Not often have the good people of
Palermo seen three cabs pass through the Corso Vittorio
Emmanuele in such fashion. The sight made loiterers
curious, drove policemen frantic, and caused the drivers
of other vehicles to pull to one side and piously
Dubois had evidently offered his cocchiere
a lavish bribe for a quick transit through the city,
and the Italian was determined to earn it. Although
he had a good start, and his horse was accustomed to
negotiating the main thoroughfare at a rapid pace,
nevertheless the half-starved animal was not able
to maintain a high rate of speed for more than a few
By the time they reached the Corso
Catafini, which carries the chief artery of Palermo
out into the country crossing the railway
and passing the magnificent convent of San Francisco
de Sale the horse was labouring heavily
notwithstanding the frantic efforts of the cabman.
It was at this point, when mounting
the bridge, that Dubois knew for certain he was followed.
Three hundred yards behind, he saw Talbot whipping
an equally unwilling, but better-conditioned steed
than that which carried his own fortunes. At
the distance he could not recognize the Englishman,
but instinct told him that this impassioned driver
was an enemy.
Brett, of course, was not visible, being far in the
“My friend,” said Dubois,
standing up in the small carriage and leaning against
the driver’s seat, “I offered you twenty
francs if you crossed the city quickly. I will
make it forty for another mile at the same pace.
See, I place the money in your pocket.”
“It will kill my horse, signorina.”
“Possibly. I will buy you another.”
The cocchiere thought that
this was a lady of strange manner. There was
an odd timbre in her voice, a note of domination not
often associated with the fair sex. But she had
given earnest of her words by a couple of gold pieces,
so he murmured a prayer to his favourite saint that
the horse might not die until the right moment.
Thus they swirled on, pursued and
pursuers, until the villa residences on the outskirts
of the town were less in evidence, and fields devoted
to the pepper-wort, alternated with groves of olives
and limes, formed the prevalent features of the landscape.
Now it became evident that the leading
horse could barely stagger another fifty yards, notwithstanding
the inhuman efforts of the cocchiere to make
the most of the poor brute’s failing energies.
At last the animal stumbled and fell, nearly pulling
the driver off his perch. It was sad, but he
had more than earned his price, for Palermo lay far
“My horse is done for, signorina,”
cried the cabman. “It is marvellous that
he Corpo di Baccho! It is a man!”
Dubois felt that his feminine trappings
were no longer a disguise, only a hindrance.
He had torn off jacket, skirt, hat and wig. The
frightened cabman saw his fare changed
now into an athletic young man, attired in shirt and
trousers, the latter rolled up to his knees spring
from the vehicle and vault over a ditch by the roadside.
Some portion of the discarded clothing
lay on the seat of the carriage, but Dubois had thrown
the skirt over his arm.
“Here! Come back!”
yelled the Italian. “What about payment
for my dead horse?”
But Dubois paid little heed to him.
He was fumbling with the pocket of the skirt as he
ran. Not until he had withdrawn a revolver from
its folds whereupon he at once threw away
the garment did the maddening remembrance
come to him that he unloaded the weapon prior to the
Customs examination, and had forgotten to reinsert
They were in the pocket of his serge
coat, the coat which Mademoiselle wore. She,
like a prudent young woman, had been careful to reload
the revolver she carried, and which she transferred
to her new attire when, at the last moment, Dubois
suggested the exchange of clothing as a final safeguard
in the most unexpected event of police interference
with their landing.
Henri Dubois could not afford to expend
his breath in useless curses. But his eyes scintillated
with fiery gleams. He, the man who took no chances,
who foresaw every pitfall and smiled at the devices
of outraged law, to compromise his own safety so foolishly!
For an instant he was tempted to fling
the weapon away, but he controlled the impulse.
“As it is,” he thought,
“this fellow who is pursuing me may not be armed,
and I can terrorise him if he comes to close quarters.”
Moreover, this superlative scoundrel
could feel tightly fastened round his waist a belt
containing diamonds worth over a million sterling.
Such a ceinture was worth fighting for, whilst his
pocket-book contained ample funds for all immediate
If the worst came to the worst he
carried a trustworthy clasp knife, and he was an adept
in the savate the system of scientific defence
by using hands and feet which finds favour with Parisian
On the whole, Henri Dubois made for
a neighbouring wood in a state of boiling rage at
his momentary lapse concerning the revolver, but conscious
that he had many a time extricated himself from a worse
fix. A hundred yards in his rear ran Jack Talbot.
