Peter Ruff and the Double Four by E. Phillips Oppenheim
Chapter X. The Affair or An Alien Society
Sogrange and Peter, Baron de Grost, standing upon the threshold of their hotel, gazed out upon New York and liked the look of it. They had landed from the steamer a few hours before, had already enjoyed the luxury of a bath, a visit to an American barber's, and a genuine cocktail.
"I see no reason," Sogrange declared, "why we should not take a week's holiday."
Peter, glancing up into the blue sky and down into the faces of the well-dressed and beautiful women who were streaming up Fifth Avenue, was wholly of the same mind.
"If we return by this afternoon's steamer," he remarked, "we shall have Bernadine for a fellow passenger. Bernadine is annoyed with us just now. I must confess that I should feel more at my ease with a few thousand miles of the Atlantic between us."
"Let it be so," Sogrange assented. "We will explore this marvelous city. Never," he added, taking his companion's arm, "did I expect to see such women save in my own, the mistress of all cities. So chic, my dear Baron, and such a carriage! We will lunch at one of the fashionable restaurants and drive in the Park afterwards. First of all, however, we must take a stroll along this wonderful Fifth Avenue.
The two men spent a morning after their own hearts. They lunched astonishingly well at Sherry's and drove afterwards in Central Park. When they returned to the hotel, Sogrange was in excellent spirits.
"I feel, my friend," he announced, "that we are going to have a very pleasant and, in some respects, a unique week. To meet friends and acquaintances, everywhere, as one must do in every capital in Europe, is, of course, pleasant, but there is a monotony about it from which one is glad sometimes to escape. We lunch here and we promenade in the places frequented by those of a similar station to our own, and behold! we know no one. We are lookers on. Perhaps for a long time it might gall. For a brief period there is a restfulness about it which pleases me."
"I should have liked," Peter murmured, "an introduction to the lady in the blue hat."
"You are a gregarious animal," Sogrange declared. "You do not understand the pleasures of a little comparative isolation with an intellectual companion such as myself . . . What the devil is the meaning of this!"
They had reached their sitting-room and upon a small round table stood a great collection of cards and notes. Sogrange took them up helplessly, one after the other, reading the names aloud and letting them fall through his fingers. Some were known to him, some were not. He began to open the notes. In effect they were all the same - what evening would the Marquis de Sogrange and his distinguished friend care to dine, lunch, yacht, golf, shoot, go to the opera, join a theatre party? Of what clubs would they care to become members? What kind of hospitality would be most acceptable?
Sogrange sank into a chair.
"My friend," he exclaimed, "they all have to be answered - that collection there! The visits have to be returned. It is magnificent, this hospitality, but what can one do?"
Peter looked at the pile of correspondence upon which Sogrange's inroad, indeed, seemed to have had but little effect.
"One could engage a secretary, of course," he suggested, doubtfully. "But the visits! Our week's holiday is gone."
"Not at all," Sogrange replied. "I have an idea."
The telephone bell rang. Peter took up the receiver and listened for a moment. He turned to Sogrange, still holding it in his hand.
"You will be pleased, also, to hear," he announced, "that there are half a dozen reporters downstairs waiting to interview
Sogrange received the information with interest.
"Have them sent up at once," he directed, "every one of them."
"What, all at the same time?" Peter asked.
"All at the same time it must be," Sogrange answered. "Give them to understand that it is an affair of five minutes only."
They came trooping in. Sogrange welcomed them cordially.
"My friend, the Baron de Grost," he explained, indicating Peter. "I am the Marquis de Sogrange. Let us know what we can do to serve you."
One of the men stepped forward.
"Very glad to meet you, Marquis, and you, Baron," he said. "I won't bother you with any introductions, but I and the company here represent the Press of New York. We should like some information for our papers as to the object of your visit here and the probable length of your stay."
Sogrange extended his hands.
"My dear friend," he exclaimed, "the object of our visit was, I thought, already well known. We are on our way to Mexico. We leave to-night. My friend the Baron is, as you know, a financier. I, too, have a little money to invest. We are going out to meet some business acquaintances with a view to inspecting some mining properties. That is absolutely all I can tell you. You can understand, of course, that fuller information would be impossible."
