Quietly we drew back from the parapet and, closing the scuttle behind us, started down the narrow stairs. At their base, Dorothy stopped suddenly. As Tom came up, he noticed her delay and paused with his hand on the latch. " What is it, girl.'' " he asked, almost tenderly.
" You think we ought to go on, do you ? " asked Dorothy hesitatingly.
" Of course we're going on," said Tom. " There's no question about it. That's what we're here for. What's the matter, anyway ? "
" Frankly, I don't know," said Dorothy slowly. " If we come through this all right, I'll try never to say a word again, but somehow, — somehow — " She broke off without finishing,
" Cheer up, old girl," comforted Tom, putting his arm about her waist. " What should we do without your valiant spirit ? "
I stood there mute. This was a new Dorothy, a silent, questioning woman different from the one I knew, and yet like her. I could not seem to collect my scattered wits enough to be of any service.
With an effort, Dorothy squared her shoulders. " Come on," she said firmly, and we started out for the door, Tom and I a couple of steps behind.
" Good for you," I whispered, as we turned in beside the haberdasher's shop and started up the stairs, at whose top we were forced to believe stood the laboratory of the man we sought, the workshop of the man who was trying to stop all war.
As we reached the second landing, Tom turned to me. " This is the queerest mixture of fireproof and firetrap I ever heard of," he ejaculated. " Iron stairs and wooden landings, with two doors on each side. Wonder if it keeps on like this all the way up ? " It did; iron stairs and wooden landings succeeded each other, till the fourth story showed two doors, one on either side of a landing dimly illuminated by a skylight.
" It's one of the two," whispered Tom.
He tried one door softly, — locked. Tried the other. To my surprise it opened, and a bare room much like that where Tom and I had waited through the weary hours in Bloomsbury met our view. Just at that moment we heard a footstep clang on the iron stair below, and around the bend the handle of a broom came into sight, followed by an arm clad in the sleeve of a coarse jumper. The janitor halted in amazement as he saw our phalanx of three standing in the empty room. Before he could open his mouth, I addressed him.
" I want to rent this room," I said. " It suits me in many ways. What's the rent ? "
" Four pund a month, sir, thank you," came the answer.
" Anybody else on this same story ? " I asked.
" Just a Mr. Cragent, thank you, sir, who has a workshop across the way. He's out for good today, but he's been in and out quite a bit the few days he's been there, thank you, sir. I think he'll make you no trouble, sir."
I looked at Tom and Dorothy, who signed affirmatively. " I'll take it," I said. " Shall I have to see the agent ? "
" No, sir, thank you," answered the man, " I'm the acting agent for this one building."
" Very well, then. Here you are." I handed over four pounds for the first month's rent, and turned back to survey my new found quarters more carefully. It was evidently one of two front rooms looking out on the street. The other front room with the rooms in the wing which stretched back must belong to the mysterious Cragent. Sullied with fog and smoke, our place was a typical London office, whose gray marble mantel and grate was the only relief to the naked walls.
The janitor, without a sign of wonder at our sudden invasion of his premises, turned with his broom and clanged down the iron stairs. Tom, Dorothy and I went inside and nearly closed the door, leaving it open a crack for the purpose of observation.
" As long as we may have to be here off and on for a week or more, we may just as well be comfortable about it," said Tom, in a low tone. " Two of us can stay here, while the other one goes and gets some chairs and a little coal. You and Dorothy keep on the lookout, while I get enough furnishings to make us comfortable for a few hours."
" Sure thing," I said, my heart leaping up at the chance of a short tete-a-tete with Dorothy.
" I'm going with you, Tom," said Dorothy. " Jim can watch alone, all right," and she started out on the landing ahead of her brother.
Tom threw one glance at me. " See you shortly," he said, and followed. I resumed my place of watching.
Half an hour passed, and Tom and Dorothy were back with porters carrying a table, chairs and coal. In ten minutes after their arrival, there was a brisk fire in the grate, we were comfortably disposed about it, and the porters had departed. Dorothy sat gazing into the fire with that same dreamy quiet which had so characterized her appearance for the last few days. I sat watching Dorothy, and Tom was busy lighting his pipe. Suddenly I heard a slight and repeated noise. With a sign to Tom, I rose and tiptoed to the door. There was no one coming up. I went to the landing and listened. No more result. Yet I had surely heard footsteps. I went back into the room and closed the door. Tom was beside me in a moment, pipe in hand, but, as I cast a hurried glance about me, I saw that Dorothy had not stirred. She still sat, her head on her hand, gazing into the glowing coals. The footsteps were louder now, and I went to one boundary wall and then to another. There was some one pacing up and down in Cragent's rooms. Tom was beside me as I bent to listen, his face the picture of eagerness.
