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   Chapter 26 IN WHICH THEY BOTH WIN

Elusive Isabel By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 12288

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Mr. Grimm dropped into a chair with his teeth clenched, and his face like chalk. For a minute or more he sat there turning it all over in his mind. Truly the triumph had been robbed of its splendor when the blow fell here-here upon a woman he loved.

"There's no shame in the confession of one who is fairly beaten," Isabel went on softly, after a little. "There are many things that you don't understand. I came to Washington with an authority from my sovereign higher even than that vested in the ambassador; I came as I did and compelled Count di Rosini to obtain an invitation to the state ball for me in order that I might meet a representative of Russia there that night and receive an answer as to whether or not they would join the compact. I received that answer; its substance is of no consequence now.

"And you remember where I first met you? It was while you were investigating the shooting of Se?or Alvarez in the German embassy. That shooting, as you know, was done by Prince d'Abruzzi, so almost from the beginning my plans went wrong because of the assumption of authority by the prince. The paper he took from Se?or Alvarez after the shooting was supposed to bear vitally upon Mexico's attitude toward our plan, but, as it developed, it was about another matter entirely."

"Yes, I know," said Mr. Grimm.

"The event of that night which you did not learn was that Germany agreed to join the compact upon conditions. Mr. Rankin, who was attached to the German embassy in an advisory capacity, delivered the answer to me, and I pretended to faint in order that I might reasonably avoid you."

"I surmised that much," remarked Mr. Grimm.

"The telegraphing I did with my fan was as much to distract your attention as anything else, and at the same time to identify myself to Mr. Rankin, whom I had never met. You knew him, of course; I didn't."

She was silent a while as her eyes steadily met those of Mr. Grimm. Finally she went on:

"When next I met you it was in the Venezuelan legation; you were investigating the theft of the fifty thousand dollars in gold from the safe. I thrust myself into that case, because I was afraid of you; and mercilessly destroyed a woman's name in your eyes to further my plans. I made you believe that Se?orita Rodriguez stole that fifty thousand dollars, and I returned it to you, presumably, while we stood in her room that night. Only it was not her room-it was mine! I stole the fifty thousand dollars! All the details, even to her trip to see Mr. Griswold in Baltimore in company with Mr. Cadwallader, had been carefully worked out; and she did bring me the combination of the safe from Mr. Griswold on the strength of a forged letter. But she didn't know it. There was no theft, of course. I had no intention of keeping the money. It was necessary to take it to distract attention from the thing I did do-break a lock inside the safe to get a sealed packet that contained Venezuela's answer to our plan. I sealed that packet again, and there was never a suspicion that it had been opened."

"Only a suspicion," Mr. Grimm corrected.

"Then came the abduction of Monsieur Boisségur, the French ambassador. I plunged into that case as I did in the other because I was afraid of you and had to know just how much you knew. It was explained to you as an attempt at extortion with details which I carefully supplied. As a matter of fact, Monsieur Boisségur opposed our plans, even endangered them; and it was not advisable to have him recalled or even permit him to resign at the moment. So we abducted him, intending to hold him until direct orders could reach him from Paris. Understand, please, that all these things were made possible by the aid and cooperation of dozens, scores, of agents who were under my orders; every person who appeared in that abduction was working at my direction. The ambassador's unexpected escape disarranged our plans; but he was taken out of the embassy by force the second time under your very eyes. The darkness which made this possible was due to the fact that while you were looking for the switch, and I was apparently aiding, I was holding my hand over it all the time to keep you from turning on the light. You remember that?"

Mr. Grimm nodded.

"All the rest of it you know," she concluded wearily. "You compelled me to leave the Venezuelan legation by your espionage, but in the crowded hotel to which I moved I had little difficulty avoiding your Mr. Hastings, your Mr. Blair and your Mr. Johnson, so I came and went freely without your knowledge. The escape of the prince from prison you arranged, so you understand all of that, as well as the meeting and attempted signing of the compact, and the rapid recovery of Se?or Alvarez. And, after all, it was my fault that our plans failed, because if I had not been-been uneasy as to your condition and had not made the mistake of going to the deserted little house where you were a prisoner, the plans would have succeeded, the compact been signed."

"I'm beginning to understand," said Mr. Grimm gravely, and a wistful, tender look crept into his eyes. "If it had not been for that act of-consideration and kindness to me-"

"We would have succeeded in spite of you," explained Isabel. "We were afraid of you, Mr. Grimm. It was a compliment to you that we considered it necessary to account for your whereabouts at the time of the signing of the compact."

"And if you had succeeded," remarked Mr. Grimm, "the whole civilized world would have come to war."

"I never permitted myself to think of it that way," she replied frankly. "There is something splendid to me in a battle of brains; there is exaltation, stimulation, excitement in it. It has always possessed the greatest fascination for me. I have always won, you know, until now. I failed! And my reward is 'Traitor!'"

"Just a word of assurance now," she went on after a moment. "The Latin compact has been definitely given up; the plan has been dismissed, thanks to you; the peace of the world is unbroken. And who am I? I know you have wondered; I know your agents have scoured the world to find out. I a

m the daughter of a former Italian ambassador to the Court of St. James. My mother was an English woman. I was born and received my early education in England, hence my perfect knowledge of that tongue. In Rome I am, or have been, alas, the Countess Rosa d'Orsetti; now I am an exile with a price on my head. That is all, except for several years I was a trusted agent of my government, and a friend of my queen."

