The next two days were busy ones for
Sheard, who, from a variety of causes-the
chief being his intimacy with the little circle which,
whether it would or not, gathered around Mr. Julius Rohscheimer-found himself involved in the
mystery of Severac Bablon. He had interviewed
this man and that, endeavouring to obtain some coherent
story of the great “hold up,” but with
little success. Everything was a mysterious maze,
and Scotland Yard was without any clue that might lead
to the solution. All the Fleet Street crime specialists
had advanced theories, and now, on the night of the
third day after the audacious robbery, Sheard was
contributing his theory to the Sunday newspaper for
which he worked.
The subject of his article was the
identity of Severac Bablon, whom Sheard was endeavouring
to prove to be not an individual, but a society; a
society, so he argued, formed for the immolation of
Capital upon the altars of Demos.
The course of reasoning that he had
taken up proved more elusive than he had anticipated.
His bundle of notes lay before him
on the table. The news of the latest outrage,
the burning of the great Runek Mills in Ontario, had
served to convince him that his solution was the right
one; yet he could make no headway, and the labours
of the last day or so had left him tired and drowsy.
He left his table and sank into an
arm-chair by the study fire, knocking out his briar
on a coal and carefully refilling and lighting that
invaluable collaborator. With his data presently
arranged in better mental order, he returned to the
table and covered page after page with facile reasoning.
Then the drowsiness which he could not altogether
shake off crept upon him again, and staring at the
words “Such societies have existed in fiction,
now we have one existing in fact,” he dropped
into a doze-as the clock in the hall struck
When he awoke, with his chin on his
breast, it was to observe, firstly, that the MS. no
longer lay on the pad, and, secondly, on looking up,
that a stranger sat in the arm-chair, opposite, reading
“Who -” began Sheard,
starting to his feet.
Whereupon the stranger raised a white, protesting
“Give me but one moment’s
grace, Mr. Sheard,” he said quietly, “and
I will at once apologise and explain!”
“What do you mean?” rapped
the journalist. “How dare you enter my house
in this way, and -” He broke
off from sheer lack of words, for this calm, scrupulously
dressed intruder was something outside the zone of
In person he was slender, but of his
height it was impossible to judge accurately whilst
he remained seated. He was perfectly attired in
evening-dress, and wore a heavy, fur-lined coat.
A silk hat, by an eminent hatter, stood upon Sheard’s
writing-table, a pair of gloves beside it. A
gold-mounted ebony walking-stick was propped against
the fireplace. But the notable and unusual characteristic
of the man was his face. Its beauty was literally
amazing. Sheard, who had studied black-and-white,
told himself that here was an ideal head-that
of Apollo himself.
And this extraordinary man, with his
absolutely flawless features composed, and his large,
luminous eyes half closed, lounged in Sheard’s
study at half-past one in the early morning and toyed
with an unfinished manuscript-like some
old and privileged friend who had dropped in for a
“Look here!” said the
outraged pressman, stepping around the table as the
calm effrontery of the thing burst fully upon him.
“Get out! Now!”
“Mr. Sheard,” said the
other, “if I apologise frankly and fully for
my intrusion, will you permit me to give my reasons
Sheard again found himself inarticulate.
He was angrily conscious of a vague disquiet.
The visitor’s suave courtesy under circumstances
so utterly unusual disarmed him, as it must have disarmed
any average man similarly situated. For a moment
his left fist clenched, his mind swung in the balance,
irresolute. The other turned back a loose page
and quietly resumed his perusal of the manuscript.
That decided Sheard’s attitude, and he laughed.
Whereat the stranger again raised the protestant hand.
“We shall awake Mrs. Sheard!”
he said solicitously. “And now, as I see
you have decided to give me a hearing, let me begin
by offering you my sincere apology for entering your
Sheard, his mind filled with a sense
of phantasy, dropped into a chair opposite the visitor,
reached into the cabinet at his elbow, and proffered
a box of Turkish cigarettes.
“Your methods place you beyond
the reach of ordinary castigation,” he said.
“I don’t know your name and I don’t
know your business; but I honestly admire your stark
“Very well,” replied the
other in his quiet, melodious voice, with its faint,
elusive accent. “A compliment is intended,
and I thank you! And now, I see you are wondering
how I obtained admittance. Yet it is so simple.
Your front door is not bolted, and Mrs. Sheard, but
a few days since, had the misfortune to lose a key.
You recollect? I found that key! Is it enough?”
“Quite enough!” said Sheard
grimly. “But why go to the trouble?
What do you want?”
“I want to insure that one,
at least, of the influential dailies shall not persistently
misrepresent my actions!”
