I THINK I once described Alice Sheldon as a "brilliant brunette." That was when she was a girl living in Goldfield at the time I was out there on the trail of a man who forged her father's name to a check. She was at that time engaged to a young fellow named Archibald Parton, who lived in my home town, and circumstances made me see quite a little of the girl.
She was a beauty of the type, and Archie was fairly wild about her. He proved it by marrying her a short time after I had returned to my paper from Goldfield. The first thing I heard about it, was that they were going for a belated honeymoon on the Continent.
Although they had been married for some six months, they had waited to take the trip in order that Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon, the girl's father, might wind up his affairs and accompany them as a sort of rough and blustering fairy godfather. As "Colonel Mac" said, the honeymoon was on "dad."
I was cooling my heels one day in late March by elevating them on my typewriter-table in the local room, when I was called to the phone. Though it had a familiar ring, I didn't recognize the voice, until the man at the other end informed me that he was at the Kenton and for once wasn't wishing he were in Goldfield. Then I woke up and asked him what it was all about.
"We want you to come up if you can," said the colonel. "Archie and Alice and I are takin' our honeymoon an' we want to say howdy to one of the men that made it possible. You come on up here, Glace, an' see the kids. They were married sort of quiet like last October, just after I got back home, an' they've been waitin' so's I could come along. We're goin' to do Europe 'fore we get back. I'm stakin' the kids to a good blowout, you bet."
"I'll be right up," I told him, and reached for my hat.
"Where you goin'?" said Smithson, my city editor, as I turned away.
"I'm going to interview three of the principals in the Sheldon forgery case," I responded. He scowled.
"If you get dragged into any more trans-continental trips," he threatened, "I won't stand for it; you understand?"
"Since I am going to see a bride and groom taking papa on their honeymoon, I don't believe I'm in much danger," I assured him, and left the office of the Record for the hotel.
Alice Sheldon-Parton met me as one welcomes an old friend. The girl had ripened since her marriage. She seemed to have taken on an even greater, more womanly beauty, and her figure had rounded out into fuller and more gracious lines.
They insisted upon my sitting down and Colonel Mac was at the phone ordering refreshments before I had fairly done shaking Mrs. Parton's hand.
"Make 'em a man's size now, for the sake of kindness," I heard him exhorting, and I smiled at him as he turned toward where I sat.
"Well, here we are!" said Sheldon. "When we decided to start East, Allie here wouldn't have it any way but we must stop here and see you and look up Dick and his wife, Archie's sister, and the meat of the whole nut I suspect is that more'n all else she wanted to see if she couldn't meet that funny Dual chap that put it all over her dad."
It was the first time I had seen Sheldon since the night Dual and he had had the strange meeting in Dual's apartments, and it did me good to see that he was a good loser and bore no resentment against the man who had beaten him in fair fight. It takes a considerable degree of thoroughbrededness to take a defeat like that, and I was glad to find the old Westerner in that class.
"I will see what can be done," I promised. "Dual is a queer sort of person and receives but few people, usually only at his own behest."
"Who asked him to receive us?" said Sheldon. "He can come down here, can't he, Glace? I sure owe that fellow a lot more'n I can ever pay, and so do Alice and Archie here."
This time I shook my head.
"He wouldn't come, colonel," I was forced to say. "But I shall try to arrange for Mrs. Parton to meet him while she is here."
"Tell him," said Alice Parton, "that I wish to express my heartfelt thanks for all he did for me and mine. He can hardly refuse me that privilege, I think."
I agreed, promised to dine with them that evening, and left the hotel. Then I made up my mind that I might as well see Dual right away.
I took a car up to the Urania, where he lived and carried on his peculiar investigations of nature's higher forces, as he described the strange powers which he invoked at times to produce results beyond the ken of the average man. Few persons, as I had said, had the entrée of Dual's place. I was so fortunate as to be one of them.
It all started by my going to interview him and getting both myself and him mixed up in a murder case. Since then I had been glad of his aid in another case, in which, but for Dual, an innocent man probably would have gone to jail. The man was Sheldon's own brother, and be it said with regret, the colonel's own act was largely responsible for his brother's predicament. Everything ended, happily, thanks to Dual.
Dual was an odd genius and dwelt in a tower on the roof of the Urania, one of our largest office structures. He had fitted up the roof as a regular garden and constructed a magnificent approach from the building's upper floor. Being one of the elect, I might approach him at any time of the day or night, and I did so now.
I found him lying on a couch covered by an immense lion skin and wheeled full into the rays of the afternoon sun. He was utterly divested of clothing, save for a towel about the loins, and was lying relaxed as I came in.
It was the first time I had seen the man's body, and I marveled at its superb lines. He was the athlete without any of the overdevelopment which one so often finds in the strong man. But this man might have been a beautiful, olive-tinted Apollo as he lay at ease on the tawny hide of the dead king of beasts.
He rolled lazily on one side and greeted me with a smile as I dropped into a chair.
"Letting my body breathe," he explained easily. "One trouble with our modern methods of clothing ourselves, Glace, is that the pores don't get half a chance to functionate. Furthermore, we constrict our arterial and venous trunks with bands and garters and wonder why poor circulation overtakes us after a time. Even a school-boy knows that water won't run through a plugged hose; but we older children expect the heart to pump the blood through clogged and compressed channels and remain strong."
I rolled a cigarette and nodded. "Keep right on," I said. Dual laughed.
"I like to lie in the sun and blink my eyes and let its rays warm me through and through. One can feel the kinetic energy almost absorb through the skin. In that respect I am like the brute on whose skin I am lying. Who knows, maybe I was a lion once myself, and it is an inherited trait, this dreaming in the sun."
I looked at his splendid limbs.
"I'll warrant you were a very magnificent beast," I drawled, humoring his mood. For some time he lay silent; then: "How would you like to go to Persia?" he asked, apropos of nothing at all.
"Getting homesick?" I inquired.
"Eh?" said Dual, narrowing his eyes.
"Or are there lions in Persia?" I inquired.
Dual rolled completely over and swung to a sitting position.
"Glace," said he, "for once you have surprised me. I suppose John Curzon told you I was half Persian, my friend."
As usual he was right. Curzon was a friend of his and had, in fact, given me the information. I nodded my head.
"Because," said Dual, "he is the only person in this country who is aware of the fact, excepting yourself. However, it was not homesickness which made me ask you the question I did. While lying here, before you came in, I had what some people who do not understand would call an intuition; what is really a karmic vibration. I believe that I am soon going to find it necessary to go to Persia. In other words, friend Gordon, I had what you would call a 'hunch.' If my hunch is correct, do you want to go along?"
"Are you serious?" I asked.
"Perfectly," said Semi Dual. "Now, what brings you here?"
I preferred Mrs. Parton's (née Sheldon) request and waited for what Dual might say. After a moment he smiled.
"You are dining with them this evening," he remarked after a few minutes' silence. "Suppose after dinner you bring them on up here."
I expressed my surprise. Dual continued to smile.
"I have a reason for my action," he told me. "Besides, you must admit that the young woman's request is a natural one under the circumstances."
I grinned. "If I went on the principle that you would do the natural thing, I'd make a great showing, wouldn't I?" I said.
Dual laughed out loud. He seemed very human, very likable, very happy and buoyant to-day.
"I'd really enjoy meeting her," he said. "These young American women interest me every day. They are such splendid examples of what evolution will do; with their high heads, their brave eyes, their strong, elastic swing of limb. I glory in their exhibition of what the race of man may become, with education and freedom to expand mentally and physically to its best. They are the fit mates for fit men; none of your languorous voluptuaries, good only to drag men down and clog their souls and bodies with the anesthetic of their narcotic perfumes. They have the perfume of health and clean living. Such women are the gift of God."
"Bravo!" I cried as he finished and faced me with shining eyes. "And all the time I have half suspected that you were a woman-hater, Dual."
"You?" said Semi, almost as I imagine Caesar cried out to Brutus, and I was sorry that I had said what I had.
The glow faded from Dual's face. "Gordon," he said sadly, "when a man knows much, he only increases his capacity for suffering. The higher one climbs, the greater the fall, should he be cast down. I hate women? Does a true man hate any of the Creator's children? Why, I hate nothing of which I can think. There is beauty even in the lowly earthworm, if one will but look, and it was made by the same law as was man."
He began to pace the room in nervous strides.
"Hate woman! No! I love her—the whole wondrous complement of man. I have none of her, because—and, Gordon, I have told this to none save you yourself—because I am seeking for one I lost and will some day find again. That is why I am—a lion without a mate."
He flung himself into a chair and after a moment he smiled his old smile, only, perhaps, there was an added touch of sadness in it now.
"Bring your friends up after the dinner," he said, changing his tone abruptly. "I shall be very glad to meet the little woman from Goldfield, and accept the thanks she really means."
"Semi," I said, rising and looking at him where he sat, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wound or rub old sores. Don't be angry at the blunder I made."
"The offer for Persia is still open," said my friend.
I put out my hand. He took it.
"You're a wonderful man," I began.
"Don't," Dual interrupted sharply. "Wonderful, never; I try at least to be a—man."
I TOOK Dual's invitation with me when I kept my engagement with the Sheldons at the Kenton that evening. Alice Parton clapped her hands in undisguised delight.
"Good!" she cried. "I am so glad. Papa has told me a lot about Mr. Dual and how he cleared up all that dreadful case without any publicity or anything at all. After Dick married Myrtle he came out West to see us and he, too, had nothing but good to say of the man. I am sure, Mr. Glace, that you must value the friendship of that wonderful man a great deal. How does he get his results?"
"He gets them in ways I myself only dimly understand," I replied. "Some day I hope that he will consider it possible to explain his methods more fully to me. As for his friendship, I value it above that of all other men."
"Papa says his apartments are the most remarkable things he has ever seen. Is that right?"
"They are certainly unusual enough for an occidental city," I answered, smiling. "The first time I saw them I half fancied I was having a dream of the Orient, and felt like rubbing my eyes to make sure I was really awake." Then I went on and described Dual's quarters as best I could.
"I'll never forget the night I went there," said young Parton. "Say, Glace, what did he do to me?"
I laughed. "I rather fancy he used a little hypnotic suggestion that time, Archie," I said.
"I half suspected that," said Parton. "He's the very devil of a fellow, Alice; a sort of combination of an East Indian fakir and a Sherlock Holmes."
His wife smiled and shook her head.
"He is a man to whom we owe a great deal," she said.
The dinner ran its course and we took a taxi up to the Urania. Alice wanted to walk, but the colonel swore he was going to do things in "shape"; and when we were deposited at the great building's entrance, I became guide and soon had my friends shot up to the twentieth floor.
We turned toward the great marble stair case which led to the roof and Dual's domain; and Alice Parton cried out with the pleasure of a child as she saw its magnificent sweep.
"They told me," she cried, her eyes shining, "but this is better than I dreamed; it is fairy-land."
"Wait," I told her, "until we get to the top."
We mounted the flight of steps and even I was surprised at the way in which my prophecy was fulfilled. As we mounted I became aware of a subdued harmony which grew as we went up, and when we stepped out at the top into the garden, I caught my breath in surprise.
Fairy lights in parti-colored miniature globes dotted the shrubbery throughout the entire place, winking and flashing like a myriad of fireflies in the dusk of the night, for Dual had had his garden protected as winter crept on by building a glass canopy over it from the building's parapets.
We stood in a veritable conservatory full of the perfume of flowers and filled with a low sweet sound of music from no visible source.
"Beautiful!" cried Alice. "Oh, Mr. Glace, I never dreamed of any place like this."
"Neither did I," I admitted. "Semi must have fixed it in your honor, I think; the lights and the music, I mean."
I stepped on the inlaid annunciator-plate at the head of the stairs, and a chime of bells rang out in soft, fairy tones, at which Alice Parton again cried out in pleasure. Then I led them all up the broad passageway between the twinkling lights to the tower's door.
It opened as we approached, and Semi's man stood bowing as we entered. He led us silently across to the inner room where Dual always received his visitors, and stood aside for us to pass.
Semi Dual, in all the regalia of the man of fashion, rose as we entered the door, and bowed over Alice Parton's hand.
"Welcome, Mrs. Parton," he said in his rich soft tones; "I am doubly glad to see you and make you free of my abode."
He made a splendid appearance in evening dress, and I noted a look of bewildered surprise light up Alice Parton's eyes as she surveyed the man. Like me she had at first no doubt formed some strange idea of this man, not in accord with the polished gentleman who relinquished her hand and bowed her to a seat.
"Thank you," she murmured as she sank into the proffered chair; "I feel like Alice in wonderland, I think."
"A pretty conceit," he replied, and turned to Parton and Colonel Sheldon in turn. "Take the padded chair, colonel," he suggested, indicating the chair Sheldon had occupied six months before.
"No danger of electrocution, is there?" grinned the colonel, as he took to his seat.
Dual laughed quietly.
"No more than then, colonel," he replied. "The button on my desk that night was a button, nothing more. It was gummed to the desk and there were no wires."
For a moment Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon looked fixedly at the man. Then, as Dual continued to smile in quizzical fashion, he slapped his knee and went off into a howl of deep laughter.
"Bluffed, by Jingo!" cried the colonel. "Bluffed. And I thought I could play poker, too."
"Sometimes, however, it is a wise man who does not call a bluff, Colonel Sheldon," Dual said, still smiling. "Had I wished, the mere absence of wires would not have prevented my protecting myself. But enough of past unpleasantness; we are here to enjoy ourselves to-night." He pressed a button and threw himself into a chair.
Meanwhile Alice Parton had caught sight of Dual's odd light. I once described this as a life-sized bronze of Venus, holding an apple in her hand. It stood beside Dual's desk, and from the apple poured a soft, golden light.
Dual followed the direction of her eyes.
"You notice my light-bearer?" said he.
"It is beautiful," said Mrs. Parton; "so beautifully modeled. I have never seen anything like it, Mr. Dual."
"It is a fine specimen of bronze," said Dual. "You enjoy objets de vertu, perhaps, Mrs. Parton?"
"I love them!" cried Alice Parton. "Oh, Mr. Dual, I've been admiring everything about this splendid place of yours ever since I came in! I actually do feel as though I were in fairy-land. All my life I have read about such things and longed to see them. I never miss a chance to go anywhere where I can feast myself on the beautiful things of art, and I love good literature as well."
"When my servant comes in within the next few moments, I shall have him bring in some of my Eastern embroideries," Dual promised. "No doubt they will appeal to you, too."
A few minutes later Semi's man appeared with a tray of the wonderful fruit juices, such as he had served me on our first meeting, and a plate of cakes, and handed them around. Then Dual despatched him for the promised art-treasures, and we all sat sipping our drink and nibbling cakes.
Dual actually lapsed into silence, though I saw that his eyes never quite left his fair guest's face. He seemed actually absorbed in his contemplation, and I wondered at the man.
Presently, however, when his servant returned with the silks, he rose, cleared his desk, and spread them before Alice in a shimmering mass.
"They are good examples of the work of the Persian needlewomen," he said, smiling; and after seeing her engrossed in her examination, turned to Archie and Sheldon, apparently leaving me to attend to Mrs. Parton as best I might.
It was little I had to do, however, for she was lost in her contemplation of the fabrics and only raised her eyes to smile as I approached. It was thus that I managed to give an ear to the conversation running between the other three men.
Dual sauntered over and stopped beside the colonel's chair.
"I believe you said your itinerary was London, then Paris, did you not, Colonel Sheldon?" he said.
"That's right, unless Allie changes her mind," Sheldon replied.
"I also believe that it is on record that Julius Caesar was warned to be careful on the day he was assassinated, is it not?"
Sheldon looked puzzled.
"I don't know," he admitted. "Ask Allie, she's the history shark of this bunch."
Dual smiled. "It will not be necessary," he said. "History records that a soothsayer told Caesar to beware of a certain date. He failed to heed the warning, and disaster overtook him by the way."
"I don't get you, Dual," said Sheldon. "Suppose you wise me up a bit."
"You will be in Paris in April," said Semi. "Let me give you a warning, Colonel Sheldon. Be very careful about meeting any unusual strangers while there."
Colonel Mac laughed.
"Ha, ha!" said he. "It's a joke, isn't it, Dual? Well, don't you worry at all. I'm a fairly old bird, and nobody's sold me a gold brick yet. I know those foreigners have an idea that all we Americans are gold-plated at least, but I'll bet you no confidence man gets next to Colonel Mac."
Dual half frowned.
"I see you don't understand me," he replied. "I meant that you should be careful on Mrs. Parton's account. I can scarcely tell myself as yet what it is I fear, though I can fix a provisional date. Colonel Sheldon, and you, too, Mr. Parton, let me warn you to be careful of the ides of April. Suppose you say these words to Mrs. Parton after you leave here; she will probably be able to get more out of them than will you."
"Allie?" said the colonel, while Parton sat forward. "Why, what could happen to Allie? Pshaw, Mr. Dual, that little girl's pretty able to take care of herself. She's a Western woman, she is, an' anybody that tries to get gay with her is going to find trouble without hunting very far."
"Just what do you mean, Mr. Dual?" Parton put in here.
"More than I have said I cannot tell you," said Semi. "Only let me repeat as a sincerely meant warning—guard you wife closely between the nineteenth and twenty-second of April. That is all I know myself at this time; that and that a danger will threaten her at about that time."
"You talk like a fortune-teller, Dual," laughed Sheldon. "Why, good Lord, Allie's goin' to be right with us all the time, an' I'd like to see any frog-eatin' Frencher start anything with us around. I kin still use a gun, mister, an' so kin the girl herself."
Dual turned away, and I thought he sighed. He returned to the desk where Alice was still fingering the silks, and turned to her with a smile.
"Do you find them interesting?" he inquired.
"Do I?" she laughed in nervous pleasure. "They are beautiful, beyond anything like them I ever saw. This one is simply a dream."
She held up a long scarf of sheer yellow tissue, embroidered with the mauve and purple of wistaria.
"It is something to drive a woman to tears of delight, Mr. Dual."
"It is yours," said Semi Dual.
"Mr. Dual!" Alice Parton seemed scarcely able to believe her ears.
Then fearing lest her enthusiastic praise may have been the cause of the man's act, she began an attempt to explain. Dual cut her short with an uplifted hand.
"That you should admire and wear it is more than sufficient recompense to me," he said. "Such things are for those who can truly appreciate. The fact that you have shown your appreciation makes it your own for the mere saying. I hope you may be as happy in its possession as I am in passing it on to you."
In another man it would have sounded as a stilted, fulsome compliment. But such was Dual's character that the words actually seemed natural.
"Lay it over your hair and let us step into the garden," Dual suggested. With a little gasp of pleasure Alice complied.
We all went out of the tower into the soft dusk of the roof, where the little lights still twinkled and shone; and as we strolled along the pathways laid out among the beds of flowers the soft harmony again filled the air. I was walking with Parton and Sheldon, behind Semi and Alice, and my curiosity at length got the better of me.
"Where do you get the music, Semi?" I made bold to ask.
Semi straightened from where he was smelling the bud of a crimson rose, and slowly nodded his head.
"That, friend Gordon, is the 'Music of the Spheres,' " he replied.
Alice clapped her hands.
"Surprise upon surprise!" she cried. "First the wonderful garden, then my beautiful scarf, and now the 'Music of the Spheres.' Mr. Dual, is it really that?"
Dual smiled upon her eager face, faint in the roof's twilight.
"It is really that, Mrs. Parton," he replied.
"But how—" I began, when Semi interrupted.
"It is produced by a machine of my own contrivance. A machine so constructed that it receives and condenses the ethereal waves of universal vibration and releases them as waves of sound. One may get the exact harmony of the actual vibration, or by another bit of apparatus, vary it so that any melody may be produced. For myself I like best the simple, grand harmony of life; such as rises and falls about us to-night. When men shall learn to vibrate in soul sympathy with that music they will become as gods."
He ceased speaking and we all heard a sob. Alice Parton stood leaning upon the arm of a bench, her hand at her throat. "Take me back! I want to go back!" she said in a voice which was stifled. "I am almost afraid." For a moment she swayed.
Archie sprang to her side.
"Afraid of what, Alice?" he said, putting an arm about her waist. "Surely there is nothing of which to be afraid."
"Dog-gone it, Allie, I'll admit the whole thing's sort of creepy," affirmed the colonel, "but if I was you I wouldn't go to gittin' scared."
That broke the spell.
Dual led the way back to the tower, after a smiling glance at me, and we were soon fully restored to ease in the lighted room.
Later still his man served tiny cups of real coffee, and soon afterward we took our leave, with the good wishes of our host for a pleasant journey still ringing in our ears as we went down over the dusky roof, where the lights twinkled and died.
LOOKING back over the affair now, I can see how from the first everything led in unbroken sequence to the final denouement of the remarkable experience which took Dual and I half across the world, and which seems more like the weird imaginings of some drug-clogged brain than sane happenings in this epoch of the world.
