CHAPTER IX. THE MAN IN SPECTACLES

BURGUNDY is a jolly thing,” said the Professor sadly, as he set his glass down.

You don’t look as if it were,” said Syme; “you drink it as if it were medicine.”

You must excuse my manner,” said the Professor dismally, “my position is rather a curious one. Inside I am really bursting with boyish merriment; but I acted the paralytic Professor so well, that now I can’t leave off. So that when I am among friends, and have no need at all to disguise myself, I still can’t help speaking slow and wrinkling my forehead—just as if it were my forehead. I can be quite happy, you understand, but only in a paralytic sort of way. The most buoyant exclamations leap up in my heart, but they come out of my mouth quite different. You should hear me say, ‘Buck up, old cock!’ It would bring tears to your eyes.”

It does,” said Syme; “but I cannot help thinking that apart from all that you are really a bit worried.”

The Professor started a little and looked at him steadily.

You are a very clever fellow,” he said, “it is a pleasure to work with you. Yes, I have rather a heavy cloud in my head. There is a great problem to face,” and he sank his bald brow in his two hands.

Then he said in a low voice—

Can you play the piano?”

Yes,” said Syme in simple wonder, “I’m supposed to have a good touch.”

Then, as the other did not speak, he added—

I trust the great cloud is lifted.”

After a long silence, the Professor said out of the cavernous shadow of his hands—

It would have done just as well if you could work a typewriter.”

Thank you,” said Syme, “you flatter me.”

Listen to me,” said the other, “and remember whom we have to see tomorrow. You and I are going tomorrow to attempt something which is very much more dangerous than trying to steal the Crown Jewels out of the Tower. We are trying to steal a secret from a very sharp, very strong, and very wicked man. I believe there is no man, except the President, of course, who is so seriously startling and formidable as that little grinning fellow in goggles. He has not perhaps the white-hot enthusiasm unto death, the mad martyrdom for anarchy, which marks the Secretary. But then that very fanaticism in the Secretary has a human pathos, and is almost a redeeming trait. But the little Doctor has a brutal sanity that is more shocking than the Secretary’s disease. Don’t you notice his detestable virility and vitality. He bounces like an india-rubber ball. Depend on it, Sunday was not asleep (I wonder if he ever sleeps?) when he locked up all the plans of this outrage in the round, black head of Dr. Bull.”

And you think,” said Syme, “that this unique monster will be soothed if I play the piano to him?”

Don’t be an ass,” said his mentor. “I mentioned the piano because it gives one quick and independent fingers. Syme, if we are to go through this interview and come out sane or alive, we must have some code of signals between us that this brute will not see. I have made a rough alphabetical cypher corresponding to the five fingers—like this, see,” and he rippled with his fingers on the wooden table—”B A D, bad, a word we may frequently require.”

Syme poured himself out another glass of wine, and began to study the scheme. He was abnormally quick with his brains at puzzles, and with his hands at conjuring, and it did not take him long to learn how he might convey simple messages by what would seem to be idle taps upon a table or knee. But wine and companionship had always the effect of inspiring him to a farcical ingenuity, and the Professor soon found himself struggling with the too vast energy of the new language, as it passed through the heated brain of Syme.

We must have several word-signs,” said Syme seriously—”words that we are likely to want, fine shades of meaning. My favourite word is ‘coeval’. What’s yours?”

Do stop playing the goat,” said the Professor plaintively. “You don’t know how serious this is.”

‘Lush’ too,” said Syme, shaking his head sagaciously, “we must have ‘lush’—word applied to grass, don’t you know?”

Do you imagine,” asked the Professor furiously, “that we are going to talk to Dr. Bull about grass?”

There are several ways in which the subject could be approached,” said Syme reflectively, “and the word introduced without appearing forced. We might say, ‘Dr. Bull, as a revolutionist, you remember that a tyrant once advised us to eat grass; and indeed many of us, looking on the fresh lush grass of summer…’”

Do you understand,” said the other, “that this is a tragedy?”

Perfectly,” replied Syme; “always be comic in a tragedy. What the deuce else can you do? I wish this language of yours had a wider scope. I suppose we could not extend it from the fingers to the toes? That would involve pulling off our boots and socks during the conversation, which however unobtrusively performed—”

Syme,” said his friend with a stern simplicity, “go to bed!”

Syme, however, sat up in bed for a considerable time mastering the new code. He was awakened next morning while the east was still sealed with darkness, and found his grey-bearded ally standing like a ghost beside his bed.

Syme sat up in bed blinking; then slowly collected his thoughts, threw off the bed-clothes, and stood up. It seemed to him in some curious way that all the safety and sociability of the night before fell with the bedclothes off him, and he stood up in an air of cold danger. He still felt an entire trust and loyalty towards his companion; but it was the trust between two men going to the scaffold.

Well,” said Syme with a forced cheerfulness as he pulled on his trousers, “I dreamt of that alphabet of yours. Did it take you long to make it up?”

The Professor made no answer, but gazed in front of him with eyes the colour of a wintry sea; so Syme repeated his question.

I say, did it take you long to invent all this? I’m considered good at these things, and it was a good hour’s grind. Did you learn it all on the spot?”

The Professor was silent; his eyes were wide open, and he wore a fixed but very small smile.

How long did it take you?”

The Professor did not move.

Confound you, can’t you answer?” called out Syme, in a sudden anger that had something like fear underneath. Whether or no the Professor could answer, he did not.

Syme stood staring back at the stiff face like parchment and the blank, blue eyes. His first thought was that the Professor had gone mad, but his second thought was more frightful. After all, what did he know about this queer creature whom he had heedlessly accepted as a friend? What did he know, except that the man had been at the anarchist breakfast and had told him a ridiculous tale? How improbable it was that there should be another friend there beside Gogol! Was this man’s silence a sensational way of declaring war? Was this adamantine stare after all only the awful sneer of some threefold traitor, who had turned for the last time? He stood and strained his ears in this heartless silence. He almost fancied he could hear dynamiters come to capture him shifting softly in the corridor outside.

Then his eye strayed downwards, and he burst out laughing. Though the Professor himself stood there as voiceless as a statue, his five dumb fingers were dancing alive upon the dead table. Syme watched the twinkling movements of the talking hand, and read clearly the message—

I will only talk like this. We must get used to it.”