"Why, that's quite natural, Marquis," the spokesman of the reporters replied. "We don't like the idea of your hustling out of New York like this, though?"
Sogrange glanced at the clock.
"It is unavoidable," he declared. "We are relying upon you, gentlemen, to publish the fact, because you will see," he added, pointing to the table, "that we have been the recipients of a great many civilities, which it is impossible for us to acknowledge properly. If it will give you any pleasure to see us upon our return, you will be very welcome. In the meantime, you will understand our haste."
There were a few more civilities and the representatives of the Press took their departure. Peter looked at his companion doubtfully, as Sogrange returned from showing them out.
"I suppose this means that we have to catch to-day's steamer, after all?" he remarked.
"Not necessarily," Sogrange answered. "I have a plan. We will leave for the Southern depot, wherever it may be. Afterwards, you shall use that wonderful skill of yours, of which I have heard so much, to effect some slight change in our appearance. We will then go to another hotel, in another quarter of New York, and take our week's holiday incognito. What do you think of that for an idea?"
"Not much," Peter replied. "It isn't so easy to dodge the newspapers and the Press in this country. Besides, although I could manage myself very well, you would be an exceedingly awkward subject. Your tall and elegant figure, your aquiline nose, the shapeliness of your hands and feet, give you a distinction which I should find it hard to conceal."
"You are a remarkably observant fellow, Baron. I quite appreciate your difficulty. Still, with a club foot, eh, and spectacles instead of my eyeglass - "
"Oh, no doubt, something could be managed," Peter interrupted. "You're really in earnest about this, are you?"
"Absolutely," Sogrange declared. "Come here!"
He drew Peter to the window. They were on the twelfth story, and to a European there was something magnificent in that tangled mass of buildings threaded by the elevated railway, with its screaming trains, the clearness of the atmosphere, and in the white streets below, like polished belts through which the swarms of people streamed like insects.
"Imagine it all lit up!" Sogrange exclaimed. "The sky-signs all ablaze, the flashing of fire from those cable wires, the lights glittering from those tall buildings! This is a wonderful place, Baron. We must see it. Ring for the bill. Order one of those magnificent omnibuses. Press the button, too, for the personage whom they call the valet. Perhaps, with a little gentle persuasion, he could be induced to pack our clothes."
With his finger upon the hell, Peter hesitated. He, too, loved adventures, but the gloom of a presentiment had momentarily depressed him.
"We are marked men, remember, Sogrange," he said. "An escapade of this sort means a certain amount of risk, even in New York."
"Bernadine caught the midday steamer! We have no enemies here that I know of."
Peter pressed the button. An hour or so later, the Marquis de Sogrange and Peter, Baron de Grost, took their leave of New York.
They chose a hotel on Broadway, within a stone's throw of Rector's. Peter, with whitened hair, gold-rimmed spectacles, a slouch hat and a fur coat, passed easily enough for an English maker of electrical instruments; while Sogrange, shabbier, and in ready-made American clothes, was transformed into a Canadian having some connection with the theatrical business. They plunged into the heart of New York life, and found the whole thing like a tonic. The intense vitality of the people, the pandemonium of Broadway at midnight, with its flaming illuminations, its eager crowd, its inimitable restlessness, fascinated them both. Sogrange, indeed, remembering the decadent languor of the crowds of pleasure seekers thronging his own boulevards, was never weary of watching these men and women. They passed from the streets to the restaurants, from the restaurants to the theatre, out into the streets again, back to the restaurants, and once more into the streets. Sogrange was like a glutton. The mention of bed was hateful to him. For three days they existed without a moment's boredom.
On the fourth evening, Peter found Sogrange deep in conversation with the head porter. In a few minutes he led Peter away to one of the bars where they usually took their cocktail.
"My friend," he announced, "to-night I have a treat for you. So far we have looked on at the external night life of New York. Wonderful and thrilling it has been, too. But there is the underneath, also. Why not? There is a vast polyglot population here, full of energy said life. A criminal class exists as a matter of course. To-night we make our bow to it."
