The Man Who Couldn't Sleep
by Arthur Stringer
[Frontispiece: I could feel the sting of the powder smoke on my
Who Couldn't Sleep
By ARTHUR STRINGER
Publishers New York
Published by arrangement with BOBBS MERRILL COMPANY
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
Printed in the United States of America
RUNNING OUT OF
CHAPTER II. THE
CHAPTER III. THE
CHAPTER IV. THE
CHAPTER V. THE
CHAPTER VI. THE
CHAPTER VII. THE
CHAPTER IX. A
CHAPTER X. THE
CHAPTER XI. THE
To Harvey, of the dome-like pate,
The dreamy eye, the Celtic wit
And kindly heart, I dedicate
This blithe romance conceived and writ
By one of that triumvirate
Who knew Defeat, yet conquered it.
The Man Who Couldn't Sleep
CHAPTER I. RUNNING OUT OF PAY-DIRT
To begin with, I am a Canadian by birth, and thirty-three years old.
For nine of those years I have lived in New York. And by my friends in
that city I am regarded as a successful author.
There was a time when I even regarded myself in much the same light.
But that period is past. I now have to face the fact that I am a
failure. For when a man is no longer able to write he naturally can no
longer be reckoned as an author.
I have made the name of Witter Kerfoot too well known, I think, to
explain that practically all of my stories have been written about
Alaska. Just why I resorted to that far-off country for my settings is
still more or less a mystery to me. Perhaps it was merely because of
its far-offness. Perhaps it was because the editors remembered that I
came from the land of the beaver and sagely concluded that a Canadian
would be most at home in writing about the Frozen North. At any rate,
when I romanced about the Yukon and its ice-bound trails they bought my
stories, and asked for more.
And I gave them more. I gave them blood-red fiction about gun-men
and claim-jumpers and Siwash queens and salmon fisheries. I gave them
supermen of iron, fighting against cold and hunger, and snarling,
always snarling, at their foes. I gave them oratorical young engineers
with clear-cut features and sinews of steel, battling against the
forces of hyperborean evil. I gave them fist-fights that caused my
books to be discreetly shut out of school-libraries yet brought in
telegrams from motion-picture directors for first rights. I gave them
enough gun-play to shoot Chilcoot Pass into the middle of the Pacific,
and was publicly denominated as the apostle of the Eye-Socket School,
and during the three-hundred-night run of my melodrama, The Pole
Raiders, even beheld on the Broadway sign-boards an extraordinarily
stalwart picture of myself in a rakish Stetson and a flannel shirt very
much open at the throat, with a cow-hide holster depending from my
Herculean waist-line and a very dreadful-looking six-shooter protruding
from the open top of that belted holster. My publishers spoke of me,
for business reasons, as the Interpreter of the Great Northwest. And I
exploited that territory with the industry of a badger. In my own way,
I mined Alaska. And it brought me in a very respectable amount of
But I knew nothing about Alaska, I had never even seen the country.
I crammed up on it, of course, the same as we used to cram up for a
third-form examination in Latin grammar. I perused the atlases and sent
for governmental reports, and pored over the R.N.W.M.P. Blue Books, and
gleaned a hundred or so French-Canadian names for half-breed villains
from a telephone-directory for the city of Montreal. But I knew no more
about Alaska than a Fiji Islander knows about the New York Stock
Exchange. And that was why I could romance so freely, so magnificently,
I was equally prodigal of blood, I suppose, because I had never seen
the real thing flowexcept in the case of my little niece, when her
tonsils had been removed and a very soft-spoken nurse had helped me out
of the surgery and given me a drink of ice-water, after telling me it
would be best to keep my head as low as possible until I was feeling
better. As for firearms, I abhorred them. I never shot off an air-rifle
without first shutting my eyes. I never picked up a duck-gun without a
wince of aversion. So I was able to do wonderful things with firearms,
on paper. And with the Frozen Yukon and firearms combined, I was able
to work miracles. I gave a whole continent goose-flesh, so many times a
season. And the continent seemed to enjoy it, for those airy essays in
iron and gore were always paid for, and paid for at higher and higher
While this was taking place, something even more important was
taking place, something which finally brought me in touch with Mary
Lockwood herself. It was accident more than anything else, I think,
that first launched me in what is so indefinitely and often so
disparagingly known as society. Society, as a rule, admits only the
lions of my calling across its sacred portals. And even these lions, I
found, were accepted under protest or the wing of some commendable
effort for charity, and having roared their little hour, were let pass
quietly out to oblivion again. But I had been lucky enough to bring
letters to the Peytons and to the Gruger-Philmores, and these old
families, I will be honest enough to confess, had been foolish enough
to like me.
So from the first I did my best to live up to those earlier
affiliations. I found myself passed on, from one mysteriously
barricaded seclusion to the other. The tea-hour visit merged into the
formal dinner, and the formal dinner into the even more formal box at
the Horse-Show, and then a call to fill up a niche at the Metropolitan
on a Caruso-night, or a vacancy for an Assembly Dance at Sherry's, or a
week at Tuxedo, in winter, when the skating was good.
I worked hard to keep up my end of the game. But I was an impostor,
of course, all along the line. I soon saw that I had to prove more than
acceptable; I had also to prove dependable. That I was a writer
meant nothing whatever to those people. They had scant patience with
the long-haired genius type. That went down only with musicians. So I
soon learned to keep my bangs clipped, my trousers creased, and my
necktie inside my coat-lapels. I also learned to use my wits, and how
to key my talk up to dowager or down to debutante, and how to be
passably amusing even before the champagne course had arrived. I made
it a point to remember engagements and anniversaries, and more than
once sent flowers and Millairds, which I went hungry to pay for. Even
my pourboires to butlers and footmen and maids stood a matter,
in those earlier days, for much secret and sedulous consideration.
But, as I have said, I tried to keep up my end. I liked those
large and orderly houses. I liked the quiet-mannered people who lived
in them. I liked looking at life with their hill-top unconcern for
trivialities. I grew rather contemptuous of my humbler fellow-workers
who haunted the neighborhood theaters and the red-inkeries of Greenwich
Village, and orated Socialism and blank-verse poems to garret
audiences, and wore window-curtain cravats and celluloid blinkers with
big round lenses, and went in joyous and caramel-eating groups to the
rush seats at Rigoletto. I was accepted, as I have already
tried to explain, as an impecunious but dependable young bachelor. And
I suppose I could have kept on at that rôle, year after year, until I
developed into a foppish and somewhat threadbare old beau. But
about this time I was giving North America its first spasms of
goose-flesh with my demigod type of Gibsonian engineer who fought the
villain until his flannel shirt was in rags and then shook his fist in
Nature's face when she dogged him with the Eternal Cold. And there was
money in writing for flat-dwellers about that Eternal Cold, and about
battling claw to claw and fang to fang, and about eye-sockets without
any eyes in them. My income gathered like a snow-ball. And as it
gathered I began to feel that I ought to have an establishmentnot a
back-room studio in Washington Square, nor a garret in the Village of
the Free-Versers, nor a mere apartment in the West Sixties, nor even a
duplex overlooking Central Park South. I wanted to be something more
than a number. I wanted a house, a house of my own, and a cat-footed
butler to put a hickory-log on the fire, and a full set of Sévres
on my mahogany sideboard, and something to stretch a strip of red
carpet across when the landaulets and the limousines rolled up to my
So I took a nine-year lease of the Whighams' house in Gramercy
Square. It was old-fashioned and sedate and unpretentious to the
passing eye, but beneath that somewhat somber shell nested an amazingly
rich kernel of luxuriousness. It was good form; it was unbelievably
comfortable, and it was not what the climber clutches for. The cost of
even a nine-year claim on it rather took my breath away, but the
thought of Alaska always served to stiffen up my courage.
It was necessary to think a good deal about Alaska in those days,
for after I had acquired my house I also had to acquire a man to run
it, and then a couple of other people to help the man who helped me,
and then a town car to take me back and forth from it, and then a
chauffeur to take care of the car, and then the service-clothes for the
chauffeur, and the thousand and one unlooked for things, in short,
which confront the pin-feather householder and keep him from feeling
too much a lord of creation.
Yet in Benson, my butler, I undoubtedly found a gem of the first
water. He moved about as silent as a panther, yet as watchful as an
eagle. He could be ubiquitous and self-obliterating at one and the same
time. He was meekness incarnate, and yet he could coerce me into a
predetermined line of conduct as inexorably as steel rails lead a
street-car along its predestined line of traffic. He was, in fact, much
more than a butler. He was a valet and a chef de cuisine and a
lord-high-chamberlain and a purchasing-agent and a body-guard and a
benignant-eyed old godfather all in one. The man babied me. I
could see that all along. But I was already an overworked and slightly
neurasthenic specimen, even in those days, and I was glad enough to
have that masked and silent Efficiency always at my elbow. There were
times, too, when his activities merged into those of a trained nurse,
for when I smoked too much he hid away my cigars, and when I worked too
hard he impersonally remembered what morning horseback riding in the
park had done for a former master of his. And when I drifted into the
use of chloral hydrate, to make me sleep, that dangerous little bottle
had the habit of disappearing, mysteriously and inexplicably
disappearing, from its allotted place in my bathroom cabinet.
There was just one thing in which Benson disappointed me. That was
in his stubborn and unreasonable aversion to Latreille, my French
chauffeur. For Latreille was as efficient, in his way, as Benson
himself. He understood his car, he understood the traffic rules, and he
understood what I wanted of him. Latreille was, after a manner of
speaking, a find of my own. Dining one night at the Peytons', I had met
the Commissioner of Police, who had given me a card to stroll through
Headquarters and inspect the machinery of the law. I had happened on
Latreille as he was being measured and mugged in the Identification
Bureau, with those odd-looking Bertillon forceps taking his cranial
measurements. The intelligence of the man interested me; the
inalienable look of respectability in his face convinced me, as a
student of human nature, that he was not meant for any such fate or any
such environment. And when I looked into his case I found that instinct
had not been amiss. The unfortunate fellow had been framed for a
car-theft of which he was entirely innocent. He explained all this to
me, in fact, with tears in his eyes. And circumstances, when I looked
into them, bore out his statements. So I visited the Commissioner, and
was passed on to the Probation Officers, from whom I caromed off to the
Assistant District-Attorney, who in turn delegated me to another
official, who was cynical enough to suggest that the prisoner might
possibly be released if I was willing to go to the extent of bonding
him. This I very promptly did, for I was now determined to see poor
Latreille once more a free man.
Latreille showed his appreciation of my efforts by saving me seven
hundred dollars when I bought my town carthough candor compels me to
admit that I later discovered it to be a used car rehabilitated, and
not a product fresh from the factory, as I had anticipated. But
Latreille was proud of that car, and proud of his position, and I was
proud of having a French chauffeur, though my ardor was dampened a
little later on, when I discovered that Latreille, instead of hailing
from the Bois de Boulogne and the Avenue de la Paix,
originated in the slightly less splendid suburbs of Three Rivers, up on
the St. Lawrence.
But my interest in Latreille about this time became quite
subsidiary, for something much more important than cars happened to me.
I fell in love. I fell in love with Mary Lockwood, head-over-heels in
love with a girl who could have thrown a town car into the Hudson every
other week and never have missed it. She was beautiful; she was
wonderful; but she was dishearteningly wealthy. With all those odious
riches of hers, however, she was a terribly honest and above-board
girl, a healthy-bodied, clear-eyed, practical-minded, normal-living New
York girl who in her twenty-two active years of existence had seen
enough of the world to know what was veneer and what was solid, and had
seen enough of men to demand mental camaraderie and not squaw-talk
I first saw her at the Volpi sale, in the American Art Galleries,
where we chanced to bid against each other for an old Italian
table-cover, a sixteenth-century blue velvet embroidered with gold
galloon. Mary bid me down, of course. I lost my table-cover, and with
it I lost my heart. When I met her at the Obden-Belponts, a week later,
she confessed that I'd rather been on her conscience. She generously
offered to hand over that oblong of old velvet, if I still happened to
be grieving over its loss. But I told her that all I asked for was a
chance to see it occasionally. And occasionally I went to see it. I
also saw its owner, who became more wonderful to me, week by week. Then
I lost my head over her. That apheresis was so complete that I
told Mary what had happened, and asked her to marry me.
Mary was very practical about it all. She said she liked me, liked
me a lot. But there were other things to be considered. We would have
to wait. I had my work to doand she wanted it to be big work,
gloriously big work. She wouldn't even consent to a formal engagement.
But we had an understanding. I was sent back to my work, drunk with
the memory of her surrendering lips warm on mine, of her wistfully
entreating eyes searching my face for something which she seemed unable
to find there.
That work of mine which I went back to, however, seemed something
very flat and meager and trivial. And this, I realized, was a condition
which would never do. The pot had to be kept boiling, and boiling now
more briskly than ever. I had lapsed into more or less luxurious ways
of living; I had formed expensive tastes, and had developed a fondness
for antiques and Chinese bronzes and those objets d'art which
are never found on the bargain-counter. I had outgrown the Spartan ways
of my youth when I could lunch contentedly at Child's and sleep soundly
on a studio-couch in a top-floor room. And more and more that rapacious
ogre known as Social Obligation had forged his links and fetters about
my movements. More than ever, I saw, I had my end to keep up. What
should have been a recreation had become almost a treadmill. I was a
pretender, and had my pretense to sustain. I couldn't afford to be
dropped. I had my frontiers to protect, and my powers to placate. I
couldn't ask Mary to throw herself away on a nobody. So instead of
trying to keep up one end, I tried to keep up two. I continued to bob
about the fringes of the Four Hundred. And I continued to cling
hungrily to Mary's hint about doing work, gloriously big work.
But gloriously big work, I discovered, was usually done by lonely
men, living simply and quietly, and dwelling aloof from the frivolous
side-issues of life, divorced from the distractions of a city which
seemed organized for only the idler and the lotos-eater. And I could
see that the pay-dirt coming out of Alaska was running thinner and
It was to remedy this, I suppose, that I dined with my old friend
Pip Conners, just back to civilization after fourteen long years up in
the Yukon. That dinner of ours together was memorable. It was one of
the mile-stones of my life. I wanted to furbish up my information on
that remote corner of the world, which, in a way, I had preempted as my
own. I wanted fresh information, first-hand data, renewed inspiration.
And I was glad to feel Pip's horny hand close fraternally about mine.
Witter, he said, staring at me with open admiration, you're a
I liked Pip's praise, even though I stood a little at a loss to
discern its inspiration.
You meanthis? I asked, with a casual hand-wave about that
Gramercy Square abode of mine.
No, sir, was Pip's prompt retort. I mean those stories of yours.
I've read 'em all.
I blushed at this, blushed openly. For such commendation from a man
who knew life as it was, who knew life in the raw, was as honey to my
Do you mean to say you could get them, up there? I asked,
more for something to dissemble my embarrassment than to acquire actual
Yes, acknowledged Pip with a rather foolish-sounding laugh, they
come through the mails about the same as they'd come through the mails
down here. And folks even read them, now and then, when the gun-smoke
blows out of the valley!
