THE MEDAL LIBRARY
FAMOUS COPYRIGHTED STORIES
FOR BOYS, BY FAMOUS AUTHORS
This is an ideal line for boys of all ages. It contains juvenile masterpieces by the most popular writers of interesting fiction for boys. Among these may be mentioned the works of Burt L. Standish, detailing the adventures of Frank Merriwell, the hero, of whom every American boy has read with admiration. Frank is a truly representative American lad, full of character and a strong determination to do right at any cost. Then, there are the works of Horatio Alger, Jr., whose keen insight into the minds of the boys of our country has enabled him to write a series of the most interesting tales ever published. This line also contains some of the best works of Oliver Optic, another author whose entire life was devoted to writing books that would tend to interest and elevate our boys.
PUBLISHED EVERY WEEK
To be Published During December
339—In School and Out By Oliver Optic
338—A Cousin’s Conspiracy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
337—Jack Harkaway After Schooldays By Bracebridge Hemyng
336—Frank Merriwell’s Great Scheme By Burt L. Standish
To be Published During November
335—The Haunted Hunter By Edward S. Ellis
334—Tony, the Tramp By Horatio Alger, Jr.
333—Rich and Humble By Oliver Optic
332—Frank Merriwell’s Stage Hit By Burt L. Standish
331—The Hidden City By Walter MacDougall
330—Bob Burton By Horatio Alger, Jr.
329—Masterman Ready By Capt. Marryat
328—Frank Merriwell’s Prosperity By Burt L. Standish
327—Jack Harkaway’s Friends By Bracebridge Hemyng
326—The Tin Box By Horatio Alger, Jr.
325—The Young Franc-Tireurs By G. A. Henty
324—Frank Merriwell’s New Comedian By Burt L. Standish
323—The Sheik’s White Slave By Raymond Raife
322—Helping Himself By Horatio Alger, Jr.
321—Snarleyyow, The Dog Fiend By Capt. Marryat
320—Frank Merriwell’s Fortune By Burt L. Standish
319—By Right of Conquest By G. A. Henty
318—Jed, the Poorhouse Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
317—Jack Harkaway’s Schooldays By Bracebridge Hemyng
316—Frank Merriwell’s Problem By Burt L. Standish
315—The Diamond Seeker of Brazil By Leon Lewis
314—Andy Gordon By Horatio Alger, Jr.
313—The Phantom Ship By Capt. Marryat
312—Frank Merriwell’s College Chums By Burt L. Standish
311—Whistler By Walter Aimwell
310—Making His Way By Horatio Alger, Jr.
309—Three Years at Wolverton By A Wolvertonian
308—Frank Merriwell’s Fame By Burt L. Standish
307—The Boy Crusoes By Jeffreys Taylor
306—Chester Rand By Horatio Alger, Jr.
305—Japhet in Search of a Father By Capt. Marryat
304—Frank Merriwell’s Own Company By Burt L. Standish
303—The Prairie By J. Fenimore Cooper
302—The Young Salesman By Horatio Alger, Jr.
301—A Battle and a Boy By Blanche Willis Howard
300—Frank Merriwell on the Road By Burt L. Standish
299—Mart Satterlee Among the Indians By William O. Stoddard
298—Andy Grant’s Pluck By Horatio Alger, Jr.
297—Newton Forster By Capt. Marryat
296—Frank Merriwell’s Protege By Burt L. Standish
295—Cris Rock By Capt. Mayne Reid
294—Sam’s Chance By Horatio Alger, Jr.
293—My Plucky Boy Tom By Edward S. Ellis
292—Frank Merriwell’s Hard Luck By Burt L. Standish
291—By Pike and Dyke By G. A. Henty
290—Shifting For Himself By Horatio Alger, Jr.
289—The Pirate and the Three Cutters By Capt. Marryat
288—Frank Merriwell’s Opportunity By Burt L. Standish
287—Kit Carson’s Last Trail By Leon Lewis
286—Jack’s Ward By Horatio Alger, Jr.
285—Jack Darcy, the All Around Athlete By Edward S. Ellis
284—Frank Merriwell’s First Job By Burt L. Standish
283—Wild Adventures Round the Pole By Gordon Stables
282—Herbert Carter’s Legacy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
281—Rattlin, the Reefer By Capt. Marryat
280—Frank Merriwell’s Struggle By Burt L. Standish
279—Mark Dale’s Stage Venture By Arthur M. Winfield
278—In Times of Peril By G. A. Henty
277—In a New World By Horatio Alger, Jr.
276—Frank Merriwell in Maine By Burt L. Standish
275—The King of the Island By Henry Harrison Lewis
274—Beach Boy Joe By Lieut. James K. Ortón
273—Jacob Faithful By Capt. Marryat
272—Facing the World By Horatio Alger, Jr.
271—Frank Merriwell’s Chase By Burt L. Standish
270—Wing and Wing By J. Fenimore Cooper
269—The Young Bank Clerk By Arthur M. Winfield
268—Do and Dare By Horatio Alger, Jr.
267—Frank Merriwell’s Cruise By Burt L. Standish
266—The Young Castaways By Leon Lewis
265—The Lion of St. Mark By G. A. Henty
264—Hector’s Inheritance By Horatio Alger, Jr.
263—Mr. Midshipman Easy By Captain Marryat
262—Frank Merriwell’s Vacation By Burt L. Standish
261—The Pilot By J. Fenimore Cooper
260—Driven From Home By Horatio Alger, Jr.
259—Sword and Pen By Henry Harrison Lewis
258—Frank Merriwell In Camp By Burt L. Standish
257—Jerry By Walter Aimwell
256—The Young Ranchman By Lieut. Lounsberry
255—Captain Bayley’s Heir By G. A. Henty
254—Frank Merriwell’s Loyalty By Burt L. Standish
253—The Water Witch By J. Fenimore Cooper
252—Luke Walton By Horatio Alger, Jr.
251—Frank Merriwell’s Banger By Burt L. Standish
250—Neka, the Boy Conjurer By Capt. Ralph Bonehill
249—The Young Bridge Tender By Arthur M. Winfield
248—The West Point Rivals By Lieut. Frederick Garrison, U. S. A.
247—Frank Merriwell’s Secret By Burt L. Standish
246—Rob Ranger’s Cowboy Days By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
245—The Red Rover By J. Fenimore Cooper
244—Frank Merriwell’s Return to Yale By Burt L. Standish
243—Adrift in New York By Horatio Alger, Jr.
242—The Rival Canoe Boys By St. George Rathborne
241—The Tour of the Zero Club By Capt. R. Bonehill
240—Frank Merriwell’s Champions By Burt L. Standish
239—The Two Admirals By J. Fenimore Cooper
238—A Cadet’s Honor By Lieut. Fred’k Garrison, U. S. A.
237—Frank Merriwell’s Skill By Burt L. Standish
236—Rob Ranger’s Mine By Lieut. Lounsberry
235—The Young Carthaginian By G. A. Henty
234—The Store Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
233—Frank Merriwell’s Athletes By Burt L. Standish
232—The Valley of Mystery By Henry Harrison Lewis
231—Paddling Under Palmettos By St. George Rathborne
230—Off for West Point By Lieut. Fred’k Garrison, U. S. A.
229—Frank Merriwell’s Daring By Burt L. Standish
228—The Cash Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
227—In Freedom’s Cause By G. A. Henty
226—Tom Havens With the White Squadron By Lieut. James K. Orton
225—Frank Merriwell’s Courage By Burt L. Standish
224—Yankee Boys in Japan By Henry Harrison Lewis
223—In Fort and Prison By William Murray Graydon
222—A West Point Treasure By Lieut. Frederick Garrison, U. S. A.
221—The Young Outlaw By Horatio Alger, Jr.
220—The Gulf Cruisers By St. George Rathborne
219—Tom Truxton’s Ocean Trip By Lieut. Lounsberry
218—Tom Truxton’s School Days By Lieut. Lounsberry
217—Frank Merriwell’s Bicycle Tour By Burt L. Standish
216—Campaigning With Braddock By Wm. Murray Graydon
215—With Clive in India By G. A. Henty
214—On Guard By Lieut. Frederick Garrison, U. S. A.
213—Frank Merriwell’s Races By Burt L. Standish
212—Julius, the Street Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
211—Buck Badger’s Ranch By Russell Williams
210—Sturdy and Strong By G. A. Henty
209—Frank Merriwell’s Sports Afield By Burt L. Standish
208—The Treasure of the Golden Crater By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
207—Shifting Winds By St. George Rathborne
206—Jungles and Traitors By Wm. Murray Graydon
205—Frank Merriwell at Yale By Burt L. Standish
204—Under Drake’s Flag By G. A. Henty
203—Last Chance Mine By Lieut. James K. Orton
202—Risen From the Ranks By Horatio Alger, Jr.
201—Frank Merriwell in Europe By Burt L. Standish
200—The Fight for a Pennant By Frank Merriwell
199—The Golden Cañon By G. A. Henty
198—Only an Irish Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
197—Frank Merriwell’s Hunting Tour By Burt L. Standish
196—Zip, the Acrobat By Victor St. Clair
195—The Lion of the North By G. A. Henty
194—The White Mustang By Edward S. Ellis
193—Frank Merriwell’s Bravery By Burt L. Standish
192—Tom, the Bootblack By Horatio Alger, Jr.
191—The Rivals of the Diamond By Russell Williams
190—The Cat of Bubastes By G. A. Henty
189—Frank Merriwell Down South By Burt L. Standish
188—From Street to Mansion By Frank H. Stauffer
187—Bound to Rise By Horatio Alger, Jr.
186—On the Trail of Geronimo By Edward S. Ellis
185—For the Temple By G. A. Henty
184—Frank Merriwell’s Trip West By Burt L. Standish.
183—The Diamond Hunters By James Grant
182—The Camp in the Snow By William Murray Graydon
181—Brave and Bold By Horatio Alger, Jr.
180—One of the 28th By G. A. Henty
178—Frank Merriwell’s Foes By Burt L. Standish
177—The White Elephant By William Dalton
176—By England’s Aid By G. A. Henty
175—Strive and Succeed By Horatio Alger, Jr.
173—Life at Sea By Gordon Stables
172—The Young Midshipman By G. A. Henty
171—Erling the Bold By R. M. Ballantyne
170—Strong and Steady By Horatio Alger, Jr.
169—Peter, the Whaler By W. H. G. Kingston
168—Among Malay Pirates By G. A. Henty
167—Frank Merriwell’s Chums By Burt L. Standish
166—Try and Trust By Horatio Alger, Jr.
165—The Secret Chart By Lieut. James K. Orton
164—The Cornet of Horse By G. A. Henty
163—Slow and Sure By Horatio Alger, Jr.
162—The Pioneers By J. F. Cooper
161—Reuben Green’s Adventures at Yale By James Otis
160—Little by Little By Oliver Optic
159—Phil, the Fiddler By Horatio Alger, Jr.
158—With Lee in Virginia By G. A. Henty
157—Randy, the Pilot By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
156—The Pathfinder By J. F. Cooper
155—The Young Voyagers By Capt. Mayne Reid
154—Paul, the Peddler By Horatio Alger. Jr.
153—Bonnie Prince Charlie By G. A. Henty
152—The Last of the Mohicans By J. Fenimore Cooper
151—The Flag of Distress By Capt. Mayne Reid
150—Frank Merriwell’s School Days By Burt L. Standish
149—With Wolfe in Canada By G. A. Henty
148—The Deerslayer By J. F. Cooper
147—The Cliff Climbers By Capt. Mayne Reid
146—Uncle Nat By A. Oldfellow
145—Friends Though Divided By G. A. Henty
144—The Boy Tar By Capt. Mayne Reid
143—Hendricks, the Hunter By W. H. G. Kingston
142—The Young Explorer By Gordon Stables
141—The Ocean Waifs By Capt. Mayne Reid
140—The Young Buglers By G. A. Henty
139—Shore and Ocean By W. H. G. Kingston
138—Striving for Fortune By Horatio Alger, Jr.
137—The Bush Boys By Capt. Mayne Reid
136—From Pole to Pole By Gordon Stables
135—Dick Cheveley By W. H. G. Kingston
134—Orange and Green By G. A. Henty
133—The Young Yagers By Capt. Mayne Reid
132—The Adventures of Rob Roy By James Grant
131—The Boy Slaves By Capt. Mayne Reid
130—From Canal Boy to President By Horatio Alger, Jr.
129—Ran Away to Sea By Capt. Mayne Reid
128—For Name and Fame By G. A. Henty
127—The Forest Exiles By Capt. Mayne Reid
126—From Powder Monkey to Admiral By W. H. G. Kingston
125—The Plant Hunters By Capt. Mayne Reid
124—St. George for England By G. A. Henty
123—The Giraffe Hunters By Capt. Mayne Reid
122—Tom Brace By Horatio Alger, Jr.
121—Peter Trawl By W. H. G. Kingston
120—In the Wilds of New Mexico By G. Manville Fenn
119—A Final Reckoning By G. A. Henty
118—Ned Newton By Horatio Alger, Jr.
117—James Braithwaite, The Supercargo By W. H. G. Kingston
116—Happy-Go-Lucky Jack By Frank H. Converse
115—Adventures of a Young Athlete By Matthew White, Jr.
114—The Old Man of the Mountains By George H. Coomer
113—The Bravest of the Brave By G. A. Henty
112—20,000 Leagues Under the Sea By Jules Verne
111—The Midshipman, Marmaduke Merry By W. H. G. Kingston
110—Around the World in Eighty Days By Jules Verne
109—A Dash to the Pole By Herbert D. Ward
108—Texar’s Revenge By Jules Verne
107—Van; or, In Search of an Unknown Race By Frank H. Converse
106—The Boy Knight By George A Henty
105—The Young Actor By Gayle Winterton
104—Heir to a Million By Frank H. Converse
103—The Adventures of Rex Staunton By Mary A. Denison
102—Clearing His Name By Matthew White, Jr.
101—The Lone Ranch By Capt. Mayne Reid
100—Maori and Settler By George A. Henty
99—The Cruise of the Restless; or, On Inland Waterways By James Otis
98—The Grand Chaco By George Manville Fenn
97—The Giant Islanders By Brooks McCormick
96—An Unprovoked Mutiny By James Otis
95—By Sheer Pluck By G. A. Henty
94—Oscar; or, The Boy Who Had His Own Way By Walter Aimwell
93—A New York Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
92—Spectre Gold By Headon Hill
91—The Crusoes of Guiana By Louis Boussenard
90—Out on the Pampas By G. A. Henty
89—Clinton; or, Boy Life in the Country By Walter Aimwell
88—My Mysterious Fortune By Matthew White, Jr.
87—The Five Hundred Dollar Check By Horatio Alger, Jr.
86—Catmur’s Cave By Richard Dowling
85—Facing Death By G. A. Henty
84—The Butcher of Cawnpore By William Murray Graydon
83—The Tiger Prince By William Dalton
82—The Young Editor By Matthew White, Jr.
81—Arthur Helmuth, of the H. & N. C. Railway By Edward S. Ellis
80—Afloat in the Forest By Capt. Mayne Reid
79—The Rival Battalions By Brooks McCormick
78—Both Sides of the Continent By Horatio Alger, Jr.
77—Perils of the Jungle By Edward S. Ellis
76—The War Tiger; or, The Conquest of China By William Dalton
75—Boys in the Forecastle By George H. Coomer
74—The Dingo Boys By George Manville Fenn
73—The Wolf Boy of China By William Dalton
72—The Way to Success; or, Tom Randall By Alfred Oldfellow
71—Mark Seaworth’s Voyage on the Indian Ocean By William H. G. Kingston
70—The New and Amusing History of Sandford and Merton By F. C. Burnand
69—Pirate Island By Harry Collingwood
68—Smuggler’s Cave By Annie Ashmore
67—Tom Brown’s School Days By Thomas Hughes
66—A Young Vagabond By Z. R. Bennett
65—That Treasure By Frank H. Converse
64—The Tour of a Private Car By Matthew White, Jr.
63—In the Sunk Lands By Walter F. Bruns
62—How He Won By Brooks McCormick
61—The Erie Train Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
60—The Mountain Cave By George H. Coomer
59—The Rajah’s Fortress By William Murray Graydon
58—Gilbert, The Trapper By Capt. C. B. Ashley
57—The Gold of Flat Top Mountain By Frank H. Converse
56—Nature’s Young Noblemen By Brooks McCormick
55—A Voyage to the Gold Coast By Frank H. Converse
54—Joe Nichols; or, Difficulties Overcome By Alfred Oldfellow
53—The Adventures of a New York Telegraph Boy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
52—From Farm Boy to Senator By Horatio Alger, Jr.
51—Tom Tracy By Horatio Alger, Jr.
50—Dean Dunham By Horatio Alger, Jr.
49—The Mystery of a Diamond By Frank H. Converse
48—Luke Bennett’s Hide-Out By Capt. C. B. Ashley, U.S. Scout
47—Eric Dane By Matthew White, Jr.
46—Poor and Proud By Oliver Optic
45—Jack Wheeler; A Western Story By Capt. David Southwick
44—The Golden Magnet By George Manville Fenn
43—In Southern Seas By Frank H. Converse
42—The Young Acrobat By Horatio Alger, Jr.
41—Check 2134 By Edward S. Ellis
40—Canoe and Campfire By St. George Rathborne
39—With Boer and Britisher in the Transvaal By William Murray Graydon
38—Gay Dashleigh’s Academy Days By Arthur Sewall
37—Commodore Junk By George Manville Fenn
36—In Barracks and Wigwam By William Murray Graydon
35—In the Reign of Terror By G. A. Henty
34—The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green By Cuthbert Bede, B. A.
33—Jud and Joe, Printers and Publishers By Gilbert Patten
32—The Curse of Carnes’ Hold By G. A. Henty
31—The Cruise of the Snow Bird By Gordon Stables
30—Peter Simple By Captain Marryat
29—True to the Old Flag By G. A. Henty
28—The Boy Boomers By Gilbert Patten
27—Centre-Board Jim By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
26—The Cryptogram By William Murray Graydon
25—Through the Fray By G. A. Henty
24—The Boy From the West By Gilbert Patten
23—The Dragon and the Raven By G. A. Henty
22—From Lake to Wilderness By William Murray Graydon
21—Won at West Point By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
20—Wheeling for Fortune By James Otis
19—Jack Archer By G. A. Henty
18—The Silver Ship By Leon Lewis
17—Ensign Merrill By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
16—The White King of Africa By William Murray Graydon
15—Midshipman Merrill By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
14—The Young Colonists By G. A. Henty
13—Up the Ladder By Lieut. Murray
12—Don Kirk’s Mine By Gilbert Patten
11—From Tent to White House By Edward S. Ellis
10—Don Kirk, the Boy Cattle King By Gilbert Patten
9—Try Again By Oliver Optic
8—Kit Carey’s Protégé By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
7—Chased Through Norway By James Otis
6—Captain Carey of the Gallant Seventh By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
5—Now or Never By Oliver Optic
4—Lieutenant Carey’s Luck By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
3—All Aboard By Oliver Optic
2—Cadet Kit Carey By Lieut. Lionel Lounsberry
1—The Boat Club By Oliver Optic
Horatio Alger, Jr.
The greatest and most famous writer of rattling good tales of adventure for boys, was Horatio Alger, Jr. He is the Dickens of juvenile literature. His best works are published in the Medal Library at ten cents per copy. For sale by all newsdealers.
ALGER, HORATIO, JR.
42. Young Acrobat, The.
50. Dean Dunham.
52. From Farm Boy to Senator.
61. Erie Train Boy, The.
87. Five Hundred Dollar Check, The.
118. Ned Newton; or, The Adventures of a New York Bootblack.
122. Tom Brace.
130. From Canal Boy to President.
138. Striving for Fortune.
154. Paul, the Peddler.
159. Phil, the Fiddler.
163. Slow and Sure.
166. Try and Trust.
170. Strong and Steady.
175. Strive and Succeed.
181. Brave and Bold.
187. Bound to Rise.
192. Tom, the Bootblack.
198. Only an Irish Boy.
202. Risen From the Ranks.
212. Julius, the Street Boy.
221. Young Outlaw, The.
228. Cash Boy, The.
234. Store Boy, The.
243. Adrift in New York.
252. Luke Walton.
260. Driven From Home.
264. Hector’s Inheritance.
268. Do and Dare.
272. Facing the World.
277. In a New World.
282. Herbert Carter’s Legacy.
If these books are ordered by mail, add four cents per copy to cover postage.
STREET & SMITH, Publishers, NEW YORK
Frank Merriwell on the Boulevards
ASTONISHING THE EUROPEANS
BURT L. STANDISH
“The Merriwell Stories“
STREET & SMITH PUBLISHERS
79-89 Seventh Avenue, New York
By STREET & SMITH
FRANK MERRIWELL ON THE BOULEVARDS
FRANK MERRIWELL ON THE BOULEVARDS
“Well, fellows, what do you think of Paris?” asked Frank Merriwell, settling himself into a comfortable position on his chair.
With his three Yale friends, Frank had been in the French capital a day. The party had crossed from England the previous day, and, after a good night’s sleep, the first for three of the party on French shore, they had sallied forth to spend the day seeing the sights of Paris.
“Paris!” cried Harry Rattleton, striking an attitude in the middle of the room; “Paris is a—a relief!”
“I should say so!” nodded Jack Diamond, standing by a window, from which he could look out upon the brilliantly lighted Place Vendome, in the center of which rose the majestic Vendome Column, the most imposing monument of all Europe. “After London, Paris is heaven!”
“Haw!” grunted Bruce Browning, who was in his favorite attitude of rest, stretched at full length on a comfortable couch. “Paris would be all right, if it wasn’t full of Frenchmen.”
“As for that,” smiled Frank, “it is full of Englishmen, Americans, and people from all over the world, and every well-educated Frenchman can talk English, you know.”
“Paris is beautiful!” cried Diamond. “Look at that column out there! Just think, the bronze from which it was built was furnished by Austrian and Russian cannon captured in battle by the French! From base to summit, it is covered with bronze figures, in relief, forming a miniature army, with cannon, horses, and accouterments, ascending by a spiral road to the massive figure of Napoleon at the top. Oh, it is a sight for the eyes of the world!”
“The statue, yes,” nodded Frank. “Think of robing Napoleon in the garb of a Roman emperor! That is the one thing in bad taste about the column. But that was not always so.”
“How’s that?” exclaimed Rattleton. “Have they changed his clothes from the original suit given him?”
“That is not the original statue at the top of the column.”
“No? Why, how——”
“After Waterloo, when the Bourbons once more governed France, they took Napoleon’s statue down. The original one represented him in the cocked hat and old gray coat, immortalized on many a field of victory.”
“And they never put it back?”
“In its place, they erected a monstrous fleur-de-lis. However, this combination of the emblem of the Bourbon family and a memorial of Napoleon was perfectly absurd, and the people protested against it. Louis Philippe yielded to the desire of the masses, and the present figure of Napoleon was erected. This monument was shamefully treated by the communists.”
“Eh! Why, they didn’t bother themselves with that, did they?”
“They pulled it down. It was necessary to lay a thick bed of tan along the street, to mitigate the shock when it fell. The national troops arrived in time to prevent its complete ruin, and it was reconstructed as you see it.”
“It’s strange that people like the communists, nihilists, anarchists, and that sort, always, when possible, destroy everything they can in the way of sculpture, architecture, and art. They seem possessed by a senseless rage against the beautiful. Such human beings plainly show the low and brutal in their natures. They rob themselves of sympathy by their acts, and make themselves detested, as they should be. God did not put us into the world to hate and destroy,” declared Diamond.
“Oh, say, give us a rest!” grunted Browning. “I’m tired.”
“Now, don’t fling that!” growled the big Yale man.
“Merriwell has kept us on the jump all day, seeing things. He trotted us from the Trocadero to Prison Mazas, and that is pretty nearly from one end of the city to the other. He has shown us all the sights——”
“I beg your pardon!” exclaimed Merry, with a laugh. “I haven’t begun to show you anything of the sights of Paris. All I tried to do was give you a general idea of the city.”
“Dow the hickens—I mean, how the dickens—you ever learned so much about Paris is what puzzles me,” burst forth Rattleton.
“It’s a wonder to all of us,” admitted Diamond. “Why, you seem perfectly familiar with the city, Frank.”
“To a certain extent, I am familiar with it. You know, I spent three weeks here in company with our old friend, Ephraim Gallup, and my guardian, poor Professor Scotch, and I was on the hustle all the time, so I got the lay of the land pretty well.”
“But, great Scott! why didn’t you ever say anything about it?”
“Never had occasion.”
“Didn’t you meet with any adventures in Paris worth relating?”
“Oh, I met with adventures enough, I assure you.”
“Pleasant adventures?” asked Harry, with a grin and a wink.
“Well, I hardly think they’d be designated as pleasant.”
“Lovely girls, and all that sort of thing?”
“There was one girl concerned.”
“She was quite enough, under the circumstances. She was an anarchist.”
“Huah!” grunted Bruce.
“Whew!” whistled Harry.
“Jove!” exclaimed Jack.
“I fell in with a New York newspaper reporter, who had been sent over to investigate and write up the recent bomb outrages in this city. Being seen with him, I was spotted by the anarchists, who regarded him as a spy. I was warned to leave France, but didn’t fancy being driven out that way.”
“Well, that was interesting!” ejaculated Diamond.
“Rather!” drawled Bruce.
“It was hot stuff!” said Rattleton.
“It was the night after Grand Prix, the great French horse-race, that I received my first warning. It came from a masked woman. Wynne, the reporter, followed her, but she slipped him. On the night after Grand Prix, all Paris turns out to enjoy itself, and be gay. It was at the Jardin de Paris that I saw her again, in the midst of the mob that was dancing and singing there in the open air. I caught her by the wrist, and she tried to stab me.”
“Whew!” again whistled Rattleton.
“Huah!” once more grunted Browning.
“Jove!” was Diamond’s repeated ejaculation.
“Her friends were on hand to aid her, and she managed to break away, and slip me, as she had Wynne. Afterward, at a place called the Red Flag, I ran across Wynne. Anarchists resorted there, and they tried to stop us both. Wynne got away, but I was roped in. Somebody rapped the senses out of me, and I came to myself in a dungeon-like place, a captive.”
They knew he was telling the truth, for Frank Merriwell never lied, but it dazed them to think he had never mentioned the matter before.
“What happened next?” breathlessly asked Harry.
“The woman, who was known as ‘Mademoiselle Mysterie,’ came there to kill me. I was bound and gagged, and she had a dagger to finish me off. I couldn’t squeal, and so I smiled at her. Then what do you think happened?”
“She fell in love with me,” said Frank quietly.
“She did,” nodded Merry, smiling. “She decided not to kill me. She resolved to save me, even though I had been condemned to die by the bomb-throwers, who were convinced that I was dangerous for them. Then, when the real executioner came into the cellar to do the job, she struck him senseless with a stone, and set me free.”
Bruce Browning sat up, and stared at Frank.
“I’ll admit that you are the queerest chap alive!” he growled. “You had such an adventure here in Paris, and yet you never told any of us a word about it! Merriwell, I don’t understand you, and I thought I knew you pretty well.”
Now Frank laughed outright.
“I had no occasion to say anything about it, you know.”
“Most fellows would have made an occasion. Supposing the story of that adventure had been known at college. You’d been a king-pin from the very first.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. You know, a fellow’s record before he enters Yale doesn’t cut much ice there. It’s the record he makes afterward that counts. In almost any other college it is different. A man’s standing amounts to a great deal elsewhere. At Yale, he makes a standing for himself. If he attempts to bolster himself up by tales of what he has done, he is regarded with suspicion and contempt. You know this is true. It is to his direct disadvantage to boast.”
“But it was not necessary for you to boast. You might have told your friends. You never told any of us.”
“Never!” exclaimed Diamond.
“Not a word!” came reproachfully from Rattleton.
“Not even when we were coming here,” growled Browning resentfully.
“Well, I’ve told you now, you know.”
“Not everything,” said Jack eagerly. “Go on. How did you escape?”
“Fought my way out through dynamiters, aided by the woman. The men were in a room where a Russian manufacturer of infernal machines was explaining how his devilish inventions worked. He had all his bombs spread out on a table. I got through that room, and out of the building, and I was lucky. What happened behind me, I can only surmise. It is certain one of those bombs was exploded, and it exploded others. The building was wrecked, the anarchists were killed, and among them was found the body of the woman who had saved me, their queen. She is buried at Mont Parnasse, and I paid for the stone that marks her grave.”
Browning struggled to his feet, and stood there, colossal, imposing, outraged, his hands on his hips.
“I have considered you my friend,” he said; “but I feel like punching you now! Why, you even trotted us round all day, and never once mentioned this!”
“I didn’t want to bore you.”
“Bore us—bore us with a yarn like that! Why, it’s exciting enough to furnish a plot for a novel! And you actually passed through such an adventure here in Paris?”
“Didn’t I say so? Do you think I’m drawing the long bow?”
“It is so remarkable. Why, you came to Yale in the quietest way possible. Any one might have taken you for a country lad just getting out into the world, for all of anything you had to tell of yourself.”
“What if I had told the story I’ve just related to you? What if I had related a number of yarns about my adventures in various parts of the world? What if I had begun at college by prating of the things I had done?”
“You’d been set down as a howling liar!” exploded Rattleton.
“Exactly,” nodded Merry. “If I had an inclination to speak of such things, I put it aside, and kept corked up. You need not set it down as modesty, unless you like; you may call it horse-sense.”
They talked over Frank’s adventure, just related, for some time, asking him many questions about it, for it was a most fascinating story.
“Those must have been tot old himes—I mean hot old times,” said Rattleton.
“I should say so!” agreed Diamond. “You struck a circus in Paris, and that’s straight! I hardly think anything like that will happen while you are here this time.”
“Not likely,” admitted Merry. “I don’t believe I care about having anything like that happen again. It’s well enough to talk about, but I was rather too near being snuffed out to enjoy it at the time.”
There came a timid knock on the door.
“Come!” called Frank.
The door opened falteringly, and Mr. Maybe, Frank’s tutor, looked in hesitatingly.
“Mr. Merriwell,” he said, “I think you had better retire. You must be tired, and, you know, your studies——”
“Hang it, Mr. Maybe!” exclaimed Merry; “I’m not going to begin cramming again the moment we reach Paris. You must give me two or three days to look round with my friends, and enjoy the sights.”
“You have wasted to-day, sir, and——”
“Wasted it? No. We’ve taken in the streets, the boulevards, the Seine, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Champs-Élysées, the Bourse, and so forth. To-morrow, we will visit other places of interest—Versailles, the Trocadero, the Grand Opera-House, perhaps, the Eiffel Tower. There are thousands of beautiful things to be seen in Paris, Mr. Maybe, and I advise you to get out and circulate. It will do you good.”
“You must have been reading the guide-books, to know so much about Paris,” said Maybe. “I’m going to bed, and I advise you to do the same. Good night.”
He retired, closing the door.
“He doesn’t even dream you ever saw Paris before,” said Rattleton.
“Well,” grunted Browning, from the couch, on which he was stretched once more, “I think I’ll take his advice, and go to bed. I know I shall sleep like a top to-night. I don’t believe an earthquake would disturb me.”
“But your snoring is likely to disturb everybody else on this floor,” declared Rattleton. “I’m glad Merriwell has taken pity on me, and arranged it so I don’t have to sleep with you. You’ll have an entire bed and a whole room to yourself to-night.”
“What a relief that will be!” murmured the big fellow. “How sweetly I will slumber!”
He did not notice that his three companions looked at each other knowingly, while Frank changed a laugh into a choking cough. He did not suspect what was in store for him that night, so he arose, bade good night to the others, and went to his room.
BRUCE’S LIVELY NIGHT.
Bruce really was tired. Big, strong fellow though he was, his laziness overcame the energy it seemed natural he should possess, and a day of hustling quite exhausted him.
He was glad to have a room by himself, and he rolled into bed with a satisfied grunt, muttering:
“Now, nothing will disturb me till morning.”
In a short time, he was asleep, and snoring. His slumbers, however, were rudely disturbed. At first, it seemed like a dream. He fancied he could hear the gong of a fire-engine that was thundering down upon him, while he seemed helpless to get out of the way and escape. The gong pounded furiously, and he struggled with all his might to flee. In the midst of the awful effort, he awoke, sweat starting from every pore. The infernal clatter and bang of the bell continued, and it sounded right there in that room.
With a snort, Bruce sat up.
“Fire, I’ll bet a hundred dollars!” he blurted, as he made a dive to get out of bed.
His feet became entangled with the bedclothes, and he landed sprawling, with a terrible thud that knocked the breath from his body.
Clatter! bang! ding! bang! clatter!
That bell was keeping it up at a fearful rate, and Browning floundered around on the floor, becoming more and more helplessly entangled in the bedclothing.
“This is awful!” he groaned. “I’m tying myself all up here, and I’ll be burned to death! The old hotel is afire, and that’s the alarm!”
He was tempted to uplift his voice, and roar aloud for aid, but refrained from doing so, and forcibly tore himself free from the entangling clothing.
“Keep cool, old man!” he said, as he got upon his feet. “The people who lose their heads at fires get burned. The ones who keep cool escape.”