The Englishman, notwithstanding his recent imprisonment,
was in better condition than Dubois. He was a
good golf player and cricketer, and although in physique
and weight he did not differ much from the Frenchman,
his muscles were more firmly knit, and his all-round
training in athletic exercises gave him considerable
Thus they neared the wood, neither
man running at his top speed. Both wished to
conserve their energies for the approaching struggle.
Talbot could have come up with his quarry sooner,
were it not for the paramount consideration that he
should not be spent with the race at the supreme moment,
whilst Dubois only intended to seek the shelter of
the trees before he faced his opponent. The Frenchman
did not want witnesses.
Neither was aware that Brett and the
Italian pilot had by this time reached the place where
the two leading carriages were halted in the roadway.
Without wasting a moment the barrister leapt the intervening
ditch and followed the runners across the field, whilst
behind him, eagerly anxious to see the end of this
mysterious chase, came the sailor.
On the edge of the wood Dubois halted
and turned to face his pursuer. Instantly he
recognized Talbot, and for the first time in his career
a spasm of fear struck cold upon the Frenchman’s
heart. In the young Englishman he recognized
the only man who had cause to hate him with an implacable
But the unscrupulous adventurer quickly
recovered his nerve.
“So it is you who follow me
so closely,” he cried. “Go back, my
friend. This time I will not tie you on a bed.
You are becoming dangerous. Go back, I tell you!”
And with these words he levelled the
revolver at Talbot’s breast, for the latter
was now within fifty yards of him. But Jack was
animated with the mad elation of a successful chase,
and governed by the fierce resolve that his betrayer
should not escape him. For an instant he stopped.
It was only to pick up a huge stone. Then he ran
on again, and, careless whether Dubois fired or not,
he flung the missile at him.
The Frenchman barely succeeded in
dodging, as it passed unpleasantly close to his head.
He instantly understood that here was a man who could
not be deterred by idle threats. To attempt to
keep him at arm’s length by pointing an empty
pistol at him would merely court disaster.
So now, with an imprecation of genuine
rage, he flung the weapon at Talbot, who, in his turn,
was so surprised by the action that he did not get
out of the way in time. It struck him fair in
the chest and staggered him for a moment, whereupon
Dubois ran off again into the interior of the wood.
But Talbot’s pause was only
a matter of seconds. He did not trouble to pick
up another stone. He felt with a species of mad
joy that his enemy was unarmed that he
could throttle him with his hands, and wreak upon
him that personal and physical vengeance which is dearer
to outraged humanity than any wounds inflicted by
Dubois reached a small glade among
the trees before he comprehended that his ruthless
adversary was still close at his heels. He stopped
for the last time, resolved now to have done with
this irritating business, once and for all. Talbot
too halted, about ten yards from him. He felt
that he had the Frenchman at his mercy, and there
were a few things he wished to say to him before they
closed in mortal combat.
“This time, Henri Dubois,”
he panted, “I am not drugged and strapped helplessly
to a bed. You know why I am here. I have
followed you to avenge the stigma you inflicted on
my reputation and at the same time to recover the
diamonds which you obtained by subterfuge and murder.”
The Frenchman was quite collected in manner.
“I murdered no one,” he
answered. “I could not help the blundering
of other people. If I am regretfully compelled
to kill you to-day, it is your own fault. I am
only acting in self-defence.”
“Self-defence!” came the
quick retort. “Such men as you are a pest.
Like any wild beast you will strive to save your miserable
life! But, thank Heaven, you must depend upon
your claws. Lying and trickery will avail you
“How can we fight?” demanded the Frenchman
“Any way you like, you villain.
As man to man if you are able. If not, as dog
to dog, for I am going to try and kill you!”
“But you are probably armed,
whereas I am defenceless? My revolver, as you
saw, was not loaded.”
“We are equal in that respect,
if in no other,” retorted Talbot.
An evil smile lit up the Frenchman’s
pallid face. He pulled out his knife with a flourish
“Then die yourself, you fool!”
He advanced upon Jack with a murderous
look in his face. Talbot awaited him, and he,
“You are a liar and a coward
to the end!” he cried. “But if you
had twenty knives, Henri Dubois, I will kill you!”
At that instant a cold, clear voice
rang out among the trees, close behind the two men.
“Halt!” it cried.
Both men involuntarily paused and
turned their eyes to learn whence came this strange
interruption. Brett quietly came a few paces nearer.
He held a revolver, pointed significantly
at Dubois’ breast.