"And by what means?" Peter inquired.
"Our friend the hall-porter," Sogrange continued, "has given me the card of an ex-detective who will be our escort. He calls for us to-night, or rather to-morrow morning, at one o'clock. Then behold! the wand is waved, the land of adventures opens before us."
"I don't want to damp your enthusiasm, my Canadian friend," he said, "but the sort of adventures you may meet with to-night are scarcely likely to fire your romantic nature. I know a little about what they call this underneath world in New York. It will probably resolve itself into a visit to Chinatown, where we shall find the usual dummies taking opium and quite prepared to talk about it for the usual tip. After that we shall visit a few low dancing halls, be shown the scene of several murders, and the thing is done."
"You are a cynic," Sogrange declared. "You would throw cold water upon any enterprise. Anyway, our detective is coming. We must make use of him, for I have engaged to pay him twenty-five dollars."
"We'll go where you like," Peter assented, "so long as we dine on a roof garden. This beastly fur coat keeps me in a state of chronic perspiration."
"Never mind," Sogrange said, consolingly, "it's most effective. A roof garden, by all means."
"And recollect," Peter insisted, "I bar Chinatown. We've both of us seen the real thing, and there's nothing real about what they show you here."
"Chinatown is erased from our program," Sogrange agreed. "We go now to dine. Remind me, Baron, that I inquire for those strange dishes of which one hears Terrapin, Canvas-backed Duck, Green Corn, Strawberry Shortcake,"
Peter smiled grimly.
"How like a Frenchman," he exclaimed, "to take no account of seasons! Never mind, Marquis, you shall give your order and I will sketch the waiter's face. By the bye, if you're in earnest about this expedition to-night, put your revolver into your pocket."
"But we 're going with an ex-detective," Sogrange replied.
"One never knows," Peter said, carelessly.
They dined close to the stone palisading of one of New York's most famous roof gardens. Sogrange ordered an immense dinner but spent most of his time gazing downwards. They were higher up than at the hotel and they could see across the tangled maze of lights even to the river, across which the great ferry-boats were speeding all the while - huge creatures of streaming fire and whistling sirens. The air where they sat was pure and crisp. There was no fog, no smoke, to cloud the almost crystalline clearness of the night.
"Baron," Sogrange declared, "if I had lived in this city I should have been a different man. No wonder the people are all conquering."
"Too much electricity in the air for me," Peter answered. "I like a little repose. I can't think where these people find it."
"One hopes," Sogrange murmured, "that before they progress any further in utilitarianism, they will find some artist, one of themselves, to express all this."
"In the meantime," Peter interrupted, "the waiter would like to know what we are going to drink. I've eaten such a confounded jumble of things of your ordering that I should like some champagne."
"Who shall say that I am not generous!" Sogrange replied, taking up the wine carte. "Champagne it shall be. We need something to nerve us for our adventures."
Peter leaned across the table.
"Sogrange," he whispered, "for the last twenty-four hours I have had some doubts as to the success of our little enterprise. It has occurred to me more than once that we are being shadowed."
"I sometimes wonder," he remarked, "how a man of your suspicious nature ever acquired the reputation you undoubtedly enjoy."
"Perhaps it is because of my suspicious nature," Peter said. "There is a man staying in our hotel whom we are beginning to see quite a great deal of. He was talking to the head porter a few minutes before you this afternoon. He supped at the same restaurant last night. He is dining now three places behind you to the right, with a young lady who has been making flagrant attempts at flirtation with me, notwithstanding my gray hairs."
"Your reputation, my dear Peter," Sogrange murmured -
"As a decoy," Peter interrupted, "the young lady's methods are too vigorous. She pretends to be terribly afraid of her companion, but it is entirely obvious that she is acting on his instructions. Of course, this may be a ruse of the reporters. On the other hand, I think it would be wise to abandon our little expedition to-night."
Sogrange shook his head.
"So far as I am concerned," he said, "I am committed to it."
"In which case," Peter replied, "I am certainly committed to being your companion. The only question is whether one shall fall to the decoy and suffer oneself to be led in the direction her companion desires, or whether we shall go blundering into trouble on our own account with your friend the ex-detective."
