As we looked we saw it was a woman, her head sweating profusely, and her hands cold and clammy. There was a strange twitching of the muscles of the face, the pupils of her eyes were widely dilated, her pulse weak and irregular. Evidently her circulation had failed so that it responded only feebly to stimulants, for her respiration was slow and labored, with loud inspiratory gasps.
Annenberg had burst with superhuman strength from Burke’s grasp and was kneeling by the side of his wife’s deathbed.
“It—was all Paula’s fault—” gasped the woman. “I—knew I had better—carry it through—like the Fortescue visit—alone.”
I felt a sense of reassurance at the words. At least my suspicions had been unfounded. Paula was innocent of the murder of Fortescue.
“Severe, acute nicotine poisoning,” remarked Kennedy, as he rejoined us a moment later. “There is nothing we can do—now.”
Paula moved at the words, as though they had awakened a new energy in her. With a supreme effort she raised herself.
“Then I—I failed?” she cried, catching sight of Kennedy.
“No, Miss Lowe,” he answered gently. “You won. The plans of the terrible gun are destroyed. The Baron is safe. Mrs. Annenberg has herself smoked one of the fatal cigarettes intended for him.”
Kreiger looked at us, uncomprehending. Kennedy picked up the crushed, unlighted cigarette and laid it in the palm of his hand beside another, half smoked, which he had found beside Mrs. Annenberg.
“They are deadly,” he said simply to Kreiger. “A few drops of pure nicotine hidden by that pretty gilt tip would have accomplished all that the bitterest anarchist could desire.”
All at once Kreiger seemed to realize what he had escaped so narrowly. He turned toward Paula. The revulsion of her feelings at seeing him safe was too much for her shattered nerves.
With a faint little cry, she tottered.
Before any of us could reach her, he had caught her in his arms and imprinted a warm kiss on the insensible lips.
“Some water—quick!” he cried, still holding her close.
THE AIR PIRATE
Rounding up the “Group” took several days, and it proved to be a great story for the Star. I was pretty fagged when it was all over, but there was a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that we had frustrated one of the most daring anarchist plots of recent years.
“Can you arrange to spend the week-end with me at Stuyvesant Verplanck’s at Bluffwood?” asked Kennedy over the telephone, the afternoon that I had completed my work on the newspaper of undoing what Annenberg and the rest had attempted.
“How long since society took you up?” I asked airily, adding, “Is it a large house party you are getting up?”
“You have heard of the so-called ‘phantom bandit’ of Bluffwood, haven’t you?” he returned rather brusquely, as though there was no time now for bantering.