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- In Secret - 1/56 -


Produced by David Moynihan, Charles Franks and the Distributed Proofreading Team.

IN SECRET

by

ROBERT W. CHAMBERS

AUTHOR OF "THE COMMON LAW," "THE RECKONING," "LORRAINE," ETC.

NEW YORK

DEDICATION

A grateful nation's thanks are due To Arethusa and to you--- To her who dauntless at your side Pneumonia and Flue defied With phials of formaldehyde!

II

Chief of Police were you, by gosh! Gol ding it! how you bumped the Boche! Handed 'em one with club and gun Until the Hun was on the run: And that's the way the war was won.

III

Easthampton's pride! My homage take For Fairest Philadelphia's sake. Retire in company with Bill; Rest by the Racquet's window sill And, undisturbed, consume your pill.

ENVOI

When Cousin Feenix started west And landed east, he did his best; And so I've done my prettiest To make this rhyme long overdue; For Arethusa and for you.

R. W. C.

IN SECRET

CHAPTER I

CUP AND LIP

The case in question concerned a letter in a yellow envelope, which was dumped along with other incoming mail upon one of the many long tables where hundreds of women and scores of men sat opening and reading thousands of letters for the Bureau of P. C.--whatever that may mean.

In due course of routine a girl picked up and slit open the yellow envelope, studied the enclosed letter for a few moments, returned it to its envelope, wrote a few words on a slip of paper, attached the slip to the yellow envelope, and passed it along to the D. A. C.--whoever he or she may be.

The D. A. C., in course of time, opened this letter for the second time, inspected it, returned it to the envelope, added a memorandum, and sent it on up to the A. C.--whatever A. C. may signify.

Seated at his desk, the A. C. perused the memoranda, glanced over the letter and the attached memoranda, added his terse comment to the other slips, pinned them to the envelope, and routed it through certain channels which ultimately carried the letter into a room where six silent and preoccupied people sat busy at six separate tables.

Fate had taken charge of that yellow envelope from the moment it was mailed in Mexico; Chance now laid it on a yellow oak table before a yellow-haired girl; Destiny squinted over her shoulder as she drew the letter from its triply violated envelope and spread it out on the table before her.

A rich, warm flush mounted to her cheeks as she examined the document. Her chance to distinguish herself had arrived at last. She divined it instantly. She did not doubt it. She was a remarkable girl.

The room remained very still. The five other cipher experts of the P. I. Service were huddled over their tables, pencil in hand, absorbed in their several ungodly complications and laborious calculations. But they possessed no Rosetta Stone to aid them in deciphering hieroglyphics; toad-like, they carried the precious stone in their heads, M. D.!

No indiscreet sound interrupted their mental gymnastics, save only the stealthy scrape of a pen, the subdued rustle of writing paper, the flutter of a code-book's leaves thumbed furtively.

The yellow-haired girl presently rose from her chair, carrying in her hand the yellow letter and its yellow envelope with yellow slips attached; and this harmonious combination of colour passed noiselessly into a smaller adjoining office, where a solemn young man sat biting an unlighted cigar and gazing with preternatural sagacity at nothing at all.

Possibly his pretty affianced was the object of his deep revery--he had her photograph in his desk--perhaps official cogitation as D. C. of the E. C. D.--if you understand what I mean?--may have been responsible for his owlish abstraction.

Because he did not notice the advent of the yellow haired girl until she said in her soft, attractive voice:

"May I interrupt you a moment, Mr. Vaux?"

Then he glanced up.

"Surely, surely," he said. "Hum--hum!--please be seated, Miss Erith! Hum! Surely!"

She laid the sheets of the letter and the yellow envelope upon the desk before him and seated herself in a chair at his elbow. She was VERY pretty. But engaged men never notice such details.

"I'm afraid we are in trouble," she remarked.

He read placidly the various memoranda written on the yellow slips of paper, scrutinised! the cancelled stamps, postmarks, superscription. But when his gaze fell upon the body of the letter his complacent expression altered to one of disgust!

"What's this, Miss Erith?"

"Code-cipher, I'm afraid."

"The deuce!"

Miss Erith smiled. She was one of those girls who always look as though they had not been long out of a bathtub. She had hazel eyes, a winsome smile, and hair like warm gold. Her figure was youthfully straight and supple--But that would not interest an engaged man.

The D. C. glanced at her inquiringly.

"Surely, surely," he muttered, "hum--hum!--" and tried to fix his mind on the letter.

In fact, she was one of those girls who unintentionally and innocently render masculine minds uneasy through some delicate, indefinable attraction which defies analysis.

"Surely," murmured the D. C., "surely! Hum--hum!"

A subtle freshness like the breath of spring in a young orchard seemed to linger about her. She was exquisitely fashioned to trouble men, but she didn't wish to do such a--

Vaux, who was in love with another girl, took another uneasy look at her, sideways, then picked up his unlighted cigar and browsed upon it.

"Yes," he said nervously, "this is one of those accursed code-ciphers. They always route them through to me. Why don't they notify the five--"

"Are you going to turn THIS over to the Postal Inspection Service?"

"What do you think about it, Miss Erith? You see it's one of those hopeless arbitrary ciphers for which there is no earthly solution except by discovering and securing the code book and working it out that way."7

She said calmly, but with heightened colour:


In Secret - 1/56

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