The Yellow Crayon by E. Phillips Oppenheim
But, after all, things did not exactly turn out as Mr. Horser had imagined. The sight of the empty room and the closed door were satisfactory enough, and he did not hesitate for a moment.
"Look here, sir," he said, "you and I are going to settle this matter quick. Whatever you paid Skinner you can have back again. But I'm going to have that report."
He took a quick step forward with uplifted hand - and looked into the shining muzzle of a tiny revolver. Behind it Mr. Sabin's face, no longer pleasant and courteous, had taken to itself some very grim lines.
"I am a weak man, Mr. Horser, but I am never without the means of self-defence," Mr. Sabin said in a still, cold tone. "Be so good as to sit down in that easy-chair."
Mr. Horser hesitated. For one moment he stood as though about to carry out his first intention. He stood glaring at his opponent, his face contracted into a snarl, his whole appearance hideous, almost bestial. Mr. Sabin smiled upon him contemptuously - the maddening, compelling smile of the born aristocrat.
Mr. Horser sat down, whereupon Mr. Sabin followed suit.
"Now what have you to say to me?" Mr. Sabin asked quietly.
"I want that report," was the dogged answer.
"You will not have it," Mr. Sabin answered. "You can take that for granted. You shall not take it from me by force, and I will see that you do not charm it out of my pocket by other means. The information which it contains is of the utmost possible importance to me. I have bought it and paid for it, and I shall use it."
Mr. Horser moistened his dry lips.
"I will give you," he said, "twenty thousand dollars for its return."
Mr. Sabin laughed softly.
"You bid high," he said. "I begin to suspect that our friends on the other side of the water have been more than ordinarily kind to you."
"I will give you - forty thousand dollars."
Mr. Sabin raised his eyebrows.
"So much? After all, that sounds more like fear than anything. You cannot hope to make a profitable deal out of that. Dear me! It seems only a few minutes ago that I heard your interesting friend, Mr. Skinner, shake with laughter at the mention of such a thing as a secret society."
"Skinner is a blasted fool," Horser exclaimed fiercely. "Listen here, Mr. Sabin. You can read that report if you must, but, as I'm a living man you'll not stir from New York if you do. I'll make your life a hell for you. Don't you understand that no one but a born fool would dare to quarrel with me in this city? I hold the prison keys, the police are mine. I shall make my own charge, whatever I choose, and they shall prove it for me."
Mr. Sabin shook his head.
"This sounds very shocking," he remarked. "I had no idea that the largest city of the most enlightened country in the world was in such a sorry plight."
"Oh, curse your sarcasm," Mr. Horser said. "I'm talking facts, and you've got to know them. Will you give up that report? You can find out all there is in it for yourself. But I'm going to give it you straight. If I don't have that report back unread, you'll never leave New York."
Mr. Sabin was genuinely amused.
"My good fellow," he said, "you have made yourself a notorious person in this country by dint of incessant bullying and bribing and corruption of every sort. You may possess all the powers you claim. Your only mistake seems to be that you are too thick-headed to know when you are overmatched. I have been a diplomatist all my life," Mr. Sabin said, rising slowly to his feet, and with a sudden intent look upon his face, "and if I were to be outwitted by such a novice as you I should deserve to end my days - in New York."
Mr. Horser rose also to his feet. A smile of triumph was on his lips.
"Well," he said, "we - Come in! Come in!" The door was thrown open. Skinner and two policemen entered. Mr. Sabin leaned towards the wall, and in a second the room was plunged in darkness.
"Turn on the lights!" Skinner shouted. "Seize him! He's in that corner. Use your clubs!" Horser bawled. "Stand by the door one of you. Damnation, where is that switch?"
He found it with a shout of triumph. Lights flared out in the room. They stared around into every corner. Mr. Sabin was not there. Then Horser saw the door leading into the bed-chamber, and flung himself against it with a hoarse cry of rage.
"Break it open!" he cried to the policemen.
They hammered upon it with their clubs. Mr. Sabin's quiet voice came to them from the other side.
"Pray do not disturb me, gentlemen," he said. "I am reading."
"Break it open, you damned fools!" Horser cried. They battered at it sturdily, but the door was a solid one. Suddenly they heard the key turn in the lock. Mr. Sabin stood upon the threshold.
"Gentlemen!" he exclaimed. "These are my private apartments. Why this violence?"
He held out the paper.
"This is mine," he said. "The information which it contains is bought and paid for. But if the giving it up will procure me the privilege of your departure, pray take it.
Horser was purple with rage. He pointed with shaking fist to the still, calm figure.
"Arrest him," he ordered. "Take him to the cells."
Mr. Sabin shrugged his shoulders.
"I am ready," he said, "but it is only fair to give you this warning. I am the Duke of Souspennier, and I am well known in England and France. The paper which you saw me hand to the porter in the hall as we stepped into the elevator was a despatch in cipher to the English Ambassador at Washington, claiming his protection. If you take me to prison to-night you will have him to deal with to-morrow."
Mr. Horser bore himself in defeat better than at any time during the encounter. He turned to the constables.
"Go down stairs and wait for me in the hail," he ordered. "You too, Skinner."
They left the room. Horser turned to Mr. Sabin, and the veins on his forehead stood out like whipcord.
"I know when I'm beaten," he said. "Keep your report, and be damned to you. But remember that you and I have a score to settle, and you can ask those who know me how often Dick Horser comes out underneath in the long run."
He followed the others. Mr. Sabin sat down in his easy-chair with a quiet smile upon his lips. Once more he glanced through the brief report. Then his eyes half closed, and he sat quite still - a tired, weary-looking man, almost unnaturally pale.
"They have kept their word," he said softly to himself, "after many years. After many years!"
* * * * *
Duson came in to undress him shortly afterwards. He saw signs of the struggle, but made no comment. Mr. Sabin, after a moment's hesitation, took a phial from his pocket and poured a few drops into a wineglassful of water.
"Duson," he said, "bring me some despatch forms and a pencil."
Mr. Sabin wrote for several moments. Then he placed the forms in an envelope, sealed it, and handed it to Duson.
"Duson," he said, "that fellow Horser is annoyed with me. If I should be arrested on any charge, or should fail to return to the hotel within reasonable time, break that seal and send off the telegrams."
Mr. Sabin yawned.
"I need sleep," he said. "Do not call me to-morrow morning until I ring. And, Duson!"
"The Campania will sail from New York somewhere about the tenth of October. I wish to secure the whole of stateroom number twenty-eight. Go round to the office as soon as they open, secure that room if possible, and pay a deposit. No other will do. Also one for yourself."
"Very good, sir."