Read CHAPTER VI - PRINCE SERGANOFF PAYS THE PRICE of The Book of All-Power , free online book, by Edgar Wallace, on ReadCentral.com.

Mr. Cherry Bim, a citizen of the world, and an adventurer at large, was an optimist to his finger-tips.  He also held certain races in profound contempt, not because he knew the countries, but because he had met representatives of those nations in America, and judged by their characteristics.

So that the man called Yakoff, whose task it was to inveigle Mr. Bim again to the premises of the Friends of Freedom Club, found to his astonishment that Mr. Bim required very little inveigling.  The truth was, of course, that the gun-man had a supreme contempt for all Russians, whom he had classified mistakenly as “Lithanians” and “Pollaks.”  To the fervent promise made by Mr. Yakoff that no harm would come to him, Cherry Bim had replied briefly but unprintably.

“Of course, there’ll be no harm come to me,” he said scornfully.  “You don’t think I worry about what that bunch will do?  No, sir!  But I’m powerfully disinclined to associate myself with people out of my class.  It doesn’t do a man any good to be seen round with Pollaks and Letts.”

Yakoff earnestly implored him to come and give the benefit of his experience to the assembly, and had promised him substantial payment.  This latter argument was one which Cherry Bim could understand and appreciate.  He accepted on the spot, and came down to the stuffy little underground room, expecting no more than to be asked to deliver a lecture on the gentle art of assassination.  Not that he knew very much about it, because Cherry, with three or four men to his credit, had shot them in fair fight; but a hundred pounds was a lot of money, and he badly needed just enough to shake the mud of England from his shoes and seek a land more prolific in possibilities.

The first thing he noticed on arrival was that Boolba, the man who had interrogated him before, was not present.  In his place sat a smaller man, with a straggly black beard and a white face, who was addressed as “Nicholas.”

The second curious circumstance which struck him was that he was received also in an ominous silence.

The black-bearded man, who spoke in perfect English, indicated a chair to the left of him.

“Sit down, comrade,” he said.  “We have asked you to come because we have another proposition to make to you.”

“If it’s a croaking proposition, you needn’t go any farther,” said Cherry, “and I won’t trouble you with my presence, gents, and ­” he looked in vain for the woman he had seen before, and added, that he might round off his sentence gracefully ­“fellow murderers.”

“Mr. Bim,” said Nicholas in his curious singsong tone, “does it not make your blood boil to see tyranny in high places ­”

“Now, can that stuff!” said Cherry Bim.  “Nothing makes my blood boil, or would make my blood boil, except sitting on a stove, I guess.  Tyranny don’t mean any more in my young life than Hennessy, and tyrants more than hydrants.  I guess I was brought up in a land of freedom and glory, where the only tyrant you ever meet is a traffic cop.  If this is another croaking job, why, gents, I won’t trouble you any longer.”

He half-rose, but Nicholas pushed him down.

“Not even if it was the Czar?” he said calmly.

Cherry Bim gaped at him.

“The Czar?” he said, with a queer little grimace to emphasize his disbelief in the evidence of his hearing.  “What are you getting at?”

“Would you shoot the Czar for two thousand pounds?” asked Nicholas.

Cherry Bim pushed his hat to the back of his head and got up, shaking off the protesting arm.

“I’m through,” he said, “and that’s all there is to it.”

It was at that moment that Serganoff came through the door and Cherry Bim remained where he stood, surprised to silence, for the face of the newcomer was covered from chin to forehead by a black silk mask.

The door was shut behind him; he walked slowly to the table and dropped into a broken chair, Cherry’s eyes never leaving his face.

“For fifteen years,” said the gun-man, speaking slowly, “I’ve been a crook, but never once have I seen a guy got up like that villain in a movie picture.  Say, mister, let’s have a look at your face.”

Cherry Bim was not the only person perturbed by the arrival of a masked stranger.  Only three men in the room were in the secret of the newcomer’s identity, and suspicious and scowling faces were turned upon him.

