"Your friends aren't with you tonight?"
Again the Russian spoke in parables. "Some men run from great events.
Others stop to witness them."
"Something in the wind," thought Paul. "I think he'll talk." Aloud he said, pretending to yawn, "Great events, batuchka? There are no more great events in the world."
"I tell you, there are great events," said the other, "wherever there are great men to do them."
"You mean your friends?" asked Paul. "But no. Why should I ask! For great men would not spend their days in catching little fishes--am I not right, batuchka?"
"A thousand times right," said the other, his grandeur growing, "but instead of catching little fishes, what do you say of a man who can let loose a large fish--an iron fish--a fish that can speak with a loud noise and make the whole world tremble--!"
Paul quickly raised his finger to his lips.
"Let's go outside," he said. "Some one may hear us here..."
At eight o'clock Mary had gone to Helen's.
"If I'm not back at ten, I sha'n't be home tonight," she had told Hutchins as she left the house.
At half past eight Archey called, full of the topic which had been started that afternoon. Hutchins told him what Mary had said.
"All right," he said. "I'll wait." He left his car under the porte cochere, and went upstairs to chat with Miss Cordelia and Miss Patty.
At twenty to ten, Hutchins was looking through the hall window up the drive when he saw a figure running toward the house. The door-bell rang--a loud, insistent peal.
Hutchins opened the door and saw a man standing there, shabby and spattered with mud.
"Is Miss Spencer in?"
"No; she's out."
The hall light shone on the visitor's face and he stared hard at the butler. "Hutch," he said in a quieter voice, "don't you remember me?"
"N-n-no, sir; I think not, sir," said the other--and he, too, began to stare.
"Don't you remember the day I fell out of the winesap tree, and you carried me in, and the next week I tried to climb on top of that hall clock, and knocked it over, and you tried to catch it, and it knocked you over, too?"
The butler's lips moved, but at first he couldn't speak.
"Is it you, Master Paul?" he whispered at last, as though he were seeing a visitor from the other world. And again "Is it you, Master Paul?"
"You know it is. Listen, now. Pull yourself together. We've got to get to the dam before ten o'clock, or they'll blow it up. Put your hat on. Have you a car here?"
In the hall the clock chimed a quarter to ten. The tone of its bell seemed to act as a spur to them both.
"There's a young gentleman here," said Hutchins, suddenly turning. "I'll run and get him right away."
As they speeded along the road which led to the bridge above the dam, Paul told what he had heard--Archey in the front seat listening as well as he could.
"He didn't come right out and say so," Paul rapidly explained, "but he dropped hints that a blind man could see. I met him on a train yesterday--a Russian--a fanatic--proud of what he's done--!
"As nearly as I can make it out, they have got a boat leaning against the dam with five hundred pounds of TNT in it--or hanging under it--I don't know which--
"There is a battery in the boat, and clockwork to set the whole thing off at ten o'clock tonight. He didn't come right out and say so, you understand, and I may be making a fool of myself. But if I am--G.o.d knows, it won't be the first time ... Anyhow we'll soon know."
It was a circuitous road that led to the dam. The rain was pouring again, the streets deserted. Once they were held up at a railroad crossing....
The clock in the car pointed at five minutes to ten when their headlights finally fell upon the bridge. As they drew nearer they could hear nothing in the darkness but the thunder of the water. The bridge was a low one and only twenty yards up the stream from the falls; but though they strained their eyes to the uttermost they couldn't see as far as the dam.
"I'll turn one of the headlights," said Archey, "and we'll drive over slow."
The lamp, turned at an angle, swept over the edge of the dam like a searchlight. Half way over the bridge the car stopped. They had found what they were looking for.
"Why doesn't it go over?" shouted Archey, jumping out.
"Anch.o.r.ed to a tree up the bend, I guess," Paul shouted back. "They must have played her down the stream after dark."
Nearly over the dam was a boat painted black and covered with tarpaulin.
"The explosive is probably hanging from a chain underneath," thought Paul. "The current would hold it tight against the mason-work."
"We ought to have brought some help," shouted Archey, suddenly realizing.
"If that dam breaks, it will sweep away the factory and part of the town.... What are you going to do?"
Paul had dropped his hat in the stream below the bridge and was watching to see where it went over the crest. It swept over the edge a few feet to the right of the boat.
He moved up a little and tried next by dropping his coat. This caught fairly against the boat. Then before they knew what he was doing, he had climbed over the rail of the bridge and had dropped into the swiftly moving water below.
"Done it!" gasped Hutchins.
Paul's arms were clinging around the bow of the boat. He twisted his body, the current helping him, and gained the top of the tarpaulin. Under the spotlight thrown by the car, it was like a scene from some epic drama, staged by the G.o.ds for their own amus.e.m.e.nt--man against the elements, courage against the unknown-life against death.
"He's feeling for his knife," thought Archey. "He's got it!"
Paul ran his blade around the cloth and had soon tossed the tarpaulin over the dam. Then he made a gesture of helplessness. From the bridge, they could see that the stern of the boat was heavily boxed in.
"It's under there!" groaned Hutchins. "He can't get to it!"
Archey ran to the car for a hammer, but Paul had climbed to the bow and was looking at the ring in which was fastened the cable that held the boat in place. The strain of the current had probably weakened this, for the next thing they saw--Paul was tugging at the cable with all his strength, worrying it from side to side, kicking at the bow with the front of his heel, evidently trying to pull the ring from its socket.
"If that gives way, the whole thing goes over," cried Archey. "I'll throw him the hammer."
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