He rapped out the answer with the impatience of relief—

All right. Let’s get out to breakfast.”

They took their hats and sticks in silence; but as Syme took his sword-stick, he held it hard.

They paused for a few minutes only to stuff down coffee and coarse thick sandwiches at a coffee stall, and then made their way across the river, which under the grey and growing light looked as desolate as Acheron. They reached the bottom of the huge block of buildings which they had seen from across the river, and began in silence to mount the naked and numberless stone steps, only pausing now and then to make short remarks on the rail of the banisters. At about every other flight they passed a window; each window showed them a pale and tragic dawn lifting itself laboriously over London. From each the innumerable roofs of slate looked like the leaden surges of a grey, troubled sea after rain. Syme was increasingly conscious that his new adventure had somehow a quality of cold sanity worse than the wild adventures of the past. Last night, for instance, the tall tenements had seemed to him like a tower in a dream. As he now went up the weary and perpetual steps, he was daunted and bewildered by their almost infinite series. But it was not the hot horror of a dream or of anything that might be exaggeration or delusion. Their infinity was more like the empty infinity of arithmetic, something unthinkable, yet necessary to thought. Or it was like the stunning statements of astronomy about the distance of the fixed stars. He was ascending the house of reason, a thing more hideous than unreason itself.

By the time they reached Dr. Bull’s landing, a last window showed them a harsh, white dawn edged with banks of a kind of coarse red, more like red clay than red cloud. And when they entered Dr. Bull’s bare garret it was full of light.

Syme had been haunted by a half historic memory in connection with these empty rooms and that austere daybreak. The moment he saw the garret and Dr. Bull sitting writing at a table, he remembered what the memory was—the French Revolution. There should have been the black outline of a guillotine against that heavy red and white of the morning. Dr. Bull was in his white shirt and black breeches only; his cropped, dark head might well have just come out of its wig; he might have been Marat or a more slipshod Robespierre.

Yet when he was seen properly, the French fancy fell away. The Jacobins were idealists; there was about this man a murderous materialism. His position gave him a somewhat new appearance. The strong, white light of morning coming from one side creating sharp shadows, made him seem both more pale and more angular than he had looked at the breakfast on the balcony. Thus the two black glasses that encased his eyes might really have been black cavities in his skull, making him look like a death’s-head. And, indeed, if ever Death himself sat writing at a wooden table, it might have been he.

He looked up and smiled brightly enough as the men came in, and rose with the resilient rapidity of which the Professor had spoken. He set chairs for both of them, and going to a peg behind the door, proceeded to put on a coat and waistcoat of rough, dark tweed; he buttoned it up neatly, and came back to sit down at his table.

The quiet good humour of his manner left his two opponents helpless. It was with some momentary difficulty that the Professor broke silence and began, “I’m sorry to disturb you so early, comrade,” said he, with a careful resumption of the slow de Worms manner. “You have no doubt made all the arrangements for the Paris affair?” Then he added with infinite slowness, “We have information which renders intolerable anything in the nature of a moment’s delay.”

Dr. Bull smiled again, but continued to gaze on them without speaking. The Professor resumed, a pause before each weary word—

Please do not think me excessively abrupt; but I advise you to alter those plans, or if it is too late for that, to follow your agent with all the support you can get for him. Comrade Syme and I have had an experience which it would take more time to recount than we can afford, if we are to act on it. I will, however, relate the occurrence in detail, even at the risk of losing time, if you really feel that it is essential to the understanding of the problem we have to discuss.”

He was spinning out his sentences, making them intolerably long and lingering, in the hope of maddening the practical little Doctor into an explosion of impatience which might show his hand. But the little Doctor continued only to stare and smile, and the monologue was uphill work. Syme began to feel a new sickness and despair. The Doctor’s smile and silence were not at all like the cataleptic stare and horrible silence which he had confronted in the Professor half an hour before. About the Professor’s makeup and all his antics there was always something merely grotesque, like a gollywog. Syme remembered those wild woes of yesterday as one remembers being afraid of Bogy in childhood. But here was daylight; here was a healthy, square-shouldered man in tweeds, not odd save for the accident of his ugly spectacles, not glaring or grinning at all, but smiling steadily and not saying a word. The whole had a sense of unbearable reality. Under the increasing sunlight the colours of the Doctor’s complexion, the pattern of his tweeds, grew and expanded outrageously, as such things grow too important in a realistic novel. But his smile was quite slight, the pose of his head polite; the only uncanny thing was his silence.

As I say,” resumed the Professor, like a man toiling through heavy sand, “the incident that has occurred to us and has led us to ask for information about the Marquis, is one which you may think it better to have narrated; but as it came in the way of Comrade Syme rather than me—”

His words he seemed to be dragging out like words in an anthem; but Syme, who was watching, saw his long fingers rattle quickly on the edge of the crazy table. He read the message, “You must go on. This devil has sucked me dry!”

Syme plunged into the breach with that bravado of improvisation which always came to him when he was alarmed.

Yes, the thing really happened to me,” he said hastily. “I had the good fortune to fall into conversation with a detective who took me, thanks to my hat, for a respectable person. Wishing to clinch my reputation for respectability, I took him and made him very drunk at the Savoy. Under this influence he became friendly, and told me in so many words that within a day or two they hope to arrest the Marquis in France.

So unless you or I can get on his track—”

The Doctor was still smiling in the most friendly way, and his protected eyes were still impenetrable. The Professor signalled to Syme that he would resume his explanation, and he began again with the same elaborate calm.

Syme immediately brought this information to me, and we came here together to see what use you would be inclined to make of it. It seems to me unquestionably urgent that—”

All this time Syme had been staring at the Doctor almost as steadily as the Doctor stared at the Professor, but quite without the smile. The nerves of both comrades-in-arms were near snapping under that strain of motionless amiability, when Syme suddenly leant forward and idly tapped the edge of the table. His message to his ally ran, “I have an intuition.”

The Professor, with scarcely a pause in his monologue, signalled back, “Then sit on it.”

Syme telegraphed, “It is quite extraordinary.”

The other answered, “Extraordinary rot!”