Then what struck you as wonderful about them? I inquired, a little
at sea as to his line of thought.
It's not them that's wonderful, Witter. It's you. I said you
were a wonder. And you are.
And why am I a wonder? I asked, with the drip of the honey no
longer embarrassing my modesty.
Witter, you're a wonder to get away with it! was Pip's
solemnly intoned reply.
To get away with it? I repeated.
Yes; to make it go down! To get 'em trussed and gagged and
hog-tied! To make 'em come and eat out of your hand and then holler for
more! For I've been up there in the British Yukon for fourteen nice
comfortable years, Witter, and I've kind o' got to know the country. I
know how folks live up there, and what the laws are. And it may strike
you as queer, friend-author, but folks up in that district are
uncommonly like folks down here in the States. And in the Klondike and
this same British Yukon there is a Firearms Act which makes it against
the law for any civilian to tote a gun. And that law is sure carried
out. Fact is, there's no need for a gun. And even if you did
smuggle one in, the Mounted Police would darned soon take it away from
I sat staring at him.
But all those motion-pictures, I gasped. And all those novels
That's why I say you're a wonder, broke in the genial-eyed Pip.
You can fool all the people all the time! You've done
it. And you keep on doing it. You can put 'em to sleep and take it out
of their pants pocket before they know they've gone by-by. Why, you've
even got 'em tranced off in the matter of everyday school-geography.
You've had some of those hero-guys o' yours mush seven or eight hundred
miles, and on a birch-bark toboggan, between dinner and supper. And if
that ain't genius, I ain't ever seen it bound up in a reading-book!
That dinner was a mile-stone in my life, all right, but not after
the manner I had expected. For as I sat there in a cold sweat of
apprehension crowned with shame, Pip Conners told me many things about
Alaska and the Klondike. He told me many things that were new to me,
dishearteningly, discouragingly, devitalizingly new to me. Without
knowing it, he poignarded me, knifed me through and through. Without
dreaming what he was doing, he eviscerated me. He left me a hollow and
empty mask of an author. He left me a homeless exile, with the iron
gates of Fact swung sternly shut on what had been a Fairy Land of
Romance, a Promised Land of untrammelled and care-free imaginings.
That was my first sleepless night.
I said nothing to Pip. I said nothing to any one. I held that
vulture of shame close in my arms and felt its unclean beak awling into
my vitals. I tried to go back to my work, next day, to lose myself in
creation. But it was like seeking consolation beside a corpse. For me,
Alaska was killed, killed forever. And blight had fallen on more than
my work. It had crept over my very world, the world which only the
labor of my pen could keep orderly and organized. The city in which I
had seemed to sit a conqueror suddenly lay about me a flat and
monotonous tableland of ennui, as empty and stale as a circus-lot after
the last canvas-wagon has rumbled away.
I have no intention of making this recountal the confessions of a
neurasthenic. Nothing is further from my aims than the inditing of a
second City of Dreadful Night. But I began to worry. And later on I
began to magnify my troubles. I even stuck to New York that summer, for
the simple reason that I couldn't afford to go away. And it was an
unspeakably hot summer. I did my best to work, sitting for hours at a
time staring at a blank sheet of paper, set out like tangle-foot to
catch a passing idea. But not an idea alighted on that square of
spotless white. When I tried new fields, knowing Alaska was dead, the
editors solemnly shook their heads and announced that this new offering
of mine didn't seem to have the snap and go of my older manner. Then
panic overtook me, and after yet another white night I went straight to
Sanson, the nerve specialist, and told him I was going crazy.
He laughed at me. Then he offhandedly tapped me over and tried my
reflexes and took my blood pressure and even more diffidently asked me
a question or two. He ended up by announcing that I was as sound as a
dollar, whatever that may have meant, and suggested as an afterthought
that I drop tobacco and go in more for golf.
That buoyed me up for a week or two. But Mary, when she came in to
town radiant and cool for three days' shopping, seemed to detect in me
a change which first surprised and then troubled her. I was bitterly
conscious of being a disappointment to somebody who expected great
things of me. And to escape that double-edged sword of mortification, I
once again tried to bury myself in my work. But I just as well might
have tried to bury myself in a butter-dish, for there was no effort and
no activity there to envelope me. I was coerced into idleness, without
ever having acquired the art of doing nothing. For life with me had
been a good deal like boiling rice: it had to be kept galloping to save
it from going mushy. Yet now the fire itself seemed out. And that
prompted me to sit and listen to my works, as the French idiom
expresses it, which is never a profitable calling for a naturally
The lee and the long of it was, as the Irish say, that I went back
to Doctor Sanson and demanded something, in the name of God, that would
give me a good night's sleep. He was less jocular, this time. He told
me to forget my troubles and go fishing for a couple of weeks.
I did go fishing, but I fished for ideas. And I got scarcely
a strike. To leave the city was now more than ever out of the question.
So for recreation I had Latreille take me out in the car, when a
feverish thirst for speed, which I found it hard to account for, drove
me into daily violations of the traffic laws. Twice, in fact, I was
fined for this, with a curtly warning talk from the presiding
magistrate on the second occasion, since the offense, in this case, was
complicated by collision with an empty baby-carriage. Latreille, about
this time, seemed uncannily conscious of my condition. More and more he
seemed to rasp me on the raw, until irritation deepened into positive
dislike for the man.
When Mary came back to the city for a few days, before going to the
Virginia hills for the autumn, I looked so wretched and felt so
wretched that I decided not to see her. I was taking veronal now, to
make me sleep, and with cooler weather I looked for better rest and a
return to work. But my hopes were ill-founded. I came to dread the
night, and the night's ever-recurring battle for sleep. I lost my
perspective on things. And then came the crowning catastrophe, the
catastrophe which turned me into a sort of twentieth-century Macbeth.
The details of that catastrophe were ludicrous enough, and it had no
definite and clear-cut outcome, but its effect on my over-tensioned
nerves was sufficiently calamitous. It occurred, oddly enough, on
Hallow-e'en night, when the world is supposed to be given over to
festivity. Latreille had motored me out to a small dinner-dance at
Washburn's, on Long Island, but I had left early in the evening,
perversely depressed by a hilarity in which I had not the heart to
join. Twice, on the way back to the city, I had called out to Latreille
for more speed. We had just taken a turn in the outskirts of Brooklyn
when my swinging headlights disclosed the figure of a man, an unstable
and wavering man, obviously drunk, totter and fall directly in front of
I heard the squeal of the brakes and the high-pitched shouts from a
crowd of youths along the sidewalk. But it was too late. I could feel
the impact as we struck. I could feel the sickening thud and jolt as
the wheels pounded over that fallen body.
I stood up, without quite knowing what I was doing, and screamed
like a woman. Then I dropped weakly back in my seat. I think I was
sobbing. I scarcely noticed that Latreille had failed to stop the car.
He spoke to me twice, in fact, before I knew it.
Shall we go on, sir? he asked, glancing back at me over his
Go on! I shouted, knowing well enough by this time what I
said, surrendering merely to that blind and cowardly panic for
self-preservation which marks man at his lowest.
We thumped and swerved and speeded away on the wings of cowardice. I
sat there gasping and clutching my moist fingers together, as I've seen
hysterical women do, calling on Latreille for speed, and still more
I don't know where he took me. But I became conscious of the
consoling blackness of the night about us. And I thanked God, as Cain
must have done when he found himself alone with his shame.
Latreille, I said, breathing brokenly as we slowed up, did we
did we kill him?
My chauffeur turned in his seat and studied my face. Then he looked
carefully back, to make sure we were not being followed.
This is a heavy car, sir, he finally admitted. He said it coolly,
and almost impersonally. But the words fell like a sledge-hammer on my
But we couldn't have killed a man, I clamored insanely, weakly, as
we came to a dead stop at the roadside.
Forty-two hundred poundsand he got both wheels! calmly protested
my enemy, for I felt now that he was in some way my enemy.
What in heaven's name are you going to do? I gasped, for I noticed
that he was getting down from his seat.
Hadn't I better get the blood off the running-gear, before we turn
back into town?
Blood? I quavered as I clutched at the robe-rail in front of me.
And that one word brought the horror of the thing home to me in all its
ghastliness. I could see axles and running-board and brake-bar dripping
with red, festooned with shreds of flesh, maculated with blackening
gore. And I covered my face with my hands, and groaned aloud in my
misery of soul.
But Latreille did not wait for me. He lifted the seat-cushion, took
rubbing-cloths from the tool-box and crawled out of sight beneath the
car. I could feel the occasional tremors that went through the
frame-work as he busied himself at that grisly task. I could hear his
grunt of satisfaction when he had finished. And I watched him with
stricken eyes as he stepped through the vague darkness and tossed his
telltale cloths far over the roadside fence.
It's all right, he companionably announced as he stepped back into
the car. But there was a new note in the man's demeanor, a note which
even through that black fog of terror reached me and awakened my
resentment. We were partners in crime. We were fellow-actors in a drama
of indescribable cowardice, and I was in the man's power, to the end of
The outcome of that catastrophe, as I have already said, was
indefinite, torturingly indefinite. I was too shaken and sick to ferret
out its consequences. I left that to Latreille, who seemed to
understand well enough what I expected of him.
That first night wore by, and nothing came of it all. The morning
dragged away, and my fellow-criminal seemingly encountered nothing
worthy of rehearsal to me. Then still another night came and went. I
went through the published hospital reports, and the police records,
with my heart in my mouth. But I could unearth no official account of
the tragedy. I even encountered my good friend Patrolman McCooey,
apparently by accident, and held him up on his beat about Gramercy Park
to make casual inquiries as to street-accidents, and if such things
were increasing of late. But nothing of moment, apparently, had come to
McCooey's ears. And I stood watching him as he flatfooted his way
placidly on from my house-front, with one of my best cigars tucked
under his tunic, wondering what the world would say if it knew that
Witter Kerfoot, the intrepid creator of sinewy supermen who snarl and
fight and shake iron fists in the teeth of Extremity, had run like a
rabbit from a human being he had bowled over and killed?
I still hoped against hope, however, trying to tell myself that it
is no easy thing to knock the life out of a man, passionately
upbraiding myself for not doing what I should have done to succor the
injured, then sinkingly remembering what Latreille had mentioned about
the weight of my car. Yet it wasn't until the next night, as I ventured
out to step into that odiously ponderous engine of destruction, that
uncertainty solidified into fact.
You got him, announced my chauffeur out of one side of his
mouth, so that Benson, who stood on the house-steps, might not overhear
those fateful words.
Got him? I echoed, vaguely resenting the man's use of that
personal pronoun singular.
Killed! was Latreille's monosyllabic explanation. And my heart
How do you know that? I demanded in whispering horror. For I
understood enough of the law of the land to know that a speeder who
flees from the victim of his carelessness is technically guilty of
A man I know, named Crotty, helped carry the body back to his
house. Crotty's just told me about it.
My face must have frightened Latreille, for he covered his movement
of catching hold of my arm by ceremoniously opening the car door for
Sit tight, man! he ordered in his curt and conspiratorial
undertone. Sit tightfor it's all that's left to do!
I sat tight. It was all there was to do. I endured Latreille's
accession of self-importance without comment. There promptly grew up
between us a tacit understanding of silence. Yet I had reason to feel
that this silence wasn't always as profound as it seemed. For at the
end of my third day of self-torturing solitude I went to my club to
dine. I went with set teeth. I went in the hope of ridding my system of
self-fear, very much as an alcoholic goes to a Turkish-bath. I went to
mix once more with my fellows, to prove that I stood on common ground
But the mixing was not a success. I stepped across that familiar
portal in quavering dread of hostility. And I found what I was looking
for. I detected myself being eyed coldly by men who had once posed as
my friends. I dined alone, oppressed by the discovery that I was being
deliberately avoided by the fellow-members of what should have been an
organized companionability. Then I took a grip on myself, and forlornly
argued that it was all mere imagination, the vaporings of a morbid and
chlorotic mind. Yet the next moment a counter-shock confronted me. For
as I stared desolately out of that club window I caught sight of
Latreille himself. He stood there at the curb, talking confidently to
three other chauffeurs clustered about him between their cars. Nothing,
I suddenly remembered, could keep the man from gossiping. And a word
dropped in one servant's ear would soon pass on to another. And that
other would carry the whisper still wider, until it spread like an
infection from below-stairs to above-stairs, and from private homes to
the very housetops. And already I was a marked man, a pariah, an
outcast with no friendly wilderness to swallow me up.
I slunk home that night with a plumb-bob of lead swinging under my
ribs where my heart should have been. I tried to sleep and could not
sleep. So I took a double dose of chloral hydrate, and was rewarded
with a few hours of nightmare wherein I was a twentieth-century Attila
driving a racing-car over an endless avenue of denuded infants. It was
all so horrible that it left me limp and quailing before the lash of
daylight. Then, out of a blank desolation that became more and more
unendurable, I clutched feverishly at the thought of Mary Lockwood and
the autumn-tinted hills of Virginia. I felt the need of getting away
from that city of lost sleep. I felt the need of exteriorating what
was corroding my in-most soul. I was seized with a sudden and febrile
ache for companionship. So I sent a forty-word wire to the only woman
in the world I could look to in my extremity. And the next morning
brought me a reply.
It merely said, Don't come.
The bottom seemed to fall out of the world, with that curt message,
and I groped forlornly, frantically, for something stable to sustain
me. But there was nothing. Bad news, I bitterly reminded myself, had
the habit of traveling fast. Mary knew. The endless chain had
widened, like a wireless-wave. It had rolled on, like war-gas, until it
had blighted even the slopes beyond the Potomac. For Mary knew!
It was two days later that a note, in her picket-fence script that
was as sharp-pointed as arrow-heads, followed after the telegram.
There are certain things, wrote Mary, which I can scarcely talk
about on paper. At least, not as I should prefer talking about them.
But these things must necessarily make a change in your life, and in
mine. I don't want to seem harsh, Witter, but we can't go on as we have
been doing. We'll both have to get used to the idea of trudging along
in single harness. And I think you will understand why. I'm not
exacting explanations, remember. I'm merely requesting an armistice. If
you intend to let me, I still want to be your friend, and I trust no
perceptible gulf will yarn [Transcriber's note: yawn?] between us, when
we chance to dine at the same table or step through the same
cotillion. But I must bow to those newer circumstances which seem
to have confronted you even before they presented themselves to me. So
when I say good-by, it is more to the Past, I think, than to You.
That was the first night, I remember, when sleeping-powders proved
of no earthly use to me. And this would not be an honest record of
events if I neglected to state that the next day I shut myself up in my
study and drank much more Pommery-Greno than was good for me. I
got drunk, in fact, blindly, stupidly, senselessly drunk. But it seemed
to drape a veil between me and the past. It made a bonfire of my body
to burn up the debris of my mind. And when poor old patient-eyed Benson
mixed me a bromide and put me to bed I felt like a patient coming out
of ether after a major operation. I was tired, and I wanted to lie
there and rest for a long time.
