Of a sudden he closed with Sofia, roughly clasping her body to him.
“Struggle with me!” he pleaded—“get me by the throat, throw me back across the desk—”
“What do you mean? Let me go!”
In answer to her efforts to wrench away, Lanyard only tightened his hold and swung her toward the desk.
“Do as I bid you! It’s the only way out. Let them think you heard a noise, got up to investigate, found me here, rifling the safe—”
“No,” she insisted—“no! Why should I save myself at your expense?—betray you—my father—!”
“Then give me the obedience of a daughter ... or let Victor succeed in branding you a thief, the daughter of a thief!”
He stilled the protest she would have uttered by placing fingers over her lips.
In the corridor an angry rumour of voices, alarmed calls and cries, with thumps and scuffles of hasty feet, in the bedchamber the shrieks persisting without the least hint of failing: as a damned soul might bawl upon its bed of coals ...
“Sofia, I implore you!”
Still she hesitated.
“Never fear for me, remember that I am of the Secret Service: two minutes after I see the inside of the nearest police station, I shall be free—and happy in the assurance that your name is without stain. Then Karslake will come for you, bring you to me ... Now!”
Lanyard caught the girl’s two wrists together and, throwing himself bodily backward across the desk, carried her hands to his throat.
With a simultaneous crash the door was flung back to the wall. Led by Victor Vassilyevski a dozen men, guests and servants, in various stages of dishabille, streamed into the room.
THE DEVIL TO PAY
When it was all over, when the gravelled drive no longer crunched to wheels that bore away the man Nogam to answer for his misdeeds, when the household had quieted down and the most indefatigable sensation-monger had wearied of singing the praises of the Princess Sofia and, tossing off a final whiskey-and-soda, had paddled sleepily back to bed, lights burned on brightly in two parts only of Frampton Court, in the bedchambers tenanted respectively by Prince Victor Vassilyevski and his reputed daughter.
Alone, Prince Victor sat at the desk where he had, four hours earlier, inscribed those characters which should have hurried Nogam into a premature grave. That they had failed of their mission was something that fretted Victor Vassilyevski, his mind and nerves, to a pitch of exacerbation all but unendurable.
What had become of that sentence to death? And what of that other, the telegram which, forwarded by Nogam’s hand to Sturm, should long since have set in motion the organized machinery of murder and demolition?
Had Nogam, as he had meekly insisted on being questioned subsequent to his subjugation, truly delivered the two messages as directed and, miraculously escaping his fate decreed, returned to Frampton Court by the twelve-three, likewise in strict conformance with instructions?