IT took the Hawk some twenty-five minutes to reach the spot he had selected as his objective, a spot some fifty yards east of the Conmore siding switch, and here he lay down in the grass under the shelter of the embankment. It was very quiet, very still, very dark; there was nothing in sight save the winking station lights in the distance, and the siding switch light nearer at hand.

“Twenty-five thousand dollars!” said the Hawk very softly to himself. He rolled the words like some sweet morsel on his tongue. “Twenty-five thousand dollars—in cash!

The Hawk spread out one side of his coat, and under its protection, in a diminutive but steady little glow of light, the tiny flashlight played its ray upon the sheet of paper across which he had scrawled the Wire Devils' code message.

“Key letter—x. One-two-three—stroke at four,” muttered the Hawk—and in parallel columns set down the letters of the alphabet, one column transposed.

It took the Hawk much longer to decode the message than it had taken those in the house to perform the same task. The Hawk was working under difficulties. A stone, none too flat, served to rest his paper upon, and he had only two hands with which to manipulate pencil, flashlight and coat. At the expiration of perhaps half an hour the result of his work looked like this:


And then the Hawk looked up—the throb and mutter of a distant train was in the air. Pencil, paper and flashlight were restored to his pockets, and he drew further back from the right of way. Far down the track the way freight's headlight flashed into view. A minute passed, another, and still another. And now, where the Hawk had lain, the ground was ablaze with light—then black again; there was the roar of steam, a grind and clash and shatter ricochetting down the string of cars, the scream and shriek of brake-shoes, and then, a panting thing, as though the big mogul were drawing in deep breaths after great exertion, the way freight came to a standstill a few yards from the siding switch.

The Hawk crept forward, his eyes sweeping down the length of the train in a keen, tense gaze. There was a flat car—it showed in a curious open space, like a break in the black thread stretched along the track—but it was too far away, and too perilously close to the caboose. His eyes travelled back; and, being nearer to the train now he discerned a boxcar, empty, its door open, almost in front of him. He crawled forward until he was abreast of it, and until he lay close up against the rails, looked cautiously up and down the length of the train, sprang to his feet, and in an instant lay stretched out far back in the interior of the car.

The train moved forward, stopped again at the station, and again moved forward. The Hawk reverted to his pencil, paper and flashlight. The code message now read:

seal waxp aper plan tedb ehin dlar gefr amed pict ureo verm ante lmer idan ssit ting room

It was now simply a matter of grouping the letters properly, and the Hawk wrote out the message at the bottom of the sheet:

Seal, wax (and) paper planted behind large framed picture over mantel Meridan('.s sitting room.

The Hawk stared at it grimly.

“'Yea,” said the Hawk, “I guess that's right! I guess the job is wished on the young fellow to a finish; he wouldn't have a hope, and MacVightie would never look any further.” The Hawk was silent for a moment. “Twenty-five thousand dollars—in cash!” murmured the Hawk again.

The way freight ran slowly, very slowly—and it had already been from ten to fifteen minutes late in reaching Conmore. At the next station the train crew seemed possessed of a perversity infernal for shifting, shunting and lifting cars. The Hawk, fuming with impatience, consulted his watch, as they finally pulled out into the clear again. It was twenty-five minutes of eleven.

The train rattled, bumped and jerked its way along—and at the remaining intermediate stations there was more delay. And when, approaching Selkirk at last, the Hawk consulted his watch again as the train whistled, he was conscious that his impatience was tempered with a sort of sullen, philosophical expectation of defeat. His luck had been too abundant during the early part of the evening! It was now ten minutes of twelve. He leaned out of the doorway, peering ahead. They were just rolling into the Selkirk yard.

The Hawk swung himself out from the car, dropped to the ground, darted quickly to one side over several spur tracks, and stood still. The way freight, like a snail, dragged past him, opening, as it were, a panorama of the scene in the yard: the low switch lights, red, green, purple and white, like myriad and variegated fireflies hovering everywhere over the ground; the bobbing lantern of a yardman here and there; the dancing gleam of a headlight, as the little yard engine shot fussily away from a string of lighted coaches—the Eastern Express—which it had evidently just made up and backed down on the main line beside the station; while to his right, up the yard, on one of the spurs, perhaps a hundred yards away, its platform showing in the glow of the dome light, stood the superintendent's car; and to his left, not quite so far up the yard, and therefore nearer to him than the private car, the Hawk could make out the black, irregular outline of the old freight shed.