CHAPTER II. THE OX-BLOOD VASE
It was a week later, and well after two, in the dullest ebb of
earth's deadest hour, when Benson lifted the portière and stepped into
I put down the book at which my brain had been scratching like a dog
scratching at a closed door. It was a volume of Gautier's nouvelles. I had just reached that mildly assuaging point in Une Nuit de
Cléopâtre where the mysterious arrow, whistling through the palace
window of a queen bored almost to extinction, buries itself quivering
in the cedar wainscoting above her couch.
But the incident, this time, seemed to have lost its appeal. The
whole thing sounded very empty and old, very foolish and far-away. The
thrill of drama, I cogitated, is apt to leak out of a situation when it
comes to one over a circuit of two thousand moldering years. So I
looked up at my servant a little listlessly and yet a little puzzled by
what was plainly a studied calmness of appearance.
Benson, why aren't you in bed?
If you will pardon me, sir, began the intruder, I've a gentleman
He was so extraordinarily cool about it that I rose like a fish at
the flash of something unusual.
At this time of night? I inquired.
But what kind of gentleman, Benson?
Benson hesitated; it was the sort of hesitation that is able to
translate silence into an apology.
I think, sir, it's a burglar.
A what? I demanded, incredulously.
The fact is, sir, I 'appened to hear him at the lock. When he
forced the door, sir, not being able to work the lock, I was waiting
The dropped aspirate was an unfailing sign of mental disturbance in
Benson. I closed my book and tossed it aside. It was only drama of the
second dimension, as old and musty as a mummy. And here, apparently,
was adventure of the first water, something of my own world and time.
This sounds rather interesting, Benson. Be so good as to show the
I sat down, with a second look at the dragging hands of the little
French clock on my mantel. But Benson still seemed a trifle ill at
II took the liberty of tying him up a bit, sir, explained that
astute old dissembler, being compelled, as it were, to use a bit of
Of course. Then untie him as much as necessary, and fetch him here.
And you might bring up a bottle of Lafitte and a bite to eat.
For two, if you please.
Yes, sir, he answered. But still he hesitated.
The revolver, sir, is in the cabinet-drawer on your left.
There were times when old Benson could almost make me laugh; times
when the transparencies of his obliquities converted them into
something almost respectable.
We won't need the revolver, Benson. What I most need I fancy is
amusement, distraction, excitement, anythinganything to get me
through this endless hell of a night.
I could feel my voice rise on the closing words, like the uprear of
a terrified racehorse. It was not a good sign. I got up and paced the
rug, like a castaway pacing some barren and empty island. But here, I
told myself, was a timely footprint. I waited, as breathless as a
Crusoe awaiting his Friday.
I waited so long that I was beginning to dread some mishap. Then the
portière parted for the second time, and Benson led the burglar into
I experienced, as I looked at him, a distinct sense of
disappointment. He was not at all what I expected. He wore no black
mask, and was neither burly nor ferocious. The thing that first
impressed me was his slendernessan almost feline sort of slenderness.
The fact I next remarked was that he was very badly frightened, so
frightened, in fact, that his face was the tint of a rather soiled
white glove. It could never have been a ruddy face. But its present
startling pallor, I assumed, must have been largely due to Benson's
treatment, although I was still puzzled by the look of abject terror
which gave the captive's eyes their animal-like glitter. He stood
before me for all the world as though a hospital interne had been
practising abstruse bandaging feats on his body, so neatly and yet so
firmly had the redoubtable Benson hobbled him and swathed his arms in a
half-dozen of my best Irish linen table-napkins. Over these, again, had
been wound and buckled a trunk-strap. Benson had not skimped his job.
His burglar was wrapped as securely as a butcher wraps a boned
My hope for any diverting talk along the more picturesque avenues of
life was depressingly short-lived. The man remained both sullen and
silent. His sulky speechlessness was plainly that of a low order of
mind menaced by vague uncertainties and mystified by new surroundings.
Blood still dripped slowly down the back of his soiled collar, where
Benson's neat whelp had abraded the scalp.
Yet his eyes, all the time, were alert enough. They seemed to take
on a wisdom that was uncanny, the inarticulate wisdom of a reptile,
bewildering me, for all their terror, with some inner sense of vicious
security. To fire questions at him was as futile as throwing pebbles at
an alligator. He had determined, apparently, not to open his lips;
though his glance, all this time, was never an idle or empty one. I
gave up, with a touch of anger.
Frisk him, I told the waiting Benson. As that underworld phrase
was new to those respectable Anglian ears, I had to translate it. See
if he's carrying a gun. Search his pocketsevery one of them.
This Benson did, with an affective mingling of muffled caution and
open repugnance. He felt from pocket to pocket, as gingerly as small
boys feel into ferret holes, and with one eye always on the colorless
and sphinx-like face beside him.
The result of that search was quite encouraging. From one pocket
came an ugly, short-barreled Colt. From another came two skeleton keys
and a few inches of copper wire bent into a coil. From still another
came a small electric flashlight. Under our burglar's coat, with one
end resting in his left-hand waistcoat pocket, was a twenty-inch steel
jimmy. It was a very attractive tool, not unlike a long and extremely
slender stove lifter, with a tip-tilted end. I found it suggestive of
tremendous leverage-power, tempting one to test its strength. It proved
as inviting to the hand as a golfer's well-balanced driver.
From the right-hand waistcoat pocket Benson produced a lady's gold
watch, two finger rings, a gold barrette, and a foot or two of
old-fashioned locket chain, of solid gold. There was nothing to show
who the owner of this jewelry might be.
I suppose you just bought this at Tiffany's? I inquired. But the
needle of antiphrasis had no effect on his indurated hide. His
passivity was beginning to get on my nerves. He might have been a wax
figure in the Eden Musée, were it not for those reptiliously alert and
ever exasperating eyes. I stood up and confronted him.
I want to know where this stuff came from.
The white-faced burglar still looked at me out of those sullen and
rebellious blinkers of his. But not a word passed his lips.
Then we'll investigate a little farther, I said, eying his
somewhat protuberant breast-bone. Go on with the search, Benson, and
get everything. For it was plain that our visitor, before honoring us
that night, had called at other homes.
I watched Benson with increased interest as his fastidiously
exploring hand went down inside the burglar's opened waistcoat. I saw
him feel there, and as he did so I caught a change of expression on our
prisoner's face. He looked worried and harassed by this time; he seemed
to have lost his tranquil and snake-like assurance. His small, lean
head with the pathetically eager eyes took on a rat-like look. I knew
then the end toward which my mind had been groping. The man was not
snake-like. He was rat-like. He was a cornered rat. Rat seemed written
all over him.
But at that moment my eyes went back to Benson, for I had seen his
hand bringing away a small vase partly wrapped in a
pocket-handkerchief. This handkerchief was extremely dirty.
I took the vase from his hand, drawing away the rag that screened
it. Only by an effort, as I did so, was I able to conceal my surprise.
For one glance at that slender little column of sang-de-boeuf
porcelain told me what it was. There was no possibility of mistake. One
glimpse of it was enough. It was from the Gubtill collection. For once
before my fingers had caressed the same glaze and the same tender
contours. Once before, and under vastly different circumstances, I had
weighed that delicate tube of porcelain in my contemplative hands.
I sat back and looked at it more carefully. I examined the crackled
groundwork, with its brilliant mottled tones, and its pale ruby shades
that deepened into crimson. I peered down at the foot of enameled white
with its slowly deepening tinge of pale green. Then I looked up at the
delicate lip, the lip that had once been injured and artfully banded
with a ring of gold. It was a vase of the K'angshi Period, a rare and
beautiful specimen among the Lang Yao monochromes. And history said
that thirty years before it had been purchased from the sixth Prince of
Pekin, and had always been known as The Flame.
Both Anthony Gubtill and I had bid for that vase. Our contest for it
had been a spirited one, and had even been made the subject of a
paragraph or two in the morning papers. But an inexplicably reckless
mood had overtaken that parsimonious old collector, and he had won,
though the day after the Graves sale I had been a member of that
decorously appreciative dinner party which had witnessed its
installation between a rather valuable peach-bloom amphora of
haricot-red groundwork, with rose spots accentuated by the usual clouds
of apple-green, and a taller and, to my mind, much more valuable
ashes-of-roses cylindrical Lang Yao with a carved ivory base. We had
looked on the occasion as somewhat of an event, for such things
naturally are not picked up every day. So the mere sight of the vase
took me back to the Gubtill home, to that rich and spacious house on
lower Fifth Avenue where I had spent not a few happy evenings. And that
in turn took my thoughts back to a certain Volpi sale and an old
Italian table-cover of blue velvet. From the table-cover they flashed
on to Mary Lockwood and the remembered loveliness of her face as we
stood side by side staring down at the gold galloon along the borders
of that old vestment. Then I drew memory up short, with a wince, as I
suddenly realized that the wanderer had been penetrating into strictly
I put the vase down on my table and turned away from it, not caring
to betray my interest in it, nor to give to the rat-like eyes still
watching me any inkling of my true feelings. Yet the thought of such
beauty being in the hands of a brute like that sickened me. I was
angered by the very idea that such grace and delicacy should be
outraged by the foul rags and the even fouler touch of a low-browed
sneakthief. I resented the outrage, just as any normal mind would
resent a jungle ape's abduction of a delicate child.
I turned and looked the criminal up and down. I noticed, for the
first time, that his face was beaded with sweat.
Might I inquire just what you intend doing with this? I asked,
gazing back, against my will, at the fragile little treasure known as
The man moved uneasily, and for the first time. For the first time,
too, he spoke.
Give it to its owner, he said.
And who is its owner?
He looked from me to the vase, and then back again.
It belongs to a pal o' mine over t' Fifth Avenue, he had the
effrontery to assert.
And where did you get it?
Out o' hock!
I couldn't restrain a touch of impatience as my glance fell on the
all too eloquent implements of burglary.
And you expect me to swallow that? I demanded.
I don't give a dam' what you swallow. I know the trut' when I'm
And you're telling me the truth? I found it hard to keep my anger
Sure, was his curt answer.
That's a cowardly lie! I cried out again. You're a coward and a
liar, like all your sneaking kind, that skulk about dark corners, and
crawl under beds, and arm yourself to the teeth, and stand ready to
murder innocent women, to strike them down in the dark, rather than be
found out! It's cowardice, the lowest and meanest kind of cowardice!
The sweat stood out on his face in glistening drops.
What's eatin' you, anyway? he demanded. What 'ave I done?
I pushed the cluster of women's jewelry closer to him.
You've done some of the meanest and dirtiest work a man can stoop
to. You've skulked and crawled and slunk through the dark to rob women
Who's given you a license to call me a coward?
Do you dare to intimate there's anything but low and arrant
cowardice in work like this?
Just try it, he said with a grin that made his face hideous.
Why should I try it? I demanded. Do you suppose because I don't
carry a jimmy and gun that I can't face honest danger when I need to?
I glanced round at my den walls, studded with trophies as they were,
from the bull moose over the fireplace to the leopard pelt under my
heels. The other man followed my glance, but with a lip-curl of
contempt. He had jumped to the conclusion, of course, that those relics
of encounter in the open stood as a sort of object-lesson of bravery
which belonged to me in person.
Bah, he said, apparently glad to crowd me off into some less
personal side-issue, that's all play-actin'. Get up against
what I have, and you'd tone down your squeal. Then you'd walk into the
The real thing, black-jacking chambermaids and running like a
pelted cur at the sight of a brass button!
I could see his sudden wince, and that it took an effort for him to
You'd find it took nerve, all right, all right, he retorted. And
the kind o' nerve that ain't a cuff-shooter's long suit.
My movement of contempt brought him a step or two nearer. But it was
Benson who spoke first.
Hadn't we better have the police, sir? he suggested. The burglar,
with his eyes on my face, stepped still closer, as though to shoulder
any such suggestion as Benson's out of the issue.
You just go out in the middle of the night, he went on, with
derisive volubility. Go out at night and look at a house. Stand off,
and look at it good and plenty. Then ask yourself who's inside, and
what's doin' behind them brick walls, and who's awake, and where a
shot's goin' to come from, and what chances of a getaway you'll have,
and the size of the bit you'll get if you're pinched. Just stand there
and tell yourself you've got to get inside that house, and make your
haul and get away with the goods, that you've got to do it or go with
empty guts. Try it, and see if it takes nerve.
I must have touched his professional pride. I had trifled with that
ethical totem-pole that is known as honor among thieves.
All right, I said, suddenly turning on him as the inspiration came
to me. We'll try it, and we'll try it together. For I'm going to make
you take this stuff back, and take it back to-night.
I could see his face cloud. Then a sudden change came over it. His
rat-like eyes actually began to twinkle.
I think we ought to have the police, sir, reiterated Benson,
remembering, doubtless, his encounter below-stairs. He's an uncommon
tricky one, sir.
I saw, on more sober second thought, that it would be giving my
friend too much rope, too many chances for treachery. And he would not
be over-nice in his methods, I knew, now that I had him cornered. A
second idea occurred to me, a rather intoxicating one. I suddenly felt
like a Crusader saving from pollution a sacred relic. I could catch the
whimper of some unkenneled sense of drama in the affair.
Benson, I said, I'm going to leave this worthy gentleman here
with you. And while you look after him, I'm going to return this
peach-bloom vase to its owner.
He ain't in town to-night, broke in my troubled burglar.
And to demonstrate to his somewhat cynical cast of mind that
there's nothing extraordinary in his particular line of activity, I
propose to return it in the same manner that it was taken.
Benson looked troubled.
I beg pardon, sir, but mightn't it get us all into a bit of
trouble? Couldn't we leave it until morning, sir, and talk it over
quiet-like with your friend Mr. McCooey, or with Lieutenant Belton,
sir, or the gentleman from the Pinkerton office?
And have a cuff-shooter running for help over such a triviality?
Never, Benson, never! You will make yourself comfortable here with this
gallant gentleman of the black-jack, and keep this handsome Colt of his
quite close about you while you're doing it. For I'm going to take this
piece of porcelain back where it belongs, even though I have to face a
dozen lap-dogs and frighten every housemaid of Twelfth Street into
Nobody, I have more than once contended, is altogether sane after
midnight. This belief came back to me as I stood before that
gloomy-fronted Fifth Avenue house, in that ebb-tide hour of the night
when even Broadway is empty, wondering what lay behind the brownstone
mask, asking myself what dangers lurked about that inner gloom,
speculating as to what sleepers stirred and what eyes, even as I stood
there, might be alert and watching.
As Benson had suggested, I might have waited decorously until
daylight, or I might have quietly ascended the wide stone steps and
continued to ring the electric push-bell until a sleepy servant
answered it. But that, after all, seemed absurdly tame and commonplace.
