“I told your excellency I had no wish for a long sea voyage.” A mocking voice now made itself heard.
The nobleman started, and looked closer; a mist seemed to fall from before his gaze. He recognized the fellow now—the man they had run down. The shock of that terrible experience, the strain of the disaster, had turned the fellow’s brain. That would explain everything—this extraordinary occurrence. There was nothing to do but to humor him for the moment, though it was awkward—devilish!—or might soon be!—if this game should be continued much longer.
Mr. Heatherbloom glided silently toward the hangings near the alcove. What now?—the prince asked with his eyes. Mr. Heatherbloom unloosened from a brass holder a silk cord as thick as his thumb.
“If your excellency will permit me—” He stepped to the prince’s side.
That person regarded the cord, strong as hemp.
“What do you mean?” burst from him.
“It is quite apparent.”
An oath escaped the prince’s throat; regardless of consequences, he sprang to his feet. “Never!”
A desperate determination gleamed in his eyes. This crowning outrage! He, a nobleman!—to suffer himself to be bound ignominiously by some low polisson of a raffish mushroom country! It was inconceivable. “Jamais!” he repeated.
“Ah, well!” said Mr. Heatherbloom resignedly. “Nevertheless, I shall make the attempt to do what I propose, and if you resist—”
“You will assassinate me?” stammered the nobleman.
“We won’t discuss how the law might characterize the act. Only,” the words came quickly, “don’t waste vain hopes that I won’t assassinate you, if it is necessary. I never waste powder, either—can clip a coin every time. One of my few accomplishments.” Enigmatically. “And”—as the prince hesitated one breathless second—“I can get you straight, first shot, sure!”
His excellency believed him. He had heard how in this bizarre America a single man sometimes “held up” an entire train out west and had his own sweet way with engineer, conductor and passengers. This madman, on the slightest provocation now, was evidently prepared to emulate that extraordinary and undesirable type. What might he not do, or attempt to do? The nobleman’s figure relaxed slightly, his lips twitched. Then he sank back once more into the strong solid chair at the desk.
“Good,” said Mr. Heatherbloom. A cold smile like a faint ripple on a mountain lake swept his lips. “Now we shall get on faster.”
Mr. Heatherbloom, with fingers deft as a sailor’s, secured the prince. The single silken band did not suffice; other cords, diverted from the ornamental to a like practical purpose, were wound around and around his excellency’s legs and arms, holding him so tightly to the chair he could scarcely move. Having completed this task, Mr. Heatherbloom next, with vandal hands, whipped from the wall a bit of priceless embroidery, threw it over the nobleman’s head and, in spite of sundry frenzied objections, effectually gagged him. Then drawing the heavy curtains so that they almost concealed the bound figure in the dim recess, the young man stepped once more out into the salon.