The Master of Mysteries/The Assassins' Club
THE ASSASSINS' CLUB
"EVERY time I see a gargoyle," said Astro, "I feel a thrill of secret kinship. It's as if I were the only one who understood its mystery. If I were romantic, I would say that in a previous incarnation I had lived in the dark ages. What do you think about gargoyles, Valeska?"
Astro looked up from a book of Viollet-le-Duc's architectural drawings and glanced across to the pretty blond head. His assistant, busy with her card catalogue, where she kept memoranda of the Seer's famous cases, made a delightful picture against the dull crimson hangings of the wall.
She came over to him and looked down across his shoulder at the pictures of the grotesque stone monsters. "Why," she said, "I've seen those horrible cynical old ones on Notre Dame in Paris, that gaze down on the city roofs. I've always wondered why they placed them on beautiful churches."
"It's a deep question," said Astro, his eyes still on the engraving. "But to my mind they symbolize the ancient cult of Wonder. In the Middle Ages men really wondered; they didn't anticipate flying-machines years before they were invented, as we moderns do. They took nothing for granted. Everything in life was a miracle."
Valeska dropped quietly into a seat to listen. Astro had many moods. Sometimes he was the dreamy occult Seer, cryptic, mysterious; again he was the alert man of affairs, keen, logical, worldly. She had seen him, too, in society, affable, bland, jocose. But in this introspective, whimsical, analytic mood she got nearest him and learned something of the true import of his life.
He went on, his eyes half-closed, his red silken robe enveloping him like a shroud, the diamond in his turban glittering as he moved his head. His olive-skinned, picturesque face with its dark eyes was serene and quiet now. A little blue-tailed lizard, one of Astro's many exotic fancies, frisked across the table. He caught it and held it as he talked.
"In the thirteenth century clergy and laity alike believed that the forces of good and evil were almost equally balanced. They worshiped the Almighty, but propitiated Satan as well; so these grotesque beasts leered down from the cornices of the house of God, and watched the holy offices of priests. The devil had his own litany, his own science. They were forbidden practises, but they flourished then among the most intellectual people as they flourish now among the most ignorant. Magic was then a science, now it is a fake. Still, a man's chief desire is to get something for nothing,—to find a short cut to wisdom. The gargoyle is replaced by the dollar mark. So be it! One must earn one's living. Selah! I have spoken!"
He looked up with a smile and a boyish twinkle in his eyes. Then his businesslike, cynical self returned. He jumped up, tall and eager, a picturesque oriental figure informed with the stirring life of the West.
"Valeska, I've been reading about the Devil-worshipers of Paris,—the black mass, infant sacrifices, and all that. That's an anachronistic cult. I'd like to know if there really is any genuine survival of the worship of Evil?"
Valeska shuddered. "Oh, that would be horrible!"
"But interesting." He clasped his hands behind him and gazed up at the silver-starred ceiling. "I don't mean degeneracy or insanity, but a man that does evil for the love of it, as they did in the old days. Think, for instance, of the lost art of torture—the science of human suffering—"
"Oh, don't! I hate to have you talk like that!" Valeska put a hand on his arm.
"Very well, I won't." He snapped his fingers as if to rid himself of the thought, and walked into the reception-room adjoining the great studio.
Valeska went back to her work. For some minutes she arranged her cards in their tin box; then, hearing voices outside, she looked up and listened. Then she walked softly across the heavy rugs and, touching a button in the mahogany wainscoting, passed through a secret door.
Scarcely had she disappeared when Astro returned, ushering in a young woman stylishly dressed in brown. When she put aside her veil her face shone out like a portrait, vivid, instinct with grace and a delicate, rare, high-bred beauty, full of character and force. Astro showed her a seat under the electric lamp. "I thought you would help me if any one could," she was saying, in continuation of her conversation in the reception-room. "If it were anything less vague, I'd speak to mother about it; but it's too strange and elusive. I'm sure he has not been drinking; I would notice that in other ways. And yet he is different, he is not himself. It frightens me."
"Have you spoken to him about it?" Astro asked.
"Yes; but he won't say anything. He evades it, and says he's all right. But I don't dare to marry him till I know what it is that has changed him. I know it seems disloyal to suspect him, but how can I help it?"
"What is Mr. Cameron's business?"