The yard engine wheezed its way importantly up past the station, stopped, a switch light winked, changed colour, and the shunter began to puff its way back. The Hawk shrugged his shoulders resignedly. The game was up and he was too late, unless Dixer had been forced to defer his attempt until some time during the run that night, which was hardly likely. The yard engine was backing down now to take the superintendent's car up to the main line, preparatory to running it back and coupling it to the string of coaches beside the station platform. The Hawk smiled in the darkness without mirth, as he lost sight of the little switcher on the other side of the private car. Well, at least, he could gamble on the one chance that was left! There was only one thing to do—go over to the station and get a Pullman berth. If Dixer and the Butcher—the Butcher was “Number One”—were on the Pullman, the money was still in the private car, and——

The Hawk's eyes narrowed suddenly. A man, crouched and running swiftly, circled the end of the private car, and headed in the direction of the freight shed—and like a flash the Hawk whirled and leaped forward, running silently toward the same goal. The Hawk's brain, stimulated, keen, alert, worked with lightning speed, and suddenly a strange low laugh was on his lips. Their courses were convergent, his and that black running shape's, and the other had not noticed him, and there appeared to be something, a package, under the other's arm. The Hawk, as he ran, slipped his mask over his face. Was it the dummy package—or the twenty-five thousand in cash? Had the man succeeded, or had the yard engine, backing down to couple on, disturbed him in his attempt just at the psychological instant? Again that strange low laugh, in a panting breath, was on the Hawk's lips. It did not matter! There was a way now. He was not too late. If he got both of the packages he could not lose—and there was a way to accomplish that, a wild, dare-devil way, but a sure way!

It was black, pitch black, in near the shed, and the Hawk, with the shorter distance to cover, reached the edge of the freight shed platform, and crouched down on the track. Came the faint crash and bump of the yard engine coupling to the private car; then the short, quick gasps of a runner out of breath, and a flying form bounded across the tracks, sprang to the platform, and dashed for the freight shed door—and the Hawk, his muscles, rigid, taut as steel, released suddenly, as a coiled spring is released, leaped and hurled himself upon the other.

There was a yell of dismay, of surprise and fury, that seemed to echo from one end of the yard to the other. The man went down in a heap from the impact. The package, from under his arm, rolled off along the platform—and the Hawk in a swoop was upon it. He snatched it up, and running like a deer now, headed for the yard engine and the private car.

Came another yell from behind him. He heard the freight shed door flung violently open; and then, in grim emphasis of a sudden chorus of wild, infuriated shouts from Dixer's waiting companions, the vicious tongue flame of a revolver split the black, and the roar of the report reverberated through the yard like a cannon shot.

And now from the yard itself, the roundhouse and the station came answering shouts. On the Hawk ran—he was alongside the private car now, which was already in motion—and now he was opposite the cab of the yard engine. The fireman, at the sudden pandemonium, head thrust out, was hanging in the gangway. The Hawk's automatic swung to a line with the other's head.

“Get out!” gritted the Hawk coldly. “Both of you—you and your mate! Get out—on the other side!

The man, with a dazed oath, retreated, and the Hawk sprang through the gangway. The engineer, jumping from his seat, hesitated, and in the yellow light of the cab lamp looked for the fraction of a second into the muzzle of the Hawk's automatic, and into the hard, uncompromising black eyes behind the mask—and followed the fireman in a hasty exit through the opposite gangway.

The Hawk snatched at the throttle, pulled it wider—and, like a beast stung to sudden madness under the spur, the yard engine quivered, and in a storm of exhausts, coughing the red sparks skyward from the stack, the drivers racing, spitting fire as they sought to bite and hold the steel, plunged forward. Ahead the way was clear to the main line, but behind——The Hawk dropped his package on the floor of the cab, leaned suddenly far out through the gangway, and as suddenly fired, his automatic cutting a lane of flame through the darkness. He had fired at the ground, but his shot had been effective. The engineer or the fireman, he could not distinguish which, leaping to board the private car by the rear platform, leaped back instead, and with a series of wild gesticulations, in which arms and fists waved furiously, vanished in the darkness.

