as he for the last twelve monthsâhe would have prevented the commission of a crime which, within twenty-four hours, was to plunge a wholenation into panic and mourning, and send a thrill of horror through EuropeÂ â¦
In St Petersburg, or even in Paris, such a man would have been shadowed, his every movement would have been watched, all his comings and goings noticed, and at any momentâsuch a one as this, for instanceâhe might have been pounced upon and searched as a suspicious person; and assuredly, if he had been, the toils of the law would have closed about him in such fashion that little but a miracle could have set him free again.
But here in London, the asylum of anarchy, and the focus of the most dangerous forces in the world, he went on his way unquestioned and unsuspected, for, although the police were morally certain that such a man existed, they had no idea as to his personality, no notion that this smart, good-looking young fellow, whose name had never been heard in connection even with such anarchist clubs as were known to have their quarters in London, and much less, therefore, with any of the crimes that had been laid to the charge of anarchy, was in reality even a greater criminal than Vaillant or Henry, or even the infamous Ravachol himself.
These were only the blind if willing tools, the instruments of political murder, the visible hands that obeyed the unseen brain, those who did the work and paid the penalty. But Max Renault was the brain itself, the intellect which conceived the plans for the execution of which the meaner and cheaper disciples of the sanguinary brotherhood of the knife and the bomb died on the scaffold, or wore out their lives in penal prisons or the mines of Siberia.
In a word, he was the moving spirit and directing intellect of what was soon to become the most dreaded body of men and women in the world, but which was now only known to the initiated as âAutonomie Group Number 7ââ¦
A few hundred yards past the top of the hill, Max turnedsharply to the left, walked along a side street, turned to the right at the end of this, and went into another. Three minutesâ quick walking brought him to the side door of a house which had a small timber yard on one side of it, and on the other a deserted beer-house, which had lost its licence, and remained unoccupied because the premises were fit for no other kind of business.
The house itself had a low shop front, with the lower half of its windows painted a dull green, and on the upper part was an arc of white letters making the legend âSocial Club and Eclectic Institute.â A lamp over the shop door bore the same inscription in white letters on blue glass, but the lamp was out now, for it was one of the rules of the club that all members should leave the premises not later than twelve oâclock at night on weekdays and half-past eleven on Sundays.
This rule, however, seemed only to apply to a certain section of the members. After Max had opened the side door with his latch-key, and ascended the stairs at the end of the passage, with a familiarity that enabled him to dispense with a light in the absolute darkness, he knocked at the door of an upstairs room which he found without the slightest hesitation. It was opened, and he found himself in the presence of four men and three women sitting round a table on which were the remains of what had evidently been a substantial and even luxurious supper.
Renaultâs action on entering the room was one which more than bore out what has been said of his character and the desperate work that he was engaged in. He acknowledged with a brief, curt nod the salutations of the company, and then, putting his back against the door, he pulled his right hand out of his trousers pocket, and said, in a quiet, almost well-bred voice, which had just the faintest trace of a foreign accent:
âVictor Berthauld, sit still!â
There was a small, slender-barrelled,