" There must have been some one in there all the time," I whispered. " But if there was, I should have thought he would have been disturbed by our moving in and would have come out."
" The janitor told me that Cragent had not come in, and that there was no one working with him," muttered Tom. " I don't see through it."
Back and forth went the steps. Tom put his pipe in his mouth and began smoking with long regular puffs.
" I believe there's another entrance to these rooms," he said finally. " I'm going out to reconnoitre." Silently and carefully he tiptoed out, without Dorothy's knowing of his departure. I brought my chair over nearer the wall and sat down to wait.
A hush followed, broken only by the incessant low roar of the city, that roar which to the attentive ear in its deep, firm bass is wholly differentiated from the shrill staccato of New York, the lower, swifter tones of Paris, or the middle-toned, ordered hum of Berlin. On the other side of the wall the steps went on, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, turn, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, turn. On and on, with unvarying regularity, marched the heavy, thrusting step that reverberated over the old floor. Dorothy sat motionless, her eyes still fixed upon the fire, oblivious to the world, her soft hair contrasting with the rich fur of her coat lying draped over the back of an old chair. I heard the slow creak of an opening door, and went softly toward a beckoning arm in gray.
" I won't come in," whispered Tom excitedly, " I've got the trick. There's another entrance to his rooms. We'll cage him between us and get a good look at him, anyway. There's a little office corresponding to this on the other side, where I can wait. You stay by the bay window and watch for me. If he comes my way, wave to me. If he comes yours, I'll wave to you. Gee ! I haven't had more fun for an age."
Off Tom travelled, down the stairs, walking with an exaggerated caution, and I turned in, smiling. Dorothy had not roused at the interruption. I began to worry a bit about this strange abstractedness. Could she be quite well ? No, that was quite foolish, for she seemed the picture of health. Then the footsteps took my attention for a moment, — one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, turn, and repeat. It was like the trampling of feet in the " Tale of Two Cities." The single footstep seemed to swell into a roar of charging troops. Was this walker the man who was trying to stop all war ? Were the footsteps above and around those of the thousands he had slain or that he was to slay? Were we marching among the ghostly shades of the future ? Were we in that crowding throng ? What dreadful mystery lay behind the wooden panels of those windows? I fell to speculating on the appearance of the stranger behind the wall, and always the form of the man who was trying to stop all war took on the slight graceful form of a Southerner, and the face was the clear swarthy face of Regnier. Try as I might, I could not give the shadowy man we pursued any other face or form. The footsteps went on and on.
Dorothy aroused. " Where's Tom ? " she said, looking around.
" He's away for a moment," I said, slightly mendaciously. " He'll be back shortly."
" He ought to have told me he was going," she said, a little impatiently, but her reverie proved too strong for her to escape, and she sank back into her dreamy abstraction. The twilight began to come down as we sat watching and as I listened. As it fell, the fire's rose played yet more softly on Dorothy's beautiful hands lying on the arm of her chair, showed a bit of rounded cheek and a translucent shell-like ear. Gradually I forgot my whole mission. The man became a ghost and faded silently away. Tom waiting on tiptoe in the office next door was quite forgotten. Dorothy and I and the fire. This new Dorothy, dreamy, quiet, almost clinging, with those new depths in her eyes, was carrying me quite beyond myself.
" Dorothy," I said, in a low voice, " Dorothy."
She turned. " What is it, Jim ? " she said.
I tried to speak but I could not. The rushing words overwhelmed me. I could not make myself intelligible, and I sat there shivering with the intensity of my feeling, and yet unable to say what I wished. I found my voice again. " Dorothy," I began, " I want to tell you."
Dorothy's eyes met mine for a moment, and then her long lashes fell. " I've been thinking," she stammered — " thinking — thinking " — I bent forward eagerly —" of our old home on Long Island Sound." The words came with a rush, as if she had just seized them from the air. " You never went down there, but it is the loveliest place," she went on hurriedly. " The sea, in a great crescent bay, paved with the whitest sand, and an old colonial house on a little rise." She was talking at top speed now.
