THE Hawk yawned. He had been almost forty-eight hours without sleep. He had slept all day after he had regained his room, following the night at “Five-Mile Crossing,” but after that——

He frowned in a perturbed and puzzled way. Ensconced now in a wicker lounging chair in the observation car of the Coast Limited, he was apparently engrossed in the financial page of his newspaper, and apparently quite oblivious of his fellow travellers, some four or five of whom lounged and smoked in their own respective wicker chairs around him. On a little pad of paper, which he held in his left hand, he might even, without serious tax upon the imagination, have appeared to be calculating the effect of the market's fluctuations upon personal, and perhaps narrowly held, margins—for again he scowled unhappily. The Hawk, however, at the moment, was engrossed solely with a few curiously assorted letters of the alphabet, which were scrawled across the top of the pad. They ran:

pzudl kmlqpb.

Beneath this his pencil had already been at work, and he had transformed the line as follows:

He was staring at this result now in a bewildered way. Then his pencil picked out the remaining five unscored letters, and mechanically set them down as a third line:

“Rainy”—there was one word, just one word—“rainy.” What did it mean? What was the significance of the word? No message in the Wire Devils' cipher, once the message was decoded, but had been at once clear and unmistakable in its meaning before. Had they resorted now to code words as well, to a cipher within a cipher? Into the grimness of the Hawk's smile there crept a hint of weariness, as he slipped the pad into his pocket, allowed the newspaper to drop to his knees, and, edging his chair around, gazed out of the window.

For once his knowledge of their cipher was obviously useless to him—and useless when a foreknowledge of their plans at that moment meant scarcely less than a matter of life and death to him in a very unpleasantly real and literal sense. Not a word had come from them; not a message had gone over the wires on either of the two preceding nights; not a sign of existence had they given since three nights ago when, with an empty safe as the sole reward for their elaborately laid plans, he, the Hawk, had enriched himself with the twenty thousand dollars' worth of diamonds it had once contained. There had been something sinister, something ominous in their silence, as compared with the almost insane ravings of MacVightie, the police, and the press—yes, and the railroad men as well, who were particularly incensed over the “murder” of the young messenger found dead at his post in the express car with his revolver partially emptied on the floor beside him.

The Hawk drummed abstractedly with his finger tips upon the window pane. MacVightie, the police, and the press made no doubt but that he, the Hawk, was the leader of the desperadoes who were terrorising that particular section of the country; on the other hand, the gang itself had already had occasions enough and in plenty to be painfully aware that he, the Hawk, played always a lone hand—and won! A smile, grim and ironical, parted the firm, set lips. The police and the Wire Devils had a common interest—the Hawk. He was the storm centre.

The smile faded, the strong jaws clamped, and the dark eyes narrowed on the flying landscape. It was not the police who concerned him, it was not the impotent frothings of the press—it was the silence that the Wire Devils had not broken since that night until they had broken it this morning with the single word that, now that he had deciphered it, still meant nothing to him. A dozen times, stealing their cipher messages, he had turned all their carefully prepared plans to his own account, and snatched away the prize, even as they were in the act of reaching for it. But he was not a fool to close his eyes to the inevitable result. He was pitted against the cleverest brains in the criminal world; all the cunning that they knew would be ruthlessly turned against him; and, already out to “get” him, a price already guaranteed to the lucky member of the band out of the common funds, the empty safe of three nights before, with its jeering ten-dollar counterfeit bill flung in their faces, crowned, he feared, their injuries at his hands, and marked the turning point where they would leave no stone unturned to wreak their vengeance upon him.