Sogrange glanced over his shoulder, leaned back in his chair for a moment, as though to look at the stars, and finally lit a cigarette.
"There is a lack of subtlety about that young person, Baron," he declared, "which stifles one's suspicions. I suspect her to be merely one more victim to your undoubted charms. In the interests of Madame your wife, I shall take you away. The decoy shall weave her spells in vain."
They paid their bill and departed a few minutes later. The man and the girl were also in the act of leaving. The former seemed to be having some dispute about the bill. The girl, standing with her back to him, scribbled a line upon a piece of paper, and, as Peter went by, pushed it into his hand with a little warning gesture. In the lift he opened it. The few penciled words contained nothing but an address: Number 15, 100th Street, East.
"Lucky man!" Sogrange sighed.
Peter made no remark, but he was thoughtful for the next hour or so.
The ex-detective proved to be an individual of fairly obvious appearance, whose complexion and thirst indicated a very possible reason for his life of leisure. He heard with surprise that his patrons were not inclined to visit Chinatown, but he showed a laudable desire to fall in with their schemes, provided always that they included a reasonable number of visits to places where refreshment could he obtained. From first to last, the expedition was a disappointment. They visited various smoke-hung dancing halls, decorated for the most part with oleographs and cracked mirrors, in which sickly-Looking young men of unwholesome aspect were dancing with their feminine counterparts. The attitude of their guide was alone amusing.
"Say, you want to be careful in here!" he would declare, in an awed tone, on entering one of these tawdry palaces. "Guess this is one of the toughest spots in New York City. You stick close to me and I'll make things all right."
His method of making things all right was the same in every case. He would form a circle of disreputable-looking youths, for whose drinks Sogrange was called upon to pay. The attitude of these young men was more dejected than positively vicious. They showed not the slightest signs of any desire to make themselves unpleasant. Only once, when Sogrange incautiously displayed a gold watch, did the eyes of one or two of their number glisten. The ex-detective changed his place and whispered hoarsely in his patron's ear.
"Say, don't you flash anything of that sort about here! That young cove right opposite to you is one of the best known sneak-thieves in the city. you're asking for trouble that way."
"If he or any other of them want my watch," Sogrange answered calmly, "let them come and fetch it. However," he added, buttoning up his coat, "no doubt you are right. Is there anywhere else to take us?"
The man hesitated.
"There ain't much that you haven't seen," he remarked.
Sogrange laughed softly as he rose to his feet.
"A sell, my dear friend," he said to Peter. "This terrible city keeps its real criminal class somewhere else rather than in the show places."
A man who had been standing in the doorway, looking in for several moments, strolled up to them. Peter recognized him at once and touched Sogrange on the arm. The newcomer accosted them pleasantly.
"Say, you'll excuse my butting in," he began, "but I can see you're kind of disappointed. These suckers" - indicating the ex-detective - "talk a lot about what they're going to show you, and when they get you round it all amounts to nothing. This is the sort of thing they bring you to, as representing the wickedness of New York! That's so, Rastall, isn't it?"
The ex-detective looked a little sheepish.
"Yes, there ain't much more to be seen," he admitted. "Perhaps you'll take the job on if you think there is."
"Well, I'd show the gentlemen something of a sight more interesting that this," the newcomer continued. "They don't want to sit down and drink with the scum of the earth."
"Perhaps," Sogrange suggested, "this gentleman has something in his mind which he thinks would appeal to us. We have a motor car outside and we are out for adventures."
"What sort of adventures?" the newcomer asked, bluntly.
Sogrange shrugged his shoulders lightly.
"We are lookers-on merely," he explained. "My friend and I have traveled a good deal. We have seen something of criminal life in Paris and London, Vienna and Budapest. I shall not break any confidence if I tell you that my friend is a writer, and material such as this is useful."
The newcomer smiled.
"Well," he exclaimed, "in a way, it's fortunate for you that I happened along! You come right with me and I'll show you something that very few other people in this city know of. Guess you'd better pay this fellow off," he added, indicating the ex-detective. "He's no more use to you."