At that time, however, I went about my business all unsuspecting that I was soon to be drawn into the very vortex of events. I shall try and set down the things as nearly as possible as they happened, and if I overlook anything it will be because at times I can scarcely believe them myself, even though they are a part of my own life, and of that strangest of men, Semi Dual.
The Partons and Colonel Sheldon departed for their trip abroad and I went back to my duties for the Record, and, it must be confessed, soon forgot all about the travelers. I was busy and didn't even find time to go up to see Dual after the night which we five had spent together, just before the young people and their elder companion set sail. Then, one day when I was pounding out copy at the fastest rate of which I was capable, he called me to the phone. I could hardly believe my ears, for Semi rarely resorted to the telephone.
Usually he sent me one of his odd telepathic commands to appear. For instance, I would be sitting at my desk, or running about the town, and the impulse to see him would overtake me, no matter where I might be. It appeared to be born in my own brain, but usually when I followed it and reached Dual's apartments, I would find that he had wished to see me, and was expecting me when I came.
Therefore when I heard his voice over the wire I was surprised. His message surprised me still more.
"Get ready to start for Paris to-night," he commanded.
I say "commanded" because his words were not a question or a request, but a simple statement of what I was to do. I started to protest, but he cut me short.
"Tell Smithson you are going, then come up here."
"Dual," I cried, as he finished, "I simply can't get away now!"
Dual didn't say anything for a minute, then spoke quietly.
"If I tell you that this concerns Alice Parton, her welfare, perhaps her life, I think you will perhaps find a way."
The words thrilled me. My mind went back to the night we had spent at Semi's and the odd warning he had given to Sheldon and young Parton, and even as all that flashed through my brain I decided upon my course.
"Look for me on the jump," I cried into the instrument, and then I hung up the receiver.
I left the telephone and went into Smithson's office. As I entered he looked up, and what he no doubt saw in my face made him lay down the papers he was inspecting and wait for my first word.
"Smithson," I said, "I am leaving for Paris to-night."
"Are you going to elope?" questioned the "old man."
"I am going to help some friends of mine," I explained.
"Very commendable," grunted Smithson. "If not impertinent, may I ask what you think we will be doing while you are away?"
"Look here, Smithson," I burst out, "don't try to be funny. This is deadly serious. I just got a telephone call to get ready to start to-night. I can't refuse, for it may be the story of a lifetime. Anyway, I'm going to give you a tip on the thing." Then I rapidly sketched in all that I knew, ending with the statement that the Partons must be in trouble.
Smithson sat quiet while I talked, while in his face grew the intent alert expression of the news-hunter when he finds a trail. When I had finished he turned sharply upon me and asked one of his incisive questions:
"Is this Semi Dual the same man I once sent you to interview?"
I confessed that it was.
"You've been holding out on me, eh?" said the city editor, "upon that."
"He helped me to run down a couple of good scoops for the Record and only asked to be let alone by us."
Smithson nodded. "I guess that's right, too," he admitted. "Now he wants you to go chasing off to Europe. Well, Glace, I don't know. We need you here."
"There is nothing to prevent my resigning, is there?" I asked, though I hated to do it like sin. A chap grows to love the sheet for which he works.
"Eh?" said Smithson. "Quitting, you mean? Say, would you gamble that much on this affair?"
"If Dual advised it, yes," I said slowly, and got up.
"Sit down!" roared Smithson. "I'm still your boss yet. Supposing you could get us wires from over there, keepin' us in touch with the whole thing." His manner was tentative, but I saw he meant to yield.
"I'll do better," I said. "I'll find out the real state of things and give you the story before we start, and I'll keep you in touch from day to day."
"Good day, Mr. Special Correspondent," said Smithson, and I knew that I had won the point. "If you ever get back, come in and tell me what to let you do next," Smithson continued, grinning, and then put out his hand.
I took it and returned the sincere clasp which he gave, and turned away.
"And, Glace," said Smithson, as I was passing the door; "we'll pay you the regular rate for telegraphic stuff."
I laughed and waved my hand. Then I went out and down the stairs. After that day it was a long time before I saw the Record office again.
I found Semi Dual in his study surrounded by a mass of papers covered with cabalistic signs and mathematical computations, with a Western Union messenger waiting at his elbow, while he covered some cable blanks with a lot of words.
He nodded to me, finished his messages, and sent the boy away. Then he turned to me.
"Alice Parton disappeared from the 'Champs Elysées Palace,' where they were stopping, yesterday afternoon," he said sharply. "Sheldon cabled me this morning. Those messages were my reply. If we leave to-night we can get a boat sailing to-morrow morning, and make Havre in a matter of five days. Go on down to your rooms and pack up. Pack for the purpose of traveling far and fast. If you forget anything we can get it in Paris. I have telegraphed to Sheldon to reserve us rooms at his hotel. My man is out now arranging for our transportation. He will remain here while I am away."
"You say Mrs. Parton disappeared—" I began, but Semi cut me short.
"Sheldon says so," he said quickly. "Here's his message; you can read it yourself." He tossed a sheet of the telegraph company across to me, and went back to the papers spread out on his desk.
I picked up the typewritten paper and glanced along its lines. It was not such as to give me much light, but I could see reason for Semi Dual's decision to go at once. After the name and address Sheldon had written:
Alice disappeared yesterday while visiting suite of Hafiz Ibrahim, our hotel. No clue. Police seem mystified. You fought me once, help me now.
There followed the name of Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon, and that was all. It was dated at the "Champs Elysées Palace," Paris, April 22. That was to-day.
I laid the yellow sheet down on Dual's desk and he glanced up.
"I cabled that you and I would start to-night," he said. "Then I informed you. Later I called the boy who just left and sent some further messages, which I fancied might help us along with the case. I am trying to make some calculations which I hope will give me some light on the matter; so now that you know all about it that is necessary, suppose you go along and get packed up. If you want to give Smithson a sort of advance story, why it will do no harm that I can see. Meet me at the station to-night at eight. That is all, I think."
"But this message says Mrs. Parton disappeared from her hotel; how could she do that and leave no trace?"
"That is for us to find out," said Dual, smiling slightly. "At least we know she loved her husband, so we may assume that she did not go of her own free will."
"Evidently they didn't heed your warning," I said.
"They seldom do; that is the trouble with warnings," said Dual, without surprise that I knew of the thing. "Humanity makes a great deal of its own troubles in just that way. That, however, is now aside from any phase of the case. We have to undo what has been done."
He turned back to his papers and I left him deep in his calculations and went down to my boarding-house to put my things into such shape as I could for the trip. Even then, as I worked over my choosing of coats and vests and collars and ties, I began to have a faint perception of what Semi must have meant when he warned Sheldon that night.
The man had had one of his peculiar impressions of some impending danger, which might be avoided with care. He had given his warnings, which had been unheeded, and, true to his fears, the danger had appeared.
"Guard your wife between the nineteenth and twenty-second of April," he had said. Sheldon had cabled the morning of the twenty-second, so that the danger had struck them on the twenty-first. I tossed the things I was going to take on the bed and started to pack. I could hardly believe it. It seemed impossible that a grown woman could disappear from a crowded modern hotel, in the midst of a modern city, and do it so secretly that there should be no clue left for the police; yet if we were to believe Sheldon's message, just that thing had occurred.
I felt almost like a hero of some modern tale of mystery as I put my things into the cases, and added a little black automatic revolver and some cartridge-clips. I wondered if I would really need the thing, but decided to take it on the off chance. When everything was done, I strapped the cases and went down and told the landlady that I was going to Europe for my paper and asked her to hold my room. Then I got a car and went out to see Connie Baird.
The little girl was naturally surprised and not too well pleased at the turn of events; but on the whole we spent a very pleasant afternoon, and at the end I took her in my arms and kissed her and promised to write just as often as I could. She clung to me a little bit at the last and I confess I felt sort of sorry for the going, and yet I couldn't see what else to do. I often thought of her standing there in their home, during the days and nights which followed that afternoon, and more than once I wished that I were back and vowed that if I ever did get back I'd not leave in a hurry again.
I stopped at the Record office and saw Smithson and told him all I knew about what had happened to the Partons, and he whistled softly as I made an end.
"For two bits I'd stop being city editor and go along," he said half wistfully, and then sighed and smiled slowly. "But some of us have got to stay here, and you seem to be the only foot-loose one among us. It's a good thing, too, because the paper has got to come out."
At ten minutes to eight Dual appeared at the station with his man. He walked leisurely out to the gate; which was just being opened, and as I fell into step beside him he greeted me with a smile.
"What did Smithson say to the latest?" he inquired.
"He said he'd like to come along," I replied.
"Poor Smithson," said Semi. "These newspaper men really have my sympathy, Glace. They toil day and night to get out their papers; they may not rest or relax for fear something escapes them; no wonder they wear out soon. It is exciting, no doubt, and the excitement keeps them up and wears out their nerves until, like old horses, they break and are turned out to die. It is all wrong, of course, but it will go on equally, of course, for years, as long as people demand artificial excitement and amusement with which to waste their time.
"And now we are off for Paris," he added, as the train trembled into motion and then slid smoothly off into the night. "You hardly thought, even this morning, that you would be undertaking the journey to-night, friend Glace?"
"It was the last thing I would ever have thought of," I replied with a grin.
"Which," said Dual, "is a little synopsis of all life, as lived by the average man. Do you get seasick, Glace?"
"I don't know, never having tried," I said, laughing at the sudden change of subject. "I suppose I am in a fair way to find out."
"I thought of that, and had Henri pack a hammock for you," Dual went on. "As for myself, I am ocean-proof. If they would build their liner berths so that they could swing less people would be affected. Later, however, the gyroscope may help that."
"It was very thoughtful of you," I said humbly as I realized that in the midst of all his other arrangements he had thought of my comfort as well.
"It isn't so much a hammock as a light folding mattress or canvas stretcher, which fits into the berth," Dual explained. "It is so arranged that its swing compensates the steamer's roll, but you will see. I had it fixed for Henri, poor fellow, and he packed it in the steamer-trunk to-day. Now as we are to be up early to-morrow, I suggest that we retire. We shall go directly to the boat when we get in to-morrow. Henri engaged our berths by wire to-day."
I left him and went forward to smoke a cigar. When I returned, the curtains of his berth were drawn, and I slipped into my own section and stretched out between the sheets.
MORNING found us at the pier, and a few minutes later we went aboard the liner and one of the stewards showed us to our staterooms, I dropped onto a seat and looked at Dual.
"I suppose I am awake, but I can't believe it even yet," I gasped. "This looks like the stateroom of a steamship, but maybe I am dreaming after all. What do you think?"
Dual smiled and went on arranging his luggage.
"You are wide enough awake," he responded. "I would suggest that you remain that way on the trip we are going to make."
"Where are we going anyway?" I inquired.
"To Paris," said Semi Dual.
"I will tell you that after we get to Paris," my companion replied.
I kicked a suit-case to one side and stretched out my legs, and yawned.
"Just what do you fancy happened to Mrs. Parton?" I wanted to know.
"Abduction," Dual answered me in the word.
I sat up and looked at him closely to make sure that he was serious. "Well—good lord, Semi, who's going to abduct another man's wife?"
"I believe it has been done, even in these United States," said Semi with a grin. "Suppose we go on deck. If you've never seen it the sailing of a liner is a rather interesting study in the ways of man." He handed me a light cap. "That is better than a hat," he suggested, and I put the thing on.
We went up and took a position beside the rail. I looked down. Far below me, as it seemed, swarmed the deck, full of an orderly confusion as the sailing hour approached. Passengers and their friends were coming aboard. The air was full of cries of greeting and farewell. Women with their arms full of flowers passed us or leaned over the rail waving to friends and acquaintances on the pier. There was laughter, and smiles, and tears, a waving of kerchiefs and hands.
Above all lesser sounds boomed a hoarse yellow as the leviathan gave voice before waking to her long race. The voices of stewards came through the crowd warning all persons not sailing, to go ashore. There was a clutching of hands, a clasping of arms, more smiles, some kisses, more tears. The rail of the liner blossomed into a waving of bouquets and the flutter of white linen, waved at the last; then the vessel trembled slightly.
The pier began to slip away from our sides as the busy little tugs began to warp us out of our berth. Further and further out we swung. There was clear water between us and the shore. The rail began to clear as the passengers turned away to their staterooms. More and more we swung in the stream. Like water-beetles about a chip, the tugs pulled and hauled, dragged us out, turned and straightened us. The voyage had begun.
I stood and watched, with Semi silent by my side. We slipped down and out into the bay. The great statue of Bartholdi towered above us and fell astern. "A great country," said Semi Dual. "The day is fast coming, Gordon, when the West shall enlighten the East."
The purser was making his rounds, and Dual selected a couple of deck-chairs and saw our tickets affixed to the same. Then he threw his long figure into one of them, motioned me to the other, and lapsed into a silent watching of the shipping in the lower bay. We dropped down the harbor, the tugs cast off. The last shore-going mail was sent over the side. Sandy Hook faded away to the right.
Everything was of interest to me, and I enjoyed a keen delight in sitting and watching with both eyes as the life of the ship developed around me. Semi might have been a graven image for any sound which came out of him. Our places at the tables were together, and at night he rigged Henri's stretcher for me in my berth and I passed a pleasant night. True, I felt some few qualms of discomfort as we got out and caught the full swell of the ocean, but beyond that I was happy enough.
As for our plans, I found out little beyond the fact that we were going directly to Paris. Semi seemed loath to say much about the case, though he spent many hours over his charts and calculations, and at times remained on deck for half the night, wrapped in silent thought. At such times I used to lean against the rail and smoke and watch the slow swing of the stars, until chilled through I would creep below, leaving him still there wrapped up in his steamer rug.
As luck would have it, when we approached the French shore we ran into a fine specimen of channel fog, through which we felt our way with hoarse bellowings of the siren, as we plowed along at reduced speed.
It was like the crying of a lost soul in the night of perdition, as Semi whimsically remarked, but our captain seemed to know where he was going, and the rest of us could do nothing but pass the time as best we might.
We were still playing blind-man's buff with the fog, when a messenger from the wireless came for Dual. Motioning me to come along, Semi rose with a smile and made his way to the door of the wireless station, and paused. The liner's captain was there, bending over the table beside which the operator sat. He straightened at our approach. "Are you M. Semi Dual?" he asked of Dual.
"Oui, M. le Capitaine," he replied.
"There's a police boat out there calling for us, and asking if you are aboard," said the captain; "what does monsieur think I had better reply?" He fixed Dual shrewdly and looked him through with a glance from a very black eye.
Semi smiled slightly. "If M. le Capitaine will be so kind, I desire that the police boat be informed that I am on board." For a few moments the operator worked rapidly at his sending, then cut out, and awaited a reply. It came on the instant:
"Stand by; we want to board you."
The operator showed his transcription to the captain, who scowled ferociously and left the office at once.
Dual turned away and we walked slowly back to the smoking-room, before he said a word to keep my curiosity from bursting all bounds.
"I was expecting that," he finally volunteered.
"A visit from the police?"
"The arrival of Parton and Sheldon," he corrected with a smile.
"But how—and why?"
"To answer the last first," said Semi, his eyes twinkling slightly; "because I wanted to see them as soon as I could. It will save time to hear their story before we get to Paris. Also I want to see how the land lies before I go there, friend Glace. As for the first part of your question; I sent a cable to Grimaud, chief of the Paris Detective Bureau, the day we left home, asking him to find Sheldon and Parton and send them out to meet us, as he has evidently done. Hark! Isn't that another whistle? That should be the police vessel now. Suppose we go above and meet our friends."
Once more I followed him above. Looking back now, it seems that during the thing from first to last, my main part was following the man around. I was a sort of shadow which he took or left behind at will, and surely what little service I rendered was as a direct result of his wonderful handling of the matter and the commands of his remarkable brain.
Already a group of officers were standing at the vessel's side and through the fog we could dimly perceive a low-lying vessel swinging in toward the liner, which had almost halted, and was under steerage way only. Closer and closer came the other vessel, until she lay seemingly under our side. Then a voice hailed us out of the fog.
"Oui!" came from the bridge.
"Prepare to take two persons aboard," was the command, which caused no little surprise among the liner's officials.
Evidently they had expected to lose rather than receive. However, they sprang to instant action, and after an interval there crawled up to the liner's deck, first Archie Parton, and after him Colonel MacDonohue Sheldon himself.
As Parton came over, Dual went forward and had him by the hand.
"Mr. Dual," cried the boy in relief and pleasure; and then Sheldon seized Semi's other hand.
"Well, now I sure am glad to see you, Dual," cried the colonel. "This here has been the longest five days I ever waited in my life. When it all happened I says to Archie, if there's anybody livin' what can help us, I know his name, and it's Semi Dual. I got busy and sent you that cable, an' we been just holdin' on till you could arrive. Now you're here, I reckon we can get action at last. If we don't do somethin' soon, I'm goin' bughouse, I reckon. I told you Allie was gone, but I couldn't wise you up to that. I reckon that's why you sent for us to meet you out here, Mr. Dual. Allie was stole; I'll bet on that. Allie—my little girl was—" He choked up and turned away. "Say," he burst forth in a minute, "kin a man get a drink on this here boat?"
The police boat was already sheering off, and the steamship was again forging forward through the fog. Dual turned away toward our cabin, with Sheldon. I followed with Parton. When we were seated and a steward had departed for the colonel's drink, Dual turned to the two men.
"You didn't heed the soothsayer's warning," he said.
"Heed nuthin'," cried the colonel. "Why Dual, Allie just simply vanished while Archie here was lookin' on. We never let her go nowhere alone. Arch or me was with her all the time. It's enough to give a fellow the creeps."
Dual dropped down on the edge of a berth. "Suppose you tell me all about it," he said.
Colonel Sheldon put up a hand and brushed his eyes.
"I reckon Arch had better tell you," he said slowly. "I've got the colly woggles so bad I can't talk about the thing."
Dual turned to Parton, who sat humped on a suit-case.
"Suppose you go back to the beginning of your stay in Paris, Mr. Parton," he directed, "and tell me all that happened from the time you stopped at your hotel, or before if you think advisable, up to the time when your wife disappeared. Try and give me everything which happened, for sometimes the least thing serves to connect the major incidents so as to make them make sense. Take your time and try to omit nothing. First, however, have you reserved the Hafiz suite in your hotel?"
"We sure did," broke in Sheldon. "I've got it locked up, an' there hain't even been a chambermaid in there since that feller left."
"That is good," said Semi. "I cabled you to do that in order that the apartment might not be disturbed. I wanted to be the first person to enter after Hafiz left. Did I understand you to say he was gone? When did he leave?"
"He left last evenin'," said Sheldon, "an' I took the rooms for you. The manager wanted to clean 'em up, but I said no. He thought I was crazy, I guess, by the way he waved his hands, and got off something about the 'mad Americans.' You see I told him you was funny an' wanted things left just as they were."
Dual smiled slightly.
"That was the spirit of my instructions, colonel," he said lightly, and turned back to Parton again. "Now, Mr. Parton, we are ready for your narrative, if you please."
"Of course you know we went to London first," said Parton. "We first saw this Hafiz Ibrahim at the St. Cecil there, though we didn't meet him until we got to Paris, as a matter of fact. He is some sort of an Eastern prince, they tell me; Persian, I believe. Anyway, it seems he comes over to Europe every so often. The manager of the Champs Elysées Palace tells me he often stops there, and seemed to think he was all right. He has a regular retinue of servants with him and he surely does put on a lot of style.
"The first time I ever noticed him was one night in the restaurant of the St. Cecil. He was sitting at a table near ours, and after a bit Alice noticed that he was watching us closely, and called my attention to the fact. I have sometimes thought that it was the scarf which you gave to Alice which made the fellow eye us so closely. She was wearing it over her shoulders that night in the café, and I know I saw this Hafiz point to it, and say something to the man who was with him, and sort of laugh.
"The other man scowled and said something in reply, and Hafiz smiled and apparently changed the subject. He continued to keep an eye on Alice, however, till I felt like getting up and telling him to look the other way. When he left the restaurant, which was before we did, he made a point of passing near our table, and he fairly stared into Alice's face as he went by.
"The next day, however, we were leaving for Paris, and so I never thought anything more about it, until I saw him on the boat, as we were crossings to Calais. Even then beyond thinking that he was pretty much lacking in manners, I never thought anything about it, except that he was crossing on the same boat. Anybody might do that. I never once even dreamed that he might be following us, though now, after what has happened I sometimes think that is how it was."
He paused as a rap sounded on the door, and the steward returned with the colonel's refreshment. After he had departed, and while the colonel was sipping from a tall glass, Parton went on with his tale.
"AFTER we got to Paris we went at once to the Champs Elysées Palace," Archie continued, "and engaged a suite of rooms on the third floor. They were pretty good rooms, though well back along the hall. The whole front part of the building was taken up on that floor by a suite de luxe, generally rented to special personages or millionaires, or somebody who could stand the tariff, which is pretty high. We found that out when we rented the thing, after you cabled that we should."