“You will excuse me,” said the mask, “but there are many reasons why you should not see me or know me again.”

“And there’s a mighty lot of reasons why you shouldn’t know me again,” said Cherry, “yet I’ve obliged you with a close-up of my distinguished features.”

“You have heard the proposition,” said the man.  “What do you think of it?”

“I think it’s a fool proposition,” replied Cherry contemptuously.  “I’ve told these lads before that I am not falling for the Lucretia Borgia stuff, and I’m telling you the same.”

The masked man chuckled.

“Well, don’t let us quarrel,” he said.  “Nicholas, give him the money we promised.”

Nicholas put his hand in his pocket and brought out a roll of notes, which he tossed to the man on his left, and Cherry Bim, to whom tainted money was as acceptable as tainted pheasant to the epicure, pocketed it with a smack of his lips.

“Now, if there’s anything I can do for you boys,” he said, “here’s your chance to make use of me.  Though I say it myself, there ain’t a man in New York with my experience, tact and finesse.  Show me a job that can be done single-handed, with a dividend at the end of it, and I’ll show you a man who can take it on.  In the meantime,” said he affably, “the drinks are on me.  Call the waiter, and order the best in the house.”

Serganoff held up his hand.

“Wait,” he said; “was that the door?”

Nicholas nodded, and the whole room stood in silence and watched the door slowly open.  There was a gasp of astonishment, of genuine surprise, for Irene Yaroslav was well known to them, and it was Irene Yaroslav who stood with her back to the door.  She wore a long black cloak of sable and by her coiffure it was evident that she was wearing an evening toilette beneath the cloak.

“Where is Israel Kensky?” she asked.

She did not immediately see the man in the masked face, for he sat under a light and his broad-brimmed hat threw his face into shadow.

Nobody answered her, and she asked again: 

“Where is Israel Kensky?”

“He is not here,” said Serganoff coolly, as she took two paces and stopped dead, clasping her hands before her.

“What does this mean?” she asked.  “What are you doing here, Ser ­”

“Stop!” His voice was almost a shout, and yet there was a shake in it.

Serganoff realized the danger of his own position, if amongst these men were some who had cause to hate him.

“Do not mention my name, Irene.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked.  “And where is Israel Kensky?”

“He has not come,” Serganoff’s voice was uneven and his hands shook.

She turned to go, but he was before her and stood with his back to the entrance.

“You will wait,” he said.

“What insolence is this?” she demanded haughtily.  “I had a letter from Israel Kensky telling me to come here under his protection and I should learn the truth of the plot against my father.”

Serganoff had recovered something of his self-possession and laughed softly.

“It was I who sent you that letter, Irene.  I sent it because I particularly desired you here at this moment.”

“You shall pay for this,” she said, and tried to force her way past him, but his strong hands gripped her and pushed her back.

She turned with a flaming face upon the men.

“Are you men,” she asked, “that you allow this villain, who betrayed my father and will betray you, to treat a woman so.”

She spoke in Russian, and nobody moved.  Then a voice said: 

“Speak English, miss.”

She turned and glanced gratefully at the stout little man with his grotesque Derby hat and his good-humoured smile.

“I have been brought here by a trick,” she said breathlessly, “by this man” ­she pointed to Serganoff.  “Will you help me leave?  You’re English, aren’t you?”

“American, miss,” said Cherry Bim.  “And as for helping you, why, bless you, you can class me as your own little bodyguard.”

“Stop!” cried Serganoff hoarsely, and instinctively, at the sight of the levelled revolver.  Cherry’s hands went up.  “You’ll keep out of this and do not interfere,” said Serganoff.  “You’ll have all the trouble you want before this evening is through.  Irene, come here.”

At one side of the room was a narrow doorway, which most of the members believed led to a cupboard, but which a few knew was a safety bolt in case of trouble.  The Prince had recognized the door by its description, and had edged his way towards it, taking the key from his pocket.

