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- The Treasure-Train - 4/54 -
Granville Barnes. These masks are impregnated with a glycerin solution of sodium phosphate. It was chlorin that destroyed the red coloring matter in Barnes's blood. No wonder, when this action of just a whiff of it on us is so rapid. Even a short time longer and death would follow. It destroys without the possibility of reconstitution, and it leaves a dangerous deposit of albumin. How do you feel?"
"All right," I lied.
We looked out again. The things that looked like fuses were not bombs, as I had expected, but big reinforced bottles of gas compressed at high pressure, with the taps open. The supply was not inexhaustible. In fact, it was decidedly limited. But it seemed to have been calculated to a nicety to do the work. Only the panting of the locomotive now broke the stillness as Kennedy and I moved forward along the track.
Crack! rang out a shot.
"Get on the other side of the train--quick!" ordered Craig.
In the shadow, aside from the direction in which the wind was wafting the gas, we could now just barely discern a heavy but powerful motor-truck and figures moving about it. As I peered out from the shelter of the train, I realized what it all meant. The truck, which had probably conveyed the gas-tanks from the rendezvous where they had been collected, was there now to convey to some dark wharf what of the treasure could be seized. There the stolen yacht was waiting to carry it off.
"Don't move--don't fire," cautioned Kennedy. "Perhaps they will think it was only a shadow they saw. Let them act first. They must. They haven't any too much time. Let them get impatient."
For some minutes we waited.
Sure enough, separated widely, but converging toward the treasure- train at last, we could see several dark figures making their way from the road across a strip of field and over the rails. I made a move with my gun.
"Don't," whispered Kennedy. "Let them get together."
His ruse was clever. Evidently they thought that it had been indeed a wraith at which they had fired. Swiftly now they hurried to the nearest of the gold-laden cars. We could hear them, breaking in where the guards had either been rendered unconscious or had fled.
I looked around at Maude Euston. She was the calmest of us all as she whispered:
"They are in the car. Can't we DO something?"
"Lane," whispered Kennedy, "crawl through under the trucks with me. Walter, and you, Dugan," he added, to the guard, "go down the other side. We must rush them--in the car."
As Kennedy crawled under the train again I saw Maude Euston follow Lane closely.
How it happened I cannot describe, for the simple reason that I don't remember. I know that it was a short, sharp dash, that the fight was a fight of fists in which guns were discharged wildly in the air against the will of the gunner. But from the moment when Kennedy's voice rang out in the door, "Hands up!" to the time that I saw that we had the robbers lined up with their backs against the heavy cases of the precious metal for which they had planned and risked so much, it is a blank of grim death-struggle.
I remember my surprise at seeing one of them a woman, and I thought I must be mistaken. I looked about. No; there was Maude Euston standing just beside Lane.
I think it must have been that which recalled me and made me realize that it was a reality and not a dream. The two women stood glaring at each other.
"The woman in the tea-room!" exclaimed Miss Euston. "It was about this--robbery--then, that I heard you talking the other afternoon."
I looked at the face before me. It was, had been, a handsome face. But now it was cold and hard, with that heartless expression of the adventuress. The men seemed to take their plight hard. But, as she looked into the clear, gray eyes of the other woman, the adventuress seemed to gain rather than lose in defiance.
"Robbery?" she repeated, bitterly. "This is only a beginning."
"A beginning. What do you mean?"
It was Lane who spoke. Slowly she turned toward him.
"You know well enough what I mean."
The implication that she intended was clear. She had addressed the remark to him, but it was a stab at Maude Euston.
"I know only what you wanted me to do--and I refused. Is there more still?"
I wondered whether Lane could really have been involved.
"Quick--what DO you mean?" demanded Kennedy, authoritatively.
The woman turned to him:
"Suppose this news of the robbery is out? What will happen? Do you want me to tell you, young lady?" she added, turning again to Maude Euston. "I'll tell you. The stock of the Continental Express Company will fall like a house of cards. And then? Those who have sold it at the top price will buy it back again at the bottom. The company is sound. The depression will not last--perhaps will be over in a day, a week, a month. Then the operators can send it up again. Don't you see? It is the old method of manipulation in a new form. It is a war-stock gamble. Other stocks will be affected the same way. This is our reward--what we can get out of it by playing this game for which the materials are furnished free. We have played it--and lost. The manipulators will get their reward on the stock-market this morning. But they must still reckon with us--even if we have lost." She said it with a sort of grim humor.
"And you have put Granville Barnes out of the way, first?" I asked, remembering the chlorin. She laughed shrilly.
"That was an accident--his own carelessness. He was carrying a tank of it for us. Only his chauffeur's presence of mind in throwing it into the shrubbery by the road saved his life and reputation. No, young man; he was one of the manipulators, too. But the chief of them was--" She paused as if to enjoy one brief moment of triumph at least. "The president of the company," she added.
"No, no, no!" cried Maude Euston.
"Yes, yes, yes! He does not dare deny it. They were all in it."
"Mrs. Labret--you lie!" towered Lane, in a surging passion, as he stepped forward and shook his finger at her. "You lie and you know it. There is an old saying about the fury of a woman scorned." She paid no attention to him whatever.
"Maude Euston," she hissed, as though Lane had been as inarticulate as the boxes of gold about, "you have saved your lover's reputation--perhaps. At least the shipment is safe. But you have ruined your father. The deal will go through. Already that has been arranged. You may as well tell Kennedy to let us go and let the thing go through. It involves more than us."
Kennedy had been standing back a bit, carefully keeping them all covered. He glanced a moment out of the corner of his eye at Maude Euston, but said nothing.
It was a terrible situation. Had Lane really been in it? That question was overshadowed by the mention of her father. Impulsively she turned to Craig.
"Oh, save him!" she cried. "Can't anything be done to save my father in spite of himself?"
"It is too late," mocked Mrs. Labret. "People will read the account of the robbery in the papers, even if it didn't take place. They will see it before they see a denial. Orders will flood in to sell the stock. No; it can't be stopped."
Kennedy glanced momentarily at me.
"Is there still time to catch the last morning edition of the Star, Walter?" he asked, quietly. I glanced at my watch.
"We may try. It's possible."
"Write a despatch--an accident to the engine--train delayed--now proceeding--anything. Here, Dugan, you keep them covered. Shoot to kill if there's a move."
Kennedy had begun feverishly setting up the part of the apparatus which he had brought after Whiting had set up his.
"What can you do?" hissed Mrs. Labret. "You can't get word through. Orders have been issued that the telegraph operators are under no circumstances to give out news about this train. The wireless is out of commission, too--the operator overcome. The robbery story has been prepared and given out by this time. Already reporters are being assigned to follow it up."
I looked over at Kennedy. If orders had been given for such secrecy by Barry Euston, how could my despatch do any good? It would be held back by the operators.
Craig quickly slung a wire over those by the side of the track and seized what I had written, sending furiously.
"What are you doing?" I asked. "You heard what she said."
"One thing you can be certain of," he answered, "that despatch can never be stolen or tapped by spies."
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