"That's all right," broke in Sheldon; "I don't give a cuss for the money if I kin get my little girl back again."
Parton's face began to work at the other's words, and he rose and paced the stateroom for a moment, before he went on. It was evident to us all that the boy was making a hard fight to remain cool and collected while all the time his heart was aching for the young wife who had left him in such a strange way.
"Well," he resumed after a few moments, "on the day after we stopped at the hotel I saw this Hafiz fellow in the corridor of our floor, and from time to time during the day I saw some one or the other of his attendants running around on errands. Even then I didn't feel anything but a mild interest. Any one could stop at the hotel, which was a prominent one. I did, however, ask one of the hall-men about him, and managed to understand that he was a Prince Hafiz, and quite well known around the hotel, as he had occasionally stopped there before.
"That evening as we were going down to attend a theater, Alice and I met him in the hall. He drew aside and made us a very marked bow. I spoke to Alice about it at the time, and she laughed and said she had always heard about the marked politeness of those fellows, which was rated at pretty nearly skin-deep.
"We went to the theater, and along during the second act of the play I noticed that the fellow was in a box quite close to us. Alice looked up when I mentioned it, and the fellow actually had the nerve to bow again. I felt a bit sore, but know I tried to treat the thing lightly, and told Alice that it looked to me as if she had made a mash. She wore the scarf you gave her again that night, and all through the play I saw that the chap kept his eyes upon her rather than on the stage.
"The next afternoon one of Hafiz's servants brought us a note. It asked her very courteously if she would not allow him to examine the scarf. He said that he believed it to be a rarely fine example of embroidery, and expressed the hope that she would allow his servant who brought the note to take the scarf to Hafiz, so that he might look it over and return it to us.
"I wanted Alice to send the servant back and tell Hafiz to mind his own business, but she said that wouldn't be polite; that after all it was only natural that he should admire the scarf and be surprised to see her wearing it, and that she couldn't see any harm in allowing the man to examine it if he really wanted to do so as badly as his note would indicate.
"Anyway, she ended by sending the scarf to him. Then we all went over to the Louvre, and Alice got so excited about the pictures in the galleries there that the colonel and I couldn't get her away until quite late. When we got back to the hotel we found a black servant of Hafiz standing at our door. He was a funny fellow, and in his big turban and baggy breeches, he looked as if he might have come out of a picture-book.
"When he saw Alice, he bowed low, and went down upon one knee, offering her the scarf and a note. Allie took the note and the scarf, and after the colonel had given the fellow a franc for his trouble, he went away. We went into the rooms and Alice let out a yell—that's just what she did. The place was full of flowers, roses, and lilies, and orange-blossoms—the blamedest lot of flowers I ever saw together at once outside of a florist's shop."
"Smelled like six weddings and a funeral," said Colonel Sheldon; "and if I ever catch that saffron-tinted slob I'll furnish the makings for another funeral, too."
"When Alice saw all the flowers," continued Parton, "she remembered the note, which she had rolled up in the scarf as we were coming in, and she opened it.
"It was a most remarkable missive, I assure you, Mr. Dual. It began by addressing Alice as the 'Beauteous Flower of the Western World'; gave a full catalogue of her various charms; assured her she was fit to wear the scarf, which was a gem of its kind; stated that the flowers had been placed in her room by the orders of Hafiz, and ended by asking permission to call.
"The thing made me mad, but Alice sat down and laughed. Then I wanted her to dump the flowers out, but she refused. She said they were beautiful, and that she thought Hafiz was very considerate to repay her so beautifully for letting him see the scarf. I told her if she wanted flowers I'd go out and buy her a wagon-load, but she only laughed and said that would be a waste, when she had all she needed already; and that night she told me she was going to let Hafiz come to call. She thought it would be a great experience to talk about when we got home, I guess.
"The next day she sent him a note saying she would be glad to receive him, and sure enough that afternoon he came to our suite. I must admit that his manners at that time were charming. He spoke fairly good English, and conversed impartially with us all. He had evidently traveled widely and seen a great many parts of the world, and the first thing we knew he was telling us all about his various experiences in a way to hold us interested in spite of ourselves.
"After a time he mentioned the scarf. He fairly raved over that. He said it was one of the finest pieces of work of his native countrywomen that he had ever beheld. He apologized for his former apparent interest in us, by asserting that he had been so surprised to see a Western woman, plainly an American— he didn't say how he knew that—wearing a native scarf over her shoulders in an English hotel.
"He laughed and said he was, frankly, a crank on the subject, and that whenever he saw anything like the wistaria scarf his fingers itched until he had had a chance to examine it for himself. He explained that he had known he had acted rudely, and had desired to call in order that we might understand the reason for his acts.
"When a fellow comes at you like that, Mr. Dual, you can hardly hold a resentment, and after a bit I fancy his manner and evident sincerity had its effect, so that we all came to like him better than at first. Anyway, I know, when he asked us to drop in that evening for a cup of coffee, and a bit of oriental entertainment, I accepted with a real pleasure in anticipating the event.
"'I shall be please to give you one leetle peep into ze mannaire in which we of ze East pleasure ourselves,' he told us in giving the invitation, just as he was leaving; and we promised and went.
"There wasn't anything special happened that night. Hafiz gave us just what he had promised. There was some oriental music, and a dance by some of the men servants, and a lot of incense floating around. He had some coffee brewed for us, and it was certainly strong enough when it was finished. He even got Colonel Mac to try and smoke a water-pipe, and we all had a laugh at the figure he cut.
"On the whole it was a novel experience, and we enjoyed ourselves, and at the end Hafiz bowed us out, after asking Alice to come in the next day to look over a lot of silks and other embroideries which he said he had. Alice promised, and we arranged for me to take her to Hafiz's suite on the next afternoon, so that she could see the things.
"There was nothing at any time to arouse our suspicions that everything wasn't just as it ought to be. If I had but suspected, Mr. Dual, I'd have taken a gun with me the next day and filled that beggar full of holes."
For a moment he ceased speaking, and sat clenching and opening his fingers, as though he imagined they might grip the man he described. Then, seeing Semi's look of interest, he went on.
"Well, my acting like a kid won't help any now, though I would like to have Hafiz right here now. The next day about three o'clock I took Alice and we went to Hafiz's suite. We went in, and I remember that I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of his servants about. Still I never thought, for those chaps have their people lying around like a lot of house-dogs, and I fancied it was nothing out of the ordinary run of things.
"Hafiz came put bowing and smiling like a floor-walker, and when we were seated he clapped his hands and ordered some of his men to bring out the silks, and satins, and brocades, and all the rest. Then he and Alice fell to rummaging the things over, and talking about them while I sat and looked on. I guess they must have been most half an hour before they reached the last piece, and then Hafiz pulled the conversation around to art and literature. He said he had some very fine manuscripts and sketches, and what not, and asked me if I would step into another room with him and help him carry them out.
"Like a fool I went with him. I might have known something was wrong, because he could have had his servants bring the things out just as well; or have taken Alice and me to where they were. But as I tell you I had stopped suspecting the fellow of any wrong intentions, and so I got up and followed him into another room, and then on into still another one. Hafiz seemed to have some trouble finding the things he was after, and I guess maybe we were ten minutes in getting the stuff together.
"I say that now, but then he kept up such a running line of talk that it didn't seem long to me. After a bit though a black fellow stuck his head into the room, and Hafiz jabbered to him a minute, and then explained to me that the man had just heard us talking and looked in to see who it might be, as he thought Hafiz was out with us. All that seems strange to me now, but then I swallowed it innocently like all the rest.
"Hafiz gave me a bundle of things to carry, and took up one himself, and we went back to where we had left Alice. She wasn't there. Hafiz put down his bundle, and raised his eyebrows at me. 'I haf fancy zat madame was to wait, was it not?' he inquired as if he thought I knew where she was.
"'I thought so, too,' I said like a softhead. 'I wonder where she can be.'
"'Perhaps it is zat she haf stepped out for a moment,' suggested Hafiz. 'Voilà! Is it zat we shall sit us down and await her return?'
"Well, I didn't think anything could have happened, and his explanation seemed reasonable. I sat down and he offered me a cigarette. I accepted it and sat smoking and talking to him, and not worrying for a while, but Alice didn't come back. When my cigarette was pretty nearly smoked I began to wonder what could be keeping her, and I told Hafiz I believed that I would go and see where she was. He assented, and urged me to bring her back to finish looking at the things. Even then I never suspected that he could know anything of what had happened to her.
"I went back to our suite. Colonel Mac was asleep in his chair. I asked him about Alice, and he said she hadn't been back since she and I went to Hafiz's rooms. I began to feel funny and ran back to the Persian's quarters. I told him that my wife was not at our suite and had not been.
"'Where then can madame be?' he inquired.
"'I don't know,' I told him, 'but I'm going to find out.'
"'Perhaps it is zat madame haf gone on ze streets,' said Hafiz.
"'She wouldn't do that without telling me, and she didn't have on a hat,' I reminded the beggar. 'I left her here and I want to know where she is now.'
"'Is it zat monsieur suspects zat she is in my apartments?' said Hafiz with a fine show of anger.
"'I don't know. All I know is where I saw her last,' I yelled at him and started to push by him toward another room.
"'Monsieur does not need to become wat you call violent,' he had the nerve to remind me. 'Monsieur is at perfect liberty to entaire an' make ze search.'
"I took him at his word and just about tore that flat to pieces, and I never found a trace of a single thing. When I got done I was just about scared to death about Alice, and I ran out of Hafiz's place and went back to our suite and told Colonel Mac all that had occurred.
"We sent for the house-detectives and they went up and questioned Hafiz, but you could see that they felt that he was a well-known person and we strangers, so it didn't amount to much.
"Then we got in the police, gendarmes, or whatever they call 'em, and they got in some other detectives and they all jabbered to Hafiz, and finally one of them thought to ask Hafiz's men if any of them had seen Alice go away. One of them swore he had seen her leave Hafiz's suite and go down the corridor. Hafiz expressed great sorrow over the affair, and offered to do anything in his power, and the police seemed satisfied that he was acting in good faith. They searched his rooms, of course, but nothing was found.
"Hafiz insisted on remaining for several days longer than he said he had intended, to see if we would be able to find any trace of Alice; but finally he went away yesterday. He actually had the nerve to call and offer us his best wishes for luck in our search. I wanted the police to hold him till you came, but they said they had nothing to hold him for, and as his servant swore Alice left the suite of her own accord, they'd have to let him go.
"And that's all, Mr. Dual. What can we do? I must find Alice—I can't give her up—I just—can't."
Suddenly his voice broke utterly and he dropped his face in his hands.
"You—don't know—what this means—to me," he sobbed. "I've loved her—for years—and to lose her now—with me right there—oh, Mr. Dual—for God's sake, try and find Alice for me."
Dual rose and laid a hand on the boy's head, and his voice was sad and low when he spoke, yet it had confidence and encouragement in its tones.
"I will find her, Archie Parton," he said slowly. "Get control of yourself, my boy, and answer a question or two for me."
With an effort Parton ceased his sobbing and raised his head.
Semi resumed his seat. "Just how was your wife dressed the day she disappeared?" he asked.
"She was wearing a sort of light cloth gown," replied Parton, "and she had the scarf with her, when we went to Hafiz's rooms. She looked beautiful."
"Any jewelry or ornaments?" continued Dual.
"She had on a string of pink coral beads and her wedding and engagement rings."
"Not that I remember, Mr. Dual."
"You heard nothing—no sounds—no cry—no struggle?" said Dual.
"When you and Hafiz returned to the room where she had waited for you, there was nothing to indicate that there had been a struggle?"
"Not a thing. I'm sure I would have noticed that."
Dual nodded his head. "Parton," he said, "I know this Ibrahim more or less well. In fact we know each other by sight. If I should admit such a thing, I would say that he is an enemy of mine, at least, of my house. Few know it, but I, too, am part Persian. This man is one of the sort who make me ashamed of my race. He is a polished rogue. He will stop at nothing to gratify a whim of his selfish nature. Do you know where he went when he left the hotel yesterday?"
"He said he was going home," said Archie. "He said he was going to stop in Constantinople for a while on the way."
Dual smiled grimly.
"He probably lied," he remarked. "However, I fancy I will find a way to run the scoundrel to earth when I begin to try."
This practically ended the conversation. We berthed at Havre, and went ashore. At the customs we were detained but a few moments, and caught the first train out for Paris, where we went directly to the Champs Elysées Palace.
Things began to happen shortly after Sheldon handed Dual the key to the Hafiz apartments.
SEMI DUAL paused before the door of Hafiz's suite in the Champs Elysees Palace, and spoke to me.
"I am going to take you in with me," he said, "because I know you can hold your tongue. I left Parton and Sheldon in their rooms for fear they would not. After we get inside I do not want you to say a word until I speak to you. I want nothing to disturb the vibration of the room's atmosphere until I shall have had a chance to read it, and understand what it may have for me. That is why I had the rooms locked up as soon as Hafiz had left; I wanted his thoughts to be the last things thrown into the place. Thoughts are really things, Gordon, and live until they are received by some other brain. One who knows how can read them long after they are born. Now, if you understand me, suppose we go in."
He turned the key in the lock and we entered the suite.
Dual crossed to a low divan and laid himself at full length upon it. I slid softly into a chair. Semi raised a hand in caution, and seeing that I caught the motion, closed his eyes.
Such was his beginning at ferreting out the mystery of how Alice Parton had disappeared. For minutes I sat and watched him as he lay passive. Not a line of his features moved, not a muscle of his body quivered. The only sign of life was the slow rise and fall of his chest, in a measured breathing. A sense of wonder, of almost superstitious awe, crept over me as I sat.
A vision of other detectives whom I had seen at work came over me. I could see them as they would be now, running all over the place, peeking under tables, chairs and couches, examining floors and window-sills, making a great show of activity; then talking in words of veiled meaning, while inwardly wondering what to do next. My eyes came back to Dual stretched in apparent slumber, and after a bit I found that I was trembling with a species of nervousness.
Was he really reading some subtle message, which was totally unperceived, totally unperceivable, to me?
Almost as if in answer to the thought Dual moved, lifted himself up, and reached into the pocket of his coat. He produced a small electric flash-light, and leaving the divan got down upon the floor, and peered beneath the divan itself, throwing the ray of the light far back into the dusky corners, as if he sought for something he expected to find.
I made no movement, uttered no sound; just sat and watched the man as he swept the pencil of light back and forth over the shadowed floor. Presently he changed the search-light to his other hand; stooped still farther until he well-nigh lay upon the floor, and reaching back under the divan, brought out something in his hand.
He rose and held what he had discovered in his hand as he got up, and I saw that it was a strand of some ten or twelve coral beads, threaded upon a broken string.
Semi eyed the thing closely; then put his torch away, and clasped the strand of beads tightly between both palms. Holding them so he stood and gazed at his clasped hands for a long minute. Then he raised them and pressed them to his forehead, and turning, threw the beads to me.
"Keep them, Gordon," he told me, and walked out through a door which opened into the room.
I rose and followed him through the door which gave access to another room, and across that into still another apartment. I now found myself in a room which opened upon a balcony, projecting from the side of the building, and overhanging a sort of small court.
Here Dual paused, while his eyes swept the entire room. Close by the long windows which gave upon the balcony was another couch of Spanish leather, tufted and padded to an exquisite softness of appearance. After a moment, Dual, apparently oblivious of my presence, crossed to this and began to pull back the individual tufts of the leather peering intently into the folds.
A few minutes passed, as he pulled and tugged at the leather; then he was rewarded, for his fingers darted downward quickly and came back, holding still another coral bead. He nodded in satisfaction, and turned again to me.
"The trail begins here," he said.
"You think she was in this room after she was kidnaped or abducted, or whatever it was?"
"Abducted is the better word," said Dual. "Yes, she was here. She was overpowered in the other room. She struggled, but it was a silent struggle. Believe me, Gordon, these countrymen of mine know how to do things without noise, and Mrs. Parton was small. However, she struggled, and in the moment it took to overpower her, her string of beads was broken, and no doubt the few I found rolled under the divan, and were not found. You remember Parton said Hafiz had a good many men here that day. They were here for a purpose. No doubt they picked up the beads and straightened the room before Hafiz and Parton returned and found Mrs. Parton gone. The black who looked into the room where Hafiz and Parton were, probably told Hafiz that the coast was clear. Meanwhile they had carried her in here and probably laid her down on this couch, while arranging to get her out. I suspect she was actually lying here while Hafiz and Parton sat smoking and waiting for her return."
"Good Heavens, Dual!"
Semi smiled. "In fact I am sure she was laid here, for you saw me find the bead, and if you will look at the wall back of the couch, you will notice the impression of the heel of a boot, such as Western women wear. It is, furthermore, a fresh mark smudged into the slight soil of the paper, as if the person in her struggles might have struck the wall forcibly with her heel. If you look still more closely you can even see the imprint of the nails of the heel, so that the shoes which made it must have been worn for some little time. Also, it was never made by any footwear such as Oriental house-servants affect, and it is too small for anything other than that of a woman or a child."
"Granting that what you say is true, how did they ever get her out? Parton says he came back here immediately and made search, and failing to find her had the detectives connected with the hotel up at once."
"You overlook the fact that between searching himself, in an overwrought condition, which would prevent his being thorough, he went back and told Sheldon all about it before calling the detectives in," said Dual. "Also, I do not see that they necessarily took her out of the apartment at once."
"You mean that she may have been here all this time? Then what about the search made by the officers? I'm willing to admit that Parton might have been fooled."
"To look for a thing and to find it, are separate actions," said Semi Dual concisely. "To find the thing, one must look where it is."
"The searchers failed to look in the right place."
"And you think she was here at that time?"
"She must have been. That much is clear, surely," said Dual. "It was daylight when she disappeared, and they had no opportunity to get her out without being seen by any number of persons, you must admit."
He rose and passed out of the windows and stood on the balcony, wrapped in thought. Once or twice he raised his fingers and pressed them to his temples, and after a few moments he knelt down on the balcony floor, and began going over it, bit by bit. Now and then he nodded to himself, and, as if sure of what he were doing, redoubled the care of his search. Presently he raised his head, and beckoned me to approach. I went out and bent down beside him. Semi Dual pointed to the balcony's floor.
I looked and saw that it was fashioned of several strips of metal, soldered together and painted. At the outer edge, near the rail, one of these strips had sprung loose from the soldering, and curled upward slightly, presenting a ragged edge. It was to this that Dual was pointing. I know at the time I thought whimsically that he was like a bird-dog, on a dead point, and even as I followed his directing finger, I wondered what I was going to see about that bit of ragged metal, which could have any bearing on the whereabouts of the woman we sought.
But as my eyes followed the serrated edge of the loosened plate, I caught my breath in a sort of gasp. There, held by the jagged points of the upending edge, was a tiny thread of yellow silk. That was all.
Dual smiled at the question in my eyes, and picked the yellow thread away. Then he got up and sauntered back into the room.
"That looks like Mrs. Parton's hiding-place to me," he said in his way of easy smoothness. "Suppose you ask our friends to come on in here now."
I went for Sheldon and Archie, and told them Dual wanted them at once. They came on the instant, Archie pale and silent, Sheldon bubbling over with questions which I didn't either have a chance or the inclination to answer just then. Dual bade them sit down and plunged at once into an interrogation of Archie.
"When you searched these rooms on the day your wife was abducted, Mr. Parton," he began, "did you look on the balcony which opens into the second room beyond this?"
"Of course," said Parton. "I looked out there, but there was no sign of her at all."
"Did you, perhaps, go out on to the balcony?"
"Why, no," responded Archie. "I could see the whole thing from the windows, and Alice wasn't there."
Semi Dual smiled at me.
"My countrymen have a sort of habit of draping balconies and alcove windows and such, with rugs and such things, Mr. Parton. Did you by any chance notice if there were any rugs hanging over the railing of that balcony that afternoon?"
I saw it in a moment, and waited almost breathless for Parton's reply.
"Yes," he answered slowly, like one trying to be sure of a half-remembered thing; "I think so. I am sure when I think of it that there was a large brownish—no—between a brown and a tan colored rug thrown over the rail when I looked out there. Why?"
"Because," said Dual rising, "your wife was lying behind that rug, Mr. Parton. I have a reason for what I say."
"My God!" cried the boy hoarsely. "I was within touch of her then and never knew."
"Exactly," said Semi. "It was a well-thought out place of concealment. Probably Hafiz had had the balcony draped like. that all during his stay here. The hotel authorities and the gendarmes of this section would think nothing of the rug hanging there, and the shape of the balcony railing lent itself to the scheme. Hafiz was shrewd. He hid your wife well-nigh in full sight, and you all missed the spot. Even the color of the rug lent itself to the deception of your eyes. It was like Hafiz to do that. Come with me and I will show you how it was done."
We went out to the balcony and Semi Dual pointed to the rail. It was of a scroll pattern.