He gripped the girl by the waist, inserted the key and flung open the door.  She struggled to escape, but the hand that held the key also held the revolver, and never once did it point anywhere but at Cherry Bim’s anatomy.

“Help!” cried the girl.  “This man is Serganoff, the Chief of Police at Petrograd ­”

There was a crash, and the sound of hurrying footsteps.  A voice from the outer hall screamed, “The police!”

At that moment Serganoff dragged the girl through the doorway and slammed it behind him.  They were in a small cellar, almost entirely filled with barrels, with only a narrow alley-way left to reach a farther door.  He dragged her through this apartment, up a short flight of stairs.  They were on the level of the restaurant, and the girl could hear the clatter of plates as he pushed her up another stairway and into a room.  By its furniture she guessed it was a private dining-room.  The blinds were drawn and she had no means of knowing whether the apartment overlooked the front or the back of the premises.

He stopped long enough to lock the door and then he turned to her, slipping off his mask.

“I thought you would recognize me,” he said coolly.

“What does this outrage mean?” asked the girl with heaving bosom.  “You shall pay for this, colonel.”

“There will be a lot of payment to be made before this matter is through,” he said calmly.  “Calm yourself, Irene.  I have saved you from a great disgrace.  Are you aware that, at the moment I brought you from that room, the English police were raiding it?”

“I should not have been in the room but for you,” she said, “my father ­”

“It is about your father I want to speak,” he said.  “Irene, I am the sole heir to your father’s estate.  Beyond the property which is settled on you, you have nothing.  My affection for you is known and approved at Court.”

“Your affection!” she laughed bitterly.  “I’d as soon have the affection of a wolf!”

“You could not have a more complete wolf than I,” he said meaningly.  “Do you know what has happened to-night?  An anarchist club in London has been raided, and the Grand Duchess Irene Yaroslav has been found in the company of men whose object is to destroy the monarchy.”

She realized with a sickening sense of disaster all that it meant.  She knew as well as he in what bad odour her father stood at Court, and guessed the steps which would be taken if this matter became public.

“I was brought here by a trick,” she said steadily.  “A letter came to me, as I thought, from Israel Kensky ­”

“It was from me,” he interrupted.

“And you planned the raid, of course?”

He nodded.

“I planned the raid in the most promising circumstances,” he said.  “The gentleman who offered to be your good knight is a well-known New York gun-man.  He is wanted by the police, who probably have him in their custody at this moment.  He was brought here to-night, and an offer was made to him, an offer of a large sum of money, on condition that he would destroy the Czar.”

She gasped.

“You see, my little Irene, that when this gun-man’s evidence is taken in court, matters will look very bad for the Yaroslav family.”

“What do you propose?” she asked.

“There are two alternatives,” he said.  “The first is that I should arrest you and hand you over to the police.  The second is that you should undertake most solemnly to marry me, in which case I will take you away from here.”

She was silent.

“Is there a third possibility?” she asked, and he shook his head.

“My dear,” he said familiarly as he flicked a speck of dust from his sleeve.  “I think you will take the easier way.  None of these scum will betray you, thinking that you are one of themselves ­as I happen to know, some of the best families in Russia are associated with plotters of this type.  As for the American, who might be inclined to talk, in a few weeks he will be on his way to New York to serve a life sentence.  I have been looking up his record, and particularly drew the attention of the English police to the fact that he would be here to-night.”

Cherry Bim, creeping up the stairs in his stockinged feet ­he had marked and shot the fuse-box to pieces before the police came in, and had burst his way through the door in the wall ­heard the sound of voices in the little room and stopped to listen.  It was not a thick door, and he could hear Serganoff’s voice very clearly.  He stooped down to the key-hole.  Serganoff had not taken the key out, and it was an old-fashioned key, the end of which projected an eighth of an inch on the other side of the door.  Cherry Bim felt in his pocket and produced a pair of peculiarly shaped nippers, and gripped the end of the key, turning it gently.  Then he slipped his handy gun from his pocket and waited.