"He's a naval lieutenant, in the construction department at the Brooklyn navy yard. And that is another reason why I'm worried. He has charge of work that is important and secret. If this change—whatever it is—should affect his work, he'd be disgraced; he might even be dishonorably discharged."
"When have you noticed this peculiarity of his? At any particular time?"
"Usually on Sundays, when he almost always comes to call; but sometimes in the middle of the week. At times he talks queerly, almost as if in his sleep, of colors and queer landscapes that have nothing to do with what we are discussing. Sometimes he doesn't even finish his sentences and goes off into a sort of daze for a minute; and then he'll ask my pardon and go on as if nothing had happened."
"And when shall you see him next?"
"He will probably come Saturday afternoon. Usually he stays to dinner, but of late he has been having engagements that prevent."
"All right," said the Seer; "I'll see what I can do. Knowing that he is at your house, I shall be able to orient myself and thereby be more receptive to his astral influence. I shall then be able to ascertain the cause of any psychic disturbance."
The young woman, rising to go, looked at him plaintively. "Oh, I hope I haven't done wrong in telling you about it! But I do love him so I can't bear to see him so changed!"
"My dear Miss Mannering," said Astro kindly, "you need have no fear, I assure you. Your business shall be kept absolutely confidential. With the exception of my assistant, no one shall ever know that you came here."
"Your assistant?" She looked at him doubtfully.
She seemed surprised. "A lady?" she asked; then, timidly, "Might I see her?"
"Certainly." Astro touched a bell.
In a moment Valeska appeared between the velvet portières, and waited there, her piquant sensitive face questioning his wish, her golden hair brightly illuminated from behind.
Miss Mannering walked to her impulsively and took her hand. "Might I speak to you for a moment?" she asked.
Valeska, giving Astro a glance, led the visitor into the reception-room.
"I had no idea that Astro had a lady assistant," she said. "I feel much better about having told him, now."
Valeska smiled at her and held the hand in both hers. "Oh, I only do some of his routine work," she said; "but he often discusses his important cases with me. I'm sure that he can help you. He is wonderful, I never knew him to fail."
"Miss Wynne," said the visitor, "no one but a woman can understand how distressed I am. I'm sure I can trust you; I can read that in your face. I am always sure of my intuitions. And, now that I have seen you, I'm going to tell you something that I didn't quite dare to tell Astro. I know my fiancé is in some trouble. But what I'm afraid of is too dreadful; it terrifies me! Here! look at this! It dropped out of Mr. Cameron's pocket the last time he called, and I found it after he had gone."
She handed an envelope to Valeska, who looked at it carefully and drew out a single sheet of paper. On this was written in green ink:
"Be at the Assassins' Saturday at seven. Haskell's turn."
"What can that mean?" Miss Mannering whispered. "I didn't dare to show it for fear of getting Bob into trouble in some way. That word 'Assassins'—Oh, it's awful!"
"May I take this letter?" Valeska asked.
"No, I daren't leave it. Mr. Cameron may miss it and ask for it. But you may tell Astro, if you think best."
Valeska gave another glance at the letter and handed it back. "My dear Miss Mannering, don't worry about it," she said, pressing her hand. "It may not be so bad as you fear. Whatever it is, Astro will find it out, you may be sure."
When the visitor had departed, Valeska walked into the studio with the news. Astro listened in silence till she had finished; then he smiled, nodded, and took up his water-pipe lazily.
"The solution of this thing is so simple that I'm surprised it hasn't occurred to you, my dear. But that's because of your lack of experience and the fact that you haven't read so much as I have. But, all the same, there may be something deeper in it than appears now. At any rate the girl is to be helped, and the lieutenant as well; and that we shall do."
"But what about the 'Assassins'?" Valeska inquired anxiously.
"Oh, that's the whole thing, of course. But I think I'll let you study that out yourself. It will be good practise for your reasoning powers. First, let's see if your powers of observation have improved. Tell me all about the letter." He blew out a series of smoke rings and regarded her quizzically.
"Well," Valeska puckered her brows, "it was written on buff-laid linen paper of about ninety pounds weight—very heavy stock, anyway—in an envelope of the same, postmarked Madison Square station, April nineteenth, four p. m. The handwriting was that of a stout middle-aged man, who had just had some serious illness, a foreigner, hard-working, unscrupulous, dishonest, with no artistic sensibility."
