As I picked up the bag the lightning flashed again, and from the window I could see the orchard as clearly as by sunlight. At the farther end near the wall someone was standing watching the house.
I went downstairs carrying the fatal bag, and rejoined the group in the hall.
“He will have to be got to bed,” said Carneta, referring to the wounded man; “he will probably remain unconscious for a long time.”
Accordingly, we took the patient into one of the few furnished bedrooms, and having put him to bed left him in care of the beautiful nurse. When we four men met again downstairs, amazement had rendered the whole scene unreal to me. Soar stood just within the open door, not knowing whether to go or to remain; but Hilton motioned to him to stay. Earl Dexter bit off the end of a cigar and stood with his left elbow resting on the mantelpiece.
His gaunt face looked gaunter than ever, but the daredevil gray eyes still nursed that humorous light in their depths.
“Mr. Cavanagh,” he said, “we’re brothers! And if you’ll consider a minute, you’ll see that I’m not lying when I say I’m on the straight, now and for always!”
I made no reply: I could think of none.
“I’m a crook,” he resumed, “or I was up to a while ago. There’s a warrant out for me—the first that ever bore my name. I’ve sailed near the wind often enough, but it was desperation that got me into hot water about that!”
He jerked his cigar in the direction of his grip, which lay now on the rug at his feet.
“I lost a useful right hand,” he went on—“and I lost every cent I had. It was a dead rotten speculation—for I lost my good name! I mean it! Believe me, I’ve handled some shady propositions in the past, but I did it right in the sunlight! Up to the time I went out for that damned slipper I could have had lunch with any detective from Broadway to the Strand! I didn’t need any false whiskers and the Ritz was good enough for The Stetson Man. What now? I’m ‘wanted!’ Enough said.”
He tossed the cigar—he had smoked scarce an inch of it—into the empty grate.
“I’m an Aunt Sally for any man to shy at,” he resumed bitterly. “My place henceforth is in the dark. Right! I’ve finished; the book’s closed. From the time I quit England—if I can quit—I’m on the straight! I’ve promised Carneta, and I mean to keep my word. See here—”
Dexter turned to me.
“You’ll want to know how I escaped from the cursed death-trap at Hassan’s house in Kent? I’ll tell you. I was never in it! I was hiding and waiting my chance. You know what was left to guard the slipper while the Sheikh—rot him—was away looking after arrangements for getting his mob out of the country?”
“You fell into the trap—you and Carneta. By God! I didn’t know till it was all over! But two minutes later I was inside that place —and three minutes later I was away with the slipper! Oh, it wasn’t a duplicate; it was the goods! What then? Carneta had had a sickening of the business and she just invited me to say Yes or No. I said Yes; and I’m a straight man onward.”