The typewriters were clicking busily in the place. Every one seemed honestly, industriously at work.
Looking out of the aperture prepared for the purpose, Lance Allison saw nothing suspicious. Yet Monsieur the General had been so sure that information was leaking, in some mysterious way, from this very room.
Lance had been surprised that the fame of an American detective should have made any impression in France: more surprised when the General, on learning his identity, had personally solicited his aid.
Sitting with ears as well as eyes alert, his quick brain began to dissociate the sound of the typewriters one from another.
That tall girl in black—the one with the pale, pale face, he amended in his thought, so many, alas! were in black—that girl wrote with an even monotony in consonance with her expressionless countenance.
The pert little lass in blue seemed to write each word with an emphasis, for her spacing was noticeable each time.
And so it went, each typist showing some marked peculiarity as his ear picked out the particular rhythm.
His examination had reached the last one, and for the first time he observed its operator closely…. Something familiar and different about that girl…. Not her clothes, nor her coiffure—nothing he could put a finger on.
Then he caught the click of her machine. Different from any of the others, it seemed to jerk out the words and syllables with amazing irregularity, dwelling on one letter, slighting another, pausing between. Here, too, was something hauntingly familiar.
In the meantime men came and went, and Lance’s watchful eye followed the slightest movement made by each newcomer. At any moment some signal might give him a clue to the disclosures which the General declared seemed to be made daily.
A timid country lad entered, wiping the dew of embarrassment from his brow. After some awkward hesitation he conferred with one of the clerks, evidently stumbling and halting in his inquiries.
No word of the colloquy reached Lance’s ear, but he suddenly became aware of a message in the air—clear, deliberate, reiterated!
Fifty thousand English left Paris this morning. Destination, Arras.
An hour later the girl who somehow seemed different was confronted in the private quarters of Monsieur the General by Lance Allison, American detective. Bright-eyed and defiant, she smouldered under the guard’s restraint.
“You are an American!” There was curt reproach in the detective’s tone.
“Well, what of that?” she snapped.
“How came you a traitor to the Allies?”
Then, as she did not answer, he bowed to Monsieur the General. “This girl gave out her information to a young clod-hopper to-day. More than likely some other one yesterday and the day before, or to him in a different disguise. At any rate, they were men who could spell English—or American,” he added whimsically.
“But how? How, Monsieur le detective? He approached her not—nor even looked toward her.”
“No,” smiled Lance, “but he had his ear cocked in her direction.” He turned to the seething girl. “Now, make a clean breast of it, Miss. You are done for. What evil spirit prompted treachery in one born under the Stars and Stripes?”
Suddenly the smouldering fire burst into the flame of speech.
“’Twas Jean Armand, the low-down dog! Pretended to love me—me! Kissed me—took my hard-earned money for his own comfort. And then—the day he went to the front—he married Elise, a stupid, wax-faced doll!… Then I swore to betray France as he had betrayed me—and I have done it.”
“But how?” The General’s question was addressed to the detective.
“By the clicks of her typewriter, Monsieur. She practised a peculiar jerky touch so that it would become unnoted. Then when a spy came in—was the hand on the heated brow the signal, I wonder?—she talked to him by the dots and dashes of the Morse code with as much clearness as if the words were breathed into his ear.”
“Yes, and it took an American to find me out,” she glowed with strange exultation. “These conceited Frenchies were all at sea…. And—Jean, the husband of the fat Elise, fell yesterday under a charge from troops I sent to meet his regiment—so—I don’t care what you do to me, now. My work is done!”