"See," he said, calling our attention to the shape; "each bar of the rail is of the shape almost of an 'S.' That leaves quite a little space at the floor, as you will notice, and it would be easy to roll a bound body into such a space, and drop the rug over it, and yet have the rug fall in natural folds to the floor. Parton says it was a large rug. The other end would fall below the floor on the outside and hide the body from the street. Beside the possibility, however, I found a bit of the scarf I gave your wife, Mr. Parton, stuck fast to a jagged bit of the flooring right here."
He indicated the spot where he had found the yellow thread.
He turned back into the room. "Our Hafiz is a fox," said he; "a nice little thieving Persian fox. Presumably, having done his stealing, he will go home for his burrow to feed at his will. It remains, therefore, to get passports for Germany and Russia for the four of us and arrange for transportation—that is," turning to Parton and Sheldon, "if you intend coming along?"
"You can bet your last chip we're going along," shouted Colonel Sheldon, fidgeting in his excitement. "Hafiz may be a fox, but I'm a fox-hunter from this minute to the finish, Dual, you bet."
"Suppose, then," said Dual, "that you ask the management to arrange for us to leave as soon as possible, and take passage for us as far as Baku. I shall allow you to go that far toward the scene of trouble. From there Glace and I will go on alone."
"You will like thunder!" bellowed the colonel. "D'you think I'm goin' to be sittin' around waitin' for somebody else to see this through, Dual?"
"You are going to get those tickets, and do anything else I direct you to do," said Dual slowly. "You and Mr. Parton are going to Baku. After that you would only be in the way. From Baku we must move with the greatest secrecy. We can't hunt Hafiz with a brass band."
For fully a minute Sheldon said nothing, while a slow flush crept into his face. Then he cleared his throat.
"All right, perfesser," he said, with an attempt to turn the matter off, "I'll do what you say. Baku, you said, wasn't it? though the Lord knows where that may be! But I want to tell you this, Mr. Dual: You're not a father, an' you ain't lost no girl, so I reckon you can't appreciate how an old man like me feels right about now."
"But I can sympathize," said Dual quickly. "That, Colonel Sheldon, is why I am here."
"An' I guess you're right," acquiesced the colonel. "Go on and tell me what to do, Dual. Shouldn't we tell the police what you've found out?"
"Tell them by all means," said Semi; "but if Hafiz is Hafiz, he will not be caught."
"Well they might find out what train he took, don't you think?"
"Of what use would that be?" Semi questioned. "We know where his burrow is. He will take to earth at last. However, I shall see to it that Paris is ransacked while we are away. Archie," to Parton, "telephone for a taxicab."
While Parton was complying, Semi asked Sheldon and Parton to meet him in the morning at the American consulate to attend to the passports. Then he dismissed them and, taking me with him, went down to the taxi and set out for the office of Grimaud, head of the detective bureau, where he was soon closeted with the chief.
When he came out he met me with a smile.
"I have learned two things of interest," he said, as we went back to the cab. "First, on the evening of the day Mrs. Parton disappeared, the gendarme on duty near, the hotel reports that he saw two men carrying a rolled-up rug. He questioned them, and they told him in broken French that it had fallen from Hafiz's balcony and they were taking it back. Secondly, that same night Hafiz's special car was attached to the train which went east, yet we know Hafiz remained at the hotel till yesterday. Though I cannot prove it, I surmise that the rolled up rug went along, and that it was rolled about the figure of the girl. In view of all which I think I shall go to the hotel and get our traveling companions, rout up your counsel, and try to catch the same train ourselves." He leaned forward and urged the driver to greater speed.
From that time on my recollection of the night is of short frenzied rushes hither and yon about the night streets of the city; of sleepy and half-angry officials scowling over papers; of an arguing and gabbling of polyglot tongues.
We routed Archie and Sheldon out of the palace, and went to the American consulate. Together with our yawning countrymen and the police authorities, whom Dual had already enlisted, we got our passports arranged for somehow, after heartbreaking endeavor, while the clock ticked the minutes away. Through it all Dual dominated the situation, urging his point at every turn, hurrying official routine into unaccustomed channels of speed, arguing, protesting, commanding, until at length he had his way, while I marveled at the man.
Then again a frantic clash back to our hotel, and a frenzied flinging of apparel into traveling cases, a procuring of our tickets from the management, another swift dash for a depot, a frantic argumentation and gesticulation over a change of transportation to an earlier train than our billets called for; a dash, down a platform to a string of coaches; a ringing of bells and a tooting of horns and a bawling of orders; then the slow tremble of motion and a gliding away of the lights of the depot.
Even Dual heaved a sigh of relief and laughed as he threw himself on a seat.
"Yoiks! Gone away!" he said, as he stretched out his limbs. "We are on the trail of the fox at last."
FROM that time on the journey seems to me, at this time, like a sort of weird nightmare of haste, of swaying, dimly lighted wagon-lits, a pounding of wheels, and the occasional shriek of a whistle, mixed and blended with a jumble of different languages, which ever changed and varied as we fled east, and farther east.
The sibilant whispering French gave way to the grumbling gutturals of the German. Bearded or fiercely mustached faces peered into our compartments, inquiring for our passports. Then the swift rush forward again.
Morning came and brought the checkerboard farms of Germany, its hamlets and towns, where the platforms of the stations swarmed with a ruddy-faced population, totally unlike the people whom we had just left. From time to time Dual left us and it seemed to me that he was trying to learn something of the man we pursued by a discreet questioning of the guards.
Now and then I saw money change hands. Once, when we were in eastern Germany, he came back smiling and told me he had definite information that Hafiz's private car and some of his servants had passed that way.
So we fled onward, each of us thinking his own thoughts; the colonel volubly enthusiastic about running Hafiz down; Parton white-faced and silent; Dual cheerful, confident, smiling, and working to pick up information; I waiting for orders and wondering where it was all going to end, and if we should ever pass this way again.
Russia came with a gruff demand for our papers, a close scrutiny, and a final viseing. We crossed the frontier and rushed on toward Moscow, where we would make a change of trains. Dual smiled as he gazed from the window at the flat sweep of the landscape.
"Here," said he, "Europe's Man of Destiny saw his star begin to wane. Russia began for Napoleon what England and Germany finished, and winter and these broad plains fought for Russia as nothing else could."
Moscow! Dual did not tarry, but rushed us along. We left our train and took passage over the South Russian railway. Moscow fell away behind. Down and down the map we fled southward across the broad steppes of southern Russia, where the verst-posts whirled by and reeled backward each with its carefully piled and whitewashed cairn of stones about its base.
One heard nothing now save the guttural cough and sneeze of the Russian language. The coaches filled with bearded men, who smoked incessantly their little long, thin cigarettes. At several stations Cossacks, in their queer caps and coats, boarded the train.
So fled the days and nights and brought us finally to Rostov and the broad flood of the Don, across which we crawled; then up and up around the shoulder of the Caucasus Mountains, while the valley of the Don fell lower and lower and the clouds came closer; and the long, coasting slide back into the stretches of the Transcaucasus to Jorat, with its blending of the Occident and the Orient, where Western coats rub shoulders with the flowing garments of the mysterious East; with its blending of tongues and faces; its quaint, old-world glamour, and its smells. Then on and on over the Central Asian Railway, south and east toward the Caspian Sea, on and on by long, clanking trains of oil-cars, on and on to Baku; where the black oil pours unceasingly from the earth, and at last the end of the railway.
As we stopped in the station at Baku, Dual gathered up his cases and turned to Parton and Sheldon before leaving the train.
"I would advise you to hunt up some good, quiet hotel and take quarters indefinitely there," he remarked. "From now on Glace and I shall not appear to be connected with you in any way. Furthermore, I would not go about any more than I could help. There are, to the best of my present knowledge, several American families living here whom you might look up. Report yourself to the Russian police as soon as you can find a stopping place, and leave your address at headquarters for me. Now I think we had better say good-by. When we leave the train go your way as if you had never seen me before."
He put out his hand and shook hands with each of the men in turn.
"Letting you go off this way on a risky business, which don't concern nobody but me an' mine, sure don't make a hit with me, Mr. Dual," said Colonel Mac. "Hain't there no way in which you could fix it so I could go along anyway? I'm a tough old cock an' I've roughed it all my life, so you don't need to worry none about my not bein' able to stand the gaff. When I think of Allie alone with that smoked herring I feel as if I want to sit up and yell. Gad, sir, if I have to sit around this oil-camp and cool my heels I'll go bughouse in a week. I want action the worst way, Mr. Dual."
Dual shook his head.
"Colonel Sheldon," he said slowly and firmly, "while I realize that I am assigning you to a difficult part, I am doing it for the best. Sometimes I have doubted the wisdom of bringing you even this far. But for my respect for a father's feelings I would have left you in Paris some days ago. We are now in the country of the man we seek. Criminal though he is, he has people like himself, who will warn him of anything which appears like a pursuit to them. We have to hunt from a blind from, now on. Should you meet me to-morrow you, yourself, would not recognize me, my friend. You say this case concerns you alone. You are wrong; it concerns every true man who desires to benefit the race, who frowns down on the degradation of woman by such men as Hafiz Ibrahim and his ilk. Primarily, I am acting as your friend; but over and aside from that, I am acting as an agent of justice, and a protector of innocent womanhood."
Sheldon seized his hand and wrung it. "You're one white man, Mr. Dual," he cried. "You can bet your last sou marquee that there won't be a minute of the day or the night when me and Arch won't be thinkin' of you two. Well, I suppose we better be gettin' along."
"And," said Dual, "when you think of us, think of us as succeeding in our mission. The instinctive thought and wish of a brave heart is one of the strongest things in all God's universe."
A guard came up and opened the door of our carriage and peered in. Dual turned and told him shortly that he had dropped something and had been searching for it, and the man passed on, but Semi shook his head.
"They keep a close watch on you around here," he remarked in a pointed manner. "Let that serve to show you, colonel, and you, too, Mr. Parton, that the Great Bear is never asleep. Be careful of what you do until I return."
We left the train and passed out of the station. Semi Dual never glanced in the direction of our two friends after leaving the railway coach. He called a porter, several of whom were lounging about the depot, and gave him our bags, which he shouldered and set off with at a swinging, shuffling gait, that took him over the ground at a surprising rate of speed.
Dual and I followed, and here I met my first surprise. Instead of making for the European part of the city, our bearer led us quickly toward what was, to even my uninitiated eye, the native quarter. We finally turned in at the gate of a sort of courtyard, where donkeys, horses, men, women, and children mingled in a gesticulating, jabbering, jostling crowd, through which slunk and crawled uncountable dogs.
Semi Dual laughed lightly, as he pushed through the mob with myself upon his heels.
"I sometimes wonder what makes the Eastern peoples prefer incense to water," he flung to me over his shoulder. "How does it seem to your Occidental nose?"
"Beyond description," I replied, grinning, and Semi Dual laughed yet again.
Our porter took us to a near-by doorway, where squatted an old man. He was brown and wrinkled and had a white beard. Two bright, beady eyes shone out of his skull, predicating anything but an old mind, if I was any judge.
Him Dual addressed in a few words of what I took to be Persian, for after a first glance of surprise, the old fellow replied in the same language, to judge by sound, rose, and guided us down a dark passage to the door of a room, which he threw open that we might enter. At a word from Dual he followed us in.
Again Dual spoke to him, and suddenly the man bent his back in a most profound bow, his hands spread wide. He came close to Dual and gazed full into his face, while a dry smile creased his cheeks. Then he laid his palm upon his forehead, and salaamed again.
Dual beckoned him closer, laid a hand upon his shoulder, and spoke low words into his ear. The man nodded in comprehension, and, turning, left the room, after closing the door carefully as he went out.
I looked about the room. It was practically bare. There was a sort of pallet of straw in one corner, and a couple of peculiar stools. That was all. Semi Dual dropped upon one of the stools. I started to seat myself upon the pallet, by preference, but Dual waved me away with one of his whimsical smiles.
"From my knowledge of Eastern caravansaries, friend Gordon," he said lightly, "I would suggest the stool. That bed may not be as unoccupied as it appears."
I grinned appreciatively and took the tip, also the stool, and sat down. Dual continued speaking, as I seated myself, and I began to get an idea of what would be our position in the days to come.
"As soon as Ali returns," said my companion, "I shall become again a native Persian, which after all I really am. You, Glace, will become an actor in the role of my personal attendant. Ali has gone to get us our make-up and when he returns you will enter immediately upon your part. In view of the fact that you do not speak the language, I suggest that you assume the role of a dumb man. You may maintain your hearing if you wish, but do not try to speak when others are around.
"As we travel southward from here I shall endeavor to teach you such simple phrases as will enable you to understand my spoken commands and directions, and I will ask you to remember at all times that anything I may do or say to you in the future will be things dictated by necessity. No matter what may happen, keep that in mind and act from that hypothesis.
"We are going directly to Teheran, where Hafiz has a palace, and where I may as well tell you now my ancestral home is located, and is still kept up by an old servant whom I left in charge a good many years ago. If he has been true to his trust we should be able to slip into the house and work from its cover, without Hafiz even being aware that I am in the East at all. Now, with this explanation, suppose I give you some instruction in the Persian tongue."
For upward of an hour I listened and parroted Persian. Dual seemed pleased at the progress which I made, and presently gave over his teaching, saying that I had enough to remember for the time.
Shortly afterward the old innkeeper returned with several bundles, which he deposited on the floor. Then, after salaaming deeply once more, he took some money from Dual and withdrew from the room.
Dual opened the bundles and spread their contents out. From one of his cases he drew a large bottle and sponge, and, turning to me, ordered me briefly to remove all my clothes. I complied in silence, and when I was stripped to the skin, Dual set to work sponging a dark fluid which he took from the bottle over my face, body, and limbs. Under his rapid working, my skin quickly took on a light brownish hue, which he deepened on face and hands by applying a second coat of the stain.
My hair was naturally brown and straight. Dual made it black by recourse to the contents of a second bottle, which he took from his case. When he had finished, I am sure if I hadn't known what had been done I wouldn't have recognized myself.
Dual laughed softly and put his bottles away. "It will last for three weeks if not sooner removed by a reagent," he assured me. "Now, suppose we put some clothes on you, and make you into an attendant."
He selected several of the garments from the pile on the floor, and assisted me in getting into the same, finally rolling me a turban, with a few deft turns, and handing me a small traveling mirror. As he finished tricking me out, I looked into the glass and beheld a dark-skinned, turban-crowned face, which grinned at me in half consternation, half amused derision. I gave Dual the mirror, and awkwardly attempted a salaam, nearly losing my turban in the act.
"Fair for a novice," grinned Semi, and set to work donning his own new attire. "When you have added some few days' dirt and grime to your newly-varnished features, and get your raiment smudged and travel-stained and have forgotten to wash your hands for a week, you'll quite look the part," he affirmed.
I grunted. "May one smoke?" I wanted to know.
"By all means," said Semi. "And while you are getting your tobacco you might as well put that automatic gun of yours into your sash. We shall soon be in a country where every man is still pretty much his own law."
I did as he suggested, then made a cigarette and sat puffing while Dual finished his dressing. At the last he surprised me by fastening his turban with a magnificent jewel, the filigree setting of which held an egret plume; whirling upon me and standing with folded arms and a scowl upon his face.
"Shades of Xerxes!" I cried, taking my cigarette out of my mouth. "What picture-book did you crawl out of? Say, Semi, can the fierce looks and tell me where you got that ruby; it's a peach."
Dual stamped a foot in seeming anger, subsided upon the stool, and grinned.
"As a body-servant, you are slightly too occidental," he said, smiling. "The jewel is a family heirloom, and would cause much veneration among certain people whom I know. I have put it on because it marks me for what I desire to seem—a Persian of the blood royal."
"You look the part," I muttered, with a shake of my head. "Are you going to scowl and stamp your tootsie at me as we go south?"
"If you don't act your part better I may cut off your head," said Semi Dual.
I patted my sash.
"Not while I've got the little gun," I reminded, and Dual laughed.
"Well, suppose you accompany your master into the busy marts of trade."
He rose and pushed the door open.
Hard on his heels I followed into the crowded courtyard, past the salaaming Selim, and saw the immediate sensation which his appearance created among the swarming life of the place. A hush fell where we walked, a pathway opened before us, and passing out into the narrow street, turned off toward what I later saw was the Caspian water-front.
Dogging Dual's heels, I found him presently in earnest bickering with the captain of an oil steamer, during which conversation from time to time I heard the word "Resht," and presently some money changed hands. I imagined that Dual had engaged passage for us on the outgoing vessel, and my surmise proved to be correct, for, after turning away from the docks, Semi spoke to me over his shoulder, while keeping his head turned straight to the front.
"We go south on that boat to Resht this evening," he informed me. "Now I am going to the headquarters of the local police."
For this purpose he hailed a public conveyance and had us driven to the station, where he entered into a long conversation in Russian with the official in charge. Meanwhile I sat, kicking my legs and twiddling my toes. Presently Dual called me to where he and the police officer were talking, and introduced me to the man. The officer turned toward me and surprised me by speaking in English.
"Are you Mistaire Glace?" he demanded, with an official frown.
"I am," I answered, on the nod.
"You are really seeking a kidnaped gurl?"
"That is correct."
"Mr. Dual is correct in stating that this woman's parent and husband are now in Baku, Mr. Glace?"
"Colonel Sheldon and Mr. Archibald Parton, officer."
"So," said the man. "This Mistaire Sheldon haf called upon me. I haf recommend them to one hotel. They can be reach at any time, through me. So, that is well."
"That is all right," said Dual. "Now we leave for Teheran to-night, going by boat to Resht, then overland from there. Probably you would know if Prince Hafiz Ibrahim has passed through here recently? He would most likely be in disguise."
"Is it then that Hafiz has the gurl?" questioned the man.
"That is what I believe," Dual replied.
"He has already stolen at one time a woman of my country," said the official. "You may well have right. Wait, I shall write you a line to Colonel Kahrloff, at Teheran, in case you should need help. Also you will, of course, see your own consul there."
"Of course," said Dual. "However, I should appreciate the note to the colonel. Rumor states that our consul has little influence at that place."
Some moments later we left the station, and set out for the caravansary again.
"Luck is with us," said Dual, when we were again in our room. "Our friend at the station didn't reply in words to my question about Hafiz, but I looked in his eyes and I saw. He started to answer, said more about the Russian woman than any Russian policeman is ever expected to say and froze up. But he knew, and I read it from him, that Hafiz has passed this way. As I suspected, his alleged stopping at Constantinople was merely a clumsy lie. Suppose we eat." He went to the door and opened it.
"Go to the end of the passage, clap your hands to Selim, and point to your mouth, as though eating. You may as well begin your part now," said he.
I passed out and found Selim, and carried out the pantomime. He nodded, and I went back to the room. Some time afterward Selim himself brought in a sort of platter of stewed goat, a loaf of hard bread, and a bottle of some light wine. We sat down on the stools with the food between us and ate. I confess I didn't eat much, and Dual noticed it.
"I could have spared you this a day longer," he said half in apology, "but it is what we will get on the trip to Teheran, and you had better get used to it, Glace."
I nodded, and choken down the mouthful I had been trying to chew, in the hope that my stomach would dispose of it in some manner and derive good of it in the process. All the time my mind was back home, and I was wishing it were time to go home and I was stopping at Shinn's place for a sandwich and a cup of coffee.
Night found us on the boat. The next day we made Resht. Semi Dual engaged horses for our journey to Teheran, some hundred and fifty miles further south and east. It was while we were arranging for the horses that Semi again found the trail of the fox. He told me about it afterward, with his grim smile.
"Our friend the horse dealer tells me," he said, "that a man answering the general description of our friend Hafiz bought some horses from him yesterday. We are running the fox to earth."
I AM not going to try to describe that ride of one hundred and fifty odd miles from Resht. To me it is still indescribable. A Persian saddle resembles nothing so much as a packing case with the sides knocked off and the ends left on—and I had not been on a horse for years. Tricked out in gaudy garments I imagine I looked like a monkey in a circus. I felt even worse than that.
With Dual it was different. The man was a constant source of amazed lack of understanding to me. To my personal knowledge he had been leading the life of a recluse and scholar for years; yet now, back in the land of his fathers, he would eat a handful of dates, slip a couple of the seeds under his tongue to promote the flow of saliva, get on his horse, and ride all day at a killing gait, apparently not turning a hair.
Our horses were good ones, and the first day out of Resht we made fifty miles. I am sure we could have gone farther had not Dual held back out of pity for me.
Dual insisted upon my taking the first sleep that night. I protested against his sitting up to keep a watch, but he waved me away with a smile.
"In Persia one watches at night, Gordon," he said with finality, and sat down near the horses, while I stretched out on the warm earth and dropped to sleep as though shot.
Hours after he aroused me from my deep sleep, and lay down in his turn, while I kept the vigil he had maintained. Nothing happened as the night dragged away. I ached in every bone arid muscle, and walked about a bit to try and shake off the cramp. Aside from the champ of the horses, there was no sound.