The yard engine, as though playing snap-the-whip with the private car behind it, took the main line switch with a stagger and a lurch, and straightened away into the clear. There was speed now, and the speed was increasing with every second. The shouts, the yells, the cries, the pandemonium from the yard was blotted out in the pound of the drivers and the belch of the exhaust; and the station and switch lights were lost to sight as engine and car flew on, heading west into the foothills. The Hawk chuckled to himself. There would be wild confusion in the dispatcher's office, and wild confusion all along the line west of Selkirk, as regulars, extras and traffic of all sorts scurried for safety to the sidings—but there would be no interference with him! Where they would otherwise have ditched him, given him an open switch at the first station and sent him to destruction without compunction, he possessed, as it was, a most satisfactory hostage in the person of the division superintendent, whom they would hesitate about sending to eternity at the same time!

Possibly a minute and a half, two at the outside, had passed since he had jumped through the gangway. He eased the throttle a little now, reducing the speed to a rate more nearly commensurate with safety; and, placing the package on the driver's seat, ripped off the outside wrapper. There was a queer, hard smile on the Hawk's lips, as his fingers tore at the covering of one of the small sealed packets within. Was it the dummy parcel—or the twenty-five thousand in cash? Had Dixer succeeded—or was the money still behind him there in the private car?

The cab lamp above the dancing gauge needles seemed to throw its meagre yellow glow with strained inquisitiveness over the Hawk's shoulder—and then the Hawk laughed softly, and laughed again. In his hands were banknotes. He riffled the stack through his fingers. It was here, in his possession—twenty-five thousand dollars in cash!

And he laughed again, and glanced around him—through the cab glass at the white ribbons of steel glistening under the headlight's glare, around the murky cab that in its sway and jolt seemed to endow a legion of shadowy with movement, vitality and life, at the platform of the private car, which he could see by looking along the edge of the tender, and which, like its fellow at the rear, was bathed in the soft radiance of a dome light. Well, he might have known from the fact that the occupants of the car had not made any move as yet, at least from the forward end, that they had been in bed and asleep when the disturbance began; and he might, on that count, if he had stopped to think, have known that Dixer had succeeded even before he, the Hawk, had put it to the proof by opening the parcel.

A lurch of the cab sent him against the seat, and scattered the sealed packages. He gathered them together again hurriedly. He had only to slow down the engine a little more, jump to the ground, let the engine and car go on, make his own way back through the fields, and he would be safe unless—that strange, queer smile, half grim, half whimsical, was flickering across his lips—unless he cared to risk his life for that dummy package back there in the car behind, that contained nothing more valuable than neatly trimmed pieces of blotting paper!

The smile lost its whimsicality, and the grimness gathered until his lips drooped in sharp, hard lines at the corners of his mouth—and, abruptly, lifting up the seat, he swept the packages of banknotes into the engineer's box, leaped across the cab, and began to claw his way up over the coal, making for the back of the tender.

“Twenty-five thousand in cash for me, and twenty years in the 'pen' for the kid, doesn't look like an even break,” muttered the Hawk, as he clawed his way up. “Maybe I'm a fool—I guess maybe I am—but it doesn't look like an even break. You see,” said the Hawk, continuing to commune with himself, “they'll know, of course, that some one who wasn't Meridan tried to get the package, but with the package still there they'll think that the 'some one' made a bull of it, and to-morrow morning when they open the package and spot the finger prints, and get that bank seal in Meridan's home, they'll hold him for it cold, because what's happened around here to-night'll only look like somebody making a try for the goods without knowing they were already gone. The kid wouldn't have a hope—the Ladybird wasn't dealing any aces except to himself—the kid would go up for having previously stolen the goods on his own account. Yes, I guess he would—wax, seal and paper in his house to make dummy packages with—yes, I guess the kid would stand a hot chance!”

