They had been playing “cut-in” Bridge until the Charltons went home, at midnight. Instead of following them Norris returned to the library with Steuler and his wife. In the old days Barclay Norris had asked Barbara to marry him; but Steuler’s impetuous love-making appealed to her imagination, and Norris had remained their loyal friend. In the library, Steuler yawned—without apology. Extracting a suit-case from the coat-closet, he started for the stairs.
“You and Barbara may sit up all night, my friend; but me—I haf been travelling, I cannot keep my eyes open! Good-night!”
Norris stopped him with a slight motion of the head, nodded to a chair by the table, lighted a cigar rather deliberately, and sat down.
“There’s a matter I want to discuss with you, Max—now…. Don’t go away, Bab. It concerns you—rather deeply.” He inspected his cigar critically during a few moments of silence. “Max, you may have heard that my law practice brought me occasionally in touch with the Government, but you didn’t know I was officially connected with the Secret Service. When we were drawn into this war your probable sympathies were considered. But you enlisted for the Spanish War, though you never got farther than Chattanooga. You took the oath of allegiance. We considered your loyalty had been demonstrated, so we trusted you. We’ve had a constant fight against treachery, however, in the most undreamed-of places. You were again suspected. Is it necessary for me to say more? Lieutenant Schmidt was arrested ten minutes after you left him this morning. I saw you receive from him specifications for the Wright Multiplane, the Maxim Chlorine Shell, and the perfected ‘Lake’ Submarine. I also know you have a copy of the State Department’s code-book.”
Barbara Steuler had remained standing at the end of the table, her eyes dilating with an expression of incredulous, outraged amazement.
“Barclay! Are you insane? Are you accusing Max of these horrible things? My husband?”
Norris spoke gently but firmly.
“I’m stating facts, Bab—not accusing. Because I’ve been your friend, and his, I’m giving him this chance to return the papers and code before it’s too late. At this moment I’m the only one who really knows. He meant to sail on Grunwald’s yacht for Christiania at sunrise. There’s still time for him to get aboard and escape. I’m personally answerable for the unknown man I’ve been following to-day!”
She whirled upon her husband, saw, with horror, that he was making no denial, that he was looking at their old friend with a gleam of hatred in his eyes. Presently he pulled open a drawer in the table, thrusting one hand into the back part of it.
“So! You efen suspect where I put the codebook? Yess? Well, it iss the fortune of war, I suppose. You think I will not arrested be, if I reach the yacht before morning? Nein? You are the only one who knows—yet? Und suppose I nefer come back? My wife I mus’ leave with the man who always haf lofed——” There was a flash, a stunning report. Norris staggered up from his chair and pitched headlong upon the floor.
“Max! Max! A traitor! A murderer! My God!”
He took a canvas-bound book from the drawer, thrusting it hastily into the suit-case, then fetched overcoat and hat from the closet. In his hurry he overlooked the automatic pistol which lay upon the table. So intent was he upon escaping with what he had that he seemed to have forgotten her entirely. But a low, gasping voice made him whirl about at the door.
“Another step—and I’ll—kill you!” The pistol steadily covered his heart. (He’d seen her shoot.)
“Put that book on the table.” He hesitated, meditating a spring through the doorway. “When I count three! One!…” With a muttered curse he took the code from the suit-case.
“Empty your pockets!”
There was no mistaking the expression in her eyes. He emptied his pockets.
“Now—go! Without the suit-case!”
“Barbara! You would haf me leave you! Like this!” Her face was colourless, in her eyes a brooding horror, a dazed consciousness of that motionless body on the floor behind the table.
“My people fought at Lexington and Concord—for principles dearer than life to them. You swore allegiance to those principles, to their flag. And you are—this! You’ve murdered our loyal friend—when he was giving a traitor a chance, at great personal risk! Go! Quickly!”
As the front door slammed she ran to the window, watched him down the block. A man who did such things might return later, catch her unarmed, secure the papers. Her brain worked automatically. There was no safe place to conceal them. They must be destroyed at once! Tearing the book to pieces, she piled the leaves upon the andirons in the fireplace with the other papers, then lighted the heap. When they were entirely destroyed a patter of footsteps echoed from the stairs; a little figure in pajamas came peeking around the portière. (A thrill of passionate thankfulness ran through her that he resembled her people, with no trace of the alien blood.)
“Mo-ther! What was that big noise?”
“Possibly some one’s automobile, dear—a blowout or a back-fire, you know.” She forced herself to speak quietly, standing so that he couldn’t look behind the table.
“Mo-ther, who was down here wiv you?”
“Uncle Barclay, sweetheart. But—oh, God!—he’s gone now.” (Norris’s love had been the truer, deeper affection; she’d known it for some time.) “Run along back to beddy, darling. Mother will come up presently.”
She had a feeling of suffocation as the boy hugged her impetuously and padded softly upstairs. As she listened to his careful progress another sound, a faint rustling from behind the table made her heart stop beating for a second. With trembling limbs she leaned across the table and looked. The dead man lay in a slightly different position; there was a barely perceptible movement of the chest. She reached breathlessly for the telephone.
“Give me Bryant 9702, please!… Yes! Doctor Marvin’s house! Quickly!”