stool behind the tall, pulpit-like desk of the caisse; flanked on one hand
by the swing door of green baize which communicated with the kitchen, on
the other by a hideous black walnut buffet on which fruits of the season
were displayed, more or less temptingly, to the taste of Mama Thérèse.

But for these articles of furniture, the buffet, the desk, and the door to
the kitchen quarters, uninterrupted rows of tables, square, with
composition-marble tops, lined three walls of the room.



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