The Hawk rose to his feet at the rear of the tender, preparing to negotiate a leap down over the ornamental brass platform railing of the private car—and instantly flung himself back flat on his face on the coal. The car door was flung open, and Lanson, the superintendent, in pajamas, a revolver in his hand, stepped out on the platform. He was closely followed by a young man—Meridan, the bank clerk, obviously—also in pajamas, but apparently unarmed; and, behind Meridan again, came the negro porter.

Lanson's voice, raised excitedly, carried to the Hawk:

“Damn it, there's no one in the cab! What the devil sort of a game is this!”

The Hawk edged up to the top of the coal again—and the next instant, with catlike agility, he launched himself forward. Lanson, clambering over the platform railing, with the very evident intention of making his way via the tender to the throttle, gasped audibly over the racket of the beating trucks, and in a sort of stunned surprise and irresolution remained poised inertly on the railing, as the Hawk, clinging now with one hand to the rear handrail of the switcher, his feet planted on the buffer beam, thrust the muzzle of his automatic into Lanson's face.

“Drop that gun!” invited the Hawk in a monotone.

The weapon, from Lanson's hand, clattered down, struck the coupling, and dropped to the track.

The Hawk spoke again—with unpleasant curtness:

“You—Sambo! Move back, and stand in the doorway! Yes—there! Now, you, young man, you stand in front of Sambo—your back to him!” And then, as Meridan too obeyed, though more slowly than the porter and with a sort of defiant reluctance, the Hawk addressed the superintendent: “Now, you—your name's Lanson, isn't it?” he snapped. “You, Lanson, back up against the young fellow. Yes—that's it! Sambo, put your hands on the young fellow's shoulders—and you, young fellow, do the same on Lanson's!” The Hawk swung over to the' car platform—and then the Hawk smiled uninvitingly. “It's the lock-step backwards,” he explained insolently. “You get the idea, don't you? If either of you two behind lift your hands, Lanson in front here pays for it. Now—back with you!”

They shuffled backward into the observation compartment of the car, through this, and through a narrow side corridor, and emerged into the main compartment of the car. The Hawk, guiding their movements by the simple expedient of prodding the muzzle of his automatic none too gently into Lanson's body, here ranged the three along the side of the car; and, backing over to the opposite side himself, halted in front of the bookcase, and stood surveying his captives with his former insolent stare. The porter was patently reduced to a state of nervous terror; Meridan, young, clean-cut, was white to the lips, and his lips quivered, but his eyes, a hard, bitter light in them, never left the Hawk's face; Lanson, too, was white, but there was a stern composure in his face that was absent from the younger man's.

It was Lanson who spoke.

“I presume,” he said evenly, “that you are the abandoned scoundrel, known as the Hawk, whom one of these days we are going—to hang.”

The Hawk shrugged his shoulders.

“I haven't a calling card with me, but we'll let it go at that,” he answered flippantly.

The car swayed and lurched suddenly; the trucks beat a louder tattoo as they clattered over a switch; lights, a row of them from without, scintillated through the car windows—and were gone. They were not running perilously fast, but fast enough to prohibit the possibility of any one, even an acrobatic brakeman from a stalled train, swinging aboard. The Hawk laughed low. Also, he had been quite right—they had just passed a station, and, thanks to the superintendent's presence, no attempt had been made to interfere with the train.

From one of the Hawk's pockets—with his left hand—the Hawk produced a small steel jimmy. He knelt down, and, still covering the three men, inserted the jimmy in between the cupboard doors. There was a creak, the rip and split and tear of rending wood and lock, and the doors flew apart. The Hawk reached in, laughed again, as, with the dummy package under his arm, he stood up and began to back away toward the corridor leading to the forward end of the car—and the laugh died on his lips. In the winking of an eye Meridan had swung his hands from Lanson's shoulders, and was springing forward.

“You'll never get it!” The boy's voice was a hoarse whisper. “Not while I——”

“Keep away, you fool!” snarled the Hawk, and fired—at the floor. His brain seemed instantly in a riot of ironical mockery. He could not fire at the boy—it was the boy who had brought him here—and now the other was upon him—like a wild cat—snatching at the automatic.