Syme said, “I am a poet.”

The other retorted, “You are a dead man.”

Syme had gone quite red up to his yellow hair, and his eyes were burning feverishly. As he said he had an intuition, and it had risen to a sort of lightheaded certainty. Resuming his symbolic taps, he signalled to his friend, “You scarcely realise how poetic my intuition is. It has that sudden quality we sometimes feel in the coming of spring.”

He then studied the answer on his friend’s fingers. The answer was, “Go to hell!”

The Professor then resumed his merely verbal monologue addressed to the Doctor.

Perhaps I should rather say,” said Syme on his fingers, “that it resembles that sudden smell of the sea which may be found in the heart of lush woods.”

His companion disdained to reply.

Or yet again,” tapped Syme, “it is positive, as is the passionate red hair of a beautiful woman.”

The Professor was continuing his speech, but in the middle of it Syme decided to act. He leant across the table, and said in a voice that could not be neglected—

Dr. Bull!”

The Doctor’s sleek and smiling head did not move, but they could have sworn that under his dark glasses his eyes darted towards Syme.

Dr. Bull,” said Syme, in a voice peculiarly precise and courteous, “would you do me a small favour? Would you be so kind as to take off your spectacles?”

The Professor swung round on his seat, and stared at Syme with a sort of frozen fury of astonishment. Syme, like a man who has thrown his life and fortune on the table, leaned forward with a fiery face. The Doctor did not move.

For a few seconds there was a silence in which one could hear a pin drop, split once by the single hoot of a distant steamer on the Thames. Then Dr. Bull rose slowly, still smiling, and took off his spectacles.

Syme sprang to his feet, stepping backwards a little, like a chemical lecturer from a successful explosion. His eyes were like stars, and for an instant he could only point without speaking.

The Professor had also started to his feet, forgetful of his supposed paralysis. He leant on the back of the chair and stared doubtfully at Dr. Bull, as if the Doctor had been turned into a toad before his eyes. And indeed it was almost as great a transformation scene.

The two detectives saw sitting in the chair before them a very boyish-looking young man, with very frank and happy hazel eyes, an open expression, cockney clothes like those of a city clerk, and an unquestionable breath about him of being very good and rather commonplace. The smile was still there, but it might have been the first smile of a baby.

I knew I was a poet,” cried Syme in a sort of ecstasy. “I knew my intuition was as infallible as the Pope. It was the spectacles that did it! It was all the spectacles. Given those beastly black eyes, and all the rest of him his health and his jolly looks, made him a live devil among dead ones.”

It certainly does make a queer difference,” said the Professor shakily. “But as regards the project of Dr. Bull—”

Project be damned!” roared Syme, beside himself. “Look at him! Look at his face, look at his collar, look at his blessed boots! You don’t suppose, do you, that that thing’s an anarchist?”

Syme!” cried the other in an apprehensive agony.

Why, by God,” said Syme, “I’ll take the risk of that myself! Dr. Bull, I am a police officer. There’s my card,” and he flung down the blue card upon the table.

The Professor still feared that all was lost; but he was loyal. He pulled out his own official card and put it beside his friend’s. Then the third man burst out laughing, and for the first time that morning they heard his voice.

I’m awfully glad you chaps have come so early,” he said, with a sort of schoolboy flippancy, “for we can all start for France together. Yes, I’m in the force right enough,” and he flicked a blue card towards them lightly as a matter of form.

Clapping a brisk bowler on his head and resuming his goblin glasses, the Doctor moved so quickly towards the door, that the others instinctively followed him. Syme seemed a little distrait, and as he passed under the doorway he suddenly struck his stick on the stone passage so that it rang.

But Lord God Almighty,” he cried out, “if this is all right, there were more damned detectives than there were damned dynamiters at the damned Council!”

We might have fought easily,” said Bull; “we were four against three.”

The Professor was descending the stairs, but his voice came up from below.

No,” said the voice, “we were not four against three—we were not so lucky. We were four against One.”

The others went down the stairs in silence.

The young man called Bull, with an innocent courtesy characteristic of him, insisted on going last until they reached the street; but there his own robust rapidity asserted itself unconsciously, and he walked quickly on ahead towards a railway inquiry office, talking to the others over his shoulder.

It is jolly to get some pals,” he said. “I’ve been half dead with the jumps, being quite alone. I nearly flung my arms round Gogol and embraced him, which would have been imprudent. I hope you won’t despise me for having been in a blue funk.”

All the blue devils in blue hell,” said Syme, “contributed to my blue funk! But the worst devil was you and your infernal goggles.”

The young man laughed delightedly.

Wasn’t it a rag?” he said. “Such a simple idea—not my own. I haven’t got the brains. You see, I wanted to go into the detective service, especially the anti-dynamite business. But for that purpose they wanted someone to dress up as a dynamiter; and they all swore by blazes that I could never look like a dynamiter. They said my very walk was respectable, and that seen from behind I looked like the British Constitution. They said I looked too healthy and too optimistic, and too reliable and benevolent; they called me all sorts of names at Scotland Yard. They said that if I had been a criminal, I might have made my fortune by looking so like an honest man; but as I had the misfortune to be an honest man, there was not even the remotest chance of my assisting them by ever looking like a criminal. But at last I was brought before some old josser who was high up in the force, and who seemed to have no end of a head on his shoulders. And there the others all talked hopelessly. One asked whether a bushy beard would hide my nice smile; another said that if they blacked my face I might look like a negro anarchist; but this old chap chipped in with a most extraordinary remark. ‘A pair of smoked spectacles will do it,’ he said positively. ‘Look at him now; he looks like an angelic office boy. Put him on a pair of smoked spectacles, and children will scream at the sight of him.’ And so it was, by George! When once my eyes were covered, all the rest, smile and big shoulders and short hair, made me look a perfect little devil. As I say, it was simple enough when it was done, like miracles; but that wasn’t the really miraculous part of it. There was one really staggering thing about the business, and my head still turns at it.”

What was that?” asked Syme.

I’ll tell you,” answered the man in spectacles. “This big pot in the police who sized me up so that he knew how the goggles would go with my hair and socks—by God, he never saw me at all!”

Syme’s eyes suddenly flashed on him.

