“I scarcely see where the bungling comes in,” Littleson answered. “I offered her a hundred thousand dollars for that paper. She took the tip and got it somehow. How could I tell that she had another scheme in her mind?”
“One hundred thousand dollars!” Weiss muttered. “Better have offered her a million and made sure of it. We shall have to pay that now, I expect. Who’s got it?”
“She would not tell me,” Littleson answered.
Weiss felt his forehead. It was wringing wet. He went to the cupboard, poured out another drink, and lit his cigar.
“Did she give you any idea?” he asked.
“None at all!” Littleson answered. “Some one seems to have outbid us. I only know that it was not Phineas.”
Weiss leaned back in his chair.
“It just shows,” he said under his breath, “what fools the shrewdest of us can be sometimes. There were you and I, and Higgins and Bardsley, four men who have held our own, and more than held our own, in the innermost circle of this thieves’ kitchen. And yet, when Phineas Duge sprung that thing upon us, and we saw the thunderbolt coming, we were like frightened sheep, glad to do anything he suggested, glad to sign our names even to that d——d paper. Do you realize, Littleson, that we may have to leave the country?”
“If we do,” he answered, “we are done for—I am at least. I am in Canadian Pacifics too deep. If I cannot keep the ball rolling here, I can never pull through.”
“It all depends,” Weiss said, “into whose hands that paper has gone. A week’s grace is all I want, time enough to fight this thing out with Duge.”
“Has he been near you?” Littleson asked. “Has he offered any explanation?”
Weiss shrugged his shoulders.
“None,” he answered. “That little fool of a Leslie, the outside broker, must have given us away. I was afraid of him from the first. He was always Duge’s man.”
A clerk knocked at the door. He entered, bearing a card.
“Mr. Norris Vine wishes to see you, sir!” he announced.
Weiss and Littleson exchanged swift glances. The same thought flashed into both their minds. Neither spoke for fully a minute. Then Weiss, with the card crumpled up in his hand, turned to the clerk, and his voice sounded as though it came from a great distance.
“Show him in,” he said.
Littleson sank into a chair. His eyes were still fixed upon his companion’s.
“God in heaven!” he muttered.
Norris Vine shook hands with neither of the two men he greeted upon entering the room. Weiss, now that he felt that a crisis of some sort was at hand, recovered altogether from the nervous excitement of the last few minutes. He bowed courteously, if a little coldly, to Vine, and motioning him to a chair, took his own place in the seat before his desk. His manner was composed, his face was set and stern. Behind his spectacles his eyes steadfastly watched the countenance of the man whose coming might mean so much. Littleson, taking his cue, did his best also to feign indifference. He leaned against a writing-table, close to where Vine was sitting, and taking out his case, carefully selected and lit a cigarette.