It was only another step backward to the opening of the corridor, and the Hawk gained it; but still the boy clung on, fighting furiously. He saw Lanson and the porter leap forward, but for the moment that mattered little—no more than one at a time could get at him in the confined and narrow space here. To hold the package rendered his left arm useless. He dropped the package to the floor, and kicked it deftly back behind him, as the boy, with both hands, wrenched and battled madly for possession of the automatic.

They were swaying now, the two of them, bumping their shoulders and their arms and elbows against first one side of the corridor and then the other. There was the crash of splintering glass as they lunged into a window—another crash, louder, more ominous, and with it a tongue of flame, as the automatic went off in their hands—and something like a red-hot iron seared the Hawk's side, and a blur came before his eyes.

He reeled, recovered himself, and, massing all his strength for the effort, as, with a cry of triumph, Meridan closed again, he tore himself free from the other's grasp. There was one way—he was still in possession of the automatic—only one way now.

With a lightning swing he whipped the hutt of the weapon to the other's head, backed rapidly away as the boy slid a limp thing to the floor, and, picking up the package as he moved backward, holding the narrow corridor with his automatic, though Lanson was kneeling now at Meridan's side, he reached the observation compartment, whirled, ran for the door, opened it, and stepped out on the platform.

He stood panting here, a little dizzy, a sort of nauseating weakness upon him, as he fumbled in his pocket. He was not as quick as usual in his work, not as expert now in the use of his skeleton keys, but, swiftly for all that, he locked the car door.

The car and the engine seemed to sway and lurch and pitch and toss as they had never done before. Was the speed greater? What was it? He stumbled and nearly fell as he climbed to the tender. He fell, unable to maintain his footing in the shifting coal, as he reached the cab. There was something hot and wet that seemed to be working its way down his leg; his side was giving him intolerable pain.

He looked at the package in his hands, looked at it queerly for a moment, and then his drawn lips parted in the old whimsical smile, as he lurched forward and opened the fire-box door. The red glow filled the cab and spread upward, tinging the sky with a rosy light—and the Hawk thrust the package into the fire, and, swaying unsteadily, watched it burst into flame.

He glanced at the gauge now. The steam was dropping rapidly. He swept his hand across his eyes. He had two things to do, and it seemed as though his brain clogged in its decision as to which he should do first—he had to get more coal on the fire, or else the engine would run down, and he did not want it to run down, for it must keep on going a long way, a very long way if possible, after he left it; and he must stop the flow of blood from his wound somehow, or else——

He put coal into the fire-box. It was painful, dizzy work, and he spilled a great deal of it, and the lumps rolled over the floor of the cab, and he stumbled over the lumps.

The Hawk's teeth were biting into his bloodless lips, as he finally shut the fire-box door, and, staggering to the side of the cab, lifted up the engineer's seat again. Here, under the packages of banknotes, he found a bunch of waste and some cord; and then, reeling with the lurch of the cab, reeling with his own weakness that only an iron nerve held back from mastering him, he examined his wound, found it, though painful and bleeding profusely, to be only a bad flesh wound, and, making a thick pad of the waste, he laid it against his side, and bound it there by passing the cord tightly several times around his body. It was a crude bandage, but it should, at least, check the flow of blood—afterwards, if he had luck, there would be opportunity for a better one!

His mind reverted, seemingly without volition of his, to the fight in the car, and he spoke aloud.

“I guess,” said the Hawk, “I didn't hit him as hard as twenty years in the 'pen' would have hit him—I guess I didn't hit him that hard.”

He rested for a moment, sitting on the floor of the cab; then from the engineer's box he removed the sealed packages, the torn outside wrapper, and likewise an evening newspaper which he found there. He wrapped up the banknotes in the newspaper, tied the bundle securely with the remainder of his cord, replaced the seat, and, crouched low enough on the floor to be protected by the tender from, say, a shot fired through the observation window of the private car, kept his eyes fastened on the right of way ahead.

The next station must be close at hand, and there was but one way in which he could get back to Selkirk—and he must get back. There was that letter—the Ladybird's letter—that would be received in Elkhead in the morning! His brain was clearer now. He must be on Extra No. 92, the eastbound fast freight's, running time, and she must be somewhere very near here, must have taken to the siding at the next station probably to avoid him, and to give clearance to what was, undoubtedly now, coming behind him—a detective's special, with MacVightie, naturally, in command.