Sogrange and Peter exchanged questioning glances.
"It is very kind of you, sir," Peter decided, "but for my part I have had enough for one evening."
"Just as you like, of course," the other remarked, with studied unconcern.
"What sort of place would it be?" Sogrange asked.
The newcomer drew them on one side, although, as a matter of fact, every one else had already melted away.
"Have you ever heard of the Secret Societies of New York?" he inquired. "Well, I guess you haven't, any way - not to know anything about them. Well, then, listen. There's a Society meets within a few steps of here, which has more to do with regulating the criminal classes of the city than any police establishment. There'll be a man there within an hour or so, who, to my knowledge, has committed seven murders. The police can't get him. They never will. He's under our protection."
"May we visit such a place as you describe without danger?" Peter asked, calmly.
"No!" the man answered. "There's danger in going anywhere, it seems to me, if it's worth while. So long as you keep a still tongue in your head and don't look about you too much, there's nothing will happen to you. If you get gassing a lot, you might tumble in for almost anything. Don't come unless you like. It's a chance for your friend, as he's a writer, but you'd best keep out of it if you're in any way nervous."
"You said it was quite close?" Sogrange inquired.
"Within a yard or two," the man replied. "It's right this way."
They left the hall with their new escort. When they looked for their motor car, they found it had gone.
"It don't do to keep them things waiting about round here," their new friend remarked, carelessly. "I guess I'll send you back to your hotel all right. Step this way."
"By the bye, what street is this we are in?" Peter asked.
"100th Street," the man answered.
Peter shook his head.
"I'm a little superstitious about that number," he declared. "Is that an elevated railway there? I think we've had enough, Sogrange."
Sogrange hesitated. They were standing now in front of a tall gloomy house, unkempt, with broken gate - a large but miserable-looking abode. The passers-by in the street were few. The whole character of the surroundings was squalid. The man pushed open the broken gate.
"You cross the street right there to the elevated," he directed. "If you ain't coming, I'll bid you good-night."
Once more they hesitated. Peter, perhaps, saw more than his companion. He saw the dark shapes lurking under the railway arch. He knew instinctively that they were in some sort of danger. And yet the love of adventure was on fire in his blood. His belief in himself was immense. He whispered to Sogrange.
"I do not trust our guide," he said. "If you care to risk it, I am with you."
"Mind the broken pavement," the man called out. "This ain't exactly an abode of luxury."
They climbed some broken steps. Their guide opened a door with a Yale key. The door swung to, after them, and they found themselves in darkness. There had been no light in the windows; there was no light, apparently, in the house. Their companion produced an electric torch from his pocket.
"You had best follow me," he advised. "Our quarters face out the other way. We keep this end looking a little deserted."
They passed through a swing door and everything was at once changed. A multitude of lamps hung from the ceiling, the floor was carpeted, the walls clean.
"We don't go in for electric light," their guide explained, "as we try not to give the place away. We manage to keep it fairly comfortable, though."
He pushed open the door and entered a somewhat gorgeously furnished salon. There were signs here of feminine occupation, an open piano, and the smell of cigarettes. Once more Peter hesitated.
"Your friends seem to be in hiding," he remarked. "Personally, I am losing my curiosity."
"Guess you won't have to wait very long," the man replied, with meaning.
The room was suddenly invaded on all sides. Four doors, which were quite hidden by the pattern of the wall, had opened almost simultaneously, and at least a dozen men had entered. This time both Sogrange and Peter knew that they were face to face with the real thing. These were men who came silently in, no cigarette-stunted youths. Two of them were in evening dress; three or four had the appearance of prize fighters. In their countenances was one expression common to all - an air of quiet and conscious strength.
A fair-headed man, in dinner jacket and black tie, became at once their spokesman. He was possessed of a very slight American accent, and he beamed at them through a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I am glad to meet you both."
"Very kind of you, I'm sure," Sogrange answered. "Our friend here," he added, indicating their guide, "found us trying to gain a little insight into the more interesting part of New York life. He was kind enough to express a wish to introduce us to you."
The man smiled. He looked very much like some studious clerk, except that his voice seemed to ring with some latent power.