It was without the slightest tang of drama, and I was as waywardly
impatient to try that enticing tip-tilted instrument of steel on an
opposing door as a boy with a new knife is to whittle on the nursery
There was a tingle of novelty even in standing before a grimly
substantial and altogether forbidding-looking house, and being
conscious of the fact that you had decided on its secret invasion. I
could no longer deny that it took a certain crude form of nerve. I was
convinced of this, indeed, as I saw the approaching figure of a
patrolman on his rounds. It caused me, as I felt the jimmy like a
staybone against my ribs, and the flashlight like a torpedo-head in my
pocket, to swing promptly about into Twelfth Street and walk toward
Sixth Avenue. I experienced a distinct glow of satisfaction as the
patrolling footsteps passed northward up the quietness of the avenue.
But the house itself seemed as impregnable as a fortress. It
disheartened me a little to find that not even a basement grill had
been disturbed. For the second time I turned and sauntered slowly
toward Sixth Avenue. As I swung eastward again I found that the last
house on the side-street, the house abutting the Fifth Avenue mansion
which was the object of my attack, was vacant. Of that there could be
no doubt. Its doors and windows were sealed with neatly painted
This, it occurred to me, might mark a possible line of approach. But
here again I faced what seemed an impregnable position. I was backing
away a little, studying that boarded and coffin-like front, when my
heel grated against the iron covering of a coal-chute. This coal-chute
stood midway between the curb and the area railing. I looked down at it
for a moment or two. Then something prompted me to test its edge with
the toe of my shoe. Then, making quite sure that the street was empty,
I stooped down and clutched at the edge of the iron disk. It was quite
heavy. But one tug at it showed me that its lock-chain had been forced
It took but a moment to lift the metal shield to one side of the
chute-head. It took but another moment to lower myself into the chute
itself. I could see that it was a somewhat ignominious beginning. But I
felt buoyantly sure that I was on the right track. It took an effort to
work the iron disk back over the opening. It also required many strange
contortions of the body to worm my way down into that narrow and dirty
My rather peremptory advent into the coal-bin resulted in a
startling amount of noise, noise enough to wake the soundest of
sleepers. So I crouched there for several seconds, inhaling dust, and
listening and wondering whether or not the walls above me harbored a
caretaker. Then I took out the pocket searchlight, and, with the
pressure of a finger, directed my ray of illumination against a wooden
partition bisected by a painted wooden door.
A distinct sense of disappointment swept through me as I stooped
down to examine this door and found that it had already been forced
open. I knew, however, that I was following in the footsteps of my more
experienced predecessor. Then came a storeroom, and then a
laundry-room, with another jimmied door at the head of the stairway
leading to the first floor.
Here I stood waiting and listening for some time. But still again
nothing but darkness and silence and that musty aroma peculiar to
unoccupied houses surrounded me. I felt more at home by this time, and
was more leisurely in my survey of the passage upward. I was, of
course, confronted by nothing more disturbing than ghost-like furniture
covered with ticking and crystal-hung chandeliers encased in
cheesecloth. I began to admire my friend the burglar's astuteness in
choosing so circuitous and yet so protected a path. There was almost
genius in it. His advance, I felt sure, was toward the roof. As I had
expected, I found the scuttle open. The lock, I could see, had been
quite cleverly picked. And, so far, there had not been a mishap.
Once out on the housetop, however, I foresaw that I would have to be
more careful. As I clambered up to the higher coping-tiles that marked
the line of the next roof, I knew that I had actually broken into the
enemy's lines. Yet the way still seemed clear enough. For, as I came to
the roof-scuttle of the second house I found that it, too, remained
unlocked. My predecessor had made things almost disappointingly easy
for me. Yet, in another way, he had left things doubly dangerous. I had
to bear the brunt of any mis-step he may have made. I was being called
to face the responsibility of both his intrusion and my own.
So it was with infinite precaution that I lifted the scuttle and
leaned over that little well of darkness, inhaling the warmer air that
seeped up in my face. With it came an odor quite different to that of
the house I had just left. There was something expository in it,
something more vital and electric, eloquent of a place inhabited, of
human beings and their lairs and trails, of movement and life and
vaguely defined menaces. It was, I fancied, a good deal like that
man-smell which comes down-wind to a stalked and wary elk.
I stepped down on the iron ladder that led into the uncertain
darkness, covering the trap after me. I began to feel, as I groped my
way downward, that the whole thing was becoming more than a game. I was
disturbed by the thought of how deep I had ventured into an
uncertainty. I began to be oppressed by the thought of how complicated
my path was proving. I felt intimidated by the undetermined intricacies
that still awaited me. A new anxiety was taking possession of me, a
sort of low fever of fear, an increasing impatience to replace my
precious porcelain, end my mission, and make my escape to the open.
It began to dawn on me, as I groped lower and lower down through the
darkness, that a burglar's calling was not all beer and skittles. I
began to feel a little ashamed of my heroics of an hour before.
Then I drew up, suddenly, for a sound had crept to my ears. The
tingle that ran through my body was not wholly one of fright. Yet, as I
stood there in the darkness with one hand against the wall, I caught
the rhythm of a slow and muffled snoring. There was something oddly
reassuring in that reiterated vibration, even though it served to
emphasize the dangers that surrounded me. It was not unlike the sound
of a bell-buoy floating up to a fog-wrapped liner's bridge.
I was no longer a prey to any feeling of hesitancy. I was already
too deep in the woods to think of turning back. My one passion now was
to complete the circuit, to emerge on the other side.
I began to wonder, as I felt for the stair banister and groped my
cautious way down the treads, just how the burglar himself had effected
that final exit from the house. And the sooner I got away from the
sleeping quarters, I felt, the safer I would be. Every bedroom was a
shoal of dangers, and not all of them, I very well knew, would be
equipped with the same generous whistling-buoy as that I had just left
behind me. There was, too, something satisfying in the knowledge that I
was at least getting nearer and nearer the ground-floor. This was due,
not so much to the fact that I was approaching a part of the house with
which I was more or less familiar, but more to the fact that my descent
marked an approach to some possible pathway of escape. For that idea
was now uppermost in my mind, and no aviator with a balky motor ever
ached to get back to earth more eagerly than I.
The utter darkness and silence of the lower halls were beginning to
get on my nerves. I was glad to feel the newel-post, which assured me
that I had reached the last step in my descent. I was relieved to be
able to turn carefully and silently about to the left, to grope toward
a door which I knew stood before me in the gloom, and then cautiously
to turn the knob and step inside.
I knew at once, even before I took the flashlight from my pocket,
that I was in the library. And the room that opened off this, I
remembered, half cabinet-lined study and half informal exhibition-room,
was the chamber wherein Anthony Gubtill treasured his curios. It would
take but a minute or two, I knew, to replace his priceless little
porcelain. And another minute or two, I felt, ought to see me safely
out and on my way home.
I stood with my back to the door, determined that no untimely
blunder should mar the end of my adventure. My first precaution was to
thrust out my flashlight and make sure of my path. I let the
incandescent ray finger interrogatively about the massively furnished
room, resting for a moment on marble and metal and glass-fronted
book-shelf. I remembered, with almost a smile of satisfaction, the
little Clytie above the fireplace, and the Hebe in bronze
that stood beside the heavy reading-lamp. This lamp, Gubtill had once
told me, had come from Munich; and I remembered his chuckle over the
fact that it had come in a sleeper trunk and had evaded duty.
Then I let the wavering light travel toward the end of the
glimmering and dark-wooded reading-table. I stood there, picking out
remembered object after object, remarking them with singular detachment
of mind as my light continued to circle the end of the room.
Then I quietly made my way to the open door in the rear, and
bisecting that second room with my spear of light, satisfied myself
that the space between the peach-bloom amphora and the ashes-of-roses
Yang Lao with the ivory base was indeed empty.
I stood listening to the exotic tick of a brazen-dialed Roumanian
clock. I lingered there, letting my bald light-shaft root like a
hog's-snout along that shelf so crowded with delicate tones and
contours. I sighed a little enviously as I turned toward the other end
of the room.
Then, of a sudden, I stopped breathing. Automatically I let my thumb
lift from the current-spring of my storage-lamp and the light at once
went out. I stood there with every nerve of my body on edge. I crouched
forward, tingling and peering into the darkness before me. For I had
suddenly discovered that I was not alone in the room.
There, facing me, picked out as distinctly as a baby spot-light
picks out an actor's face, I had seen the owner of the house himself,
not ten paces from me. He was sitting in a high-backed armchair of
green leather. He must have been watching me from the first, every
moment and every movement. He had made no effort to interrupt or
intercept me. He had been too sure of his position.
I waited for what seemed an interminable length of time. But not a
sound, beyond the querulous tick of the clock, came to my ears. Not
even a movement took place in the darkness.
The undefined menace of this silence was too much for me. The whole
thing grew into something strangely like a nightmare. I moved away,
involuntarily, wondering what I should say, and after what fashion I
should begin my foolish explanation. I crouched low and backed off
obliquely, as though some value lay in the intervention of space, and
as though something venomous were confronting me. I fell slowly back,
pawing frenziedly about me for some sustaining tangibility to which to
cling. As I did so my body came in contact with some article of
furniturejust what I could not tell. But I shied away from it in a
panic, as a colt shies at a fallen newspaper.
My sudden movement threw over a second piece of furniture. It must
have been some sort of collapsible screen, for it fell to the floor
with an echoing crash. I waited, holding my breath, with horripilations
of fear nettling every limb of my body, knowing only too well that this
must indeed mark the end.
But there was no movement, no word spoken, no slightest sound. I
stared through the darkness, still half expectant. I tried to tell
myself that it may have been mere hallucination, that expectant
attention had projected into my line of vision a purely imaginary
fig-lire. I still waited, with my heart pounding. Then the tension
became more than I could endure. I actually crept forward a step or
two, still peering blindly through the darkness, still listening and
Then I caught my breath with sudden new suspicion, with a quick fear
that crashed, bullet-like, through the film of consciousness. It was
followed by a sickening sense of shock, amounting almost to physical
I once more raised the flashlight. This time my hand shook
perceptibly as I turned the electric ray directly in front of me. I let
the minute circle of illumination arrow through the darkness, direct to
the white face that seemed to be awaiting it. Then I let it come to a
I remember falling back a step or two. I may have called out, but of
that I am not sure. Yet of one thing I was only too certain. There
before me sat Anthony Gubtill. He was quite dead.
My first feeling was not altogether one of terror. It was
accompanied by a surge of indignation at the injustice, at the
brutality, of it all. I was able to make note of the quilted
dressing-gown that covered the relaxed body. I was collected enough to
assume that he had overheard the intruder; had come to investigate, and
had been struck down and cunningly thrust into a chair. This inference
was followed by a flash of exultation as I remembered that his murderer
was known, that the crime could easily be proved against him, that even
at the present moment he was safe in Benson's custody.
I moved toward the dead man, fortified by the knowledge of a vast
new obligation. It was only after I had examined the face for a second
time and seen how death had been caused by a cruelly heavy blow, dealt
by some blunt instrument, that the enormity of my own intrusion into
that house of horror came home to me. I felt a sudden need for light,
for sobering and rationalizing light. Even the ticking from the
brazen-faced clock had become something phantasmal and unnerving.
I groped feverishly and blindly about in search of an electric
switch-button. Then, of a sudden, I stopped again, my movement arrested
by a sound.
I knew, as I stood and listened, that it was only the purr of an
automobile, faint and muffled from the street outside. But it suddenly
brought home to me the awkwardness of my position. To be found in that
house, or even to be seen leaving it, was no longer a desirable thing.
My foolhardy caprice, before an actuality so overawing, dwindled into
something worse than absurdity. And thought came back at a bound to the
porcelain in my pocket. I recalled the old-time rivalry between the
dead man and myself for The Flame. I recalled the details of my advent
between those walls where I stood. And my blood went cold. It was not a
matter of awkwardness; it was a matter of peril. For who, I again asked
myself, would believe a story so absurd, or accept an excuse so
The clock ticked on accusingly. The sound of the automobile stopped.
I had just noted this with relief when the thud of a quietly closed
door fell on my startled ears. Then came the murmur of voices. There
was no longer any doubt about the matter. A motor had come to the door,
and from it certain persons had entered the house.
I crept to the library and listened. Then I tiptoed back and closed
the door of the inner room. I felt more secure with even a half-inch
panel between me and what that inner room held.
Then I listened. I began to hear the padded tread of feet. Then came
the sound of another opened door, and then the snap of a light-switch.
There was nothing secret about the new invasion. I knew, as I shrank
back behind one of the high-backed library chairs, that the front of
the house was already illuminated.
Then came the sound of a calling voice, apparently from the head of
the stairs. It was a cautious and carefully modulated voice; I took it
for that of a young man of about twenty.
Is that you, Caddy?
Then came a silence.
I say, is that you, Orrie? was demanded in a somewhat somnolent
stage-whisper. There was something strangely reassuring in that
commonplace boyish voice. Anthony Gubtill, I knew, had no immediate
family. I vaguely recalled, however, some talk of a Canadian nephew and
niece who had at times visited him.
Shssh! said a woman's voice from the lower hall, Don't wake
It must have been a young woman. Her voice sounded pensive, like
that of a girl who might be coming home tired from a dance at Sherry's.
Yet, knowing what I did, its girlish weariness took on a pathos
It's an awful hour, isn't it? asked a second man's voice from the
lower hall. There were sounds that seemed to imply that wraps were
Almost four, came the answer from above. Had a good time, Caddy?
I heard a stifled yawn.
Rather, answered the girl's voice.
I say, Orrie, bring up those Egyptian gaspers for a puff or two,
will you? requested the youth from above, still in a stage-whisper.
And, Caddy, be sure the latch is on.
On what? demanded Orrie.
The door, you idiot! was the sleepily good-natured retort.
Then I suddenly ducked low behind my chair-back, for the young man
called Orrie had flung open the library door. He came into the room
gropingly, without switching on the electrics. I could see his trim
young shoulders, and the white blur of his shirt-front. Behind him,
framed in the doorway, stood a young girl of about twenty, a blonde in
pale blue, with bare arms and bare shoulders. Her skin looked very soft
and baby-like in the strong sidelight. I could not repress something
that was almost a shudder at the thought of this careless gaiety and
youth so close to the grim tragedy behind me, so unconscious of the
awakening that might come to them at almost any moment.
Do hurry! said the tired girl, as the young man fumbled
about the table-end. I realized, as I peeped out at her, that my first
duty would be to keep those round young eyes from what might confront
them in that inner room.
I've got 'em! answered the man. He stood a moment without moving.
Then he turned and walked out of the room, quietly closing the door
I emitted a gasp of relief and stood up once more. Nothing alive or
dead, I determined, would now keep me in that house. Yet for all that
new-born ecstasy of impatience, I was still compelled to wait, for I
could hear the occasional sound of feet and a whisper or two from
behind the closed door. Then all sound died away; the gloom and silence
again engulfed me.