I looked up at the stars, very clear and bright, and wondered if they were looking down on home as they were here, and realized that they probably were not. I thought of Connie Baird and wondered what she would think if she could see me now, and then I wondered if she were thinking of me. Then my thoughts went to Alice Parton, and wondered what she was doing, and where she really might be, and if the fox Hafiz had reached Teheran as yet. With that thought came an inward urge to go on despite the physical discomfort. A woman's happiness and welfare depended upon our speed—a good woman's, too. I turned toward Dual to urge him to get up and go on; then I turned back and looked at the east. Would daylight never come? Would the east never grow gray?
But it came at last, and I roused Dual. We ate some bread and dates, had a drink of water, and rode on to the south and east. Late that day we came upon the trail of another party going in the same direction, and camped for the night some forty miles out of Teheran, according to Semi Dual.
The next day was a repetition of the others, save that we went forward more slowly, and that I was growing more used to riding, and so did not find the work so hard. Dual told me that we were going to enter the city at nightfall, however, and so held back our pace.
Late in the afternoon he pointed before us from a little rise in the road, and I beheld the white walls, squat buildings, and pointed minarets of a town.
"Teheran!" said Semi Dual.
Dusk fell, and Dual pressed onward at a good speed now, but when quite near to the city he turned off to the side and began skirting around the town.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"To mine ancestral mansion," said Dual lightly. "It lies outside the older portion of the town."
I followed his lead, as he swung in circuitous fashion about the more thickly settled districts, threading his way always in one general direction, and finally he paused before a gate, let into a vine-grown wall.
From the top of the arch of the gate there hung a bell, or gong, of what, in the dark, I took to be bronze. Sitting on his horse, Semi Dual drew a jeweled dagger, which he wore at his waist, and with the hilt struck three times upon the gong.
The mellow echoes took up the sound and quivered and died on the night. Once more Dual struck three times in measured cadence upon the gong, and when again the tones had died, he struck again, a single blow.
Then he put away the dagger, and sat waiting the answer to the summons he had struck.
Rising in my stirrups, I could see over the top of the wall the dim outline of trees, and the odor of vegetation and the coolness of their life, and of wet earth, came to my nostrils where I sat. By and by I caught the twinkle of a moving light through the grating of the gateway, and saw that it was coming slowly our way.
Semi Dual saw it, too, as evidenced by the fact that he gave no more alarms, yet he said no word to me. Afterward he told me all that was said at the first meeting with his old retainer, which at the time, I could not understand. For the sake of the reader's understanding I shall give the translation of what was actually said, as nearly as possible as Dual told it to me.
The light came nearer and nearer, and was finally deposited upon the ground just inside the gate. Next a bearded face of a very old man was thrust against the bars, as the man peered out at us from under bushy white eyebrows, striving to recognize whom we might be.
Then came his quavering voice, asking who rang at his master's gate at night, striking seven times. Dual replied:
"It is I, O Musab Ben Musik. It is I, Abdul, the son of Abdul, who seeks admission to his father's house, of whom thou art the appointed guardian. Who else should know of the seven rings, fool that thou art? Open, then, and admit thy master, and stand no longer gaping as though thou hadst seen a spirit. Hasten, I say!"
"Is it really thou, O Abdul, son of Abdul?" quavered the old man, beginning to tremble.
"And thou openest not the gate, I shall of a surety show thee that I have not forgotten how to command obedience," cried Dual. "Open, then, dog, and keep me no longer waiting here."
The old retainer evidently was satisfied that it was really his master, for after a period of fumbling he unfastened the gate. We rode through and up a path under the trees until we came out into an open paved space before a flight of stairs leading up to the house itself.
Here Dual swung from his horse and I followed suit. Then Semi turned the animals over to the man.
"See that they have water and food, Musab Ben," he commanded; "and when thou hast finished, come to me. See that thou tellest no one that I have returned. Go."
The old man led away the horses, and Semi Dual turned and began to climb the stairs. I followed, and at the top he produced the little electric torch he had used in Paris, and pushing open a door, led me into the house, where all was dark.
Using the tiny flare of the torch, Semi guided me down what was palpably a passage, paved with tiling, to judge by the feel of the floor under my feet, and finally turned off into a side room. Though it had been years since he trod that way, he seemed perfectly at home, for, telling me to wait, he crossed to the nearest wall. A match sputtered, and a moment after a candle flared from a sconce, giving a dim illumination to the room. One after another Dual lighted the candles about the apartment, and presently came back to me.
"Welcome to the palace of Abdul," he said, smiling. "Here, if you wish, you may gain the power of speech."
But the place itself had well-nigh rendered me speechless, and asking Dual's forbearance, I continued to gaze about the room. It was a large apartment, the floor of which was tiled in a most intricate pattern. Its walls were high and pillared and raftered, covered with rich frescoes and hung with priceless tapestries.
The rafters of the ceiling were gilded and covered with what I supposed were Persian inscriptions. Rugs of fur and beautiful work of the looms were scattered about the floor. Teakwood chairs, tabourets, and couches furnished the apartment. I dropped upon a chair and gazed and gazed. Presently I sighed and looked at Dual to see him smiling at my evident delight.
"Now," said I, "I know you are a veritable jinnee, and this is a magic palace which you have conjured up."
"It is my ancestral home," said Dual. "You shall look it over at your pleasure during the days we shall remain here. You will enjoy it, I think."
The old man came back, and bowed before Semi Dual.
"Thy horses are attended to, O master," he said.
"Then," said Dual, "suppose you attend to the master as well. I would have food."
"Master," said Musab, "I hear and obey."
He turned and shuffled out of the room, to return presently with an immense silver ewer, a pitcher of water, and a towel of damask. With these he approached Dual and knelt, poured water into the ewer, and held it up, with averted head.
Dual washed and dried his hands, then motioned the old man to me.
"Musab," said he, "this man is my friend and companion. In semblance he is a servant; in this house he's as my equal. Serve thou him, even as me, under my displeasure. Remember this, Musab Ben."
Musab made no reply, but approached me with the ewer, and I in turn performed my ablutions. Then he rose and withdrew once more.
When he returned he brought in a low teakwood table, placed it before Semi Dual and myself, and laid a beautifully drawn piece of damask upon its top. Departing again, he returned with some cakes, a cold fowl, and some sweetmeats, which he set before us, together with some silver cups containing a light wine.
When he had finished he salaamed and turned to leave the room. Dual halted him by a clap of the hands.
"O Musab Ben Musik, thou hast a daughter. This it seemeth to me were formerly her duty. Why is it that Mousin no longer renders attendance to her master? Speak."
For a moment Musab seemed undecided just what to do, and shifted uneasily upon his feet without making any reply. He was as one caught in an indiscretion, without any excuse thought up. Dual watched him out of narrowed eyes.
"Well," he said at length. "Well, Musab, why dost thou stand like a rooster on a hot stone? Speak!"
"Mousin is at present in the city, O Abdul, son of Abdul; therefore she is not here to serve her master, which will no doubt give her great grief."
"And what does Mousin in the city?" said Dual. "Speak truly, O Musab, and remember that I see thy thoughts as a man sees the pebbles in a clear pool."
The old man began to tremble, and licked his bearded lips with his tongue before he made reply.
"Mousin, my daughter, is at service in the city, O my master," he said at length.
"And wert the moneys I gave thee for service not enough, O miserly Musab, that thou shouldst send thy daughter out to service? Didst think to draw two wages for Mousin? Fool! Tell me where doth this daughter of a greedy father work?"
At this question I thought the old servitor was going to collapse. He trembled violently and looked about him as if seeking some escape. Dual half rose, then sat back and fixed the man with his eyes.
"Enough of this mystery," he shouted. "Speak, and truly, or be the consequences on thine own head."
Musab sank to his knees and his head to the floor.
"Thy pardon, O Abdul, for I have done wrong, and I fear, but though thou shouldst kill me, yet will I speak true. Mousin has service at the palace of Hafiz Ibrahim."
For a moment I thought Semi Dual was going to laugh. It was as well that Musab was groveling at his feet, else he would have had less fear of his master's attitude toward himself. For an instant triumph and exultation burned in Dual's eyes, then he controlled his features and spoke to the man on the floor.
"Thou dog!" he cried, pushing him with his foot. "Hast dared to send a daughter of thine into the house of mine ancestral enemy. In the time of my father thou wouldst have died for less. Rise and leave my face. To-morrow I shall find what to do with thee. Now go before I shall act without thinking, in my just rage."
Musab scrambled up with surprising agility for one of his years, and started swiftly from the room, his footsteps aided by his evident fears. As he reached the door Dual halted him by a word.
"Hold!" he cried. "O Musab, thou hast served me well, and long, and I do not desire to forget that, nor to be harsh with thee. Wouldst atone thy fault to me?"
"Gladly, O my master," quavered Musab, as he turned and advanced trembling into the room.
"So be it," said Semi Dual. "From now on, while I shall remain, thou and thy daughter must do as I say in everything. My life shall depend upon it, O Musab. Wilt hold my life as thy own?"
"Aye master." The old man knelt and kissed the edge of the robe Dual wore.
"Good," said Dual. "Go thou and prepare a place for me to sleep, and for my friend. To-morrow find thou a cook for us, and when thou hast accomplished that I shall give thee other missions to perform. Now go and leave me to refresh myself. Depart."
When the old man had shuffled out, and Dual had satisfied himself that we were alone, he came back and attacked the food, after seeing that I was served.
"The stars surely work for us, Gordon," he said with a smile of pleasure. "There was need that I make Musab fancy me greatly displeased. In reality I felt like shouting for joy when he told me we had a spy already to hand in Hafiz's household in the person of his daughter. I made him think me very angry in order to make him bend his daughter to my will, for his own skin's good. The old rascal really needs it in a manner of speaking, though what he has done will be worth much to us. I know my people; they will do much for their parents; much for gold. If they can help their parents and earn gold as well, there is little they won't do.
"Mousin will find out for us whether Hafiz has taken Alice Parton to his palace seraglio. Mayhap Mousin can also help us to get her out. In fact, Mousin looks like a Heaven-sent means of deliverance to me. Now I know what the other woman, who appeared as an instrument in my astrological figures meant. That woman was Mousin, and she will enable us to do much. Truly, my friend, the stars do not lie. Let this again prove it to you."
He ceased speaking and raised his drink to his lips, and his eyes shone.
"Glace," he resumed as he set down the cup, "I feel morally certain now that we shall succeed in rescuing Alice Parton before she shall have come to any harm. Kismet! It is fate."
"Do you mean that you foresaw the assistance of another woman in the case, days ago, before we left for Paris at all?"
"The stars foretold it," said Semi Dual.
I shook my head. "It's all beyond me, but it gets results," I admitted, and drained my cup of wine.
"To-morrow Musab will show you to the American consulate," Dual advised me, after a moment's thinking. "He will also take you to see Colonel Kahrloff, and you will deliver my note from the official at Baku. I shall write a letter to go with it, in case we need to appeal to him. Personally I shall remain in the house and try to work unseen. And now, if you have finished, I fancy that bed would appeal to you. Musab will show you. I have a bit of work to do."
He crossed the room and struck a gong. A few moments later Musab conducted me to a far room, where he assisted me to disrobe and stretch out between sheets of snowy linen, on a couch of literally downy ease. My head had hardly touched the pillow before I was fast asleep.
DUAL himself awoke me in the morning by coming into my room and shaking me.
"Wake up, friend Glace," he smiled, as I opened still sleepy eyes. "How would you like to take a swim?"
"A swim in Persia? Where did you get all the water? Well, if it isn't a joke, lead me to it," I agreed eagerly, and swung my legs out of bed.
Dual laughed. He was clad in a light robe which fell to his heels.
"I can give you a swim such as you never had," he boasted. "That is one thing which I have here which I have never been able to equal anywhere else. Never mind dressing; there are no women about. This is truly a bachelor's hall. In fact the bath I mention is in the women's wing of the palace, and used to be their private bath."
I rose and followed him out into the corridor, where I again marveled at the beauty of fresco, tiling, and gilding. The place reminded me more and more of some of the scenes depicted in an old edition of the "Arabian Nights" which I had cherished for years. It was a veritable palace of Oriental splendor, somewhat toned down by years of disuse and partial neglect.
Presently Dual turned off to the left and led me through a grilled and fretted barrier into another broad salon, then down a passage again, between doors, opening into empty rooms, full of dust-covered rare bits of rare furniture, and so on at last into a great room, or half-open court, surrounded by walls of marble and soft yellow stucco, left open to the sky.
A flock of doves rose up and swirled out of the open roof as we approached, settled along the cornice, and strutted and cooed. Then as we entered fully I saw the pool and stopped short to admire.
It was fashioned with walls of pink marble, in a floor of green tile. At one end a bronze elephant threw water into it from his uplifted trunk. At the other the water overflowed through what was built to look like a natural grotto of moss and plant-covered rocks.
Semi Dual smiled, as he turned and saw me standing in silent amazement. Then, dropping the robe from his shoulders, he sprang into the pool. Through the clear water every line of his superb body glistened and shone, while little bubbles of the water's imprisoned gases clung to his skin. He swung down his feet and rose dripping and laughing.
"Come on in," he chuckled; "the water's fine. Welcome to Aphrodite's bath. That's what it used to be, even if this is an Eveless Eden right now. Abdul, my father, had it entirely remodeled for my mother, after he brought her home. It was after that that this wing ceased to be the women's portion of the palace and became the abode of the Goddess of love, as I am told Abdul, my father, used to call the woman who bore him a son—myself. She was his one wife. He was an oddity among Persian nobility in those days. But then," he added slowly, "I fancy my father met the one woman who could satisfy every need of his soul. Men sometimes do that, Glace. Happy he who takes her to his heart."
He turned and dived precipitately down under the water, gliding easily down the pool.
I leaped into the pool, and a thousand needles of delight kissed my skin, as the cool waters closed around me, and woke every cell into acute life. I swam over to Dual and rose to my feet.
"Do you mean," I asked, "that your mother and father were what is called twin souls?"
Dual shot me a glance, then sat down on a jutting ledge of marble, and clasped a knee in his hands.
"Glace," he said, after an interval apparently spent in making up his mind, "I think I shall tell you something about myself. To you I am a man of mystery, when in reality there is no mystery at all. I frankly like you. I want you for a friend, and Semi Dual says that to few, very few souls. Yes, friend, my father met his twin soul. He put away all other women, married my mother by the rites of the Russian church, and brought her here to live. He built this bath for her. This was their bower of love. Here they dwelt in simple harmony, and, by and by, she gave him a son.
"I was that son. They lived and loved on. To them there was no night or day, no mine or thine, no question of man and woman—they were one, and they lived as one, and died two days apart. I remained, and after some years I met one whom I now believe was my own mate, as my mother was my father's, only I did not know the law in those days. I was a child of love, and surrounded by dissolute society. The gentle soul I finally found would have none of me, while I was what I was. An arrogant fool, I did as I pleased. She died. I have lived—a long time—hundreds of years."
"Hundreds!" I cried.
"Hundreds," said Semi Dual. "I learned how to do that. That woman who died left me a note telling me that though she died she was mine in spirit; asking me to so live that when she came again to this life, as she would, we might be as one. It was then that I resolved to live until she came again, lest should I die I might forget when I came back." He smiled.
"Of course, now, I know that was foolish, but I have lived so long that I think I might as well continue to wait, now. It will only be a few years probably, and I know how to keep myself young."
I looked him full in the face. "Dual," I said, "are you mad?"
He smiled sadly and returned my glance. "Am I mad, my friend?" he replied.
"You are not mad; you are wise beyond the wisdom of one life," I answered, strangely shaken, and to conceal my emotion, slipped off into the pool.
Dual left the ledge and swam easily after me.
"I have sent Musab to call upon his daughter," he said as he approached. "No doubt he will return before long. I have offered him pardon, five thousand rubles, and protection for Mousin, in return for her help. Judging from the gleam in my old servitor's eyes, he will get results."
"I hope so with all my heart," I responded, and I meant every word.
"And now for breakfast," said Dual, as he climbed out of the pool and threw his robe over his shoulders. "Come down as soon as you are clothed. There should be much to do to-day."
I climbed out and sought my room, where I dressed speedily and then joined Dual below. He took me into a room where the morning sunlight flooded the floor and motioned me to a seat before a table where stood a great bowl of fruit, a pitcher of milk, and some oddly flavored cakes, which Dual explained were made from the ground seed of the millet, sweetened with honey, and of which I ate heartily. While we broke our fast, Semi continued to talk of our quest for the girl.
"I told Musab to tell his daughter that I held his life forfeit for his misconduct, and that it depended upon her to win his pardon, as well as my favor, and a purse of gold. I told him to tell her all that had occurred and gave him a note to be given to Alice Parton, if she should really chance to be in Hafiz's seraglio. I wrote her in English, and impressed upon Musab that she, and she alone, was to have the note. Also, I made a provisional suggestion for her rescue. It would not do to have Musab making too many trips to Hafiz's palace, so it was necessary to cover the ground, as far as possible, in one trip. Everything now depends upon what he finds out and tells us upon his return."
"But what of Mousin if Hafiz finds out?" I inquired.
"We must take the chance," said Dual. "Afterward I shall find means to render the girl safe."
Footsteps shuffled up the corridor and Musab entered the room. "Hail, Abdul, son of Abdul, to whom is the secret of life," he mumbled, falling upon one knee. "Behold I, Musab, thy servant, have returned from the errand upon which I went."
"It is well," said Dual. "Arise, Musab, and deliver thy message to me."
The old man rose and began speaking rapidly, and under evident excitement, his words pouring forth in an unbroken stream, while Dual sat silent, not once interrupting
At the end he fumbled within his dingy sash and produced a note, which he laid before Dual. Again his hands fumbled with the folds of the cloth, and before my almost unbelieving eyes, he withdrew a corner cut from the wistaria scarf.
Dual caught it from his hand, gazed at it a moment, then handed it to me.
"As I said, the stars work for us, Gordon," he said in a voice which trembled slightly, and gave his attention to the note. After he had read it, he passed it over to me. I read it in turn, and my eyes grew damp.
Surely God is good to me to give me such friends. I am here a prisoner of that dreadful man. Can it be possible that I may escape? Hope grows in my heart. Try, my friend, ah, try—even though it mean my death, try. How are my dear husband and my father? Are they with you? Give them my love. Every hour I pray for release or death, but I want to live more than ever now, for a reason which only I know. In haste,
P.S. I hate to do it, but I have cut the beautiful scarf to prove it is really I.
Meanwhile Dual was questioning Musab, asking him of every detail, and nodding now and then, as though satisfied. Presently he dismissed the old man and turned to me.
"He saw Mousin without any trouble," he said in satisfaction. "He has often gone to see her, so his visit excited no comment to-day. He easily discovered from her that a woman answering Alice Parton's description had been brought here some six days ago. They made good time. Hafiz himself arrived only yesterday.
"After explaining everything to Mousin, she agreed to help. She took the note to Alice Parton. The answer you have read. To-night Mousin will find a means to leave a wicket open in the wall about the seraglio garden and will leave a door open in the wing of the seraglio building itself. She will meet us in the garden and guide us to the women's apartments.
"After that we must do things for ourselves. It is our best chance. Now I am going to send you to see your consul. Explain the entire incident to him, and arrange for him to take Mrs. Parton under his protection some time to-night. After you have seen him, go to Colonel Kahrloff and tell him our story and give him the note from the official at Baku and one which I shall write. Ask his aid in case we should need it.
"That, I think, is all. Now, while I write the note to Kahrloff, suppose you get ready to go. Take your automatic for use in case of need. Try to avoid all observation, and get back here before night."
He left me, and I went up to my room, got the gun and saw that it was loaded. Then I came down, and, under Musab's guidance, set out on foot for the American consulate.
I had some trouble getting in when I got there, and had left Musab loafing on a corner, to await my return. The man at the door evidently didn't see any reason why a servant, who looked like a Persian, should seek admission to the American official, but I drew out Dual's note and made signs that I must deliver it in person, and as he didn't see the address, it did as well as any other would.
I found our national representative sitting with his feet on a desk and a cigar between his lips. When he saw me he took his feet down and withdrew the cigar, in evident astonishment.
"Well, what the devil are you doin' in here?" he wanted to know.
I added to his surprise by replying in English as crisp as his own.
"I am seeking your aid in protecting an American citizen, my friend."
"Eh?" said the man. "Good Lord, where did you learn to sling United States, my boy?"
"In my home town. I was born there," I replied.
"Then why the masquerade?"
"For a purpose which I want to explain when I get a chance," I answered, rather testily I guess.
"Eh? Oh, yes, yes," said the consul. "Take a seat."
I dropped into a chair and plunged into my narrative, ending finally with the assertion that Alice Parton was in Hafiz's palace, and that Dual and I were going to get her out.
"I wouldn't try that," said the man. "Now, let me take this up in the regular way. The United States will see that this Hafiz fellow gives her up, I'll be bound."