"Bravo! Is that all?"
"No, the stationery came from Perkins & Shaw's. I saw the stamping under the flap."
"Very good. Unfortunately we can't ask there about the Assassins. But perhaps we'll find my ideal criminal after all. The easiest plan will be to follow Cameron to-morrow night. Meanwhile, you had better do some thinking yourself."
Valeska sat down and gazed long into the great open fire, her brows frowning, her hands working mechanically, absorbed in thought. Astro took a small folding chess-board and gracefully amused himself with an intricate problem in the logistics of the game. When at last he had queened his white pawn according to his theory, he looked over at his assistant and smiled to see her seriousness. In that look something seemed to pass from him to her.
"Oh!" she cried, jumping up, "does it begin with an H?"
"More properly with a C," he replied.
She shook her head and went at the problem again, and kept at it until it was time to close the studio.
The next afternoon Astro and Valeska waited for two hours across Seventy-eighth Street from Miss Mannering's house before they saw the lieutenant emerge. They had already a good description of him, and had no trouble in recognizing the tall good-looking fellow who at half past six o'clock walked briskly up the street, ran down the stairs to the subway, and took a seat in a down-town local train. Astro and Valeska separated and took seats on the opposite side of the car, watching their man guardedly. At Twenty-third Street he got out, went up to the sidewalk, and walked eastward.
Beyond Fourth Avenue was a row of three-story, old-fashioned, brick houses, back from the street. The lieutenant entered the small iron gate to one of the yards and, taking a key from his pocket, went in the front door of a house. It slammed behind him.
"The headquarters of the Assassins," said Astro calmly, his hands in his overcoat pockets, studying the windows.
"And what next?" asked Valeska.
"We'll wait a while. Come into this next doorway."
On the side of the doorway they now entered was a sign, "Furnished Rooms." It was now after seven o'clock, and had begun to snow. Valeska stood inside the vestibule protected from the weather; Astro waited just outside watching the doorway of number 109. The Twenty-third Street cars clanged noisily by, the din of the traffic muffled by the carpet of snow. The open mouth of the subway sucked in an unsteady stream of wayfarers.
Suddenly Valeska put her hand on Astro's arm. "Does it begin with 'C-o'?" she asked.
He smiled. "No, 'C-a,'" he answered.
"Oh, dear, I thought I had it! But don't tell me! I'm sure I'll work it out, though. But it makes me anxious. Anything might happen on a night like this!"
"Yes, even an assasination."
"You don't fear that, really?" She looked at him in alarm.
"But I do,—assassination of a sort. What else could the letter mean?"
She had not time to answer before the door of the next house opened, and a man buttoned up in a fur-trimmed overcoat came out. He stopped a moment to raise an umbrella, and they could see that he was a stout pasty-faced German of some fifty years, with a curling yellow mustache. He wore spectacles and seemed to be near-sighted.
"There's the man who wrote the letter! Follow him, Valeska! Find out who he is and all that's possible! We must follow every lead."
Valeska was off on the instant, running down the steps and walking swiftly up Twenty-third Street.
Astro lighted a cigar, turned up his collar and waited another half-hour in the doorway. Nobody having entered or left number 109 by that time, he rang the bell of number 111. A Swedish maid came to the door.
"I'd like to see what rooms you have," said Astro.
"The only one is on the third floor rear," she replied, and showed him up two flights of unlighted stairs, steep and narrow, to a small square room, meagerly furnished. Walking to the window, Astro saw that, level with the floor, was a tin-covered roof over an extension in the rear. It stretched along the whole width of the four houses in the row. On this he might easily stand and look into the adjoining windows. Saying that he would move in later, Astro paid the girl for a week's rent in advance, and left the house and walked home.
Valeska next morning came full of news. "The German kept right along Twenty-third Street toward Broadway," she said, "and it occurred to me that I might get him to make the first advances, and get acquainted without being suspected. So I passed him, and very gracefully slipped on the snow and dropped my purse. Then I began looking about on the sidewalk for the money that might have dropped out. My German friend came along and offered to help me. It took some time, and the long and short of it was that we had quite a conversation, and I convinced him that I was respectable. He walked along with me and asked me where I was going. I said that I had intended going to the Hippodrome with a friend; but that I had been detained, and it was so late I thought I'd go home. He proposed having something to eat, and of course I refused. I had to be urged and urged; but the more I refused, the more anxious he was to have me come. Finally, I reluctantly assented to his invitation, and we went to the Café Riche.
