The Hawk felt upward with his hand over the safe. It was faced, he found, toward the rear of the wagon. This necessitated a change in his own position. He listened tensely. They were coming back with the horses now, but they were still quite a little way off. He shifted quickly around until his head and shoulders were in front of the safe.

“It was the last turn of the combination that I fell down on, though I don't see how it happened!” muttered the Hawk.

He felt above his head again, this time rubbing his fingers critically over the tarpaulin—and then the diminutive little flashlight winked, winked again as it played around him, and finally held steadily on the nickel dial. There were no inadvertent openings, and, particularly, no holes in the tarpaulin, and the texture of the tarpaulin was a guarantee that the tiny rays of light would not show through.

They were harnessing the horses into the wagon now. The Hawk, in a somewhat cramped position, due to the wagon's narrow width, his legs twisted at right angles to his body as he lay on his back, reached up and began to twirl the dial knob slowly and with painstaking care.

“Left, twenty-eight, one quarter,” murmured the Hawk; and, a moment later: “Two right, four——”

The Hawk swore earnestly under his breath. The jolt of the wagon, coming unexpectedly as it started forward, had caused him to spin the knob too far around.

It was hot, stifling hot, under the heavy tarpaulin, that, slanting downward from the little safe, lay almost against his face. A bead of sweat had gathered on his forehead. He brushed it away, and began again to work at the dial. It was more difficult now—the wagon bumped infernally. And as he worked, he could hear the muffled clatter of the horses' hoofs, and occasionally the voices of the two men on the seat.

And then suddenly the Hawk's fingers travelled from the dial knob to the handle. Had he got it this time, or—yes! The handle swung easily—there was a low metallic thud—the bolt had slipped back to the end of its grooves. The safe was unlocked!

“Twenty thousand dollars!” said the Hawk very softly—and, without the slightest sound, he edged his body backwards to afford space for the swing of the opening door. “Twenty thousand doll——”

The word died, half uttered, on the Hawk's lips. The flashlight was illuminating the interior of the safe. On the bottom lay a single, crisp, ten-dollar counterfeit note, over the face of which was scrawled in ink—“With the Hawk's compliments!” Otherwise the safe was empty.

For a moment, like a man dazed, he stared at the counterfeit note. He could not seem to believe his eyes, Empty—the safe was empty! The diamonds were gone—gone! Gone—and these poor fools were driving an empty safe to the Master Spider—and another poor fool, with dropped jaw, was staring, gaping like an imbecile, into one! And then, a grip upon himself again, he laughed low, grimly, unpleasantly. “With the Hawk's compliments!” He had sent a bill like that once to MacVightie inscribed—“With the Hawk's compliments!” This was very neat, very clever of—somebody. Of somebody—who must have known what the Wire Devils were up to to-night! There would be no doubt in the minds of the Wire Devils, who would have heard of that little episode with MacVightie, but that the Hawk had again forestalled them, and left them a ten-dollar counterfeit bill in exchange for—twenty thousand dollars' worth of unset diamonds! Only it was this somebody, and not he, the Hawk, who was twenty thousand dollars the richer for it!

He reached in, picked up the bill to put it in his, pocket—and suddenly laid it back again, and closed and locked the safe. Why deprive the Master Spider of a little joy; and, besides, it would carry a message not perhaps so erroneous after all—for, in a flash, logically, indisputably, apparently impossible though it appeared to be on the surface, he knew who that somebody was. The shelving of the theft to the Hawk's shoulders would have defeated its own object unless the theft were committed and discovered on this particular division of the railroad where the Hawk and, incidentally, his supposed gang of desperadoes were known to be operating. The messenger certainly had not been in a drugged condition when he went on duty, and, since it was only reasonable to assume that he would have satisfied himself everything was all right at that time, it was evident, as he had given no alarm, that the contents of the safe had been intact when he took charge—whether as a “through” man in New York, or at the eastern terminus of the road, or at the last divisional point—it did not matter which. The robbery, then, had been committed while the messenger was present in the car—and it had been committed on this division. The safe had not been forced, it showed not the slightest sign of violence—it had been opened on the combination. Some one then, an expert safe-worker, in the first stages of the messenger's drugged condition, had happened into the car just ahead of him, the Hawk, and had done exactly what he, the Hawk, had intended to do?

“No,” said the Hawk. “No, I guess not.” He was wriggling noiselessly backward, and his feet were hanging out now over the end of the wagon. “No—coincidences like that don't happen—not very often!” The Hawk's head and shoulders were still under the tarpaulin, but his feet now could just feel the ground beneath them. “I guess,” said the Hawk, as he suddenly withdrew his head, and, crouching low, ran a few steps with the wagon, then dropped full length in the road, “I guess it's—the third party.”

