“I fear, Mr. Horser,” he remarked, “that your presence has scarcely contributed to the cheerfulness of our repast. Mr. Skinner, am I to be favoured with your company also upstairs?”
Horser clutched that gentleman’s arm and whispered a few words in his ear.
“Mr. Skinner,” he said, “will join us presently. What is your number?”
“336,” Mr. Sabin answered. “You will excuse my somewhat slow progress.”
They crossed the hall and entered the elevator. Mr. Horser’s face began to clear. In a moment or two they would be in Mr. Sabin’s sitting-room-alone. He regarded with satisfaction the other’s slim, delicate figure and the limp with which he moved. He felt that the danger was already over.
But, after all, things did not exactly turn out as Mr. Horser had imagined. The sight of the empty room and the closed door were satisfactory enough, and he did not hesitate for a moment.
“Look here, sir,” he said, “you and I are going to settle this matter quick. Whatever you paid Skinner you can have back again. But I’m going to have that report.”
He took a quick step forward with uplifted hand—and looked into the shining muzzle of a tiny revolver. Behind it Mr. Sabin’s face, no longer pleasant and courteous, had taken to itself some very grim lines.
“I am a weak man, Mr. Horser, but I am never without the means of self-defence,” Mr. Sabin said in a still, cold tone. “Be so good as to sit down in that easy-chair.”
Mr. Horser hesitated. For one moment he stood as though about to carry out his first intention. He stood glaring at his opponent, his face contracted into a snarl, his whole appearance hideous, almost bestial. Mr. Sabin smiled upon him contemptuously—the maddening, compelling smile of the born aristocrat.
Mr. Horser sat down, whereupon Mr. Sabin followed suit.
“Now what have you to say to me?” Mr. Sabin asked quietly.
“I want that report,” was the dogged answer.
“You will not have it,” Mr. Sabin answered. “You can take that for granted. You shall not take it from me by force, and I will see that you do not charm it out of my pocket by other means. The information which it contains is of the utmost possible importance to me. I have bought it and paid for it, and I shall use it.”
Mr. Horser moistened his dry lips.
“I will give you,” he said, “twenty thousand dollars for its return.”
Mr. Sabin laughed softly.
“You bid high,” he said. “I begin to suspect that our friends on the other side of the water have been more than ordinarily kind to you.”
“I will give you—forty thousand dollars.”
Mr. Sabin raised his eyebrows.
“So much? After all, that sounds more like fear than anything. You cannot hope to make a profitable deal out of that. Dear me! It seems only a few minutes ago that I heard your interesting friend, Mr. Skinner, shake with laughter at the mention of such a thing as a secret society.”