How was that?” he asked. “I thought you talked to him.”

So I did,” said Bull brightly; “but we talked in a pitch-dark room like a coalcellar. There, you would never have guessed that.”

I could not have conceived it,” said Syme gravely.

It is indeed a new idea,” said the Professor.

Their new ally was in practical matters a whirlwind. At the inquiry office he asked with businesslike brevity about the trains for Dover. Having got his information, he bundled the company into a cab, and put them and himself inside a railway carriage before they had properly realised the breathless process. They were already on the Calais boat before conversation flowed freely.

I had already arranged,” he explained, “to go to France for my lunch; but I am delighted to have someone to lunch with me. You see, I had to send that beast, the Marquis, over with his bomb, because the President had his eye on me, though God knows how. I’ll tell you the story some day. It was perfectly choking. Whenever I tried to slip out of it I saw the President somewhere, smiling out of the bow-window of a club, or taking off his hat to me from the top of an omnibus. I tell you, you can say what you like, that fellow sold himself to the devil; he can be in six places at once.”

So you sent the Marquis off, I understand,” asked the Professor. “Was it long ago? Shall we be in time to catch him?”

Yes,” answered the new guide, “I’ve timed it all. He’ll still be at Calais when we arrive.”

But when we do catch him at Calais,” said the Professor, “what are we going to do?”

At this question the countenance of Dr. Bull fell for the first time. He reflected a little, and then said—

Theoretically, I suppose, we ought to call the police.”

Not I,” said Syme. “Theoretically I ought to drown myself first. I promised a poor fellow, who was a real modern pessimist, on my word of honour not to tell the police. I’m no hand at casuistry, but I can’t break my word to a modern pessimist. It’s like breaking one’s word to a child.”

I’m in the same boat,” said the Professor. “I tried to tell the police and I couldn’t, because of some silly oath I took. You see, when I was an actor I was a sort of all-round beast. Perjury or treason is the only crime I haven’t committed. If I did that I shouldn’t know the difference between right and wrong.”

I’ve been through all that,” said Dr. Bull, “and I’ve made up my mind. I gave my promise to the Secretary—you know him, man who smiles upside down. My friends, that man is the most utterly unhappy man that was ever human. It may be his digestion, or his conscience, or his nerves, or his philosophy of the universe, but he’s damned, he’s in hell! Well, I can’t turn on a man like that, and hunt him down. It’s like whipping a leper. I may be mad, but that’s how I feel; and there’s jolly well the end of it.”

I don’t think you’re mad,” said Syme. “I knew you would decide like that when first you—”

Eh?” said Dr. Bull.

When first you took off your spectacles.”

Dr. Bull smiled a little, and strolled across the deck to look at the sunlit sea. Then he strolled back again, kicking his heels carelessly, and a companionable silence fell between the three men.

Well,” said Syme, “it seems that we have all the same kind of morality or immorality, so we had better face the fact that comes of it.”

Yes,” assented the Professor, “you’re quite right; and we must hurry up, for I can see the Grey Nose standing out from France.”

The fact that comes of it,” said Syme seriously, “is this, that we three are alone on this planet. Gogol has gone, God knows where; perhaps the President has smashed him like a fly. On the Council we are three men against three, like the Romans who held the bridge. But we are worse off than that, first because they can appeal to their organization and we cannot appeal to ours, and second because—”

Because one of those other three men,” said the Professor, “is not a man.”

Syme nodded and was silent for a second or two, then he said—

My idea is this. We must do something to keep the Marquis in Calais till tomorrow midday. I have turned over twenty schemes in my head. We cannot denounce him as a dynamiter; that is agreed. We cannot get him detained on some trivial charge, for we should have to appear; he knows us, and he would smell a rat. We cannot pretend to keep him on anarchist business; he might swallow much in that way, but not the notion of stopping in Calais while the Czar went safely through Paris. We might try to kidnap him, and lock him up ourselves; but he is a well-known man here. He has a whole bodyguard of friends; he is very strong and brave, and the event is doubtful. The only thing I can see to do is actually to take advantage of the very things that are in the Marquis’s favour. I am going to profit by the fact that he is a highly respected nobleman. I am going to profit by the fact that he has many friends and moves in the best society.”

What the devil are you talking about?” asked the Professor.

The Symes are first mentioned in the fourteenth century,” said Syme; “but there is a tradition that one of them rode behind Bruce at Bannockburn. Since 1350 the tree is quite clear.”

He’s gone off his head,” said the little Doctor, staring.

Our bearings,” continued Syme calmly, “are ‘argent a chevron gules charged with three cross crosslets of the field.’ The motto varies.”

The Professor seized Syme roughly by the waistcoat.

We are just inshore,” he said. “Are you seasick or joking in the wrong place?”

My remarks are almost painfully practical,” answered Syme, in an unhurried manner. “The house of St. Eustache also is very ancient. The Marquis cannot deny that he is a gentleman. He cannot deny that I am a gentleman. And in order to put the matter of my social position quite beyond a doubt, I propose at the earliest opportunity to knock his hat off. But here we are in the harbour.”

They went on shore under the strong sun in a sort of daze. Syme, who had now taken the lead as Bull had taken it in London, led them along a kind of marine parade until he came to some cafes, embowered in a bulk of greenery and overlooking the sea. As he went before them his step was slightly swaggering, and he swung his stick like a sword. He was making apparently for the extreme end of the line of cafes, but he stopped abruptly. With a sharp gesture he motioned them to silence, but he pointed with one gloved finger to a cafe table under a bank of flowering foliage at which sat the Marquis de St. Eustache, his teeth shining in his thick, black beard, and his bold, brown face shadowed by a light yellow straw hat and outlined against the violet sea.





CHAPTER X. THE DUEL

SYME sat down at a cafe table with his companions, his blue eyes sparkling like the bright sea below, and ordered a bottle of Saumur with a pleased impatience. He was for some reason in a condition of curious hilarity. His spirits were already unnaturally high; they rose as the Saumur sank, and in half an hour his talk was a torrent of nonsense. He professed to be making out a plan of the conversation which was going to ensue between himself and the deadly Marquis. He jotted it down wildly with a pencil. It was arranged like a printed catechism, with questions and answers, and was delivered with an extraordinary rapidity of utterance.