"I am afraid," he said, "that your friend's interest in you was not entirely unselfish. For three days he has carried in his pocket an order instructing him to produce you here."
"I knew it!" Peter whispered, under his breath.
"You interest me," Sogrange replied. "May I know whom I have the honor of addressing?"
"You can call me Burr," the man announced, "Philip Burr. Your names it is not our wish to know."
"I am afraid I do not quite understand," Sogrange said.
"It was scarcely to be expected that you should," Mr. Philip Burr admitted. "All I can tell you is that, in cases like yours, I really prefer not to know with whom I have to deal."
"You speak as though you had business with us," Peter remarked.
"Without doubt, I have," the other replied, grimly. "It is my business to see that you do not leave these premises alive."
Sogrange drew up a chair against which he had been leaning, and sat down.
"Really," he said, "that would be most inconvenient." Peter, too, shook his head, sitting upon the end of a sofa and folding his arms. Something told him that the moment for fighting was not yet.
"Inconvenient or not," Mr. Philip Burr continued, "I have orders to carry out which I can assure you have never yet been disobeyed since the formation of our Society. From what I can see of you, you appear to be very amiable gentlemen, and if it would interest you to choose the method - say, of your release - why, I can assure you we'll do all we can to meet your views."
"I am beginning," Sogrange remarked, "to feel quite at home."
"You see, we've been through this sort of thing before," Peter added, blandly.
Mr. Philip Burr took a cigar from his case and lit it. At a motion of his hand, one of the company passed the box to his two guests.
"You're not counting upon a visit from the police, or anything of that sort, I hope?" Mr. Philip Burr asked.
Sogrange shook his head.
"Certainly not," he replied. "I may say that much of the earlier portion of my life was spent in frustrating the well-meant but impossible schemes of that body of men."
"If only we had a little more time," Mr. Burr declared, "it seems to me I should like to make the acquaintance of you two gentlemen."
"The matter is entirely in your own hands," Peter reminded him. "We are in no hurry."
Mr. Burr smiled genially.
"You make me think better of humanity," he confessed. "A month ago we had a man here - got him along somehow or another - and I had to tell him that he was up against it like you two are. My! the fuss he made! Kind of saddened me to think a man should be such a coward."
"Some people like that," Sogrange remarked. "By the bye, Mr. Burr, you'll pardon my curiosity. Whom have we to thank for our introduction here to-night?"
"I don't know as there's any particular harm in telling you," Mr. Burr replied -
"Nor any particular good," a man who was standing by his side interrupted. "Say, Phil, you drag these things out too much. Are there any questions you've got to ask 'em, or any property to collect?"
"Nothing of the sort," Mr. Burr admitted.
"Then let the gang get to work," the other declared.
The two men were suddenly conscious that they were being surrounded. Peter's hand stole on to the butt of his revolver. Sogrange rose slowly to his feet. His hands were thrust out in front of him with the thumbs turned down. The four fingers of each hand flashed for a minute through the air. Mr. Philip Burr lost all his self-control.
"Say, where the devil did you learn that trick?" he cried.
Sogrange laughed scornfully.
"Trick!" he exclaimed. "Philip Burr, you are unworthy of your position. I am the Marquis de Sogrange, and my friend here is the Baron de Grost."
Mr. Philip Burr had no words. His cigar had dropped on to the carpet. He was simply staring.
"If you need proof," Sogrange continued, "further than any I have given you, I have in my pocket, at the present moment, a letter, signed by you yourself, pleading for formal reinstatement. This is how you would qualify for it! You make use of your power to run a common decoy house, to do away with men for money. What fool gave you our names, pray?"
Mr. Philip Burr was only the wreck of a man. He could not even control his voice.
"It was some German or Belgian nobleman," he faltered. "He brought us excellent letters, and he made a large contribution. It was the Count von Hern."
The anger of Sogrange seemed suddenly to fade away. He threw himself into a chair by the side of his companion.
"My dear Baron," he exclaimed, "Bernadine has scored, indeed! Your friend has a sense of humor which overwhelms me. Imagine it. He has delivered the two heads of our great Society into the hands of one of its cast-off branches! Bernadine is a genius, indeed!"