“Now, Irene,” said Serganoff’s voice.  “You must decide.  In a few minutes the police will be up here, for they are instructed to make a complete search of the house.  I can either explain that you are here to witness the raid, or that I have followed you up and arrested you.  Which is it to be?”

Still she did not answer.  Serganoff had laid his revolver on the table and this she was manoeuvring to reach.  He divined her intention before she sprang forward, and, gripping her by the waist, threw her back.

“That will be more useful to me than to you,” he said.

“Sure thing it will!” said a voice behind him.

He turned as swift as a cat and fired.  The horrified girl heard only one shot, so quickly did one report follow another.  She saw Cherry Bim raise his hand and wipe the blood from his cheek, saw the splinter of wood where the bullet had struck behind him; then Serganoff groaned and sprawled forward over the table.  She dared not look at him, but followed Bim’s beckoning finger.

“Down the stairs and out of that door, miss,” he said, “or the bulls will have you.”

She did not ask him who the “bulls” were; she could guess.  She flew down the stairs, with trembling hands unfastened the lock and stepped into the street.  It was empty, save for two men, and one of these came forward to meet her with outstretched hands.

“Thank God you’re safe!” he said.  “You weren’t there, were you?”

Malcolm Hay was incoherent.  The detective who was with him could but smile a little, for the girl had come out of the door which, according to his instructions, led only to the private dining-room.

“Take me away,” she whispered.

He put his arm about her trembling figure, and led her along the street.  All the time he was in terror lest the police should call her back, and desire him to identify her; but nothing happened and they gained Shaftesbury Avenue and a blessed taxicab.

“To Israel Kensky,” she said.  “I can’t go home like this.”

He stretched out of the window and gave fresh instructions.

“I am greatly obliged to you, Mr. Hay,” she faltered and then covered her face with her hands.  “Oh, it was dreadful, dreadful!”

“What happened?” he asked.

She shook her head.  Then suddenly: 

“No, no, I must go home.  Will you tell the cabman?  There is a chance that I may get into my suite without Boolba seeing.  Will you go on to Israel Kensky after you have left me, and tell him what has happened?”

He nodded, and again gave the change of instructions.

They reached the hotel at a period when most of the guests were either lingering over their dinner or had gone to the theatre.

“I hate leaving you like this,” he said; “how do I know that you will get in without detection?”

She smiled in spite of her distress.

“You’re an inventor, aren’t you, Mr. Hay?” she laughed.  “But I am afraid even you could not invent a story which would convince my father if he knew I had been to that horrible place.”  Presently she said:  “My room overlooks the street.  If I get in without detection I will come to the window and wave a handkerchief.”

He waited in a fit of apprehension, until presently he saw a light leap up to three windows, and her figure appeared.  There was a flutter of a white handkerchief, and the blinds were drawn.  Malcolm Hay drove to Maida Vale, feeling that the age of romance was not wholly dead.

To his surprise Kensky had had the news before he reached there.

“Is she safe?  Is she safe?” asked the old man tremulously.  “Now, thank Jéhovah for his manifold blessings and mercies!  I feared something was wrong.  Her Highness wrote to me this afternoon, and I did not get the letter,” said Israel.  “They waylaid the messenger, and wrote and told her to go to the Silver Lion ­the devils!”

His hand was shaking as he took up the poker to stir the fire.

“He, at any rate, will trouble none of us again,” he said with malignant satisfaction.

“He?  Who?”

“Serganoff,” said the old man.  “He was dead when the police found him!”

“And the American?” asked Hay.

“Only Russians were arrested,” said Israel Kensky.  “I do not think I shall see him again.”

In this he was wrong, though six years were to pass before they met:  the mystic, Israel Kensky, Cherry Bim the modern knight-errant, and Malcolm Hay.