Then he found the gas, and turned it on, but could not find a match. He rushed round the room, bumping against chairs, barking his shins, and bruising himself generally. Over one of the chairs he fell, and he got so tangled up with it that it really seemed that the chair was clinging to him, like a living creature.
“Oh, yes!” he snarled. “Throw me down, and then pile onto me, will you! Try to hold me down, so I’ll be burned to death, will you! Punch your legs into my ribs, will you! Hit me in the eye, and upper-cut me on the chin, will you! Get out!”
He flung the chair from him, with great violence. There was a crash, a thud on the floor, a whirring sound and the alarm-bell ceased to ring.
Rather dazed, Bruce got up. He was still trembling, but he made a search for his vest, found it, and secured a match.
The stillness which followed the racket of the bell and the frantic gyrations of the big Yale man seemed awful, and he was more frightened than ever. If he had wished to shout then, it is doubtful if he could have raised a cry that would have been heard outside his door.
The first match he struck spluttered and went out. With the second, he lighted the gas, the odor of which filled the room. Then he looked around, and the sight that met his eyes filled him with wonder.
The chair he had flung across the room had struck a small shelf, and knocked down a clock of the forty-nine-cent variety, smashing it, and scattering its works over the carpet. As he stood there, glaring at its ruins, the truth began to dawn upon him.
“It was that thundering alarm-clock!” he snorted. “The thing went off, and spoiled my slumbers! There is no fire and no danger! I’ve been fooled by a bargain-counter alarm-clock!”
He felt like jumping on the ruins of the poor time-piece, but remembered that he was barefooted, and it would be sure to hurt him. Then his eye caught sight of a slip of paper attached to a ring in the case of the clock. He picked it up. On the paper were these words, written in English:
Browning flung the clock-case into a corner, uttering a “woosh” of indignation.
“That’s what I call a pretty cheap joke!” he exploded. “My first night by myself, and they couldn’t let me rest in peace! Oh, I’ll have revenge for this!”
He gathered up the clothing, and piled it back onto the bed, then turned out the gas, and rolled in once more.
“It’s like one of Merriwell’s old tricks,” he thought, as he buried himself under the twisted clothing, and prepared to make up for lost time.
Being really tired, it was not long before his nerves quieted down, and he began to snore once more. He was dreaming a very pleasant dream, when there was a repetition of the former racket. Browning groaned, and stirred. Then, with a snort, he sat up.
“Murder!” he gurgled. “I thought I’d smashed the old thing so it couldn’t go off again!”
He flung himself out of bed, saying some very ugly words, and lighted the gas once more. The remnants of the clock he had smashed lay quietly in the corner, but the racket of an alarm-bell came from another part of the room. Furiously he began to search for it, and, in about five minutes, he found it in the top drawer of the dressing-case.
To the clock was attached a card, on which was written:
“Excuse me, please. I hope you are resting well.”
Mad? Browning almost frothed at the mouth. He opened the window, and flung the clock out with great violence. Then he slammed down the window, turned off the gas, and went back to bed.
“I’ll get even for this, if it takes me the rest of my life!” he grumbled, as he settled down, and tried to make himself comfortable in the twisted bed.
Being exhausted, it did not take him long to doze again. Then another clock began operations. Bruce made a flying leap from the bed, striking the floor before he was fairly awake.
“Ten thousand furies!” he roared, as he chased around the room about twenty times, and broke the world’s record for the two-mile dash. “It’s another one! Where is the fiendish thing? Let me get my hands on it! Oh, I won’t do a thing to it!”
In the course of four or five minutes, he found it, hidden behind a picture. A tag was attached to it, and on the tag was written:
“You must be very, very tired.”
“Tired!” howled the big fellow. “I should say so! This is enough to make anybody tired!”
He dropped the clock to the floor, but it continued to rattle away. With an exclamation of anger, quite forgetting that his feet were not encased in boots, he drew off and kicked the clock up against the wall, with all his strength, breaking his great toe-nail, and knocking the skin off the two neighboring toes.
“Yow!” he howled, as he held onto his injured toes with both hands, and hopped around the room on the other foot. “Oh, my goodness! I’ve maimed myself for life! I’ll be a helpless cripple as long as I live!”
The clock gave a sort of derisive rattle, and stopped.
Bruce sat down on the edge of the bed, and examined his injured foot. After awhile, he bound up his toes with a handkerchief, and turned in again.
“I guess this is the end of it,” he decided. “They’ve spoiled my night’s rest! It’s an outrage!”
His nerves were not near the surface, so they soon became quiet, and, despite what had happened, despite the injury to his foot, he began to snore again. Then the fourth clock started out to get in its work. When Browning awoke, and realized what was taking place, he was wild. He made another jump, to get out of bed, caught his feet in the bedclothing again, and struck on his forehead and nose, barking the latter, and causing it to bleed slightly.
“All the fiends of the hot place couldn’t devise greater torture!” he frothed. “It’s villainous! It’s criminal! I’ll be a raving maniac before morning!”
He began to fling things around at a furious rate in his mad search for the clock. At last, he found it in his grip, where it had been carefully tucked. When he yanked it out, it flew from his fingers, and rolled away. He scrambled after it on his hands and knees, upsetting a marble-topped table, which struck him a terrible thump on the back of the head, producing a swelling almost as large as a hen’s egg.
When Browning got hold of the clock at last, he was the maddest man in all France. He rushed to the window, and slammed it open. Then he hurled the clock into the street, with a fearful violence, barely missing a passing pedestrian, who shouted something about bombs, and took to his heels.
In yanking the clock from the grip, he had torn off a bit of paper. On the paper he read these words:
“Hope this doesn’t disturb you, old man.”
It must be confessed that Bruce Browning made a few “dark-blue” remarks, which would not look well in print. Then he searched all around the room for another clock, but could not find one.
“It’s the last of them,” he decided, looking at his watch. “A quarter to three, and I haven’t slept ten minutes thus far to-night. Oh, I’ll be in fine condition to-morrow!”
But he felt that the trick must be worn out, and he went back to bed. Exactly twenty minutes later, just as he was beginning to breathe heavily, another clock began to bang away. Browning awoke, and groaned.
“What! again?” he almost sobbed.
He got up, and searched for the clock. It took him four minutes to find it hidden among the slats of his bed.
As in the other cases, a slip of paper was attached to the thing, and he read:
“Don’t you care, old man—it’ll soon be daylight.”
He dropped the clock, and it went bounding merrily under the bed, keeping up its cheerful racket.
“Come out here!” he roared, thrusting himself after it. “Don’t try to dodge me! Don’t try to hide from me!”
He touched it, with a frantic sweep of his arm, but knocked it still farther away.
Then he tore a slat from the bed, and struck at the clock, knocking it out on the farther side. When he tried to back out from beneath the bed, the frame had him pinned across the shoulders, and he was forced to lift it before he could get out. In a burst of anger, he turned it over on its side. Then he got at the clock with the slat.
“Oh, I’ll settle you!” he roared, making a crack at the clock, but missing it entirely. “I’ll destroy you! I’ll hammer the stuffing out of ye! I’ll annihilate ye! Take that—and that! Yow!”
A piece of glass from the clock flew up and cut his face. The coil-spring hopped out, sailed through the air, and settled around his neck.
He dropped the slat, and caught at the spring.
“Come off, here!” he snarled, yanking at it. He cut his neck, and nearly tore his left ear from his head in getting the spring off.
Bleeding, perspiring, furious, he sat there in the middle of the floor, and looked around. The room was a spectacle. Furniture was smashed and scattered all about. The bed was upset, and the battered cases and scattered works of three clocks lay around, and a mirror showed him that he was almost the greatest wreck in the room.
“To-morrow,” he hissed, through his clenched teeth, “to-morrow, I shall be a murderer, for I shall kill the fiend who devised this piece of business!”
He decided that it was useless to try to sleep. He filled his pipe, and sat in an easy chair by the window. On the chair he planted himself in a comfortable position, prepared to wait for the next outbreak, and nip it in the bud. Exhausted nature, however, conquered. He smoked ten minutes, perhaps, and the pipe fell from his mouth.
It was fortunate for him that the next clock got “into gear” just when it did, for it aroused him so that he realized something was burning. He jumped up, with a yell, for his pajamas were afire. With frantic haste, he tore them off, smothering the fire, which had been caused by a spark from his pipe, by the aid of a rug. And the clock played a merry accompaniment while this was taking place.
He found the thing beneath the grate in the fireplace, and it was tagged. On the tag was written:
“Isn’t it just perfectly lovely in Paris!”
Once more he used the window, taking care this time not to hit anybody upon the street. It was near daybreak, and Bruce Browning had spent a very lively night. As the gray streaks of dawn crept in at his window, he gathered some of the bedding in the middle of the floor, and lay down there, where he fell asleep in the midst of the mess.
In the morning, three young men stopped before Bruce Browning’s door, and listened.
“I can’t hear anything,” said Rattleton, with his ear against a panel.
“I can’t see anything,” said Diamond, with his eye to the keyhole.
“Then we will investigate, and find out if he has passed a pleasant night,” said Frank Merriwell, taking a key from his pocket, and preparing to fit it to the lock of the door.
“Eh?” exclaimed Rattleton, staring at the key. “What’s that?”
“Hey!” cried Diamond. “Is that the key to the door?”
“Yes,” nodded Frank, with a smile.
“Where did you get it?”
“Took possession of it last night, after we’d distributed the clocks,” Merry explained. “There’s a spring-lock on all the doors in this hotel, and Browning never missed the key.”
Frank softly inserted the key in the lock, and turned it.
“I’ll bet a cannon wouldn’t arouse him now,” grinned Harry. “Needn’t be so easy, Frank.”
Merry pushed open the door, and the sight that met their gaze filled them with astonishment.
The room was a scene of disorder. Everything was upset, even to the bed. The furniture was scattered about in confusion, and the floor was strewn with the débris of shattered clocks. On the floor beside the overturned bed, Browning was wrapped in a mass of twisted and tangled bedclothing. A sheet was twisted round his throat, and his face was covered with cuts, bruises, and blood. There was blood on the bedding, and it looked as if a sanguinary encounter had taken place there. They came in, and stood looking down at him.
“Wheejiz!” snickered Harry. “It’s plain he had a lively time of it!”
“Looks like he’d fought for his life!” muttered Diamond.
“And he’s still enough to have lost the battle,” said Frank.
“You don’t suppose he was driven to suicide?” gasped Rattleton, in sudden alarm.
“Oh, no,” assured Frank. “Look—he is breathing. Listen—he is muttering some words in his sleep.”
Browning groaned, and thickly muttered:
“Fiends! You have ruined my sleep, but I’ll get square, if I——”
Then the words became an incoherent jumble.
“Scrate gott, but he did have a lively time of it! Look at this room! It’s a sight!”
“Look at him!” directed Frank. “He’s a sight! How in the world did he get battered and cut up like that?”
“Merriwell,” said Diamond, “he’s sure to be pretty ugly about this when he wakes up.”
“Oh, he’ll get over it. But I don’t believe he’ll forget his second night in Paris as long as he lives.”
“It’s retribution,” declared Rattleton. “Night after night he has tortured me, and kept me awake by his beastly snoring, and he’s been mad enough to eat me when I kicked about it. I didn’t think the clocks would disturb him at all.”
“But it seems that they did,” observed Diamond, with a faint smile.
Rattleton was for sneaking out of the room as quietly as possible, without disturbing Browning, but Frank could not think of leaving without letting Bruce know they had seen him. So they all stood around the big fellow, and sang “Kathleen Mavourneen.”
The big fellow grunted, groaned, kicked—awoke!
For a few moments it was evident he did not catch on to the situation. He lay there, amid the tangled bedding, staring up at the laughing lads, and blinking in a comical manner, so that Rattleton broke down, and began to laugh.
“Huah!” grunted Bruce.
Then Frank and Jack stopped, and Merry said:
“Excuse me, please. I hope this doesn’t disturb you.”
“Waugh!” Bruce struggled to a sitting posture, with the bedspread twisted about his neck like a muffler.
“I hope you are resting well,” snickered Rattleton.
Browning began to tear at the bedspread, a look of rage coming to his bruised and lacerated face.
“You must be very, very tired,” observed Diamond seriously.
A howl of fury escaped Browning’s lips. He looked around the room, and saw the overturned furniture, and the shattered clocks. In a moment, he remembered all the horrors of the previous night.
“You imps of Satan!” he thundered, making a floundering jump to get upon his feet. “I have sworn an oath of vengeance! My time has come! Not one of you leaves this room alive!”
Then his tangled feet tripped him up, and he sprawled on the floor, with a crash, causing the three lads to shout with laughter.
“You seem to be excited, Bruce,” said Frank. “I hope nothing happened in the night to disturb you.”
“Excited!” exploded Browning, tearing at the bedclothes, and ripping a sheet from end to end. “Oh, no, I’m not excited! Let me get my hands on you, Frank Merriwell! You’ll never put up another job like this!”
“You should take something for your nerves,” advised Frank. “It’s plain you have bad dreams. Why don’t you try Mrs. Soothlow’s Wynsling Syrup?”
Browning got hold of a chair, and threw it at Frank, who dodged, and the chair knocked down a mirror.
“You’ll have a nice little bill to pay when you settle for things here,” said Diamond.
“You go to blazes!” cried the enraged giant. “You come round here and grin at me, and you never had sense enough to think up a good practical joke in all your life! Get out of here! Get out lively, if you want to escape with your life!”
“Alas! alas!” exclaimed Frank, with a tragedy pose. “He is mad!”
“You bet I’m mad!” agreed Bruce. “I’m madder than a wet setting hen! I’ll get back at you for this job!”
He got onto his hands and knees, for the purpose of rising, but Merry promptly pushed him over with his foot, causing the big fellow to gnash his teeth.
“Fellows,” said Merry, “we must commit him to an asylum for the violently insane. It is plain that he’s dangerous.”
Browning tore off the baffling bedspread, and again struggled to get up, actually intending to wreak vengeance on them by personal violence; but Merry caught hold of two ends of the spread, and tripped him up with a loop of it, while Rattleton basted him on the head with a pillow, and Diamond picked up all the clothes and flung them on top of him. To finish the job, Merry turned the bedstead over upon him.
“Now, will you be good?” chirped Rattleton.
“We must leave you, Bruce,” said Diamond.
“And we hope you will be feeling better when we return,” laughed Merriwell.
Browning protruded his head from one side of the mass that was piled upon him, and gasped:
He would have said more, but they shouted with laughter again, and left him there to extricate himself as best he could, closing the door behind them as they went out.
A WALK AND A WARNING.
After breakfast, Frank, Jack, and Harry started out for a stroll. Frenchmen of leisure seldom see Paris in the morning. For that matter, the majority of foreigners seldom see it at that time. It is the universal belief that “gay Paree” is at its best at night, and foreigners with that “frisky feeling” usually wear off much of their exuberance at night, and sleep away forenoons in recuperating for another night. But the Yale lads were there to see the city by day, as well as by night. They found it very bright and beautiful that sunny morning, as they strolled down the Rivoli. The fountains were sparkling in the sunshine, and sparrows were chittering on the brink of the stone bowls. They came to the Place du Châtelet, and strolled over the bridge, where the heavy carts were rumbling, and an occasional omnibus rolled along. From the bridge, the city looked very attractive, rising amid a bower of trees, magnificent and graceful in architecture, and harmonious in its general effect. Columns and arches could be seen, and, as they walked onward slowly, they came in view of the great Cathedral of Notre Dame, rising beyond the barracks. To the right was the Palais de Justice, with its clock and turrets, and stalking sentinels, in blue and vermilion. Then they came to the Place St. Michel, where there was a jumble of carts and omnibuses at that early hour, rumbling about the fountain of ugly, water-spitting griffins.
As they strolled leisurely along, Frank talked to them of the places they passed. Diamond was intensely interested in everything. Paris had a history, and, for him, it was fascinating in a thousand ways.
They passed on up the hill of the Boulevard St. Michel, where there were tooting trams and dawdling gendarmes, strolling in the sunshine, and Merry explained that, when they stepped from the stones of the Place St. Michel, they had “crossed the frontier” and entered the famous Latin Quartier. At last they came to the Luxembourg, which was a blaze of flowers. They walked slowly along the tree-lined avenues, passing moss-covered marbles and old-time columns, and strolled through the grove of the bronze lion, till they came out to the tree-crowned terrace above the fountain.
Diamond uttered an exclamation of pleasure.
“Beautiful!” he cried, gazing down at the basin, shimmering in the morning sunshine.
All around them were trees, and flowers, and statues, and winding walks. At a distance, where ended an avenue of trees, the Observatory rose, its white dome looming up amid the green like an Eastern mosque. At the opposite end of the avenue was the massive palace, with its every window fiery in the morning sunshine. Around the fountain doves were wheeling and cooing. Bees were buzzing amid the flowers, and a gendarme, or policeman, was loitering on his way.
They found a place to sit down and talk. The bells of St. Sulpice chimed the hour, and the palace answered them, stroke for stroke. It was all so peaceful and beautiful that it did not seem possible men had ever fought like wild beasts there in that happy city. It did not seem possible the streets had been deluged with innocent blood, that wild-eyed fanatics had razed the beautiful columns and statues, had burned, and wrecked, and ruined. It did not seem possible that the city had been besieged, and bombarded, and pillaged. They sat and talked of those things.
“Those days are past forever,” said Rattleton.
“Who knows?” spoke Frank.
They looked at him in surprise.
“What do you think?” asked Jack. “Do you look for another revolution in France?”
“It may come.”
“What will bring it?”
“By that you mean—just what?”
“The reversal of the Dreyfus verdict—perhaps. To-day, France is resting over a slumbering volcano; it is impossible to predict when the eruption may occur.”
“Then you believe there is a possibility that poor Dreyfus may obtain justice?”
“A possibility—yes. At any rate, the whole Dreyfus affair is an ineffaceable blot on France. The country is army-ridden. The army condemned the poor Jew to Devil’s Island, and the army can make no mistake. The honor of the army must be maintained, at any cost, and so conspiracy follows conspiracy, and forgery follows forgery, till the whole affair is so tangled and twisted that a revolution may cut the twisted skein, which nothing seems to unravel.”
“And then what will happen?”
“Who can tell? The streets of Paris may again run red with human blood, works of art may be destroyed, beautiful buildings may be razed, and from the ashes and ruins another form of government may rise. It is not easy to foretell the future of France. Frenchmen are changeable. What pleases them to-day they regard with indifference or contempt to-morrow.”
“Well, I fancy we’ll have a peaceful time here,” said Jack.
“It’ll be a change from what we have been having,” came quickly from Harry. “Things were exciting enough in England.”
“Yes,” nodded Frank; “we did have a hot time there, take it all together.”
“And the wind-up was about as hot as anything,” grinned Rattleton. “We went down into the country with Reynolds, where we thought it would be dead quiet, and things fairly sizzled. Harris turned up again, and tried to kidnap Elsie. The cross-country gallop turned into a man-hunt, and Merry came near finishing Harris when he caught him.”
“He escaped being hanged when he was drowned, after that,” declared Diamond. “He’ll never trouble anybody again.”
“Never,” nodded Frank. “I am glad his blood is not on my hands, but I did come near finishing him at the bridge.”
“You came out of your trance then,” said the Virginian. “Harris realized that the time when you would spare him was past, and that is why he made such a desperate attempt to escape by swimming the river.”
“Let’s not talk about the poor devil,” said Merry seriously. “He is dead.”
“And so is his running-mate, Brattle.”
“No. I have learned that Martin Brattle was not killed in London, but was seriously injured, and taken to a hospital, where he gave a fictitious name. I have reasons to believe he recovered.”
“Well, it’s hardly probable he’ll ever trouble you again.”
“I hope he’ll have sense enough to keep away from me. One thing that happened in London I seriously regret.”
“What was that?”
“I do not know what became of the man of mystery, Mr. Noname, but it seems that he must have perished in the East End fire, at which Brattle was injured.”
“He was a queer creature.”
“And it was remarkable that he took such an interest in me. I did not understand it then, and I do not understand it now. He claimed that he was my guardian spirit—my good genius.”
“He talked like a lunatic sometimes.”
“And yet to him I owe so much! But for him, I might never have found Elsie when Brattle carried her off. He led me straight to her, and then he vanished. Before that, when I was in danger, he appeared, and warned me; since then, no matter what danger has menaced me, he has not appeared, so I fear he perished in the fire.”
“Well, it’s not likely you will need to be warned in Paris, for I fancy our visit here will pass off quietly, with nothing at all in the way of dangerous adventure.”
After awhile, they rose, and started to stroll back to the hotel. They passed out of the Luxembourg to the Boulevard, but had not walked far before a closed carriage drew close to the curbing. From behind the curtained window a black-gloved hand reached out, and beckoned, while a voice called:
Merry started at the sound of that voice. It seemed to stir slumbering memories in his heart, and it caused a strange sensation to pass over him. The hand disappeared, reappeared, held a folded paper toward Frank. Again the voice spoke his name. Merry stepped toward the cab, and took the bit of paper. Then he reached to draw the curtain, but the driver whipped up his horses, and the cab rolled away.
He unfolded the paper, and read:
“In Paris, you must face perils such as never before menaced you, but I shall be near to warn you of danger.”
“The Man Without a Name.”
Frank would have pursued the carriage, but it was rolling away too swiftly for him to overtake it.
His companions observed his excitement, and, as such agitation was something rare in him, they knew it meant more than they could understand.
“What is it?” asked Diamond.
“What’s the matter?” spluttered Rattleton.
Frank stared at the slip of paper.
“It must be a trick,” he said. “Did either of you see the person who handed me this?”
Neither of them had.
“I saw nothing but his hand,” said Jack.
“And that was covered by a black glove,” spoke Harry.
“What’s it say?” asked the Virginian.
Frank read it aloud, and then looked into the faces of his friends.
“What do you think of it?” he asked.
“You can search me!” gasped Harry. “I don’t know what to think of it. Dut the whickens—no; what the dickens does it mean?”
“It can’t be from the Man of Mystery,” asserted the Virginian. “Still, he called himself the Man Without a Name.”
Frank stared hard at the writing on the paper. After a little, he said:
“It is as if one had risen from the dead, for I believe this came from Mr. Noname.”
“Well, this mysterious business is getting thin!” cried Jack.
“I think it’s getting thick,” said Harry.
“What’ll you do, Frank?” asked the Virginian.
“Nothing; simply wait for developments.”
“You must be getting rather tired of this. Here, we were just saying we’d have a peaceful, jolly time here in Paris, and right on top of it the fun begins. Why should you be in danger here? Harris will not trouble you, and Brattle is in London. You are practically a stranger in a strange city. I think it’s rot! I don’t take any stock in it.”
“Whether you take any stock in it or not, you must confess that it is rather odd.”
“It couldn’t be a joke? You don’t suppose Browning——”
“I thought of that, but it doesn’t seem likely. I’ll wager that Bruce is sleeping off the excitement of last night.”
The more they talked about it, the more mystified they became, till, at last, they gave it up. Frank put the paper in his pocket, and they continued their careless stroll back to the hotel.
It was high noon when they reached the Place Vendome, having taken their time in returning. As they approached the hotel, Browning came out, and stood on the marble steps, smoking a cigar. Rattleton began to grin as they drew near, and the big fellow scowled blackly at them. They took off their hats, and saluted him, with mock courtesy.
“Behold, he hath risen!” cried Frank.
“At last, at least, at loost!” gurgled Harry.
“Before you, gentlemen,” said Diamond, “you see a most imposing man.”
“That’s right,” nodded Merry; “he’s imposed on everybody he could borrow money from.”
“He had a very strong face,” observed Rattleton. “I believe he could travel on it.”
“It looks as if he’d been traveling on it,” smiled Frank.
“I should advise the gentleman to turn farmer,” said Harry.
“Yes,” said Frank; “he might be able to raise a beard.”
Browning did not seem to take this chaffing in good part, for he scowled blackly, uttered a growl, swung down the steps, and started off.
“Where are you going, old man?” called Frank.
Browning did not answer, or turn his head, but continued walking away.
“He’s niffed,” said Jack. “That’s queer, for him.”
“He’ll get over it,” declared Rattleton.
But Frank was perplexed and disturbed.
“I don’t like it, fellows,” he declared. “Never saw Bruce take a joke that way before.”
“Oh, he’d thought it a fine thing if it’d been on somebody else,” said Harry. “Let him go. I’m hungry. Let’s have some lunch.”
He caught hold of Frank’s arm, attempting to draw him into the hotel, but Merry would not go.
“I don’t like it,” he confessed. “I don’t care to carry a joke so far that any of my real friends will take offense.”
“Bosh! If Browning is mad about that, it will do him good to let him alone till he recovers.”
Frank continued watching Bruce striding away across the square, and into the Rue Castiglione.
“Go order lunch, fellows,” he said. “I’m going to bring Browning back.”
“Don’t be fool enough to chase after him!” advised the Virginian.
But Frank would not listen, and away he started after the big Yale man, who was striding along as if he had an important engagement to keep. It was near the obelisk that stands by the beautiful fountain in the Place de la Concorde that Frank overtook his college chum. Bruce had paused a moment in the midst of this most beautiful square in the whole world, probably, utterly unaware that he had been followed, when Merry came up, and put a hand on his shoulder.
“Come, old man,” said Frank; “come back to the hotel, and have lunch with us.”
Browning wheeled about, and scowled at Merry.
“Who are you addressing?” he growled, like an angry dog.
“Oh, come!” exclaimed Merry; “drop it! Don’t take a joke from a friend to heart in this manner.”
“Friend!” rumbled the big fellow, with scorn and contempt. “Do you call yourself my friend? Bah!”
Merriwell was astonished more than ever, but he was not willing to think Bruce in earnest.
“Of course I call myself your friend!” he exclaimed. “Are you going to get sore over a harmless joke?”
“I am done with you!” declared Browning dramatically. “I understand your boasted friendship now! You would make a laughing-stock of any friend you might have! Don’t grin at me! I am in earnest! I see through your hollow friendship now! I understand you at last! Leave me! I am done with you!”
“Surely, you do not mean that, Browning?”
“Surely I do!”
“Do you think so? Well, you’ll see! I shall look for another hotel! I shall go it alone, and no thanks to you, Frank Merriwell! Don’t dare ever again call me your friend! I am your enemy! All I ask is that you keep away from me, now and forever!”
Frank caught his breath, astounded beyond measure. Browning was glaring at him in the fiercest manner imaginable, and he seemed angry enough to smite Merry full in the face.
“Look here, Bruce,” said Frank, “I had no idea you could be so thin-skinned. If I had thought you’d take it this way, I would not have——”
“It’s too late to tell what you would not have done! You’ve done it!”
“But without a thought of——”
“I advise you to think next time. We were enemies when you first came to Yale, and we’ll be enemies when you return there, if you are lucky enough to get back. I can make it pretty hot for you, and I think I will.”
Frank’s face flushed, and he drew off a bit.
“If you are willing to let a little thing like a joke ruin our friendship——”
“Little thing!” again interrupted Browning. “What do you call a little thing? I didn’t come here to Paris with you to be made a guy! I don’t come here to stand as a butt for your wretched jokes! You have been pretty popular in your day, but you’re outgrowing it, and you won’t cut so much ice in the future. I’m no sycophant, to crawl round after you, and let you impose on me just as you please!”
“You are quite unreasonable, old man. I scarcely looked for anything like this from you, and I think you’ll come to your senses in time.”
“Think what you like; from this time, you and I are quits!”
Then Browning turned, and crossed the square toward the Champs-Élysées, leaving Merry there by the fountain. As he walked away, the big fellow grinned, and muttered:
“You didn’t expect that, did you? Oh, I’ll get back at you, Frank Merriwell! You’ll find there is somebody else who can play at that little game! I wonder how you like it!”
Frank Merriwell stood there in the midst of the Place de la Concorde, and watched Browning depart. On one side lay the swiftly flowing Seine, spanned by a bridge five hundred feet in length; on the opposite side, to the north, a beautiful street disclosed the majestic portal of Madeline. To the left was the Garden of the Tuileries, while to the right opened the Champs-Élysées. The fountain tinkled and splashed in the sunshine, and over the smooth, hard pavement cabs came and went like swarms of insects. It seemed that this splendid square, where crowds of joyous people seemed forever crossing and recrossing, had been appropriately named, “The Place of Peace,” but there Frank Merriwell had failed to make peace with his offended comrade, and, as he stood reflecting, he remembered all the horrors that had taken place there on that spot where fell the shadow of the obelisk.
There had been erected the hideous guillotine, the glittering blade of which had descended upon the necks of thousands of the aristocracy of France, among whom were Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. The very ground beneath the stones was soaked with human blood, for there, day after day, the imbruted mob had gathered to sing, and laugh, and shout, as head after head of old and young, weak and strong, proud and beautiful, rich and famous, had rolled from the gory scaffold to mingle in the common basket.
Frank shuddered with horror as he thought of the “knitting women” and “The Vengeance,” described by Dickens. He closed his eyes for a moment, and his vision showed him the scaffold, and he could hear those women calmly counting the blood-dripping heads as they continued to knit, knit, knit, and the scarlet blade rose and fell, cutting short the thread of a human life each time it descended. He saw the long lines of tumbrels rumbling through the streets, surrounded by the armed guard and the howling mobs, all headed toward this blood-cursed spot, bearing helpless and innocent victims to doom.
In fancy, he saw a royal carriage enter that square, and stop near the raised platform, above which rose the blood-red post of the guillotine, and he saw Louis XVI. alight from the carriage, to be immediately surrounded by his executioners. He saw Louis remove his coat and cravat, and then object when they tried to bind his hands. He saw the confessor remonstrate with Louis, till, at last, the doomed man stretched out his hands, saying: “Do what you will; I will drink the cup to the dregs!” Frank pictured him, with a firm step, ascending to that blood-soaked platform. Then the drums beat, to drown his words; the spring was touched, and the fearful knife slid down the grooves.
Then came Marie Antoinette, not in a closed carriage, like the king, but in an open cart, the same as the poorest wretch of them all. For a moment she had recoiled from the cart, which she saw beyond the gate of the courtyard, and then she had advanced up the steps, with firm and steady tread, armed guards on every hand, a hooting mob welcoming her appearance. And thus she had ridden through the streets to that fearful square, now called “The Place of Peace.” On the scaffold, she had looked over the seething mob to the Garden of the Tuileries, and the scenes of her former happiness, while a tear had rolled down her pale cheek. “Farewell, my children!” she had murmured; “I go to join your father.” Then she bowed her head, the knife fell, and the frightful deed was done.
France may erect fountains in the midst of that beautiful square, but all the water in the world will not wash away the blood that has been shed there!
Frank Merriwell gave himself a shake, as if throwing off these gruesome thoughts, and banishing the horrid visions. Browning had disappeared.
“I was a fool to let him go like that!” muttered Merry. “If I am to blame, I’m willing to apologize, and I feel sure Browning will accept an apology.”
Then he hurried across the square, and followed Bruce. Frank fancied he must soon overtake Browning, but he was surprised to traverse the entire length of the Elysian Fields before catching a glimpse of the big Yale man.
Browning was turning into a side street as Frank observed him. He seemed walking as if to keep an appointment with some one. Puzzled not a little by what had happened, and by Browning’s mysterious behavior, Frank followed at a distance.
At last, Browning came to a little café, and he entered, without once looking back. Merry decided that it was an ordinary drinking-saloon, and he wondered if Browning had gone in there for the purpose of indulging freely in intoxicants.
After a moment of hesitation, Merry followed. The moment Frank stepped inside the door, he decided it was a cheap place, indeed. From the outside, it did not look so bad; but, once inside, it reminded him of the den of the Red Flag, where he had found the well-known ruffians of Paris assembled.
A few men were drinking at tables. They looked at Frank suspiciously as he glanced them over. He saw nothing of Browning. A door opened into another room. To that door he advanced. A man met him, and asked, in French, what he wanted.
“I am looking for a friend,” answered Merry, likewise in French.
“Have you the sign?”
“No; I don’t know what——”
“Then you cannot enter.”
At this moment, a voice from within cried out something in very bad French, and the man at the door suddenly stepped aside, saying:
Frank hesitated a moment, and then stepped into the room. Immediately the door closed behind him with a click.
Frank stood there looking around in the dim light which came through a curtained window. He saw there were several persons in the room. At the farther end was a passage.
The word was hissed through the gloom, and it put Frank on the alert in a moment.
Somebody had called him a spy! What did it mean? All around him, men rose up, and, in that moment, he realized he had walked into grave peril. Out in the passage, a door opened, admitting a faint gleam of light. Somebody passed through the door, and Frank was certain he recognized Bruce Browning hurriedly leaving.
“Browning!” he called. “Browning, stop!”
He leaped toward the passage.
Slam! The door closed, and the departing person was gone.
Bang! Another door slammed in his face, and he was kept from entering the passage.
Like a flash, Frank whirled about. Somewhere, he fancied, he heard a person hammering on a door, the blows echoing along the closed passage. He was not armed, and he realized that some sort of danger beset him. It was startling, because it was so unexpected and mysterious. Out from the men who had risen, one advanced. Even in the gloom of the place, to which Frank’s eyes were not yet accustomed, there seemed something familiar about this person.
“It is Frank Merriwell!” exclaimed an exulting, triumphant voice. “We are met again!”