" But, Dorothy," I broke in, " I want you to know— "
She gave me no chance to finish. " Tom has a laboratory that he has fitted up down by the shore," she went on, still more swiftly, the words fairly tumbling over each other, "and we work there when we're not off on the Black Arrow. When we get back, I'm going straight down; I want to see the place so badly."
" Dorothy," I began again.
" Oh, and did you see the account of the reception at the Ambassador's," said Dorothy, as hastily as before. " They had the whole thing twisted upside down; names all tangled up. They got Tom's name as Professor Thomas Orrington, and you as James." She stopped short.
" How did they get yours ? " I asked eagerly.
" Did you see that they are tearing up the embankment down by the obelisk ? " was the extremely pertinent reply. As all three of us had spent a quarter of an hour a day or two before, watching those same operations, it seemed probable that I had seen them.
" But, Dorothy," I pleaded. " Just a minute, I want to — "
Dorothy sprung from her chair and started for the door. " I'm going to find Tom," she said.
"Stop," I called in a low voice. "'The man' is on the other side of the partition walking up and down. Listen! "
Dorothy stood still for a moment in the very poise of flight, and we both listened intently. The roar of the city was the only sound. The measured footsteps had ceased. When they had stopped I had no idea. I had proved an unfaithful watcher.
" Then, for heaven's sake, where's Tom ? " I cried, as I rushed to the window.
Dorothy, surprised from her attitude, followed me. I gazed from the window up and down the house fronts and street. Tom was nowhere in sight. Dorothy leaned forward beside me to look out and in the intoxication of her immediate presence every idea beside my wish to tell her of my love was swept away. I seized her hand.
" Dorothy," I exclaimed, " you must and shall hear what I am going to say."
Her hand, at first fluttering and striving to escape, gave up its struggle, and she stood silent, listening, with averted head.
" Dorothy," I began again.
At that very moment the door flew open and Tom, red and breathless, dashed into the room. Dorothy sprang towards him like a startled fawn, and I was left with outstretched hand, the modern Tantalus of London. Tom was too excited to notice our positions.
" Well, I must say you are a pretty pair," he exclaimed. " All this work and trouble gone for nothing, because you wouldn't take a little bit of care at the end. You call yourself a newspaper man. There's only one department you could handle and that's the Obituary column."
" What's the matter ? " I asked, coming down to earth.
" Matter," cried Tom disgustedly, " the whole thing's up so far as this clue is concerned, and we've got to start in all over again. I've seen ' the man,' and if you had been even reasonably alert you'd have seen him too, and we would have him trapped."
" You've seen ' the man.' Are you sure ? " asked Dorothy breathlessly.
Tom nodded gravely. " I have, and I think for some reason that he knew me," he answered more slowly. " When I left you I went over to the office on the other side and waited. I sat just where I could see if any one opened on my side. I had been there perhaps half an hour when the door opened, and a man in a slouch hat, whose face was hidden in the dim twilight of the hall, stepped out. Just as he caught sight of me, he jumped back and locked the door. ' That's the time for Jim,' I said to myself, and ran to the window and waved. I could have waved my arm off, I believe, and you would never have known it, so when I realized that, I hurried down and over to these stairs. On the third flight, I heard steps coming down the fourth. I came up very softly and there, just descending, was the man in the slouch hat. When he saw me, he threw up his arm across his face, said what sounded to me like 'You again,' and backed away into the darkness of the corner. I followed, but before I could reach him, a door behind him flew open and he dashed through, slamming it in my face. I flew against the door and it gave. By the time I was in the room he was across it and out the other door. I followed him down the stairs but lost him in the street. If you people had been half decently on the watch, we'd have had something, but now he knows we're after him and he'll simply disappear from here. But I believe I've seen that chap somewhere, before. There was a queer familiarity about him, and what did he mean by, 'You again ?' It's barely possible that your old theory may be right, Jim, or it may be that you have driven Regnier so into my head that I looked to find him in a man I don't know at all."
" Well, I know," said Dorothy, with a sudden reversion to her old independent spirit. " It isn't. But how did the man happen to have keys in his hand for those doors on the story below. I don't understand that."