She rose and extended both hands graciously. Mr. Grimm seized the slender white fingers and stood with eyes fixed upon hers. Slowly a flush crept into her pallid cheeks, and she bowed her head.

"Wonderful woman!" he said softly.

"I shall ask a favor of you now," she went on gently. "Let all this that you have learned take the place of whatever you expected to learn, and go. Believe me, there can only be one result if you meet-if you meet the inventor of the wireless cap upon which so much was staked, and so much lost." She shuddered a little, then raised the blue-gray eyes beseechingly to his face. "Please go."

Go! The word straightened Mr. Grimm in his tracks and he allowed her hands to fall limply. Suddenly his face grew hard. In the ecstasy of adoration he had momentarily forgotten his purpose here. His eyes lost their ardor; his nerveless hands dropped beside him.

"No," he said.

"You must-you must," she urged gently. "I know what it means to you. You feel it your duty to unravel the secret of the percussion cap? You can't; no man can. No one knows the inventor more intimately than I, and even I couldn't get it from him. There are no plans for it in existence, and even if there were he would no more sell them than you would have accepted a fortune at the hands of Prince d'Abruzzi to remain silent. The compact has failed; you did that. The agents have scattered-gone to other duties. That is enough."

"No," said Mr. Grimm. There was a strange fear tearing at his heart,-"No one knows the inventor more intimately than I." "No," he said again. "I won from my government a promise to be made good upon a condition-I must fulfil that condition."

"But there is nothing, promotion, honor, reward, that would compensate you for the loss of your life," she entreated. "There is still time." She was pleading now, with her slim white hands resting on his shoulders, and the blue-gray eyes fixed upon his face.

"It's more than all that," he said. "That condition is you-your safety."

"For me?" she repeated. "For me? Then, won't you go for-for my sake?"

"No."

"Won't you go if you know you will be killed," and suddenly her face turned scarlet, "and that your life is dear to me?"

"No."

Isabel dropped upon her knees before him.

"This inventor-this man whom you insist on seeing is half insane with disappointment and anger," she rushed on desperately. "Remember that a vast fortune, honor, fame were at his finger tips when you-you placed them beyond his reach by the destruction of the compact. He has sworn to kill you."

"I can't go!"

"If you know that when you meet one of you will die?"

"No." The answer came fiercely, through clenched teeth. Mr. Grimm disengaged his right hand and drew his revolver; the barrel clicked under his fingers as it spun.

"If I tell you that of the two human beings in this world whom I love this man is one?"

"No."

A shuffling step sounded in the hallway just outside. Mr. Grimm stepped back from the kneeling figure, and turned to face the door with his revolver ready.

"Great God!" It was a scream of agony. "He is my brother! Don't you see?"

She came to her feet and went staggering across to the door. The key clicked in the lock.

"Your brother!" exclaimed Mr. Grimm.

"He wouldn't listen to me-you wouldn't listen to me, and now-and now! God have mercy!"

There was a sharp rattling, a clamor at the door, and Isabel turned to Mr. Grimm mutely, with arms outstretched. The revolver barrel clicked under his hand, then, after a moment, he replaced the weapon in his pocket.

"Please open the door," he requested quietly.

"He'll kill you!" she screamed.

Exhausted, helpless, she leaned against a chair with her face in her hands. Mr. Grimm went to her suddenly, tore the hands from her face, and met the tear-stained eyes.

"I love you," he said. "I want you to know that!"

"And I love you-that's why it matters so."

Leaving her there, Mr. Grimm strode straight to the door and threw it open. He saw only the outline of a thin little man of indeterminate age, then came a blinding flash under his eyes, and he leaped forward. There was a short, sharp struggle, and both went down. The revolver! He must get that! He reached for it with the one idea of disarming this madman. The muzzle was thrust toward him, he threw up his arm to protect his head, and then came a second flash. Instantly he felt the figure in his arms grow limp; and after a moment he rose. The face of the man on the floor was pearly gray; and a thin, scarlet thread flowed from his temple.

"In a Stride Mr. Grimm Was Beside Her."

He turned toward Isabel. She lay near the chair, a little crumpled heap. In a stride he was beside her, and had lifted her head to his knee. The blue-gray eyes opened into his once, then they closed. She had fainted. The first bullet had pierced her arm; it was only a flesh wound. He lifted her gently and placed her on a couch, after which he disappeared into another room. In a little while there came the cheerful ting-a-ling of a telephone bell.

"Is this the county constable's office?" he inquired. "Well, there's been a little shooting accident at the Murdock Williams' place, five miles out from Alexandria on the old Baltimore Road. Please send some of your men over to take charge. Two hours from now call up Mr. Grimm at Secret Service headquarters in Washington and he will explain. Good-by."

And a few minutes later Mr. Grimm walked along the road toward an automobile a hundred yards away, bearing Miss Thorne in his arms. The chauffeur cranked the machine and climbed to his seat.

"Washington!" directed Mr. Grimm. "Never mind the speed laws."

THE END

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