Again the sound! Involuntarily he turned his head; it was only an instant’s inattention, but Tom Rogers had been waiting for it. Springing behind in a flash, he seized John Steele by the throat. It was a deadly, terrible grip; the fingers pressed harder; the other strove, but slowly fell. As dizziness began to merge into oblivion, Rogers, without releasing his hold, bent over.
“You fool! Did you think I would let you get away with the paper? That I couldn’t see you were about done for?”
He looked at the white face; started to unbutton the coat; as he reached in, his attention was suddenly arrested; he threw back his head.
Voices below resounded without.
“So that was your game! Well,” savagely, “I think I have settled with you.”
He had but time to run to the rear door, unbolt it and dash out, when a crashing of woodwork filled the place, and Mr. Gillett looked in.
* * * * *
When John Steele began to recover, he was dimly aware that he was in a four-wheeler which rattled along slowly through streets, now slightly more discernible; by his side sat a figure that stirred when he did; spoke in crisp, official accents. He, Mr. Steele, would kindly not place any further obstacles in the way of justice being done; it was useless to attempt that; the police agent had come well armed, and, moreover, had taken the precaution for this little journey of providing a cab in front and one behind, containing those who knew how to act should the necessity arise.
John Steele heard these words without answering; his throat pained him; he could scarcely swallow; his head seemed bound around as by a tight, inflexible band. The cool air, however, gradually revived him; he drank it in gratefully and strove to think. A realization of what had occurred surged through his brain,—the abrupt attack at the door; the arrival of the police agent.
Furtively the prisoner felt his pocket; the memorandum book containing the paper that had cost so much was gone; he looked at the agent. Had it been shifted to Mr. Gillett’s possession, or, dimly he recalled his assailant’s last words, had Rogers succeeded in snatching the precious evidence from his breast before escaping? In the latter case, it had, undoubtedly, ere this, been destroyed; in the former, it would, presumably, soon be transferred to the police agent’s employer. To regain the paper, if it existed, would be no light task; yet it was the pivot upon which John Steele’s fortunes hung. The principal signer was, in all likelihood, making his way out of London now; he would, in a few hours, reach the sea, and after that disappear from the case. At any rate, John Steele could have nothing to hope from him in the future; the opportune or inopportune appearance of the police agent would savor of treachery to him. John Steele moved, quickly, impatiently; but a hand, swung carelessly behind him, moved also,—a hand that held something hard.