MACVIGHTIE had become troublesome. For two days MacVightie had very seriously annoyed the Hawk. It was for that reason that the Hawk now crept stealthily up the dark, narrow stairs, and, on the landing, listened in strained attention before the door of his own room.

Reassured finally, he opened the door inch by inch, noiselessly. The bolt, in grooves that were carefully oiled, made no sound in slipping into place, as the Hawk entered and closed the door behind him. So far, so good! He was quick, alert, but still silent, as, in the darkness, he crossed swiftly to the window, and crouched down against the wall. A minute, two, went by. The fire-escape, passing at an angle a short distance below the window sill, and at first nebulous in the blackness, gradually took on distinct and tangible shape. Still the Hawk held there motionless, searching it with his eyes—and then, abruptly, satisfied that it sheltered no lurking shadow, he straightened up, thrust his automatic back into his pocket, pulled down the shade, and, turning back into the room, switched on the light.

MacVightie, it appeared, still had lingering suspicions of this room over the somewhat disreputable saloon below, and still had lingering suspicions of its occupant. All that afternoon the Hawk was quite well aware that he had been shadowed—but the result had been rather in his favour than in Mac-Vightie's. From the moment he had discovered that he was being followed, he had devoted his time to making applications for a job—for MacVightie's benefit—that being the reason he had given MacVightie for his presence in Selkirk. Later on, when it had grown dark, having business of his own, he had left MacVightie's satellite standing on a street corner somewhat puzzled just which way to turn! That, however, had no bearing on the watch that had been, or might be at the present moment, set upon this room.

The Hawk, in apparent abstraction, was flipping a coin up in the air and catching it. There was a slight frown on the Hawk's face. MacVightie's suspicions were still lingering for the simple reason that MacVightie, utterly at sea, was clutching at the only straw in sight, unless—the coin slipped through the Hawk's fingers and fell beside his trunk. He stooped to pick it up—yes, not only had the room been searched, but the trunk had been opened! The single strand of hair, almost indiscernible against the brass and quite innocently caught in the lock, was broken. Well, he had not finished that mental sentence. Unless—what?

He tucked the coin into his pocket, and, standing up, yawned and stretched himself. With the toe of his boot he lazily pushed a chair out from the wall. The chair fell over. The Hawk picked it up, and quite casually set it down—near the door. He took off his coat, and flung it over the back of the chair.

The Hawk's face was greyer now, as it set in rigid lines, but there was no tremor in the hand that inserted the key in the lock of the trunk. He flung back the lid—and his eyes, for an instant, searched the room again sharply. The window shade was securely drawn; the coat over the back of the chair completely screened the keyhole of the door. He laughed a little then—mirthlessly. Well, the trunk had been opened! Had MacVightie found all—or nothing?

His fingers were working swiftly, deftly now around the inside edges of the lid. He was either caught here, cornered, at bay—or MacVightie, once for all, would be satisfied, and, as far as MacVightie was concerned, the coast would hereafter be clear. The Hawk's dark eyes narrowed, the square under jaw crept out and set doggedly. It had been a close call, perilously close, that other night when he had taken the ten thousand dollars from the paymaster's safe, and MacVightie had followed him here to this room. He had pulled the wool over MacVightie's eyes for the moment—but MacVightie had returned to the old trail again. Well, the cards were on the table now, and it was a gamble that was grim enough! Either he was quit of MacVightie, could even count on MacVightie as a sort of sponsor for his innocence; or—“Ah!” The ingeniously fashioned false tray in the curvature of the lid had come away in the Hawk's hands. He was safe! MacVightie had missed it! In the tray, untouched, where he had left them, lay the packages of banknotes from the paymaster's safe; in the tray still glittered the magnificent diamond necklace, whose theft from the wife of His Excellency the Governor of the State had already furnished more than one of the big dailies back in the East with attractive copy for their Sunday editions; and there, undisturbed, were the contents of Isaac Kirschell's cash box, a trifling matter of some three thousand dollars; and there too, snugly tucked away in one corner, was the bundle of crisp, new, counterfeit ten-dollar bills. The Hawk grinned maliciously, as his eyes rested on the counterfeit notes. The one he had sent, inscribed with his compliments, to MacVightie, when he had returned the otherwise empty paymaster's bag to the detective, had not pleased MacVightie!

Quite at his ease now, the Hawk fitted the false top back into the lid, closed the trunk, locked it, drew a chair up to the table, and sat down. With MacVightie removed as a possible factor of interruption, there was another, and very pressing little matter to which he was now at liberty to give his attention. He produced a folded sheet of paper from his inside vest pocket, spread it out on the table before him, and inspected it with a sort of cynical curiosity. In each corner were tack holes. He had removed it less than half an hour ago—not through any misguided dislike to publicity, but simply because he had urgently required a piece of paper—from a conspicuous position on the wall of the railroad station. It was a police circular. The Hawk had not before had an opportunity to absorb more than the large type captions—he filled his pipe calmly now, as he read it in its entirety:


Five Thousand Dollars Reward Will Be Paid For Information Leading to the Arrest and Conviction of THE HAWK, Alias HARRY MAUL.

Here followed a description tallying with the one given by MacVightie to Lanson, the division superintendent, and which Lanson had caustically remarked would not fit more than twenty-five thousand men in Selkirk City; followed after that a résumé of the crimes recently committed on the railroad, amongst them the theft of the diamond necklace and the robbery of the paymaster's safe; and, at the end, in bold-faced type again:

$2,000 REWARD

Two Thousand Dollars Reward Will Also be Paid For Information Leading to the Arrest and Conviction of Each and Every One of THE HAWK'S Confederates.