" I don't know, I'm sure," said Tom. " I was in too much of a hurry to get at the chap to pay any attention to the way he unlocked the doors. Of course there is a bare chance that the fellow may be a harmless citizen who mistook me for either a highwayman or a lunatic."
" Not with the wooden panels on the windows," said Dorothy. " Let's go down and look at the doors."
Regretfully I locked the door and left the bright fire and bare-walled room where Dorothy had come so near to listening to me. I was disappointed, — of course I was disappointed at my carelessness in losing the man I sought, but — Dorothy's hand had lain in mine without struggling that last instant of time before Tom came in. There was some balm in Gilead. Yet delays are dangerous, and I felt I must not lose time in following up any advantage gained.
As I turned the corner of the stairs, I heard a low exclamation from Dorothy and Tom's expressive whistle. They were bending over an open door, examining the lock with a match, which Tom held shielded between his palms. As I joined them, Tom pointed without comment at the place where the lock had been. Its bare wood showed lighter surfaces, as the signs had showed the marks of the handiwork of " the man," and nail holes that told of disappearing metal.
" How's that for a pick lock," said Tom. " The other one was opened in just the same way.
Cragent is the man and I saw him, but couldn't reach him. What a control be must have over his instrument to be able to destroy a battleship and open the lock of a door by means of disappearing metal."
Dorothy shuddered. " It's dark here and cold. I want to go back to the hotel," she said a little tremulously. " I'll be all right in the morning, and I'll go with you after ' the man,' but now I'm tired — tired."
I think the horror of the thing shadowed us all a bit in that gloomy old London house. The darkness of the corners, the man who had slain so many of his fellow men separated from us by a single partition seemed gruesome and deadening. Those footsteps pacing up and down, did they mean more slaughter, new inventions ? Was the mysterious man whom we had sought, the familiar figure Tom had imagined; and dominating thought of all, did Dorothy's hand rest in mine without struggling that last moment? There was enough to keep my thoughts at work on the way home, even though Dorothy persistently gazed from the window of the four-wheeler and uttered never a word.
As we left the carriage, Tom broke silence. " If you feel like it, Jim, I think it wouldn't be a bad plan to look up Hamerly to-night, and see what he says to all this."
" A good idea," I said. " I'll get a hasty bite and run up there. No use in wasting time."
" All right," said Tom, and Dorothy, as we parted, gave me one shy glance that sent me away in a golden maze of joy and hope.
Hamerly was out when I arrived at his lodgings, called away suddenly for a couple of days, the maid reported. On my way back, however, I came to one very definite conclusion. Hamerly must have seen the man face to face in Dr. Heidenmuller's laboratory. He could settle one vexed question anyway. I was going to find a picture of Regnier if there was one to be had.
I reached the Savoy to find word from Tom that he and Dorothy had gone over to the Cecil to see some friends. I followed, leaving word at the office that I had gone. As I stood in the corridor waiting, a page came by, calling my name for the telephone. I took up the receiver with a deep thrill of anticipation. " Orrington ? "
" Yes." It was one of our correspondents.
" War just declared between England and Germany. I have inside information that the fleets will meet in the Channel, to-morrow, off Dover. I suppose you'll hunt your man there ? "
" I'm off for the scene of battle by the first train," I answered. " Much obliged," and I hung up the receiver.
As I stepped out under the great awning at the head of the courtyard, the gayety and life of the full tide of evening was sweeping through. Beautifully dressed women, gallant men, life and youth and pleasure, — and to-morrow — what ? Would a single one of those mighty ships, would one of those brave sailors return ? As I stood there, a hush came. The news which I had heard had just been received. Then came a mighty roar, " War, War, War." Then, as it died away, out burst a great increasing wave of song, the whole multitude joining in one mighty chorus, " God save the King." I saw Dorothy hastening towards me, her lips quivering.
" Jim, have you got to go to sea ? " she said stammering. " I'm so afraid no boat will ever return," and she ended with a sob. I could wait no longer.
" Dear love," I said, " I must, but I love you, dear, and if I die to-morrow or fifty years off, I love you and you alone," and there, as the last bars of the song rang forth in the full tide of exaltation, as the clamor of the crowded street outside rose to its height, Dorothy and I came to our own.