He straightened up painfully. Ahead, he had caught the glint of switch and station lights. The siding was on the left-hand side. He moved to the left-hand side of the cab, and lay on the cab floor by the gangway. That letter! It seemed to obsess him now. If, when the letter was read, the bank seal, the wax, and the wrapping paper were found hidden in the boy's home, the fact that some one—he, the Hawk—had stolen the package from the car in no way changed anything. The boy's apparent prior guilt was as glaring as ever. On the other hand, with the package gone, and if the seal and those other things were not found, the letter became simply the expression of some practical joker's perverted sense of humour, or the irresponsible work of some fool or crank. He frowned in a sort of dazed irritation. He had known that all along, hadn't he? He had known when he started after that dummy package in the first place that he would have to go all the way—so why was his mind dwelling now on useless repetitions!

The Hawk raised his head slightly—a deafening racket was in his ears. The freight was here—on the siding. He was roaring past it now. He could not hope for an open boxcar on the fast freight. His eyes were searching eagerly for a flat car—a flat car loaded with anything that would afford him shelter. Yes—there was one—two of them—loaded with steel girders.

The roar subsided; he was past the station and into the clear again—and now the Hawk was at the throttle, easing the speed craftily. He did not dare to “shut off” entirely, for, behind there at the station, they would know, if the sound of the exhaust ceased, that he had stopped. He checked a little with the “air” now. And now, calculating the speed reduced enough to risk a jump, he opened the throttle to its former notch, took up his newspaper package, lowered himself to the bottom gangway step, and swung off.

He rolled down the embankment. The switcher and private car went by, and, gradually gaining speed again, racketed on up the right of way. With a groan, the Hawk readjusted his displaced and makeshift bandage, and began to make his way back toward the station. If he had slowed enough to allow of a safe landing for himself, he had, of course, given Lanson the same opportunity—but he had no fear of that. Lanson might have jumped, but Meri-dan, whom he had left unconscious, couldn't, and Lanson would stick to Meridan. As for the porter—the Hawk shrugged his shoulders, as he looked about him—the porter had not jumped.

He stumbled on. If he were right, if they had started a posse on a special in pursuit, he had plenty of time. The fast freight could not pull out until the special had gone by. It seemed a long way, an interminable way, an immeasurably greater distance than he had covered coming up on the switcher. And then, at last, the tail-lights of the stalled freight came into sight around a bend, and grew brighter. And then, too, there came from the eastward the rumble of an approaching train. He grew cautious now, and, creeping far out from the side of the track, passed the caboose, crept in again toward the line of cars, located the position of the flat cars, climbed aboard one of them, and crawled in under the shored-up girders.

The Hawk lay very quiet. He was weak again, and his head swam, and he was dizzy. An engine and car—MacVightie and his posse presumably—passed by on the main line; and then, presently, the freight, with a clatter and bang echoing from one to another down the length of cars, drew out of the station.

When the Hawk moved again, it was as the train whistled and slowed for the Selkirk yard. Perhaps twenty minutes had passed—the fast freight, with no stops and already late, had made time. He put his mask in his pocket, wormed his way out from under the girders, and peered ahead and behind. They were just crawling into the upper end of the yard. He slid to the ground, found himself a little more steady on his feet, slipped across the spur tracks, dodged in between two buildings that flanked the side of the yard, and came out on the street.

Under a street lamp the Hawk looked at his watch. It was one o'clock. He swayed a little again, but his lips set hard. There was not very much time. Somewhere up the line the switcher and the private car would come to a stop, and they would bring Meridan home—and once that happened, with its consequent stir in Meridan's apartment, it would be impossible to get in there, and the game, as far as the boy was concerned, would be up.

“Yes,” said the Hawk, as he forced himself along the street, “I guess maybe that's right—I guess maybe I'm a fool—but it wasn't an even break.”