The hammering which echoed through the passage became a crash, as if a door had fallen before an assault. Then followed something like a sodden blow, and a groan. What queer thing was happening beyond the door at Frank Merriwell’s back?
“Yes, we are met again!” exulted the man that confronted Frank. “Look at me! You know me!”
The man bent forward, and Frank’s eyes seemed to pierce the gloom. In amazement, Merry started back against the door.
“Martin Brattle?” he exclaimed, in doubt. “It can’t be!”
“Oh, but it is!” declared the man. “You thought me dead; but, you see, I am not. I have followed you here. I have come for Elsie!”
“Yes. Where is she?”
“She is not in Paris.”
“You lie! I know she is here! You shall send a message that will bring her to you—and to me!”
“Are you crazy, Brattle? Did your fall rob you of reason? Elsie Bellwood is in England. She did not accompany me to France.”
“And you think you can make me believe that? Bah! I know you, Frank Merriwell! You are a great bluffer, but the game will not go now!”
Then he turned to the other men, crying, in broken French:
“Down with the spy! Don’t let him escape! I have told you who he is! Down with him!”
And they sprang, like famished tigers, at Frank!
Frank Merriwell felt that it was to be a fight for life against terrible odds. He leaped aside, caught up a chair, swung it over his head, and splintered it with a blow that stretched one of his assailants on the floor.
Then Frank laughed! It was the old-time, reckless laugh that broke from his lips in moments of great danger. It sounded weird and uncanny now, and, for a single instant, it seemed to check the assault of his many foes.
“At him!” screamed Brattle. “Capture him! Down with him!”
Merry flung the broken chair at the man who was urging the others on. It struck him, and sent him sprawling and spluttering.
“Come on, my fine fellows!” invited Frank. “Or, if you won’t come on, I’ll come to you!”
He did! With a leap, he was among them. Never had the young Yale athlete used his hard fists to better advantage. He was fresh and unhampered, and he cracked about him at the heads of those men, leaping, darting, ducking, diving, striking all the time. One man he smashed on the ear, another he hit in the eye, a third he struck fair and full in the pit of the stomach, having dodged a blow himself. And Frank laughed again, exulting in the fury of the fight.
Those Frenchmen were astonished, for they had not conceived that one lone Yankee could make such a fight. They had fancied it would be the easiest thing in the world to leap on the American, crush him down, bind him, make him captive. But he was like a whirlwind among them, and he sent them flying in all directions.
“Mon Dieu!“ they cried. “He is a fury! He is a madman!”
“I am a trifle mad,” admitted Frank, as he skilfully kicked one fellow full in the face, sending him flying across a table. “It starts me a bit to be jumped on in this manner. Good morning! Have you used Pear’s soap?”
With this question, he came round at a fellow who had tried to grapple him behind, hitting him a smashing blow that flung him bodily against the partition. There were yells, and groans, and curses. Men were scrambling over each other on the floor, struggling up, and falling again. There came the crash of glass and the splintering of wood.
Somebody struck at Frank with a chair, but he dodged the blow, so that it did not fall fairly, although he felt it on his shoulder. Then he wrenched the chair from the man’s hands, and beat him down with his own weapon.
“I think I shall enjoy this after awhile!” he exclaimed. “It’s a real lively time!”
“Fight as much as you like!” snarled the voice of Brattle. “You can’t get out! We have you, and you’ll be used all the worse for making such a row!”
“Come over where I can get another crack at you!” invited Merry. “If I could hit you once more, real hard, I wouldn’t mind what happened after that!”
“I’ll get a crack at you before I’m done, see if I don’t!”
“You will follow your friend Harris, and he won’t trouble anybody again!”
“You killed him?”
“No; he drowned himself.”
“I’ll not follow him till I have settled with you! Down with him, men!”
A door opened and closed, and a huge form loomed in the gloom of the place.
Frank saw it, and cried:
“Browning! You are just in time! Come on, old man, give me a hand!”
The gigantic form loomed at Merry’s side, and then Frank was struck a terrible blow that stretched him on the floor.
“Treachery!” he gasped, trying to struggle up. “Browning, you have turned——”
They piled upon him. With a fearful effort, he flung them right and left.
There was a sudden burst of light, as the door leading to the passage flew open. A man entered, bearing a lamp that was lighted. Struggling to his feet, Frank Merriwell saw the Mystery was there, having entered from the passage!
The strange man was dressed in black from his head to his feet. His hair and his beard were black as the raven’s wing, and his deep-set eyes seemed like pools of ink, while his face was pale as marble. His appearance caused the ruffians to desist for a moment from their attack on Frank. There was something terrible in the demeanor of the man who called himself Mr. Noname. Before him Martin Brattle shrank and cowered.
But one of the ruffians uttered a snarl, crying, in French:
“Down with them both! They are both spies!”
The mob crouched like tigers about to spring.
“Back!” rang out the deep voice of the mysterious man.
“Back!” he cried, lifting one hand above his head. “I hold a bomb here, and, by the eternal heavens, I’ll drop it, and blow this building to atoms, if you do not keep off!”
That stopped them. They could see a round object in his uplifted hand, and a sudden fear seized upon them. There was something in his pose and manner that awed them.
“Now,” said the strange man, speaking to Frank Merriwell, “the time for you to depart has come. No one will lift a hand to stop you. The way is open.”
Frank realized that the Mystery had appeared at the proper moment to save him, and he was thankful, but cool.
“And you,” he asked, “what will you do?”
“I will go with you. Never fear for me. Nothing can harm me. But I shall blow them to pieces if they try to stop us!”
Frank stepped past him, and entered the passage. Still holding his hand uplifted, the Man of Mystery retreated backward into the passage.
With a swift movement, he placed the lamp on a shelf, and closed the door, crying loudly, in perfect French:
“The first man who tries to enter by that door will be blown to a thousand fragments!”
He stepped softly to Frank’s side.
“Follow!” he said.
At the end of the passage was the door by which Merry had fancied he saw Browning departing. Now it was shattered and broken, as if it had been struck by a battering-ram, and Frank remembered the blows which had resounded through the passage, and the crash that had been followed by groans. Frank also remembered the gigantic figure that had appeared in the darkened room where the battle was taking place, and how he had thought it Browning returned to his aid. But the giant had struck him down with a blow, and he could not believe Bruce had done that.
Out by the shattered door they passed, and found themselves in a yard that was surrounded by a high stone wall. In the wall was an iron gate, but it opened at the touch of the Mystery. Beyond the gate, they were beneath some drooping trees, which seemed to lack the sunlight which was shut off by the crowding buildings.
The Man Without a Name did not pause. He led the way to a door, and, to Frank, it seemed that all portals yielded like magic to his touch, for the door flew open before him. Soon they had passed on, and emerged upon a narrow street.
“You are free,” said the Mystery. “But go not back to that place. It is a nest of serpents.”
“My friend—he went in there.”
“Your friend?” said the Mystery questioningly. “Who is your friend?”
“Who is your friend?” repeated the strange man. “You can be sure of no friend but me. I am ever constant. Other friends may fail you, but I will not.”
“But he is back there!”
“How do you know?”
“I followed him in there.”
“And found him not. Trust not friends whom you fail to find in your hour of need.”
“I cannot go away while he may be in peril!”
“You cannot go back, and escape with your life! It is a devils’ nest! The vipers of Paris are there. They plot, and rob, and slay. Among them is an enemy who has followed you across the ocean. He has paid them to destroy you. Keep away from the nest of vipers. Even though you saw your friend go in there, did you not see him come out?”
“Who are you?” cried Frank, amazed. “How is it you know so much? How is it you are always near when I am in peril?”
“There is a tie that binds us.”
“I do not understand this mystery.”
“It is not for you to understand now. The time may come when the scales will fall from your eyes, and you shall know all.”
The man seemed ready to turn away, but Frank put out a hand appealingly.
“Can’t you tell me more?” he pleaded. “I thought you had perished in the fire in London.”
“Fire cannot destroy me. My time has not come.”
“Why is it that the sound of your voice seems to awaken echoes of memory within me? Why is it I feel a strange thrill run over me when you are near? Why is it I trusted you from the very first, even though you seemed an enemy?”
“Does not your heart answer those questions?”
“My heart struggled with the problem, but cannot answer it. I am mystified—bewildered—dazed.”
“I tell you the time will come when the scales shall fall from your eyes, and the mystery be revealed unto you. I have proved that I am worthy of trust, have I not?”
“Trust me, and wait.”
“But why do men shrink before you? I am sure it was more your presence than the bomb that cowed those tigers.”
“The bomb!” said the strange man. “There was no bomb!”
“No; nothing but this.”
In his extended hand, the Man of Mystery held an oval-shaped cake of dark-colored substance.
“What is it?” wondered Frank.
“Impossible!” gasped Merry. “Impossible that you cowed those ruffians with a cake of soap!”
“It is the bomb with which I threatened them. When I entered the passage by that broken door to go to your rescue, I found the lamp and the cake of soap on a shelf. The lamp I lighted, and the cake of soap I took with me. You witnessed the result.”
“Astounding!” gasped Frank. “It is almost beyond belief! Talk of nerve—that takes the cake!”
“We shall meet again,” said the Mystery. “Go back to the hotel now, and do not worry about any false friend. Farewell, for a time.”
Then the man turned, and walked away along the narrow street.
Frank hesitated, watching him. When the man was far along the street, Merry hurried after him. He was in time to see the strange being reach the corner, and enter a closed carriage that seemed waiting for him. Away rolled the carriage.
FRANK IN A QUANDARY.
Wondering greatly over what had happened, and not a little troubled thereat, Frank Merriwell returned to the hotel. The singular appearance of the Mystery in Paris, the remarkable behavior of Browning, the turning up of Brattle, the encounter in the café, and the rescue by Mr. Noname were events of an order to fill him with astonishment. It is a credit to Frank that the behavior of Browning troubled him more than anything else. It had not seemed possible that big, good-natured Bruce would turn against Frank for a little thing like a harmless practical joke; but, when Merry thought over the talk in the Place de la Concorde, and Browning’s manner, he was led to confess to himself that it might be that Bruce was actually too angry for reason.
“He’ll be sorry for it,” thought Frank. “He must have known I followed him to that café, and he dodged out by the back way, as I entered that darkened room where those ruffians were. I saw him departing.”
Then he thought of the sound of blows echoing along the passage, the crash, and the groans. He had found the door broken down, but it had told him nothing.
But the giant who appeared in the darkened room, and struck him down—who was that? He knew it had looked just like Browning, but it was not Browning, for nothing could have led the big fellow to such dastardly work.
“I’ll find Bruce back at the hotel,” Merry told himself. “He will laugh at me for the chase he has given me.”
He hurried his footsteps. His brain was in a whirl. The mystery of the Man Without a Name was enough to bewilder him, and that, added to the other things that had happened, put him in a maze. And, only a few short hours before, he had promised himself that his visit in Paris was to be quiet and uneventful!
When he reached the hotel, he found Jack and Harry watching for him. They plied him with questions, but he answered nothing till he had asked:
“Is Bruce here?”
“We have seen nothing of him,” they declared.
“He must be here,” insisted Frank.
“It’s strange we have not seen him, if he returned.”
They looked for him, but he was not in his room, nor could he be found about the hotel. Frank threw himself upon a chair, and stared at the floor, with a troubled look.
“What’s the matter?” asked Diamond. “Hanged if you don’t look as if you’d been in a scrimmage!”
“I have,” said Merry quietly.
Both lads stared at him.
“Kit your quidding—I mean quit your kidding!” spluttered Harry.
“I am not kidding,” assured Merry. “I have been in one of the hottest scraps of my life.”
Then he told them about it, and they listened with growing amazement. When he told them of the appearance of Brattle, both lads leaped to their feet.
“That fellow here?” shouted the Virginian.
“Poly hoker!” panted Rattleton. “Have you been having a pipe-dream, Merry?”
“It’s no dream. Mart Brattle is in Paris. He has followed me here, thinking to get hold of Elsie Bellwood.”
“But Elsie is in London.”
“He didn’t know it. He thought she came to Paris at the same time we came.”
“Well, it was a most unfortunate thing when that thug escaped being killed in London!” cried Diamond.
“It would have been no great loss to the world,” confessed Frank; “but he did escape, and he is here. But for Mr. Noname, Brattle’s gang must have downed me in the end. That man appeared at just the right moment to pull me out of the scrape.”
“And stood the ruffians off with a bomb?” said Rattleton.
“A bomb that was no bomb at all,” smiled Frank, amused by the recollection.
“How was that?”
Frank explained, causing Jack and Harry to collapse.
“That’s the greatest trick I ever heard of!” exclaimed the Virginian in admiration. “I’ll never again say anything about Mr. Noname. A man who can do a thing like that is all right.”
They talked over all that had happened. It was very remarkable, and created no end of discussion. Diamond alone thought it possible Browning had been in earnest. Rattleton could not conceive that Bruce would remain offended, and Frank had felt all along that the big fellow would come round.
“But he’s shown what he’s made of,” said Jack.
“And you would have taken it just as much to heart, if you had been in his place,” said Harry. “You are a poor fellow to take a joke.”
“When I know it’s a joke, I can take it,” he asserted.
Tutor Maybe appeared at this juncture, and began to talk with Frank about his studies; but Merry was in no mood to discuss such matters then, and he promptly said so.
“To-morrow, or the day after, will be time enough,” he said. “Don’t bother me now. I have enough on my mind.”
It was not considered advisable to alarm the tutor by telling him of Frank’s adventure, and Maybe was left to fret and worry as much as he liked, while the boys went out to look after Bruce. The day passed, and Browning failed to return. As evening drew on, Frank grew restless and anxious. He could not think that the big fellow was remaining away out of pique or anger, and he began to fear, despite the remembered assurance of Mr. Noname, that some thing had happened to Bruce.
Again and again he thought of the strange hammering at the door in the passage of the queer café, the crash, and the groans. At last, for all of any danger he might encounter, he resolved to visit the place again. From his trunk Merry took out a revolver, which he carefully loaded. Diamond and Rattleton watched him with curiosity, not to say anxiety.
“Where are you going?” the Virginian asked, after awhile.
“To the dive where I had the little scrap,” declared Frank.
“No, not there?”
“Yes, right there.”
“Come, Rattleton,” he said; “we must get our shooting-irons.”
“What do you intend to do?” asked Merry.
“Go with you,” asserted Diamond grimly.
“You bet!” nodded Harry, with satisfaction. “If you are going back into that hornets’ nest, we’ll be right with you. But why don’t you notify the police, and——”
“Be notified to keep away from the place? Excuse me,” said Frank grimly. “I do not care for the French police in mine. But, with a gun at hand, I’ll be able to take care of myself.”
“With Rattleton and myself at hand, you’ll be better able to take care of yourself, and so we are going along,” said Jack, as he marched out of the room.
Jack and Harry armed themselves, and announced to Frank that they were ready. The trio started out, prepared for any kind of an adventure they might encounter.
“If I knew where to find Mr. Noname now,” said Merry. “But it’s more than even money he will find me, if I run my nose into any danger. He always pops up at the right moment.”
The lights were beginning to twinkle when they turned into the crooked little street, and approached the café where Frank had met with his adventure. Merry strode along, with swinging step, seeming anxious to reach the place as soon as possible. When they came in front of the narrow little door, a white-aproned old man was lighting the gas within. As they entered, they saw men sitting at the tables, eating, drinking, and smoking, while white-aproned waiters served them.
Frank had made sure of the place, but, somehow, it did not seem quite the same by gaslight. The door to the back room was open, and Merry advanced, without hesitation, to it. He expected that he would be denied admittance, but, to his astonishment, no one asked him for “the sign,” and he stepped into the room, where the tables were covered by cloths, and a few rather respectable-looking old men were drinking and smoking, as they chatted in the seclusion of the place.
More dazed than ever, Frank looked round the place, and it seemed quite unfamiliar, save that there was a door just where he felt certain the entrance to the passage must be. Two long steps took him to the door, but it was fastened, and refused to move at his touch. The old men looked at him in surprise. A waiter came up, and mildly asked what he wanted. Everything seemed so quiet and peaceful there that he wondered if he could be dreaming. By day, the place had been dark and sinister, filled with human tigers; by night, it was alight, and seemed in every way a respectable café.
Frank’s companions observed the bewildered look on his face, and they wondered if he had made a blunder.
“What does monsieur want?” again asked the waiter.
“I want to see the proprietor,” said Frank boldly, speaking in most excellent French. “It is important. Tell him that I must see him at once.”
The waiter bowed low, and departed. After a little, he returned with a gentlemanly looking man, who had a white mustache and imperial, and carried himself with a military air.
“Monsieur,” said the waiter to Frank, “this is M. Delambre.”
M. Delambre bowed in a most courteous manner.
“And what favor may I have the honor of doing you, gentlemen?” he asked suavely.
“I was here this afternoon,” said Frank, speaking boldly and to the point.
“And you return again to-night,” smiled M. Delambre in a flattered manner. “That speaks well for the manner in which you were entertained. Accept my thanks.”
“Oh, I was well entertained!” exclaimed Frank. “It was in this room, too. Here I came, alone and a stranger, and here I was set upon by a pack of ruffians, from whom I barely escaped with my life!”
M. Delambre seemed thunderstruck. He started back, and stared at Merry, one hand uplifted.
“Monsieur,” he cried gently, “what are you saying? Are you mad? Or are you jesting, after the manner of some foreigners?”
“I am neither, M. Delambre; I am speaking the truth, as you must know.”
“Be careful, sir. I have a respectable place here, and I cannot afford to have my business ruined.”
“Your place seems respectable enough now, but it was filled with ruffians this afternoon. In this very room, I fought a band of them, and they came near doing me up. Now, M. Delambre, I have some questions to ask you, and it is best that you answer them.”
The Frenchman drew himself up haughtily.
“Sir, you are insulting!” he said harshly. “I can prove by a hundred persons that my house is thoroughly respectable, and I will permit no one to injure me by such stories. I advise you to leave here at once, or I will call in the gendarmes!”
“Call them, if you like,” said Merry, with perfect coolness. “I do not believe you care to attract attention to yourself and your place.”
M. Delambre made a gesture of despair.
“You foreigners—you Englishmen!” he cried. “It is useless to argue with you!”
Frank did not fancy being called an Englishman, and he told the Frenchman as much.
“I am an American, and in America we have a way of coming straight to the point. Now, see here, M. Delambre, I do not wish to make you any trouble, but I am trying to find out something about a friend whom I followed into this place. He has disappeared.”
The Frenchman held up both hands, a look of horror on his face.
“Monsieur,” he cried, “do you mean to add that I know something about the disappearance of your friend? That is still worse! You have added to the insult! I beg you to leave my place at once, or I shall be forced to call my waiters, and have you ejected!”
“Now, see here, sir,” came grimly from Merry, “I advise you to go slow about this ejecting business! I don’t think you can summon enough waiters to eject my friends and myself.”
“Let him try it!” exclaimed Diamond.
“Do let him try it!” urged Rattleton.
Both of Frank’s friends looked very eager for a scrimmage, and the proprietor of the café showed still further agitation. Again Frank plied him with questions, but now he took another turn, relapsing into grim silence, shrugging his shoulders, sneering, and scowling. It was useless to coax, or threaten, or cajole. M. Delambre closed up like a clam, and nothing could they learn from him.
“Better make a complaint to the authorities, Merry,” suggested Diamond. “Better have the joint placed under surveillance.”
Frank did not fancy being baffled in such a manner, but he realized that his efforts were wasted. Some of the waiters came and stood near, scowling at the three lads, which made Diamond long for a pitched battle. Rattleton, also, expressed an “itching” to punch a few heads.
Merry knew better than to create a disturbance there then, and so he was forced to beat a retreat, giving over the effort to obtain any information concerning Browning. When they were outside, he turned, and surveyed the front of the place closely.
“I suppose you are sure you’re right?” asked Jack. “This is the place?”
“Beyond a doubt,” declared Frank. “There are some clever rascals in there, and M. Delambre is chief of them all.”
But Merry was more downcast over the outcome of the affair than he cared to let his friends know.
The Champs-Élysées were blazing with light from the Arch of Triumph to the Place de la Concorde. The café-chantants were in full blast. Colored electric lights spelled out the names of the different places of amusement. Swarms of cabs and carriages, with their yellow side lamps, came and went. Long rows of tables stood under the trees, surrounded by men and women, who were dining in the open air, bareheaded, chatting, laughing, joyous.
Down the broad avenue went the three American lads, returning to the hotel, where they hoped to find the missing one. The sound of music and singing from the theaters lured them not. The sound of talk, and laughter, and tinkling glasses at the tables did not stop them. The sight of all these people enjoying themselves as human beings can enjoy themselves in no other part of the world did not check their footsteps.
Frank Merriwell had been there before, and he knew all this by heart; but, to Jack and Harry, the sights and sounds were new and novel. At some of the tables, they saw parties of respectable Americans, people of high standing and good breeding, eating and drinking there, beneath the lighted trees at the edge of the sidewalk, utterly unconscious that they were doing anything remarkable. And yet no amount of money could have induced those same persons to sit around a table place at the corner of Thirty-third Street and Broadway, in New York. In Paris, they were ready and glad to adopt the manners of the natives.
Leaving all this behind, the boys hastened to the hotel, where they were again disappointed, for Browning was not there. They looked at each other helplessly.
“Something serious has happened to him,” asserted Frank. “I feel it—I know it!”
“He is to blame for it all!” exploded Jack petulantly. “If he had not taken a nif, and posted off by himself, you’d never run into that joint where you had the scrap. If he’s been knocked down, and robbed, and murdered, he brought it on himself.”
Frank was beginning to feel miserable. He went to his room, where he paced up and down. Then he stole out of the hotel, all by himself, and started back along the route over which he had followed Bruce that morning. Down in the midst of the Elysian Fields he paused, and sat down, all alone, at a table, where he ordered a drink of ginger-ale, and sat sipping it.
Frank had about made up his mind to go to the authorities, and report that the big Yale man was missing. He hated to do it, but he feared he was making a mistake in neglecting to do so. As he sat there, several persons brushed past his table. Who had dropped a slip of paper upon it, he could not tell, but he found it lying there before him.
Merry picked it up. There was writing upon the paper. It said:
“Come to the Theater of the Republic. I will meet you there. I am watching Mart Brattle, and do not wish to leave him.
Frank gave a great jump. He bent over, and examined the writing.
“Browning’s hand!” he exclaimed. “This is from him, but how did it get here?”
There was a mystery. Mysterious happenings were crowding fast.
Frank began to fancy that he understood why Browning had remained away from the hotel all day. The big fellow had been tracking Brattle. Frank sprang up, completely thrown off his guard for the moment. He did not stop to think it over. The Theater of the Republic was near at hand, and soon he was hurrying toward it.
As he approached the entrance, a man suddenly appeared at his side, and grasped his wrist, speaking a single word into his ear:
Frank faced the man like a flash.
It was Mr. Noname!
“Stop!” commanded the Mystery. “You are going straight to your death!”
Needless to say, Frank stopped.
“You here?” he exclaimed.
“Yes—in time to stop you from falling into the trap. You have been summoned to enter that place. In there, behind a column which you must pass, stands a man with a dagger hidden in his sleeve. He means to place that dagger in your heart!”
Despite himself, Frank shivered.
“How do you know this?”
“How do I know anything? Do not ask me. Have I ever deceived you?”
“I am not deceiving you now. I know whereof I speak.”
“But, my friend, the one I seek has summoned me there.”
“No! The summons was a forgery. Your friend is not there.”
Wondering still more, Frank snatched the scrap of paper from his pocket, and scanned it again, standing there in the glare of lights, which made the place as bright as day.
“It is his writing!” he exclaimed.
“A forgery, I tell you!” persisted Mr. Noname. “A clever one, perhaps; but your friend did not write it. Your deadliest enemy is in there. He is watching the assassin he has hired to do the job. The assassin has laid his plans well, and expects to escape after he has struck you down.”
Frank was convinced, for never had he known the Mystery to tell him anything but the truth.
“What can I do?” he asked.
“I can’t do that. You say my enemy is in there? You say Brattle is there, then?”
“Yes; he is there.”
“I want to find him. I wish to shadow him.”
“Better leave him to me.”
“I cannot leave everything to you. My friend Bruce Browning has disappeared. You cannot tell me where to find him.”
“Perhaps not just now,” admitted the Mystery; “but, if you want to know——”
“I do! I shall not rest till I find out!”
“Then I will help you to find out.”
“I am sure this man Brattle has had a hand in the disappearance of my friend. If not, how does it happen that he knows Browning is not with me? Brattle must be followed—he must be tracked to his hole!”
“Let me do it.”
“You cannot do everything. I must have a disguise. I must go in there! I am determined to go in there!”
“Come with me.”
“I will see that you have what you want.”
They sprang into a cab, the man of mystery spoke to the driver, and away they went. It was not a long drive. The cab dropped them at the door of a dark, little shop. The Mystery knocked with his knuckles against a pane in a window, and soon the door opened. They entered. A coal-oil lamp lighted the place.
“Felix,” said Mr. Noname, “my young friend wants a disguise. It must change his appearance so his best friend will not know him.”
“Oui,” grunted Felix, the withered old keeper of the shop. “I will make him so his own mother could not know him.”
And when Frank issued from the place, less than twenty minutes later, Felix had kept his word. Frank was made up to look like a sap-headed English swell, and his clothes were of the style affected by so many British tourists, who seemed to delight in making themselves as conspicuous and ridiculous as possible. Frank carried a heavy stick, and his hair was combed down over his forehead in a bang. The expression on his face was one of vapid stupidity. He wore a monocle, and he walked in an affected manner.
Thus Frank appeared at the door of the Theater of the Republic, where he paid the price required, and entered. A woman was singing on the stage as Merry came sauntering in. Men were sitting everywhere about the tables, talking to women. No one seemed paying much attention to what was taking place on the stage.
Frank Merriwell looked for the assassin by the pillar—and fancied he found him. A man was loitering near one, his hat pulled over his eyes. This man seemed to scan the face of every person who entered.
“Brattle must be near,” decided Frank.
He took a position where he could watch, and waited to get track of Brattle. The man by the pillar was impatient. It was plain he had about given up. At last, he turned, with an impatient gesture, and declined to remain on the watch longer.
Frank knew well enough that this was one of the ruffians who had attacked him in the saloon. He resolved to try his disguise upon the man.
Approaching the hired assassin, he paused, and drawled:
“Me good fellaw, can yer tell me what houah Anna Held comes on? I have seen the little peach in Hamerica, don’t y’ ’now, and I want to see her hagain, don’t y’ hunderstand. Ya-as, by Jawve!”
The man made a swift and rather savage retort in French, shrugging his shoulders, and turning his back on Merry.
Frank smiled to himself.
“In rather bad temper, I take it,” he thought. “Failed to see anything of your game, and so you are impolite.”
Another man came up hurriedly, and spoke to the one who had been loitering by the pillar. It was Brattle. With boldness, Merry addressed his enemy, his face wearing an expression of idiotic anxiety:
“I say, me deah man, cawn’t yer tell me what time Anna Held comes on? I’d like to see her hagain, ye hunderstand.”
“Oh, go to the devil, you wooden-headed chump!” exclaimed Martin Brattle, grasping his companion by the arm and turning toward the door.
“Haw! Very wude cwecher!” gasped Frank, thrusting the head of his cane into his mouth and staring after them.
He did not let them escape, but when they reached the open air he was following them. It was no easy thing to shadow two men along the brilliantly lighted Champs-Élysées, but Frank did the job in a manner that would have done credit to a professional detective; and, after a time, they turned into another street, where it was easier.
Frank followed them a long, long time, for they did not seem to suspect that he was at their heels. Then, to his infinite disgust, he lost them. They seemed to melt into the very stones of the street. Frank was certain they must have entered some place near at hand, but he had not seen them do so, and he could not tell which way to turn.
He was thoroughly aroused.
“Well, I’ve done a smart trick!” he muttered. “I’ve let them get away after tracking them here! What would the Mystery say to that?”
“That you did well to track them so far,” murmured a voice, and the Mystery stepped out of a dark doorway within ten feet of him.
The appearance of the strange man gave Frank a start, despite his strong nerves.
“You?” he gasped. “How does it happen that you are here?”
“Do not ask questions now. You wish to know where those men went?”
Mr. Noname drew Frank in at the doorway. They passed through a narrow passage, ascended a flight of stairs, descended another, and yet another, crossed a cemented cellar, ascended some stone steps, and came out into the little back yard of the café where the fight had taken place that day. Directly before Frank, beneath the gloomy trees, was the shattered door, now mended and standing in place.
“There is where you will find them,” asserted the Mystery; “but this door is closed now, and it is barred on the other side. Wait. I will pass to the other side and open it for you.”
“How can you do anything like——”
Frank stopped and caught his breath. He was alone! The Mystery had disappeared!
“Well, talk about your modern magic—this beats anything yet! That man comes and goes like a disembodied spirit.”
The Mystery had promised to open that door, and Merry had confidence to believe he would keep his word, so he waited there in the narrow yard beneath the gloomy trees. He heard a distant clock tolling the hour, and the sound gave him a chill, like a bell pealing for the passing of a soul.
Frank pushed against the mended door, but it stood firm before him. He moved about and explored the yard. In this manner it seemed that at least an hour passed. Of course it was not so long, but time dragged slowly with him waiting there. Frank was growing impatient, when he heard a sound behind him, and wheeled about. Black shadows were appearing under the trees. There was more than one of them—there were several! Those shadows moved like creatures of life. They seemed to crouch and steal toward him. In the blackness under the trees there was a whisper. Frank Merriwell recoiled against the mended door, his heart leaping into his mouth.
The word leaped to his lips, and his hand flew for a weapon. In that instant those shadows darted forward and sprang upon him. He tried to draw his revolver, but it was knocked from his hand. In falling it was discharged when it struck the ground, and the flash lighted for a single instant the triumphant face of Frank’s enemy, Martin Brattle.
Merry struck hard and sure for that face, and his fist landed. The man was knocked down, but he struggled up, snarling:
“Crush him down! Capture him! Don’t kill him! I have a use for him! Take him alive!”
“If you can!” panted Merry, fighting like a tiger at bay.
They leaped upon him, and he hurled them back. They tried to beat him down, but he stood like iron before their blows. He sent them reeling, cursing, falling. He felt that he had been betrayed at last by the mysterious man who had led him to that spot. A score of times Diamond had warned him that Mr. Noname would turn on him, but he had not heeded the words of the Virginian. Now it had happened. The Man Without a Name had brought him there to that yard and left him in order that he might be captured by Brattle and his gang.
The thought made Frank fight with such fierceness that they could not beat him down. They hurled him against the door time after time, till, at last, it flew open beneath the shock. Frank’s heels caught on the stool, and he fell backward into the passage.
Before he could rise, five men were on him. A light gleamed near and he was dragged farther in. Then he was beaten into non-resistance, and his hands were tied. At last he was a captive in the hands of Martin Brattle!
IN THE WINE-CELLAR.
Frank was carried down a shaking flight of stairs into a cellar, where there were barrels and wine-casks and long shelves of bottles, covered with dust and cobwebs. They placed him on a bench, and the light of their coal-oil lamps showed him something that caused him to start and groan.
Bruce Browning was there, standing in the center of the cellar, bound securely to a stone pillar, a gag in his mouth. The eyes of the big Yale man met those of his chum, and there was an instant understanding between them.
Frank knew why Bruce had not returned to the hotel. At last the mighty giant had been conquered and made a captive. In that look volumes were spoken. Bruce expressed his anger, grief, and regret, while Frank showed his sympathy.
They had found each other, but they were helpless and in the power of desperate men. The faces of those men were covered by masks, with the exception of that of Brattle. It seemed that Martin did not care to attempt to conceal his identity. There were seven of them in all.
Brattle stood before Frank and sneered at him.
“Poor fool!” he said. “Did you think you could get the best of me? With all your tricks of disguise, you are not smart enough to cope with Mart Brattle.”
Frank was not gagged.
“It must take a great rascal to match you,” he said.
“I confess that I did not know you in the theater,” said Brattle; “but I knew you after you had followed us so far.”
Frank was disgusted.
“So you discovered I was following you?” he muttered.
“Yes. Then I was certain it must be you; but how you found your way into that yard is what beats me. You disappeared from the street in a twinkling, and next you were in that yard when we came to hunt for you.”
“And you don’t know how I got there?”
“I don’t know how you found the way.”
Frank wondered if the man spoke the truth. He wondered if, indeed, the Mystery had not betrayed him after all. If not, what had become of Mr. Noname? Frank remembered how many times that strange man had appeared and saved him from his enemies, and he began to wonder if it would not happen again.
“Tell me how you found your way into that yard,” commanded Martin Brattle.
“That is something for you to find out,” he said.
“You will not tell?”
Brattle snapped his fingers.
“It makes little difference. To-night ends your career in France. You shall die, Frank Merriwell, and you will never tell anything you may have learned to anybody else.”
“Bah!” exclaimed Merry. “You boast; but I doubt if you have the nerve to carry out your threats.”
“You will not doubt long. Let me tell you something. Do you see these men about me?”
“I am not blind.”
“They are the most desperate cutthroats in all Paris. There is not one of them who has not killed his man. They live by robbery and murder.”
