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The Man in the Twilight

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Chapter I—The Crisis

They sat squarely gazing into each other's eyes. Bat Marker had only one mood to express. It was a mood that suggested determination to fight to a finish, to fight with the last ounce of strength, the last gasp of breath. He was sitting at the desk, opposite his friend and employer, Leslie Standing, and his small grey eyes were shining coldly under his shaggy, black brows. His broad shoulders were squared aggressively.

There was far less display in the eyes of Leslie Standing. They were wide with a deep pre-occupation. But then Standing was of very different type. His pale face, his longish black hair, brushed straight back from an abnormally high forehead, suggested the face of a student, even a priest. Harker was something of the roused bull-dog, strong, rugged, furious; a product of earth's rough places.

"Give us that last bit again."

Bat's tone matched his attitude. It was abrupt, forceful, and he thrust out a hand pointing at the letter from which the other had been reading.

Standing's eyes lit with a shadow of a smile as he turned again to the letter.

"There's just one thing more. It's less pleasant, so I've kept it till the last. Hellbeam is in Quebec. So is his agent—the man Idepski. My informant tells me he saw the latter leaving the steam-packet office. It suggests things are on the move your way again. However, my man is keeping tab. I'll get warning through at the first sign of danger."

Standing looked up. His half smile had gone. There was doubt in his eyes, and the hand grasping the letter was not quite steady. But when he spoke his tone was a flat denial of the physical sign that Bat had been quick to observe.

"Charlie Nisson's as keen as a needle," Standing said. "His whisper's a sight more than another fellow's shout."

Bat regarded the letter. He watched the other lay it aside on a pile of papers. He was thinking, thinking hard. And his thought was mostly of the man whose shaking hand betrayed him. Suddenly an explosive movement brought his clenched fist down on the table with a thud.

"Hell!" he cried, in a fury of impatience. "What's the use? The danger sign's hoisted. I know it. You know it. Nisson knows it. Well? Say, Hellbeam's been in Quebec a score of times since—since—. That don't worry a thing. No. He's got big finance in the Skandinavia bunch in Quebec. We know all about that. It's Idepski. Idepski ain't visiting the packet office for his health. He ain't figgerin' on a joy trip up the Labrador coast. No. That's the signal, sure. Idepski at the packet office. Their darn mud-scow mostly runs here, to Sachigo, and there ain't a thing along the way to interest Idepski—but Sachigo. We'll be getting word from Charlie Nisson in some hurry."

"Yes, we'll get it in a hurry."

Standing nodded. He was transparently perturbed. Bat watched him closely. Then, in a moment, his mind was made up.

"See right here, Les," he cried, in a tone he vainly endeavoured to restrain. "I've figgered right along this thing would need to happen sometime....