I took the Yang Lao porcelain from my pocket, unwrapped it, and
crept back to the inner room. I groped along the wall in the darkness,
circling wide about the green-leather chair in the center. I put the
vase back on its cabinet, without so much as flashing my light. Then I
circled back along the wall, felt for the library door, and groped
cautiously across the perilous breadth of the furniture-crowded
chamber. It took me several seconds to find the door that opened into
the hallway. Once through it and across the hall, I knew, only a
spring-latch stood between me and the street. So I turned the knob
quickly and swung back the door.
But I did not pass through it. For, instead of darkness, I found
myself confronted by a blaze of light. In that blaze of light stood
three waiting and expectant figures. What most disturbed me was the
fact that the man called Orrie held in his hand a revolver that seemed
the size of a toy-cannon. This was leveled directly at my blinking
eyes. The other youth, in cerise pajamas with orange colored frogs and
a dressing-gown tied at the waist with a silk girdle, stood just behind
him, holding an extremely wicked-looking Savage of the magazine make.
Behind this youth again, close by the newel-post, stood the girl in
blue, all the sleepiness gone out of her face.
The sight of that wide-eyed and eager trio irritated me beyond
words. There was no longer any thrill in the thing. I had gone through
too much; I could not react to this newer emergency. I kept wondering
if the idiot with the Colt realized just how delicate a pressure would
operate the trigger on which I could see his finger shaking. But that
shake, it was plain, was more from excitement than fear.
We've got him! cried the youth in the cerise pajamas. I might have
been a somewhat obstinate black bass wheedled into his landing-net,
from the way he spoke.
Don't move! commanded the older of the two, wrinkling his brow
into a frown of youthful determination. Don't you dare move one inch,
or I'll put a hole through you.
I had no intention of moving.
Watch his hands, prompted the younger man. He ought to put 'em
Yes, Orrie, he ought to put them up, echoed the girl by the
newel-post. She reminded me, with her delicate whites and pinks and
blues, of the cabinet of porcelain at which I had so recently stared.
Back up through the door, cried Orrie. Come onback up!
I wearily obeyed this somewhat equine order. Then he commanded me to
hold my hands above my head. I did so without hesitation; I had no wish
to argue while that Colt was staring me in the eyes.
They followed me, Indian file, into the room. It was the girl who
closed the door as Orrie switched on the lights. She stood with her
back to it, studying my face. I could see that I rather interested them
all. But in that interest I detected no touch of either friendliness or
respect. The only one I seemed to mystify was the girl at the door.
Have you anything to say? demanded Orrie, squaring his shoulders.
Yes, I have a great deal to say, I told him. But I prefer saying
it to you alone.
I could see his movement of disdain.
Will you listen to that! commented the youth in the cerise
And if you will be so good as to stop poking that pistol in my
face, I continued with some heat, and then send these children out of
the room, I shall say what I have to, and do it very briefly!
Children! came in an indignant gasp from the girl at the door.
We'll stick by you, old man, assured the youthful hero in cerise,
with his heels well apart.
And just why should I closet myself with a burglar? inquired the
astute Orrie, staring at me with the utmost insolence. Yet I could see
that at least the precision of my articulation was puzzling him a bit.
That's asinine, I retorted. I'm not a burglar, and you ought to
To my astonishment, a little tripartite ripple of laughter greeted
Then what are you? asked the incredulous Orrie.
I knew there was no further use beating about the bush.
Yes, who are you? demanded the other youth.
He still held the magazine-revolver balanced in his right hand. The
truth had to come out.
I'm Witter Kerfoot, I told them, as steadily as I could. Kerfoot,
of Gramercy Park West.
I gave him the number. I could see the trio exchange glances; they
were plainly glances of amusement. My young friends, I could see, were
enjoying a home melodrama, a melodrama in which I was obviously the
most foolish of villains. I began to feel a good deal like a phonograph
grinding out a comic record.
And with that face! ejaculated the man called Orrie.
The quiet contempt of his glance caused me to shift about, so I
could catch a glimpse of myself in the Venetian mirror between the
book-shelves. That glimpse was indeed a startling one. I had quite
forgotten the transit through the coal-hole. I could not even remember
how or when I broke my hat-crown. I had remained as unconscious of the
scratch across my cheek as I was of the garret cobwebs that festooned
my clothing. I saw as I peeped into the mirror only a sickly-hued and
grimy-looking footpad with dirty hands and a broken hat. It was no
wonder they laughed. My environment for the last hour had not been one
that tended toward consciousness of attire. I was about to remove my
disgracefully disfiguring headgear when the younger man swung about on
me with the Savage thrust point-blank in my face.
Don't try any of that! he gasped. You keep up those hands.
The whole situation was so beside the mark, was so divorced from the
sterner problem confronting both them and myself, that it dispirited
and angered me.
We've had about enough of this tommy-rot! I protested.
Yes, we'll cut out the tommy-rot, and get him tied, proclaimed the
man with the Colt.
Then search him first, prompted the young man. Here, Caddy, take
Orrie's Colt while he goes through him, he commanded, in the
chest-tones of a newly-acquired savagery, and if he tries to move,
The girl, wide-eyed and reluctant, took the heavy revolver. Then
Orrie advanced on me, though in an altogether wary and tight-lipped
manner. To continue my protests, I saw, would be only to waste my
breath. There was nothing to do but submit to the farce.
I said nothing as he produced the telltale flashlight. I also
remained silent as he triumphantly unearthed the jimmy and the
damnatory skeleton keys. I could see the interchange of exultant
glances as these were tossed out on the polished table-top.
Get the straps from the golf bags! suggested the youth with the
Savage. I could not help remembering how this scene was paralleling
another of the same nature and the same night, when Benson and I had
been the masters of the situation.
The man called Orrie seemed a little nonplussed at the fact that he
had found no valuables in my outer pockets, but he did not give up. He
grimly ignored my protests as he explored still deeper and dug out my
monogramed wallet, and then a gold cigarette-case, on which my name was
duly inscribed. He turned them over in his hand a couple of times and
examined them carefully. Then a great light seemed to come to him. He
succumbed, as even his elders have done, to a sudden sense of drama.
I saw him dart to the outer room and catch up a telephone directory.
He riffled through the pages with quick and impatient fingers. Then he
strode back, and looked me up and down.
I know what this man's done, he cried, his eyes alight with
What? demanded the younger man.
He's visited more than this house to-night. He's gone through
Witter Kerfoot's, as well. He's taken these things from there. And now
it's up to us to take him back with them!
I could see the sheer theatricality of the situation clutch at his
two listeners. I could see them surrender to it, although the girl
still seemed to hesitate.
Hadn't I better call Uncle Anthony? she suggested.
At one breath her words brought me back to both the tragedy that lay
so close at hand, and the perilous complexity of my own position.
No, that's foolish! cut in Orrie. The car's still outside. Caddy,
I think you'll have to come along. You can sit with Jansen on the
The hero of the maneuver turned back to me. I was thinking mostly of
the soft-eyed girl with the baby-white skin, and how I could get her
Will you come quietly? my captor demanded of me.
Yes, I answered, without looking up, I'll come quietly.
It was the girl's voice, a little shrill with excitement, that next
broke the silence.
Orrie, he's not a burglar! she cried out, in her treble-noted
Then what is he?
He's a gentleman.
What makes you think so? demanded the indifferent Orrie as he
motioned me, with a curt movement of his Colt-barrel, toward the hall
I know by his nails! was her inconsequential yet quite definite
Then you'd give tea and macaroons to every burglarious barber out
of Sing Sing, he scoffed. And our real answer's waiting for us in
It seemed to take but a minute or two in the car to swing us from
Twelfth Street up to Twentieth, and then eastward into the stillness of
the square. My captors had insisted that I should not talk. Not a
word! commanded Orrie, and I could feel his insolent gun-barrel
against my ribs as he gave the command for the second time. They were
drunk, I could see, with the intoxication of their exploit. They were
preoccupied with inhaling their subtle sense of drama. With the
dictatorial self-sufficiency of true inebriety they had enjoined me
from every effort at explanation. The bubble, they felt, was far too
pretty a one to be pricked.
They alighted, one in front of me and one behind me, still carrying
their foolish and murderous-looking firearms. The girl remained in her
seat. Then the three of us grimly ascended my steps.
It's needless to ring the bell, I wearily explained. My pass-key
will admit you.
But I insist on ringing, said Orrie as I fitted the key to the
I shall be compelled, in that case, to call the officer who is
watching us from the corner, was my quiet response.
Call and be hanged, then! was the younger man's ultimatum.
One word over their shoulders brought my old friend McCooey, the
patrolman, across the corner and up the steps. I swung open the door as
he joined us. Then I turned on the hall lamps and faced my two captors.
Officer, I want you to look at me very carefully, and then assure
these gentlemen I am Witter Kerfoot, the owner and occupant of this
Sure he's Kerfoot, said the unperturbed McCooey. But what's the
throuble this time?
Something more serious than these gentlemen dream of. But if the
three of us will go quietly upstairs, you'll find my man Benson there.
You'll also find another man, tied up with half a dozen
McCooey, from the doorway, cut me short.
I'm sorry, sir, but I can't be stayin' to see your joke out.
But you've got to.
Fact is, sir, he explained, in a lowered voice, Creegan, av
Headquarthers, has a Sing-Sing lifer bottled up in this block, and I'm
holdin' wan end av the p'lice linesa jail-breaker, sir, and a tricky
wan, called Pip Foreman, the Rat!
The Rat? I echoed.
The same, sir. But I must be off.
Don't go, I said, closing the door. Your man's up-stairs,
waiting for you!
Waitin' for me? he demanded. What man?
The man they call the Rat, I tried to explain to him. And I'll be
greatly obliged to you, McCooey, if you'll make as short work of this
situation as you can, for the truth of the matter is, I feel rather
tired, and fancy there's five or six hours of good honest sleep
CHAPTER III. THE STOLEN WHEEL-CODE
I was in for a night of it. I realized that as I lay back in my big
green library-chair and closed my eyes. For somewhere just in front of
those tightly closed lids of mine I could still see a briskly revolving
sort of pin-wheel, glowing like a milk-white orange against a murky
violet fog that paled and darkened with every beat of my pulse.
I knew the symptoms only two well. The entire encampment of
Consciousness was feverishly awake, was alert, was on the qui-vive. That pulsing white pin-wheel was purely a personal matter between me
and my imagination. It was something distinctly my own. It was Me. And being essentially subjective, it could be neither banished nor
So I decided to make for the open. To think of a four-poster, in any
such era of intensified wakefulness, would be a mockery. For I was the
arena of that morbid wakefulness which brought with it an over-crowded
mental consciousness of existence far beyond my own physical vision, as
though I had been appointed night-watchman for the whole round world,
with a searching eye on all its multitudinous activities and
aberrations. I seemed able to catch its breathing as it slept its
cosmic sleep. I seemed to brood with lunar aloofness above its teeming
plains, depressed by its enormous dimensions, confused by its
incomprehensible tangle and clutter of criss-cross destinies. Its
uncountable midnight voices seemed to merge into a vague sigh, so
pensively remote, so inexpressibly tragic, that when I stood in my
doorway and caught the sound of a harebrained young Romeo go whistling
down past the Players' Club his shrill re-piping of a Broadway
roof-song seemed more than discordant; it seemed desecration. The fool
was happy, when the whole world was sitting with its fists clenched,
awaiting some undefined doom.
It was long past midnight, I remembered as I closed the door. For it
must have been, an hour and more since I had looked out and seen the
twelve ruby flashes from the topmost peak of the Metropolitan Tower
signaling its dolorous message that another day had gone. I had watched
those twelve winks with a sinking heart, finding something sardonic in
their brisk levity, for I had been reminded by a telltale neurasthenic
twitching of my right eyelid that some angling Satan known as Insomnia
was once more tugging and jerking at my soul, as a fly-hook tugs and
jerks at a trout's mouth.
I knew, even as I wandered drearily off from my house-door and paced
as drearily round and round the iron-fence park enclosure, that I was
destined for another sleepless night. And I had no intention of passing
it cooped up between four walls. I had tried that before, and in that
way, I remembered, madness lay.
So I wandered restlessly on through the deserted streets, with no
active thought of destination and no immediate sense of direction. All
I remembered was that the city lay about me, bathed in a night of
exceptional mildness, a night that should have left it beautiful. But
it lay about me, in its stillness, as dead and flat and stale as a
tumbler of tepid wine.
I flung myself wearily down on a bench in Madison Square, facing the
slowly spurting fountain that had so often seemed to me a sort of
visible pulse of the sleeping city. I sat peering idly up at the
Flatiron Building, where like an eternal plowshare it threw its eternal
cross furrows of Fifth Avenue and Broadway along the city's tangled
stubble of steel and stone. Then I peered at the sleepers all about me,
the happy sleepers huddled and sprawled along the park benches. I
envied them, every mortal of that ragged and homeless army! I almost
hated them. For they were drinking deep of the one thing I had been
As I lounged there with my hat pulled down over my eyes, I listened
to the soothing purr and splash of the ever-pulsing fountain. Then I
let my gaze wander disconsolately southward, out past the bronze statue
of Seward. I watched the driver of a Twenty-third Street taxicab of the
night-hawk variety asleep on his seat. He sat there in his faded hat
and coat, as motionless as metal, as though he had loomed there through
all the ages, like a brazen statue of Slumber under his mellowing
patina of time.
Then, as I gazed idly northward, I suddenly forgot the fountain and
the night-hawk chauffeur and the sleepers. For out of Fifth Avenue,
past where the double row of electric globes swung down the gentle
slope of Murray Hill like a double pearl-strand down a woman's breast,
I caught sight of a figure turning quietly into the quietness of the
square. It attracted and held my eye because it seemed the only
movement in that place of utter stillness, where even the
verdigris-tinted trees stood as motionless as though they had been cut
from plates of copper.
I watched the figure as it drew nearer and nearer. The lonely
midnight seemed to convert the casual stroller into an emissary of
mystery, into something compelling and momentous. I sat indolently back
on my park bench, peering at him as he drifted in under the milk-white
arc lamps whose scattered globes were so like a scurry of bubbles
caught in the tree branches.
I watched the stranger as closely as a traveler in mid-ocean watches
the approach of a lonely steamer. I did not move as he stood for a
moment beside the fountain. I gave no sign of life as he looked slowly
about, hesitated, and then crossed over to the end of the very bench on
which I sat. There was something military-like about the slim young
figure in its untimely and incongruous cape overcoat. There was also
something alert and guardedly observant in the man's movements as he
settled himself back in the bench. He sat there listening to the purr
and splash of the water. Then, in an incredibly short space of time, he
was fast asleep.