The Hawk smiled broadly, as he held the flame of a match to his pipe bowl. The last paragraph was exquisitely ironical. Those whom MacVightie so blithely called the “Hawk's confederates” were vying with each other at that exact moment, and for the exact amount of two thousand dollars offered by the Master Spider of the gang, for the privilege of putting an even more conclusive end—in the shape of a knife thrust, a bullet, or a blackjack—to the Hawk!

“And,” said the Hawk softly, as he turned the circular over, “I guess they'd make it a whole lot more if they knew that I had—this!

The back of the circular was covered with line after line of what, seemingly, was but a meaningless jumble of scribbled letters—nor, in this case, were the letters any too well formed. The Hawk had laboured under difficulties when the telegraph sounder had “broke” unexpectedly with the message. He had been listening—as he was always listening when within sound of a telegraph instrument—but he had never known a message from the Wire Devils to come through at so early an hour in the evening before. He had shaken MacVightie's man off the trail and had gone down to the depot, intending to go up the line to the first small station, where, with little chance of being discovered, he could spend the night within earshot of the operator's instrument—in the hope that his vigil would not, as it sometimes did, prove futile. He had been standing under the dispatcher's open window waiting for a train, when the police circular tacked on the station wall had caught his eye. The large type was readily decipherable, but the platform lights were poor, and he had stepped closer to read the remainder—and instead, glancing quickly about him to see that he was not observed, he had snatched the circular from the wall, and, whipping a pencil from his pocket, had scrawled on the reverse side, as best he could, the message that was rattling in over the dispatcher's sounder from the room above. He had taken chances—but he had played in luck. No one had noticed him, and—well, he was here now with the message; and, since it must sooner or later have been put to the proof in any case, he was back here, too, to find that he was quit of MacVightie.

“Yes,” confided the Hawk to himself, as he reached for a blank sheet of paper in the drawer of the table, “I guess I played in luck—both ways. Wonder if there's another ripe little melon here going to be shoved my way on a gold platter by the Butcher and his crowd?”

The Hawk studied the cipher for a moment.

“lqrtvy... key letter... stroke at six...two-three-one,” he murmured.

He drew the fresh sheet of paper toward him, and began to work busily. Occasionally he paused, staring dubiously at a letter—he had taken the message under far from ideal conditions, and a mistake here and there, if not fatal, was annoying and confusing. Finally, however, the Hawk leaned back in his chair, and whistled low under his breath. The message, deciphered and arranged into words and sentences, ran:

Final orders. Number One, Three, and Six hold up Fast Mail three miles east of Burke's Siding to-night. Cut wires on approach. Express car next to engine. Uncouple and proceed. Diamond shipment in safe. Messenger drugged. No interference with remainder of train. Deliver safe five-mile crossing to Number Four and Seven. Number One, Three, and Six take engine and car further along the line. Return separately to Selkirk.

Again the Hawk whistled low under his breath—and for the second time reached into his inside vest pocket. He took out a letter that was addressed, care of general delivery, to Mr. J. P. Carrister. The Hawk puffed pleasantly at his pipe as he read it:

“Dear Friend: The folks are all well, and hope you are the same. I haven't had time to write much lately. I like my new job fine. Say, I felt like a Fifth Avenue dook for about umpty seconds to-day. One of the fellows in the office let me hold a package of diamonds in my hand just to see what it felt like. Gee! Say, you could almost shove it in your vest pocket, and it was invoiced through customs at twenty thousand plunks. They were unset stones, and came in from Amsterdam. It made me feel queer.

“I wouldn't like to be the fellow that has to keep his eye on it any of the way from here to San Francisco, where it's going to-morrow by express. If you see any bright lights flashing around your burg that you can't account for about 11:15 next Wednesday night, you'll know it's the diamonds going through in the express-car safe. I'm getting to be some joker, eh? We all went down to Coney last Sunday. It's been fierce and hot here. Say, don't be a clam, write us a line. Well, I guess there ain't any more news. Yours truly, Bud.”

The Hawk, instead of folding up the letter and returning it to his pocket, began meditatively to tear it into minute shreds, and with it the police circular and the sheet of paper on which he had worked out the cipher message. The Fast Mail scheduled Selkirk at 11:15—and this was Wednesday night!

“Twenty thousand dollars,” said the Hawk gently under his breath. “Thanks, Bud, old boy! You were there with the goods all right, but it wasn't a one-man job, and I didn't think there was going to be anything doing.” The Hawk grinned at the ceiling. “And just as I was about passing up the last check, here they go and fix it for me to scoop the whole pot! Three miles east of Burke's Siding, eh?”

The Hawk relapsed into silence for a moment; then he spoke again.

“Yes,” said the Hawk, “I guess that ought to work. She won't make the three miles from the siding under five or six minutes. She's due at Burke's at ten-ten. I can make it on the local out of here at eight-thirty. Twenty thousand dollars—in unset stones! Just as good as cash—and a lot easier to carry!”

The Hawk looked at his watch. It was five minutes of eight. He rose leisurely from his chair, stooped for a precautionary inspection of the trunk lock, put on his coat, and, moving toward the door, switched off the light.

“If I get away with this,” observed the Hawk, as he went down the stairs and let himself out through the street door, “it'll be good-night for keeps if any of the gang ever pick up my trail—and they won't quit until they do! And then there's MacVightie and the police. I guess there'll be some little side-stepping to do—what? Oh, well”—he shrugged his shoulders—“I guess I'll get a bite of supper, anyway—there's no telling when I'll have a chance to eat again!”

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