He tried to rouse himself mentally, to prod his brain to action, to pit it in a fight for life against these self-confessed criminals and murderers with their mask of culture, who surrounded him now. Was there a way out? What was it the Tocsin had said—“the most powerful and pitiless organisation of criminals the world has ever known—the stake a fortune of millions—her life!” There had, indeed, been no overemphasis in the words she had used! They had taken pains themselves to make that ominously clear, these men! Every detail of the strange house, with its luxurious furnishings, its cleverly contrived appointments, breathed a horribly suggestive degree of power, a deadly purpose, and an organisation swayed by a master mind; and, grim evidence of the merciless, inexorable length to which they would go, was the ghastly white face of the dead chauffeur, bound hand and foot, in the chair before him!
That empty glass in the hand of one of the men! He could not take his eyes from it—except as his eyes were drawn magnetically to that full glass in the hand of one of the others. What height of sardonic irony! He was to drink that other glass, to die because he refused to answer questions that for years, with every resource at his command, risking his liberty, his wealth, his name, his life, with everything that he cared for thrown into the scales, he had struggled to solve—and failed!
And then the leader spoke.
“Mr. Dale,” he said, with cold significance, “I regret to admit that your pseudo taxicab driver was so ill-advised as to refuse to answer the same questions that I have put to you.”
Five to one! That was the only way out—and it was hopeless. It was the only way out, because, convinced that he could answer those questions if he wanted to, these men were in deadly earnest; it was hopeless, because they were—five to one! And probably there were as many more, twice or three times as many more within call. But what did it matter how many more there were! He could fight until he was overpowered, that was all he could do, and the five could accomplish that. Still, if he could knock the full glass out of that man’s hand, and gain the door, then perhaps—he turned quickly, as the door opened. It was as though they had read his thoughts. A number of men were grouped outside in the corridor, then the door closed again with a cordon ranged against it inside the room; and at the same instant his arms and wrists were caught in a powerful grasp by the two men immediately behind him, who all along had enacted the role of guards.
Again the leader spoke.
“I will repeat the questions,” he said sharply. “Where is the woman whose ring was found on that man there in the chair? And where is the package that you two men had with you in the taxicab to-night?”