I still sat beside him. I was still idly pondering who and what the
newcomer could be, when another movement attracted my attention. It was
the almost silent approach of a second and larger figure, the figure of
a wide-shouldered man in navy blue serge, passing quietly in between
the double line of bench sleepers. He circled once about the
granite-bowled ring of the fountain. Then he dropped diffidently into
the seat next to the man in the cape overcoat, not five feet from where
Something about him, from the moment he took up that position,
challenged my attention. I watched him from under my hat-brim as he
looked guardedly about. I did not move as he let his covert eyes dwell
for a moment or two on my lounging figure. I still watched him as he
bent forward and listened to the deep breathing of the man so close
Then I saw a hand creep out from his side. There was something quick
and reptilious in its movements. I saw it feel and pad about the
sleeping man's breast. Then I saw it slip, snake-like, in under the
cloth of the coat.
It moved about there, for a second or two, as though busily
exploring the recess of every possible pocket.
Then I saw the stealthy hand quietly but quickly withdrawn. As it
came away it brought with it a packet that flashed white in the
lamplight, plainly a packet of papers. This was thrust hurriedly down
into the coat pocket of the newcomer next to me. There was not a sound.
There was no more movement.
The wide-shouldered man sat there for what must have been a full
minute of time. Then he rose quietly to his feet and started as quietly
It wasn't until then that the full reality of what he had done came
home to me. He had deliberately robbed a sleeping and unprotected man.
He was at that moment actually carrying away the spoils of some
predetermined and audacious theft. And I had sat calmly and
unprotestingly by and watched a thief, a professional dip, enact a
crime under my very eyes, within five feet of me!
In three quick steps I had crossed to the sleeping man's side and
was shaking him. I still kept my eyes on the slowly retreating figure
of the thief as he made his apparently diffident way up through the
square. I had often heard of those street harpies known as lush-dips,
those professional pickpockets who prey on the wayside inebriate. But
never before had I seen one at work.
Quick! Wake up! I cried, with a desperate shake at the sleeper's
shoulder. You've been robbed!
The next move of that little midnight drama was an unexpected and
startling one. Instead of being confronted by the disputatious
maunderings of a half-wakened sleeper, as I expected, I was suddenly
and firmly caught by the arm and jerked bodily into the seat beside
You've been robbed! I repeated, as I felt that firm grip haul me
Shut up! said a calm and very wide-awake voice, quite close to my
ear. I struggled to tear my arm away from the hand that still clung to
But you've been robbed! I expostulated. I noticed that his
own gaze was already directed northward, toward where the blue-clad
figure still moved aimlessly on under the arc lamps.
How do you know that? he demanded. I was struck by his resolute
and rather authoritative voice.
Why, I saw it with my own eyes! And there goes the man who did it!
I told him, pointing northward.
He jerked down my hand and swung around on me.
Watch that man! he said, almost fiercely. But for heaven's sake
What does this mean? I naturally demanded.
He swept me with one quick glance. Yet he looked more at my clothes,
I fancy, than at my face. My tailor seemed to be quite satisfactory to
Who are you? he asked. I took my time in answering, for I was
beginning to resent his repeated note of superiority.
My name, if that's what you mean, happens to be the uneuphonious
but highly respectable one of KerfootWitter Kerfoot.
No, no, he said with quick impatience. What are you?
I'm nothing much, except a member of a rather respectable club, and
a man who doesn't sleep overly well.
His eyes were still keenly watching the slowly departing figure. My
flippancy seemed to have been lost on him. His muscular young hand
suddenly tightened on my sleeve.
By God, sir, you can help me! he cried, under his breath.
You must! I've a right to call on you, as a decent citizen, as
Who are you? I interrupted, quite myself by this time.
I'm Lieutenant Palmer, he absently admitted, all the while eying
the moving figure.
And I've got to get that man, or it'll cost me a court-martial.
I've got to get him. Wait! Sit back here without moving. Now
watch what he does!
I saw the thief drop into an empty bench, glance, down at his
time-piece, look carelessly about, and then, lean back with his legs
crossed. Nothing more happened.
Well, I inquired, what's the game?
It's no game, he retorted, in his quick and decisive tones. It's
damn near a tragedy. But now I've found him! I've placed him! And
that's the man I'm after!
I don't doubt it, I languidly admitted. But am I to assume that
this little bench scene was a sort of, well, a sort of carefully
studied out trap?
It was the only way I could clinch the thing, he admitted.
Clinch what? I asked, conscious of his hesitation.
Oh, you've got to know, he finally conceded, now you've seen this
much! And I know you'reyou're the right sort. I can't tell you
everything. But I'm off the Connecticut. She's the flagship of
our Atlantic fleet's first division, the flagship of Rear-Admiral
Shrodder. I was sent to confer with Admiral Maddox, the commandant of
the Navy Yard. Then I was to communicate with Rear-Admiral Kellner, the
supervisor of Naval Auxiliaries. It was in connection with the navy's
new Emergency Wheel-Code. I can't explain it to you; there's a lot of
navy-department data I can't go into. But I was ashore here in New York
with a list of the new wireless code signals.
And you let them get away?
There was no letting about it. They were stolen from me, stolen in
some mysterious way I can't understand. I've only one clue. I'd dined
at the Plaza. Then I'd gone to the ballroom and sat through the amateur
theatricals for the French Hospital. I'd been carrying the code forms
and they'd been worrying me. So I 'split the wheel,' as we say in the
service. I mean I'd divided 'em and left one half locked up at my hotel
while I still carried the other half. Each part, I knew, would be
useless without the other. How or when they got the half I was carrying
I can't tell, for the life of me. I remember dancing two or three times
in the ballroom after the theatricals. But it couldn't have been any of
those women. They weren't that sort.
Then who was it? For the first time a sense of his boyishness had
crept over me.
That's just it; I don't know. But I kept feeling that I was being
shadowed. I was almost positive I was being trailed. They would be
after the second half, I felt. So I made a dummy, and loafed about all
day waiting for a sign. I kept it up until to-night. Then, when I
actually found I was being followed, every move I made, I
His voice trailed off and he caught at my arm again.
See, he's on the move again! He's going, this time. And that's
the man! I want you to help me watch him, watch every step and trick.
And if there's a second man, I'm going to get you to follow him, while
I stick to this one. It's not altogether for myself, remember; it's
more for the whole Service!
We were on our feet by this time, passing northward along the
asphalted walks that wound in and out between the trees.
You mean this man's a sort of agent, a foreign spy, after your
naval secrets? I asked, as we watched the figure in blue circle
casually out toward Fifth Avenue.
That's what I've got to find out. And I'm going to do it, if I have
to follow him to hell and back! was the young officer's answer. Then
he suddenly drew up, with a whispered warning.
You'd better go west, toward Broadway. Then walk north into Fifth
Avenue again, toward Brentano's corner. I'll swing up Madison Avenue on
the opposite side of him, and walk west on Twenty-sixth Street. Don't
speak to me as we pass. But watch him, every moment. And if there's a
second man, follow him!
A moment later I was sauntering westward toward the old Hoffman
House corner. As I approached the avenue curb I saw the unperturbed
figure in blue stop beside the Farragut Monument on the northwest
fringe of Madison Square. I saw him take out a cigar, slowly and
deliberated strike a match on the stonework of the exedra, and then as
slowly and deliberately light his cigar.
I felt, as I saw it, that it was some sort of a signal. This
suspicion grew stronger, when, a moment later, I saw a woman step out
of a near-by doorway. She wore a plumed Gainsborough hat and a
cream-colored gown. Over her slender young shoulders, I further made
out, hung an opera cloak of delicate lacework.
She stood for a moment at the carriage step, as though awaiting a
car or taxi. Then she quickly crossed the avenue and, turning north,
passed the waiting man in blue. She passed him without a spoken word.
But as the cream-colored figure drifted nonchalantly by the
broad-shouldered man I caught a fleeting glimpse of something passing
between them, a hint of one hand catching a white packet from another.
It was a hint, and nothing more. But it was enough.
My first impulse, as I saw that movement, was to circle quickly
about and warn Palmer of what had taken place. A moment's thought,
however, showed me the danger of this. And the young lieutenant, I
could see, had already changed his course, so that his path southward
through the center of the square paralleled that of the other man now
walking more briskly along the avenue curb.
He had clearly stated that I was to watch any confederate. I had no
intention to quibble over side-issues. As I started northward, indeed,
after that mysterious figure in the Gainsborough hat and the
cream-colored gown, a most pleasurable and purposeful tingle of
excitement thrilled up and down my backbone.
I shadowed her as guardedly as I was able, following her block by
block as she hurried up the empty thoroughfare that was now as quiet
and lonely as a glacial moraine. My one fear was that she would reach
the Waldorf, or some equally complex beehive of human life, before I
could overtake her. Once there, I knew, she would be as completely lost
as a needle in a haystack.
She may have suspected me by this time, I felt, for twice I saw her
look back over her shoulder.
Then I suddenly stopped and ducked into a doorway. For a moment
after I saw a taxicab come clattering into the avenue out of
Thirty-third Street I discovered that, at her repeated gesture, it was
pulling up beside the curb.
I stood well back in the shadow until she had climbed into the seat,
the door had slammed shut, and the driver had turned his vehicle about
and started northward again. Then I skirted along the shop fronts,
darted across the street, and made straight for the hotel cabstand and
a taxi driver drowsily exhaling cigarette smoke up toward the tepid
midnight skies. The bill I thrust into his hand took all the sleep out
of his body and ended the incense to the morning stars.
Up the avenue, I said as I clambered in. And follow that taxicab
two blocks behind until it turns, and then run up on it and wait.
It turned at Forty-second Street and went eastward to Lexington
Avenue. Then, doubling on its tracks, it swung southward again. We let
it clatter on well ahead of us. But as it turned suddenly westward, at
the corner of Twenty-third Street, we broke the speed laws to draw once
more up to it. Then, as we crossed Twenty-third Street, I told the
driver to keep on southward toward Gramercy Square. For I had caught
sight of the other taxi already drawn up at the curb half-way between
Lexington and Fourth Avenues.
A moment after we jolted across the car tracks I slipped away from
my cab and ran back to the cross-street on foot. As I reached the
corner I caught sight of a figure in a cream-colored gown cross the
sidewalk and step quickly into the doorway of a shabby four-storied
I had no time to study this building. It might have been an
antiquated residence turned into a cluster of artist's studios, or a
third-rate domicile of third-rate business firms. My one important
discovery was that the door opened as I turned the knob and that I was
able quietly and quickly to step into the dark hallway.
I stood there in the gloom, listening intently. I could hear the
light and hurried click of shoe heels on the bare tread-boards of the
stairs. I waited and listened and carefully counted these clicks. I
knew, as I did so, that the woman had climbed to the top floor.
Then I heard the chink of metal, the sound of a key thrust into a
lock, and then the cautious closing of a door. Then I found myself
surrounded by nothing but darkness and silence again.
I stood there in deep thought for a minute or two. Then I groped my
way cautiously to the foot of the stairs, found the heavy old-fashioned
balustrade, and slowly and silently climbed the stairway.
I did not stop until I found myself on the top floor of that quiet
and many-odored building. I paused there, at a standstill, peering
through the darkness that surrounded me.
My search was rewarded by the discovery of one thin streak of yellow
light along what must have been the bottom of a closed door. Just
beyond that door, I felt, my pursuit was to come to an end.
I groped my way to the wall and tiptoed quietly forward. When I came
to the door, I let my hand close noiselessly about the knob. Then,
cushioning it with a firm grasp, I turned it slowly, inch by inch.
The door, I found, was locked. But inside the room I could still
hear the occasional click of shoe heels and the indeterminate noises of
an occupant moving quietly yet hurriedly about.
I stood there, puzzled, depressed by my first feeling of
frustration. Then I made out the vague oblong of what must have been a
window in the rear of a narrow hall. I tiptoed back to this window, in
the hope that it might lead to something. I found, to my
disappointment, that it was barred with half-inch iron rods. And this
meant a second defeat.
As I tested these rods I came on one that was not so secure as the
others. One quiet and steady wrench brought an end-screw bodily out of
the half-rotted wood. Another patient twist or two entirely freed the
I found myself armed with a four-foot bar, sharpened wedge-like at
each end for its screw head. So I made my way silently back to the
pencil of yellow light and the locked door above it. I stood there
listening for a minute or two. All I could hear was the running of tap
water and the occasional rustling of a paper. So I quietly forced the
edge of my rod in between the door and its jamb, and as quietly levered
the end outward.
Something had to give under that strain. I was woefully afraid that
it would be the lock bar itself. This I knew would go with a snap, and
promptly betray my movement. But as I increased the pressure I could
see that it was the socket screws that were slowly yielding in the pine
I stopped and waited for some obliterating noise before venturing
the last thrust that would send the bolt free of the loosening socket.
It came with the sudden sound of steps and the turning off of the
running tap. The door had been forced open and stood an inch or two
from the jamb before the steps sounded again.
I waited, with my heart in my mouth, wondering if anything had been
overheard, if anything had been discovered. It was only then, too, that
the enormity of my offense came home to me. I was a house-breaker. I
was playing the part of a midnight burglar. I was facing a situation in
which I had no immediate interest. I was being confronted by perils I
had no means of comprehending. But I intended to get inside that room,
no matter what it cost.
I heard, as I stood there, the sound of a drawer being opened and
closed. Then came a heel-click or two on the wooden floor, and then an
impatient and quite audible sigh. There was no mistaking that sigh. It
was as freighted with femininity as though I had heard a woman's voice.
And nothing was to be gained by waiting. So I first leaned my iron rod
silently against the door corner. Then, taking a deep breath, I stepped
quickly and noiselessly into the lighted room.
I stood there, close beside the partly opened door, blinking a
little at the sudden glare of light. There was an appreciable interval
before the details of the scene could register themselves on my mind.
What I saw was a large and plainly furnished room. Across one corner
stood a rolltop desk, and from the top of this I caught the glimmer of
a telephone transmitter. In the rear wall stood two old-fashioned,
low-silled windows. Against this wall, and between these two windows,
stood a black iron safe.
Before the open door of this safe, with her back turned to me, was
the woman in the cream-colored gown. It was quite plain that she was
not yet aware of my presence.
She had thrown her hat and cape aside, and was at the moment bending
low over the dark maw of the opened safe, reaching into its recesses
with one white and rounded arm. I stood there watching her, wondering
what move would be most effective. I made no sound; of that I was
certain. Yet some sixth sense must have warned her of my presence. For
without rhyme or reason she suddenly stood erect, and swinging about in
her tracks, confronted me.
Her face, which had been a little flushed from stooping, went white.
She stared at me without speaking, her eyes wide with terrified wonder.
I could see her lips slowly part, as the shock of what she beheld began
to relax the jaw muscles along the olive-white cheek.
I stared back at her with a singularly disengaged mind. I felt, in
fact, very much at my ease, very much the master of the situation. As
an opponent, I could see, she would be more than mysterious. She would,
in fact, be extremely interesting.
Her next move, however, threw a new complexion on the situation. For
she unexpectedly let her hand dart out to the wall beside her, just
behind the safe top. As she did so, I could hear the snap of a switch
button; the next moment the light went out. It left the room in
I stood there, unprepared for any offensive or defensive movement.