"Well, you ought to have seen that German eat,—I mean you ought to have heard him eat! I couldn't eat anything myself; but sipped the wine he ordered and coyly led him on, chattering away about myself ingenuously. I had an engagement with Richard Mansfield and a three years' contract at one hundred dollars a week when he died, and was awfully anxious to get another chance. All the money I had was tied up in one of the trust companies, and so on. He kept on eating, taking the biggest mouthfuls I ever saw and leaving half of it on his mustache. Oh, I put in some hard work, I assure you!
"Then he began asking me questions, and wanted to know if I would like to earn some money on the side. Would I? I jumped at it!—five thousand actor folk out of a job this season, you know, and all that. He said I reminded him of his dead daughter—you know I'm always reminding people of somebody—and he thought he could trust me. I cast down my eyes and let him go on.
"He said there was a man he knew who had stolen some confidential papers, and he wanted to get them away from him without publicity. He needed a good clever woman to help him out on the job. I brightened up considerably. He asked me to go home with him so that he could give me a photograph to identify my victim. I said I would; although I confess I was getting nervous, not being quite sure what he was up to. He had begun paying me compliments, and when a German begins to get sentimental—well, you know!
"I took the subway with him, and we went up to One Hundred and Twenty-sixth Street. There was a big apartment hotel there, called the Dahlia,—one of those marble-halled affairs that look as if they were built of a dozen different kinds of fancy soap, with a red carpet and awfully funny oil-paintings and negro hall boys sitting in Renaissance armchairs. I refused to go up-stairs. Well, after a while he came down the elevator and handed me this photograph. What do you think?"
She handed Astro a cabinet photograph. He lifted his fine brows when he looked at it.
Valeska nodded. "I'm to scrape up an acquaintance with him, get his confidence, and then report to Herr Beimer for final instructions. I wonder what poor little Miss Mannering would say?"
She took off her sables, her saucy fur toque, and touched up her hair at the great carved mirror at one end of the studio.
Astro sat regarding the portrait in his hand. He looked up to ask, "Did you find out what his business was?"
She whirled round to him. "Oh, I forgot! He's the agent for a big German firm, connected with the Krupps' steel plant. They control the rights to a new magazine pistol. I was awfully interested in machinery, you know. It bored me to death; but I listened half an hour to his description of a new ammunition hoist for battleships."
Astro was suddenly electrified with energy. "Ah!" he exclaimed. "You didn't remember that the Krupps stand in with the German government and have the biggest subsidies and contracts in the world? He wants you to make up to a construction officer in the United States navy, does he? He needs a clever woman! I should say he did! Was Herr Beimer sober?"
"Perfectly, as far as I could see, except for his sentimentality. Of course he was a bit effusive, you know."
"Yes, I see. It wasn't his night. It was Haskell's night, whoever Haskell is! But I think we'll have to hurry. This looks more serious than I thought at first. I shall sleep at number 111 East Twenty-third Street to-night. And meanwhile I have a nice job of forgery for you, Valeska. I wish you'd practise copying this writing till you can write a short note that will pass for Lieutenant Cameron's handwriting."
He took a letter from a drawer. The envelope was addressed to Miss Violet Mannering. Valeska took it and read it over carefully. It was a single sheet, torn from a double page, and read partly as follows:
"I believe that just as everything seems somehow different at night—when we can see farther than by day; for can we not see the stars?—when our emotions seem freer—so there are two worlds in which it is possible to exist. One is the dreary every-day place of business and duty and pain; the other is free from care or suffering. Don't we enter that occult world at night through our dreams, where there is no such thing as conscience? There are no consequences there! No doubt it's a dangerous place, because it is abnormal; but its exploration is fascinating. Why ignore the fact that it exists as a refuge from the worries of matter-of-fact existence—"
Valeska read it thoughtfully. Her eyes looked through the paper as if into a mist beyond. "No wonder poor Miss Mannering is worried!" she said to herself. She looked at Astro, as if to ask a question. He was busy with a planimeter, calculating the area of a queer irregular polygon drawn on a sheet of parchment. Seeing his tense look, she turned to her study of the manuscript.