Mr. Philip Burr began slowly to recover himself. He waved his hand. Nine out of the twelve men left the room.
"Marquis," he said, "for ten years there has been no one whom I have desired to meet so much as you. I came to Europe but you declined to receive mc. I know very well we can't keep our end up like you over there, because we haven't politics and that sort of things to play with, but we've done our best. We've encouraged only criminology of the highest order. We 'ye tried all we can to keep the profession select. The jail-bird, pure and simple, we have cast out. The men who have suffered at our hands have been men who have met with their deserts."
"What about us?" Peter demanded. "It seems to me that you had most unpleasant plans for our future."
Philip Burr held up his hands.
"As I live," he declared, "this is the first time that any money consideration has induced me to break away from our principles. That Count von Hern, he had powerful friends who were our friends, and he gave me the word, straight, that you two had an appointment down below which was considerably overdue. I don't know, even now, why I consented. I guess it isn't much use apologizing."
Sogrange rose to his feet.
"Well," he said, "I am not inclined to bear malice, but you must understand this from me, Philip Burr. As a Society, I dissolve you. I deprive you of your title and of your signs. Call yourself what you will, but never again mention the name of the 'Double-Four.' With us in Europe, another era has dawned. We are on the side of law and order. We protect only criminals of a certain class, in whose operations we have faith. There is no future for such a society in this country. Therefore, as I say, I dissolve it. Now, if you are ready, perhaps you will be so good as to provide us with the means of reaching our hotel."
Philip Burr led them into a back street, where his own handsome automobile was placed at their service.
"This kind of breaks me all up," he declared, as he gave the instructions to the chauffeur. "If there were two men on the face of this earth whom I'd have been proud to meet in a friendly sort of way, it's you two."
"We bear no malice, Mr. Burr," Sogrange assured him. "You can, if you will do us the honor, lunch with us to-morrow at one o'clock at Rector's. My friend here is quite interested in the Count von Hern, and he would probably like to hear exactly how this affair was arranged."
"I'll be there, sure," Philip Burr promised, with a farewell wave of the hand.
Sogrange and Peter drove back towards their hotel in silence. It was only when they emerged into the civilized part of the city that Sogrange began to laugh softly.
"My friend," he murmured, "you bluffed fairly well, but you were afraid. Oh, how I smiled to see your fingers close round the butt of that revolver!"
"What about you?" Peter asked, gruffly. "You don't suppose you took me in, do you?"
"I had two reasons for coming to New York," he said. "One we accomplished upon the steamer. The other was - "
"To reply personally to this letter of Mr. Philip Burr," Sogrange replied, "which letter, by the bye, was dated from 15, 100th Street, New York. An ordinary visit there would have been useless to me. Something of this sort was necessary."
"Then you knew!" Peter gasped. "Notwithstanding all your bravado, you knew!"
"I had a very fair idea," Sogrange admitted. "Don't be annoyed with me, my friend. You have had a little experience. It is all useful. It isn't the first time you've looked death in the face. Adventures come to some men unasked. You, I think, were born with the habit of them."
Peter smiled. They had reached the hotel courtyard and he raised himself stiffly.
"There's a little fable about the pitcher that went once too often to the well," he remarked. "I have had my share of luck - more than my share. The end must come sometime, you know."
"Is this superstition?" Sogrange asked.
"Superstition, pure and simple," Peter confessed, taking his key from the office. "It doesn't alter anything. I am fatalist enough to shrug my shoulders and move on. But I tell you, Sogrange," he added, after a moment's pause, "I wouldn't admit it to any one else in the world, but I am afraid of Bernadine. I have had the best of it so often. It can't last. In all we've had twelve encounters. The next will be the thirteenth."
Sogrange shrugged his shoulders slightly as he rang for the lift.
"I'd propose you for the Thirteen Club, only there's some uncomfortable clause about yearly suicides which might not suit you," he remarked. "Good-night, and don't dream of Bernadine and your thirteenth encounter."
"I only hope," Peter murmured, "that I may be in a position to dream after it."