And he did not like this silence of theirs since that night. Were they suspicious at last that he had the key to their cipher? He did not think so, and yet he did not know—it was always a possibility. But in any case, wary of any move they might make, he had, as far as it was humanly possible, remained within sound of a telegraph instrument ever since. Last night, for example, taking advantage of some repairs that were being made on the station at Elk Head, fifty miles east of Selkirk, he had lain hidden behind a mass of building material in the dismantled waiting room within earshot of the telegraph sounder—and there had been nothing. Forced to retire from there by the advent of the workmen, he had eaten a very leisurely breakfast at the lunch counter—still within earshot of the sounder. He had lingered around the station as long as he had dared without running the risk of exciting suspicion, and then he had taken the local east for Bald Creek—and taken the chance, because he had no choice, that nothing would “break” over the wires during the three-quarters of an hour that he was on the train. The Limited scheduled Bald Creek, and that would give him an excuse for remaining there, an innocent and prospective patron of the road, until the Limited's arrival some two hours later. After that, if nothing happened, he had intended to go back on the Limited to Selkirk—and get some sleep.

The Hawk yawned heavily again. Yes, after an almost uninterrupted vigil of forty-eight hours one needed sleep. Well, he was on his way back to Selkirk now—on the Limited. Only something had happened. Almost at the moment that the Limited had pulled into Bald Creek, the Wire Devils had broken their silence, and a cipher message had flashed over the wires. He had waited for it, fought for it, schemed for it, gone without sleep for two days and nights for it—and he had been rewarded. He had intercepted the message, deciphered it, he had got it at last—he had it now! It was the one word—“rainy.” And the word to him meant—nothing!

The Hawk's fingers ceased their drumming on the window pane, his head inclined slightly to one side, and he listened. His fellow travellers had evidently scraped up acquaintanceship. The conversation had become general—and suddenly interesting.

“... Yes, unquestionably! The amount I have with me is worth quite easily a half million francs—a hundred thousand dollars. It is not my personal property, I regret to say. Quantities sufficient to be of material service are for the most part institutionally held.”

The Hawk swung around in his chair, and with frank interest surveyed the little group. He had scanned them once already, critically, comprehensively—at the moment he had first entered the car. The man who sat nearest to him was a doctor from Selkirk; and, it being the ingrained policy of the Hawk to know a reporter as he would know a plain-clothes man, he had recognised one of the others as a young reporter on the staff of the Selkirk Evening Journal. The others again, of whom there were three, were strangers to him. His eyes rested—with frank interest—on the man who had just spoken. There had been just a trace of accent in the other's perfect English, and it bore out the man's appearance. The man was perhaps forty-five years of age, rather swarthy in complexion, and, though slight in build, commanding in presence. The black Vandyke beard, as well as the mustache, was carefully trimmed; and his face had an air of the student about it, an air that was enhanced by the extraordinarily heavy-lensed spectacles which he wore. The excellent clothes were unmistakably of foreign cut.

“Great Scott!” ejaculated the reporter. “Is that straight?” He twisted his cigar excitedly from one corner of his mouth to the other. “I say, I don't suppose there's a chance of getting a squint at it, eh?”

“A—squint?” The foreigner's face was politely puzzled.

“I mean a chance to see it—to see what it looks like,” interpreted the reporter, with a laugh.

“Oh, yes, of course—a squint. I will remember that!” The foreigner joined in the laugh. “One learns, monsieur, always, eh—if one keeps one's ears open!” He reached down and picked up a small black bag from the floor beside his chair. “No, I am afraid I cannot actually show it to you, monsieur, owing to the nature of the container; but perhaps even the manner in which it is carried may be of interest, and, if so, I shall be delighted.”

The others, the Hawk among them, leaned spontaneously forward in their chairs. From the bag the man produced a lead box, some four inches square. He opened this, and, from where it was nested in wadding, took out what looked like a cylindrical-shaped piece of lead of the thickness and length of one's little finger. He held it out in the palm of his hand for their inspection.

“Inside this sealed lead covering,” he explained, “is a glass tube hermetically sealed. The lead, of course, absorbs the rays, which otherwise would render the radium extremely dangerous to handle. You perhaps remember the story—if not, it may possibly be of interest. Radium, you know, was discovered in 1898 by Monsieur and Madame Curie; but the action of radium on human tissues was unknown until 1901, when Professor Becquerel of Paris, having incautiously carried a tube in his waistcoat pocket, there appeared on the skin within two weeks the severe inflammation which has become known as the famous 'Becquerel burn.' Since that time, I may add, active investigation into the action of radium has been carried on, resulting in the establishment in Paris in 1906 of the Laboratoire Biologique du Radium.”