Yet my enemy, I knew, was not idle. As I stood peering unavailingly
through the gloom I could hear the quick thud of the safe door being
shut. Then came the distinct sound of a heavy key being thrust and
turned in a metal lockthe safe, obviously, was of the old-fashioned
key-tumbler makeand then the noise of this key being withdrawn. Then
came a click or two of shoe heels, a rustle of clothing, and a moment
later the startlingly sharp shattering of a window-pane.
The woman had deliberately locked the safe and flung the key through
the window! She had stolen a march on me. She had defeated me in the
first movement of our encounter. My hesitation had been a mistake, a
Be so good as to turn on that light! I commanded.
Not a sound came from the darkness.
Turn on that light, I cried. Turn on that light or I'll fire!
I'll rake every foot of this room! And with that I gave a very
significant double click to my cigarette case spring.
The light came on again, as suddenly as it went out. I discreetly
pocketed my cigarette case.
The woman was standing beside the safe, as before, studying me with
her wide and challenging eyes. But all this time not a word had come
from her lips.
Sit down! I commanded, as authoritatively and yet as offhandedly
as I could. It was then that she spoke for the first time.
Thank you, I prefer to stand! was her answer. She spoke calmly and
distinctly and almost without accent. Yet I felt the voice was, in some
way, a foreign one. Some vague substratum of the exotic in the
carefully enunciated tones made me surmise that she was either an
Austrian or a Gallicized Hungarian, or if not that, possibly a Polish
You will be here for some time, I hinted.
And you? she asked. I noticed an almost imperceptible shrug of her
softly rounded shoulder. Rice powder, I imagined, somewhat increased
its general effect of dead-whiteness.
I'll be here until that safe is opened, was my retort.
That long? she mocked.
That long! I repeated, exasperated at her slow smile.
Ah, then I shall sit down, she murmured as she caught up the lace
cape and adjusted it about her shoulders. For, believe me, that will
be a very, very long time, monsieur!
I watched her carefully as she crossed the room and sank into a
chair. She drew her cream-colored train across her knees with frugal
and studious deliberateness.
It suddenly flashed over me, as I watched her, that her ruse might
have been a double-barreled one. Obliquity such as hers would have
unseen convolutions. It was not the key to the safe she had flung
through the window! She would never have been so foolish. It was a
trick, a subterfuge. She still had that key somewhere about her.
And now what must I do? she asked as she drew the cloak closer
about her shoulders.
You can hand me over the key to that safe, was my answer.
She could actually afford to laugh a little.
That is quite impossible!
I want that key! I insisted.
Pardon, but is this notdangerous? she mildly inquired.
Is it not so, to break into houses at midnight, and rob women?
It was my turn to laugh.
Not a bit of it, I calmly assured her. And you can judge if I'm
frightened or not. There's something much more dangerous than that!
She was again studying me with her puzzled and ever-narrowing eyes.
Which means? she prompted.
Well, for example, the theft of government naval codes, among other
You are very, very drunk, she retorted with her quietly scoffing
smile. Or you are insane, quite insane. May I not lock my jewels in my
own safe? Ah, I begin to seethis is a trick, that you may steal from
Then why not send for the police? I challenged, pointing toward
A look of guile crept into her studious eyes.
You will permit that? she asked.
I invite it, was my answer.
Then I shall call for help.
Only from the police.
Yes; I shall call for help, she repeated, crossing to the
I leaned forward as she stood in front of it. I caught her bare arm,
in my left hand, just below the elbow. As I drew it backward it brought
her body against mine, pinning her other arm down close against my
The thing was repugnant to me, but it was necessary. As I pinioned
her there, writhing and panting, I deliberately thrust my right hand
into the open bosom of her gown. I was dimly conscious of a faint aura
of perfume, of a sense of warmth behind the soft and lace-fringed
corsage. But it was the key itself that redeemed the rude assault
and brought a gasp of relief to my lipsthe huge brass key, as big as
an egg beater.
Lâche! I heard gasped into my ear.
The woman staggered to a chair, white to the lips; and for a moment
or two I thought she was going to faint.
Oh, you dog! she gasped, as she sat there panting and
staring at me with blazing eyes. Cochon! Cur!
But I paid little heed to her, for the wine of victory was already
coursing and tingling through my veins.
You know, you can still call the police, I told her as I faced the
heavy black door of the safe. One turn of the wrist, I knew, would
bring me face to face with my prize.
A sudden movement from the woman, as I stooped over the safe door,
brought me round in a flash. She was on her feet and half-way across
the room before I could intercept her. And I was not any too gentle,
I'm afraid, for the excitement of the thing had gone to my head.
That earlier assault at my hands seemed to have intimidated her. I
could see actual terror in her eyes as I forced her back against the
wall. She must have realized her helplessness. She stared up into my
face, bewildered, desperate. There was something supple and
panther-like about her, something alluring and yet disturbing. I could
see what an effective weapon that sheer physical beauty of hers might
be, once its tigerish menace had been fully sheathed.
Wait! she cried, catching at my arm. If there is anything you
want I will give it to you.
There are several things I want, was my uncompromising answer.
But why should you want them? she asked, still clinging to my arm.
It's my duty to take them, I replied, unconscious of any
mendacity. That's what I'm sent here for! That's why I've watched the
man who gave you the packet!
The packet you took in Madison Square an hour ago; the packet you
locked in this safe! And if you like I'll tell you just what that
This is some mistake, some very sad mistake, she had the
effrontery to declare. Her arm still clung to me. Her face was very
close to mine as she went on. I can explain everything, if you will
only give me the timeeverything! I can show you where you are wrong,
and how you may suffer through a mistake like this!
We can talk all that over later, I promptly told her, for I was
beginning to suspect that her object now was merely to kill time, to
keep me there, in the hope of some chance discovery. I peered about the
room, wondering what would be the quickest way out of my dilemma.
What are you going to do? she asked as she watched me shove a
chair over against the wall, directly beside the safe.
I'm going to seat you very comfortably in this very comfortable
chair, I informed her, and in this equally comfortable corner
directly behind the safe door. And at the first trick or sign of
trouble, I'm afraid I'm going to make a hole right through one of those
nice white shoulders of yours!
She sat down without being forced into the chair. Her alert and
ever-moving eyes blazed luminously from her dead-white face. I knew, as
I thrust the huge key in the safe lock and turned it back that she
would have to be watched, and watched every moment of the time.
I had already counted on the safe door, as it swung back, making a
barrier across the corner in which she sat. This I found to be the
case. I took a second precaution, however, by shoving a tilted
chair-back firmly in under the edge of the safe lock.
I knew, as I stooped before the open strong box, that she could make
no sudden move without my being conscious of it. I also knew that time
was precious. So I reached into the depths of the almost empty safe and
lifted out a number of papers neatly held together by a rubber band.
These I placed on the safe top. Then I snapped off the band and
examined the first document. On the back of it, neatly inscribed in
French, was the eminently satisfactory legend: Plans and
Specifications; Bs. Lake Torpedo Company, Bridgeport. The next packet
was a blue print of war projectiles, and on the back of it was written:
Model Tracings, through Jenner, from the Bliss & Company
The third packet carried no inscription. But as I opened it I saw at
a glance what it was. I knew in a moment that I held before me the
governmental wheel-code of wireless signals in active service. It was
the code that had been stolen from Lieutenant Palmer. The fourth and
last paper, I found, was plainly the dummy which had been taken from
the same officer that night in Madison Square. The case was complete.
The chase was over and done.
In the cash drawer, on the right, you will find more, quietly
remarked the young woman watching me from the side of the safe.
It's locked, I said, as I tugged at the drawer knob. I stood erect
at her sudden laugh.
Why not take everything? she asked, with her scoffing smile.
And I saw no reason why I shouldn't; though a suspicion crossed my
mind that this might be still another ruse to kill time. If such it
was, I faced it at once, for I sent my boot heel promptly in against
the wooden cash drawer, smashing it at one blow.
She had been mistaken, or had deliberately lied, for the drawer was
empty. And I told her so, with considerable heat.
Ah, we all make mistakes, I think, she murmured with her enigmatic
What I want to know, I said as I banded the four papers together
and thrust them down in my pocket, is just how you got that first code
from my young friend the lieutenant?
She smiled again, a little wearily, as I swung the safe door shut
and locked it. She did not rise from the chair. But as I stood
confronting her, something in my attitude, apparently, struck her as
distinctly humorous. For she broke into a sudden and deeper ripple of
laughter. There was, however, something icy and chilling in it. Her
eyes now seemed more veiled. They had lost their earlier look of
terror. Her face seemed to have relaxed into softer contours.
Would you like to know? she said, lifting her face and looking
with that older, half-mocking glance into my own. She was speaking
slowly and deliberately, and I could see the slight shrug she gave to
one panther-like shoulder. Would I be so out of place in a
ballroom? Ah, have not more things than hearts been lost when a man
dances with a woman?
I seeyou mean you stole it, at the Plaza?
Not at all, monsieur! she murmured languidly back. Then she drew a
deeper breath, and sat more rigid in her straight-back chair.
Something about her face, at that moment, puzzled me. It seemed to
hold some latent note of confidence. The last trace of fear had fled
from it. There was something strangely like triumph, muffled triumph,
An arrow of apprehension shot through me, as I stooped peering into
her shadowy eyes. It went through my entire body, sharp as an electric
shock. It brought me wheeling suddenly about with my back to her and my
face to the open room.
Then I understood. I saw through it all, in one tingling second. For
there, facing me, stood the figure of a man in navy blue. It was the
same figure that I had followed through the square.
But now there was nothing secretive or circuitous about his
attitude. It was quite the other way; for as he stood there he held a
blue-barreled revolver in his hand. And I could see, only too plainly,
that it was leveled directly at me. The woman's ruse had worked. I had
wasted too much time. The confederate for whom she was plainly waiting
had come to her rescue.
The man took three or four steps farther into the room. His revolver
was still covering me. I heard a little gasp from the woman as she rose
to her feet. I took it for a gasp of astonishment.
You are going to kill him? she cried in German.
Haven't I got to? asked back the man. He spoke in English and
without an accent. Don't you understand he's a safe-breaker?
He's broken into this house? So! He's caught in the acthe's shot in
I watched the gun barrel. The man's calm words seemed to horrify the
woman at my side. But there was not a trace of pity in her voice as she
Wait! she cried.
Why? asked the man with the gun.
He has everythingthe code, the plans, everything.
Get them! commanded the man.
But he's armed, she explained.
A sneer crossed the other's impassive face.
What if he is? Take his gun; take everything!
The woman stepped close to where I stood. Again I came within the
radius of her perfumes. I could even feel her breath on my face. Her
movements were more than ever panther-like as she went through my
pockets, one by one. Yet her flashing and dextrous hands found no
revolver, for the simple reason there was none to find. This puzzled
and worried her.
Hurry up! commanded the man covering me.
She stepped back and to one side, with the packet in her hand.
Now close the windows! ordered the man.
My heart went down in my boots as I heard the thud of that second
closed window. There was going to be no waste of time.
I thought of catching the woman and holding her shield-like before
me. I thought of the telephone; the light-switch; the window. But they
all seemed hopeless.
The woman turned away, holding her hands over her ears. The
incongruous thought flashed through me that two hours before I had
called the city flat and stale; and here, within a rifle shot of my own
door, I was standing face to face with death itself!
Look here, I cried, much as I hated to, what do you get out of
You! said the man.
And what good will that do?
It'll probably shut your mouth, for one thing!
But there are other mouths, I cried. And I'm afraid they'll have
a great deal to say.
I'm ready for them! was his answer.
I could see his arm raise a little, and straighten out as it raised.
The gun barrel was nothing but a black O at the end of my line of
vision. I felt my heart stop, for I surmised what the movement meant.
Then I laughed outright, aloud, and altogether foolishly and
The strain had been too much for me, and the snap of the release had
come too suddenly, too unexpectedly. I could see the man with the gun
blink perplexedly, for a second or two, and then I could see the
tightening of his thin-lipped mouth. But that was not all I had seen.
For through the half-closed door I had caught sight of the slowly
raised iron rod, the very rod I had wrenched from the outer hall
window. I had seen its descent at the moment I realized the finality in
those quickly tightening lips.
It struck the arm on its downward sweep. But it was not in time to
stop the discharge of the revolver. The report thundered through the
room as the bullet ripped and splintered into the pine of the floor. At
the same moment the discharged firearm went spinning across the room,
and as the man who held it went down with the blow, young Palmer
himself swung toward me through the drifting smoke.
As he did so, I turned to the woman with her hands still pressed to
her ears. With one fierce jerk I tore the rubber-banded packet of
papers from her clutch.
But the code? gasped Palmer, as he tugged crazily at the safe
I did not answer him, for a sudden movement from the woman arrested
my attention. She had stooped and caught up the fallen revolver. The
man in blue, rolling over on his hip, was drawing a second gun from his
Quick! I called to Palmer as I swung him by the armpit and sent
him catapulting out through the smoke to the open door. Quickand
The shots came together as we stumbled against the stairhead.
Quick! I repeated, as I pulled him after me.
But the code? he cried.
I've got it! I called out to him as we went panting and plunging
down through that three-tiered well of darkness to the street and
liberty. I've got itI've got everything!
CHAPTER IV. THE OPEN DOOR
Shall I call the car, sir? asked the solicitous-eyed Benson,
covertly watching me as I made ready for the street.
No, was my studiously detached retort, I intend to walk.
Latreille was asking, sir, if you would care to have the car laid
The significance of that bland suggestion did not escape me. And it
did not add to my serenity of mind.
Just what business is that of Latreille's? I demanded, with a
prickle of irritation. My patient-eyed old butler averted his glance,
with a sigh which he didn't seem quite able to control.
And at the end of the month, I went on, I intend to discharge
that man, I'm tired of his insolences.
Yes, sir, Benson softly yet fervently agreed.
My nerves were on edge, I knew, but I wasn't looking for sympathy
from my hired help. And when I swung the door shut behind me I am
afraid it was a movement far from noiseless.
I was glad to get out into the open, glad to get away from old
Benson's commiserative eyes, and have space about me, and cool air to
breathe, and uncounted miles of pavement to weary my legs on.
I noticed, as I turned, into Fifth Avenue, that the moving finger of
light on the Metropolitan clock-dial pointed to an hour past midnight.
So I veered about that delta of idleness, where the noontide turbulence
of Broadway empties its driftwood into the quietness of the square, and
pursued my way up the avenue.
No one can claim to know New York who does not know its avenues in
those mystical small hours that fall between the revolving
street-sweeper and the robin-call of the first morning paper. Fifth
Avenue, above all her sisters, then lies as though tranquillized by
Death, as calm as the Coliseum under its Italian moonlight. She seems,
under the stars, both medievalized and spiritualized. She speaks then
in an intimate whisper foreign to her by day, veiling her earthlier
loquacity in a dreaming wonder, softening and sweetening like a woman
awaiting her lover. The great steel shafts enclosed in their white
marble become turrets crowned with mystery. And the street-floor
itself, as clean and polished as a ballroom, seems to undulate off into
outer kingdoms of romance. An occasional lonely motor-car, dipping up
its gentle slopes like a ship treading a narrow sea-lane buoyed with
pearls as huge as pumpkins, only accentuates the midnight solitude.
