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   Chapter 11 THE INTOXICATION OF WAR

Phantom Wires: A Novel By Arthur Stringer Characters: 11627

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


It was two days later,-and they had been days of blank suspense for him,-that Durkin made his way to Frank's room, unobserved. His first resolution had been to wait for a clearer coast, but his anxiety overcame him, and he could hold off no longer.

As he opened the door and stepped noiselessly inside he caught sight of her by the window, her face ruminative and in repose. It looked, for the moment, unhappy and tired and hard. She seemed to stand before him with a mask off, a designing and disillusioned woman, no longer in love with the game of life. Or it was, he imagined, as she would look ten years later, when her age had begun to tell on her, and her still buoyant freshness was gone. It was the same feeling that had come to him on the Angiolina steps, at Abbazia. He even wondered if in the stress of the life they were now following she would lose the last of her good looks, if even her ever-resilient temperament would deaden and harden, and no longer rise supreme to the exacting moment. Or could it be that she was acting a part for him? that all this fine bravado was an attitude, a r?le, a pretense, taken on for his sake? Could it be-and the sudden thought stung him to the quick-that she was deliberately and consciously degrading herself to what she knew was a lower plane of thought and life, that the bond of their older companionship might still remain unsevered?

But, as her startled eyes caught sight of him, a welcoming light came into her relaxed face. With her first spoken word some earlier touch of moroseness seemed to slip away from her. If it required an effort to shake herself together, she gave no outward sign of it. She had promised that there should be no complaining and no hesitations from her; and Durkin knew she would adhere to that promise, to the bitter end.

She went to him, and clung to him, a little hungrily. There seemed something passionate in her very denial of passion. For when he lifted her drooping head, with all its wealth of chestnut shot through with paler gold, and gazed at her upturned face between his two hands, with a little cry of endearment, she shut her mouth hard, on a sob.

"You're back-and safe?" he asked.

She forced a smile.

"Yes, back safe and sound!"

"But tired, I know?"

"Yes-a little. But-"

She broke off, and he could see that she was rising from her momentary luxury of relaxation as a fugitive rises after a minute's breathing-spell.

"Well?" he asked anxiously.

"Pobloff has found us!" she said, in her quiet contralto.

"He's here, you mean?"

"He's in Genoa. I caught sight of him in a cab, hurrying from the French Consulate to the Cafe Jazelli. I slipped into a silversmith's shop, as he raced past, and escaped him."

"And then what?"

"Then several things happened. But first, tell me this: did you get a chance to look over Keenan's room?"

"I was bolted inside twenty minutes after you and he had left the hotel. His trunk was even unlocked; I looked through everything!"

"Which, of course, was charming work!" she interpolated, with not ungentle scorn.

He shrugged his shoulders deprecatively. "Not quite as charming as dining with your new friend!"

"I almost like him!" admitted the woman frankly, femininely rejoicing at the note of jealousy in the other's voice.

"And no worse than some of the work we've done, or may soon have to do!"

Then he went on, with rising passion: "And I'll tell you this, Frank whatever we do, and whatever we have to go through, we've got to get those securities out of Keenan! We've got to have them, now! We've got to pound at it, and dog him, and fight him, and outwit him, until we either win or lose and go under! It's a big game, and it has big risks, but we're in it too deep, now, to talk about drawing back, or to complain about the dirty work it leads to!"

"I wasn't complaining," she reproved, in her dead voice. "I only spoke a bald truth. But you don't tell me what you've found."

"I got nothing-absolutely nothing; not one shred of information even. There's nothing in the room. It stands to reason, then, as I told you from the first, that he is carrying the papers about with him!"

"That will make it harder," she murmured monotonously. "And you're sure your telegram has sent the Scotland Yard men to Como?"

"It must have, or we'd be running into them. The New Yorker is a Pinkerton man."

He started pacing back and forth in front of her, frowning with mingled irritation and impatience.

"Then what about Pobloff?" he suddenly asked.

"Five minutes after we had stepped out of the hotel he met us, face to face. With Keenan, I had no chance of getting away. So I simply faced it out. Then Pobloff shadowed us to the Riggi, watched us all through luncheon, and followed us down to the city again. And here's the strange part of it all. Keenan saw that we were being shadowed, from the first, and I could see him fretting and chafing under it, for he imagines that it's all because of what he's carrying with him. So, on the other hand, Pobloff has concluded Keenan and I are fellow-conspirators, for he let me go to the lift alone, just to keep his eye on Keenan, who told me he had business at the steamship agency."

"But why should we be afraid of Pobloff, then?"

"It's a choice of two evils, I should venture to say. But that's not all. As soon as I was free from each of them, and had left them there, carrying out that silent and ridiculous advance and retreat between them, I had to think both hard and fast. I decided that the best thing for me to do would be to slip down to Rome, at once, and make my visit to the Embassy."

"Yes, I found your note, telling me that."

