“Another word, and I have finished. Five gentlemen, whom I imagine are present now, have witnessed a test of this cap, by direct command of their home governments. For the benefit of the others of you a simple test has been arranged for to-night. This cap on the table is charged; its inventor is at his wireless instrument, fifteen miles away. At three o’clock he will turn on the current that will explode it.” Four of the eleven men looked at their watches. “It is now seventeen minutes past two. I am instructed, for the purposes of the test, to place this cap anywhere you may select—in this house or outside of it, in a box, sealed, or under water. The purpose is merely to demonstrate its efficacy; to prove to your complete satisfaction that it can be exploded under practically any conditions.”
His entire manner underwent a change; he drew a chair up to the table, and stood for an instant with his hand resting on the back.
“The compact is written in three languages—English, French and Italian. I shall ask you to sign, after reading either or all, precisely as the directions you have received from your home government instruct. On behalf of the three greatest Latin countries, as special envoy of each, I will sign first.”
He dropped into the chair, signed each of the three parchment pages three times, then rose and offered the pen to the cowled figure at one end of the semicircle. The man came forward, read the English transcript, studied the three signatures already there with a certain air of surprise, then signed. The second man signed, the third man, and the fourth.
The fifth had just risen to go forward when the door opened silently and Mr. Grimm entered. Without a glance either to right or left, he went straight toward the table, and extended a hand to take the compact.
For an instant there had come amazement, a dumb astonishment, at the intrusion. It passed, and the hand of the man who had done the talking darted out, seized the compact, and held it behind him.
“If you will be good enough to give that to me, your Highness,” suggested Mr. Grimm quietly.
For half a minute the masked man stared straight into the listless eyes of the intruder, and then:
“Mr. Grimm, you are in very grave danger.”
“That is beside the question,” was the reply. “Be good enough to give me that document.”
He backed away as he spoke, kicked the door closed with one heel, then leaned against it, facing them.
“Or better yet,” he went on after a moment, “burn it. There is a lamp in front of you.” He paused for an answer. “It would be absurd of me to attempt to take it by force,” he added.
THE PERCUSSION CAP
There was a long, tense silence. The cowled figures had risen ominously; Miss Thorne paled behind her mask, and her fingers gripped her palms fiercely, still she sat motionless. Prince d’Abruzzi broke the silence. He seemed perfectly calm and self-possessed.