"And in the mean time, while you cable to the government, and they cable back, and you send diplomatic notes to the palace, and the palace denies all knowledge, and the wheels of the official gods go round, what will happen to the girl?" I asked.
"But what you suggest is practically entering and seizure," the man protested.
"I hope it will be," I agreed.
"No one may tell what may come of it."
"I hope the liberty and physical welfare of a countrywoman will come of it," I said, getting up. "Now, Mr. Consul, answer me this: Will you give this woman the protection of the consulate, after we get her here?"
"Why, of course," he replied in surprise. "I hope I'd not fail to do that, Mr. Glace. Only it's mighty irregular, mighty irregular indeed."
"Hang the irregularity, Mr. Consul," I cried. "What we want is results. Will you take care of the girl, after we deliver her? That's all you have to do."
"And I told you I'd do it," said the man. "I've got to do it, haven't I? You bring her here to-night, an' she'll be safe. I'll see to that."
"Thank you," I made answer, and turned to the door. "We'll be here some time before midnight, I think."
"I'll have a room fixed for her for tonight," he informed me. "Going? Well, so long. Wish you could stay and chin a bit. A fellow gets a bit seedy in this hole. Where you going now?"
I told him I was off to see Kahrloff, and at once he wanted to go along.
"I know that fellow," he said. "He's a pretty decent sort for an 'offsky,' as I call these Russians. He's one of the few who can speak English. I'll take you up there and introduce you to him."
For a moment I was tempted to accept, then I thought of Dual's advice to act quietly, and I fancied that riding around with the American consul would not be living up to that; especially when I was clothed as I was.
I explained all this to the consul and he nodded his head.
"Uh-uh," he agreed. "Well, I'll go up there and you come along. How's that?"
I could see no harm in that, and agreed. I went out and picked up Musab, and we set off for the Cossack barracks to find Kahrloff, and give him Dual's note.
Kahrloff listened while I told him my story, then nodded his head. He also read Dual's communication, and the letter from the Baku officer. Then he turned to the consul, who had come up in the mean time, and addressed us both.
"Of course, I have no real official knowledge of all this," he said. "Linvitch merely writes that you are seeking a girl believed to have been kidnaped, and tells me you will call on me. You say, Mr. Glace, that you have located her. Of course, if you desire you can lay the information with the proper authorities, and we will do what we can, but it will take time."
"That is the one thing we can't afford," I broke in.
"Nor can Mrs. Parton, I fancy," said Kahrloff. "Now, I would suggest that what you have told me be for me alone. Officially I know nothing. Act as you think best, and if you get into trouble, get word to me and I will do what I can to get you out. Of course, if you get the girl and have trouble, I can then interfere in the interests of public peace."
"That is all we would expect," I said, and thanked him. Then I left him with the consul and went back to Semi Dual.
I RETURNED and told Dual of my errand, and he expressed himself as well pleased.
"Everything is going smoothly," he said with marked satisfaction. "Now all we have to do is to wait for night. If you wish, we will go over the house and I shall show you some of its treasures while we wait."
I assented eagerly and the rest of the afternoon was spent in a tour of the palace, where I felt like a child again, in my enjoyment of the beautiful gems of furniture and art which Dual presented for my inspection, and whose history he told me in his quiet way.
Night came, and we had a frugal supper.
"Enough to sustain strength, and not dull action," as Semi Dual explained. After that Semi took me with him and proceeded to dress me in a complete outfit of dark material, arraying himself similarly, and throwing a cloak of black velvet over his shoulders at the last.
"Have you your gun? Be sure and take it," he cautioned. "While I do not wish to shed blood, I do not intend to fail in my undertaking, and if we are detected, Hafiz will certainly show fight."
I displayed my little automatic.
"Personally," I responded, "I don't share your antipathy toward shedding blood to-night. I'd rather like one shot at the fox."
"Young blood and the natural man," said Semi lightly. "Well, let's get Musab and set out."
We found the old man, and Dual sent him ahead as a sort of vedette, to see that the coast was clear. After him we went down into the garden and passed through the arched gateway into the road. Then we turned toward the city and walked rapidly along in the night.
Save for the sound of his feet, I could scarcely distinguish Dual. His black cloak made him nothing but a shadow in the night. I suspected that I was equally elusive in the suit I wore.
"It will be lighter after a bit, when the moon rises," said Semi once as I stumbled over some roughness in the way.
We passed on into the denser populated parts of the town, and here Dual sauntered forward with the easy familiarity of a denizen, throwing off all attitude of being upon anything but pleasure bent. I trailed him closely, playing up to my part of attendant. We both followed the shuffling figure of Musab, who walked always some way in advance, and would presently show us the unlocked door in the wall of the Hafiz place.
By and by we turned down a dark alley and as we crept along I saw that we were skirting the sides of a blind wall, over which hung the trailing ends of vines, swaying ghostlike in the dusk. Somewhere ahead old Musab had disappeared and I could no longer hear the scraping sound of his shuffling feet. A chill breeze swept up the throat of the narrow passage, and I shivered as I walked, half from cold, half from nervousness.
Now that the enterprise was close at hand I confess I felt as I have been told raw recruits sometimes feel before going under fire. I wasn't exactly afraid. Nothing I could think of then would have induced me to turn back. Yet as I walked after my silent companion, I shivered again, and I confess to wondering somewhat anxiously as to what lay for us on the other side of the vine-clad wall.
Dual never faltered in his stride, while I trailed along, and presently a sibilant hiss came out of the darkness. Semi paused so quickly that I nearly trod upon his heels. There in the dark mass of the wall was a darker blotch of a rectangular shape, and out of it crept the figure of Musab, whispering a low word to Dual.
"The gate is indeed unlocked, O my master. Behold, Mousin has kept her word."
"'Tis well," said Dual in low accents. "Retire thou to the outer end of the passage and await my commands." He turned and stepped into the dark oblong. With a deep breath I followed where he led.
I found him fumbling with the latch of the gate, and he swung it inward as I joined him. Together we slipped through and stood in the garden, and Dual swung the door back into place. We slunk up the path toward the dim light walls of the house, where they showed through the trees and shrubbery, Dual still leading, I following close in his wake. No sound broke the stillness save the light scuff of our feet, and the tinkle of water falling into some fountain basin. That and the whisper of the wind in the trees.
We approached the wall of the house by degrees. Suddenly another shadow detached itself from the shrubbery and slipped to Dual's side.
"It is I, master—Mousin," breathed a woman's voice.
Dual paused and for a few moments held the girl in whispered conversation. Then he drew me close to him in the darkness and spoke close to my ear.
"Mousin says that Hafiz is entertaining this evening. There is only one guard in the women's section of the palace—a eunuch by the name of Hasan. We must find a means of entering the women's quarters and holding this man until we can get Mrs. Parton out. Mousin says he is stationed by the door through which we must enter. When we go in, have your gun ready, Glace, and get the drop on him at once. Under no circumstances let him get away, but don't shoot if you can possibly help it. Mousin has but just come out. She says Mrs. Parton is in the main salon of the women's quarters now. We are going in at once. Come quietly and keep cool."
He turned to Mousin and spoke to her.
"When you have shown us the door, go out and leave the garden and go up the passage quickly. Your father Musab is waiting at the end. Tell him I said he should take you home at once and admit no one to the palace until I come. Now, girl, lead the way."
Mousin turned and slid away before us. We followed, passed a door let into the side of the building, and found ourselves in a darkened hall. Drawing his flash-light, Dual showed a tiny ray of brilliance, and at the end the figure of the Persian girl, creeping stealthily along.
As though drawn onward by the pencil of radiance we followed down the passage, around a bend, again down a passage, and came upon Mousin, standing silent before a barred and brass-studded door, from beyond which came the muffled sound of voices and a woman's laugh.
She silently pointed to this door and nodded. Dual motioned her to leave, and she bent in a salutation and fled softly back the way she had come.
"Get your gun ready," Dual whispered softly, and laid his hand to the door.
It yielded readily enough and swung inward, showing us a vast room, pillared and groined with pointed arches, its filed floor covered with rugs, cushions, and divans, with palms and other potted vegetation set about it; lighted by swinging lamps dependent from the ceiling, its air redolent of sandalwood and musk.
All this I saw in a glance as I pressed upon Dual's steps and then my eyes searched for and found the guardian of the place.
He was a gigantic negro, black as the pits of hell, and he stood with his back to the door, surveying the room, as we came in. He whirled on the instant and his great hand flashed toward his belt where he wore a long and curved dagger, or dirk, suspended in a jeweled sheath.
Even as he moved Dual cried out to him an order to halt, and remembering my part, I slipped forward and pointed my short little gun full at the fellow's bulging paunch. He never flinched nor batted an eyelid, but merely dropped his hands and gazed into my eyes with an ugly leer.
So we stood, each apparently awaiting the other's next motion, while one might count ten. Then Dual spoke slowly to the black.
"Thou art Hasan, head eunuch, and should know what women Hafiz has here present. I seek one—an American—who arrived six days ago. Speak, dog, and show me where she is."
The leer on the negro's face increased to a grin.
"Thou mayest seek in the foulest pits of perdition, O Abdul," he said in defiance. "Hasan serves Hafiz, not thee, thou eater of unclean meats and wanderer in far lands. Search, and it please thee, for I may not prevent, while thy jackal holds the fire toy to my stomach; and may thy search lead thee to the regions of the damned."
"It is well, dog," said Dual in Persian, then to me in English: "Hold him tight, Glace."
That sentence was a sort of bomb, which exploded the situation. At the far end of the room the women of the palace had been huddled in a voiceless, frightened group ever since we had entered the door, but as Dual addressed me, bidding me watch the negro, there came a shriek of joy and amazement from the group.
A figure, clad in a short red jacket, baggy yellow trousers, and a full undershirt of white silk, detached itself from the other clustering women, and fled toward us, crying aloud to Dual.
In that moment, as my eyes turned for an instant at the sudden commotion, Hasan hurled himself upon me. His giant fist crashed into my jaw so that my head snapped backward, until I thought that my neck would surely break. His other hand seized me and flung me aside, and he sprang for the door.
Sick and dizzy I staggered for just the necessary instant he needed for his purpose. The door jerked inward, framed his flying figure, then even as I raised my hand to chance a hasty shot, it was pulled shut, and the eunuch fled down the passage in full cry.
DUAL glanced toward me, then turned to meet the woman who rushed forward, seizing his arms, peering into his face.
"Mr. Dual! Mr. Dual! Is it you? Oh, is it you? Oh, thank God!"
Dual caught her hands and pulled them from their clutch on his sleeves; jerked the cloak from his shoulders and flung it about her form, then passed her on to me.
"Quick, Glace, get her out of here before you are cut off!" he cried in short, crisp words, pushing us both toward the door. "Quick, man! Hasan will rouse the entire palace. Get to the consulate and wait for me."
Even then I hung back, necessary as I knew haste to be. But for my clumsiness we could have left as quietly as we came. Cursing my rank incompetence, I waited a moment to protest.
"You go, Semi," I pleaded. "Let me be the rear guard. Man, I am all to blame. If any one stays behind let it be me. I am armed and I can fight."
"Yes," said Dual very calmly; "you are to blame, Glace. Are you going to stand here and throw away our last chance of success? I have ordered you to take Mrs. Parton to the consulate. Unless you really wish us all to perish, go and leave the rest to me."
I felt the hot blood of shame rise in my cheeks. I knew Dual was right.
I turned again toward the door, and sought to leave the room. Then, and only then, did I discover that the door was locked. I turned back toward Dual, and he met my glance. Even as he did so he made a gesture of impatience.
"Your gun, man, your gun, to the lock," he cried sharply, and turned his face the other way.
Cries and shouts were coming from some distant part of the palace, and as I drew my automatic and pressed it to the lock of the door through which Hasan had fled, I could dimly hear the beat of footsteps coming from some passage on the other side of the apartment where we stood. I placed the muzzle of the gun to the lock and fired. There was the snap of the high powered powder, a crack of metal, and I wrenched the shattered door wide. Dual looked on, and the man was actually smiling.
"Good work," he said shortly, and turned away just as Hafiz Ibrahim burst through a door from the other side.
Hafiz Ibrahim was no coward, no matter how big a scoundrel he may have been. For one instant he stood confronting Dual across the room, the door at his back full of the excited faces of his followers. Then he came boldly toward Dual.
As once before, I picked up the form of Alice Parton and turned toward the door, and as I did so I glanced again at my friend, whose plan my clumsiness had well nigh spoiled. There was something of farewell in the look I cast him, for I never expected to see him again.
But for the woman in my arms, I would have stood shoulder to shoulder with him and let his fate be my own. The soft throb of the girl's heart told me my first duty was to our mutual trust. Yet even then, as I felt her panting breath on my throat, her slight arms about my neck, I vowed that I would come back to Dual when I had once got her out of the house and seen her safe.
As my glance turned toward him and I leaped through the door, Semi Dual was standing awaiting the approach of Hafiz, still with the smile upon his face.
His arms were folded and he had not moved from his position in the slightest since Hafiz entered the room. But as I drew the girl to my breast and turned through the door, Hafiz's hand darted downward toward his broad belt, and Dual's hand came out from under his armpit, holding a short black gun. His voice came to me clearly as I passed the door.
"Stop! Up with your hands, Hafiz! It is I, Abdul, who commands you. Obey!"
So I left him standing, still smiling, with Hafiz the fox glaring unexpressed hate into his face.
Back down the passage where Mousin had led us, I carried the girl in my arms. Back down its dark length until I pushed open the garden door and we slipped into the cool outer air. Not once were we challenged on the way.
No doubt Hasan had told about locking the door, and they fancied our escape impossible from that side. Then when we blew the lock, Hafiz was already in Dual's power for the moment and might not order our flight cut off, however much he may have wished. But I was afraid of the garden. It did not seem possible to me that it would be left unpatrolled.
Not once during our flight down the dark passage to the garden had the woman in my arms spoken or moved, except to shift her weight a little by lifting herself up by her arms; but when we were without the building she awoke to instant speech.
"Put me down, Mr. Glace," she cried quickly. "Put me down and go back to Mr. Dual. Quick! Oh, quick! Otherwise it may be too late!"
"And have you picked up and dragged back? No!" I cried. "Once to-night I failed Dual, but this time I'll do as I'm told."
"But I tell you to go back," said the girl, struggling in my arms. "Mr. Glace, I shall never forgive you, no, nor myself, if you leave that splendid man to fight that mob alone."
I held her tighter, so that I fear I hurt her, for she cried out, and, despite her struggles, I fled on down toward where the gate in the wall ought to be.
"Mr. Glace," she began pleading, "please put me down. I'll hide in the bushes while you go back. No matter if I am retaken. If I escape like this I shall feel that I murdered Mr. Dual."
"For Heaven's sake, Mrs. Parton, don't argue," I gasped, as I ran forward. "I'll get you safe, and then I swear I'll go back. I feel as much a coward as a man can, but Dual is trusting you to me, and I'll fulfil the trust. If you'll only keep still and not struggle, and help me to get you away, I can get back that much quicker. Please!"
"Put me down and let me run," panted the girl. "I am tiring you this way, needlessly. I promise to hurry. Put me down, Mr. Glace."
I complied with what I confess was relief. Under other circumstances Alice Parton was surely a sweet load; still, after a man has dashed down dark halls and through a dusky garden, with the fear of instant attack goading him on, he is no mere human unless he feels at least a physical relief when the person he has been carrying, be she ever so darling a woman, elects to use her own feet.
I put her down and took her hand, which was cold, as I noticed even then, and we ran on. And as we ran, the moon, which Dual had promised for later that night, broke out from behind some clouds and filled all the garden with a yellow-red light, throwing the shrubs and bushes into black relief, yet showing us better where to go.
With the girl's hand held fast in mine we ran on, and reached the wall of the garden and began to creep along it, seeking for the gate where Dual and I had entered earlier in the night. At last I saw it yawning blackly in the face of the wall and quickened my pace again, that we might the sooner escape from the imprisoning walls.
But even as we fled toward it, relief and hope mounting in our panting hearts, that which I had feared came to pass. A figure detached itself from the black shadow of a bush and flung itself upon me.
So sudden was the man's appearance and attack that I had barely time to throw myself in front of the girl before he was upon me in his mad assault. Then, as his body hurtled against mine, by one of those strange vagaries of the mental processes, my thoughts flew back to Goldfield and the days I had spent under John Curzon's roof, and to the little Hashimoto, Curzon's servant, and his odd wrestling tricks.
The little Jap had taught me some of the more common of the holds and methods of defense as used by his countrymen, and into my mind, dazed by my assailant's rush, there came a wild thought of possible quick relief. As he fell upon me, reaching for a sure hold, my right hand shot out and seized him by the baggy fulness of his shirt, and at the instant I fell back before his attack; yet as I fell, dragging him with me, my right foot rose and planted its heel full in the middle of his abdomen, so that he grunted in surprise and pain. My arm flexed and dragged him up over the fulcrum of my uplifted foot; then, still falling from him, I suddenly arrested my fall, kicked out and upward with my foot, and threw the fellow clear over my shoulder so that for an instant he sprawled pawing in the red-yellow moonlight, then fell face downward into a tangle of bushes, and lay still.
I turned to the gate. Again my path was barred by a lock. The gate was fast. I waited only for one long breath, then hurled myself against it in a short, desperate rush.
Again and again, gritting my teeth at the pain of my throbbing shoulder, I flung myself against it, until, with a splintering of wooden bars, it yielded and sprawled me on all fours into the dark alley beside the wall.
I scrambled up, turned and helped Alice Barton over the wreck of the gate, seized her hand, and set out up the dark passage, urging her into a run. And as we ran I became conscious that the woman was sobbing—not loudly, but softly like a frightened child.
"Don't cry, don't cry," I panted. "Save your breath. Everything—will come out—all right. Don't cry—please."
I slipped my hand up under her arm, and we ran on. By and by we came to the mouth of the impasse and turned out of it into a wider street, where we could see better from an occasional light which burned dimly here and there on a corner. We turned from this street into a still wider thoroughfare. The girl was stumbling now in her stride, and I halted her for a moment under one of the lights in order to see how badly she was winded and give her a chance for a breath or two at her ease.
It was then that a carriage, flanked by a couple of outriders, came toward us down the street. I heard the sound of the horses and the rumble of wheels, and glanced up, watching them as they approached. There was no use trying to run away, for I made sure they had seen us under the light, and beside, I saw that the riders wore the Cossack cap. They dashed on as if to drive by, and I was glad, but on the instant a voice spoke in command, the carriage stopped, and one of the outriders whirled and rode over to us, halted, and motioned that we should approach the carriage at once. I obeyed. There was no use in resistance, and these were Russians. At least, I thought, they were better than some of Hafiz's desperadoes whom we might have met.
The man in the carriage descended as we drew near, and removed his cap.
"This is Mrs. Parton, I presume," he said, bowing before her. "Will you not enter my carriage and permit me to see you to a safe place? So the venture went to success, M. Glace? I am glad. I congratulate you most sincerely." He turned and assisted Alice Parton to step to a seat.
"How did you know me, Colonel Kahrloff?" I questioned as I climbed in after Alice. "Your powers of perception and remembrance for faces must be very acute."
"They have to be," said Kahrloff as he sprang in. "Where to? The American consulate, I think you said to-day? Right?"
I bowed, and he shouted the address to the driver. In a clatter of hoofs we were off.
"I must really congratulate you, Mrs. Parton, upon a most fortunate and remarkable escape; and upon the friends who brought it about. I recognized M. Glace as you stood under the lamp, and as he had told me of to-night's adventure, I was delighted to be able to lend a hand. You will soon be safe from any further cause for alarm."
For a moment Alice Parton made no reply, so that I wondered if she had not heard or understood. Then in a voice of choked emotion:
"I am fortunate above all women in my friends. I thank you, Colonel Kahrloff," she said.
"By the way," said the colonel, turning to me, "I thought Abdul was to be with you. Did anything happen to him?"
I hastened to tell him of the rescue, not omitting my unlucky blunder, and ending with my leaving Dual still in the palace of Hafiz, with its angry master held under his weapon's point.
"Peste!" cried Kahrloff when I finished; "why didn't you tell me this before?"
He cried out to one of the Cossacks to ride in close, as I judged from his doing so. Then he gave some order in Russian, at which the man saluted, whirled his mount, and set off on the back trail, with a shower of sparks as his horse's hoofs struck fire from the stones in the road.
"I have sent for a squad of men to go at once to Hafiz's palace. They may be in time or too late. Anyway, Abdul is half Russian, as he told me in his note, and I shall make that an excuse to search Hafiz's place if we don't find him living or dead, without."
The carriage drew up in front of the consulate, and stopped, and I sprang out and ran up the steps.
"I want to see that everything is all right," I called back to the two in the carriage.
Stevens—which was the consul's name—was seated very much as I had seen him earlier in the day, but sprang to his feet.