I shall approach. Before taking off his hat, I shall take off my own. I shall say, ‘The Marquis de Saint Eustache, I believe.’ He will say, ‘The celebrated Mr. Syme, I presume.’ He will say in the most exquisite French, ‘How are you?’ I shall reply in the most exquisite Cockney, ‘Oh, just the Syme—’”

Oh, shut it,” said the man in spectacles. “Pull yourself together, and chuck away that bit of paper. What are you really going to do?”

But it was a lovely catechism,” said Syme pathetically. “Do let me read it you. It has only forty-three questions and answers, and some of the Marquis’s answers are wonderfully witty. I like to be just to my enemy.”

But what’s the good of it all?” asked Dr. Bull in exasperation.

It leads up to my challenge, don’t you see,” said Syme, beaming. “When the Marquis has given the thirty-ninth reply, which runs—”

Has it by any chance occurred to you,” asked the Professor, with a ponderous simplicity, “that the Marquis may not say all the forty-three things you have put down for him? In that case, I understand, your own epigrams may appear somewhat more forced.”

Syme struck the table with a radiant face.

Why, how true that is,” he said, “and I never thought of it. Sir, you have an intellect beyond the common. You will make a name.”

Oh, you’re as drunk as an owl!” said the Doctor.

It only remains,” continued Syme quite unperturbed, “to adopt some other method of breaking the ice (if I may so express it) between myself and the man I wish to kill. And since the course of a dialogue cannot be predicted by one of its parties alone (as you have pointed out with such recondite acumen), the only thing to be done, I suppose, is for the one party, as far as possible, to do all the dialogue by himself. And so I will, by George!” And he stood up suddenly, his yellow hair blowing in the slight sea breeze.

A band was playing in a cafe chantant hidden somewhere among the trees, and a woman had just stopped singing. On Syme’s heated head the bray of the brass band seemed like the jar and jingle of that barrel-organ in Leicester Square, to the tune of which he had once stood up to die. He looked across to the little table where the Marquis sat. The man had two companions now, solemn Frenchmen in frock-coats and silk hats, one of them with the red rosette of the Legion of Honour, evidently people of a solid social position. Besides these black, cylindrical costumes, the Marquis, in his loose straw hat and light spring clothes, looked Bohemian and even barbaric; but he looked the Marquis. Indeed, one might say that he looked the king, with his animal elegance, his scornful eyes, and his proud head lifted against the purple sea. But he was no Christian king, at any rate; he was, rather, some swarthy despot, half Greek, half Asiatic, who in the days when slavery seemed natural looked down on the Mediterranean, on his galley and his groaning slaves. Just so, Syme thought, would the brown-gold face of such a tyrant have shown against the dark green olives and the burning blue.

Are you going to address the meeting?” asked the Professor peevishly, seeing that Syme still stood up without moving.

Syme drained his last glass of sparkling wine.

I am,” he said, pointing across to the Marquis and his companions, “that meeting. That meeting displeases me. I am going to pull that meeting’s great ugly, mahogany-coloured nose.”

He stepped across swiftly, if not quite steadily. The Marquis, seeing him, arched his black Assyrian eyebrows in surprise, but smiled politely.

You are Mr. Syme, I think,” he said.

Syme bowed.

And you are the Marquis de Saint Eustache,” he said gracefully. “Permit me to pull your nose.”

He leant over to do so, but the Marquis started backwards, upsetting his chair, and the two men in top hats held Syme back by the shoulders.

This man has insulted me!” said Syme, with gestures of explanation.

Insulted you?” cried the gentleman with the red rosette, “when?”

Oh, just now,” said Syme recklessly. “He insulted my mother.”

Insulted your mother!” exclaimed the gentleman incredulously.

Well, anyhow,” said Syme, conceding a point, “my aunt.”

But how can the Marquis have insulted your aunt just now?” said the second gentleman with some legitimate wonder. “He has been sitting here all the time.”

Ah, it was what he said!” said Syme darkly.

I said nothing at all,” said the Marquis, “except something about the band. I only said that I liked Wagner played well.”

It was an allusion to my family,” said Syme firmly. “My aunt played Wagner badly. It was a painful subject. We are always being insulted about it.”

This seems most extraordinary,” said the gentleman who was decore, looking doubtfully at the Marquis.

Oh, I assure you,” said Syme earnestly, “the whole of your conversation was simply packed with sinister allusions to my aunt’s weaknesses.”

This is nonsense!” said the second gentleman. “I for one have said nothing for half an hour except that I liked the singing of that girl with black hair.”

Well, there you are again!” said Syme indignantly. “My aunt’s was red.”

It seems to me,” said the other, “that you are simply seeking a pretext to insult the Marquis.”

By George!” said Syme, facing round and looking at him, “what a clever chap you are!”

The Marquis started up with eyes flaming like a tiger’s.

Seeking a quarrel with me!” he cried. “Seeking a fight with me! By God! there was never a man who had to seek long. These gentlemen will perhaps act for me. There are still four hours of daylight. Let us fight this evening.”

Syme bowed with a quite beautiful graciousness.

Marquis,” he said, “your action is worthy of your fame and blood. Permit me to consult for a moment with the gentlemen in whose hands I shall place myself.”

In three long strides he rejoined his companions, and they, who had seen his champagne-inspired attack and listened to his idiotic explanations, were quite startled at the look of him. For now that he came back to them he was quite sober, a little pale, and he spoke in a low voice of passionate practicality.

I have done it,” he said hoarsely. “I have fixed a fight on the beast. But look here, and listen carefully. There is no time for talk. You are my seconds, and everything must come from you. Now you must insist, and insist absolutely, on the duel coming off after seven tomorrow, so as to give me the chance of preventing him from catching the 7.45 for Paris. If he misses that he misses his crime. He can’t refuse to meet you on such a small point of time and place. But this is what he will do. He will choose a field somewhere near a wayside station, where he can pick up the train. He is a very good swordsman, and he will trust to killing me in time to catch it. But I can fence well too, and I think I can keep him in play, at any rate, until the train is lost. Then perhaps he may kill me to console his feelings. You understand? Very well then, let me introduce you to some charming friends of mine,” and leading them quickly across the parade, he presented them to the Marquis’s seconds by two very aristocratic names of which they had not previously heard.