“Well, I see you have chosen fit associates, Brattle.”
“Don’t get funny!” growled the man. “I don’t like it!”
“You may not like it, but it is the truth. They are fit associates for you. You have lived by robbery, and I doubt not that you will be executed for murder.”
“Better keep a civil tongue, Merriwell!” snarled Brattle. “You are in my power, and I can make you die a thousand deaths!”
“I have but one life, and so you can make me die but one death.”
Brattle stood with his hands on his hips, scowling down at his victim. The masked ruffians were farther back. They remained silent, and it is doubtful if any of them understood what was being said.
“You do not know me, Frank Merriwell. I have sworn to get even with you for all you have cost me.”
“I have known others to swear such an oath. One who did so, a pal of yours, was drowned in England. Drowning is too easy a death for you.”
“Go on! You are digging your own grave with your words!”
“A little while ago you said you had decided to kill me, anyhow. What difference does it make?”
“Before I kill you you must tell me where to find Elsie Bellwood. In what part of Paris is she?”
“She is not in Paris.”
“I am not lying, Brattle. You have fooled yourself. Elsie did not come to Paris at all. She is in England.”
“I do not believe it!”
Frank laughed shortly.
“You are at liberty to believe what you like. It makes no difference to me. I am not telling you this to aid you in any way, but simply to show you that you have made a fool of yourself by chasing on here to France, thinking you were following up Elsie Bellwood.”
“Where is she in England?”
“That is for you to find out, Brattle.”
“You refuse to tell?”
“I’ll make you tell!”
“We shall see.”
Brattle turned to one of the men and asked him in French for his knife. When he turned back, he held a long, glittering blade in his fingers.
“Now,” he said, resting one knee on the bench and grasping Frank by the neck, “we’ll see if you can be made to tell!”
The point of the knife was at Frank Merriwell’s throat. Merry felt it pricking there, but he never winced or showed the least sign of fear.
Brattle was surprised.
“Can you feel the knife?” he sneered, “or are you too scared to feel anything, you young fool?”
“I can feel it very plainly, thank you,” said Frank. “I should say that the point must be just above my jugular vein.”
Brattle cried out something in French, and there came muttered exclamations of astonishment and admiration from the ruffians who were watching everything. They could not help admiring the nerve of the captive. In the center of the cellar Bruce Browning was twisting and straining at his bonds, the veins beginning to stand out like cords on his face and neck.
Martin Brattle had seen Frank Merriwell under other circumstances, and knew Merry was nervy, but this was something more than the villain had anticipated.
“If I were to give a very slight pressure, this keen blade would penetrate your jugular vein, and then all the doctors in Paris could not give you one hour of life.”
“That’s right, Brat,” admitted Frank. “When the jugular is penetrated, a fellow is done for.”
“Then speak!” ordered Martin fiercely. “Speak, or I will tap the vein, and you shall see your life-blood spouting from your neck!”
Browning’s teeth cracked as they grated together.
“It’s no use,” said Frank coolly; “you can’t force me to speak in that way, Brattle. Go ahead with your devilish work.”
Martin Brattle sprang back and stood panting, trembling, and glaring at his captive.
“What are you made of?” he faltered.
“Flesh and blood,” was the answer; “but not the kind of flesh and blood that quakes before a dastard like you!”
“Still you know I can kill you!”
“Yes; but I know you cannot make me squeal. I’d be ashamed to die after begging to you! It would be dying like a coward! If I must croak, I prefer to do it like a man! Go on with your work!”
Whether they understood it or not, some of the masked ruffians, who stood about with folded arms, murmured as if they were applauding.
Never before had Bruce Browning felt such admiration for his college chum. Always had he known Frank was brave, but now he knew he had nerves of iron. Bruce did not wonder that Merry had been a winner at everything, for he felt that any man with such nerve could not help winning.
“I believe you think I am fooling with you!” he snarled. “I believe you think I do not dare to kill you!”
“Quite the contrary,” said Merry promptly; “I believe you are such a coward that you dare murder me, for no one but a low-lived cur would think of doing such a thing!”
Again Brattle sprang on Frank and menaced him with the glittering knife, on the very point of which was a single drop of blood.
“Go ahead!” cried Merry. “Don’t be fooling around like this! Finish your job!”
Brattle drew off.
“Not so quick,” he said. “I understand. You are eager that I should do it, in order to have it over as soon as possible. But I have sworn to make you tell where I may find Elsie Bellwood, and I’ll do it. Do you know how I am going to make you do it?”
“I haven’t an idea.”
“I’ll tell you.”
“I am going to begin by cutting off your fingers one by one.”
“A nice idea!”
“Then I shall cut off your ears, your nose, and so on. I shall torture you by inches till you tell me what I wish to know!”
“You are a bigger coward than I thought!” observed Merry. “Not only that, but you are a brute of the lowest type, Brattle. You are not fit to mingle with men!”
“Oh, you may say what you like! I have to get revenge on you! You robbed me of Elsie! You ruined my business in New York! You put the police after me! You made it necessary for me to fly from the country!”
“What a fine thing that was for the country!”
“I followed you to England to get possession of that girl, and also to get square with you. In London you brought more trouble on me. Because of you, I lay weeks in a hospital. At first they said I might not recover, but I vowed that I would not die till I was able to say I had squared my debt with you. I lived, and I am here to square that debt!”
“Well, you have made talk enough about it. Go ahead with the job.”
“You seem anxious to have the torture begin.”
“Or anxious to have it over.”
“Well, it will not end very quickly. Do you still fancy I am fooling with you? Well, you shall see! I will begin right away by taking a finger from your hand. No; I think I will begin by taking off your ears.”
Browning was straining at his bonds again. He saw the wretch bend over Frank with the knife and reach to slice off one of Merry’s ears. Then, with a mighty surge, the Yale giant burst his bonds asunder. He tore himself free, snatched the gag from his mouth, gave a roar like that of a mad lion, and flung himself on Brattle.
The villain was knocked down in a moment. He screamed for help, and the other ruffians attacked Browning. Bruce was a perfect whirlwind. He caught one of the men up and whirled him round his head like a club, knocking the others over and tumbling them in heaps. He was magnificent in his rage and strength.
“Give it to ’em, Bruce!” cried Merry from the bench, exulting in the turn the tide had taken. “Lay on, and spare not!”
“Oh, I’ll give it to them!” roared the big fellow. “I’ll crack their heads! I’ll mow them down! Where’s that cur who was going to cut off your fingers and your ears? Let him stand forth! I want to get one more crack at him!”
Some of the men fled screaming from the cellar, but more were knocked stiff and senseless on the cemented floor. Bottles crashed down from the shelves and barrels were upset. The fight did not last long, for the men could not stand before the Yale giant. When they had been knocked out, or had fled, Bruce hastened to set Frank free.
They looked for Brattle, but he was one who had escaped by flight.
“We must get out of here,” said Merry. “I fancy we have no time to lose.”
“You are right,” said a deep voice, and they looked up to see the Man of Mystery standing on the stairs. “I have found you at last, led here by the sounds of battle. I feared I had lost you forever. Come; I will lead you from this place. You must get out before the gang recovers.”
They sprang up the stairs after him, and he led them out to the yard where the battle had taken place. Through the passage which he knew he escorted them from the yard and brought them to the open street.
“There,” he said, “you are free. Go!”
A door closed behind them, and when they tried to open it they were unable to do so. The Mystery was gone, and to them he remained a mystery still.
“Was it possible, Frank,” cried Bruce, as they were talking it over the next day, “that you really thought me angry with you? My dear fellow, that was part of the joke. It was my plan to get back at you.”
“Well, it was pretty good acting,” laughed Merry.
“I enjoyed it when I found you were chasing me up. I dodged into that café by accident, and I found a way out by the back door, which opened into that little yard. The door closed behind me, and then I felt that something was wrong. I hammered on it, but it would not open before me. Then I put my shoulder to it and burst it open.”
“The pounding and the crash I heard!” exclaimed Frank.
“I don’t remember much after that till I found myself bound to that stone pillar in the cellar,” said Bruce. “I think somebody struck me on the head with a club as I stumbled into the passage.”
“And I heard you groan!” exclaimed Frank.
“Well, it has turned out pretty well, even though Brattle escaped. He’ll meet his just deserts pretty soon.”
“That is certain,” nodded Frank. “But now I most desire to see the Man Without a Name and thank him for what he has done. He has promised that I shall see him again.”
THE BLACK BROTHERS.
Paris at night, three days later.
Frank Merriwell was strolling along the Avenue de l’Opera, which was lighted as brightly as a ballroom. On either hand were rows and clusters of tables, where men and women were sitting in the open air, sipping their cool drinks and chatting animatedly. It was like walking the floor of a long dining-room. This, Frank told himself, was one of the pleasures of Paris at night. Nowhere else in the world could such a spectacle be seen. The promenaders of the boulevards were patrolling the avenue. They were men whose main ambition in life seemed to be to acquire reputations as boulevardiers, reputations easily obtained by persistently patrolling certain streets at certain hours day after day, week after week, month after month.
About it all there was something strictly and solely Parisian. In Paris alone could one so quickly imbibe the feeling of utter freedom and so quickly fling aside all sensation of restraint and unfamiliarity. At least, so thought Frank just then, as he swung along the avenue, light-hearted, buoyant, careless. To Merry it seemed that he had not a care in the world. It seemed that he would never again have a care.
The appearance of the women sitting out of doors under the trees, with their heads bare, made the city so homelike and friendly that it was as if everybody knew everybody else.
Frank came to the Boulevard des Capucines and paused a moment in front of the Café de la Paix. Now at his back were the cafés, blazing with electric lights, blushing in gorgeous upholstery, glittering with magnificent mirrors, and thronged by well-dressed men and women. Across the square the Grand Opera-House rose, beautiful, artistic, majestic.
“I will sit down a few moments,” thought Merry, as he started toward the table.
Just then a man stumbled and fell against him quite heavily. His first thought was that the man must be intoxicated, but he remembered he was in Paris, and, turning quickly, he saw a refined-looking gentleman, past middle age, with gray mustache and imperial, pressing his hand to his heart, while there was a look of distress on his pale face.
Quick as thought, Frank grasped the man gently and firmly, politely saying:
“Permit me, monsieur. Can I be of assistance to you?”
The stranger gasped as he attempted to reply, and the only word Merry understood was “Rest.” The young American assisted the stranger to a seat by the table, and then bent over him solicitously, again asking how he could be of assistance.
“You have done all you can, thank you, my friend,” murmured the gentleman, as his unsteady hand placed his jewel-decorated cane on the table. “I was seized by a pain in my heart, but it is passing now. You were about to sit down here. Do not let me prevent.”
Frank took a chair at the table, and the man looked at him searchingly.
“If the curiosity is pardonable, may I ask if you are English?” inquired the stranger, taking a handkerchief from his pocket and using it to absorb a tiny drop of blood that had appeared on his wrist.
“I am an American, monsieur.”
The man showed fresh interest.
“An American!” he exclaimed, his face still remaining pale. “I might have guessed it! I have been in America. Americans love justice and liberty.”
“You have hurt yourself, monsieur?” said Frank, as the man continued to press the handkerchief to his wrist.
“It is nothing—a slight scratch. But I received it in a peculiar manner a few moments ago. A woman spoke to me. I attempted to pass on, and she became angry, and struck at me with a hatpin. She barely touched my wrist here—enough to draw blood.”
“I had no idea women were so vicious in Paris—at this early hour of the night.”
“It’s seldom they are. In London it would not be strange. This woman spoke French imperfectly. I do not think she was French. At least, I hope not.”
“She seemed Spanish in her readiness to strike with a weapon,” said Frank. “But you are very pale, monsieur, I fear you are harmed in some other manner.”
“Your solicitation speaks well for you, and is further proof that you are American, not English. An Englishman would not take such interest in a stranger.”
“Perhaps it is a proof of my freshness,” smiled Merry.
“Freshness? What do you mean by that?”
“In English that is slang. It means that a person is too forward, too presuming, lacking in reserve and discretion.”
“The American is impulsive, but to me that is his charm. Having been in America, I know the Americans who come to France do not fairly represent the people of the country.”
“I am glad to hear you say that, monsieur!” he cried. “In England, America is judged by the Americans who come to London, much to the misfortune of my native land. The newly rich, the uncultured, the bores and the snobs of America rush to England and France as soon as possible, and they are taken to be representative Americans.”
“I know this is true, and I am glad to meet in France a representative American—outside the Latin Quarter. Monsieur, my card.”
Frank accepted the white bit of cardboard, on which was engraved:
“M. Edmond Laforce.”
“The Duke of Benoit du Sault!” exclaimed Merry, in surprise, looking up.
“Yes, monsieur,” bowed the Frenchman, lifting his eyebrows. “But how is it you know that?”
“Why, you know all America takes a great interest in the Dreyfus case, with which you have been concerned, or, at least, with which newspaper reports have connected you.”
The Duke of Benoit du Sault frowned a little.
“The newspapers! the newspapers!” he exclaimed. “They have given me the publicity I shunned. I have sought to do quietly what I could for that unfortunate man on——Pardon me, monsieur; what do you think of Dreyfus?”
“I think as think nine Americans out of ten, if not ninety-nine out of a hundred.”
“And that is—what?”
“That Dreyfus is innocent!”
The face of the duke seemed to clear, although it remained strangely pale, while there seemed to be something of a hunted look in his piercing eyes.
“I am glad to hear you say that,” he spoke in a low tone. “I have known that America sympathized with him.”
“My card, monsieur.”
Frank took his card from a morocco case and passed it across the table, adding:
“A friendly exchange, that may serve as an introduction, if you care to have it so.”
“Of course I care to have it so, Monsieur Merriwell,” said the duke, immediately extending his hand, which Frank accepted.
The young American noticed that the hand of the man was cold as ice, and it trembled the least bit in his grasp.
“I am sure, monsieur, that you are not feeling well,” he said.
“I am feeling strangely,” admitted the Frenchman, with a shrug of his shoulders. “I do not understand what it is, unless——”
He shivered again, glancing around with that hunted look. Then he tried to force a laugh, saying:
“It cannot be so. For all of the sign, I will not believe my time has come. I have a work to do, a great work—for the honor of France!”
Frank had read in the newspapers—Frank’s trip occurred some years ago—how the Duke of Benoit du Sault had taken up the work for Dreyfus just where Monsieur Zola had been forced to abandon it, and how by doing so he had aroused an army of rabid and howling enemies about his ears. To escape imprisonment, Zola, the great novelist, had fled from France, and it was more than hinted that the Duke of Benoit du Sault might have to do likewise.
Frank was confident of the innocence of Dreyfus, the unfortunate Jew, who had once been an officer in the French Army, but had been accused of betraying the army’s secrets to rival powers, had been publicly disgraced and condemned to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island, a barren bit of rock and sand, far from France, on the burning bosom of a torrid sea.
Merry had read with great interest about the case, and, being a lover of justice, it was but natural that his soul should be stirred when he thought how Dreyfus had been convicted and condemned on evidence of which he knew absolutely nothing. The trial had been conducted in secret, and the public at large, like the condemned man, knew nothing of the proofs which established Dreyfus’ guilt.
The story of Madame Dreyfus’ devotion, and her unceasing efforts in behalf of her husband had touched Merry. He read how she had appealed to power after power, but all her appeals had seemed in vain till Monsieur Zola had cast himself into the arena, like a gladiator, and taken up the battle. But even Zola, great novelist and political factor as he was, was unable to stand against the army, and in France “the army can do no wrong,” so it was claimed that Dreyfus had been justly judged, and all who sought to show otherwise were enemies of France. The agitation aroused a terrible sentiment against the Jews, and there were repeated riots in the courts and on the streets. Zola and his friends contended against public sentiment and prejudice, and the whole affair which followed was a travesty of justice.
Even though the daring novelist was forced to flee from France to escape imprisonment, the agitation accomplished something. The one man who had done more than all others to convict Dreyfus was likewise forced to leave the country. In England he confessed that he, under instructions of others, had forged the document which had mainly served to convict the Jew. However, this man Esterhazy had told so many stories about the case that it was easy now to claim that this was but another lie, and, strangely enough, in a short time, he retracted the statement.
When the chief of police was forced to confess that he had forged certain documents which seemed to establish the guilt of the prisoner of Devil’s Island, there was a terrible commotion in Paris. The chief of police committed suicide without delay, or was murdered. The friends of Dreyfus made another mighty effort to have him brought back to France and given a fair trial. For a time it looked as if they must succeed, but all the power of the army was brought against them, and effort after effort was frustrated. One after another those officers who had been concerned in the conviction of Dreyfus resigned; but their places were filled by men who expressed themselves as fully confident that the Jew had been justly judged. The reversal of the verdict would mean the disgrace of men high in power, who had been instrumental in certain ways in bringing about the conviction, and so an innocent man was doomed to languish out his life in an iron cage on the burning rock of Devil’s Island, afar in the brassy bosom of a sun-scorched sea.
There were Frenchmen who believed Dreyfus innocent and who loved justice enough to desire his innocence proven, even though it rent the republic in twain. Edmond Laforce, the Duke of Benoit du Sault, was one of these. He placed his wealth and his life at the disposal of the friends of Dreyfus, and he set about devoting himself to the mighty task of forcing France to bring the prisoner back and give him a fair trial. The duke had tried to do his work quietly, but the newspapers had found out about him, and Frank Merriwell had read of him. Thus it came about that Merry knew the man’s title the moment he read his name on the card.
“You have my sympathy, sir,” assured Frank. “To me it does not seem possible that fate will permit poor Dreyfus to die on that desolate island without being brought back and having a fair trial.”
“The ways of God may not be measured by man,” said the duke solemnly; “but, like you, I believe that Dreyfus must be brought back, no matter what may come of it. They say to show him innocent means a revolution in France—means that the streets of Paris must again run with blood. Let it come! Better that than to have him die in Devil’s Island and afterward to have his innocence established. If he is truly guilty, it will be established beyond a doubt by another trial. That will end it forever. If he is innocent, it will mean the everlasting disgrace of France to have him die on that island!”
For a single moment a flush came into the duke’s cheeks, faint, indeed, but still perceptible. It faded quickly, and then, of a sudden, he pressed his hand to his heart once more, uttering a smothered cry of pain.
Frank leaned across the table in instant solicitation, a strange feeling of dread assailing him.
“What is it, monsieur?” he asked.
“Shall I order something?”
“A little brandy, please.”
Frank gave the order quickly, and the brandy was brought at once by a waiter. With trembling hand the duke lifted the glass and sipped the liquor.
“Are you subject to such attacks?” asked Merry.
The gentleman shook his head.
“No,” he asserted, “never before a few moments ago have I felt one. I do not understand it.”
He stopped speaking, his eyes fastened on the slight scratch on his wrist, which he had received from the hatpin in the hands of the vicious woman who had accosted him. He trembled as he looked.
“Strange!” he murmured, as if speaking to himself. “The pain seems to shoot from that scratch to my heart. Can it be——No, no! I will not believe it! The sign was given to frighten me. This is nothing. It will pass away.”
Despite his attempt to assure himself, however, it became plain that a great terror had seized upon him. He fought against it, trying to throw it off.
Frank noticed this agitation, and he observed that the duke again looked round in a hunted manner. No one seemed paying any attention to them. The duke’s hand fell from his heart to the table, and he leaned toward Merry. There was a peculiar gleam in his eyes.
“I have made enemies by the stand I have taken,” he said. “It has proved fatal for more than one man who espoused the cause of Dreyfus.”
“It has proved fatal?” questioned the young American. “What do you mean?”
“What I have said. More than one has given up his life because he dared proclaim the innocence of Dreyfus and work to establish it.”
“I have not heard of such cases.”
“Of course not. Why should you? The Black Brothers do their work in silence.”
“Who are the Black Brothers?”
“A band of men sworn to keep Dreyfus on Devil’s Island at any cost.”
“Do you mean to tell me there is such an organization of men in France?” gasped Frank, in horror.
“It does not seem possible!”
“There are said to be seven of the Black Brothers,” said the duke, speaking in guarded tones. “They are seven of the most desperate creatures in all France, and they are the hired assassins of the enemies of Dreyfus. They are paid to destroy such friends of the condemned man as may seem dangerous, and they are guaranteed protection by the men who employ them.”
“Horrible!” exclaimed Merry. “It’s like a grisly conception of some romancist. But I think the law would be able to reach the murderers.”
“Not yet, for as yet there is no proof that they have committed murder.”
“Have died suddenly and strangely, one and all, and yet no man knows the cause of their death.”
“How is that?”
“Each one has been warned to leave France within ten days. One alone has heeded the warning. The others are dead.”
“They were murdered?”
“Of that there can be no doubt, yet on none of them was found a mark to tell how they died. It seemed that heart trouble cut short their lives.”
Frank started a bit, thinking how strangely the duke had been seized by pains in his heart. The Frenchman seemed to read the thoughts of his companion, and his face appeared to turn yet a shade paler than it had been.
“I have fancied that I might be able to detect the manner in which the Black Brothers do their work,” he said; “but now I fear I shall fail. The pains at my heart are terrible symptoms, and I fear I am to be the next victim.”
“Oh, no! That cannot be!”
“I have been given the sign.”
“The sign of the Black Brothers! the sign of death!”
“This is the tenth day since I received it!” whispered the duke.
THE BLOOD-RED STAR.
Frank was startled, to say the least. He looked at the man searchingly, wondering now that the duke could be as calm as he seemed. It was plain he had more nerve than Merry had thought.
“The tenth day!” exclaimed Frank. “Then your time is up!”
“Yes,” said the duke, with strange calmness.
“I have told you what it means.”
“And you have not heeded the warning?”
“I have not been driven from France.”
“And you do not fear the Black Brothers?”
The French nobleman drew himself up proudly.
“A Laforce never turns his back on danger,” he declared.
“But such terrible peril! It were different if you could face your foes.”
“Yes, it is hard to be beset by unseen peril.”
“Still you do not fear?”
The duke hesitated a little, and then spoke slowly.
“I believe that the bravest may feel fear at times,” he confessed. “In battle it is different, but when one knows a peril he cannot see may be creeping upon him slowly and surely he must be made of more than flesh and blood not to feel a thrill of fear.”
“It is a terrible thing!” exclaimed the young American earnestly. “It is like being chained in a pit where the water is rising inch by inch.”
“It is worse. The prisoner in the pit can see the water rise, but a man to whom the sign of the Black Brothers has been given knows the danger is creeping upon him, but he cannot see it.”
Now Frank felt a strong thrill of admiration for this old Frenchman who could remain thus cool in the face of an unseen and deadly peril.
“If you meet the fate of the others—what then?”
“The assassins cannot destroy every friend of Dreyfus, and justice shall triumph at last.”
“But are you willing to be a sacrifice?”
“No! Still I have lived, and my years to come are not many, at most. If I fall, I have faith to believe that it will mark the turning-point in favor of the prisoner of Devil’s Island. I believe that somehow, sometime, France shall emerge from the clouds and be purged of the stain upon her.”
It gave Frank Merriwell a sensation he had never before experienced to be sitting there before the Café de la Paix, in the heart of Paris, calmly speaking with a man who had been doomed to death by a mysterious band of assassins, and who knew that, were the assassins to carry out their fearful threat, he had not many hours more to live. All around them was life and pleasure, and nothing but the seriousness of the duke could impress Merriwell with the real horror of the situation.
“This sign of which you speak—what is it?”
Edmond Laforce felt in his pocket and brought something forth. This he placed upon the table.
It was a metal star, dark-red in color, with points numbered from one to seven. Upon it were the words, “Ten days.” Beneath the words appeared the dreadful death-machine of France, the guillotine. Frank gazed on the blood-red star with deep interest.
“This,” said the duke, with forced calmness, “is the sign of the Black Brothers. The seven points of the star represent the seven members of the assassin band.”
“You have kept it!” exclaimed Merry. “Why didn’t you throw the thing away?”
“What good? It’s work was done when I received it.”
“How did it come to you?”
“I was sitting at dinner in the Deux Mondes. My first order had not been filled when, happening to glance upon the table before me, I saw this blood-red star lying there. That is how it came to me.”
“Ah!” exclaimed Frank, with a sudden feeling of relief. “Then it was not sent to you direct?”
“No, in a sense it was not.”
“You found it by accident.”
“So it seemed.”
“And it may not have been meant for you at all!”
“Perhaps,” said the duke frankly, “that is the reason why I have not left France. Perhaps, I have thought, it might not be meant for me.”
“I see,” said the American youth eagerly. “But you know beyond a doubt that it is the sign of the Black Brothers?”
“Yes; it is their sign of death. It is strange I have told you all this. I have not talked to others of it, but something led me to speak to you. Perhaps it was the strange pains in my heart. They gave me a shock. I thought of the others who had died suddenly and unaccountably. Your sympathy with Dreyfus led me to talk on, till now you know all.”
“Monsieur, it may be you have alarmed yourself needlessly. There is a chance that you have not been selected as a victim.”
“A chance—yes. But you must remember that I am marked as a friend of Dreyfus. It would be most natural that I had been selected to fall by the Black Brothers.”
“I understand your feeling in the matter, and I admire your nerve. Still, I hope you may live to see Dreyfus given a fair and open trial.”
Laforce was about to speak in reply to this, when he was again seized by the pains in his heart, and this time they seemed to overcome him for some moments. Frank arose in agitation, proposing to call for a physician, but the duke restrained him with a gesture.
“I shall see my doctor as soon as possible,” he said in a faint voice.
“I believe you need medical aid at once.”
“If it is the doom of the Black Brothers, medicine will not save me! I fear it may be! Who can tell? Wait, and listen. I have in my possession something that may prove the innocence of Dreyfus. If I should die suddenly, it must not be found upon me, for it would be sure to fall into wrong hands. You claim to have sympathy with Dreyfus, and I wish you to do me a favor.”
The duke again felt in his pocket, producing a metal ball somewhat larger than an ordinary marble. For a moment he exposed it to Frank, and then he hid it in his hand.
“This,” he half whispered, “holds what may some day prove poor Dreyfus innocent. I am going to give it into your keeping till to-morrow night at this hour, when I will meet you here, and accept it from you—if I am living!”
The duke glanced around, as if to make sure they were not watched, and then he covertly and quickly passed the tiny metal ball to Frank, who felt a strange thrill as he received it.
“Put it away at once,” whispered the Frenchman. “Do not tell a soul that you have it. Promise me you will not tell.”
Frank wondered at his readiness to accept the trust, and still more he wondered at the man’s willingness to trust him, a stranger. Still, he understood the remarkable position in which Laforce was placed. The man feared he might drop dead at any moment, and he did not wish the thing to be found upon him.
“What if you do not meet me here to-morrow to receive it back?” asked Merry.
“I shall be dead.”
“I know; but what shall I do with it then?”
“Keep it till the right one calls for it.”
“The right one?”
“Yes, Monsieur Merriwell.”
“How shall I know the right one?”
“He will give you a signal.”
“He will press his left hand over his eyes, and say, ‘Justice calls.’”
“Is that all?”
“That is all. And now, perhaps, it will not be well for us to remain longer together. I might arouse suspicion if certain ones were to see us talking thus earnestly for a long time. I have trusted you, not because I was forced to trust some one, but because your face has told me you may be trusted.”
“Thank you, monsieur.”
Laforce waved his hand.
“It is I who owe you thanks, Monsieur Merriwell. I hope to see you here to-morrow evening at this hour.”
“I hope you may.”
“Till then, guard that tiny ball with your life, for it may give life and liberty to the innocent man on Devil’s Island.”
Edmond Laforce, the Duke of Benoit du Sault, picked his jeweled cane from the table, and rose to his feet. Frank rose, also, and their eyes met again.
“I will not offer my hand again, as we know not what eyes are on us,” said the duke. “Till to-morrow night—or forever—farewell!”
He turned, and walked away, and Frank Merriwell returned to his hotel, to think of the strange things he had heard, and to wonder if they could be true. The following morning, he read in Figaro that the Duke of Benoit du Sault had been found dead in his bed. The report stated that it was plainly and undoubtedly a case of heart failure, but Frank Merriwell knew that it was murder!
He sat staring at the paper in a dazed way, thinking of his meeting with the doomed man the previous night, and all the strange things the duke had told him across the little table in front of the Café de la Paix. Now he knew beyond a doubt that the Black Brothers had found another victim. The strange pains Laforce had felt were but the warnings of his coming dissolution.
There was something uncanny and terrible about it, something that gave a chill to Frank Merriwell’s warm blood. Surely, the enemies of the prisoner of Devil’s Island were ready to resort to any extreme of crime to keep the friends of the unfortunate man from securing justice for him. They counted human lives as nothing in their terrible work.
And that was France—happy France.
From the first, Frank had felt sympathy for Dreyfus, and now it seemed that he was in some way connected with the miserable captive in the iron cage on that dread island. He felt in his pocket for the tiny metal ball given him by Edmond Laforce. It was there. He took it out, and examined it closely, for the first time. It seemed too light to be a solid piece of metal, and yet he could see no flaw in it, no opening, nothing but the polished surface.
The dead Duke of Benoit du Sault had said that the ball might some day prove the innocence of Dreyfus. How could that be?
Frank asked himself the question, as he sat there with it in his fingers, turning it over and over. Was it not possible that the duke had been mentally unbalanced?
That was a new thought, and it gave the young American a start. Surely, the uncanny story the man had told seemed like the imaginings of a diseased brain, and men had gone mad in France from thinking of the Dreyfus affair. Perhaps the duke had become crazed from brooding over it, and had imagined the story of the Black Brothers, the blood-red star, and the metal ball that was to prove the innocence of the condemned man.
It was possible he had caused the star to be made by his own directions. Or, perhaps, having found it as he claimed, he had woven around it the weird story which he had revealed to Frank.
Surely, it was easy enough for a Frenchman who was mentally unsound to have such conceptions, and to believe in them. But the most remarkable part of it all was that the duke should die on that night which he claimed completed the tenth day of grace allotted to him by the Black Brothers.
Frank had read that sometimes human beings become so firmly convinced that they must die at a certain time that they bring about the thing they fear. Had this been the case with the duke?
It was possible; and, still, Merry could not quite bring himself to believe the whole thing had been an hallucination of the dead man’s diseased brain. He had promised the duke to guard the metal ball with his life, and he resolved to do so now, even though Laforce was dead.
As he sat there, staring at the tiny ball, Wellington Maybe, his tutor, came softly into the room.
“Mr. Merriwell,” said the little man in a small voice, “I think to-day we will review——”
“Nothing,” spoke Frank abruptly, putting the ball back into his pocket. “I have studied faithfully for the past three days, and to-day I shall take a rest.”
“There are no ‘buts’ about it, Mr. Maybe. You are at liberty to spend the day as you please. I heard you say yesterday that you wished to visit the art galleries at Versailles. You will have a good opportunity to-day.”
Mr. Maybe knew it was useless to argue with Merry, when his mind was made up, and so he did not attempt it further, but withdrew, shaking his head, leaving Frank once more to his thoughts.
“I could not study to-day, after what has happened,” muttered Merry. “I should be thinking all the time of the Black Brothers, the blood-red star, and the dead Duke of Benoit du Sault.”
There was a shout of laughter in an adjoining room, and Rattleton came bounding into the room, lazily pursued by Browning, who was growling about some sell he had “bought.”
“Oh, you’re a mark!” chuckled Harry. “Everybody catches you. You’re a sucker.”
“Speaking of suckers,” said Diamond, following them in, “do you remember the time Browning went fishing in a fresh-water pond, and brought back a fine string of mackerel.”
“Oh, that was a lie!” grunted the big fellow, flinging himself down on an easy chair, and getting out his pipe. “You fellows used to think that yarn funny. It’s stale now.”
Rattleton continued to chaff the big Yale man, but Merry took no part in this, which the others noticed after awhile.
“What’s the matter, Frank?” asked Diamond. “You look all fussed up. Anything gone wrong?”
Frank felt like telling them all about it, but he remembered his promise to Edmond Laforce, and refrained.
“Don’t mind me,” he said. “I am not feeling in the best of spirits this morning.”
Now, it was such a remarkable thing for him to feel other than in high spirits that they all stared at him blankly.
“Why, I thought you were enjoying France since Mart Brattle has ceased to trouble you?” said Jack.
“So I am,” assured Merry, rising, and walking to the window, where he stood, looking out, his hands in his pockets.
As Frank stood there, he noticed on the opposite side of the wide street a man, who was lingering in a doorway. The man was dressed in black, and he looked up at the hotel in a searching way. After a little, he seemed to observe Merry at the window, and then he drew back into the doorway. There was something odd about the man’s behavior, which caused Merry to retreat from the window, but remain where he could see the doorway. After a time, the man appeared in the doorway again, and gazed up at the hotel.
Somehow, Frank felt that the fellow was a spy or shadower. For whom was he watching? Merry turned from the window, and announced that he was going out.
On the street, Frank looked around for the man in the doorway, but could see nothing of him, which caused him to wonder if he had been wrong in thinking he was a spy.
Direct to the Deux Mondes Frank went, and there he made inquiries about the dead duke. All he learned was that Laforce had retired shortly before midnight, apparently in good health, and had been found dead in the morning, the early discovery being made as his door stood slightly ajar. There were no marks of violence nor anything to indicate the man had not died a natural death. To Merry, it seemed rather strange that the duke had left his door open; and, if he had not left it open, why had it been found ajar in the morning?