As soon as it was dark, Astro opened the window of his room on Twenty-third Street, and walked along the crackling tin roof till he came to the first window of the house occupied by the Assassins. Looking in, he saw a small, bare, hall bedroom, furnished with a cot, a wash-stand, and one chair. The next two windows were lighted. He approached them carefully. Three men were seated at a library table strewn with magazines. All were smoking comfortably. One, Astro recognized as the lientenant, another as Herr Beimer. The third was a yellow-faced man with red hair, high cheek-bones, and dark eyes deeply set into his skull. In front of him was a plate filled with what looked like caviar sandwiches, cut small and thin.
Herr Beimer said something, at which the others laughed loudly. Then with a flourish, as if drinking their health, Lieutenant Cameron took one of the sandwiches and ate it almost with an air of bravado. Beimer looked at his watch. The lean yellow-faced man walked out of the room. The lieutenant took up an illustrated paper and began to read.
Astro tiptoed carefully back to his room, put on his overcoat, and went down-stairs, walked over to the drug store, and at the telephone booth rang up Valeska.
"Have you written the letter?" he asked.
"Not yet," was the answer.
"Well, you must do it immediately as well as you can. Bring it to number 111 and ask for Mr. Silverman."
He then went back to his room. Another stealthy glance through the windows of the club showed the two still at the table. Cameron was busy with a pencil and a sheet of paper, explaining something to the German. The yellow-faced man watched them over his book. The lieutenant was evidently talking with a little difficulty; every little while he stopped, and began again with an effort. One leg was twitching at the knee-joint. He supported his head heavily on his hand.
Going back to his room, Astro took a bottle of ammonia from his overcoat pocket and placed it on the sink. Next he poured a white powder from a paper and dissolved it in a tumbler of water, stirring it with a spoon. This done, he took the wash-bowl from the stand and put it on the table beside the bed. Then he sat down to wait for Valeska.
In half an hour she appeared, breathing hard, her cheeks flushed with her haste.
"Here it is," she said, as soon as the maid had left.
"It's the best I could do." She handed it over. It read:
"Please allow the bearer to come in and see me on important business at any time he may present this.
"Good!" said Astro. "Now you must wait here and listen at the window till you hear my whistle. Then come right along the roof to me and be ready for anything."
He started to open the door when she put a hand on his arm. "Does it begin with 'C-a-n'?" she asked breathlessly.
He nodded. "How did you get it?"
"From the lieutenant's letter."
"Of course. Well, it may have begun with 'D-a-n' by this time."
"Perhaps. Be ready!" And he was down-stairs.
At the door of the Assassins' Club, a white-haired negro answered the bell.
Astro presented the letter. "I wish to see Lieutenant Cameron immediately!" he said.
"Ah, don't perzactly know, sah," said the darky. "Mah o'ders is not to leave nobody come in yah. Ah expect Ah'd better say no, sah."
Astro brushed past him and had set his foot on the stair, when a fat face looked down over the balusters. The portly form of Herr Beimer followed it.
"Vat's de madder?" he inquired, as he started down.
Without further parley Astro ran up the stair, and, before there was any time for resistance from the astonished German, grasped him by the knees, and pulling his feet from under him, sent him madly sliding down the stairs. Herr Beimer, swearing a polysyllabic oath, stumbled awkwardly to his feet and set off upstairs again after his attacker. But by this time Astro was at the top of the second flight. He dashed into the square room in the rear where he had seen the group of men. It was empty! Beside it, however, was a small hall bedroom, and here, in his shirt-sleeves, lying in a stupor on the cot, lay Lieutenant Cameron.
Astro sprang to the door and locked it just as the excited German thumped ponderously on the panels. Next he threw up the window and whistled. Then taking the lieutenant in his arms, he succeeded in carrying him to the window-sill. Valeska was already on the roof outside, waiting for him.
"Take his feet!" said Astro under his breath, and so together they managed to get the lieutenant out on the roof and to the window of the chamber in number 111. By this time the man had begun to revive and to protest in word and action against his removal. They paid no heed to him, however, and bundled him into the room and on the bed. Then Astro shook him energetically.
"Wake up, man!" he cried. "Wake up now! You can, if you try! Here! Smell this!" He reached for the ammonia and held it under the lethargic man's nostrils.