Syme was subject to spasms of singular common sense, not otherwise a part of his character. They were (as he said of his impulse about the spectacles) poetic intuitions, and they sometimes rose to the exaltation of prophecy.

He had correctly calculated in this case the policy of his opponent. When the Marquis was informed by his seconds that Syme could only fight in the morning, he must fully have realised that an obstacle had suddenly arisen between him and his bomb-throwing business in the capital. Naturally he could not explain this objection to his friends, so he chose the course which Syme had predicted. He induced his seconds to settle on a small meadow not far from the railway, and he trusted to the fatality of the first engagement.

When he came down very coolly to the field of honour, no one could have guessed that he had any anxiety about a journey; his hands were in his pockets, his straw hat on the back of his head, his handsome face brazen in the sun. But it might have struck a stranger as odd that there appeared in his train, not only his seconds carrying the sword-case, but two of his servants carrying a portmanteau and a luncheon basket.

Early as was the hour, the sun soaked everything in warmth, and Syme was vaguely surprised to see so many spring flowers burning gold and silver in the tall grass in which the whole company stood almost knee-deep.

With the exception of the Marquis, all the men were in sombre and solemn morning-dress, with hats like black chimney-pots; the little Doctor especially, with the addition of his black spectacles, looked like an undertaker in a farce. Syme could not help feeling a comic contrast between this funereal church parade of apparel and the rich and glistening meadow, growing wild flowers everywhere. But, indeed, this comic contrast between the yellow blossoms and the black hats was but a symbol of the tragic contrast between the yellow blossoms and the black business. On his right was a little wood; far away to his left lay the long curve of the railway line, which he was, so to speak, guarding from the Marquis, whose goal and escape it was. In front of him, behind the black group of his opponents, he could see, like a tinted cloud, a small almond bush in flower against the faint line of the sea.

The member of the Legion of Honour, whose name it seemed was Colonel Ducroix, approached the Professor and Dr. Bull with great politeness, and suggested that the play should terminate with the first considerable hurt.

Dr. Bull, however, having been carefully coached by Syme upon this point of policy, insisted, with great dignity and in very bad French, that it should continue until one of the combatants was disabled. Syme had made up his mind that he could avoid disabling the Marquis and prevent the Marquis from disabling him for at least twenty minutes. In twenty minutes the Paris train would have gone by.

To a man of the well-known skill and valour of Monsieur de St. Eustache,” said the Professor solemnly, “it must be a matter of indifference which method is adopted, and our principal has strong reasons for demanding the longer encounter, reasons the delicacy of which prevent me from being explicit, but for the just and honourable nature of which I can—”

Peste!” broke from the Marquis behind, whose face had suddenly darkened, “let us stop talking and begin,” and he slashed off the head of a tall flower with his stick.

Syme understood his rude impatience and instinctively looked over his shoulder to see whether the train was coming in sight. But there was no smoke on the horizon.

Colonel Ducroix knelt down and unlocked the case, taking out a pair of twin swords, which took the sunlight and turned to two streaks of white fire. He offered one to the Marquis, who snatched it without ceremony, and another to Syme, who took it, bent it, and poised it with as much delay as was consistent with dignity.

Then the Colonel took out another pair of blades, and taking one himself and giving another to Dr. Bull, proceeded to place the men.

Both combatants had thrown off their coats and waistcoats, and stood sword in hand. The seconds stood on each side of the line of fight with drawn swords also, but still sombre in their dark frock-coats and hats. The principals saluted. The Colonel said quietly, “Engage!” and the two blades touched and tingled.

When the jar of the joined iron ran up Syme’s arm, all the fantastic fears that have been the subject of this story fell from him like dreams from a man waking up in bed. He remembered them clearly and in order as mere delusions of the nerves—how the fear of the Professor had been the fear of the tyrannic accidents of nightmare, and how the fear of the Doctor had been the fear of the airless vacuum of science. The first was the old fear that any miracle might happen, the second the more hopeless modern fear that no miracle can ever happen. But he saw that these fears were fancies, for he found himself in the presence of the great fact of the fear of death, with its coarse and pitiless common sense. He felt like a man who had dreamed all night of falling over precipices, and had woke up on the morning when he was to be hanged. For as soon as he had seen the sunlight run down the channel of his foe’s foreshortened blade, and as soon as he had felt the two tongues of steel touch, vibrating like two living things, he knew that his enemy was a terrible fighter, and that probably his last hour had come.

He felt a strange and vivid value in all the earth around him, in the grass under his feet; he felt the love of life in all living things. He could almost fancy that he heard the grass growing; he could almost fancy that even as he stood fresh flowers were springing up and breaking into blossom in the meadow—flowers blood red and burning gold and blue, fulfilling the whole pageant of the spring. And whenever his eyes strayed for a flash from the calm, staring, hypnotic eyes of the Marquis, they saw the little tuft of almond tree against the sky-line. He had the feeling that if by some miracle he escaped he would be ready to sit for ever before that almond tree, desiring nothing else in the world.

But while earth and sky and everything had the living beauty of a thing lost, the other half of his head was as clear as glass, and he was parrying his enemy’s point with a kind of clockwork skill of which he had hardly supposed himself capable. Once his enemy’s point ran along his wrist, leaving a slight streak of blood, but it either was not noticed or was tacitly ignored. Every now and then he riposted, and once or twice he could almost fancy that he felt his point go home, but as there was no blood on blade or shirt he supposed he was mistaken. Then came an interruption and a change.

At the risk of losing all, the Marquis, interrupting his quiet stare, flashed one glance over his shoulder at the line of railway on his right. Then he turned on Syme a face transfigured to that of a fiend, and began to fight as if with twenty weapons. The attack came so fast and furious, that the one shining sword seemed a shower of shining arrows. Syme had no chance to look at the railway; but also he had no need. He could guess the reason of the Marquis’s sudden madness of battle—the Paris train was in sight.