Somehow, it seemed that the hand of death had opened that door. Frank pictured the grim agent of destruction creeping in on the man as he slept, and accomplishing the dread work. It was not strange that the American youth again felt a chill in his warm blood. Frank asked if there had been anything queer in the behavior of the duke previous to his death, and was told that he had seemed rather odd and moody for a few days.
Then, with all the skill he could command, Merry sought to discover if there was a taint of insanity in the Laforce blood, but no one seemed to know that such was the case. The conviction that Edmond Laforce had met death at the hands of assassins, for all that he bore no mark of violence, grew upon Frank Merriwell.
And Frank began to feel that it was his duty to solve the mystery, if possible. Fate had connected him with the remarkable tragedy, and it would be cowardly not to accept the commission placed on his shoulders by chance. As Merry turned to leave the hotel, he noticed a man, who had been lingering near while he asked the questions. In a moment, he recognized the man in black, whom he had seen in the doorway opposite his hotel.
On the street, Frank walked briskly to the first corner. As he turned into the next street, he gave a quick backward glance. The shadower in black was coming!
Merriwell muttered the word. He knew there was a spy on his track. It was not a pleasant thing to think that it was possible he had been spotted by the Black Brothers. It was not a pleasant thing to think that it might be he had been marked as a victim.
Perhaps he would be the next to receive the blood-red star, the fearful symbol of death!
“I’ll make sure he is shadowing me,” thought Frank.
Then he quickened his steps, turning from street to street, boarded an omnibus, left it after a little for a cab, and left the cab at the Rond Point de l’Etoile, where he paused to gaze at the wonderful and awe-inspiring Arch of Triumph, the grandest triumphal arch ever constructed, which was erected in commemoration of Napoleon’s victories. For some minutes Frank quite forgot everything else in viewing the grand structure, situated at the union of twelve broad and beautiful avenues, “each of which sweeps away as grandly as the radiance of a search-light on the sky at night.”
It was not strange that, for the time, he forgot the black shadow that had been following him. He turned into the magnificent Avenue des Champs Élysées. Thoughtfully, he walked along, unmindful of the glittering show about him. He had fell to meditating once more on the mystery of the death of Edmond Laforce. Scarcely noting where he was going, he turned into a side street.
All at once, he turned square about, and stopped. Frank’s eyes were keen. At a distance, on the opposite side of the street, a man was buying a paper at one of the little kiosks at which newspapers are sold in Paris.
“It is the shadower!” muttered the American youth, with a strange, jumping feeling at his heart. “I have not been able to shake him! There is no doubt about it now—I am spotted!”
He returned to the hotel, making no further effort to throw the spy off his track. He found Browning lounging, smoking, and reading. Diamond and Rattleton had gone out. Ten minutes after entering his room, Frank approached the window, and looked out. In the doorway, on the opposite side of the street, was the same figure in black!
“What’s the matter?” asked the big fellow lazily. “I’m in a blamed comfortable position.”
“I want you to come to this window a moment.”
Grumbling somewhat, Bruce dragged himself up, and walked heavily across the room.
“What is it?” he asked.
Frank flung open the window.
“Look out,” he directed.
In the open window, Frank pointed straight at the man in the doorway. The man looked up, and saw him, but did not stir, or make an effort to conceal himself.
“Do you see that man down there, Bruce—the man in black, who is standing on those steps?”
“He’s a spotter.”
“He has followed me ever since I left this hotel this morning.”
“The dickens you say!”
“He was standing just where he stands now when I looked out this morning.”
“Well, what’s the matter with him? What’s he want?”
“I don’t know what he wants, but I know he has followed me everywhere. After I discovered it, I made an effort to throw him off.”
“No; not even when I dodged round corners, took an omnibus, and then deserted that for a cab.”
“Well, that’s queer!” he said. “Do you fancy he’s some ruffian Mart Brattle has hired to do you up?”
“Of course, I do not know who or what he is, but I do know he is a spy.”
“Well, we haven’t any particular use for spies, have we, Merriwell?”
“It doesn’t seem to me that we have.”
“Then I’ll just go down and wipe him off the face of the earth!” growled Bruce. “Rattleton said I needed exercise. This will give me what I need.”
“What will you do?”
“And get yourself into trouble. You will be arrested.”
“Well, are you going to let every sneak that wants to chase you around wherever you go?”
“I do not like it, but you must remember that I have no proof the man has chased me. When I have such proof, I’ll have him arrested for annoying me.”
“Better lead him to some good place where I can get at him. Say, Merry, get him to follow you down to the river, and I’ll throw him off a bridge. That’s what he needs—a good ducking will cool him off properly.”
“I have taken a fancy to corner him first, and demand to know why he has chased me. I think I’ll go down and do it.”
“I’m going with you.”
They descended to the street; but, when they reached it, the man in black had disappeared, nor could they find anything of him.
“He took the hint, and sneaked just in time,” muttered Bruce. “Oh, if I could have thumped him once!”
They lunched together, Rattleton and Diamond having failed to return to be with them. Wellington Maybe had gone to Versailles. The afternoon was spent in the Bois de Boulogne, and, although Frank looked for him often, no more was seen of the shadow in black.
At the hour that evening when he had agreed to meet Edmond Laforce in front of the Café de la Paix, Frank was there, sitting at the same little table. To save his life, he could not tell why he had come there. Something had seemed to draw him, and he came alone.
Thus far, he had said nothing to his friends and companions about his meeting with Laforce, and the strange things that followed. In part, he had promised secrecy to the dead man, and he knew he could not tell a part without revealing the whole, unless he placed himself in an awkward position. He sat there, watching the flow of life around that table, and thinking of the Black Brothers, the blood-red star, and the mysterious metal ball which might hold the fate of Dreyfus, and which lay safely in his pocket. He wondered when any one would call for that ball, if ever. How could any one know it was in his possession?
As he was thinking of this, a man paused a moment squarely in front of the table, looked straight at Frank, and spoke two words:
These words gave Frank a great start, for, despite all that had happened, they were most unexpected. But the sign that was to accompany the words was not given. The man did not cover his eyes with his hands.
Merry waited for this, and was about to speak, when the stranger added:
“Not here. Follow.”
Then he turned, and walked slowly away, not once looking back.
Frank hesitated. The signal had not been complete, nor had the man seemed to expect to receive anything there. It was plain he fully expected Frank would follow. Perhaps he had not wished to receive the metal ball there in that public place, and so he had given enough of the signal for Merry to understand, and follow him to a place more suited. Frank arose. As he did so, his hand slid round to his hip, where he felt a loaded revolver nestling in his pocket.
“It’s more than even chances I shall not need it,” he muttered; “but it is there, in case I do.”
He was half tempted to remove it to another pocket, from which it could be produced more easily and expeditiously, but, being aware he could not do this without being seen by those around, he refrained.
The man who had spoken to him was crossing the square, and Merry followed at a distance. The man turned into the Rue Auber, and still he did not look back. It seemed plain that he fully expected Frank to follow him without hesitation.
Merry felt that he was entering upon a most peculiar adventure, and he seemed to scent danger in the air. There was something mysterious and awesome about the affair. He felt that an unseen tie connected him with the wretched captive far away on a barren, rock-bound island, in the midst of a torrid sea. Perhaps, at that moment, he held the fate of Dreyfus in his grasp!
Frank was resolved that no man should receive the metal ball from him till he had first given the signal complete, as described by Edmond Laforce.
“Guard that tiny ball with your life,” the duke had said.
“I will!” Frank vowed.
The man he was following turned into another street, and still Merriwell followed him, on and on. After a time, the youth began to wonder if he had not been mistaken. Surely, the man would pause, or look back, if he had expected Frank to follow.
“Well, as long as I have pursued him thus far, I’ll keep it up,” Merry decided.
At last, the man stopped before a little shop, from the windows of which a light shone. Still without looking back, he lifted his hand, and pointed at the door of the shop. Then he entered. In front of that shop, Frank stopped. In his ear something seemed whispering a warning.
“If I am in danger,” he thought, “where is Mr. Noname, who has warned me so many times?”
And he actually looked around, as if expecting to see the Man Without a Name near at hand. Whether Frank was in danger or not, Mr. Noname did not appear.
“I have seen nothing of him since the night he led me out of the trap into which Mart Brattle had lured Browning and myself.”
And it really seemed that the strange man would appear if there was any great danger for Frank. Again Merry’s hand went back to his revolver. He took it from his hip pocket, and dropped it into a side pocket of the coat he wore.
“It’s ten to one I am making a fool of myself,” he said. “I am an American, and there is no reason why the Black Brothers should select me for a victim. I am not dangerous enough for them to feel that my life must come to an end.”
Then he entered the shop.
An old man, with spectacles set astride his nose, was in the front room. He bowed to Frank, saying softly:
“Monsieur, the gentleman waits for you in that room.”
He pointed to a narrow door that was standing open. It was plain now that Frank had not been deceived in following the man who had spoken to him before the Café de la Paix. That man had known he would follow, and the old man in the shop had expected him to enter.
Wondering what would happen next, Frank passed through the narrow door. The man he had followed was standing in the middle of the small room, beside a table, on which stood a lighted lamp. He bowed gravely as Merriwell appeared. He had a thin, sharp face, and a pair of unpleasant eyes.
“Monsieur,” he said, “justice calls!”
He held out his hand as he spoke.
Frank Merriwell looked him straight in the eyes for a moment, and then quietly said:
“Justice has often called in vain.”
He did not offer to take the little ball from his pocket and pass it to the man, for the signal was not complete. They stood there in silence, looking at each other, the young American cool and self-possessed, the Frenchman stern-faced and frowning. Frank fancied that the man showed disappointment.
Once more the stranger repeated the words:
Frank was tempted to turn his back, and walk out of the place without another word. He had vowed to hold fast to the little ball till the proper signal was given, and something seemed to tell him that this unknown man who sought possession of it had no right to claim it.
After some seconds, the stranger said:
“Justice should not call in vain to you, for you have what may give justice to one who is in sore need of it. Come, monsieur, I am waiting.”
“There is another who is waiting in an iron cage. It seems that the ways of justice are so slow that his short life may be spent in waiting.”
“Then you are his enemy?” cried the man.
“He has many enemies,” said Frank evasively.
“But you—you have been trusted as a friend.”
“Why should I be trusted? I am an American. He is nothing to me.”
“Do you speak the truth?”
“Why should he be aught to me? He is not a countryman of mine. If France sees fit to let him rot in his prison cage, what is it to me? It is her disgrace.”
The moment he spoke those final words, Frank was sorry, for he saw he had lost an opportunity to draw the man on by deceiving him into believing he had no sympathy with the captive of Devil’s Island. He had begun well, but deception formed no part of Frank Merriwell’s nature, and it was hard for him to repress his real feelings. A strange smile came to the face of the man. He shrugged his shoulders, and nodded.
“You are right—you are discreet, Monsieur American. It may be well for you to have a care, and take no interest in the captive of whom you speak, but you have been given a trust. I have come to relieve you of that.”
“When the right man comes, he may receive what he seeks. You have failed to convince me that you are the right man.”
Frank retreated a step toward the door, keeping his eyes on the man before him, and his hand near the hidden revolver. Now Merry knew he was in danger, for he was convinced that the stranger had no right to the metal ball that was said to hold in its heart the fate of Dreyfus.
The Frenchman fixed his piercing eyes on Merry, saying quietly:
“Wait a little. Let’s talk it over.”
“There is no more to be said.”
“You have what I seek. I have called for it, and I have given the signal.”
Frank was cool. He had slipped a hand into the side pocket of his coat, and his fingers gripped the butt of his revolver. The coolness of the American youth seemed to anger the other.
“You know I have!” he cried. “If you refuse to give it up, you are false to your trust!”
“If I gave anything to you, I should be false to my trust.”
“Because you are an impostor, a fraud!”
“Harsh words, Monsieur American!”
“But true. You know it. You thought to deceive me, but you have failed.”
“Oh, come,” purred the man in an oily manner. “Why is all this? I came to you in the manner that you expected one to come. I have done my part; do yours. Justice calls.”
“It is useless for you to repeat those words. From your lips, they are meaningless.”
Frank had retreated to the door. Now he placed a hand behind him, and made a discovery. The door was closed! It had swung quietly to behind him.
The Frenchman smiled into his face, and he realized that he was trapped!
BRUANT, THE STRANGLER.
Frank Merriwell removed his hand from his coat pocket, and his fingers gripped the butt of a revolver, on the shining barrel of which the lamplight glinted. At that moment, he felt disgusted with himself because he had walked into the snare, and yet it was not strange he had done so, for the failure of the man to give the complete signal before the Café de la Paix had seemed natural enough, considering the publicity of the place. Naturally, Merry had reason that he should follow the man to some more secluded spot, where the complete signal would be given, and he would surrender the precious ball, without being seen by eyes that should know nothing of its whereabouts. But now it seemed plain that the man knew no more than the words of the signal, and that did not make it complete. This being the case, Frank had no thought of giving up the tiny ball.
The door had closed softly behind him, and he was alone in that room with the man he had followed there. His hand found the knob of the door, and he satisfied himself that it was fastened. Again the Frenchman smiled into his face, a smile of craft and triumph.
“Monsieur should not hurry,” he said in his purring voice. “I am sure he will not hurry, for I wish to talk with him more.”
The man saw the revolver in Frank’s hand, but he seemed to heed it very little. Merry leaned against the door, crossing his feet. He was quite as cool as the Frenchman.
“Perhaps you are right,” he said. “I had thought to keep an engagement, but it is rather late, and it will make little difference if I do not appear. I shall make an excuse that I was in very detaining company.”
“Monsieur is skilful in the use of words, and he speaks French beautifully. One might almost believe him a Frenchman, from listening to his language. Won’t you sit down?”
The man motioned toward a chair near the table, on which stood the lamp, bowing politely.
“After you, monsieur,” said the American youth, with equal politeness, indicating another chair. “I do not like to sit with my back toward the door, for doors unexpectedly opened sometimes admit dangerous drafts.”
“It will not be politeness for me, as your host, to be seated first,” protested the man.
“Perhaps we had better disregard the matter of form on this occasion. There are times when it is not well to be too conventional. I pray you be seated first.”
“Very well; but I ask your pardon, in advance, for the breach.”
The man started to sit down.
“Not there, my dear friend,” said Frank. “Be kind enough to take the chair to the left.”
“As you like,” said the man, with a shrug of his shoulders.
He sat down; and then, still holding his revolver in his hand, Frank advanced to the table, and sat on the chair the man had first attempted to take.
“This is more comfortable,” said the Frenchman. “It distressed me to see you standing.”
“The ease with which you are distressed over the inconvenience of others does you great credit,” said Merry, with a curl at the corners of his lips. “Now we are seated, you are at liberty to say whatever you have to say.”
“Thank you,” bowed the man, placing his hands on the table before him, and leaning slightly toward Merry.
Frank noticed those hands for the first time. Although the fingers were long, they were also thick and muscular, and there was something about them suggestive of great strength. The man saw Merriwell looking at his hands, and a strange, chilling smile hovered on his face.
“What do you think of them?” he asked.
“Eh? Of what?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I saw you looking at them. Are they not very strong?”
“They seem to be.”
“They are. There are no hands in Paris like them. They are the most famous hands in all this city.”
Frank wondered what the man could mean by all this.
“What do I care about your hands!” he cried, forgetting for the moment his assumption of suavity. “I did not stop here to talk of them.”
“No, monsieur; you stopped here because the door was closed.”
“I believe you are right.”
The Frenchman bowed.
“I am sure I am right,” he said. “But I saw you looking at my hands. They attracted your attention. It is not strange. They are very strong. Look.”
He spread the sinewy fingers out till his hands looked like huge talons, and then he brought them slowly together, as if gripping something, and crushing it. There was something so horribly suggestive about this action that the lips of the American youth were pressed together, and there was a frown on his forehead.
“If I had something within the grasp of those fingers,” purred the man across the table, “they would close just the same. They can crush anything but iron, and that they can bend.”
“I beg your pardon,” said Frank impatiently. “Was it to boast of the strength of your hands that you induced me to stay?”
“I thought of telling you about it, my cool young friend from America. After I have told you all, we will talk of something else.”
The hands unclosed, and lay on the table. Surely, there was something fascinating about them, and Frank took his eyes from them with difficulty.
“Now,” said the Frenchman, in that same purring voice, “suppose that those hands were to close on a human throat, Monsieur American. What chance would the owner of that throat have to escape with his life? They would crush the windpipe, and end a human life with ease. I did not lie to you when I told you those hands were the most famous in all Paris. They have given me my name.”
Frank was silent.
“I have used those hands,” continued the man, “and I expect to use them again—perhaps to-night. They have felt human throats!”
Merriwell felt a creepy sensation stealing over him.
“Did you ever hear of Claude Bruant?” asked the man.
“Then you have not been long in Paris. I am Claude Bruant, but I have another name, given me in honor of the work these hands have done. I am more often called The Strangler!”
“A very pretty name for a man like you, and most appropriate,” said the American youth, with unruffled coolness. “I should say it fitted you very well. But there are ropes that strangle, as well as hands, and in France the guillotine is sometimes used by the executioner. Sometime you may discover how very beautifully it works!”
The lips of the man curled back from his teeth in a wolfish smile. The nerve of this youth, scarcely more than a boy, was too much for him. If he had thought to terrify Frank Merriwell, he realized now that he had failed utterly. For all of his anger and disappointment, which were betrayed by that wolfish smile, he could not help admiring the lad who had remained unruffled by all he had said.
That the American appreciated the situation was certain, for he had been keen to scent danger, and his language had shown that he possessed an unusually acute brain. The Strangler knew little of Americans, save what he had seen of them in Paris, and he had fancied that they could be intimidated with ease. He had expected to become more blunt and direct in his threats, but now he felt that it would be useless.
Still, he was angry, and further threats came rolling to his tongue without being summoned.
“You are very clever, Monsieur American!” he sneered; “but there is such a thing as being too clever. Do you know that?”
“Without doubt, you are right, Monsieur Strangler. You have shown considerable cleverness yourself, but you are bound to overstep the limit in time, and then——Well, you know.”
“Ah, monsieur, I fear you will not live to see that time!”
“There is no reason why I should not, for I am much younger than you.”
“Accidents will happen, you know. A strong hand, or two of them, might find the way to your throat.”
“I hardly fear there is danger of that. A bullet is much swifter than human hands.”
Frank smiled as he handled his revolver.
“And do you know how to shoot?”
“Monsieur, there is a fly crawling toward the lobe of your left ear. If you will permit me, I’ll guarantee to shoot him off without breaking the skin on your ear, and then there will be no flies on you.”
Frank rested his elbow on the table, and pointed the revolver at Bruant.
Instantly the man held up those fearful hands, with the palms toward the young American, saying:
“I beg you will not shoot! Not that I fear harm, of course; but that is a pet fly of mine, and he has a way of crawling to the lobe of my left ear every evening at about this hour. If you were to destroy him, I should miss him very much.”
“That being the case, I would not think of harming him for the world; but, if you will turn your head, I’ll agree to brush the dust from your eyebrows without ruffling them in the least.”
“Monsieur, it would be easy to hit a large mark across a table, but could you hit a small mark across a room?”
“I am willing to exhibit my skill. If you will hold a cigarette in your teeth, I think I may be able to clip it close to your lips, without knocking out a single tooth, or drawing blood.”
“That would be very good; but would you yourself dare make such a test?”
“It is an easy thing for you to learn. All you have to do is to take a cigarette in your lips, and stand against that door yonder.”
“Thank you, but I am certain you will not urge me to arise after I have assured you that I am much tired, not having slept well for several nights.”
“As you like. It was for your pleasure I proposed giving the exhibition of my skill. Under any circumstances, you should not doubt my ability to hit a man across a table.”
“Let us talk of other things.”
“As you choose,” bowed Frank, feeling well satisfied by what had passed between them.
“It is needless to waste words,” said Bruant.
Merry lifted his eyebrows.
“You make the discovery after a great many have been wasted,” he smiled.
“Now I will talk direct.”
“You have what I want.”
“Still you continue to waste words, for you told me that once before.”
“Well, monsieur, I tell you so again!” came rather sharply from the Strangler, his suavity beginning to break down before the coolness of the young American. “You have what I want. I led you here to obtain it from you.”
“You have been to considerable trouble.”
“And I am not to be baffled!”
“You may promise yourself that as much as you like, but you must seek no such assurance from me.”
“I promise you that! As truly as that door is closed, you shall not leave this room till it is delivered to me! On it the fate of a good man depends, and I must have it! Why attempt to baffle the efforts of justice by seeking to keep it?”
“Why attempt to deceive me, Monsieur Strangler? You are not the friend of justice, but of something quite different. There is no reason why I should deliver anything into your hands.”
“You value your own life?”
“That I will admit.”
“Then, that is reason enough.”
“I shall defend my life with this weapon. Further than that, what is to hinder me from compelling you to rise and escort me from this room? I have a weapon in my hand, and I can put a piece of lead through your body in a twinkling, if I choose. Were you to refuse, I might shoot you.”
“And that would be a serious thing for you.”
“Not in this case, which would be purely one of self-defense. By your words, it is evident that Claude Bruant, the Strangler, is known in Paris, and it would not matter much if one of his intended victims were to end his life. In fact, it seems probable that every honest man would rejoice, and the one who did the deed would be applauded, if not rewarded.”
“You have that matter reasoned out to your own satisfaction, I presume?”
“Well, let me tell you that the friends of the Strangler are within call. Were you to become careless with that pistol——”
“I should not give you time to call.”
“The report of the weapon would suffice. My voice would not be needed.”
“How many friends have you near?”
“Oh,” grinned Bruant, with a shrug of his shoulders, “there are enough—four or five.”
“Why are you so anxious to know?”
“Because this revolver holds six shots. That would be one for you and each of your five friends. I really think I had better begin on you, and let the others come along later. I’ll take them as they come!”
The astounded Frenchman began to fear that the American really contemplated carrying out the idea.
“Wait a little!” he urged. “You can save yourself trouble by handing over the article. When you have done that, you will be permitted to depart unharmed. I will guarantee that not a hand shall be raised against you.”
“You are very kind!”
“Then you will comply?”
“You refuse to give it up?”
“I have nothing to give you.”
At last, Bruant realized that the American could not be wheedled or frightened into handing over the metal ball. Indeed, all this talk had been a waste of words, and the anger in Bruant’s heart was intense. A sudden idea came to him. One thing he had not tried. Fool that he was, he had forgotten that all Americans are ready to sell their very souls for money!
The Strangler grinned with sudden satisfaction. He leaned on the table close by the lamp, lowering his voice.
“Monsieur American,” he said, “what you have is very valuable to me, and I am willing to pay for it. I was wrong in not coming to an understanding concerning its value at once. I will buy it from you, and you shall be well paid.”
There was a dark frown on the face of Frank Merriwell, and he looked as if he longed to dash his clenched fist into the evil face that was grinning at him with sudden satisfaction.
“You have made a mistake, Monsieur Strangler,” he said grimly. “I have nothing to sell you.”
“But, perhaps, you doubt that I will pay? Oh, I can give you positive assurance of that!”
“I do not need it.”
“I will bring the money here to this room, and place it on this table, before you.”
“Spare yourself the trouble.”
“It may be you doubt me? It may be you think I will bring you harm? Then we will both sit still, and I will call old Mezin to bring the money.”
“I tell you that you are giving yourself needless trouble.”
“Wait till I have named a price.”
“Bruant,” said Frank Merriwell clearly and distinctly, “you cannot command enough money to buy anything of me! Do you think I’d touch one coin of your crime-stained money! I should feel that every piece was dripping with the blood of Dreyfus!”
“Most Americans are not such fools!”
Bruant had quite lost control of his temper now, and he snarled the words.
“Most Americans cannot be bought with ill-gotten coin!”
“Then you absolutely refuse, at any price?”
They looked at each other across the table, defeat flushing the dusky face of the Strangler with black blood. There was nothing but utter fearlessness in the face of the young American.
The Frenchman turned his head toward the lamp, and gave a sudden great puff. Then, as it went out, plunging the room in darkness, he sprang to one side, and flung himself bodily across the table, his hands diving out in search of a human throat!
M. DE VILLEFORT.
Frank Merriwell’s movements had been equally swift. The instant the light went out, he swung his body far to one side, and thus it happened that Bruant’s hands grasped nothing when he made that savage clutch across the table. But the violence of his spring flung the table against Frank, who was unable to extricate himself, and over they went, with a crash, upon the floor.
A curse escaped the lips of the Strangler.
“You can’t escape my hands!” he hissed.
He caught hold of Merry, and it was wonderful how swiftly his hands leaped up to the throat of the young American, and fastened there. Frank felt that the supreme moment had come. He pushed the muzzle of his revolver against one of the fellow’s elbows, and fired upward. The bullet must have shattered the man’s arm, and the hold on Frank’s throat relaxed in a moment.
“Hereafter,” said the American youth, “you will do your strangling with one hand!”
A furious snarl of anger and pain came from the wounded wretch, and, striking out with his fist, judging well where to hit, Frank Merriwell struck Bruant down in the dark. Then, in a most remarkable manner, he found his way across the room to the door that had closed behind him when he entered. Satisfied he had reached the door, he flung his shoulder against it, and burst it open.
The old man in the front shop stared at him, open-mouthed.
“Monsieur,” said Frank quietly, “the man in the back room needs the services of a skilful surgeon.”
Then he walked out of the place, and no hand was raised to halt him. He was not a little surprised at the easy manner in which he had escaped, for he had expected to fight his way out of a nest of desperadoes.
Even after he was on the street, and walking swiftly from that spot, it did not seem possible he had been fortunate enough to get away so quickly, and with such little difficulty. On leaving the shop, he had returned the revolver to his pocket, as a man hurrying along the streets of Paris at night, with a loaded revolver in his grasp, is sure to attract considerable attention.
Just then attention was something little desired by Frank. He had been forced to use his revolver in self-defense, but he had not shot to kill. He felt sure he had simply broken the arm of the man who had clutched his throat. When it was all over, Frank wondered somewhat at his perfect tranquillity, for he was not shaking in the least.
In Paris, he had expected to rest, and enjoy life. He had fancied no dangers would beset him there, but he had found such dangers as he had seldom known, and his adventures were of the most sensational nature. When he was a little distance from the shop, he felt in his pocket, to make sure the precious metal ball was still there. His fingers found it, and he was well satisfied.
“Not till the right one comes will I part with it,” he muttered.
Now he felt certain the Duke of Benoit du Sault had spoken nothing but the simple truth when he claimed that in some manner the tiny ball might help to establish the innocence of the captive of Devil’s Island. No longer was he inclined to believe the duke mentally unbalanced. He was now willing to accept the story of the Black Brothers and the blood-red star. It was uncanny and weird enough, and still it aroused in him a desire to solve the mystery, and learn the whole truth.
Frank walked swiftly, now and then turning, to make sure he was not followed. Unstopped and unmolested, he made his way straight to the hotel. There he found Diamond and Rattleton, engaged in a game of pinochle, while Browning reclined on a couch, and filled the room with smoke. Tutor Maybe was sleeping soundly in bed, where he had been for some hours.
“Look here, Merriwell,” cried Rattleton, as Frank appeared, “this thing must stop!”
“That’s right,” grunted Browning, while Diamond looked at Merry reproachfully and accusingly, and said nothing.
“What’s the matter with you fellows?” asked Frank, with a smile.
“Looks happy, doesn’t he?” chuckled Rattleton, winking at Bruce.
“As a clam,” said the big fellow. “He must have had a very pleasant time this evening.”
“I have,” confessed Merry. “I have enjoyed myself exceedingly, I assure you.”
“The brazen creature!” gasped Rattleton. “My! my! but I never thought it of him!”
“Nor I,” came from the big fellow on the couch. “I say, Merry, what’s her name?”
“What’s who’s name?”
“Oh, don’t give us any of that!” said Harry. “It won’t go with this crowd!”
“I should say nit!” growled Bruce good-naturedly. “Own right up like a man. What’s her name? Is she an artist’s model? Oh, I’ll bet you’ve been over in the Quarter!”
“And only away from Elsie Bellwood such a short time!” said Diamond, more in reproof than in jest. “I did not think it of you, Frank!”
Frank laughed pleasantly.
“My dear boys,” he said, “you are off your trolleys.”
“Now, don’t tell us there isn’t a girl in it!” shouted Rattleton, flinging down his cards, and rising to his feet. “I have always regarded you as the soul of veracity, and I do not wish to lose faith in you now.”
“Remember, my dear boy,” said Browning in a fatherly way, “that you are in Paris—naughty Paris. You must have a care not to lose your veracity along with your other good qualities.”
“It is the second evening you have been out alone,” said Harry. “You are not in the habit of meandering around all by yourself in a strange city. You are a person who enjoys company.”
“I’m afraid he’s had company enough,” said Diamond soberly.
Now, when Frank thought of what had actually happened, and what his friends seemed to imagine had happened, he sat down and laughed most heartily.
“He’s becoming depraved fast!” exclaimed Rattleton. “He can laugh over it in a heartless manner.”
“Yes; he’s going to the dogs, sure enough!” grunted Bruce. “It’s a shame! He was able to withstand temptation till he came here to naughty Paris.”
“Boys,” said Diamond, “I’m afraid it’s no joking-matter.”
And that made Frank laugh still harder.
Wiping his eyes, Merry said:
“My dear Diamond, surely you have not been affected by the air of Paris? You are constant enough to Juliet, whom you left in England.”
Jack’s face turned crimson.
“Oh, that’s nothing serious!” he protested, scowling at Frank, and trying to make Merry understand that he did not wish too much said before the others.
But Harry and Bruce were quick to catch on, and they made it rather warm for Diamond for some minutes.
“Oh, you fellows think you are smart!” exclaimed the Virginian. “You are ready to turn from Frank any time, and pick at me, but you can carry it too far!”
“Take your medicine,” advised Browning. “Don’t fly off the handle. You must stand a little jollying, when your turn comes. You laughed with the others when the alarm-clock joke was worked on me.”
The boys tried to induce Frank to tell where he had been, but he kept them guessing, till, at last, Browning and Rattleton gave up in disgust, and went to bed. Frank was preparing to retire, when Diamond came and sat down near-by. Merry took the revolver from his pocket, wiped it out, and slipped a fresh cartridge into the cylinder. Jack regarded him curiously while he was doing this.
“Have you been carrying that around?” asked the Virginian.
“I took it with me this evening,” nodded Merry.
“And used it?”
“For what purpose?”
“I am not in the habit of using a pistol unless it is necessary.”
Diamond looked puzzled and troubled.
“See here, Frank,” he said, “you have been acting rather strange for a day or two.”
“Yes. What’s up?”
“Perhaps I may tell you sometime.”
“Merriwell, am I your friend?”
Frank turned about, and faced Diamond, who looked very grave and earnest.
“I sincerely hope you are, and I have every reason to believe so,” he said.
Jack was nervous.
“I have something to say to you,” he faltered.
“Well, old man, I am ready to listen. Go ahead.”
Plainly, it was not easy for the Southerner to begin. Frank was surprised to see Jack so embarrassed.
“I am ready to listen,” said Frank quietly. “Fire away, old man.”
“Merriwell, as I am your friend, I hope you will take in good part what I have to say.”
“Don’t fear about that, Jack. Go ahead.”
“I know Paris is a rather giddy place, and—and——” Jack paused, to clear his throat, flushing, and looking more embarrassed than ever. “There is something in the atmosphere here that seems to take hold of the most staid.”
“Yes; a fellow feels new life and buoyancy.” Frank wished to say something to encourage the Virginian, although he was wondering more than ever what his companion could be driving at.
“Yes. Some old men, who must be good, sober citizens at home, act in a most ridiculous manner as soon as they come here. I have seen some of them in this hotel. They are giddy, and they make me sick!”
“But I fail to see what connection this has with me.”
“Er——Oh, it doesn’t have any real connection, but——Why, what I want to say is, that you have—you have acted rather strange for a day or two.”
“You said that before.”
“I believe I did. Don’t you ever think of Elsie since coming to Paris, Frank?”
“But, you know, you have been so strange—you have taken to going out alone—and—and you haven’t seemed to want anybody to go with you, especially at night. Now, Frank, are you sure you have not been affected by the atmosphere here? Are you sure you think of Elsie as much as you should?”
Frank stared in open-mouthed amazement for some moments, and then he dropped on a chair, bursting into a hearty, ringing laugh.
“By Jove!” he cried. “I didn’t think that was what you were driving at, old man! I didn’t suppose you could really think such a thing of me! Oh, say, it’s too much! And you are all ready to give me a dose of fatherly advice! Oh, ha! ha! ha! Say, this is the funniest thing yet!”
Jack was crimson.
“Don’t!” he pleaded; “don’t laugh at me like that! Those fellows will hear you, and they’ll be rubbering around in a minute! Please don’t laugh, Frank!”
“How can I help it?” gasped Merry, trying to repress his mirth. “It is too ludicrous! And you really thought I must be running after a girl, or girls, because I have acted odd! Oh, Jack!”