"The deuce; you look as if you'd been in a free for all," he exclaimed as he saw me. "Well, where's the girl? I've been sitting up waiting for beauty in distress."
"Mrs. Parton is outside in Colonel Kahrloff's carriage," I informed him. "Is everything ready here?"
"Sure," said Stevens. "I fixed my own room up for her. It's right back along the hall, and all the rear doors are locked. I shall stay here to-night, and there nobody will get in, except over me."
"Good," I exclaimed, and dashed back to the carriage, where I assisted Alice Parton to alight, and led her up the steps. She came quickly, and as soon as I had presented her to Stevens, she turned and urged me to go.
"Go quickly, Mr. Glace. Don't wait. I am safe now; return to Mr. Dual as quickly as you can. I am sure you can get there before the soldiers can do it. Oh, please go! Every moment you stand here is time wasted from him."
"You're sure you'll be all right?" I remembered Dual had said to stay with her, but that was immediately after my fluke with Hasan, and before he knew we would escape surely and every impulse of my own being urged me to go to the aid of my friend; and certainly Mrs. Parton didn't need me now.
"Of course, I'm all right," cried Alice Parton. "Oh, go, go," she half sobbed.
I turned and ran back down the stairs and turned down the street up which we had come.
"Hold on," cried a voice. Kahrloff was leaning out of his carriage where he had waited: "Where are you off to now?"
"I'm going back to Dual—Abdul," I shouted, and turned to run again.
"Well, don't be a fool," Kahrloff said with almost official roughness. "Get in here, man. Good Lord, did you think I wasn't going along now?"
I climbed into the carriage with a thankful heart.
"Hasan's jolt to the jaw must have unsettled your brain pan," said Kahrloff, "for you to be running off to Hafiz like that. What chance would you stand with them all on the watchout for you? With me along it is different. Hafiz may growl, but he won't dare to bite. If Abdul is alive we'll have him out. I know that chap by reputation and he's about the best Persian that ever occurred, from all I can hear."
"You're right, Kahrloff," I assented, breathing deeply, and getting a grip on myself. "I guess I am a bit rattled, as we say in America. Things have happened pretty fast."
"Sit back and get a bit rested," advised Kahrloff, and we drove on after I had asked him if he knew the way to the dark alley beside Hafiz's palace, and he had assured me that he did.
We rattled along and finally turned down the narrow street which led to the impasse, while I fumed at even our rapid pace; and just as we reached the mouth of the passage, I cried out in amazement, for clearly visible in the light of the now unclouded moon, Semi Dual sauntered leisurely out of the black entrance to the place.
"Dual!" I cried, springing to my feet in the carriage, which had been drawing to a halt. "Semi! It's Glace. I am here with Colonel Kahrloff. Gad, but I'm glad to see you, man."
In one spring as it seemed, Dual reached our side, and peered into my face.
"You here," he cried in tones of reproach. "Where is Mrs. Parton, Glace?"
"I left her at the consulate," I said rather shortly. Of course I had bungled earlier, but I had proved my loyalty by coming back.
"You left her—after I told you to stay with her?" said Dual slowly. "Will you never learn to obey?"
He sprang into the carriage and turned to where Kahrloff had sat throughout our first speech.
"Colonel, may I impose upon you still further and ask you to return with us to the American consulate at once?" he asked. "Believe me, there is no time to lose. I fancied that Glace would at least carry out my orders to remain there an guard, but you see he has not."
Kahrloff assented, and gave the necessary directions, and Dual dropped to a seat. As for myself I sat silent, scarce knowing what to say or expect.
Dual's words had excited a wild sense of fear in my brain, and I leaned forward, mentally urging the flying horses as we rushed over the rough street.
What had I done? What did Dual fear? Why should Alice Parton not be safe under the protection of her own countryman and her flag? It was all becoming a nightmare of my own inability to do the right thing at the right time. I fretted inwardly and curbed myself for an incompetent ass.
"We were expecting to find you at least a prisoner," said Kahrloff as we swayed along. "Glace seamed to think your escape at least beyond possibility. How, if I may ask, did you get out?"
Dual smiled slightly. "Glace let his own understanding of the situation blind him to several things," he replied. "I got out by the simple expedient of walking up to our friend Hafiz, taking away his revolver, placing my own against his left side, and suggesting that we take a walk in the garden. Hafiz agreed to the stroll, and I left him just outside his palace wall. I think he was glad to see me go."
Kahrloff lay back on the cushions and roared.
"You're the devil of a fellow," he cried between chuckles. "Well, there's no harm done and I must congratulate you."
"Wait until we reach the consulate," Dual replied, and Kahrloff eyed him in still more surprise.
Everything was quiet when we drew up in front of the home of the American Charge d'Affaires. We all climbed out and walked up the steps and entered the room where Stevens sat nodding over a book. He looked up and greeted me with a grin.
"The lady's in bed by now," he advanced. "She was clear done up, the poor thing." Then he saw Kahrloff. "Hello, Alexius!" he said.
Dual advanced and faced the man. "Are you sure the lady is safe?" he asked.
Stevens looked at me for enlightenment, and I hastened to give it. "This is Mr. Dual, of whom I told you," I explained.
Stevens bowed. "Pleased to meet you," he said in acknowledgment of the introduction. "As for the lady, she's in my own room, and at her request I locked the door from this side. I reckon she's still there as nobody has asked me for the key." He paused and grinned at his own humor; but Dual remained unsatisfied.
"At the risk of seeming unreasonably hard to convince," he said seriously, "I wish you would accompany us to Mrs. Parton's room, that we may satisfy ourselves that she is perfectly safe. Would that be asking too much?"
"Sure not," Stevens acquiesced, as he got out of his chair and produced a key from his pocket. "Come along, if it will make you feel any better. She'll be glad to know you're safe too, Mr. Dual. She was scared to death about you, and before she would agree to retire she made me promise to let her know about you as soon as I heard." He turned and led us into the hall and down that to the door of the room where he had placed Alice Parton some time before. He lifted his hand and rapped softly upon the panels. There was no answer, and after a bit he repeated his rap.
"I bet she's dead to the world," he said as the silence still continued.
"Your pardon," said Semi Dual, as he pushed in beside him, lifted his hand, and struck loudly upon the door.
"Mrs. Parton," he cried through the woodwork. "It is I—Semi Dual."
Silence was his reward.
Dual turned and shot one glance at me, and my heart sank at the fear I saw in his face. He put out his hand and silently took the key from Stevens, out of whose face some of the ruddy assurance had fled. Silently he turned the lock; then pushed open the door.
A dim light burned upon a table in the center of the room; a curtain fluttered before an open window. On the floor, mid-way between the table and the bed lay Semi Dual's cloak, which he had cast about Alice Parton's shoulders as she came to him in Hafiz's palace. Beyond that there was nothing.
Of the girl herself there was absolutely no sign.
SEMI DUAL turned to Stevens and pointed to the open window.
"Was that open when you left Mrs. Parton here," he demanded sharply.
"It was not," said the consul. "I know it was shut. Whether I locked it or not I really can't say."
Dual turned and left the apartment without another word and walked quickly toward the front, motioning to me that I should follow. He passed out of the doors and went down the street, and then Kahrloff caught us up.
"If the carriage will be of service—" he tendered, and Dual took him up at once.
"Thanks," he said frankly; "if you will be so kind as to allow the imposition." He turned and climbed into the equipage.
"Where to?" inquired Kahrloff as we followed Dual.
"My own palace, if not too much trouble," replied Semi. "I must make some investigation, see something about the lay of the land, before I go any further in this case. At present it is hard to say just where we stand."
"If I can be of assistance in any way, command me," said Kahrloff as we rattled away down the street.
Dual bowed his head in acknowledgment, beyond which he made no sign, nor spoke a word as we were driven toward his palace, but sat wrapped in what was apparently gloomy thought.
As we neared his dwelling he finally raised his head.
"To me it appears quite clear that Glace was followed by some one from Hafiz, and was trailed to the consulate. Personally I don't know what became of Hasan after he bowled Glace over and made his escape from the seraglio. He may even have trailed Glace after he left the palace and followed him all the way, and have been prevented from attacking, by your interference, Colonel Kahrloff.
"Then, after you had left the consulate, and after Stevens had left Mrs. Parton in the room, he entered and stole her away. The next question for us to find out is where she may be now."
When we arrived at the entrance to his residence he left the carriage, and after shaking hands with Kahrloff, and thanking him for his assistance, and accepting his offers of further possible aid, he turned into the garden, with me at his heels.
Not a word did he say as we threaded the garden pathway, and I followed in silence, dreading to interrupt the man's mood. We had almost reached the steps of the palace when Hafiz, the fox, again showed his teeth. As silently as the mists of the night, a figure rose at our approach and hurled itself toward Dual.
I cried aloud; and even as the cry of warning left my lips, and I sprang forward to come between, some sixth sense seemed to warn Dual of the danger, for he whirled quickly. His hand shot out toward the other and gripped the uplifted hand of the man, where glittered a long-bladed dirk, raised for the downward plunge.
Without apparent effort Dual gave the arm he held a swift wrench and twist, and I heard the bone snap with an audible crack. The man groaned in agony, and the knife rattled and lay shining upon the ground.
With a grim smile Semi Dual flung the man from him so that he staggered and fell. Then as he lay writhing upon the path Dual spoke to him sharply, yet with a half chuckle as I thought.
"Get thee gone, to thy master, and tell Hafiz the fox, not to trifle with the lion."
The man crawled clumsily up and slunk into the shrubbery, cursing under his breath. Dual turned to me.
"Thou wouldst have taken the blow, my friend," he said softly. "Such acts as that prove the true friend. Come on into the house for we have much to do."
But I stood in my place and put out my hand to him.
"We have everything to do—to do over; and it is all my fault," I cried in the deepest humiliation I have ever felt. "Everything I have done has been wrong, Dual."
"To err is human," said Semi slowly, laying a hand on my shoulder. "To err in seeking to aid others is surely deserving of excuse. Forget all that has happened, yet profit by the lesson it may teach you. Such is the path of advancement. Now, come with me—my friend."
Side by side we went up the steps to the doors of the palace, and on into its depths, until Musab stood bowing before his lord.
On the instant Dual was again all action.
"Go. Fetch me Mousin," he cried. Then as the old man turned to obey, he flung himself upon a carved divan and sank into deep thought.
Mousin came and bowed before him. He rushed into a rapid flow of questions, pausing now and then for the girl to make reply. It was all incomprehensible to me, though now and then I caught the words Hafiz, and some other, which appeared to be a surname of some sort, and again as I listened, Alice Parton's name came to my ears.
At first Dual's manner was stern and unbending. Gradually it relaxed and became more mild, though no less eager. Watching the man, I fancied I saw renewed hope and purpose grow and kindle in his face. Then of a sudden he clapped his hands, calling Musab, and at the same time ordered Mousin away.
Musab appeared and he gabbled a string of orders to the old man, who departed even as had done his daughter, with a look of wonder upon his ancient face.
Then, and only then, Dual turned back to me.
"There is still a chance to retrieve all we have lost," he announced.
I leaned forward in my eagerness and drank in every word.
"It seems," said Dual, "that our Musab's daughter has developed a love affair with one Younus, a sort of secretary and trusted lieutenant of Hafiz. As usual, Younus has told more of his master's business to his mistress than it was proper that he should. I now know for a certainty what I have long been morally sure of. Hafiz is in reality the head of a regular band of slavers, the individual members of which organization are in the habit of traveling all over Europe and picking up any white girls upon whom they can lay hands.
"Customarily they bring them to their own places, and after the hue and cry has died down, provided always that any arises, they dispose of them at high prices to any of my noble countrymen who desire to buy. However, on the chance that at some time they might need a special place of concealment, one has been prepared.
"Mousin tells me that there is a secret cave, somewhere up in the Elburz Mountains, which lie some sixty odd miles to the north and east of Teheran, where Hafiz and his gang have once or twice kept white women for a time. Just where it is she does not know, except that it is near Mount Demavend; and is reached by a trail up a gulch or cañon, which leads to what she describes as a well-nigh impassable defile in the rocks, where one or two men could easily stand off a much larger band.
"Hafiz knows now that I am after the girl, and there is small doubt in my mind that he will have her taken to this cave, trusting to my ignorance of it, or else relying upon his ability to drive me off if I should find him out. Come. We will prepare for riding. From now on masquerade or concealment is impossible. We will fight in the open. Go, put on your own clothing, and I shall hunt up a suit of English riding togs, which I once possessed. I have already sent Mousin to prepare us some food for our journey, and Musab is saddling the horses. Dress as quickly as possible and meet me here as soon as you can."
Fifteen minutes later I returned to find Dual booted and spurred, and wearing a belt, in which two service revolvers were thrust. He was examining another weapon as I entered and thrust it into a pocket as he turned to me. The man was smiling again, and waved his hand toward a steaming cup of chocolate on a silver tray.
"Drink that and we will be riding," he commanded; picked up a pith helmet and placed it on his head, and threw its mate across to me.
I drained my cup in a few swallows, and followed Dual out into the night. Here Musab was holding three horses. Mousin met us and gave us each a canvas-covered canteen and a packet of food.
Without further delay Dual and I swung to the saddle and Musab slipped the bridle of the led horse into Deal's hand. Dual handed the old man a sealed note, and I heard the name of Kahrloff mentioned.
"I have sent Musab to the Russian to ask him to start a troop of Cossacks after us at daylight," Dual told me as we rode under the arch in the palace wall.
Dual turned north and east and set spurs to his horse. I followed. Dual laughed as we swung into our stride.
"It is good to feel a horse between one's thighs again," he said gladly, "and these are good animals we have." Then, with a whimsical mood he laughed yet once again. "Take to the earth, O fox Hafiz," he chuckled; "the lion is hunting to-night."
The red-yellow moon was far down the western sky as we left the city behind and galloped out into the plain. I thought of what Dual had said before we reached Teheran, and looked about me as we swept on with the horses running freely.
My trip to the Persian capital had hardened me to the saddle, and I felt no discomfort as I rode. In fact, as Dual had said, there was a pleasurable thrill to the surge and fall of the animal's body, as we dashed through the cool night.
All about us was a red-yellow world lined and blotched with the black shadows of night. A sort of land mist dimmed the farther reaches of the plain, and the moon cast our flying shadows behind us like the remembrances of sins lived out and flung into the past. Little by little the moon sank and disappeared.
Slowly the east began to grow gray, then pink, then red. At last the ball of the sun leaped clear of the line of distant mountains and made the whole plain clear in its light. Through the entire ride Dual and I had spoken but seldom. We had just sat down and rode. As the day dawned fully, I retrieved in part some of my blunders of the night. We were running freely, our horses seemingly still fresh, and I was sitting well up in my saddle and glancing around, when under the level arrows of the sun a fleck of fluttering yellow caught my eye. I reined so suddenly that for a moment I well-nigh dismounted over my horse's head; then I turned and rode slowly toward the little yellow strand, my heart beating high with the hope wild as it seemed that I knew what it was.
While Dual waited, I swung from my horse and plucked the bit of cloth from a tuft of hardy grass, remounted, and rode back to Dual, with a smile upon my face. He took the frayed bit of cloth in his hand, glanced at it, then back to me, and nodded his head.
"She is laying a trail for us, wise little woman. You did well to observe it, my friend," he said.
We stopped for a breathing spell right there, watered the horses from a water-skin on the back of the led horse, and had a bite to eat. While we munched our cakes and dates and squares of chocolate, Dual examined the ground, near which I had found the bit of yellow silk, and on to the front.
"There is no doubt that four horses have passed this way recently," he announced, as he rose from inspecting the trail. "That should mean three men and the woman we seek. If you are ready, let us push on."
We remounted and swung back into our gallop, Dual saying we must make our best time while the day was cool. There is nothing to say of that day. It was a steady push forward, with now and then a pause to rest the horses or give them a sip from the water-skin.
Late in the afternoon we first noticed the cloud of dust. Dual pointed toward it as it moved steadily forward close under the foot of the mountains, which were now drawing near.
"Our friends the enemy, I fancy," was all he said.
From time to time as we rode we had picked up other bits of silken fabric torn from the wistaria scarf and dropped by the way, so we knew that we were pressing them close. Now, however, Dual set spurs to his animal, and together we charged down upon the fleeing dust-cloud, rapidly closing up the gap. Dual took the weapon from his pocket and held it up.
"Ammonia pistol," he grinned. "If I can get close enough, it is as good in its temporary effects as any bullet, and it gives time for repentance to a man." He dropped it back into his pocket and we rode on.
"If you're going to use that, why the service artillery?" I said laughing, and pointing to his belt.
"I may need artillery, at the worst," he said somewhat ruefully. "A wise general tries to provide for all contingencies."
As we reared the entrance to a great gash in the hills, the cloud of dust fled out of sight. Dual reined in and we went forward at a slower pace.
We swung about a corner of the jutting cliff, and on the instant the sound of a rifle split the air. A bullet flattened upon the rocks beside Dual. From farther up the gorge a faint veil of smoke drifted up and faded into mist. I pulled my revolver and sent a couple of shots up the cañon. Dual shook his head.
"No use," he said shortly; "if we were stronger, I would rush them. As it is, we must be careful for Mrs. Parton's sake."
Though it galled me, I saw the force of his reasoning. We drew back a little out of range, and presently saw two men, with a third figure between them, go slowly up the trail. Again Dual nodded.
"They have left the third man, to hold us," he said.
He slipped from his horse, threw its reins to me, and crawled into some low-growing bushes, and was lost to sight. It was not until some fifteen minutes afterward that I heard from him, then a commotion up the trail made me ride out where I could see, and I beheld a third horseman scampering madly up the trail. An instant afterward Dual came running toward me and swung on to the horse I led up for him. His face was an odd mixture of boyish mischief and chagrin.
"Maybe I am foolish to hate to shed some blood," he remarked, "but the fact remains. Anyway, our friend Hasan has some very sore eyes. I got quite close to where he sat on his horse and took a shot at him with the ammonia gun. I hoped he'd fall from his horse. Instead, the beggar stuck on like a burr and rode off up the cañon, yelling like seven devils. Well, the way is clear for a little distance, anyhow. Let us go on."
That was a great ride. We didn't see anything more of our foemen until we reached the defile in the rocks, which Mousin's lover had told her about. There, as we expected, we met resistance again. As soon as we approached the robbers opened fire from some very serviceable rifles, and I grinned over at Dual.
"Evidently they don't share your antipathy to bloodshed," I told him, as a bullet clipped a hole in his hat.
He nodded coolly and slid from the saddle.
"We've got them treed, at any rate," he remarked, smiling. "They can't come out, even if we can't go in. We may as well sit down and wait. Better get off your horse."
I started to comply, when the animal beneath me flinched violently, staggered, and fell, almost rolling me under as he went down. That was a sufficient lesson, and we quickly drew back out of range, yet within sight of the pass in the rocks.
By and by a flutter of white showed at the mouth of the pass, and the negro, Hasan, stepped out and came toward us down the trail, waving a white cloth tied fast to a stick.
"A parley," said Semi Dual, and started to walk toward him. With my revolver gripped tightly in my hand, I followed his steps.
When Hasan was within fifteen paces, Dual motioned to him and then spoke, asking him what he sought. The black replied in what seemed to me threatening language, running on and on, and finally pausing as if awaiting a reply.
Dual had made no sign while he talked, but now he turned to me, after signing Hasan to wait a moment for his answer, and rapidly translated what the eunuch had said.
"He tells me that our continued presence here can result only in Mrs. Parton's death. Hafiz, it seems, has resolved to sacrifice her rather than give her up. Hafiz has commanded Hasan that if he should be followed and pressed to a degree where escape should be impossible, he was to kill her out of hand. Now Hasan threatens that unless we withdraw at once, he will carry out his master's decree."
A great wave of sick despondency settled upon my soul. I did not try to answer or argue, but turned away to conceal all I felt. Dual evidently perceived my hopelessness, for he turned back to Hasan and spoke a few brief words. The black bowed and replied in what was apparently an affirmative.
Dual nodded and, turning upon his heel, walked back to the horses and swung up to the saddle. Then as I followed, in heartsick silence, he urged his mount forward down the trail. I dropped in beside him, and we went down into the gloom of the cañon. Behind us rang Hasan's mocking laugh.
"DUAL," I cried out in desperation of spirit, as we went slowly down the rock-strewn trail, "are you really giving up? Is there nothing, not anything, we can do? Are we going to quit?"
"I never quit," said my companion. "As for your own actions, they depend entirely upon yourself."
I glanced sharply at him in the dusk, not quite understanding.
"Dual," I cried again, "tell me—tell me, Semi Dual, just what you mean."
Dual rode in still closer to me as we picked our way downward, yet for a moment he was silent. Presently, after appearing to weigh the matter carefully, he began to speak.
"Up to now, Glace, I have not told you everything which Mousin's lover told her and she related to me. This cave where Hafiz has frequently kept his victims in the past is, it seems, not really so much a cave as a sort of tunnel though a shoulder of the mountain.