“Drop that knife,” he
said, with an icy determination in tone and manner
that sent a cold shiver through his hearer’s
“Drop it, or, by God, I will shoot you this
Dubois felt that the game was up.
He flung down the knife and tried even then to laugh.
“Of course,” he sneered,
“as I am cornered on all sides I give in.”
Brett still advanced until he reached
the spot where the knife lay. He picked it up,
and at the same instant lowered the revolver.
Then he observed, with the easy indifference of one
who remarks upon the weather
“Now you can fight, monsieur.
My young friend here is determined to thrash you,
and you richly deserve it. So I will not interfere.
But just one word before you begin. Two can play
at the game of bluff. This is your own pistol.
It is, as you know, unloaded.”
Dubois’ cry of rage at the trick
which had been played on him was smothered by his
effort to close with Talbot, who immediately flung
himself upon him with an impetuosity not to be denied.
Luckily for the Englishman he had
clutched Dubois before the latter could attempt any
of the expedients of the savate. Nevertheless
the Frenchman sought to defend himself with the frenzy
The fight, while it lasted, was fast and furious.
The two men rolled over and over each
other on the ground one striving to choke
the life out of his opponent, the other seeking to
rend with teeth and nails.
This combat of catamounts could not last long.
From the writhing convulsive bodies,
locked together in a deadly struggle, suddenly there
came a sharp snap. The Frenchman’s right
arm was broken near the wrist.
Then Talbot proceeded to wreak his
vengeance on him. Unquestionably he would have
strangled the man had not Brett interfered, for with
his left hand he clutched Dubois’ throat, whilst
with the right he endeavoured to demolish his features.
But the barrister, assisted by the Italian pilot whose
after-life was cheered by his ability to relate the
details of this Homeric fight pulled the
young man from off his insensible foe.
Talbot regained his feet. Panting
with exertion, he glared down at the prostrate form,
but Brett, being practical-minded, knelt by the Frenchman’s
side, tore open his shirt, and unfastened the precious
“At last!” he murmured.
Peering into one of the pockets, which
by the way of its bulging he thought would contain
the “Imperial diamond,” he looked up at
Talbot with the words
“Now, Jack, we are even with him.”
It was the first time he had addressed
Talbot by his familiar and Christian name. The
very sound brought back the other man to a conscious
state of his surroundings, and in the same instant
a great weakness came over him, for the terrible exertions
of the past few minutes had utterly exhausted him.
“I cannot even thank you, for
I am done up. But I owe it all to you, old man.
If it had not been for you we should never have found
Brett’s grave face wrinkled in a kindly smile.
“I think,” he said, “we
are even on that score. If you had not followed
this rascal he might have escaped us at the finish,
and my pride would never have recovered from the shock.
However, go and sit down for a minute or two and you
will soon pull yourself together again. I wish
to goodness we had some brandy. A drop would
do you good, and our prostrate friend here would be
none the worse for a reviver.”
The Italian pilot caught the word
“brandy.” Being a sailor he was equal
to all emergencies. He produced a small flask
with a magnificent air.
“Behold!” he declared.
“It is the best. It is contraband!”
Brett forced his companion to swallow
some of the liquor; then he gently raised Dubois’
head and managed to pour a few drops into his mouth.
The Frenchman regained consciousness.
Awakening with a start to the realities of existence,
he endeavoured to rise, but sank back with a groan,
for he had striven to support himself on his broken
“Be good enough to remain quite
still, M. Dubois,” said Brett soothingly.
“You have reached the end of your rope, and we
do not even need to tie you.”
With the aid of some handkerchiefs
and a couple of saplings cut by the Italian he managed
roughly to bind the fractured limb. Then he assisted
Dubois to his feet.
“Come,” he said, “we
are regretfully compelled to bring you back to town,
but we will endeavour to make the journey as comfortable
as possible for you. In any event, the horses
will certainly not travel so fast.”
In the roadway they found the carriages
where they had left them, whilst three wondering cocchieri
were exchanging opinions as to the mad behaviour of
Brett and the Frenchman entered one
vehicle, Talbot and the Italian pilot the other.
“But, gentlemen,” moaned
the disconsolate cabman who had headed the procession
from Palermo, “who will pay me for my dead horse?”
“I know not,” replied
Brett. “In any event you had better occupy
the vacant seat and drive those two gentlemen to the
city, where you can secure the means of bringing back
In this guise the party returned to
Palermo, evoking much wonderment all the way through
the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, whence no less than six
outraged policemen followed them to the Hotel de France
to obtain their names and addresses.