The wagon disappeared in the darkness. The Hawk rose, and, turning, broke into a run back along the road.

He had been longer in the wagon than he had thought—it took him ten minutes to regain the railroad tracks.

Here, without pause, still running, he kept on along the right of way—but there was a hard twist to his lips, and the clenching of his fists was not wholly due to runner's “form.” How far had the Butcher taken the car before deserting it? A mile? Two miles—three? He could not run three miles under half an hour, and that would be fast over railroad ties! How long would it be before the train crew of the stalled Mail got back to Burke's Siding and managed somehow, in spite of the cut wires, to give the alarm—or how long before the dispatcher at Selkirk, with the Fast Mail reported “out” at Burke's Siding and no “O. S.” from Bradley, would smell a rat? It would take time after that, of course, before anything could be done; but, at best, the margin left for him was desperately narrow.

He ran on and on; his eyes, grown accustomed to the darkness, enabling him to pick out the ties with a fair degree of accuracy. There was not a sound save that of his own footsteps. He stopped for breath again and again; and again and again ran on at top speed. It seemed as though he had run not three miles, but six, when finally, far ahead, he caught a glow of light. The Butcher and his confederates had evidently not taken the trouble to close the side door of the car!

Instinctively, the Hawk, in caution, slowed his pace—and the next instant, smiling pityingly at himself for the act, ran on the faster. The Butcher and the other two would long since have made their getaway! There was only the messenger—and the messenger was drugged. That was all that need concern him now—the messenger—to find some way to rouse the man so that he could talk.

The Hawk reached the car, ran along the side to the open door—and stood suddenly still. And then, with a low, startled cry, he swung himself up and through the doorway, and running forward, knelt beside a huddled form on the floor. It was the messenger, sprawled on his face now, motionless, and it was no longer a case of being drugged—the man had been shot! There was a dark, ugly pool on the flooring, and a thin red stream had trickled away in a zigzag course along one of the planks. The Hawk's lips were tight. The Butcher's work! But why? Why? Yes! Yes, he understood! The Butcher, too, in some way had discovered that the messenger was—the third party!

The boy—he was even more of a boy now in appearance, it seemed to the Hawk, with his ashen face and colourless lips—the boy moaned a little, and, as the Hawk lifted him up, opened his eyes.

The Hawk produced a flask, and forced a few drops between the other's lips.

“Listen!” he said distinctly. “Try and understand what I am saying. Did they get the diamonds from you after they shot you?”

The boy's eyes widened with a quick, sudden fear. Perhaps the drug had begun to wear off—perhaps it was the wound and the loss of blood that had cleared his brain.

“The diamonds?” he faltered.

“Yes,” said the Hawk grimly. “The diamonds! You took them. Did you tell those men where they were?”

“It's—it's a lie!” The boy seemed to shiver convulsively. Then, his voice scarcely audible: “No, it's—it's true. I—I did. I—I guess I'm going out—ain't I? It's—it's true. But I—I didn't tell. There weren't any men—I——” He had fainted in the Hawk's arms.

“My God!” whispered the Hawk solemnly. “It's true—the kid's dying.”

He held the flask to the other's lips again. It wasn't the Butcher, then, who had shot the boy; and, besides, he saw now that the wound was in a strangely curious place—in the back, below the shoulder blade; the boy had been sitting in his shirt sleeves, and the back of his vest was soaked with blood. And the Hawk remembered the fusillade of bullets that had swept up the interior of the car, and the spat upon the forward door panel as he had crouched there outside—and he understood. The boy, sitting in a stupor in his chair facing the forward door, had been directly in the line of fire, and a stray bullet had found its mark.

“I—I don't know how you knew”—the boy had roused, and was speaking again—“but—but I'm going out—and—and it's true. Two days ago, a man gave me a hundred dollars to stand for—for knockout drops on the run to-night. I—I couldn't get caught—I—I was safe—whatever happened. I'd be found drugged—and—and no blame coming to me—and——” He motioned weakly toward the flask in the Hawk's hand. “Give me—give me some more of that!”

He did not speak for a moment.

“And, instead,” prompted the Hawk quietly, “you double-crossed the game.”

“I—I had a counterfeit ten-dollar bill,” the boy went on with an effort. “I'd heard about the Hawk—and—and MacVightie. I knew from what:—the fellow said—that the Hawk—wasn't one of them. I—I got to thinking. All I had to do was empty the safe—and—and write just what the Hawk did on the bill—and—and shove it in the safe—and—and take the diamonds—and—and then drink the tea that had the drops in it. I—I would be drugged, and they—they'd think the Hawk did it while I was drugged before they—they got here—and—and that's what I did.”