The doctor from Selkirk reached out, and, obtaining a smiling permission, picked up the lead cylinder from the other's hand. The reporter sucked noisily on the butt of his cigar.

“And d'ye mean to say that's worth one hundred thousand dollars?” he demanded helplessly.

“Fully!” replied the foreigner gravely. “I should consider myself very fortunate if I had the means and the opportunity of purchasing it at that price. There are only a few grains there, it is true, and yet even that is a very appreciable percentage of the world's entire output for a single year. The Austrian Government, when it bought the radium-producing pitchblende mines at Joachimsthal, you know, acquired what is practically a world's monopoly of radium. And since the annual production of ore from those mines is but about twenty-two thousand pounds, and that from those twenty-two thousand pounds only something like forty-six grains of radium are obtained, it is not difficult to understand the enormous price which it commands.”

The little lead cylinder passed from hand to hand. It came last to the Hawk. He examined it with no more and no less interest than had been displayed by the others, and returned it to its owner, who replaced it in the black handbag.

“Look here,” said the reporter impulsively, “I don't want to nose into personal affairs; but, if it's a fair question, what are you going to do with the stuff?”

It was the doctor from Selkirk who spoke before the foreigner had time to reply.

“I was being tempted to ask the same question myself,” he said quickly. “I am a physician—Doctor Moreling is my name—and from what you have said I imagine that possibly you are a medical man yourself?”

“And you are quite right,” the other answered cordially. “I am Doctor Meunier, and I come from Paris.”

“What!” exclaimed the Selkirk physician excitedly. “Not Doctor Meunier, the famous cancer specialist and surgeon of the Salpêtrière Hospital!”

The other shrugged his shoulders protestingly.

“Well,” he smiled, a little embarrassed, “my name is certainly Meunier, and it is true that I have the honour to be connected with the institution you have mentioned.”

The reporter had a notebook in his hand.

“Gee!” he observed softly. “You don't mind, do you, Doctor Meunier? This looks like luck to me. I'm on the Evening Journal—Selkirk.”

“Ah—a reporter!” The dark eyes seemed to twinkle humorously from behind the heavy lenses. “I have met some—when I landed in New York. They were very nice. I liked them very much. Certainly, young man, why should you not say anything I have told you? You have my permission.”

“Fine!” cried the reporter enthusiastically. “And now, Doctor Meunier, if you'll just round out the story by telling us why the celebrated Paris surgeon is travelling in America with a hundred thousand dollars' worth of radium, I'll be glad I got panned on the story I went after this morning and so had to take this train back.”

“Panned?” inquired the other gravely.

“Yes.” The reporter nodded. “It blew up, you know.”

“Blew up! Ah!” The foreigner's face was at once concerned. “So! You were in an accident, then?”

“No, no,” laughed the reporter. “There wasn't anything in the story. It didn't have any foundation.”

“Again I learn,” observed the foreigner, with an amused drawl. He studied the reporter for an instant quizzically. “And so I am to supply the place of the panned story that blew up—is that it? Well, very well! Why not? I see no reason against it, if it will be of service to you. Very well, then. I have been summoned to Japan to attend a case of cancer—radium treatment—and I am on my way there now.” He smiled again. “I have noticed that American reporters are observant, and it may occur to you that I might have reached my destination quicker by way of Russia. As a matter of fact, however, I was in New York attending a convention when I received the summons. I cabled for the radium, and—well, young man, that pretty well completes the story.”

“Yes—thanks!” said the reporter. He wrote rapidly. “Operation on a Japanese?”

“Why, yes, of course—on a Japanese.”

“'Summoned,' you said. That listens as though it might be for one of the Emperor's family,” prodded the reporter shrewdly.

