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Yes, she was ready! She nodded her head sharply, as though in imperative self-command, and running back, her footfalls soundless on the rich, heavy rug, she picked up the plush-lined necklace case. She dropped this again, open, on the floor, halfway between the safe and the window. With the case apparently burst open as it fell, and the necklace also on the floor, the stage would be set! She felt inside her bodice, drew out the necklace - and as she stood there holding it, and as it caught the light and flashed back its fire and life from a thousand facets, a numbness seemed to come stealing over her, and a horror, and a great fear, and a dismay that robbed her of power of movement until it seemed that she was rooted to the spot, and a low, gasping cry came from her lips. Her eyes, wide with their alarm, were fixed on the window. There was a man's face there, just above the sill - and now a man's form swung through the window, and dropped lightly to the floor inside the room. And she stared in horrified fascination, and could not move. It was the Adventurer.
"It's Miss Gray, isn't it? The White Moll?" he murmured amiably. "I've been trying to find you all night. What corking luck! You remember me, don't you? Last night, you know."
She did not answer. His eyes had shifted from her face to the glittering river of gems in her hand.
"I see," he smiled, "that you are ahead of me again. Well, it is the fortune of war, Miss Gray. I do not complain."
She found her voice at last; and, quick as a flash, as he advanced a step, she dropped the necklace into her pocket, and her revolver was in her hand.
"W - what are you doing here?" she whispered.
He shrugged his shoulders expressively.
"I take it that we are both in the same boat," he said pleasantly.
"In the same boat?" she echoed dully. She remembered his conversation with her a few hours ago, when he had believed he was talking to Gypsy Nan. And now he stood before her for the second time a self-confessed thief. In the same boat-fellow-thieves! A certain cold composure came to her. "You mean you came to steal this necklace? Well, you shall not have it! And, furthermore, you have no right to class me with yourself as a thief."
He had a whimsical and very engaging smile. His eyebrows lifted.
"Miss Gray perhaps forgets last night," he suggested.
"No, I do not forget last night," she said slowly, "And I do not forget that I owe you very much for what you did. And that is one reason why I warn you at once that, as far as the necklace is concerned, it will do you no good to build any hopes on the supposition that we are fellow-thieves, and that I am likely either to part with it, or, through gratitude, share it. In spite of appearances last night, I was not a thief."
"And to-night, Miss Gray - in spite of appearances?" he challenged.
He was regarding her with eyes that, while they appraised shrewdly, held a lurking hint of irony in their depths. And somehow, suddenly, self-proclaimed crook though she held him to be, she found herself seized with an absurd, unreasonable, but nevertheless passionate, desire to make good her words.
"Yes, and to-night, too!" she asserted. "I did not steal this necklace. I - never mind how - I - I got it. It was planned to put the theft on an innocent man's shoulders. I was trying to thwart that plan. Whether you believe me or not, I did not come here to steal the necklace; I came here to return it."
"Quite so! Of course!" acknowledged the Adventurer softly. "I am afraid I interrupted you, then, in the act of returning it. Might I suggest, therefore, Miss Gray, that as it's a bit dangerous to linger around here unnecessarily, you carry out your intentions with all possible haste, and get away."
"And you?" she queried evenly.
"Myself, of course, as well." He shrugged his shoulders philosophically. "Under the circumstances, as a gentleman - will you let me say I prefer that word to the one I know you are substituting for it - what else can I do?"
She bit her lips. Was he mocking her? The gray eyes were inscrutable now.
"Then please do not let me detain you!" she said sharply. "And in my turn, let me advise you to go at once. I intend to knock one of those shields down from the wall before I go, in order to arouse the household. I will, however, in part payment for last night, allow you three full minutes from the time you climb out of that window, so that you may have ample time to get away.
He stared at her in frank bewilderment.
"Good Lord!" he gasped. "You - you're joking, Miss Gray."
"No, I am not," she replied coolly. "Far from it! There was money stolen that I cannot replace, and the theft of the money would be put upon the same innocent shoulders. I see no other way than the one I have mentioned. If whoever runs into this room is permitted to get a glimpse of me, and is given the impression that the necklace, which I shall leave on the floor, was dropped in my haste, the supposition remains that, at least, I got away with the money. I am certainly not the innocent man who has been used as the pawn; and if I am recognized as the White Moll, what does it matter - after last night?"
He took a step toward her impetuously - and stopped quite as impetuously. Her revolver had swung to a level with his head.
"Pardon me!" he said.
"Not at all!" she said caustically.
For the first time, as she watched him warily, the Adventurer appeared to lose some of his self-assurance. He shifted a little uneasily on his feet, and the corners of his eyes puckered into a nest of perturbed wrinkles.
"I say, Miss Gray, you can't mean this!" be protested. "You're not serious!"
"I have told you that I am," she answered steadily. "Those three minutes that I gave you are going fast."
"Then look here!" he exclaimed earnestly. "I'll tell you something. I said I had been trying to find you to-night. It was the truth. I went to Gypsy Nan's - and might have been spared my pains. I told her about last night, and that I knew you were in danger, and that I wanted to help you. I mention this so that you will understand that I am not just speaking on the spur of the moment, now that I have an opportunity of repeating that offer in person."
She looked at him impassively for a moment. He had neglected to state that he had also told Gypsy Nan he desired to enter into a partnership with her - in crime.
"It is very kind of you," she said sweetly. "I presume, then, that you have some suggestion to make?"
"Only what any - may I say it? - gentleman would suggest under the circumstances. It is far too dangerous a thing for a woman to attempt; it would be much less dangerous for me. I realize that you are in earnest now, and I will agree to carry out your plan in every detail once I am satisfied that you are safely away."
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