"A Menshevik who suffered justly for his crimes against the People's Revolution?" Softly, pronounced, the interruption came in slurring, almost hissing accents from the doorway, and we turned with one accord to see a man and woman standing on the threshold.
He was a lean, compactly put together man of something more than medium height, exceedingly ugly, with thin black eyebrows and yellowish-tinted skin. His head was absolutely hairless, yet his scalp had not that quality of glossiness we ordinarily associate with baldness. Rather, it seemed to have a suede-like dullness which threw no answering gleam back from the hall lamp under which he stood. His small, side-slanting eyes were black as obsidian and his pointed chin thrust out. His companion wore a blue raincoat, tight-buttoned to the throat, and above its collar showed her face, dead-white beneath short, jet-black hair brushed flat against her head. Her brows were straight and narrow, the eyes below them black as prunes; her lips were a thin, scarlet line. She looked hard and muscular, not masculine, but sexless as a hatchet.
I saw terror like cold flame wither my companions' faces as they looked up at the trespassers. Although they said no word I knew the chill and ominous fore-knowledge of sure death was on them.
"See here," I snapped as I rose from my chair, "what d'ye mean by coming in this way——"
"Sit down, old man," the woman interrupted in a low, cold voice. "Keep still and we'll not hurt you——"
"'Old man?' I choked. To have my house invaded in this way was injury, to be called an old man—that was added insult. "Get out!" I ordered sharply, "Get out of here, or——" The gleam of light upon the visitors' pistol barrels robbed my protest of authority.
"We have come to execute these traitors to the People's Cause," the man announced. "You have doubtless heard of us from them. I am Boris Proudhon, commissar of People's Justice. This is Matrona Rimsky——"
"And you will both oblige me greatly if you elevate your hands!" Standing framed in the front door, Jules de Grandin swung his automatic pistol in a threatening arc before him. He was smiling, but not pleasantly, and from the flush upon his ordinarily pale cheeks I knew he must have hurried through the rain.
There was corrosive, vitriolic hatred in the woman's voice as she wheeled toward him. "Bourgeois swine; capitalistic dog!" she spat, her pistol raised.
There was no flicker in de Grandin's smile as he shot her neatly through the forehead, nor did he change expression as he told the man, "It is a pity she should go to hell alone, Monsieur. You had better keep her company." His pistol snapped a second spiteful, whip-like crack, and Boris Proudhon stumbled forward on the body of his companion spy and fellow murderer.
"Tiens, I've followed them for hours." the Frenchman said as he came into the drawing-room, stepping daintily around the huddled bodies. "I saw them lurking in the shadows when I left the house, and knew they had no good intentions. Accordingly I circled back when I had reached the corner, and lay in wait to watch them. When they moved, so did I. When they so skilfully undid the front door lock all silently, I was at their elbows. When they announced intention to commit another murder—eh bien, it is not healthy to do things like that when Jules de Grandin is about."
"But it was scarcely eight o'clock when you went out; it's past eleven now. Surely you could have summoned the police,"