“I did not say so,” smiled the other imperturbably.

“And even if it were so——” He shrugged his shoulders significantly.

“I get you!” grinned the reporter. “Well, there's no harm in saying a 'High Personage' then, is there? That sounds good, and it would have to be some one on the top of the heap to bring a man like you all this way.”

“Let us be discreet, young man, and say—well, let us say, a member of prominent family,” suggested the other, still smiling.

“All right,” agreed the reporter. “I won't put anything over on you, I promise you. And now, doctor, tell us something more about radium, how it acts and all that, and how an operation is performed with it, and——”

The Hawk had apparently lost interest. He settled back in his chair, and picked up his previously discarded newspaper—yet occasionally his eyes strayed over the top of his newspaper, and rested meditatively on the little black handbag on the car floor beside the Frenchman's chair. The doctor from Selkirk, the reporter, and the French specialist talked on. The Limited reached the last stop before Selkirk. As the train pulled out again, the Hawk, as it were, summed up his thoughts.

“A hundred thousand dollars,” confided the Hawk softly to himself. “Maybe it wouldn't be easy to sell, but it would make a very nice haul—a very nice haul. It would tempt—almost anybody. Yes, bad stuff to handle; the fences would be leery probably, because I guess every last grain on this little old globe is catalogued as to ownership, and they'd be afraid it would be an open-and-shut game that what they were trying to shove would be spotted as the stolen stuff—not that it couldn't be done though, at that! There's always somebody to take a chance—on a hundred thousand dollars! And what about the institution that owns it coming across big and no questions asked to get it back again? Yes, I guess it would make a nice haul—a very nice haul. I wonder——”

The conductor had entered the car, had said something that the Hawk had not caught—and now the French specialist was on his feet.

“How long did you say?” he demanded excitedly.

“I didn't say,” replied the conductor; “I only guessed—twelve hours anyway, and if we're through under twenty-four it'll be because some one has performed a miracle.”

“Twelve hours—twenty-four!” echoed the Frenchman wildly. “But, mon Dieu, I have not that to spare to catch my steamer for Japan in San Francisco!”

“But what's wrong, conductor?” asked the Selkirk doctor. “You haven't told us that.”

“The Rainy River bridge is out,” the conductor answered.

The Rainy River bridge! The Hawk reached into his pocket, withdrew his cigarette case, and made a critical choice of one of the six identical cigarettes the case contained.

“Out! How?” the doctor from Selkirk persisted.

“No details,” said the conductor; “except that it was blown up a little while ago and that they think it's the work of the Hawk's gang. They just got word over the wire at the last stop.”

“Jumping whiskers!” yelled the reporter. “Is that right, conductor?”

“Yes, I guess it's right, fast enough,” said the conductor grimly. He turned to the Frenchman. “It's tough luck, sir, to miss transpacific connections; but I guess that's the man you've got to thank for it—the Hawk.”

“The Hawk? What is that? Who is the Hawk?” The Frenchman had lost his poise; he was gesticulating violently now.

“I'll tell you,” said the reporter briskly. “He's the man that's got your original reign of terror skinned a mile—believe me! He's an ex-Sing Sing convict, and he's the head, brains and front of a gang of criminals operating out here compared with whom, for pure, first-water deviltry, any one of Satan's picked cohorts would look as shy and retiring as a maiden lady of sixty who suddenly found herself in a one-piece bathing suit—in public. That's the Hawk! Yes, sir—believe me!”

Doctor Meunier waved his hands, as though to ward off a swarm of buzzing bees.

“I do not understand!” he spluttered angrily. “I do not care to understand! You do not speak English! I understand only of the delay!” He caught at the conductor's sleeve. “You, monsieur—is there not something that can be done?”

“I don't know, sir,” said the conductor. “We'll be in Selkirk now in a few minutes, and the best thing you can do is to see Mr. Lanson, the superintendent.”

The conductor retired.

The Frenchman sat down in his chair, mopped his face with a handkerchief, and stared from one to another of his fellow passengers.