But the Marquis’s morbid energy over-reached itself. Twice Syme, parrying, knocked his opponent’s point far out of the fighting circle; and the third time his riposte was so rapid, that there was no doubt about the hit this time. Syme’s sword actually bent under the weight of the Marquis’s body, which it had pierced.

Syme was as certain that he had stuck his blade into his enemy as a gardener that he has stuck his spade into the ground. Yet the Marquis sprang back from the stroke without a stagger, and Syme stood staring at his own sword-point like an idiot. There was no blood on it at all.

There was an instant of rigid silence, and then Syme in his turn fell furiously on the other, filled with a flaming curiosity. The Marquis was probably, in a general sense, a better fencer than he, as he had surmised at the beginning, but at the moment the Marquis seemed distraught and at a disadvantage. He fought wildly and even weakly, and he constantly looked away at the railway line, almost as if he feared the train more than the pointed steel. Syme, on the other hand, fought fiercely but still carefully, in an intellectual fury, eager to solve the riddle of his own bloodless sword. For this purpose, he aimed less at the Marquis’s body, and more at his throat and head. A minute and a half afterwards he felt his point enter the man’s neck below the jaw. It came out clean. Half mad, he thrust again, and made what should have been a bloody scar on the Marquis’s cheek. But there was no scar.

For one moment the heaven of Syme again grew black with supernatural terrors. Surely the man had a charmed life. But this new spiritual dread was a more awful thing than had been the mere spiritual topsy-turvydom symbolised by the paralytic who pursued him. The Professor was only a goblin; this man was a devil—perhaps he was the Devil! Anyhow, this was certain, that three times had a human sword been driven into him and made no mark. When Syme had that thought he drew himself up, and all that was good in him sang high up in the air as a high wind sings in the trees. He thought of all the human things in his story—of the Chinese lanterns in Saffron Park, of the girl’s red hair in the garden, of the honest, beer-swilling sailors down by the dock, of his loyal companions standing by. Perhaps he had been chosen as a champion of all these fresh and kindly things to cross swords with the enemy of all creation. “After all,” he said to himself, “I am more than a devil; I am a man. I can do the one thing which Satan himself cannot do—I can die,” and as the word went through his head, he heard a faint and far-off hoot, which would soon be the roar of the Paris train.

He fell to fighting again with a supernatural levity, like a Mohammedan panting for Paradise. As the train came nearer and nearer he fancied he could see people putting up the floral arches in Paris; he joined in the growing noise and the glory of the great Republic whose gate he was guarding against Hell. His thoughts rose higher and higher with the rising roar of the train, which ended, as if proudly, in a long and piercing whistle. The train stopped.

Suddenly, to the astonishment of everyone the Marquis sprang back quite out of sword reach and threw down his sword. The leap was wonderful, and not the less wonderful because Syme had plunged his sword a moment before into the man’s thigh.

Stop!” said the Marquis in a voice that compelled a momentary obedience. “I want to say something.”

What is the matter?” asked Colonel Ducroix, staring. “Has there been foul play?”

There has been foul play somewhere,” said Dr. Bull, who was a little pale. “Our principal has wounded the Marquis four times at least, and he is none the worse.”

The Marquis put up his hand with a curious air of ghastly patience.

Please let me speak,” he said. “It is rather important. Mr. Syme,” he continued, turning to his opponent, “we are fighting today, if I remember right, because you expressed a wish (which I thought irrational) to pull my nose. Would you oblige me by pulling my nose now as quickly as possible? I have to catch a train.”

I protest that this is most irregular,” said Dr. Bull indignantly.

It is certainly somewhat opposed to precedent,” said Colonel Ducroix, looking wistfully at his principal. “There is, I think, one case on record (Captain Bellegarde and the Baron Zumpt) in which the weapons were changed in the middle of the encounter at the request of one of the combatants. But one can hardly call one’s nose a weapon.”

Will you or will you not pull my nose?” said the Marquis in exasperation. “Come, come, Mr. Syme! You wanted to do it, do it! You can have no conception of how important it is to me. Don’t be so selfish! Pull my nose at once, when I ask you!” and he bent slightly forward with a fascinating smile. The Paris train, panting and groaning, had grated into a little station behind the neighbouring hill.

Syme had the feeling he had more than once had in these adventures—the sense that a horrible and sublime wave lifted to heaven was just toppling over. Walking in a world he half understood, he took two paces forward and seized the Roman nose of this remarkable nobleman. He pulled it hard, and it came off in his hand.

He stood for some seconds with a foolish solemnity, with the pasteboard proboscis still between his fingers, looking at it, while the sun and the clouds and the wooded hills looked down upon this imbecile scene.

The Marquis broke the silence in a loud and cheerful voice.

If anyone has any use for my left eyebrow,” he said, “he can have it. Colonel Ducroix, do accept my left eyebrow! It’s the kind of thing that might come in useful any day,” and he gravely tore off one of his swarthy Assyrian brows, bringing about half his brown forehead with it, and politely offered it to the Colonel, who stood crimson and speechless with rage.

If I had known,” he spluttered, “that I was acting for a poltroon who pads himself to fight—”

Oh, I know, I know!” said the Marquis, recklessly throwing various parts of himself right and left about the field. “You are making a mistake; but it can’t be explained just now. I tell you the train has come into the station!”

Yes,” said Dr. Bull fiercely, “and the train shall go out of the station. It shall go out without you. We know well enough for what devil’s work—”

The mysterious Marquis lifted his hands with a desperate gesture. He was a strange scarecrow standing there in the sun with half his old face peeled off, and half another face glaring and grinning from underneath.

Will you drive me mad?” he cried. “The train—”

You shall not go by the train,” said Syme firmly, and grasped his sword.

The wild figure turned towards Syme, and seemed to be gathering itself for a sublime effort before speaking.

You great fat, blasted, blear-eyed, blundering, thundering, brainless, Godforsaken, doddering, damned fool!” he said without taking breath. “You great silly, pink-faced, towheaded turnip! You—”

You shall not go by this train,” repeated Syme.

And why the infernal blazes,” roared the other, “should I want to go by the train?”

We know all,” said the Professor sternly. “You are going to Paris to throw a bomb!”

Going to Jericho to throw a Jabberwock!” cried the other, tearing his hair, which came off easily.

