“You can give me the glad hand to-night, mister,” he cried. “I’m bringing home the bacon at last.”
“Same as I said in my cable. Every last one of them, semaphore, lamp code, Marconi–a copy, mind you, not the original. That was too dangerous. But it’s the real goods, and you can lay to that.” He slapped the German upon the shoulder with a rough familiarity from which the other winced.
“Come in,” he said. “I’m all alone in the house. I was only waiting for this. Of course a copy is better than the original. If an original were missing they would change the whole thing. You think it’s all safe about the copy?”
The Irish-American had entered the study and stretched his long limbs from the armchair. He was a tall, gaunt man of sixty, with clear-cut features and a small goatee beard which gave him a general resemblance to the caricatures of Uncle Sam. A half-smoked, sodden cigar hung from the corner of his mouth, and as he sat down he struck a match and relit it. “Making ready for a move?” he remarked as he looked round him. “Say, mister,” he added, as his eyes fell upon the safe from which the curtain was now removed, “you don’t tell me you keep your papers in that?”
“Gosh, in a wide-open contraption like that! And they reckon you to be some spy. Why, a Yankee crook would be into that with a can-opener. If I’d known that any letter of mine was goin’ to lie loose in a thing like that I’d have been a mug to write to you at all.”
“It would puzzle any crook to force that safe,” Von Bork answered. “You won’t cut that metal with any tool.”
“But the lock?”
“No, it’s a double combination lock. You know what that is?”
“Search me,” said the American.
“Well, you need a word as well as a set of figures before you can get the lock to work.” He rose and showed a double-radiating disc round the keyhole. “This outer one is for the letters, the inner one for the figures.”
“Well, well, that’s fine.”
“So it’s not quite as simple as you thought. It was four years ago that I had it made, and what do you think I chose for the word and figures?”
“It’s beyond me.”
“Well, I chose August for the word, and 1914 for the figures, and here we are.”
The American’s face showed his surprise and admiration.
“My, but that was smart! You had it down to a fine thing.”
“Yes, a few of us even then could have guessed the date. Here it is, and I’m shutting down to-morrow morning.”
“Well, I guess you’ll have to fix me up also. I’m not staying in this gol-darned country all on my lonesome. In a week or less, from what I see, John Bull will be on his hind legs and fair ramping. I’d rather watch him from over the water.”
“But you’re an American citizen?”
“Well, so was Jack James an American citizen, but he’s doing time in Portland all the same. It cuts no ice with a British copper to tell him you’re an American citizen. ‘It’s British law and order over here,’ says he. By the way, mister, talking of Jack James, it seems to me you don’t do much to cover your men.”
“What do you mean?” Von Bork asked sharply.
“Well, you are their employer, ain’t you? It’s up to you to see that they don’t fall down. But they do fall down, and when did you ever pick them up? There’s James–”
“It was James’s own fault. You know that yourself. He was too self-willed for the job.”