He suddenly reached out, took her in his arms.
The cry on her lips was stifled as his sought and almost touched them. At the same moment the door of the cabin, by which the prince had entered, was abruptly thrown open.
THE PRINCE IS PUZZLED
His excellency turned. The intruder’s eyes were bloodshot from the glare of the furnaces, his face black, unrecognizable, from the soot. “What the dev—” began the nobleman, as if doubting the evidence of his senses.
He must have relaxed his hold, for the girl tore herself loose. She did not pause, but running swiftly to the inner door she had just turned toward, she hastily closed and locked it behind her. As she disappeared Mr. Heatherbloom stopped an instant to gaze after her; but the prince, with sagging jaw and amazement in his eyes, continued to regard only him.
“Who the—” he began again furiously.
The intruder’s reply was a silent one. His excellency would have stepped back but it was too late. Mr. Heatherbloom’s fist struck him fairly on the forehead. Behind the blow was the full impetus of the lithe form fairly launched across the spacious cabin. The prince went down, striking hard.
But he was up in a moment and, mad with rage, made a rush. The other, quick, agile, evaded him. The prince’s muscles had lost some of their hardness from high living and he was, moreover, unversed in the great Anglo-American pastime. He strove to seize his aggressor, to strangle him, but his fingers failed to grip what they sought. At the same time Mr. Heatherbloom’s arms shot up, down and around, with marvelous precision, seeking and finding the vulnerable spots. The prince soon realized he was being badly punished and the knowledge did not serve to improve his temper. Had he only been able to get hold of his opponent he could have crushed him with his superior weight. A stationary table, however, in the center of the room assisted Mr. Heatherbloom in eluding the wild dashes, the while he continued to lunge and dodge in a most businesslike manner.
Panting, the prince had, at length, to pause. His face revealed several marks of the contest and the sight did not seem displeasing to Mr. Heatherbloom. A quiet smile strained his lips; a cold satisfaction shone in the bloodshot eyes.
“Come on,” he said, stepping a little from the table.
The prince did not respond to the invitation. His dazed mind was working now. Through bruised lids he regarded the soot-masked intruder—a nihilist, no doubt! His excellency had had one or two experiences with members of secret societies in the past. There was a nest of them in New Jersey. Though how one of them could have managed to get aboard the Nevski, he had no time just then to figure out. The nobleman looked over his shoulder toward a press-button.
“Come on!” repeated Mr. Heatherbloom softly.