“Well, now, you must confess that I had reasons. Rattleton and Browning think so, too.”
“Do they? Well, let them think. It makes no difference to me. I will take the trouble to tell you that nothing of the kind has happened. Don’t be silly, old man. I appreciate all the good advice you were about to give me, but it isn’t needed.”
Diamond felt decidedly awkward, but Frank put him at his ease with a few words. The Virginian apologized, but Merry assured him that apologies were not needed.
“Perhaps to-morrow, or the next day,” he said, “I may have something to tell you.”
“If you are in danger——” began Jack.
“One never knows when danger may come,” interrupted Frank.
“You seldom carry a revolver. When you do——”
“It is liable to be needed.”
“And you needed it to-night?”
“Rather. I used it.”
Merry would make no further explanation, and Diamond went to bed that night much mystified and not a little troubled.
It was not at all remarkable that Frank Merriwell did not sleep very well that night. Surely, it would have been remarkable if he had. His slumbers were broken by dreams of blood-red stars, men in black, and a pair of large, sinewy, evil hands. In his dreams, he fought again and again to keep those hands from his throat.
In the morning, his friends noticed that he looked worn and unlike himself. Diamond, perhaps, thought most of it, and he decided that Merry must be in some serious trouble. Jack longed to urge Frank to unbosom himself, but felt that it might be better to wait till Merry should do so of his own accord. After breakfast, Merriwell began pegging away at his studies, much to the satisfaction of Tutor Maybe. Browning, Diamond, and Rattleton went out for an “airing.”
Midway in the forenoon a card was brought Frank. On it was engraved the name, “Murat de Villefort.” Beneath the name was written, with a lead-pencil, “Justice calls!” Murat de Villefort proved to be a tall, slender, supple-appearing man, with a coal-black mustache and imperial. His face was rather harsh and stern, but his manners were pleasant and acceptable.
Frank surveyed the man critically, wondering if he could be another impostor.
“Monsieur Merriwell,” said the visitor, “I trust you will be glad of the opportunity to get rid of your charge.”
“Of what do you speak?” asked Frank evasively.
“I speak of that for which I have called.”
“You will have to speak still more plainly, monsieur.”
“Excuse me,” said M. de Villefort coldly. “I fear you are demanding too much. You have but to discharge your duty, and deliver it into my hands.”
“When I am certain it will be discharging my duty, I may deliver the ‘it’ of which you speak. You are not the first who has sought it.”
“I am not?”
“But you have not let it go?” cried the man in apparent alarm. “Don’t tell me you have let it pass from your hands! Mon Dieu! If you have, all is ruined!”
He seemed very sincere in his alarm.
“I assure you that nothing passes from my hands till I am certain it passes into the possession of the proper person.”
De Villefort seemed relieved. He drew a deep breath, saying:
“I feared for a moment that you had been deceived into giving it up to some impostor.”
“Impostors do not succeed very well with me, monsieur.”
“You are very shrewd, Monsieur Merriwell,” bowed the Frenchman, in a flattering manner. “It was fortunate for justice that you were chosen as the guardian of such treasure.”
“Thank you. Then you know nothing of my encounter with one who sought to obtain it from me?”
“Nothing, monsieur. When did this happen?”
“Last night. In a little shop not far from Gare St. Lazare.”
“And were you given the sign?”
“One who called himself Claude Bruant, and claimed to be known as the Strangler.”
De Villefort started.
“The Strangler?” he cried. “A desperate wretch, who has been well paid by the enemies of justice to do their vile work! And you escaped his hands?”
“I am here.”
“I see. It is remarkable. You are very wonderful. How did you escape?”
“With the aid of this,” said Merry, quietly taking his revolver from his pocket. “I doubt much if the Strangler ever has much use of one of his hands again, as I shattered his arm with a bullet.”
Again De Villefort complimented Frank in a most profuse manner.
“Justice owes you a greater debt than it can ever repay,” he declared. “If the captive of Devil’s Island ever escapes, it may be that he will owe his salvation to you.”
“You are complimentary, indeed, M. de Villefort. I assure you, I appreciate your words very highly.”
And still Frank made no move to deliver the little ball into the man’s hands, for De Villefort had not given the complete signal. The man held out his hand.
“Now, I presume, you will answer the call of justice, Monsieur Merriwell.”
Frank smiled coolly.
“Perhaps as I answered it last night.”
De Villefort frowned.
“This is no time for delay,” he said sternly. “With me, time is precious.”
“Thus far, then, you have wasted it,” declared Frank, growing more and more suspicious.
All at once, as if struck by a sudden thought, the Frenchman flung out his hand, with a strange gesture. An instant later, he lifted that hand to his eyes, saying:
It was the signal, and, at last, it had been given correctly. It came as a surprise to Frank, for he had begun to believe that De Villefort would fail to give it. Merry hesitated, for, even though the signal had been given, he felt a strange reluctance to part with the precious ball delivered into his hands by the dead Duke of Benoit de Sault.
The Frenchman lowered his eyes, and stood looking at the youth expectantly, commandingly. Slowly, Frank felt in his pocket for the precious ball. He felt a great desire to know what secret it contained that might serve to bring justice to the wretched prisoner of Devil’s Island.
Merry drew the metal ball from his pocket, and the eyes of De Villefort glittered strangely when he saw it. The man seemed to be holding himself in check.
“Here it is,” said Frank regretfully. “I have thought that I should be glad to get rid of it, but now I part with it most reluctantly, I confess.”
Then he looked up suddenly, and surprised that strange, crafty, triumphant look in the glittering eyes of the Frenchman. It gave Frank a shock. It was as if some one had shouted into his ears, “Beware—beware! He is fooling you!” Frank had been on the point of delivering up the mysterious ball, but now he hesitated.
De Villefort became aware that something had aroused the suspicions of the shrewd American. And then, like a flash, the Frenchman’s arm darted out, and his fingers snatched the ball from Frank! That act told Frank Merriwell as plainly as words that the man had no right to the tiny sphere.
“Thank you, Monsieur Merriwell!” cried Murat de Villefort triumphantly. “You have guarded the treasure well, and you may be consoled to know it has reached good hands at last.”
He laughed outright, and that laugh was as if he had struck Merriwell between the eyes. It removed the last doubt from Frank’s mind. Although the man had given the signal, he had no right to the metal ball. The precious sphere had fallen into the hands of the enemies of Dreyfus!
That ball had brought nothing but trouble and danger to Frank, and almost any other person would have felt gladness to get rid of it, especially as he could know he had fulfilled his promise to the dead duke. Not so Frank Merriwell. In an instant flashed before his eyes a vision of the poor wretch on the burning rock of Devil’s Island, doomed to spend the remainder of his days there, just because that tiny ball had fallen into hands for whom it was never intended!
That was enough.
Murat de Villefort had been swift in his movements, but Frank was equally swift. He sprang upon the man, with the fierceness of a panther. Then began a sharp and terrible struggle for the possession of the tiny ball.
“Give it up!”
“I’ll take it!”
In a very few moments, M. de Villefort was astounded by the strength of the American youth, who seemed scarcely more than a boy. Once his fingers had closed on the ball, the man believed it safe in his possession, but he soon realized that he must fight if he would retain it, and he must fight as never before had he fought. Grappled in each other’s embrace, the men swayed and staggered about the room. They struck against pieces of furniture, which they upset. They glared into each other’s eyes, and panted as they fought.
Frank had clutched the man’s wrist, and his object was to pin De Villefort against the wall, and force him to return the ball. But the Frenchman was slippery, and it was not easy for Merry to carry out his plan. However, De Villefort had not the endurance to stand against the American youth, and he soon realized that his strength must give out, while Frank seemed as fresh and strong as at first.
“Fool!” panted the Frenchman. “I gave you the signal!”
“By accident, perhaps.”
“You know that is not possible!”
“And I know you have no right to the ball!”
“You are mad! Do you wish to share the fate of the Duke of Benoit du Sault?”
“His fate? Why, the papers say he died a natural death!”
“He died as others have died—and as you may die!”
“Now I know you have no right to the ball! Now I know you are not the friend, but the enemy, of justice! You shall not leave this room with the ball!”
De Villefort made a furious effort to tear himself from Frank’s grasp, panting as he struggled:
“You may force me to use a dagger!”
“If you try it, I’ll give you an arm to match that of your friend Claude Bruant, the Strangler!”
“What is it to you, fool of an American! Is it possible you are one who is working to bring disgrace on France?”
“No! France has already disgraced herself!”
Villefort found he could not get away. He was desperate when Frank finally forced him up against the wall. Twisting his wrist free, he lifted his hand, and slipped the tiny ball into his mouth. Immediately, Frank realized what the man meant to do.
He intended to swallow the little ball!
Quickly, Merry clutched De Villefort by the throat, pinning him with all his strength against the wall, and holding him there, so that he could not swallow. The Frenchman tried to tear that hand from his throat, but he could not do it. Frank’s fingers seemed made of iron, and they sank into the man’s throat till there came a cracking sound beneath them.
De Villefort’s mouth opened, and the tiny ball came out with his protruding tongue. Frank caught it skilfully.
“Thank you!” he said with mocking politeness.
Then he took his hand from the Frenchman’s throat, and stepped back, releasing him. Like a limp rag, De Villefort slid down the face of the wall to the floor, on which he dropped softly, gasping in the most painful manner for breath. Frank slipped the ball into his pocket, retreating a few steps. With absolute coolness, he stood watching the gasping Frenchman.
Murat de Villefort glared at him, with terrible hatred. He made a gurgling sound in his throat, but his words, if words he tried to speak, were inarticulate.
“It is a shame to choke a man so hard, unless the job is finished,” said Merry, with his hands resting on his hips. “I do not like to resort to such extreme measures, but, in this case, you forced me to, monsieur.”
De Villefort seemed to gnash his teeth. He dragged himself up to a sitting posture, with his back against the wall, and sat there, rubbing his throat, and breathing with a rasping sound.
“I trust you will be all right in a short time, monsieur,” continued the youth from across the ocean, “so that I may have the extreme satisfaction of kicking you out of this room. Nothing can give me more pleasure, I assure you, than to kick you with all the violence I can command.”
“You—you whelp!” panted the man against the wall.
“You were very polite a short time ago,” said Frank. “Even then, it seemed to me that your politeness was artificial. The real ruffian showed through the veneering.”
“Fool!” gurgled the Frenchman, once more.
“I came near being fooled,” admitted Frank; “but I tumbled to you just in time. I wish you to make as much haste as possible, for I do long to kick you!”
“Your end will come soon!”
“Not till I have delivered the ball into the proper hands, I trust.”
“That ball will destroy you!”
“What, after the wretched failures made by the Strangler and yourself? Oh, I am beginning to enjoy this, I assure you. I had thought Paris rather tame, but you have made it seem real lively, and have added zest to my visit here.”
De Villefort was at a loss for words. Never in all his life before this day had he encountered a person like this cool American lad. He realized now that Frank Merriwell was something more than a boy—was something more than an ordinary man.
“Come!” cried Frank commandingly; “get up! You are able to do so now.”
Merry walked to the door, and flung it open. With some difficulty, De Villefort struggled to his feet, aided by the partition. He sidled toward the door in a manner that was rather laughable, and Frank followed him up.
“You shall shed tears of blood for this!” snarled the Frenchman.
“All right,” cheerfully said Merry. “I’ll lay in a fresh supply of handkerchiefs, so that I may be ready for the sorrowful occasion.”
“Your life shall be the forfeit!”
“Oh your threats are becoming tiresome! Walk out of the room like a man, not like a whipped dog. You are not giving me a fair chance to kick you.”
But the Frenchman suddenly turned, and ran out of the room so swiftly that Frank had no chance to kick him. Frank closed the door, with satisfaction.
When the boys returned, they were somewhat surprised to find Frank in rare spirits. He laughed and joked with them in his old-time manner, and again they were the jolly party of Yale students that had started out to “do” London and Paris. The struggle in Frank’s room had not disturbed Wellington Maybe, and no one in the hotel besides Merry himself knew anything about it.
Mr. Maybe complimented Frank on the manner in which he had stuck to study on the forenoon of such a beautiful day. Maybe took his meals in the hotel, but the boys were in the habit of eating wherever they chose, and their search after novelty took them to many places.
Browning, who was a great eater, told of a little café he had found, where they had some rare dishes, and where the cooking was of a high order. His tale aroused the hungry boys so that they all demanded to be taken to the place at once.
It proved to be a rather modest little restaurant on a side street. There was something of a bohemian air about the place, and a number of stout, red-faced men were eating there.
The boys had a table by themselves, and they settled down to order almost everything on the bill of fare. Browning declared that his morning walk had made him hungry enough to dine off a fried boot, or any old thing of the sort. While they were waiting, they chatted and told stories, after their usual wont. There was more or less chaffing, and Frank seemed to have a streak of wit, for everything said seemed to give him an opportunity for a play of words.
At last, the food came on, and Browning could scarcely remain seated when he obtained a whiff. The dishes were arranged on the table, and the waiter departed for something that had been omitted from the order.
“Well, you can bet I’m going to begin the demolishing!” exclaimed Browning. “Oh, say! I won’t do a thing to this!”
And then, just as Frank was on the point of speaking, something seemed to fall, with a jingling sound, on his plate. Diamond bent forward, to see what it was.
“Rubber!” grinned Rattleton. “Sit up straight, and perhaps one will fall in your plate.”
“What is it?” grunted Bruce. “Sounded like a piece of money. Are they beginning to throw money at us?”
“If so, with his usual luck, Merry gets the first piece,” said Harry.
As for Frank, he saw what had fallen on his plate, and lay square in the middle of the white surface. It was a blood-red star!
At it Frank stared for a moment, and then he leaped to his feet, and looked around, to see from whence it came. First, he looked up at the ceiling, but it did not seem possible it had fallen from there. Then he looked in other directions. At the nearest table sat two old men, who were eating busily, and talking quite as busily as they ate. They seemed utterly absorbed in their own affairs, and both were laughing at a story one of them had lately told. The other people in the place were eating and talking in a similar manner, and not one seemed to be noticing the four American lads at the table in the corner.
Frank sat down, and his face was very pale. He stared at the red symbol of death that lay on his plate, and he thought how the terrible sign had come to the doomed Duke of Benoit du Sault. He doubted not for an instant that the star had been intended for him.
Ten days of life had been given to him, and then, if he were not beyond the borders of France—death! And was it certain that death could be escaped by fleeing from the soil of France?
About the mystery there was something to chill the stoutest heart, and it was not strange that Frank Merriwell turned pale when he saw that crimson star lying on his white plate. It would have been different if there had been any way to fight the horrible doom that seemed to creep with absolute certainty upon every person who received the blood-red star.
It seemed, however, that the only resort a person had, on receiving the star, was to fly from France without delay—to get as far from the terrible Black Brothers as possible. On the star were the words, “Ten days,” and a drawing of the guillotine.
Diamond reached to take it from Merry’s plate, but Merry caught him by the wrist, saying in a strained voice:
“Don’t touch it!”
Frank’s tone caused every one at the table to stare at him.
“What’s the matter?” asked Jack, astonished. “No one here but me shall touch it,” declared Frank. “It was meant for me.”
“Huah!” grunted Browning. “Never knew him to be so greedy before. Who wants your old star, anyhow? Keep it, and eat it, if you want it!”
He continued eating. Diamond, however, knew something was wrong. He saw the sudden change that had come over Frank, and his heart was filled with alarm.
What did it mean? He was unable to answer his own question.
“I did not mean to take it,” he said. “I was simply going to look at it.”
“You shall not touch it!”
Now Rattleton was attracted by the change in Merriwell.
“Is it so valuable?” he asked.
“It is deadly!” said Frank. “It is the symbol of murder and bloodshed!”
“Boo!” said Browning. “Throw it away!”
“No,” said Merry, taking the star from his plate and putting it into his pocket. “It was meant for me, and I accept it. It is a challenge from the Black Brothers!”
Even Browning lifted his head and stared at Merry.
“Dut the whickens—no, what the dickens is the matter with you?” exclaimed Rattleton. “What are you talking about, anyhow?”
Of Frank’s companions, Diamond was the only one who seemed to have any realizing sense of the fact that the dropping of the red star on Frank’s plate was an incident of deep significance. He was trying to read Frank’s face, and what he saw there filled him with alarm. Surely this great change in Merry meant something. A few moments before, Frank had been the jolliest one of the party; now he was pale and stern, with a strange light gleaming in his eyes. His mouth was set together till the blood was forced from his lips, and a deep shadow had fallen on his face.
Jack felt in his heart that, in some manner, that red star was connected with the trouble into which Frank had fallen. But not even Diamond could imagine for one moment the terrible meaning of it all.
“A star,” grunted Browning. “Merriwell has been a star all his life, and so it is natural they should begin to throw stars at him now.”
And he kept on eating.
“Come, fellows,” said Frank to Jack and Harry, “aren’t you going to eat?”
“When you do,” said the Virginian.
Frank prepared to begin, and the others did likewise; but Diamond, watching Merry covertly, decided that it was a poor meal Frank would eat that morning. He was right. Frank tried to force himself to eat, but the food was tasteless, and it seemed to choke him. He kept up a pretense of eating till at last he fell into a brown study, staring at the table.
He took out the red star and looked it over and over. Diamond nudged Rattleton and nodded toward Merry significantly. Harry, who had an opportunity, leaned closer, so he could see what was on the star.
Browning was the only person who did justice to the food before him. The big fellow was so hungry that he declared he should have continued eating if a star from the skies had fallen on the table. At last it was over. Frank paid the bill, and they left the restaurant.
Diamond longed to ask questions, but refrained. Browning, however, attempted to chaff Merriwell about the star, but discovered that Frank did not seem to hear anything he was saying, and gradually closed up, aware at last that something was wrong. They had not walked far from the restaurant before Frank suddenly wheeled and looked round.
On the opposite side of the street, which in that quarter happened to be rather deserted, a man dressed all in black was walking slowly in the same direction as the American lads.
“The black shadow is again on my heels!” muttered Frank.
IN THE BROTHERHOOD’S POWER.
“I want to quest you an askion—I mean, I want to ask you a question,” said Rattleton, speaking to Diamond one evening four days later.
They were alone in a room at the hotel where they were stopping.
“All right,” said the Virginian gloomily. “Ask away, but I don’t know that I’ll be able to answer it.”
“What I’d like to know,” said Harry, “is what ails Frank Merriwell.”
“Well, you have come to the wrong place to find out,” said the Virginian.
“You know something is the matter with him?”
“Yes, anybody can see that.”
“Even Browning knows it now.”
“I have known it for some time, and I have tried to find out, but I might as well not.”
“He has been so queer since the time when that red star fell on his plate in the restaurant.”
“He was queer before that. He had not been like himself in two days.”
“But he was not as he is now.”
“No,” confessed Jack.
“Now he talks of a black band of assassins, a metal ball that holds the fate of Dreyfus, and of the time between the falling of the red star and the death that must follow. By Jove! Diamond, I am afraid something is the matter with Merry’s upper deck!”
“You mean that his mind is affected?”
“Yes. What do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think.”
“And he has not remained in the hotel much of any but a little while nights since the star came to him.”
“And one night he did not come in till three o’clock in the morning. Oh, yes, it is strange!”
“He never smiles any more. He is like a man contemplating death.”
“Or fighting it. There is a look of determination on his face, and he has said over and over that he must bring the Black Brothers to their end before ten days expire, or come to his own end. Now, who in the name of all things mysterious are the Black Brothers?”
“Ask me an easy one. I didn’t come to you to answer questions, anyhow!”
“He does not sleep,” declared Diamond. “Night after night I awakened repeated, only to find him wide-awake. Perhaps he will be pacing the floor, but even if he is in bed, I discover he is wide-awake. He acts as if he feared some terrible danger, and yet sought to overcome it.”
“But why doesn’t he tell us about it?”
“That’s it,” nodded Harry; “why doesn’t he? It’s not like him to be so secretive.”
“Surely he can trust some of us, if he can trust anybody. I have tried to find out something from him, and I have failed.”
“He has said several times that he will tell soon, but soon has not come yet.”
“I move that we get hold of him and make him tell.”
“If you will suggest a way by which we may force Frank Merriwell to talk when he has resolved to keep his mouth shut, your suggestion will be worth considering.”
They stared at each other in silence, puzzling over the strange affair.
“He clings to that star,” muttered Diamond. “But that is not all, for I have seen him staring at a small metal ball, which he kept turning over and over in his fingers. He seemed to be hypnotized with the thing. Once I asked him what the thing was, and what do you suppose he answered?”
“Give it up. You tell.”
“Justice! Now tell me what he meant by that, if you can! Tell me why that tiny ball should contain justice!”
“Don’t!” cried Harry. “Didn’t I say I came to ask you questions? Here you are shooting them at me one after another.”
“Well, I’ve longed to shoot them at somebody for some time.”
“I am beginning to fear it’s really true that Frank is going daffy! You know there’s something queer about his father and mother. It’s said his father was a most eccentric man, and his mother was a delicate little woman. Frank has been altogether too brilliant! I’m afraid, Diamond, that our comrade is getting nutty.”
“I won’t believe it!” exclaimed the Virginian, in hot rebellion at the thought. “I won’t believe that splendid fellow can be destroyed in such a manner! I won’t believe that brilliant mind can be clouded! Don’t speak of it again!”
“You will not believe, and yet you fear. Where do you suppose he is now?”
“I haven’t the least idea.”
At that very moment Frank Merriwell was a helpless captive in the hands of the dreaded Black Brothers!
Around Frank Merriwell were stone walls. He was standing in the midst of a cellar, with his back bound to a pillar. At one end of the cellar was a wooden door; at the other end was a flight of stairs. Around Frank stood seven men, all dressed in black cloaks and hoods.
Frank had made a desperate attempt to hunt down the Black Brothers, but the result had been that he had fallen into their clutches. But a few moments before he had been bound to the pillar. His hat and coat were gone, for he had not succumbed without a struggle. The leader of the band stepped forward.
“At last, my brothers,” he said, in a deep voice, “we have captured the one most dangerous to us and to the honor of France. He is in our power, and we can destroy him.”
“We can,” said the others, in unison.
“But first,” said the chief, “we must find on him the precious ball that contains one-half of the torn document that proved the innocence of Dreyfus.”
At last Frank knew what the metal ball contained. The chief began to search Merry, and he soon found the ball and brought it forth. A muttering exclamation of triumph and satisfaction escaped the lips of the others as their leader held up the tiny ball.
“Here it is!” he cried. “At last the fate of Dreyfus is in our grasp!”
There were exclamations of satisfaction.
“I will open it,” said the chief. “The paper shall be removed and destroyed at once.”
He examined the ball closely and then pressed hard on a certain spot. Immediately it flew open in his hands!
Then there was a cry of anger and fury from the lips of the man.
“A thousand fiends!” he shouted. “It is empty!”
The hollow ball did not contain the torn paper they had expected to find!
“Empty?” gasped the others.
“Yes! It has been opened, and the paper has been removed!”
The captive bound to the pillar laughed. They turned on him in fury.
“You found the way to open the ball, and you removed the paper!” snarled the chief. “Tell us where it is, you American meddler!”
“You are entirely wrong,” coolly said Frank. “I am certain the ball has not been opened since it came into my possession, and I know nothing of the paper it contained.”
“I am not lying.”
“What shall we do with him, brothers?” asked the chief.
There was a sudden swishing ring of steel, and seven bright swords came leaping from their scabbards into the hands of their owners.
“We must destroy him!” said the hooded band.
Seven swords were pointed at Frank’s breast.
“For the honor of France he must die!” declared the chief. “When I have counted to three, each man shall plunge his sword through the captive’s body!”
He was not given an opportunity to count. There came a sudden thundering and hammering at the door. Then there was a summons to open in the name of France.
“The gendarmes!” gasped the Black Brothers. “They have tracked us here! They have located us at last!”
Bang! bang! bang!
The hammering at the door was furious and terrible.
Crash!—the door was falling!
In a moment the seven members of the murderous band took to flight, escaping from the cellar by the other door, and when the officers came swarming down the stairs, they found no one to arrest, but were greeted politely and cheerfully by the young American who stood with his back bound against a pillar in the middle of the cellar.
Frank’s adventures preceding his incarceration in the cellar, from which he was rescued by the gendarmes, can be briefly told. As soon as he realized that the Brothers had doomed him to death, and that his every move was shadowed, he set himself earnestly to the task of hunting down the band of assassins.
First he went to the police, and told the story of the mystery connected with the death of the Duke of Benoit du Sault, omitting all mention of the metal ball which he knew would be taken from him if he mentioned its existence. His story was laughed at by the police. They seemed to regard him as a crank, a person deranged, or one seeking notoriety, and treated him with small courtesy.
His reception at the hands of the police was so discouraging that if he were not filled with the purpose to render every aid in his power, under the present circumstances, to the poor prisoner of Devil’s Island, he would have been disheartened. He made an attempt to locate the band, in order to lay before the police absolute evidence of such an organization, and thus it happened, while working on the case alone, he fell into the hands of the dreadful seven, and was taken captive to the cellar.
When the force of gendarmes rushed in, there was Frank bound to the pillar. The capture of the conspirators, rather than the rescue of their late prisoner, seemed to be their purpose. Pausing to question as to the direction of the flight of the Brothers, they made off in pursuit without making the least effort to release the captive from his bonds.
Down the stairs came a man who walked with dignity, but who was followed by a wildly excited youth. The youth was Jack Diamond. The man was the mysterious Mr. Noname.
“Here he is,” quietly said the Man Without a Name, as he caught sight of Frank.
Jack gave a shout of joy and rushed forward.
“Frank, are you alive?”
“Sure thing,” laughed the nervy young American. “But the gendarmes came at just the right moment. If they had delayed ten seconds longer, you’d have found me with seven large holes in my skin.”
“I brought them here,” said Mr. Noname.
“Then I again owe you my life,” came with genuine thankfulness from Merriwell. “The debt is getting pretty heavy, sir.”
“There is no debt. I have told you I am your good genius. You must believe me now.”
“I do! I have believed you for some time. But how can I repay you for——”
“There is nothing to be repaid. Some day you shall understand what seems so mysterious now.”
Diamond was hastening to set Frank free. The Virginian knew better than to question him then and there.
“Thank you,” said Merry, as he stepped away from the pillar, rubbing his arms to start the circulation. “This is much better. That position was becoming painful.”
“Where are the devils who brought you here?” hissed Jack.
“They took to flight when the gendarmes began hammering at the door up there. There was another way out of the cellar, and the officers are after them.”
“The officers will not capture them,” announced Mr. Noname. “My mission is complete now that you have been saved.”
Frank seized the strange man’s hand and wrung it warmly. A thrill shot over him at the touch. It was a most peculiar sensation, and afterward, when he thought about it, he wondered much.
“Again I must thank you!” said the young American, with deep feeling. “I do not understand how it is that you always arrive in time to save me.”
“There is an unseen tie between us. When you are in danger, I am drawn to you by a power which no man may measure. I feel your peril, and I hasten to your aid. The stars may fade into endless night, and the sun may turn to ashes, but death alone can break the bond between us!”
Strange words, like those that fall from the lips of a person demented, and yet they impressed Frank Merriwell. Somehow, he felt that there really was a bond that held this man of mystery and himself linked together.
“Let’s follow the police!” urged the Virginian. “Let’s help hunt down those devils!”
The command came from the lips of Mr. Noname.
“Let them go,” said the man. “You cannot do any good.”
“Let them go!” panted Jack. “Let them get off after they have nearly murdered my friend! Well, I’m not built that way! If I can do anything to bring them to justice, you bet I’m going to do it!”
“That is well enough, but you can do nothing.”
“How do you know?”
“I know! The officers will not capture one of them. In a little while, they will return here. If Mr. Merriwell is here, they will take him into custody, perhaps. They will ask him a hundred questions. They will throw a cloud of suspicion over him. They will not believe the story he tells them. They will have him shadowed when he is set at liberty, if he is set at liberty. In short, they will make life in Paris rather unpleasant for him.”
“And you advise—what?”
“That we all get out of here at once, before the officers return.”
“But there are others on guard outside this building,” said Jack.
“I know a way to pass them.”
“He is right,” decided Frank, remembering his unpleasant experience with the police. “Come.”
“Just as you say,” said Diamond regretfully; “but I’d like to help mob those whelps.”
They mounted the stairs and clambered over the broken door, following the Man of Mystery. Above they were in darkness, but he led them on. Their feet awoke the echoes of empty rooms and corridors. They passed through doors and made many turns. At last they stopped. Barely had they done so when, somewhere in the darkness, a voice was distinctly heard to say:
“The decree is made, the red star has fallen, and Frank Merriwell is doomed to die!”
The words were distinctly spoken, but it was impossible to tell from whence they came. Jack Diamond gripped Frank’s arm.
“Do you hear?” he whispered.
A scornful laugh came from Merriwell’s lips.
“I hear,” he said derisively; “but who fears a coward who lurks in the darkness and spends his breath in threats! It is nothing.”
Then, once more, the voice spoke:
“The days from the falling of the red star till the time of death are ten, and they are passing!”
Immediately Frank cried:
“Before the ten days are over, the last of the assassin band of Black Brothers shall meet his just deserts!”
“That is right,” came solemnly from the lips of the Man of Mystery. “The end of the brotherhood is near!”
These words were spoken in French, and the Man Without a Name seemed to command the language without an accent to mar his pronunciation. Following his words, silence reigned in the old building.
“Let’s get out!” muttered Diamond, who feared no enemy he could see, but who now felt, despite his courage, a strange chill stealing through his veins.
The man who was leading them found and opened a door. When they had passed through, he barred the door behind them, and again led them on till they stood beneath the open sky. Then, when Frank turned to speak to the Mystery, who seemed to have halted to fasten the last door, he found the man had vanished. The door was closed, and Mr. Noname was not with them!
“Gone!” exclaimed Frank.
“Where?” gasped Jack.
Merry tried the door, but it would not move.
“That must explain it,” he said. “He stepped back through that door, and closed it behind him.”
“You know as well as I.”
“Don’t say that! This whole affair is a mystery to me. I do not understand any part of it. You have puzzled me for days by your strange actions. I knew something was going wrong. To-night, when I could stand it no longer, I left the hotel, meaning to walk and think. Almost immediately I ran upon this man who is known as Mr. Noname. He told me you were in great peril. How did he know that?”
“How does he know about so many things? You can answer the question quite as well as I.”
“He led me here, and we found the officers ready to break in. It seemed that he had told them of your peril, and informed them where to find you. He showed them how to enter the building and reach the door at the head of the cellar stairs. Why, he seems to know almost everything!”
“He is a marvel,” said Frank. “Whoever and whatever he is, I owe him my life several times over. I shall not forget that.”
“Why doesn’t he come out and tell us who he is? Why does he act in such a remarkable manner?”
“You can ask a hundred questions about him that I cannot answer. The only thing of which I am absolutely certain is that he is my friend.”
“Are you absolutely certain of that?”
“Of course I am! Why do you ask such a question?”
“Because I do not believe you can be certain of anything in connection with that man.”
“Something tells me he is crazy, and a crazy man cannot be trusted.”
“I have every reason to believe he may be trusted fully and completely, and I shall continue to trust him.”
“Of course you will do as you like about it, Frank.”
To this Merry said nothing in reply, and the two young Americans made haste to get away from that vicinity. Not far away they found a Jew’s shop, where Merry procured a coat and hat.
On the way to the hotel, Jack said:
“Don’t you think it is about time to trust me, Frank?”
“I do trust you, old man.”
“You are wrong.”
“You have not trusted me of late.”
“In what way?”
“You have had a secret from me. You cannot deny me.”
“Even that is not proof that I do not trust you.”
“Then you confess you have had a secret?” cried the Virginian eagerly.
“I knew it!”
“But it has been a secret from all my friends, as well as you.”
“Still you did not dare to trust me!” came reproachfully from Diamond’s lips.
“That was not my reason for keeping the secret from you, Jack.”
“What was the reason, then?”
“I was pledged to secrecy. I had promised to keep it for a time, and you know Frank Merriwell never breaks his word.”
“I know that, old man, but——”
“Come into this theater, Jack, and I will tell you all about it.”
They had reached the brilliantly lighted Champs-Élysées, where the theaters were in full blast, even at that hour. The sound of music and singing came from the tree-bowered region beyond the archway of a door, and Diamond followed Merry to the ticket-office. Frank purchased tickets, and they passed through into the garden, where hundreds of people were seated beneath the trees, gathered in groups around little tables, drinking cooling beverages, chatting, laughing, and seeming to pay very little heed to the singer on the distant stage. A breath of cool air, the scent of flowers, and the tinkle of water fountains added to the charm of the place. The shadows were above the trees, which shut off the electric lights from the sky. The boys had visited this particular café-chantant before, and they soon found a table where they could sit and talk without disturbing anybody. The orchestra sawed away when the singer had retired, and then two black-face “comedians” came out with banjos, and prepared to inflict a “turn” on the unresenting spectators.
“Just like a roof-garden act in New York,” said Frank. “I’ll guarantee those gentlemen will spring the same old gags, done over into French, and half the jokes will be robbed of their points because of the translation.”
“Well, we didn’t come here to listen to them,” said the eager and impatient Southerner. “You were going to tell me something, Merry.”