The lieutenant turned away his head, coughed, blinked, and partially rose on one arm. "Who are you?" he said, gazing at them in surprise.
"Friends of Miss Mannering's," said Astro.
The lieutenant shook his head, and stared. "What's the matter?" he brought out laboriously.
"I got you away from Beimer—afraid of trouble—want to help you." Astro spoke very distinctly, as if to a deaf man.
The lieutenant felt for his coat, found himself without one, seemed puzzled, and dropped back again limply.
"The—draw—" his voice ended in a mumble.
"Yes, the drawer! What drawer?" Astro asked eagerly.
"Find draw—" The lieutenant seemed to drop asleep.
"I wonder what he means? There's something on his mind. No doubt he has hidden something." Astro looked keenly at Valeska under drawn brows.
"Can't you revive him again?" she asked.
"No use trying the ammonia yet. It seems to have too great a reaction and sends him into a deeper sleep. We'll have to wait till he comes to himself for a moment naturally. You know what it is now, don't you?"
She nodded. "And I found it out, curiously, only from the dictionary. I looked up the word 'assassin,' and found that it came from Hashashin or hashish eater. Then I looked up about the Old Man of the Mountain who used to drug his followers with bhang till they would commit any crime, and that led me, of course, to Cannabis Indica, or Indian hemp, and I found out all about the effects of hashish."
"Yes, I thought these amateur assassins were innocent enough,—only a club to experiment with hashish; for with a moderate dose the sensations are wonderful, and well worth trying,—but there's more in this than that. What is Beimer up to? That's what I want to know."
"Is he really unconscious now?" Valeska asked, watching the prostrate form of the lieutenant as he lay flushed and breathing, but otherwise inert.
"Not really. He may be dimly aware that we are here; but his will is gone. He won't speak until he rises to the level of volition again. It's a sort of double consciousness, a rhythmic process of alternate sinking into apathy, where he sees visions, and rising into full consciousness when he can talk for a moment. I wish I knew what dose he had. The intervals are about three minutes. I tried hashish when I was in college; but I took such an overdose the last time that I have dreaded to use it again."
The lieutenant now began to mutter, as if talking in his sleep. "I'm tottering on the tops of tall pendulums. . . . The world is full of spiralated mucilages . . . lovely color. . . . In a tunnel now, twisting, turning, violet, green, orange . . . floating . . . floating like a spirit . . . tops of tropic trees . . ."
Suddenly he gasped and sat up, staring hard at them. "What did I say? What was it? Quick! before I go off again! I was saying something."
"Find the drawer," Astro suggested, leaning to him.
"Draw—draw— What was it? Drawings!" he exclaimed. "Beimer wants the drawings! For God's sake, help me! I'm losing it again! Drawings! What is it about drawings?"
"Where did you put them.
"Drawings! Yes. Un-der the—mat—" His eyes closed.
Astro tried again. "Under the mat in the little room?"
The lieutenant stared stupidly. "I forget. Mat— that meant something. I can't get it. Wait till I come up again. . . . All snaky now, like live wires . . . pink and green. . . Ah!" The rest was inaudible.
The moment he had again succumbed to the effects of the drug Astro sprang to the window. He paused there to say sharply:
"Beimer is trying to get some of the lieutenant's navy drawings, that's evident, and has given Cameron a big dose of hashish to keep him quiet till the papers can be found. I think Cameron must have suspected it, and has hidden the blue-prints or whatever they are. I'm going to go through that bedroom and see if they're under the mat. You wait here. He is likely to be unconscious for two or three minutes more now, and I'll just have time." With that, he had leaped out on the roof and was off.
The lieutenant still muttered in a whisper so low that Valeska could make out nothing. She went to the window just as Astro reappeared.
"No mat, nothing but a carpet. Beimer must have got away with them. You'll have to get after him, Valeska, while I pull the lieutenant through. If I know anything about hashish, he's had a terrific dose, and is going to have the worst case of nausea he ever had in his life. I took a look at those hashish sandwiches,—they were fairly loaded with the stuff. His first voyage wasn't a circumstance to the seasickness he'll have in about half an hour. You get right out to Beimer's place and see what you can do with him!"As Valeska threw on her furs the lieutenant was beginning to rouse again. As she slipped out of the door and ran down-stairs, he sat up on the bed, his
"I'm tottering on the top of tall pendulums! . . . The world is full of spirilated mucilages!"