"When I saw that I was being followed at the station I bought a ticket for Busalla, as a blind, and went in

one door of my compartment and then out the other. My wagon lit was standing on the next track. I didn't change from the one train to the other until the train for Rome started to move. Then I slipped out, and jumped for the moving platform, and was bundled into my right carriage by a guard, who thought I was trying to commit an Anna Karenina suicide-until I gave him ten francs. Whether I got away unnoticed or not I can't say for sure. But Pobloff will have resources here that we know nothing of. From now on, you may be sure, he will have Keenan watched by one of his agents, night and day!"

"Then, good heavens, we've got to step in and save Keenan from Pobloff!"

"It amounts to that," admitted Frank. "Yet, in some way, if we could only manage it, the two of them ought to fight our battle out for us, between themselves!"

"That's true-but did you get to Rome?"

"Yes, without trouble."

"And you got the money?"

"Only half of it. They hedged, and said the other half could not be paid until Pobloff's arrest. Jim, we must be on our guard against that man."

"Pobloff doesn't count!" ejaculated Durkin impatiently. "It's Keenan we have to have our fight with-he's the man, the offender, we want!-that means only two hundred and fifty pounds!"

"But that is money honestly made!"

"And so will this be money honestly made. The one was legalized by the government authority; the other, in the end, will be recognized as-well, as detectional and punitive expediency. That's why I say Pobloff doesn't count!"

"But Pobloff does count," persisted Frank. "He's a vindictive and resourceful man, and he has a score against us to wipe out. Besides all that, he's a master of intrigue, and he has the entire secret service of France behind him, and he knows underground Europe as well as any spy on the Continent. He will keep at us, I tell you, until he thinks he is even!"

"Then let him-if he wants to," scoffed Durkin. "My work is with Keenan. If Pobloff tries interfering with us, the best thing we can do is to get the British Foreign Office after him. They ought to be big enough for him!"

"It's not a matter of bigness. He won't fight that way. He would never fight in the open. He knows his chances, and the country, and just where to turn, and just how far to go-and where to hide, if he has to!"

"That's true enough, I suppose. But oh, if I only had him in New York, I'd fight him to a finish, and never edge away from him and keep on the run this way!"

"Of course; but, as you say, is it worth while? After all, he's only an accident in the whole affair now, though a disagreeable one. And, what's more, Pobloff will never follow us out of Europe. This is his stamping ground. He had misfortune in America, and he's afraid of it. As I said before, Pobloff and Keenan are the acid and the alkali that ought to make the neutral salts. I mean, instead of trying to save them from each other, we ought to fling them together, in some way. Let Pobloff do the hunting for us-then let us hunt Pobloff!"

"But Keenan is wary, and shrewd, and far-seeing. How is he to be caught, even by a Pobloff?"

"That only time and Pobloff can tell. It will never be by brigandage-Keenan will never go far enough afield to give him a chance for that. But I feel it in my bones-I feel that there is danger impending, for us all."

Durkin turned and looked at her, wondering if her woman's intuition was to penetrate deeper into the unknown than his own careful analysis.

"What danger?" he asked.

"Impending dangers cease to be dangers when they can be defined. It's nothing more than a feeling. But the strangest part of the whole situation is the fact that not one of us, from any corner of the triangle, dares turn to the police for one jot of protection. None of us can run crying to the arms of constituted authority when we get hurt!"

A consciousness of their lonely detachment from their kind, of their isolation, crept through Durkin's mind. He felt momentarily depressed by a sense of friendlessness. It was like reverting to primordial conditions, wherein it was ordained that each life, alone and unassisted, should protect and save itself. He wondered if primitive man, or if even wild animals, did not always walk with that vague consciousness of continual menace, where lupine viciousness seemed eternally at war with vulpine wariness.

"Then what would you suggest?" he asked the woman, who sat before him rapt in thought.

"That we watch Keenan, continuously, night and day. He has been hunted and followed now for over two months, and he is only waiting for a clear field to take to his heels. And when he goes he is going for America. That I know. If we lose sight of him, we lose our chance."

Durkin walked to the window, and looked out at the tiled roofs and the squat chimney-pots, above which he could catch a glimpse of bursting sky-rockets and the glow of Greek fire from the narrow canyons of the streets below.

"What are all the fireworks for?" he asked her casually.

"It's a Saint's Day, of some sort, they told me at the office," she explained.

He was about to turn and speak to her again, after a minute's silence, when a low knock sounded on the door. He remained both silent and motionless, and the knock was repeated.

"In a moment!" called the woman, as she motioned Durkin to the door of her clothes-closet. He drew back, with a shake of the head. He revolted momentarily against the ignominy of the movement. But she caught him by the arm and thrust him determinedly in, closing the door on him. Then she hurriedly let her wealth of chestnut hair tumble about her shoulders. Then she answered the knock, with the loosened strands of chestnut in one abashed hand.

It was Keenan himself who stood in the hall before her.

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