Have you all got softening of the brain, that you don’t realise what I am? Did you really think I wanted to catch that train? Twenty Paris trains might go by for me. Damn Paris trains!”

Then what did you care about?” began the Professor.

What did I care about? I didn’t care about catching the train; I cared about whether the train caught me, and now, by God! it has caught me.”

I regret to inform you,” said Syme with restraint, “that your remarks convey no impression to my mind. Perhaps if you were to remove the remains of your original forehead and some portion of what was once your chin, your meaning would become clearer. Mental lucidity fulfils itself in many ways. What do you mean by saying that the train has caught you? It may be my literary fancy, but somehow I feel that it ought to mean something.”

It means everything,” said the other, “and the end of everything. Sunday has us now in the hollow of his hand.”

Us!” repeated the Professor, as if stupefied. “What do you mean by ‘us’?”

The police, of course!” said the Marquis, and tore off his scalp and half his face.

The head which emerged was the blonde, well brushed, smooth-haired head which is common in the English constabulary, but the face was terribly pale.

I am Inspector Ratcliffe,” he said, with a sort of haste that verged on harshness. “My name is pretty well known to the police, and I can see well enough that you belong to them. But if there is any doubt about my position, I have a card,” and he began to pull a blue card from his pocket.

The Professor gave a tired gesture.

Oh, don’t show it us,” he said wearily; “we’ve got enough of them to equip a paper-chase.”

The little man named Bull, had, like many men who seem to be of a mere vivacious vulgarity, sudden movements of good taste. Here he certainly saved the situation. In the midst of this staggering transformation scene he stepped forward with all the gravity and responsibility of a second, and addressed the two seconds of the Marquis.

Gentlemen,” he said, “we all owe you a serious apology; but I assure you that you have not been made the victims of such a low joke as you imagine, or indeed of anything undignified in a man of honour. You have not wasted your time; you have helped to save the world. We are not buffoons, but very desperate men at war with a vast conspiracy. A secret society of anarchists is hunting us like hares; not such unfortunate madmen as may here or there throw a bomb through starvation or German philosophy, but a rich and powerful and fanatical church, a church of eastern pessimism, which holds it holy to destroy mankind like vermin. How hard they hunt us you can gather from the fact that we are driven to such disguises as those for which I apologise, and to such pranks as this one by which you suffer.”

The younger second of the Marquis, a short man with a black moustache, bowed politely, and said—

Of course, I accept the apology; but you will in your turn forgive me if I decline to follow you further into your difficulties, and permit myself to say good morning! The sight of an acquaintance and distinguished fellow-townsman coming to pieces in the open air is unusual, and, upon the whole, sufficient for one day. Colonel Ducroix, I would in no way influence your actions, but if you feel with me that our present society is a little abnormal, I am now going to walk back to the town.”

Colonel Ducroix moved mechanically, but then tugged abruptly at his white moustache and broke out—

No, by George! I won’t. If these gentlemen are really in a mess with a lot of low wreckers like that, I’ll see them through it. I have fought for France, and it is hard if I can’t fight for civilization.”

Dr. Bull took off his hat and waved it, cheering as at a public meeting.

Don’t make too much noise,” said Inspector Ratcliffe, “Sunday may hear you.”

Sunday!” cried Bull, and dropped his hat.

Yes,” retorted Ratcliffe, “he may be with them.”

With whom?” asked Syme.

With the people out of that train,” said the other.

What you say seems utterly wild,” began Syme. “Why, as a matter of fact—But, my God,” he cried out suddenly, like a man who sees an explosion a long way off, “by God! if this is true the whole bally lot of us on the Anarchist Council were against anarchy! Every born man was a detective except the President and his personal secretary. What can it mean?”

Mean!” said the new policeman with incredible violence. “It means that we are struck dead! Don’t you know Sunday? Don’t you know that his jokes are always so big and simple that one has never thought of them? Can you think of anything more like Sunday than this, that he should put all his powerful enemies on the Supreme Council, and then take care that it was not supreme? I tell you he has bought every trust, he has captured every cable, he has control of every railway line—especially of that railway line!” and he pointed a shaking finger towards the small wayside station. “The whole movement was controlled by him; half the world was ready to rise for him. But there were just five people, perhaps, who would have resisted him… and the old devil put them on the Supreme Council, to waste their time in watching each other. Idiots that we are, he planned the whole of our idiocies! Sunday knew that the Professor would chase Syme through London, and that Syme would fight me in France. And he was combining great masses of capital, and seizing great lines of telegraphy, while we five idiots were running after each other like a lot of confounded babies playing blind man’s buff.”

Well?” asked Syme with a sort of steadiness.

Well,” replied the other with sudden serenity, “he has found us playing blind man’s buff today in a field of great rustic beauty and extreme solitude. He has probably captured the world; it only remains to him to capture this field and all the fools in it. And since you really want to know what was my objection to the arrival of that train, I will tell you. My objection was that Sunday or his Secretary has just this moment got out of it.”

Syme uttered an involuntary cry, and they all turned their eyes towards the far-off station. It was quite true that a considerable bulk of people seemed to be moving in their direction. But they were too distant to be distinguished in any way.

It was a habit of the late Marquis de St. Eustache,” said the new policeman, producing a leather case, “always to carry a pair of opera glasses. Either the President or the Secretary is coming after us with that mob. They have caught us in a nice quiet place where we are under no temptations to break our oaths by calling the police. Dr. Bull, I have a suspicion that you will see better through these than through your own highly decorative spectacles.”

He handed the field-glasses to the Doctor, who immediately took off his spectacles and put the apparatus to his eyes.

It cannot be as bad as you say,” said the Professor, somewhat shaken. “There are a good number of them certainly, but they may easily be ordinary tourists.”

Do ordinary tourists,” asked Bull, with the fieldglasses to his eyes, “wear black masks half-way down the face?”

Syme almost tore the glasses out of his hand, and looked through them. Most men in the advancing mob really looked ordinary enough; but it was quite true that two or three of the leaders in front wore black half-masks almost down to their mouths. This disguise is very complete, especially at such a distance, and Syme found it impossible to conclude anything from the clean-shaven jaws and chins of the men talking in the front. But presently as they talked they all smiled and one of them smiled on one side.