“Yes,” nodded Frank, as he ordered two lemonades from a waiter, “I feel free now to tell you the whole story, for the metal ball is no longer in my possession.”
FRANK AND JACK.
“What are you talking about?” asked Jack, in a puzzled way. “Frank, has anything gone wrong with your brain?”
“I think not,” smiled Merry quietly.
“But you have acted so strangely! This is not the first time you have spoken of the metal ball, the blood-red star——”
“Which you saw fall before me, and which I have here.”
Frank took the crimson star from his pocket and placed it on the table before them.
“It is the sign of death!” he said. “It came from the Black Brothers, from whose hands I was saved this night. There are seven of the brothers, and there are seven points to the star.”
Diamond gave himself a shake.
“Come, come, Merriwell!” he exclaimed. “What sort of rot is this? Excuse me for using the word ‘rot,’ but no other word seems appropriate. It is like a chapter from a sensational story. You haven’t been reading French detective novels till they have turned your brain, have you?”
“Nothing of the sort, Diamond,” replied Frank calmly. “I know it seems most remarkable, and I do not wonder you think it crazy nonsense. I remember that I thought Edmond Laforce insane.”
“Who is Edmond Laforce?”
“He is, or was, the Duke of Benoit du Sault.”
“But he is dead.”
“Yes, murdered in his bed by the Black Brothers!”
“Nonsense! He died in a perfectly natural manner, of heart failure.”
“All men die of heart failure, but there was a cause for the death of Edmond Laforce. A star exactly like this one before us had fallen into his hands, and he was doomed to death. He knew it. He knew his time was limited to ten days.”
“Why was this?”
“Because he was doing everything in his power to save Dreyfus from Devil’s Island. Because, through his work, he had become dangerous to the existence of the Anti-Dreyfus League.”
“The Anti-Dreyfus League? Is there such an organization?”
“Is it the same as the Black Brothers?”
“No. The Black Brothers are simply the executioners of the great and powerful league, which contains some of the wealthiest and most influential men in France. The league is sworn to hold poor Dreyfus on his prison island. I have learned that not all the members of the league are aware, that there is a band of assassins connected with the organization. The league is like a secret order. A man may join it, and yet he may never be initiated into its deeper mysteries. He may join it by simply pledging himself to use all ‘honorable’ means to keep Dreyfus on that island. That is the first degree. There are other degrees, and only the right ones to take them are advanced. When a man takes the highest degree, he pledges himself, in case of necessity, to commit murder to perpetuate the imprisonment of Dreyfus. When he has taken this degree, he knows all about the Black Brothers, but those who have never advanced beyond the lower degrees know nothing of the connection of the league with the seven assassins. They furnish money to be used in the work of ‘honorably’ keeping Dreyfus on the island, and are quite unaware that much of that money goes to pay the assassins in black.”
Jack Diamond listened with increasing astonishment.
“And do you mean to tell me that such things can be here in France?” he cried.
“Are such things so very strange? You must not forget that it was here the Commune existed. It was here the bloodiest revolution of history took place. These streets have run red with human blood!”
“But it seems so calm, so peaceful now! There seems no hint of anything wrong.”
“The calm is all on the surface. The French people are peculiar. At any moment the storm may break forth. The men who seem so calm and happy at one moment, in another instant may turn to wrangling, raging, bloodthirsty demons. You cannot measure a Frenchman by the standard of an American. They are different, the same as an American differs from an Englishman.”
“But how did you learn so much about this league?”
“Since the day the red star fell before me, I have been doing my best to hunt down the Black Brothers, and gradually I have learned the things just told you.”
“But this star, Merry, is——”
“The sign the Black Brothers give one who has been doomed to die by the death council of the league.”
“And you are one?”
“Because the Duke of Benoit du Sault gave me the metal ball, which he said contained something that might help prove the innocence of Dreyfus.”
“When did he give you this?”
“The very night of his death. I met him in the Place de l’Opera. He had been seized by strange pains in his heart, and I assisted him to a seat by a table before the Café de la Paix. Those pains alarmed him. It was the tenth day after he had received the red star. He thought he might be dying, and, finding I was an American and in full sympathy with Dreyfus, he entrusted me with the metal ball, pledging me to secrecy, and making me promise to defend it with my life, till a person with the proper signal called for it. My promise of silence has caused me to keep still, and has given you an opportunity to say I did not trust you.”
Diamond had been intensely interested all along, but now he was athrob with excitement.
“But you are telling me now!” he exclaimed. “The metal ball—where is it?”
“Yes. I am released from my pledge.”
“You delivered it into the proper hands?”
“The Black Brothers took it from me.”
“Then they obtained the precious secret that was to liberate Dreyfus?”
“Nothing of the sort.”
“They did not?”
“I fancied the secret would become theirs till I saw the chief of the seven open the ball before me, as I stood bound and helpless, with my back against that stone pillar.”
“What did it contain?”
Jack fell back in his chair.
“Empty,” nodded Frank.
After a little the Virginian eagerly asked:
“How was that? Explain it!”
“I cannot. All I know is that the hollow metal ball which had caused me so much trouble was perfectly empty. The Black Brothers were infuriated at the discovery, and my death was set to occur at once. They drew their swords and were ready to run them through my body when the first blow fell on the door at the head of the stairs and the officers demanded admittance.”
Jack was silent, thinking of the wonderful things he had heard.
“I have no doubt but the story seems almost beyond belief,” said Frank; “but you came with Mr. Noname and found me in the cellar. You know I did not tie myself to that post. Here is the red star, which is the sign of death. The metal ball I cannot show you, as that has passed beyond my possession.”
“Good heavens! What are you going to do, Frank? Why don’t you get out of Paris and out of France?”
A grim look came to Merry’s face.
“Do you advise me to run away?” he asked. “Would that be manly?”
“Manly! Merciful goodness! do you think you can defend your life against the powerful Anti-Dreyfus League and its tools, the Black Brothers? This Dreyfus affair is nothing to you.”
“You are wrong!”
“It is something to every man who loves liberty and justice!”
“But you cannot be willing to sacrifice your life in the cause. It is not required of you. There are others who may do that.”
“The existence of the league is well known; before I leave France I am going to try to show that the seven assassins in black are connected with the league. If I can do that, it may be that the league will go to pieces, for the decent ones in the lower degrees, who know nothing of its connection with murderers, may withdraw and denounce it.”
“And, in the meantime, you may follow other victims of the Black Brothers! It is horrible to think of! But the papers said the Duke of Benoit du Sault died a natural death.”
“Because they did not know any better. He was murdered!”
“That is yet a mystery. I have thought much about it. I remember that he told me of an encounter with a bold woman of the streets. When he repulsed her, she struck him with a pin, inflicting a wound on his left wrist. That was bleeding when he was attacked by the pains. I remember that, from his manner, it seemed that the pains shot up his arm.”
“Then you think the wound on his wrist may have——Oh, pshaw! That must be nonsense, Frank! That could not have killed him. Those pains were brought on by the excitement of the encounter with the woman. His heart had been wrong all along, and it failed him that night.”
“Still,” said Frank Merriwell, “you must admit it is most singular that that night was the tenth one after he received a star exactly like this blood-red one I hold in my hand.”
Diamond was more deeply impressed than he wished to acknowledge. He did not wish to believe that Merry, his friend, had been selected as a victim by the dreaded Black Brothers.
He had been with Frank when the red star fell on Merry’s plate one day at a queer little restaurant, where they were taking lunch. At the time he observed the remarkable change that came over his friend, who, having been gay and light-hearted, suddenly grew sober and stern. Jack thought about this now. He thought of other things which had seemed so mysterious to him, and he did not wonder at Merry’s strange acts. Still, it was most remarkable that Frank, a stranger and a foreigner, had been drawn into the affair.
Jack’s sympathy was with the unfortunate prisoner of Devil’s Island, believing Dreyfus had been unfairly and unjustly condemned, but, hot-blooded though he was, he felt certain he would have a care not to permit himself to become involved as Frank had been. But Diamond was not one to reproach a friend, or to desert him in the hour of trouble. He was ready to stand by Frank through any peril.
That Frank was in great peril he could no longer doubt. That Frank had been condemned to die by the Anti-Dreyfus League was apparent. Jack’s soul rebelled at the thought that such a thing could be in a city like Paris. And it was terrible to fancy that Merry might come to his end as had the Duke of Benoit du Sault, without a single mark being left on his body to tell how his death had been accomplished.
Jack leaned across the table and spoke earnestly.
“Why should you stay here in Paris, Frank, and wait for those murderous wretches to accomplish their dastardly work? Why don’t you get out? There is nothing to keep us here. In fact, I am beginning to feel that I have seen enough of this place.”
“And it was only yesterday,” retorted Frank, with a smile, “that you said you could live a year in Paris without getting tired.”
“Did I say that?”
“Well, I’ve changed my mind. If you were fighting an enemy like Harris or Brattle, it would be different. By the way, where is Brattle?”
“He has disappeared.”
“Perhaps he is connected with the very ones who are doing their best to snuff you out.”
“Not likely. They would not trust him.”
“And yet he may have aided to throw suspicion on you.”
“It is possible, but does not seem probable.”
Frank Merriwell sipped his lemonade, which had been served, seeming cool and unconcerned, as if deadly danger had never visited him in all his life. The black-face comedians had retired, and there was a sudden burst of applause, as a popular chanteuse appeared. She began to sing, and the young Americans resumed their conversation.
“I do not feel like running away now,” said Merry grimly.
“You know the old saying,” muttered Jack: “‘He who fights and runs away,’ etc.”
“I know, but there is no reason why I should run. I can do the anti-Dreyfus men no harm now.”
“Perhaps they do not know that. Your sympathy is with Dreyfus?”
“Yes. I believe he was unjustly condemned. I believe everything points to Esterhazy as the guilty man.”
“But the bordereau, the paper which convicted him——”
“Was forged by Esterhazy, I firmly believe. Of late, everything has tended to prove that. There was no real reason why Dreyfus should have acted as a traitor. It could not have been from anger or disappointment, as he had the finest prospects of an excellent military career.”
“Always an adventurer and a soldier of fortune, always begging money from the money-lenders, always extravagant and dissolute, there were many reasons why he might have been guilty. Letters of his, which he cannot deny, and in which he abused France unmercifully, have been found. Those letters are in the possession of the friends of Dreyfus, and will be used at the proper time.”
“But it has been claimed that Dreyfus was dissolute, that he was a gambler, and an associate of the low and vicious.”
“It has been claimed, but it has not been proven. Instead, in many instances, it has been shown conclusively that such charges against him were utterly false. It has been shown that others by the name of Dreyfus have been confounded with him. I do not suppose he was a man without faults, but those faults and failings make his unjust and cruel condemnation none the less horrible.”
“You feel strongly about this, Frank.”
“I do! I confess it. And I feel more strongly now than ever before. I feel like going into this thing deeply, but it now seems that I have done everything in my power, and that has proved to be—nothing!”
“Have you other reasons to believe Dreyfus innocent?”
“Yes. It has been shown that he was not even aware of some of the secrets given away in the forged papers. He had not been placed in position to acquire the knowledge contained in those papers. The dastards who sought his ruin incorporated in the papers what they thought he knew, but they were wrong.”
“This being the case, how is it possible to hold him longer on Devil’s Island without a fair and open trial?”
“In America or England it would not be possible. In France it is different. He is a Jew, and you see the powerful feeling that has been aroused against the Jews. He was condemned by the army, and it is a firmly entrenched belief in this country that the army can do no wrong. To give him another trial now, at which he might be able to clear himself fully, would be to confess that there was a possible doubt in the matter. That, it is said, would throw discredit on the army. If he were to be shown innocent, it might bring on a revolution.”
“And so they are going to let an innocent man rot on Devil’s Island rather than give him justice and confess that a terrible wrong has been done?”
“You must remember that it is ‘for the honor of France!’”
“It is the dishonor of France!” exclaimed Diamond hotly. “It means the eternal disgrace of France!”
“The day must come when the whole truth will be known.”
In this speech Frank was prophetic. The day did come when the whole wretched conspiracy came to light, and the unfortunate Dreyfus was publicly proclaimed innocent.
“So much the worse for France if Dreyfus dies on that island.”
“You are getting warm over it, Jack,” laughed Merry.
“A trifle,” confessed the Virginian. “Who wouldn’t?”
“It is enough to warm up almost anybody,” agreed Frank. “I think you begin to understand how I feel. And you must see why I guarded that ball with my very life.”
“But that contained nothing.”
“When it was opened it contained nothing. I believe there was a time when it contained a paper that would have aided in proving Dreyfus innocent.”
There was a low, musical laugh near at hand, and a voice spoke in French, saying:
“Messieurs, you are so eager, so earnest! I wonder what it can be you talk of so animatedly? It cannot be of Mademoiselle Held, for you have scarcely glanced toward the stage. Yet I’ll wager I can read the truth in your faces and tell you your very thoughts.”
A woman, slender, supple, graceful, attired in airy evening-dress, with a mask hiding the upper part of her face, stood beside the table. Without being invited, she sat down there.
Both lads were surprised, not to say startled. She saw this plainly, and laughed softly, fluttering a jeweled fan.
“You are Americans,” she said positively. “You are not accustomed to some things you find in Paris.”
“That is very true,” murmured Jack Diamond, a frown on his face.
Frank lay back in his chair and studied the woman. He saw she had a beautiful neck and chin, while there was something strangely fascinating about the eyes seen through the twin holes in the mask. They were coal-black, like her hair, and seemed forever in motion. When the woman’s lips parted, she showed two rows of pearly teeth.
“How do you think I know you are Americans?” she asked.
“Give it up,” said Diamond.
“I know—I read it in your face. I can read other things there. I read that you are friends—very great friends.”
“Astonishing!” said Jack, with mild sarcasm, while Frank continued to keep silent.
The woman turned on Merry.
“You are so still all at once! You suspect something—me? Ha! ha! ha! Because I wear this mask? Oh, no, no! Why, I can do that here. No one minds it. They know me. I tell them their fortunes. All have heard me. You want me to tell your fortune—yes?”
She leaned forward, seeming to peer more closely into Frank’s face.
“Your past is all written there,” she declared. “I see it plain. In America, though young, already you are famous. It is wonderful! No man as young as you has ever become so famous in America. You are known all over the land, and there all young men long to be like you.”
“I fear you are given to exaggeration and flattery,” he said.
She shook her head.
“I speak the truth as I read it. Is it not true?”
She turned in her appeal to Jack. The Virginian remembered how famous Frank had become in a short time, and he said:
“To some extent it is true, but it’s an easy guess.”
The woman shrugged her shapely shoulders and fluttered her fan.
“Oh, not so easy!” she exclaimed. “I have but begun. When I am done, say I am an impostor—if you can.”
“I beg your pardon,” came quietly from Frank; “I must tell you honestly that I take no stock in the mummery of fortune-telling. I do not wish to seem rude, but you are interrupting——”
“I know; still you will thank me when I am done. I am going to tell you of the terrible dangers you have been in, of the deadly perils to come, and how you may escape them. This night you have been in danger! This night you have been close to death! You escaped by a miracle.”
“Where were you that you learned so much?”
“I read it in your face, but the stars tell me many things. To-night the stars have told me of you, Frank Merriwell.”
She knew his name!
Frank’s interest increased swiftly, and she laughed as she saw it.
“I knew you would listen,” she declared. “No one refuses to listen to me.”
“You must have been listening to our conversation,” said Diamond.
Again she shrugged her shoulders.
“I do not need to do that. I heard some words just when I came up. I heard you speak of Dreyfus, the traitor. But I did not need that to tell me you were interested in him. You hope to see him free again.”
“As hope thousands of good citizens of France.”
“No; they are not good citizens! But why argue! It was not for that I sat here. I was tired, and I needed amusement. It would amuse me to astonish you by reading your fortune. Monsieur Merriwell was warned of his danger. He might have escaped it, but he chose not to do so. He came near losing his life. If he heeds not the warning he has received, he will yet lose his life.”
“How do you know so much?” cried Jack.
“You must be connected with the Anti-Dreyfus League,” muttered Frank.
She shook her head.
“It is not well for a foreigner to come to France and have so much knowledge. It is not fortunate for him if he meets wrong ones and takes too much interest in Dreyfus, the Jew. It may be thought he has come to France for that very reason, and then his peril shall be great, for hundreds of good men have sworn to protect the honor of France with their very lives.”
“Who are you that knows so much?” asked Frank sharply.
“I am called Mademoiselle Nameless.”
“Nameless?” muttered Jack, instantly thinking of the man who called himself “Mr. Noname.”
“Yes, I am called that, and it is enough for you to know me by that name.”
“Why do you refuse to tell us your true name?” asked Merry.
“My true name is something I tell nobody.”
“Then remove your mask and show your face.”
She drew back.
“If I see fit to warn you of your great danger, and still keep my face concealed, I have a right.”
“You cannot explain how it is you know so much.”
“The stars conceal nothing from Mademoiselle Nameless.”
“You cannot make a level-headed American take stock in such trash.”
“It matters little. You must know I have told you nothing but the truth. There is but one thing for you to do, Frank Merriwell. You have been marked for death, and there is but one way to escape.”
“How is that?”
“Abandon everything and fly from France without delay.”
“Like a cowardly cur!” exclaimed Merry. “No, thank you!”
“If I am murdered, it will simply be another human life added to the list set against the wretches who are exerting every power to keep an innocent man on Devil’s Island. I know all about the time-limit, and I have yet several days left before the murderous band will carry their threat into full execution.”
“You cannot be sure of that.”
“It has been thus with others.”
“But you have lifted your hands against those who seek to protect the honor of France.”
“I’ve simply tried to expose the human whelps who seek to murder me!”
“It is enough. By that you have added to the peril that besets you. At any time destruction may swoop down upon you. Heed my warning. Fly from France!”
“Oh, I rather think you are making this thing much worse than it really is.”
“Not the least.”
“If I am slain by the Black Brothers, I have friends who will take my place in the work of hunting the dastardly band down.”
“There will be no proof that you are slain by them. Remember how others have fallen. There were no marks of violence on them. The thought should chill your heart with terror. I tell you to go, Monsieur Merriwell. I beg you to go. It is your only way to escape death. You must listen to me.”
She leaned on the table, all eagerness and excitement, her eyes dancing. Somehow those eyes made Frank think of a snake. They seemed to fascinate him.
“Tell me why you are so eager for me to go?” he asked.
“I cannot tell you, save that I am earnest, for I know what it means to you. Promise me you will drop this Dreyfus affair and leave the country. If you do that, your life may be spared. If you do not promise, your doom is sealed, and death may swoop down on you at any moment.”
“It is remarkable that you should know so much about me, a stranger, and take so much interest in me. I believe you must somehow get close to the Black Brothers. Can you deny it?”
“I deny nothing!” she proudly cried. “You may think what you like! I have warned you. Once, for the last time, I tell you your doom is sealed!”
She had closed her fan, and now she leaned across the table, reaching as if she would tap Frank on the wrist with it, by the way of emphasis. It was his left wrist she attempted to touch with the fan.
And he had no warning thrill to tell him of the frightful peril that was so near.
A hand came down over the woman’s shoulder, grasped her wrist, held it! Another hand snatched that fan from her grasp before it had touched Frank Merriwell!
“Even the rattlesnake gives warning before striking!” said a deep, well-known voice.
“Mr. Noname!” exclaimed Frank.
It was the Mystery who had suddenly appeared and snatched the fan from the woman’s hand.
“Mr. Noname and Mademoiselle Nameless!” murmured Jack Diamond, looking from one to the other. “Which is the greater mystery?”
The woman had fallen back in her chair, and she was staring at the Mystery through the twin holes in her sable mask, her bosom rising and falling tumultuously. The Man Without a Name fixed her with a steady, piercing, accusing look. There was horror and condemnation in his gaze, and she seemed to feel it.
“When the enemies of Dreyfus are forced to get a woman to do their wretched work of murder, they have fallen pretty low!” said the man, with deep contempt.
“Murder?” came from Frank.
“What does he mean?” gasped Jack.
The woman seemed to force a laugh from her lips, which had grown colorless beneath their rouge.
“What are you talking about, you old fool?” she exclaimed, rather coarsely. “You are crazy! You should be incarcerated in an asylum, and not permitted to run around here and frighten folks with your wild babble.”
Mr. Noname drew himself up, speaking quietly, so that he did not seem to be saying anything unusual. In fact, everything that had taken place at that table had occurred so quietly that those at the tables in the immediate vicinity were not aware anything out of the ordinary was happening.
“Others whom I have exposed in their deviltry have tried to make the public believe me insane,” said Mr. Noname. “They have not been successful, for always have I proved everything I have charged against them. You, woman with the hidden face, I charge with an attempt at murder!”
Again she forced that scornful laugh.
“Gentlemen,” she said, turning to Merry and Diamond, “will you be good enough to call a waiter. I wish to enter complaint against this crazy man.”
“Call a waiter,” said Mr. Noname. “I will call one for you.”
He did so, making a signal which caused one of the waiters to approach.
“Now enter your complaint!” said the Mystery, in a low, cold tone of voice, his eyes fixed on the woman; “but remember that I have this fan in my possession.”
The waiter came up, and asked what was wanted.
“The lady requested that you be summoned,” said Mr. Noname. “She is the one who wants you.”
The waiter turned toward her inquiringly. She hesitated, while Mr. Noname regarded her in grim, unbroken silence. All at once she laughed. Then she ordered absinthe for herself, and told the waiter to bring any drinks the others might wish.
The waiter looked to the others for orders, but received none. He departed.
“Oh, why do you stare at me like that, old man?” cried the masked woman.
“I stare at you because I can see beneath that mask; I can see beneath the flesh that covers your bones; I can see the grinning death-head you carry on your shoulders!”
“How terrible! You would do well at frightening children. Why, you would be as good as a jack-in-the-box! Give me back my fan.”
“You will not?”
“It belongs to me. You have no right to take it! Give it back!”
The Man of Mystery was perfectly calm and determined in his refusal. Frank and Jack looked on wonderingly. The woman turned swiftly on Frank Merriwell.
“I appeal to you!” she cried. “You are a gentleman. Will you see me insulted and robbed of my fan in such a manner?”
“You do well to appeal to one you were about to strike like a snake!” said Mr. Noname, with a sneer. “A few moments ago you thought to destroy him, and now you appeal to him to protect you from insult! You do well!”
“He is mad!” gasped the woman.
“She knows I speak the truth,” spoke the Mystery. “She cannot deny it.”
“I do deny it!”
“Indeed! I can prove every word I have spoken.”
“You can prove nothing! Who will believe anything you may say, old fool! Give me that fan!”
She reached for it in a commanding manner. He leaned forward, as if to comply, but made a sudden motion, as if he would tap her on the wrist with the fan, as she had been about to tap Frank Merriwell when it was snatched from her hand. She jerked her hand back, with a low cry of terror!
Although the face of Mr. Noname remained as stern and grave as that of a stone image, a sound like a scornful, triumphant laugh escaped his lips.
“It’s all I ask,” he said. “Just hold out your wrist and permit me to tap you lightly with this fan.”
She made no move to do so.
“If you will do that,” said the man, “I’ll promise to restore the fan to you instantly.”
Still she sat silent. The waiter came with the drink she had ordered. She threw a piece of money on the table, then caught up the glass and swiftly swallowed its contents.
Immediately she seemed to recover her nerve.
“You can see that he is crazy, Monsieur Merriwell,” she said to Frank. “No one but a crazy man would make such a proposition.”
“You attempted to tap Frank Merriwell on the wrist with this fan, which you held in a peculiar manner. All I ask before restoring it to you is that I may tap you on the wrist in like manner.”
“The desire of an insane person!” she declared.
To Jack Diamond it seemed that she was right, but something told Frank Merriwell that Mr. Noname knew very well what he was about.
The Man of Mystery said:
“I presume you have heard that it is best to humor the insane in any little whims they may have. That being the case, why not humor me now. It is a simple thing I ask, and entirely harmless, of course. Why not permit me to tap you on the wrist with this fan, Mademoiselle Nameless, as you call yourself?”
“Because I do not choose to do so.”
“Because you know such a blow would be followed by death, swift, sure, and certain!” declared the Mystery fiercely. “Because you know the end of your life would come as came the end of the miserable wretches condemned by the Anti-Dreyfus League. Because you know the poison would be injected into your veins, and in a few hours it would reach a vital spot!”
“Look out for him!” cried the woman. “He is about to become violent!”
“This fan is a deadly instrument!” continued the strange old man. “Had you tapped Frank Merriwell with it, no power on earth could have saved him from death!”
She sprang up with a scream that attracted attention.
“He is mad!” she cried, pointing at Mr. Noname. “You can see it in his eyes! He is about to attack me! Help! help!”
She turned to flee, and the man reached out to grasp her. In a moment there was a great commotion in the theater. Two or three men leaped between the woman and Mr. Noname, offering her protection. But she waited for nothing. With all haste, she made her escape.
“It is too bad for her to get away like that,” said the Man of Mystery, sitting down quietly at the table.
The men turned to look at him. Some of them were threatening, some talked of having him arrested. He paid not the slightest attention to them, apparently, but he leaned across the table and spoke to Jack and Frank in a low tone of voice.
This is what he said:
“These men are members of the highest degree in the Anti-Dreyfus League! They are sworn to commit murder, if needs be, to keep the prisoner of Devil’s Island safe in his cage of iron!”
THE DEADLY FAN.
Both Frank and Jack were startled to know that some of the men of the league of which they had been speaking before the appearance of the strange woman were so near. Instantly Merriwell understood how it was that the woman had known so well what they had been talking about. Although those men had seemed to pay little or no attention to the two young Americans, it was almost certain that some of them had been listening attentively to the words which fell from the lips of Frank and Jack.
Now these men scowled blackly at the Man of Mystery, speaking rapidly to each other in French. Every word was understood by Frank, and he knew they were talking of having Mr. Noname arrested and shut up till his insanity could be determined.
“You are in danger, sir,” said Merry, speaking to the strange man.
“Not the least,” was the quiet declaration.
“You hear what they are saying?”
“They talk of having you arrested.”
“But they will not do it.”
“Because they do not dare.”
“Do not dare?”
“No. They realize that I know too much about them. The only danger is that one of them may drive a knife into my back as I sit here.”
Although he said there was such danger, the Mystery paid not the slightest attention to the men behind him. He sat there as if he felt himself quite secure from harm. Frank believed this was a display of courage, and he admired the man for it.
Jack Diamond was somewhat bewildered. At last he began to understand the full extent of the peril which beset Frank Merriwell, even though he could not see why harm could have come to Frank if the woman had carried out her intention of tapping him on the wrist with her fan. The men about continued to threaten. Mr. Noname spoke in a calm tone of voice, which was loud enough for them to hear.
“The day that I am arrested I will make an exposure that will startle all France. I know the names of the men who are behind the work that is being done. I can tell their methods of work. If I speak, Dreyfus will leave Devil’s Island within a month!”
“Hush!” whispered Jack. “Yow are drawing terrible danger on yourself! You will be the next man doomed by the league!”
The unsmiling face of Mr. Noname expressed a great deal.
“They may pronounce my doom, but no earthly power can cut short the thread of my life till my work is complete. I fear them not. However, they may well beware of me. I am not here to meddle in their affairs, but I am the guardian angel of Frank Merriwell, and woe to them if harm comes to him!”
The Frenchmen could not help hearing all this. They muttered among themselves, standing in a group. The entertainment continued on the stage, but the hour was late, and soon the theater would close for the night. There was to be but one “turn” more. Some of the men went away. Three of them sat down at a table, from which some women had departed. They talked in low tones, occasionally glancing toward the trio at the adjoining table.
“They have left three on guard,” said the Mystery, although he had not turned his head, and it was impossible to tell how he knew this. “We shall be watched. They will shadow you to-night, Frank Merriwell, and you must have a care. They are desperate now, and it is impossible to tell when or how you may be struck.”
“But I have yet four days of the ten days of grace.”
“You have nothing!”
“How is that? Ten days always expire between the falling of the red star and the death of the doomed one.”
“That may be true in the past.”
“You are not certain of another hour!”
“Why not! You know that this night the Black Brothers would have destroyed you but for the coming of the police!”
“That was because they had me in their power, and they were enraged by their failure to find in my possession what they sought.”
“That may have been the reason, then. It is probable that they believe you still have the missing paper in your possession.”
“Which I have not.”
“They do not know that; you could not make them believe it.”
“It is plain they have decided to cut you off without delay. The masked woman was sent here to do that.”
“How could she do it?”
“She attempted it!”
“Tell me how.”
“With this fan!”
“That fan? Why, she simply sought to tap me on the wrist with it.”
“That would have been enough.”
“You talk in riddles. Make yourself plain.”
“Indeed, he talks like a madman!” thought Diamond.
“With this very fan more than one victim of the league has been destroyed!” asserted the Man of Mystery.
Frank restrained any impatience he may have felt, although the man seemed beating about the bush in a baffling manner.
“How could that be?” he asked.
“You know in what peculiar manner the victims have died. On none of them has been found a mark of violence.”
“Yet you have believed they were murdered?”
“That being the case, the crime must have been carried out in a remarkable manner.”
“I took no interest in the Anti-Dreyfus League and the Black Brothers till I discovered that you had become involved, through your meeting with Edmond Laforce, the Duke of Benoit du Sault. Immediately on learning that, I began my investigations, and I have learned many startling things. How I learned them, it matters not. Let it suffice to say that I have ways of obtaining knowledge—ways unknown to other men. You did not know I was near, to guard you, when you were in great peril.”
“No; I thought you had disappeared completely, along with Martin Brattle.”
“Brattle has disappeared, but he will turn up again, if you remain here long enough.”
“Do you know where he has gone?”
“To London?” he cried. “Why has he gone there?”
“Elsie Bellwood is there.”
“And he—the dastardly wretch!—he has gone there to—to——”
“Have no fear; he will not accomplish his purpose.”
“Why not? How do you know?”
“Because I have sent one of my agents to London.”
“One of your agents?”
“Yes. I have many agents, for I have plenty of money to hire shrewd men to work for me. I enjoy spending my money. I have more than a score of men in my employ here in Paris, and they are shrewd men, too.”
A light began to dawn on Frank Merriwell. If Mr. Noname spoke the truth, it showed how he became possessed of so much astonishing information. With a score of spies in his employ, he could pry into affairs which would be sealed to the efforts of a single individual. But Merry was thinking of Elsie Bellwood, and her danger, if Martin Brattle had returned to London.
The Man Without a Name seemed to read his thoughts, for he said:
“Fear not. I sent one of my most trusted agents along with Brattle. Every effort of the rascal will be baffled, for I have given instructions to protect Elsie Bellwood, at any cost. He is to see that no harm comes to her, even if he has to hire a hundred men to guard her, without her knowledge, night and day.”
Diamond was listening, with astonishment unbounded. Who was this wonderful man, who did not hesitate at any expense, and who could afford to employ hundreds of men for such a purpose?
The whole yarn seemed crazy enough, and still the Virginian was impressed, despite himself. And Frank Merriwell felt that Mr. Noname spoke nothing but the solemn truth. Believing this, he breathed easier for the safety of Elsie.
“If what you say is true,” said Diamond, “you should be able to destroy Martin Brattle, and bring his evil work to an end. Why don’t you do it?”
The Mystery gazed fixedly at Jack for some moments, and then answered:
“No matter how much power I possess, I have never yet destroyed a human life. I am waiting till Brattle brings about his own destruction, which he will do as surely as we are sitting here at this moment.”
Frank thought of Sport Harris, and others who had wrought their own destruction, and the belief that evil-doing brings its just deserts grew upon him. Diamond seemed to feel rebuked. He sat back on his chair, biting his lips.
“Now,” said Mr. Noname, “I will complete telling you about this fan.”
He lifted it from the table, and the eyes of all three were turned upon it.
“This,” he declared, “is the instrument by which Frank Merriwell was to be removed from the world!”
“But how?” urged Merry.
“Look here—see me press on the fan like this, as I hold it in this manner. Now, look near that end, which is toward you, and you will discover protruding from the side of the fan a tiny needle-point. Look close. Do you see it?”
They saw it.
“Now, I release the pressure here,” continued the Man of Mystery, “and that point disappears, having slid back into its socket.”
This was true.
“When the woman reached out to tap Frank Merriwell on the wrist, she pressed on the fan to cause the needle-point to project. If she had struck him, she would have pricked his flesh with that point.”
“Go on!” urged Merry breathlessly, his face growing pale as he anticipated what was coming.
“The point of that needle is covered with a strange and subtle poison. Your blood would have been inoculated with it. From that moment, unless the piece of flesh about the needle-prick had been cut out, and the wound cauterized, the poison would have been working in your system. You would have heeded the wound on your wrist very little, or not at all, for it would not have swelled, or seemed troublesome. After a time, you would have felt pains in the region of your heart. Then it would have been too late for any earthly power to save you!”
“Good God!” gasped Jack Diamond, overcome by his feelings. “Can such a thing be true?”
“It is true,” affirmed the Mystery.
“Then, for Heaven’s sake, Frank, let’s get out of France as quickly as we can! If the prick of a needle will cause death, there is no telling when we may be done to death!”
Jack Diamond’s agitation was not strange, under the circumstances. It would have been far more remarkable if he had shown no agitation.