The boy was silent again. It was still outside, very still—only the chirpings of the insects and the night-sounds the Hawk had listened to while he had lain below the embankment waiting for the train at Burke's Siding. There was a set, strained look on the Hawk's face. The kid was paying the long price—for twenty thousand dollars' worth of unset diamonds!

“To make it look like—like the real thing”—the boy's lips were moving again—“I—I cleaned out everything in the safe—but—but of course there mustn't any of that be found—and—and I tied the stuff up—and—and weighted it, and dropped it—into—the—river as we came over the bridge at Moosehead. And then I had to—to hide the diamonds so they wouldn't be found on me, and yet so's they—they'd come along with me—and—and not be left in the car. I was afraid that when some of the train crew found me drugged—they—they'd undress me—and—and put me to bed—and—and so I didn't dare hide the diamonds in my clothes. They're—they're—in——” He raised himself up suddenly, clutched frantically at the Hawk's shoulders and his voice rang wildly through the car. “Hold me tight—hold me tight—don't let me go out yet—I—I got something more to say! Don't tell her! Don't tell her! I'll tell you where the stones are, they're in the lining of my lunch satchel—but don't—oh, for God's sake, don't tell her—don't let her know that—that I'm a—thief! You don't have to, do you? Say you don't! I'm—I'm going out—I—I've got what's coming to me, and that's—enough—isn't it—without her knowing too? It—it would kill her. She was a good mother—do you hear!”

He was stiffening back in the Hawk's arms. “And this ain't coming to her. She was a good mother—do you hear—everybody called her mother, but she's my mother—you know—old Mother Barrett—short-order house—you know—old—Mother—Barrett—good——”

The boy never spoke again.

The Hawk laid the still form gently back on the floor of the car, and stood up. And there was a mist in the Hawk's eyes that blotted out his immediate surroundings, and in the mist he seemed to see another scene, and it was the picture of a gentle, kindly-faced old woman, who had silver hair, and who wore clothes that were a little threadbare, and whose grey Irish eyes behind the spectacles were filled with tears, and he seemed to see the thin shoulders square proudly back, and he seemed to hear her speak again: “I love my boy, I love him with all my heart, but I should a thousand times rather see him dead than know him for a thief.”

Mechanically the Hawk moved over to the desk where the lunch satchel still lay, and emptied out the remainder of the food.

“No,” said the Hawk, “I guess she'll never know; and I guess I'd have to take the stuff now, anyway, whether I wanted to or not—if she's not to know.” He was examining the inside of the satchel. It was an old and well-worn affair, and a torn piece of the lining, stuck down with paste at the edges, would ordinarily have attracted no attention. The Hawk loosened this, and felt inside. At the bottom, carefully packed away, were strips of cotton wadding. He took one out. Embedded in this were a number of diamonds, which, as he drew the wadding apart, flashed brilliantly in the light of the oil lamps above his head. He wrapped the stones up again, and put them in his pocket—took out the remainder from the satchel, put these also in his pocket, and replaced in the satchel the portion of the lunch he had removed. It mattered little about the torn lining now!

“He kind of put it up to me,” said the Hawk slowly. “Yes, and she did too—without knowing it—old Mother Barrett. It's kind of queer she should have said that—kind of queer.” The Hawk pulled the drawer of the desk open, and nodded as he found and took out the messenger's revolver. “Thought he'd have one, and that it would most likely be here,” he muttered.

He crossed the car, and listened intently at the open side door. There was no sound—nothing, for instance, coming from Bradley yet. He closed the door, and stood for an instant looking down at the boy's form on the floor.

“I guess I can fix it for you, kid—maybe,” he said simply. “I guess I can.”

In rapid succession he fired five of the seven shots from the revolver; then, stooping, laid the weapon, as though it had dropped at last from nerveless fingers, just beside the boy's outstretched hand. He straightened up, stepped to the side door, and slid it open again.

“It'll let the smoke out before anybody gets here,” said the Hawk. “The Butcher isn't coming forward with any testimony, and with all those shots fired at the time of the hold-up who's to know the boy didn't fight till he went down and out? And now I guess I'll make my own getaway!” He dropped to the trackside, and started forward at a brisk pace. “I'll keep on a bit until I hear something coming,” he decided. “Then I'll lay low while they're cleaning up the line, and wait till I can hop a freight, east or west, that will get me out of this particular locality. After that, there's nothing to it!”

A hundred yards farther on the Hawk spoke again, and there was a twisted smile on the Hawk's lips.

“It'll break her heart anyway, I guess,” he said; “but it'll help some maybe to be proud of him. Yes, I guess they'll tell her that, all right—that he died a game kid.”

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