A street car at the next corner took him across town; and fifteen minutes more found him standing in the unlighted vestibule of the Linden Apartments. The tiny flashlight swept the ground floor apartment doors—and an instant later the door of Apartment B yielded noiselessly to the deft manipulation of a skeleton key.

The Hawk closed the door, and stole forward. It was a rather fashionable apartment, as the Ladybird had said, but it was also a very small one, small enough to warrant the presumption that the young couple did not keep a servant, and that there would probably be no one there except Meridan's wife. A door at his right, as he felt out in the darkness, he found to be open. He listened—for the sound of breathing. There was nothing. The flashlight winked—and the Hawk stepped forward into the room. It was the sitting room. The flashlight was sweeping about now in an inquisitive little ray. A door, closed, leading to an inner room, was on his right; facing him was a heavily portièred window, the portières drawn; and a little to the left of the window was the mantel.

The flashlight's ray wavered suddenly, unsteadily—and the Hawk caught at the nearest thing to him, the table in the centre of the room, for support, a sense of disaster upon him, a realisation that, lashed on as it might be by force of will, there was a limit to physical endurance, and that the limit had well nigh been reached. His hand brushed across his eyes, and brushed across them again to clear his sight, as he tried to follow the flashlight's ray to where it played jerkily on a massively framed picture over the mantel. He bit his lips now, bit them until they bled—and moved forward—and laid his parcel of banknotes on the floor that he might have the use of both hands—and climbed upon a chair, and felt in behind the picture. Yes—it was there! His fingers closed on a roll of paper, twitched and shook a little as they pulled it out—and a small package from inside the roll fell with a slight thud to the mantel, and from the mantel bounded off to the floor.

The Hawk caught his breath, as he listened, and descended from the chair.

“Clumsy fool!” he gritted fiercely, as he knelt on the floor. “I—I guess I'm pretty near the count to do a thing like that.”

The flashlight came into play again, and disclosed a metal seal and several pieces of dark-green wax peeping through the paper wrapper that had been split apart in the fall. He picked them up, and put them in his pocket; then, loosening his vest, he tucked the roll of wrapping paper inside his shirt. Well, it was done now; he had only to get back to his room, and there was surely strength enough left for that. Again his hand swept across his eyes, and pressed hard against his temples—and then, stooping swiftly, he clutched at his package of banknotes on the floor beside him, and stood up, rigid and tense.

Out of the darkness, almost at his elbow, with a startling clamour that clashed and shattered through the silence, and seemed to set a thousand echoes reverberating through the room, came the ringing of the telephone.

Some one in the inner room stirred. The Hawk drew back hurriedly into the window recess behind the portières. The telephone rang again. There came a step now, and now the room was flooded with light, and a woman, a dressing gown flung hastily over her shoulders, crossed from the inner doorway to the table, and picked up the instrument.

“Yes?... Hello!... What is it?” she asked, a little sleepily. “Yes, this is Mrs. Meridan... What?... My husband!” Her voice rang out in sudden terror. “What did you say?” she cried frantically. “Yes, yes—the Hawk—my husband—unconscious... You are not telling me all the truth—you are trying to keep the worst from me—for God's sake tell me the truth!... Not dangerous?... You are sure—you are sure?... Yes, yes, I understand!... At the station in half an hour... I will be there.”

Mechanically she hung the receiver on the hook, and clung for a moment to the table's edge, her face grey and bloodless; and then her lips moved, and one hand clenched until the tight-drawn skin across the knuckles was an ivory white.

“I pray God they get this Hawk!” she whispered. “I pray God they do! And I pray God they kill him! The coward! The miserable, pitiful coward!”

The Hawk's fingers were digging at the window sill, because somehow his knees were refusing to support his weight. What was she saying? He did not quite understand. Well, it did not matter, she was gone now into that other room—only she had left the light on. It was very strange the way his hand on the window sill seemed to keep pulling his body around in circles!

Time had lost concrete significance to the Hawk. She appeared again, fully dressed now, and, switching off the light, went out into the hall, and the front door closed behind her.

The Hawk parted the portières, and staggered across the room—and, a moment later, a dark form, a newspaper parcel clutched under its arm, emerged stealthily from the vestibule, and, reeling like a drunken man, disappeared in the darkness down the street.

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