“Then who began Sheard and got no farther;
for the stranger handed him a card-
“You see,” continued the
man already notorious in two continents, “your
paper, here, is inaccurate in several important particulars!
Your premises are incorrect, and your inferences consequently
Sheard stared at him, silent, astounded.
“I have been described in the
Press of England and America as an incendiary, because
I burned the Runek Mills; as a maniac, because I compensated
men cruelly thrown out of employment; as a thief, because
I took from the rich in Park Lane and gave to the
poor on the Embankment. I say that this is unjust!”
His eyes gleamed into a sudden blaze.
The delicate, white hand that held Sheard’s
manuscript gripped it so harshly that the paper was
crushed into a ball. That Severac Bablon was
mad seemed an unavoidable conclusion; that he was
forceful, dominant, a power to be counted with, was
a truth legible in every line of his fine features,
in every vibrant tone of his voice, in the fire of
his eyes. The air of the study seemed charged
with his electric passion.
Then, in an instant, he regained his
former calm. Rising to his feet, he threw off
the heavy coat he wore and stood, a tall, handsome
figure, with his hands spread out, interrogatively.
“Do I look such a man?” he demanded.
Despite the theatrical savour of the
thing, Sheard could not but feel the real sincerity
of his appeal; and, as he stared, wondering, at the
fine brow, the widely-opened eyes, the keen nostrils
and delicate yet indomitable mouth and chin, he was
forced to admit that here was no mere up-to-date cracksman,
but something else, something more. “Is
he mad?” flashed again through his mind.
“No!” smiled Severac Bablon,
dropping back into the chair; “I am as sane
as you yourself!”
“Have I questioned it?”
“With your eyes and the left
corner of your mouth, yes!” Sheard was silent.
“I shall not weary you with
a detailed exculpation of my acts,” continued
his visitor; “but you have a list on your table,
no doubt, of the people whom I forced to assist the
“Mention but one whose name
has ever before been associated with charity; I mean
the charity that has no relation to advertisement!
You are silent! You say”-glancing
over the unfinished article-“that
’this was a capricious burlesque of true philanthropy.’
I reply that it served its purpose-of proclaiming
my arrival in London and of clearly demonstrating
the purpose of my coming! You ask who are my accomplices!
I answer-they are as the sands of the desert!
You seek to learn who I am. Seek, rather, to
learn what I am!”
“Why have you selected me for this-honour?”
“I overheard some remarks of
yours, contrasting a restaurant supper-room with the
Embankment which appealed to me! But, to come
to the point, do you believe me to be a rogue?”
Sheard smiled a trifle uneasily.
“You are doubtful,” the
other continued. “It has entered your mind
that a proper course would be to ring up Scotland
Yard! Instead, come with me! I will show
you how little you know of me and of what I can do.
I will show you that no door is closed to me!
Why do you hesitate? You shall be home again,
safe, within two hours. I pledge my word!”
Possessing the true journalistic soul,
Sheard was sorely tempted; for to the passion of the
copy-hunter such an invitation could not fail in its
appeal. With only a momentary hesitation, he stood
“I’ll come!” he said.
A smart landaulette stood waiting
outside the house; and, without a word to the chauffeur,
Severac Bablon opened the door and entered after Sheard.
The motor immediately started, and the car moved off
silently. The blinds were drawn.
“You will have to trust yourself
implicitly in my hands,” said Sheard’s
extraordinary companion. “In a moment I
shall ask you to fasten your handkerchief about your
eyes and to give me your word that you are securely
“Is it necessary?”
“Quite! Are you nervous?”
There was a brief interval of silence,
during which the car, as well as it was possible to
judge, whirled through the deserted streets at a furious
“Will you oblige me?” came the musical
The journalist took out his pocket-handkerchief,
and making it into a bandage, tied it firmly about
“Are you ready?” asked Severac Bablon.
A click told of a raised blind.
“Can you see?”
“Not a thing!”
“Then take my hand and follow quickly.
Do not speak; do not stumble!”
Cautiously feeling his way, Sheard,
one hand clasping that of his guide, stepped out into
the keen night air, and was assisted by some third
person-probably the chauffeur-on
to the roof of the car!
“Be silent!” from Severac
Bablon. “Fear nothing! Step forward
as your feet will be directed and trust implicitly
As a man in a dream Sheard stood there-on
the roof of a motor-car, in a London street-and
waited. There came dimly to his ears, and from
no great distance, the sound of late traffic along
what he judged to be a main road. But immediately
about him quiet reigned. They were evidently
in some deserted back-water of a great thoroughfare.
A faint scuffling sound arose, followed by that of
someone lightly dropping upon a stone pavement.