"The gulch up which we have ridden today continues on the other side of the pass; not only that, but it turns about the shoulder of the mountain and doubles back in the form of an immense 'U.' The farther side of this curve runs back so as to almost parallel our present course, and the cave runs through this shoulder of the mountain, between the two sides of the loop, opening by another aperture in the sheer face of the other leg of the cañon, under an overhanging ledge. Thus, while the opening is in the far side of the loop, it is on the other side of the gulch as reached from here.
"A far easier trail than this we are on leads up to the near side of the chasm, across from the opening of the cave, and in former times the Hafiz band have taken advantage of this to send provisions to the cave. In order to do this they have stretched a rope from the cave's opening to the cliff on this side, and by means of a block and hook and a drawing line they can slide bundles across the gorge and pull them into the cave.
"If we can find the trail and get up there and swing across, we might take Hafiz's assassins in the rear and still succeed in our task. I know nothing more than what Mousin told. I do not know that the rope is still there. I do not know whether it is still strong enough to bear our weight. It might break and hurl us on to the rocks a thousand feet below. It is only something which we can try."
He paused, and for a moment we rode in silence; then he spoke again.
"It is the only hope, but I want you to look at the thing from all sides. I tell you that I do not think you morally called upon to undertake the venture unless of your own free will. It is something from which most men would shrink. Therefore I have told you all at this time. It is for you to decide."
"And you?" I asked in reply.
"I told you I never quit. I shall attempt it in any event," said Dual.
I put out my hand and gripped his in the dark.
"Then count me in," I told him. "I thought you knew me better than to think I would quit as long as you were in the game. If you can't save Alice Parton she might as well commend her soul to God." I fancied Dual smiled as he returned the pressure of my hand.
"To tell you the truth, I suspected you would make the venture," he responded. "Well, let us look for the other trail."
We rode on down into the gloom of the gorge, seeking now on the left hand wall for any break or other evidences of a passage leading off in the way we must go.
After a long time we came to what seemed to be a side gully cutting into the main one, and Dual stopped his horse and got down.
"There's a path leading up this way," he said presently. "Better get off and tie your horse; we'll leave them here and go on on foot."
I dismounted, and Dual and I led our mounts into the bushes and fastened them securely by the bridle-reins, taking the tether-ropes with us in case of need, when we set out. As Dual said, they would be handy to bind up our foes with, if nothing more.
With the ropes coiled about our middles we set off up the side path, clambering forward in the darkness along a constantly ascending way. Even on foot, however, I could sense that it was an easier ascent than the one we had ridden along in the after noon. Up and up we scrambled, and as we climbed there began to come a lightening of the gloom.
A sort of soft twilight filled the wild region through which we hastened, and presently I became aware that it was due to the rising moon. How long it was that we toiled upward I do not rightly know, but at length we came out at the top, and as we stopped to catch our panting breach Dual pointed off to the left.
There I beheld a ragged gash in the plateau upon which we stood, and understood that it was the gorge. After a moment Dual turned off toward it, and I trailed along.
Even yet, at times, I dream of that awful place as I first saw it under the red moon. Sometimes at night I seem to be back there, and imagine that I am falling, falling, falling into a bottomless abyss, and wake with a cry of mortal terror, to find myself in bed, and give thanks.
Then Semi Dual gave me but little time to dwell upon the horrors of the place. Yet, even in the time I had, the brief interval while he prepared for our hazard, I saw enough to haunt me the rest of my life. We stood on the lip of a chasm which fell away into depths of utter darkness as yet unillumined by the risen moon, and filled with a dull reverberation as of waters dashing themselves upon unseen stones. Where we stood the lip jutted out so that we stood sheer above the drop of the abyss, with nothing on either side of us or in front, save night-shrouded space.
Off to the right hung the ball of the moon, red and sullen, throwing our shadows across the narrow ledge until they ended in decapitated trunks, the heads cut off by the darkness of the empty air beyond.
I woke from a sort of nervous enchantment of wonder and awe to find that Dual was speaking to me. I saw him kneeling on the outer tip of the ledge, fumbling outward over that dizzying space, feeling, I knew, for the rope. It was his announcement that he had found it which brought me back to time and place.
"The rope is here," he was saying. "I have found it, and it seems to be firm. Also, here is the draw-rope for their pulley. Let us see if we can get the block across."
Tentatively, as I watched, he drew in on the smaller rope. It gave, and Semi heaved a sigh of relief. Hand over hand I watched him haul in on the line until a wooden pulley-block, with a swaying dependent hook, came out of the farther shadows and swung into view. Dual drew it across and made it fast.
Then he rose to his feet and stood peering into the distance as if puzzling something out. At length he drew a long breath and turned to me.
"I see how it is," he said slowly. "I was trying to get it quite right in my head. This greater rope which crosses to the other side is hung with enough slack so that when anything is swung on the hook it will be carried across mainly by its own weight, the shorter end of the rope swinging more and more to a perpendicular as the momentum of the weight on the pulley forces the load across and takes up the slack by crowding the lower end of the rope down.
"When the weight's momentum is overcome, however, unless it is pulled in by the draw-rope; the spring of the supporting rope would slide it back, so that it would hang over the chasm. Why they fastened the upper rope above the ledge which juts over the cave's mouth I can't see to-night. Perhaps there was some natural reason why they couldn't fasten it in the cave itself. Anyway, it makes it difficult for us; for, failing the aid of some one to draw us in at the other end, I'm afraid we'll have to jump when we get there—or at least—I will.
"Well, I think I shall go first. I will leave you here in case I should not swing far enough the first time to make the leap. If I fall short you can pull me back. If I get across all right you will pull the block back, and I will steady you so that you won't have to jump."
He turned to the block, pushed it a little way out from the lip of the wall, lay flat upon his stomach, and seized the hook in both hands.
"If you should not feel the rope grow slack in a moment or two after I swing off, pull me back," he commanded. "If I get across I'll twitch the draw-rope, and you can come ahead. You had better fasten a loop of the rope around your body and slip it over the hook."
All this time I had stood speechless, full of the horror of the idea of the swing out over that chasm of darkness. Now I woke to speech.
"Semi," I cried, "the rope may break when you swing off. Isn't there some way to test it first? Man, you may be going to certain death."
"Very true," the man responded without a quaver. "However, we shall soon know. Now watch the rope."
With a wriggling motion of his body he was gone. I saw him shoot out into space and swing rapidly downward, then as I looked he disappeared into the shadow, and I stood alone on the narrow ledge, wondering if I was going to turn coward or be man enough to follow the way Dual had gone.
I cursed myself as I found myself trembling, while I knelt with my fingers feeling for the twitch of the rope, which would show that Dual was safe. I know I sobbed dryly when it came.
Gritting my teeth to still their chattering, I began hauling in on the block. After a time I saw it coming to me along the slender way of the rope, swaying slightly from side to side.
Forcing myself to the action, I pulled it in, got down on my stomach, and slipped a loop of the rope about my waist over the hook, and grasped the hook itself with both hands. Then I lay for a moment, trying to gather myself for the attempt.
As I lay my head was over the edge of the chasm, and I looked down info the dark where there was no light. I thought of a little girl far away in the United States, whom I had held in my arms on that afternoon before I started off with Semi Dual to trail half-way around the world. I looked over my shoulder and gazed at the red moon. Then I wriggled yet farther forward, clutching desperately at the hook. I thought rather than uttered a swift prayer, my feet slipped from the ledge, and I plunged into space.
Over and over again I have lived the moments of that swift flight out and down, over the gorge. With a wrench and jerk I swung downward until I hung perpendicular below the shrieking block. A wind born of my passage beat into my face. The iron of the hook cut into my hands and hurt.
A swift sensation of falling started in my innermost being and mounted and made me dizzy and faint. My brain reeled and swam. From far below the unseen waters rose in a sullen roar.
Onward and downward I plunged until the rise of the rope began to check my momentum, and I stopped in mid air and began to slide slowly down the rope back the way I had come.
A strangled cry rose in my throat and died unuttered. I hung struggling on the hook much like a fish hooked and swung into the air. Then, when I had all but despaired, I began to move slowly inward toward the rocky face of the cliff again, and knew that Dual was pulling upon the draw-rope.
In another moment I felt his hands as he seized and held me fast, and as he released me from the rope which held me I staggered and sank down on the ledge in front of the cave.
Dual seized my shoulders and pulled me up. "Come on," he said sharply. "You've got no time to faint."
Still staggering in my stride, I followed him into the hole in the rocks. We were in the cave.
Slowly, step by step, we made our progress inward and upward, following the slant of the rising floor. The passage turned and twisted, and was dark as the grave. We could go but slowly, guided only by the sense of touch.
We had to tread softly, lest we dislodge some loose stone and betray our approach. Yet we did advance, and after a seemingly long time, which was in reality but a few minutes as I now know, there began to be a faint radiance reflected from the overhanging walls.
Back of a jutting angle Dual paused, and, feeling for my hand, drew me close to his side. Together we peered around the face of the rock, and saw what lay before. Huddled against one wall of the cave was a woman's figure. Near by it stood the negro Hasan.
Farther to the front crouched two other men, apparently guarding the mouth of the cave, for their backs were turned toward Hasan and the girl, A flare stuck into a crevice of the wall showed us all this plainly, and as we gazed in silence Dual slowly nodded his head.
He drew himself slowly forward, sliding his ammonia pistol into one hand and crouching like a racer set for the start. Another instant and I stood alone. Dual was rushing in upon Hasan, who whirled at his approach, gave him one look, and threw both hands before his eyes.
The negro evidently remembered the cañon episode that afternoon. Hard on Dual's heels I followed, carrying a loop of the rope I had brought coiled about my waist.
Dual discharged his pistol full against the spreading fingers of the eunuch, and the strangling fumes of the burning liquid filled the air of the cave. I flung myself forward, and, dropping the loop of the rope over the negro's head and shoulders, pulled it tight, binding his arms.
He offered little or no resistance at all, seemingly overcome by the pain of his eyes and face, and I quickly slipped a noose about his legs and laid him flat with a savage jerk, into which I put all the rage against the fellow which I felt.
Meanwhile Dual had not waited to see the outcome, but had flung himself upon the other two guardians of the cave, and now I ran to his assistance, leaving Hasan groaning on the floor.
One of the two men at the front was writhing upon the earth as I approached, while Dual was holding the other down by sitting astride his form. I ran up and quickly had the uncaptured rascal neatly trussed. Then, with a piece of Semi's rope, we secured the individual upon whom he sat. As I pulled the last knot tight Semi Dual rose and faced me with a smile.
"A bloodless victory, after all, friend Glace," he cried. "Still if I'd had to take another shot at these chaps, I fancy I'd have strangled myself."
His absolute coolness struck some bizarre streak of humor in my overwrought brain, and I leaned against the side of the cave and began to laugh, until Dual caught me firmly by the arm and gave me a reminding shake.
I calmed down, and together we walked back toward the spot where Alice Parton had sat. We found her standing, gazing at us, as we approached, in unbelieving wonder. I don't think Semi Dual said a single word to her then—just walked up and took both her little hands, as he might those of a child, and began to lead her out of the cave. I gave a last look to Hasan's bonds, and followed them out into the mountain defile.
We found the horses of Hafiz's followers tied a little way from the cave mouth, and while I untied them Dual assisted Alice Parton to a seat. Then we men mounted, and together we threaded the narrow pass in the rocks and began to descend the trail.
I only remember one time when Dual spoke to the woman we had rescued as we went slowly down the rocky path, and that was when we both heard her sobbing as she rode.
"Did they harm you in any way, Mrs. Parton?" said Semi Dual, very low.
The woman ceased her sobbing, and, after riding forward in silence for a moment, said quietly:
I thought I heard Dual draw a quick, deep sigh.
Later we found our own mounts where we had left them, and took them with us, Dual and I each leading a horse.
Just at daylight we reached the mouth of the gorge, halted, and had a bite to eat; then we mounted and pressed forward again.
"Now, if Kahrloff sends out his Cossacks, and Hafiz doesn't get into the game again before we meet him, everything should end well," said Dual.
We rode forward, chatting easily, and just before noon, while Alice was telling us how she had torn up her scarf and dropped the pieces in the hope that we would find them, a cloud of dust appeared far to the front.
Presently there came out of it a body of horsemen, moving swiftly forward, which in turn developed into Kahrloff himself at the head of a detachment from the Cossacks under his command.
Kahrloff listened to our story with numerous interruptions of admiring congratulation. Then, after sending some half-dozen men on to bring in Hasan and his fellow bandits, he turned and escorted us back to the city with the remainder of his men.
We arrived at Teheran late that afternoon, Alice riding the last leg of the journey in Kahrloff's own carriage, which he had had follow along, and we went at once to the American consulate.
For the second time I led Alice up the steps and presented her to Stevens, who met her with actual tears in his eyes, and again showed her to his room. But we took no chances, and so by an odd course of circumstances, and at Kahrloff's own suggestion, the troopers of the Czar guarded the American consulate that night.
BAKU. Kahrloff sent us under escort to Resht. We came by boat to the end of the Asian railway, and we came unannounced, for Dual decided not to excite Parton's or Sheldon's anticipations until we had really arrived.
Of Hafiz there was no longer any fear. Kahrloff had netted the crafty fox that night when Dual and I rode into the mountains. He had sent to Hafiz's palace and intercepted him just setting out for some place he refused to name. With Hasan and his two men he was now under close guard in his own home, awaiting the result of Kahrloff's report on the affair.
We left the boat at Baku, and, entering a carriage, were driven first to police headquarters, where Dual got our friends' address, and went on to the International Hotel. There inquiry elicited the information that our parties were in their room, and we went up at once.
Dual rapped on the door, and a voice, plainly that of Sheldon, bade us come in. Semi pushed the door before him, and we entered the room.
As we entered and were recognized, both Parton and Sheldon sprang to their feet, and an instant later Alice Parton was sobbing in her husband's arms, which crushed her close, while his lips sought and found hers.
After a long moment he released her and held her at arm's length, as though to devour her with his eyes, then clasped her close again to his heart and held her so.
Presently she freed herself from his clasp as she remembered the other man, who stood with his haggard face working strangely, his quivering arms held outstretched, and with a glad little cry she fled in between those arms.
Colonel Mac gathered her in like a child, and held her, petting her cheek.
"My little girl—my little—my little girlie—" he mumbled, and broke utterly down into a sob-shaken old man. Dual and I turned away together, to be brought back presently by the colonel's voice.
"Say, Glace, go down and get me a quart of champagne; I gotter have a drink on this."
I laughed outright and departed, to return after a time with the liquor, and to find Alice Parton sitting openly upon her husband's knee, chattering to the three men like a magpie.
We had our drink, and then we all together cried out that we wanted to go home. Dual despatched a messenger for information as to the earliest time of departure possible, and when he returned we sent down to have our bill made up for morning. We slept that night in the hotel.
The next day we started, westward now, but with what different feelings only we knew.
As we rushed homeward Alice Parton told us the story which Dual would not permit her to speak of that first day in the Baku hotel. We all listened eagerly as the girl ran along in her description. It was indeed a queer tale which she told, between interruptions from Parton and Colonel Mac.
"When Archie left me that day to go with Hafiz—ugh, how I hate the brute!—I never dreamed that anything could go wrong. There had been nothing in the man's manner to excite suspicion, since we had really met, and before that nothing except that he seemed a little bit rude in staring at me so I guess Archie and he hadn't been gone over a couple of minutes, though, when a black man, whom I now know was one of his eunuchs, approached me and spoke to me, so that I raised my head. As I did so he threw a scarf or cloth of some sort around my neck and pulled it so tight that I could neither breathe nor cry out.
"I was terribly frightened, and I tried to struggle as well as I could. I remember that my string of coral beads broke while I was resisting the men, and the beads were scattered all over the floor; but I was powerless and fast strangling, and couldn't do much against three of them, for two others had picked me up as soon as the black man had twisted the cloth about my neck. They picked me up and carried me into another room, and through that into still another one, where they laid me down on a couch near some windows which opened on to a sort of balcony. I began to struggle again and kick my heels against the wall, thinking some one might hear and come. Then they tied my feet together so that I couldn't do that any more.
"After a bit the black who had first seized me, and who had left as soon as they got me into the far room, came back. He had a cup in his hand, and he motioned that I was to drink the stuff in it. I shook my head, but he only grinned and made a sign to the two men who had carried me into the room.
"One of them came over and took me by the throat back of the angle of the jaws, and the other untwisted the scarf from my neck. I tried to cry out then, and he shoved the scarf into my mouth, while the other fellow pressed his fingers into my throat until I would have screamed if I could, and I simply had to open my mouth.
"When I had my mouth open they took the scarf out and poured what was in the cup between my lips, and, after holding me till I was nearly suffocated, the man holding my throat suddenly let go and clapped his hand over my lips so that I could not cry out. Even then I tried to spit the stuff out; but he was too strong, so after a bit I swallowed it just because I had to have air. After that they gagged me again and watched me closely, and after a time I began to feel that I didn't care what they did with me.
"Of course I wanted to see Archie and dad, but I felt so tired that I really wanted to sleep more than anything else. The room began to look funny, like it had grown into a hall. The walls seemed ever so far apart, and the man beside me seemed a long way off. I know I wondered once if I couldn't get up and run away before he could catch me, but my legs felt like lead, and then I know they picked me up and carried me a long way out a door or window. After a long time they laid me down and covered me over with something. Then I guess I went to sleep.
"After that I can't seem to remember anything until I woke up on the train. I don't know how I got there, and when I did wake up we were in motion. It seemed to be some sort of a private car which I was in, for my meals were served to me regularly by the same black eunuch who had thrown the cloth around my neck in the hotel, and there were some other men there, too, and a couple of women who took my own clothes away and insisted upon dressing me in things similar to those they themselves wore.
"On the whole they did not treaty me badly, leaving me have the freedom of the entire car except when we were in stations along the line, when they guarded me very carefully, so that I did not have any chance to give any sort of an alarm.
"Of course I know now that Hafiz had had me kidnaped, and I was fearfully anxious, still I tried to keep as good control of myself as I could and not break down. I ate what they gave me, to keep strong so that if an opportunity to escape presented I might have the physical strength necessary to make the attempt. But I didn't have a chance from the time we left Paris until we got to Baku.
"When we were leaving Baku I thought I saw an opportunity, and tried to throw myself over the rail of the boat, trusting to my being a good swimmer to enable me to get to land, but one of the other women grabbed me and started to screaming, and they made me go below.
"Then once on the way down from Resht, as you say it is called, I tried to steal a horse one night when I fancied the guard was asleep, but all I accomplished was to be thrown down and bound hand and foot, and after that they guarded me every night.
"When we got to Teheran they took me to the palace of Hafiz, and I stayed there until Mr. Dual and Mr. Glace got me away. I didn't see anything of Hafiz until the night before I was rescued from the palace. Then he came in for a moment or two and informed me that he had selected me for his favorite, and hoped that after a time I would learn to make the best of it. I told him I'd die before I yielded, and he laughed and said that I'd die unless I did. Then he went away.
"That is practically all I have to tell, though it seemed terrible to me during the time it was happening, and but for the hope that somehow you would find a way to follow and come for me, I sometimes think I would have gone utterly mad."
After she had finished Dual and I told what we had to tell, and having all unbosomed ourselves we returned to a basis of general friendship, and passed the time very pleasantly as we sped on across Russia, Germany, and France.
Paris came at last.
We left the railway station and hailed a passing fiacre, leaving our luggage to come after us on another cab. Then we went up through the spring-greened streets of the city, where the early lights were beginning to twinkle, and the early amusement seekers were already coming forth, and were soon at the hotel.
When we had entered and faced the gaping employees, who knew of the strange disappearance, and were again up at the Parton suite, Dual turned to us all with a smile.
"Here the trail ends," he said lightly; "even where it began."
At Dual's request we tarried a few days in the French capital. I hunted up a cable office that first night and sent Smithson a story which made him sit up and howl the first time he saw me after I did get back. Then, as Dual's guest, I spent some days poking into the various phases of Parisian life, from Montmartre to the Rue St. Germain.
On the night before we finally left for home Dual and I called upon our friends to say au revoir. They were going south into Italy and from there, on Alice Parton's expressed desire, they would take a boat for New York.
We spent a very pleasant hour in their suite, and just before we left Alice asked us to wait a minute longer, rose and ran into her room.
In a moment she was back and, dropping into her chair, she spread out upon her lap one end of the now sadly abbreviated wistaria scarf.
"See," she said half wistfully, "I have still so much to remind me of what true friendship means. Badly as I needed to use it in various ways, I managed to keep so much, not only because I love it, but because of a plan which I have formed. I wonder," looking at Semi Dual, "if you can guess what it can be."
"I could try," laughed my friend, and lay back in his chair, looking full into the woman's eyes, which sparkled and shone with a glad light.
For a long moment he sat so, then leaned slightly toward her.
"It would make a very dainty little cap, I should think," said he.