“Messieurs, it is necessary, it is imperative, that I catch the steamer!” he cried frantically. “What am I to do?”

“Lanson's a good head; he'll fix you up some way,” said the reporter soothingly. “Don't you worry. I'm mighty sorry for you, Doctor Meunier, upon my soul—but, say, this is some story—whale of a climax!”

The Frenchman glared for an instant; then, leaning forward, suddenly shook his fist under the other's nose.

“Young man, damn your story!” he snarled distractedly.

The Hawk retired once more behind his newspaper. The reporter was pacifying the excited Frenchman. The Hawk was not interested in that. The message, that single word which had puzzled him, was transparently clear now—and had been from the moment the conductor had spoken. The surmise of the railroad officials, even if it were no more than surmise on their part, was indubitably correct—barring the slight detail of his own participation in the affair! The Wire Devils had blown up the Rainy River bridge. This, as a detached fact, did not interest him either—they were quite capable of blowing up a bridge, or anything else. That was a detail. But they were quite incapable of doing it without a very good and sufficient reason, and one that promised returns of a very material nature to themselves. What was the game? Why the Rainy River bridge? Why this morning? Why at this time? The Rainy River bridge was but a few miles west of Selkirk, and—the Hawk's eyes strayed over his newspaper again, and rested mildly upon the Frenchman's little black handbag, that was quite slim, and not over long, that was of such a size, in fact, that it might readily be concealed under one's coat, for instance, without attracting undue attention—and with the bridge out a passenger, say on the Coast Limited this noon would experience an annoying, somewhat lengthened, but unavoidable interruption in his journey. The passenger might even be forced to spend the night in Selkirk, and very much might happen in a night—in Selkirk! It was a little elaborate, it seemed as though it might perhaps have been accomplished with a little less fuss—though lack of finesse and exceeding cunning was, in his experience, an unmerited reproach where that unknown brain that planned and plotted the Wire Devils' acts was concerned; but, however that might be, the reason that the Rainy River bridge was out now appeared quite obviously attributable—to a very excited foreigner, and a little black handbag whose contents were valued at the modest sum of one hundred thousand dollars.

“And I wonder,” said the Hawk almost plaintively to himself, “I wonder which of us will cash in on that!”

The Hawk rose leisurely from his chair, as the train reached Selkirk. He permitted the Frenchman, the Selkirk physician and the reporter to descend to the platform in advance of him; but, as they hurried through the station and around to the entrance leading upstairs to the divisional offices, obviously with the superintendent's office as their objective, the Hawk, in the privileged character of an interested fellow traveller, fell into step with the reporter.

The four entered the superintendent's office, and from an unobtrusive position just inside the door the Hawk listened to the conversation. He heard Lan-son, the superintendent, confirm the conductor's story, and express genuine regret at the Frenchman's plight, as he admitted it to be a practical certainty that the other would miss his connection in San Francisco. The Frenchman but grew the more excited. He suggested a special train from the western side of the bridge—they could get him across in a boat, he said. The superintendent explained that traffic in the mountains beyond was already demoralised. The Frenchman raved, begged, pleaded, implored—and suddenly the Hawk sucked in his breath softly. The Frenchman was backing his appeal for a special with the offer to pay any sum demanded, and had taken a well-filled pocketbook from his pocket. The Hawk's eyes aimlessly sought the toes of his boots. He had caught a glimpse of a fat wad of bills, a very fat wad, whose denominations were of a large and extremely interesting nature. The official shook his head. It was not a question of money; nor was the other's ability to pay in question. Later on, he, Lanson, would know better what the situation was; meanwhile he suggested that Doctor Meunier should go to the hotel and wait—that there was nothing else to do for the moment. The Selkirk physician here intervened, and, agreeing with the superintendent, offered to escort the Frenchman to the Corona Hotel.

The Hawk, as one whose curiosity was satiated, but satiated at the expense of time he could ill afford, nodded briefly to the reporter who stood nearest to him, and quietly left the room.

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