Then an arm was slipped about him
and he was directed, in a whisper, to step forward.
He found his foot upon what he thought to be a flat
railing. His ankle was grasped from below and
the voice of Severac Bablon came, “On to my
Still with the supporting arm about
him, he stepped gingerly forward-and stood
upon the shoulders of the man below.
“Stand quite rigidly!” said Severac Bablon.
He obeyed; and was lifted, lightly
as a feather, and deposited upon the ground!
It was such a feat as he had seen professional athletes
perform, and he marvelled at the physical strength
of his companion.
A keen zest for this extravagant adventure
seized him. He thought that it must be good to
be a burglar. Then, as he heard the motor re-started
and the car move off, a sudden qualm of disquiet came;
for it was tantamount to burning one’s boats.
“Take my hand!” he heard;
and was led to the head of a flight of steps.
Cautiously he felt his way down, in the wake of his
A key was turned in a well-oiled lock,
and he was guided inside a building. There was
a faint, crypt-like smell-vaguely familiar.
“Quick!” said the soft
voice-“remove your boots and leave
Sheard obeyed, and holding the guiding
hand tightly in his own, traversed a stone-paved corridor.
Doors were unlocked and re-locked. A flight of
steps was negotiated in phantom silence; for his companion’s
footsteps, like his own, were noiseless. Another
door was unlocked.
“Now!” came the whispered
words: “Remove the handkerchief!”
Rapidly enough, Sheard obeyed, and,
burning with curiosity, looked about him.
“Good heavens!” he muttered.
A supernatural fear of his mysterious
cicerone momentarily possessed him. For he thought
that he stood in a lofty pagan temple!
High above his head a watery moonbeam
filtered through a window, and spilled its light about
the base of a gigantic stone pillar. Towering
shapes, as of statues of gods, loomed, awesomely, in
the gloom. Behind the pillar dimly he could discern
a painted procession of deities upon the wall.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw that the tall figure
of Severac Bablon was at his elbow.
“Where do you stand?” questioned his low
And, like an inspiration, the truth burst in upon
“The British Museum!” he whispered hoarsely.
“Correct!” was the answer;
“the treasure-house of your modern Babylon!
Wait, now, until I return; and, if you have no relish
for arrest as a burglar, do not move-do
With that, he was gone, into the dense
shadows about; and Henry Thomas Sheard, of the Gleaner,
found himself, at, approximately, a quarter-past two
in the morning, standing in an apartment of the British
Museum, with no better explanation to offer, in the
event of detection, than that he had come there in
the company of Severac Bablon.
He thought of the many printing-presses
busy, even then, with the deductions of Fleet Street
theorists, regarding this man of mystery. All
of their conclusions must necessarily be wrong, since
their premises were certainly so. For which of
them who had assured his readers that Severac Bablon
was a common cracksman (on a large scale) would not
have reconsidered his opinion had he learned that
the common cracksman held private keys of the national
His eyes growing more accustomed to
the darkness, Sheard began to see more clearly the
objects about him. A seated figure of the Pharaoh
Seti I. surveyed him with a scorn but thinly veiled;
beyond, two towering Assyrian bulls showed gigantic
in the semi-light. He could discern, now, the
whole length of the lofty hall-a carven
avenue; and, as his gaze wandered along that dim vista,
he detected a black shape emerging from the blacker
shadows beyond the bulls.
It was Severac Bablon. In an
instant he stood beside him, and Sheard saw that he
carried a bag.
“Follow me-quickly!” he said.
“Not a second to spare!”
But too fully alive to their peril,
Sheard slipped away in the wake of this greatly daring
man. The horror of his position was strong upon
Blindly he stumbled forward, upstairs,
around a sharp corner, and then a door was unlocked
and re-locked behind them. “Egyptian Room!”
came a quick whisper. “In here!”
A white beam cut the blackness, temporarily
dazzling him, and Sheard saw that his companion was
directing the light of an electric torch into a wall-cabinet-which
he held open. It contained mummy cases, and, without
quite knowing how he got there, Sheard found himself
crouching behind one. Severac Bablon vanished.
Darkness followed, and to his ears
stole the sound of distant voices.
The voices grew louder.
Behind him, upon the back of the cabinet,
danced a sudden disc of light, and, within it, a moving
shadow! Someone was searching the room!
Muffled and indistinct the voices
sounded through the glass and the mummy-case; but
that the searchers were standing within a foot of his
hiding-place Sheard was painfully certain. He
shrank behind the sarcophagus lid like a tortoise
within its shell, fearful lest a hand, an arm, a patch
of clothing should protrude.