“It was to discuss this,” he continued, “that we met to-night. I laid a trap for my four friends, and they fell into it. They have signed a document pledging themselves to resist this bill, in such a fashion that their doing so renders them parties to an illegal conspiracy. That document is in my possession. They all signed it, and it was left for me to be the last. No one noticed that my name was written across a piece of paper laid over the document itself. Now this I keep as a hostage over them. Sooner or later, when their plans mature, it will occur to them what they have done. They will remember that, so long as I hold this document, I have them in my power. Weiss was uneasy before he left the room to-night. In less than a week they will be trying to regain possession of that document under some pretext or other. I am going to show you where I keep it.”
He pushed his chair away and pulled up the rug from beneath it. Even then Virginia, who had obeyed his gesture and was standing by his side, could see nothing unusual in the appearance of the hardwood floor. She watched his finger, however, count the cracks from a knot in the wood. Then he pressed a certain spot, and one of the blocks sprang up a little way and was easily removed. Beneath it was the steel lid of a small coffer, with two keyholes.
“This is my hiding-place,” he said calmly, “and these,” he added, “are the keys.”
He laid before her two keys of curious device, and he took from a drawer in his desk a thin chain of platinum and gold.
“Now,” he said, “you are going to be the guardian of these keys. You are going to wear this chain around your neck all the time, and the keys are going in here.”
He drew from his pocket a gold locket, and touching the spring showed her that inside, instead of any place for a photograph, were little embedded pads of velvet, shaped for the keys. He placed them in and hung the locket around her neck. She looked at it, half terrified.
“I do not understand,” she said, “why you trust me with this. Surely it would be safer with you!”
He smiled grimly.
“You do not know my friends,” he said. “Remember that in my possession is not only the document which must cause them to abandon their great scheme of attack upon me, but also that that same document, if made proper use of, means ruin and ridicule for them. New York is a civilized city, it is true, but money can buy the assassin’s pistol to-day as easily as it bought the bravo’s knife a few hundred years ago. Have you ever thought of the number of unexplained, if not undetected crimes you read of continually, in which the victims are generally rich men? Perhaps not, and you need not worry your little head about it, but take my word for it, the keys are safer with you.”
Virginia laid her hand tremulously upon the locket.
“They shall be safe,” she said, “but tell me this. I am never to give them up to any one but you?”