"What was it?" he demanded.
"It's all right," said Astro. "Beimer has the drawings; but we'll get them for you." He turned for the glass of water on the table.
The lieutenant clutched his arm in a fierce grip. "Gods!" he cried. "Help me! The papers were secret plans for fire control. Man, it's ruin for me!"
"You must drink this, first of all," Astro replied, holding the glass to the man's lips. "It's an emetic. We must get this hemp out of your stomach before you can recover."
It was too late. The lieutenant dropped back, now as rigid as a marble statue, only his wild eyes moving. He spoke painfully through his clenched teeth.
"Oh, God!" he murmured. "Take it away! I can't drink it! I'm going through hell!" His brow was furrowed with tense lines as he fought with the deathly nausea that was working in him.
Astro put down the glass and waited. It was evident that nothing could help now, and the drug which had thoroughly impregnated the man's system must work off its own effects.
"It works so—so fast . . . All black now . . . Oh, God! . . . I'm afraid! . . . Afraid . . ." He began to moan.
"You're all right; there's no danger. You're just a little sick, that's all."
"I'm dying! It's no use . . . Tell Violet . . . I'm dead . . . Don't you see, man? I'm dead already . . . The world is full of spiralated mucilages—that's the inner secret of Death spiral . . . I'm whirling through space . . . Dead!"
Astro smiled. It was, he knew, a common symptom of an overdose of Cannabis Indica. There was, as he said, no danger. He waited for the crisis, attending to his patient like a trained nurse. For a while the moaning continued; then Cameron began to curse wildly, like a man with the delirium tremens. Then of a sudden he sat up in bed, and the convulsion came. His outraged stomach revolted at the burden it had to bear. During this Astro waited on him kindly, and when the active stage of nausea had passed he laid the lieutenant back on the bed and waited till he sank into a natural sleep. Then he took a small book from his pocket and began to read.
For half an hour he read the little volume of the Morte d'Arthur; for another half-hour he sat in a brown study, his eyes fixed on the pattern in the worn carpet. There was a zigzag figure in it which resembled the letter M.
The lieutenant moaned in his sleep, and felt under his bed mechanically with one hand. Astro's eyes followed him.
Then, with his face suddenly illumined, he rose quietly, threw up the window, and passed out on the roof. In less than five minutes he returned with a smile on his lips. He took up the book again and began reading.
It was after midnight when Valeska returned in great disappointment. She took off her coat and looked sadly at the lieutenant, who was now sleeping peacefully.
"It was no use," she said. "Herr Beimer wasn't in, and no one knew when to expect him. I waited as long as I dared; for I hated to come back unsuccessful."
"It was too bad I was so stupid as to send you away out there," said Astro quietly. "I should have taken time to think it over, first. It came to me an hour after you had left. Here are the blue-prints, safe and untouched."
"Oh!" she exclaimed joyously. "Did he tell you where they were after I left?"
"No, before you left. Didn't you hear him?"
"Under the mat? But I thought you looked and found none there."
"My dear," said Astro, with a whimsical expression on his face, "you should learn to concentrate, to focus your subconscious mind upon itself. The psychic state of receptivity—"
"Oh, bother!" Valeska exclaimed. "Where were they, if they weren't under the mat?"
"Under the mattress," he answered.
The lieutenant sat up, now fully recovered, and looked at the two. Astro handed him the blue-prints. He grasped them exultantly. For a while he lay weakly looking at them, saying nothing. Astro put on his overcoat and helped Valeska into her wraps. Just before he opened the door, he turned and said:
"I don't think I need give you any advice, Lieutenant. Go to sleep now, and you'll be all right in the morning. If you have gone through what I did the last time I was an 'assassin,' there is no danger of your ever trying it again. I think that Miss Mannering needn't know about this, certainly I shall not tell her."
"What does she know? Did she send you to help me?" the lieutenant asked anxiously.
"She asked my advice, that's all. Unfortunately she saw the name 'Assassins'; but I think you can explain that easily enough, if you don't care to confess the truth."
"How can I explain it?" Cameron said thoughtfully.
"Why, tell her that the club met to kill time," said Astro, "and that at that you are a tolerably successful assassin."