Frank sat there, staring at that fan. For the first time, he fully realized how close to death he had been, and his face was a trifle pale.
“You are absolutely positive of what you say?” he finally asked.
“Do you doubt?” asked the Man of Mystery. “If I have not told you the truth, why is that needle hidden in the fan?”
Frank did not doubt any longer.
“Give me the fan!” he exclaimed. “I want it! I want to keep it, along with other curiosities I have gathered in various parts of the world.”
“You are not yet out of France. You seem to feel that you will leave the country. Are you going at once?”
“What do you mean? Am I going to run away?”
“You realize your danger. There is nothing to keep you here longer. Why shouldn’t you go?”
“Do you urge me to go?”
“I urge you to do nothing. Follow your own desires.”
“I must have time to think it over. I do not fancy being driven out of the country in such a manner! If there was a show of making a fight——”
“But you see now what dangers beset you. In a moment, when you know not, death may descend upon you. Your enemies believe you are dangerous to them. You cannot convince them otherwise.”
“Come, Frank!” urged Diamond. “You know I am not a coward, but this business is altogether too much. You can’t fight such sneaking and dastardly foes. A brave man hates to retreat, but foolish persistence is not bravery.”
Frank actually laughed aloud.
“This is the first time on record that Jack Diamond ever gave anybody such counsel,” he declared. “If he were in my shoes, I’ll wager he would be stubborn enough to stick right here, no matter what came.”
“Oh, no!” cried Jack. “I can fight an enemy that comes out into the open, but I want nothing of the kind that skulks and sneaks.”
“What will you do?” asked Mr. Noname, his eyes fixed on Frank’s face.
“Think it over till to-morrow,” was the answer. “Give me the fan.”
“No; I shall keep it.”
Frank was disappointed.
“It is a thing I should prize.”
“I may need it.”
“Then you expect to see her again?”
“Perhaps so; perhaps not. Who can tell? However, when I have all the evidence I want, I may place it before the police. Just now, it would not do, for they would call me a madman, and shut me up.”
“I haven’t a doubt of it.”
“While it is known there exists an Anti-Dreyfus League, the public at large will not believe the league will resort to dishonorable means and crime in order to keep the captive fast on Devil’s Island. If any man were to tell the whole truth about the organization, he would be called a raving maniac, and placed in a cell without delay.”
Frank was much disappointed, for he longed to possess that fan, which would be a great and valuable addition to his collection of curious things gathered in various parts of the world. He knew that Mr. Noname spoke the truth, however, and he understood why the man wished to secure and retain as much evidence against the league as possible.
“Besides,” said the Mystery, “they will try to recover this fan. If you were to have it in your possession, it might add to your peril.”
“Then let it alone, Frank!” exclaimed Jack. “You do not want it! You are in danger enough!”
“That’s true,” confessed Merry. “I fancy I’ll have my hands full to look out for myself.”
“The theater is about to let out,” said Mr. Noname. “It will be well for you to leave before the crowd does. In the crowd, something might happen to Mr. Merriwell between this table and the street.”
Jack grasped Frank’s arm.
“Let’s go at once!” he said.
Frank arose quietly.
“Good night,” he said, speaking to Mr. Noname. “When shall I see you again?”
“No person can tell,” was the answer. “I do not know. I will keep the fan. Farewell.”
It was plain the Mystery spoke of the fan in order that the men near might hear, and know it was not in the possession of Frank. Mr. Noname seemed to fear no peril to himself. When they were outside the theater, Jack again urged Frank to leave France without delay.
“Let’s not talk about it any more to-night,” said Merry. “I am tired.”
“Tired!” exclaimed the Virginian. “Good gracious! I don’t see how you can think of that now! What has happened is enough to make anybody forget fatigue. Why, while you remain in France, you cannot feel safe for a moment! On the street, or in your room at the hotel, you are in danger of being assassinated! It is horrible!”
Frank realized the full dimensions of the peril.
“It’s rather too much sport,” he confessed. “I didn’t bargain for anything of the sort.”
“It will not be from a lack of courage, if you leave France,” urged Jack. “Why should you remain here to be killed? You can do no good by staying here longer.”
“Of course you cannot. How can you?”
“We have planned to stay longer.”
“That makes no difference. I have seen enough of Paris, and so have Browning and Rattleton. We did have a splendid time in England, but now——”
“You were the most eager to get away from England.”
“You know why, Frank. I explained it all to you. Since leaving there, I have tried to forget Juliet Reynolds. I find I can’t forget so easily.”
“And now you are ready to go back to her?”
“I did not say that.”
“But you meant it. I am afraid you are hard hit, Jack.”
“I’m afraid so, too, Merry; and, still, I know I’d never be happy if I were to win her, and marry her. I must keep away from her, that is all. It’s my only salvation.”
“I can, and will!”
“That is a good resolution.”
“But it is not what we were talking about. You have explained why you had a secret from the rest of us, and I understand it now, but I do not understand your desire to remain longer in Paris.”
“Did you ever know Frank Merriwell to turn his back on danger?”
“No; but this is different. What have you to gain by continuing the fearful risk? Nothing.”
“Look here, Diamond, I may have nothing to gain, but there is one thing I fear if I leave France now.”
“What is it?”
“I fear I shall never forgive myself for doing so.”
“Better never forgive yourself than to be murdered.”
“I don’t know. I’d rather be dead than to always feel myself a coward.”
This brought a fierce protest from Jack, who declared there would be nothing cowardly in going away. Over this point they argued for some time, till Merry again protested that he was too tired to talk further about it that night.
“Jack,” he said, “I want you to promise me something.”
“I want you to promise to say nothing about what has happened. You are not to let Browning or Rattleton know the particulars.”
“Why? Why shouldn’t they know now? I think it is your duty to tell them, Frank.”
“It will disturb them, without doing the least good. Why should they be alarmed needlessly? No. Yet a little while longer you must be silent. I will say when you may tell everything.”
It was not easy to induce Jack to make the promise, but Merry succeeded, at length.
Rattleton and Browning were in bed, and asleep, when the hotel was reached. Under the door of Frank Merriwell’s room, a sheet of paper had been thrust. On the paper was written:
“The end draws near!”
When, at last, he went to bed that night, Frank Merriwell slept the sleep of exhaustion. He did not know that all through the dark hours Jack Diamond watched over him like a faithful dog. He did not know that Diamond was unable to close his eyes in sleep. He did not know the Virginian paced the room, thinking, thinking, thinking. The light burned low, as Diamond had turned it on. Frank lay breathing regularly, perfectly motionless in the bed. After walking up and down a long time, after looking from the window out upon the street, where a few stray human beings flitted past beneath the electrics, Diamond came and stood beside the bed, looking at Frank.
Jack’s heart was full. He was beset by deep emotions.
“The whitest fellow who ever drew the breath of life!” he murmured, as he gazed at his sleeping comrade. “In many ways, he has made me what I am. I know it now. He has been my model, and, as far as possible, I have tried to be like him. I am not ashamed of having a model! If all fellows could have one like Frank Merriwell, and they would try to imitate him, it would be well for them.
“He has shown me my failings without once mentioning them to me. Never has he told me I was mean, and fretful, and a poor comrade, yet I know I have been. I know lots of fellows would have sickened of me, but Frank Merriwell has not. He has seemed to understand me, and to know all my petulance and ill temper would pass away in time. He has shown me how to be master of myself, and the task of conquering myself has been, at times, the hardest thing I ever attempted. I don’t think I’ve always succeeded in my efforts, but I am sure I have at times, and I have felt better for it.
“And now, to think that such a fellow should be in danger of losing his life at any moment, although he is in perfect health, and has the brightest prospects before him! It is awful! He has made all plans to go back to Yale in the fall, and, goodness knows, Old Eli needs him badly enough! Why, I believe the fellows would mob us if we permitted him to be assassinated here in Paris!
“Think of Frank Merriwell, the darling of Yale, murdered by a lot of cowardly wretches, who are fighting to keep an innocent man in a living tomb! And his peril is something awful! Those dastards are powerful, and it is folly to defy them. Frank must leave France at once! But how may he be induced to go?”
That was a question for Diamond to study over, and he spent more than an hour trying to answer it. Once he muttered:
“I must put up a job with Browning and Rattleton, and carry him away! It’s a desperate plan, but it must be done. Can I get them to join me? How will I work it?”
He pondered on various plans, but remembered that he had given Frank a promise to say nothing to Bruce and Harry about the terrible danger by which Merry was beset.
“I was a fool to make such a promise!” he exclaimed.
The temptation to break it was strong, but Diamond was a fellow of veracity, and he was forced to decide that he would not follow that course. If he did not, how could he induce Rattleton and Browning to join him in his wild project to carry Merry bodily from France?
After a time, he decided that it would be impossible. They would think him crazy if he proposed such a thing. Then he began to plan other schemes. At last, he decided to telegraph the whole facts to Dolph Reynolds. He would ask Dolph to send a despatch, stating that Elsie Bellwood was seriously ill.
“I’ll do it!” the Virginian exclaimed. “He may never forgive me, but I’ll stand it! It is for his good, and it shall be done! To-morrow, I’ll lose no time in sending the message to Reynolds. Frank will be hustling out of France in a few hours. Heaven grant that he may get out before the Black Brothers do their dastardly work!”
It was daybreak before Jack closed his eyes. Even then, he could not sleep soundly. He dreamed that Merriwell was in frightful peril. He seemed to see Frank enfolded in the coils of a monster serpent, and struggling to escape. For all of his struggles, the coils drew tighter and tighter, slowly crushing the life from Merry’s body. He saw Frank’s eyes bulging from his head, and his tongue hanging out, and the sight filled him with such horror as seldom comes to one, save in dreams. He tried to rush to the rescue of the friend he loved, but seemed frozen to the ground, unable to move hand or foot. He tried to shriek with anguish of soul, and——
Frank Merriwell shook him till he awoke!
“Come, come, old fellow!” laughed Merry. “You were having a fearful time of it. You seemed to be straining every nerve, and the gasps and gurgles that came from your throat appeared to indicate that you were strangling. It must have been a bad dream.”
“It was,” said Jack gloomily. “And the worst is that I fear it is prophetic.”
He then told Frank what he had dreamed.
“Oh, pshaw!” cried Merry lightly. “You were affected by our experiences last night. I don’t know that I wonder at it, but I rather think there is no great danger that the serpent will crush me. Take a good look at the bright sunshine coming in at that window, and let it drive the clouds away.”
“It’ll take more than sunshine to do that, as long as we remain in France, Merriwell,” declared the Virginian.
To his surprise, Frank seemed almost light-hearted. This was something Diamond could not understand. Jack had determined to make one more appeal to Merry, and this he did; but Frank turned the subject, and more than ever was the Virginian determined to carry out his plan of drawing his friend from France by means of the false telegram.
Rattleton was up, but it was necessary to drag Browning out of bed. Both Harry and Bruce were delighted to find Merry once more in a lively mood.
“Now you seem like yourself,” declared Rattleton. “You have been glum enough for awhile. Acted like you were under a spell, but I rather think the spell is lifted.”
“If he only knew!” thought Jack.
After breakfast, Diamond looked for an opportunity to get away from the others, to send the telegram to Dolph Reynolds; but, when he started out, he was joined by Frank.
“A good, brisk walk will do us both good,” said Frank. “Come on, old man.”
Diamond was not ready with excuses and subterfuges, and so he went along, hoping something would turn up to give him the opportunity he sought. Frank did not loiter in the gardens, but sought the crowded thoroughfares of the city, for the business portion of Paris was a-bustle thus early in the day.
It was mid-forenoon when they halted for a moment, and stood on a curbing, where they could look along one of the thoroughfares of the city. Jack had kept his eyes open, for he felt that Frank was constantly menaced by deadly danger. He it was who saw a man approach a window in the second story of a building opposite where they stood, and fling it open.
“Look, Frank!” he exclaimed.
“What is it?”
“Mr. Noname! What is he doing there?”
Frank recognized the man who had opened the window as the mysterious being known as Mr. Noname. Something queer in the actions of the man caused both lads to watch him. He stepped back from the window for a moment, and there was a little flare of light, as if he had struck a match. Then he came to the window, with a spring, thrust his head out, looked up and down the street, and lifted his hand.
“A signal!” said Jack.
But it was not a signal. In the hand of the strange man was an object from which a tiny wreath of blue smoke curled upward. He lifted that hand, and flung the smoking object straight at Frank Merriwell! A cry escaped the lips of Diamond.
“A bomb!” he shouted.
Down toward the young American flew the object, and then, quick as thought, Frank Merriwell caught the spluttering thing with the skill of a baseball-player!
“Drop it! Run!”
Diamond caught hold of Frank as he gasped the words. Instead of that, Frank Merriwell lifted the bomb to his mouth, caught the fuse in his teeth, and bit it off!
By his remarkable presence of mind, Frank Merriwell had prevented an explosion, perhaps had saved his life and Diamond’s. He had bitten the fuse off close to the bomb.
Jack Diamond was paralyzed with astonishment.
Frank spat the end of the fuse from his mouth, observing:
“I rather think that will prevent the thing from doing any damage.”
“Great heavens!” gasped the Virginian. “How could you think to do it?”
“Had to think. Case of necessity. Now, I want to know what this means.”
“It means murder! It means treachery! That old madman threw the bomb!”
“I saw him.”
“He’s turned on you, Frank.”
“Looks that way. He’ll have to explain.”
“He’s gone from the window.”
That was true; the Mystery had disappeared. This astonishing scene had been witnessed by several persons. Two officers came hurrying up, and asked a score of questions.
“It’s a bomb,” explained Frank.
“Le bomb! le bomb!” cried the crowd that had gathered.
“And the man who threw it is in that building!” shouted Diamond. “He threw it from that open window. He is in there now. Capture him! Arrest him!”
“Arrest him!” shouted the crowd.
“You know him? You can identify him?” asked the officers.
“In a minute!”
“Come with us!”
They dashed across the street, and entered the café, from the second story of which the bomb had been thrown. Up-stairs they dashed.
“It will go hard with Mr. Noname if he is caught now,” said Frank.
“It should!” hissed Diamond. “The man is a maniac! I have felt it all along! I have feared him!”
Diamond was eager to capture the Mystery, but, when the room was reached from which the bomb had been thrown, all they found was a quiet-looking, smooth-faced man, who was seated at a table, drinking coffee, and looking over a morning paper. The officers demanded of Frank and Jack if that were the man. They seemed disappointed when both lads declared it was not. Then they questioned the man, who seemed greatly surprised. Had he seen another person in the room? He had. A man had entered a short time before, but he had not noticed him in particular, as he was sitting with his back toward the window. The man had just left the room in a hurried manner. Whither did he go? The door by which he had departed was pointed out.
The officers were eager to capture the bomb-thrower. It would be greatly to their credit. They hastened from the room by the door. Frank and Jack followed. Barely were they out of the room when Frank stopped.
“This is mighty queer,” he said.
“What?” asked the Virginian.
“That the man in there knows nothing of the bomb-throwing.”
“I believe he knows more than he has told.”
“You may be right.”
“He should be watched.”
“Go back, and keep an eye on him, Diamond.”
Jack rushed back to the room, and then a cry came from him. Wondering what had happened, Frank hurried after him.
“What is it, Jack?” he asked.
It was true. The man had lost no time in getting out of that room. His coffee was on the table, and his paper lay on the floor. Frank Merriwell dashed down the stairs, hoping to prevent the man from escaping. He was too late to do so, however, for the stranger had left the restaurant. Once outside in the crowd, he had melted away.
“We have been chumps!” exclaimed Frank regretfully. “I am sure he was the one who could have explained everything.”
“I am sure of it, too,” nodded Diamond.
The search through the building did not result in the capture of the man who threw the bomb.
Of course, Frank was requested to accompany the police to headquarters, and tell everything he knew, while the café was placed under surveillance. Frank told his story, and the bomb was turned over to the police, who promised to make a thorough investigation.
“Which will result in nothing,” said Diamond gloomily. “They have taken your address, Merry, but all they will do is call round at the hotel, and pump you with questions.”
Frank was puzzled more than he wished to confess. It seemed certain that Mr. Noname had deliberately attempted to destroy him, and that was something he could not understand. If the man was an enemy, why had he saved his life so many times?
Diamond redoubled his argument for leaving France with all possible haste.
FRANK PROTECTS THE MYSTERY.
Mystery had followed mystery with astonishing swiftness, and the very atmosphere of Paris now seemed full of danger and death. Of this Frank Merriwell and Jack Diamond were aware, while Bruce Browning and Harry Rattleton were in blissful ignorance. Harry and Bruce did not understand why, as soon as Merry and Jack returned to the hotel, they shut themselves into a room, and seemed to hold a secret conclave.
Diamond’s excitement had increased. He paced up and down the floor, his face pale, and his eyes glowing.
“I tell you, Merriwell, it is madness to remain here!” he asserted. “You must confess it now. The one on whom I believe you depended almost wholly for protection has turned against you. What can you do now? I am certain you had begun to think this Mr. Noname possessed of supernatural powers, and you fancied he could protect you from the assassins who sought your destruction. Now you can no longer rely on his aid. Instead of that it is certain he will do all he can to destroy you.”
“Why should he?”
“Answer your own question.”
“He is mad.”
“You think so?”
“I have no doubt of it. I have believed it all the time. You know, I have told you so before.”
“He has the eyes of a maniac.”
“Do you say that because his eyes are deep and dark?”
“No. They have a strange glitter. He seems to look a person through and through.”
“That is true.”
“Besides, at times his words have been those of a maniac. He has not talked like a sane man. You must confess it.”
“I do not know.”
“You must know—you do know! You cannot say you have never observed anything remarkable in his language. He has claimed to be your good genius.”
“Well he might, for he has saved my life repeatedly.”
“He has seemed to.”
“What do you mean by ‘seemed to’?”
“How do you know he has not been plotting your destruction all the time?”
“It is not possible.”
“It is possible! Wait a minute. You have been in no end of trouble since you met him, haven’t you?”
“How do you know he has not been at the bottom of it all?”
“Nothing of the sort!” persisted the Virginian warmly. “It would be like the unaccountable acts of a madman. He might get you into all this trouble, Frank, so that he could pretend to save you.”
“Why should he do that?”
“Who can account for the actions of a madman? He wishes to make himself notorious. He had wished that you should believe him very wonderful. He may have plotted against you all the time, and——”
“No!” cried Frank; “I cannot, and will not, believe that of Mr. Noname!”
The door had swung open, and Mr. Noname himself stepped in, speaking the words of thanks as he entered. Diamond stood in the middle of the room, thunderstruck for the moment, his hands clenched, his finely chiseled face stern and grim.
The Man of Mystery closed the door behind him, and turned toward the two young Americans, quietly saying:
“I have just learned of what happened to you this morning, Mr. Merriwell, and I have come here to listen to the story from your own lips.”
“Well, that is what I call bluff!” grated Jack.
“Why should you come to me, when you were concerned in it?” asked Merry. “You know what happened as well as I. But I am glad you have come, for now you must give me an explanation.”
“You say I know what happened, but I swear that I know nothing beyond what I have heard!”
“You were there.”
“I was not.”
“Liar!” panted the Virginian. “We both saw you! We saw you throw the bomb!”
The strange man turned his dark eyes on the hot-blooded Virginian, and he spoke in a calm tone:
“It makes no difference what you may think you saw. I deny taking any part in it.”
“Do you deny that you hurled a bomb at me?” asked Frank, astonished.
“Deny it as much as you like!” cried Diamond; “you did it! But for Merriwell’s quick wit, we should have been blown to pieces! You tried to kill us!”
“What folly! Why should I try to kill you?”
“Answer that question yourself.”
“I answer it by swearing that I know nothing about it. Of you, Mr. Merriwell, I ask to know the full story. As I have saved you from danger and death many times, I appeal to you now.”
“And this is the creature who professed to be your guardian angel!” sneered Jack. “This is the creature who said he’d always be near to protect you!”
The Mystery made a gesture, half of anger, half of reproof.
“You know not what you are saying,” he declared. “Tell me all, Frank Merriwell.”
Frank did so, in a very few words. The man listened till he had finished.
“Now,” exclaimed Diamond, “what have you to say to that? We both saw you at the window! We both saw you throw the bomb!”
“You may have thought you saw me.”
“Listen to that, Frank! What do you think of it for nerve?”
“It seems,” said the man, “that somebody who looked like me must have thrown this bomb.”
“That is thin! Why, do you think we would not know your clothes, your beard, your long black hair, your face? We are not fools! You are the man! You have pretended to be Merriwell’s friend, but to-day you sought to blow him to pieces!”
“I would sooner think of putting a gun to my head, and blowing out my own brains,” said the man solemnly.
“Bah! You cannot make us believe that now!”
“I have been misunderstood all my life,” said the man rather sadly. “It is not remarkable that such should be the case now. Well, it makes no difference. I do not care. I will continue to prove my friendship to Frank Merriwell by protecting him from peril.”
“By Heaven!” shouted Diamond fiercely; “you shall answer for your attempt on his life! I believe you have been at the bottom of all his trouble in Paris! I believe you have brought all this danger upon him! You shall not escape now!”
The Mystery took a step toward the door, but, of a sudden, the Virginian drew a revolver, and pointed it straight at the man, fiercely commanding:
“Stop! Take another step, and I’ll drop you! You shall not slip away this time!”
The man paused, and looked at Frank.
Merry had been surprised by the swift action of his friend, and now he cried:
“Down with that revolver, Diamond! If you do not——”
“Never!” snarled Jack. “If you will not hold this man for the officers, I will! I shall turn him over to them, and——”
“You will do nothing of the sort!”
Frank made a leap, and was upon Diamond. He grasped Jack’s wrist, and, like a flash, wrenched the revolver from his hand. Then he turned to the Man Without a Name.
“Go!” he said. “I will protect you once, in return for the many times you have protected me. For all that appearances are against you, I will trust you.”
“And you shall never have cause to regret it,” assured the Mystery, as he departed.
THE TURN OF THE TIDE.
It was impossible to tell when a Dreyfus agitation would break out in France during those anxious months. The day following the events just related, one took place. The courts were in session, and the friends of Dreyfus sprang a surprise by having a new feature of the case called up, and an attempt made to reopen the whole affair. Then, in a most amazing manner, a great array of evidence in favor of the prisoner of Devil’s Island piled up. It fairly took away the breath of his enemies.
English and American newspapers printed the report that a steamer had been sent to Devil’s Island, with a strong military guard, for the purpose of taking Dreyfus off, and bringing him back to France, where he would have a new trial. These reports were cabled to Paris without delay. Everybody sought confirmation of them, and then a prominent French paper came out with the assertion that it was absolutely true, and that Dreyfus was on his way to France even then!
All Paris seemed to be hushed in waiting for some great thing that must follow.
Jack Diamond was the first to get hold of the paper that printed the cabled reports from the English and American papers, and announced beneath that it was absolutely true that Dreyfus was on his way to France. Diamond had tried to keep Frank Merriwell in the hotel while the excitement was going on in the streets, but had not been successful. Frank had persisted in venturing out to witness “the sport,” although Jack had warned him that he was taking his life in his hand. Nothing had happened to Merry, however.
Diamond came rushing into the hotel with the newspaper, and placed it before Frank, pointing out the report mentioned. Frank read it, and his face flushed with satisfaction.
“Frank!” warned Jack.
“What is it?”
“The Black Brothers will be desperate now. They will be striking their final blows. You had better keep still, and lay low.”
“I believe the whole Anti-Dreyfus League will be hunting their holes. I do not believe the Black Brothers will have much to do but lay low.”
“That’s a queer idea.”
“See if I am not right.”
Frank was elated, and he could talk of nothing else, save the turn of the tide in favor of Dreyfus. He insisted on going out that night, and they dined in the open air, beneath the trees, Browning and Rattleton going along.
The American lads were surprised at the calmness of the people, who had seemed so wildly excited a short time before. Listening, they heard men quietly saying, one to another, that Dreyfus was coming back at last. Some of them said there would be bloodshed the hour he set his feet on French soil, but they said it quietly, as if it were useless to struggle against fate.
Several striking-looking men came and took a table near Frank and his friends. These men talked with more excitement than had any others that night, but they were not arguing over the fate of Dreyfus. Instead, they were discussing the disruption of the Anti-Dreyfus League.
“Listen to that, Jack!” breathed Frank. “Those men belong to the league.”
“They are members of the lower order.”
“That is plain, for they are discussing the doings of the higher order.”
“And they do not seem pleased over it.”
“It seems that there has been a serious split in the league.”
“And that means—just what, Frank?”
“The moment the league gets out from behind the Black Brothers, the assassin band hunts its hole. Those creatures will no longer be dangerous. The league paid them to do its bloody work, and, when the league ceases to exist, the Brothers will cease to be.”
“You may be right.”
“I’m sure of it! Oh, my dear fellow, things are coming out all right in France! Justice may sleep for a time, but there comes an hour when she awakens. That hour has arrived.”
“Well, dow the hickens—I mean, how the dickens is it that you are so intensely interested in the business, anyway, Frank? You and Jack talk as if it might be a matter of life or death with you.”
“So it may,” declared Merry.
Browning gave a grunt.
“Huah!” he said. “Don’t talk in riddles. What do you mean, anyhow?”
“That’s right,” urged Rattleton; “what do you mean?”
“That the turn affairs have taken may save my life.”
“Your life?” mumbled the big fellow.
“Your life?” gurgled Harry.
“That’s what I said.”
“And it is gospel truth!” nodded Diamond solemnly.
“Oh, say!” came from Harry; “get down onto the earth, and give it to us straight! Merry might be stringing us; but when did you start in backing him up in his practical jokes, Diamond?”
“There is no joke about this. I should say Frank is ready to tell you about the whole thing. When he does, you’ll drop dead!”
“As much as that?” murmured Browning. “I haven’t made a will.”
“What do you wish to leave?” asked Harry, with a grin.
“My will; it’s all I have to leave, and I want to leave something.”
“Tell us about this business,” urged Rattleton, speaking to Frank. Merry had decided to do so, and he explained the whole affair in a few well-chosen words. Their amazement increased as he proceeded. It did not take them long to see that he was in sober earnest, and they listened breathlessly. When he had finished, they were indignant.
“And you never told us?” questioned Rattleton resentfully.
“Not a word!” came angrily from Bruce.
“I found out the truth by accident,” said Diamond.
“Is that the proper way to treat your friends, Frank?” asked Bruce almost sorrowfully.
Merry then explained how he was bound to secrecy as long as the metal ball was in his possession.
“Yes; but you did not tell after that.”
“I didn’t know but I should be forced to flee from France to save my life,” said Frank; “and, to be honest, I didn’t want you to know I had taken to my heels.”
From any other fellow, this might have seemed a reasonable explanation; but, although it was spoken openly and honestly, it seemed like a confession of a weakness, and they were looking for nothing of the sort in him. However, if he really had a weakness, it seemed natural that he should be the first to discover it, and expose it.
“That’s a pretty slim excuse!” growled the big Yale man. “I think you have treated us in a thundering shabby manner!”
“I can’t help it, boys. I may have to skip out of France now, but something tells me that the hour of great danger is past.”
At this moment, a man and a woman sat down at a table just vacated by a party. The man was tall, dark, scowling; the woman was young, handsome, scornful. There was something extremely unpleasant about her, even though she was handsome. As she sat down with her companion, he said something that caused her to laugh. Frank Merriwell started as if he had been shot. His hand went out, and fell on Jack Diamond’s arm.
“I have heard that laugh before!” he whispered. “She is Mademoiselle Nameless!”
“The woman who tried to murder you!” replied the Virginian.
“The same!” nodded Merry.
As the man and woman sat down, several of the men at another table, those whom the boys had heard talking together, bowed coldly to the newcomers. One or two of the men stared at them in stony silence.
The man with the woman returned the stare, and his lips curled with contempt. He was a dangerous-looking fellow, but no more dangerous than the woman. There was something about her that proclaimed her desperate and deadly.
Frank had a fine opportunity to study her face. It was not long before she saw him, and she actually smiled upon him! That smile angered him, but he held himself in check.
The woman spoke to her escort, and she was heard to say:
“There is the young American who caused so much disturbance, Monsieur Merriwell. I think there was too much fuss made over him.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” growled the man, looking Frank over.
Then he said something to her, as if he did not wish to be heard by anybody else, but she immediately gave him away by exclaiming:
“You are sure, Louis—you know the very paper that was in the ball has reached the courts?”
“Keep still!” he growled. “It’s not necessary to tell everybody of it!”
“Oh, what’s the use! The game is up, anyhow!”
“Yes; and you are advised to keep your mouth closed. You may be arrested with others.”
“If I am, I may take a fancy to tell some surprising things,” she laughed. “Just look out that I am not arrested, Louis.”
It was plain both had been drinking, else they would not have spoken so loudly. Their words created a stir among the men at the next table. Those men turned, and stared at the young Americans, and then they jabbered among themselves. All at once, one of them rose, and approached the table at which the four lads were sitting.
Diamond was on the alert instantly. He watched the man with the eyes of a hawk, thinking he might do something to injure Frank.
The Frenchman spoke politely.
“I beg a thousand pardons, gentlemen,” he said; “but what I have just heard leads me to believe one of your number is Monsieur Merriwell. Am I right?”
“Yes, sir,” bowed Frank. “I am the one.”
The man looked at Frank.
“I have heard you met with a rather unpleasant adventure recently, Monsieur Merriwell.”
“I have had many of them. To what one do you refer?”
The Frenchman hesitated, and then he seemed to decide to come out flatly.
“It is said you were captured by some ruffians, who attempted to slay you, but were prevented by the gendarmes. Is that true?”
“And, further, that the ruffians were seeking to obtain possession of a paper that had been delivered into your hands by Edmond Laforce, the Duke of Benoit du Sault. How about that?”
“I know nothing of the paper,” answered Frank truthfully.
“Then you have not turned it over to the courts?”
“No, monsieur. I have never seen it.”
“Nevertheless, in some manner, that paper has reached the courts. It is said it will clear Dreyfus. Of that I have doubts, for I believe Dreyfus guilty. However, I wished to confirm the story that you were connected with the affair. I understand your life has been threatened?”
“And that is true. I have been told that I must leave France, or the Anti-Dreyfus League would destroy me.”
“Well, there is no reason why you need fear the Anti-Dreyfus League.”
“That order no longer exists. Monsieur Merriwell, you need have no further fear of the league.”
“How about the tools of the league?”
“They are harmless now, for the league is not behind them. There is no reason why they should molest you.”
There was a scream, and a sudden commotion at the adjoining table. Several gendarmes had appeared there, and they were arresting the man and the woman. The man was furious, and made a struggle. He tried to draw a weapon and place it at his head, plainly with the intention of committing suicide, but he was prevented and disarmed. Then irons were placed upon him. A hand fell on Frank Merriwell’s arm. He turned his head, and saw the Man of Mystery at his elbow.
“You have witnessed the arrest of the chief of the Black Brothers!” said Mr. Noname, with great satisfaction. “I have hunted him down! I have placed the officers upon him!”
“Yes! The band is scattered and broken. One has committed suicide to-night, while two others have been arrested. Three have fled from Paris. My hired spies have done their work swiftly and well!”
“And you have brought all this about?”
“Even so. More than that, I have solved the mystery of the bomb-throwing. In a drawer of the very table at which the man sat, drinking coffee and reading a paper, when you rushed into the café to capture the bomb-thrower, I discovered—these!”
He held up a false beard, a long-haired wig, and a slouch hat.
“What are those?” asked Diamond.
“The disguise worn by the fellow who threw the bomb. He made himself up to look like me. Without doubt, he was the man who was drinking coffee when you entered the room. He was one of the band of Black Brothers.”
“I believe it,” nodded Frank.
Now they again turned their attention to the gendarmes, who were marching their prisoners away. As they departed, the woman turned, and saw Frank standing and staring after her.
“Good night, Monsieur Merriwell!” she called. “You have no reason to leave France now. There is no more danger for you. I admire your nerve, and that is why I tell you this. Good night, and farewell forever!”
In truth it was “farewell forever.” On the following morning, the woman was found dead on the cot in her prison cell. On her left wrist was a tiny drop of blood that had oozed from a slight puncture, like a pin-prick!
The tide in the affairs of justice in France had turned at last, and in the great work of charity toward the unfortunate man who had endured years of torture indescribable on Devil’s Island Frank had had a part, and no small one, either, as he was to learn later. Looking back on that time of danger for the French Republic, before the great public had come to realize that a principle was above a party-cry in the affairs of democracy, it seems strange that a leading part in the struggle was taken by an American, a mere lad. But, as a French statesman said, when this comment was made before him: “Oui, monsieur! A lad, a mere lad, if you will; but, remember, this mere lad was an American lad, and the type of the best of young American manhood!”
Frank’s stay in France was not ended, and he had still to encounter many dangers at the hands of his enemies, but we must leave him for the present. Of one thing, however, there need be no doubt. Whatever his perils, whatever dangers might threaten, Frank Merriwell was not the lad to quail. For he was American to the core, and Americans do not fail. It might take Frank’s enemies a long time to find it out, but, eventually, they would realize all the French statesman meant, when he said: “This mere lad was an American lad, and the type of the best of young American manhood!”