So up this dustless and odorless and transmuted avenue I wandered,
as passively as a policeman on his beat, asking of the quietness when
and how I might capture that crown of weariness known as sleep.
I wandered on, mocked at by a thousand drawn blinds, taunted by a
thousand somnolently closed doors. I felt, in that city of rest, as
homeless as a prairie wolf. The very smugness of those veiled and
self-satisfied house-fronts began to get on my nerves. The very
taciturnity of the great silent hostelries irritated me; everything
about them seemed so eloquent of an interregnum of rest, of relaxed
tension, of invisible reservoirs of life being softly and secretly
Yet as I came to the open width of the Plaza, and saw the wooded
gloom of Central Park before me, I experienced an even stronger feeling
of disquiet. There seemed something repugnant in its autumnal
solitudes. That vague agoraphobia peculiar to the neurasthenic
made me long for the contiguity of my own kind, however unconscious of
me and my wandering they might remain. I found myself, almost without
thought, veering off eastward into one of the city's side-streets.
Yet along this lateral valley of quietness I wandered as
disconsolately as before. What impressed me now was the monotony of the
house-fronts which shouldered together, block by block. Each front
seemed of the same Indiana limestone, of the same dull gray, as though,
indeed, the whole district were a quarry checker-boarded by eroding
cross-currents out of the self-same rock. Each tier of windows seemed
backed by the same blinds, each street-step barricaded by the same
door. I stopped and looked up, wondering if behind those neutral-tinted
walls and blinds were lives as bald and monotonous as the materials
that screened them. I wondered if an environment so without distinction
would not actually evolve a type equally destitute of individuality.
I turned where I stood, and was about to pass diffidently on, when
one of the most unexpected things that can come to a man at midnight
happened to me.
Out of a clear sky, without a note or movement of warning, there
suddenly fell at my feet a heavy bundle.
Where it came from I had no means of telling. The house above me was
as silent and dark as a tomb. The street was as empty as a church. Had
the thing been a meteor out of a star-lit sky, or a wildcat leaping
from a tree-branch, it could not have startled me more.
I stood looking at it, in wonder, as it lay beside the very
area-railing on which my hand had rested. Then I stepped back and
leaned in over this railing, more clearly to inspect the mystery.
Whatever it was, it had fallen with amazingly little noise. There was
no open window to explain its source. There had been no wind to blow it
from an upper-story sill. There was no movement to show that its loss
had been a thing of ponderable import. Yet there it lay, a mystery
which only the deep hours of the night, when the more solemnly
imaginative faculties come into play, could keep from being ridiculous.
I stood there for several minutes blinking down at it, as though it
were a furred beast skulking in a corner. Then I essayed a movement
which, if not above the commonplace, was equally related to common
sense. I stepped in through the railing and picked up the parcel. I
turned it over several times. Then I sat down on the stone steps and
deliberately untied the heavy cord that baled it together.
I now saw why I had thought of that falling bundle as an animal's
leap. It was completely wrapped in what I took to be a Russian-squirrel
motor-coat. The tightly tied fur had padded the parcel's fall.
Enclosed in that silk-lined garment I found a smaller bundle,
swathed about with several lengths of what seemed to be Irish point
lace. Inside this again were other fragments of lacework. Through these
I thrust my exploring fingers with all the alert curiosity of a child
investigating a Christmas-tree cornucopia.
There, in the heart of the parcel, I found a collection which rather
startled me. The first thing I examined was a chamois bag filled with
women's rings, a dozen or more of them, of all kinds. I next drew out a
Florentine repoussé hand-bag set with turquoises and
seed-pearls, and then a moonstone necklace, plainly of antique Roman
workmanship. Next came a black and white Egyptian scarab, and then, of
all things, a snuff-box. It was oval and of gold, enameled en plein
with a pastoral scene swarming with plump pink Cupids. Even in that
uncertain light it required no second glance to assure me that I was
looking down at a rare and beautiful specimen of Louis XV jeweler's
art. Then came a small photograph in an oval gold frame. The remainder
of the strange collection was made up of odds and ends of jewelry and a
leather-covered traveling-clock stamped with gilt initials.
I did not take the time to look more closely over this odd
assortment of valuables, for it now seemed clear that I had stumbled on
something as disturbing as it was unexpected. The only explanation of
an otherwise inexplicable situation was that a house-breaker was busily
operating somewhere behind the gray-stone wall which I faced.
The house behind that wall seemed to take on no new color at this
discovery. Its inherent sobriety, its very rectangularity of outline,
appeared a contradiction of any claim that it might be harboring a
figure either picturesque or picaresque. It was no old mansion stained
with time, dark with memories and tears. It carried no atmosphere of
romance, no suggestion of old and great adventures, of stately ways and
noble idlers, of intrigues and unremembered loves and hates, of silence
and gloom touched with the deeper eloquence of unrecorded history. It
was nothing more than a new and narrow and extremely modern house, in
the very heart of a modern New York, simple in line and as obvious in
architecture as the warehouses along an old-world water-front, as bare
of heart as it was bald of face, a symbol of shrill materialities, of
the day of utility. It could no more have been a harbor for romance, I
told myself, than the stone curb in front of it could be translated
into a mountain-precipice threaded with brigand-paths.
Yet I went slowly up those unwelcoming stone steps with the bundle
under my arm. The thief at work inside the house, I assumed, had simply
tied the heavier part of his loot together and dropped it from a
quietly opened window, to be gathered as quickly up, once he had
effected his escape to the street. The sudden afterthought that it
might have been dropped for a confederate caused me to look carefully
eastward and then as carefully westward. But not a sign of life met my
gaze. My figure standing puzzled before that unknown door was the only
figure in the street.
Heaven only knows what prompted me to reach out and try that door.
It was, I suppose, little more than the habit of a lifetime, the almost
unconscious habit of turning a knob when one finds oneself confronted
by a door that is closed. The thing that sent a little thrill of
excitement through my body was that the knob turned in my hand, that
the door itself stood unlocked.
I stooped down and examined this lock as best I could in the
uncertain light. I even ran a caressing finger along the edge of the
door. There was no evidence that it had been jimmied open, just as
there was nothing to show that the lock itself did not stand intact and
uninjured. A second test of the knob, however, showed me that the door
was unmistakably open.
My obvious course, at such a time, would have been to wait for a
patrolman or to slip quietly away and send word in to police
headquarters. But, as I have already said, no man is wholly sane after
midnight. Subliminal faculties, ancestral perversions, dormant and
wayward tendencies, all come to the surface, emerging like rats about a
sleeping mansion. And crowning these, again, was my own neurasthenic
craving for activity, my hunger for the narcotizing influence of
And it has its zest of novelty, this stepping into an unknown and
unlighted house at three o'clock in the morning. That novelty takes on
a razor-edge when you have fairly good evidence that some one who has
no business there has already preceded you into that house.
So as I stepped inside and quietly closed the door after me, I moved
forward with the utmost care. Some precautionary sixth sense told me
the place was not unoccupied. Yet the darkness that surrounded me was
absolute. Not a sound or movement came to my ears as I stood there
listening, minute after minute. So I crept deeper into the gloom.
My knowledge of that stereotyped class of residence provided me with
a very fair idea of where the stairway ought to stand. Yet it took much
prodding and groping and pawing about before I came to it. One flicker
of a match, I knew, would have revealed the whole thing to me. But to
strike a light, under the circumstances, would be both foolish and
dangerous. No house dog, I felt, would interrupt my progress; the mere
remembrance of the intruder above me set my mind at rest on this point.
I came to a stop at the head of the first stairway, puzzled by the
completeness of the quiet which encompassed me. I directed my attention
to each quarter of the compass, point by point.
But I might have been locked and sealed in a cistern, so complete
was the silence, so opaque was the blackness. Yet I felt that nothing
was to be gained by staying where I was.
So I groped and shuffled my way onward, rounding the banister and
advancing step by step up the second stairway. This, I noticed, was
both narrower and steeper than the first. I was also not unconscious of
the fact that it was leading me into a zone of greater danger, for the
floor I was approaching, I knew, would be the sleeping floor.
I was half-way up the stairway when something undefined brought me
to a sudden stop. Some nocturnal adeptness of instinct warned me of an
imminent presence, of a menace that had not yet disclosed itself.
Once more I came to a stop, straining my eyes through the darkness.
Nothing whatever was to be seen. Along the floor of the hallway just
above my head, however, passed a small but unmistakable sound. It was
the soft frou-frou of a skirt, a skirt of silk or satin, faintly
rustling as a woman walked the full length of the hall. I had just made
a mental register of the deduction that this woman was dressed in
street-clothes, and was, accordingly, an intruder from outside, rather
than a sleeper suddenly awakened, when a vague suffusion of light
filled the space above me and was as quickly quenched again.
I knew the moment I heard the soft thud of wood closing against
wood, that a door had been quietly opened and as quietly closed again.
The room into which that door led must have been faintly lighted, for
it was the flowering of this refracted light that had caught my
I went silently up the stairs, step by step, listening every now and
then as I advanced. Once I reached the floor level I kept close to the
wall, feeling my way along until I came to the door I wanted.
There was no way whatever of determining what stood on the other
side of that door, without opening it. I knew what risks I ran in
attempting any such movement. But I decided it was worth the risk.
Now, if a door is opened slowly, if every quarter-inch of movement
is measured and guarded, it can, as a rule, be done noiselessly. I felt
quite sure there was not one distinguishable sound as I cautiously
turned that bronze knob and even more cautiously worked back the door,
inch by inch.
I came to a stop when it stood a little more than a foot from the
jamb. I did not, at first, attempt to sidle in through the aperture;
that would have been needlessly reckless. I stood there waiting,
anticipating the effect the door-movement might have had on any
occupant of the room, had it been seen.
While I waited I also studied that portion of the chamber which fell
within my line of vision. I saw enough to convince me that the room was
a bedroom. I could also make out that it was large, and from the
rose-pink of its walls to the ivory-white of its furnishings it stood
distinctly feminine in its note.
There was, I felt, a natural limit to that period of experimental
inaction. The silence lengthened. The crisis of tedium approached,
arrived, and passed. Audaciousness reconquered me, and I actually
advanced a little into the room. Steadying myself with one hand on the
door-frame, I thrust my body through the narrow aperture until the
whole four walls lay subject to my line of vision.
The first thing I noticed was a green-shaded electric lamp burning
on what seemed to be a boudoir writing-table. It left the rest of the
room in little more than twilight. But after the utter darkness through
which I had groped, this faint illumination was quite adequate for my
I let my gaze pivot about the room, point by point. Then, if I did
not gasp, there was at least a sudden and involuntary cessation of
breathing, for standing beside a second door at the farther end of the
room was a woman dressed in black. On her head was a black hat, round
which a veil was tightly wound, the front of it apparently thrust up
hurriedly from her face. But what startled me was the fact that both
her attitude and her position seemed such an exact duplication of my
With one hand, I noticed, she clung to the frame of the door. With
the other hand she held back a heavy portière, which hung across this
frame. I could see the white half-oval of her intent face as she stood
there. Something about her suggested not the spying intruder so much as
the secret listener. Her attention seemed directed toward some object
which her eyes were not seeing. It appeared as though she stood waiting
to overhear a sound which meant much to her.
As I peered past her through the dim light I could catch a faint
glimmer of green and white marble, with here and there the high-lights
reflected from polished nickel. I knew then that the room into which
she was peering was a bathroom, and this bathroom, I concluded, opened
on a second sleeping-chamber which held the raison d'être of her
motionless apprehension. I directed my glance once more at the woman.
Something almost penitential in her attitude brought the sudden thought
to my mind that she had committed a crime at the mere memory of which
she was already morally stricken. Unexpected discovery, I began to
suspect, had driven her to an extreme which she was already beginning
to regret. There was, in fact, something so pregnant and portentous in
that unchanging attitude of hers that I began to feel it would be a
mean surrender on my part to evade the issue in which I had already
risked so much. So I moved silently into the room, crossing it without
a sound, until I dropped into a high-backed fauteuil upholstered
in embossed and pale-green leather.
I sat there studying her, unaccountably at my ease, fortified by the
knowledge that I was the observer of an illicit intrusion and that my
own presence, if impertinent, might at least be easily explained. I saw
her sigh deeply and audibly, and then gently close the door, dropping
the curtain as she turned slowly away.
I watched her as she crossed to the dresser, looked over the toilet
articles on it, and then turned away. She next skirted a heavy
cheval-mirror, crossed to the writing-table with her quick yet quietly
restless movements, and from this table caught up what seemed to be a
metal paper-knife. She moved on to an ivory and mother-of-pearl desk,
which, apparently, she already knew to be locked. For after one short
glance toward the curtained door again, she inserted the edge of the
knife in a crack of this desk and slowly pried on the lock-bar that
held it shut.
I saw her second apprehensive glance toward the curtained door as
the lock sprung with a snap. She sank into a chair before it, breathing
quickly, obviously waiting a minute or two to make sure she had not
been overheard. Then with quick and dextrous fingers she rummaged
through the desk. Just what she swept from one of the drawers into her
open hand-bag I could not distinguish. But I plainly saw the package of
letters which she took up in her hand, turned over and over, then
carefully and quietly secreted within the bosom of her dress. She
looked deeper into the desk, examined an additional paper or two which
appeared not to interest her, and slowly swung back the cover.
Then she slowly rose to her feet, standing beside the desk. She let
her gaze, as she stood there, wander about the room. I could distinctly
see the look on her face, the hungry and unhappy look of unsatisfied
greed. I sat motionless, waiting for that expression to change. I knew
that it must change, for it would be but a moment or two before she
caught sight of me. But I had seen enough. I felt sure of my
positionin fact, I found a wayward relish in it, an almost enjoyable
anticipation of the shock which I knew the discovery of my presence
there would bring to her. I even exulted a little in that impending
dramatic crisis, rejoicing in the slowness with which the inevitable
yet epochal moment was approaching.
Her eyes must have dwelt on my figure for several seconds before her
mind became convinced of my actual presence there. She did not scream,
as I thought she was about to do when I saw one terrified hand go up to
her partly open lips. Beyond that single hand-movement there was no
motion whatever from her. She simply stood mere, white-faced and
speechless, staring at me out of wide and vacant eyes.
Good eveningor, rather, good morning! I said, with all the
calmness at my command.
For one brief second she glanced back toward the curtained door, as
though behind it lay a sleeper my words might awaken. Then she stared
at me again.
She did not speak. She did not even move. The intent and staring
face, white as a half-moon in a misty sky, seemed floating in space.
The faint light of the room swallowed up the lines of her black-clad
figure, enisling the face in the unbroken gloom of a Rembrandt-like
background, making it stand out as though it were luminous.
It was a face well worth studying. What first struck me was its
pallor. Across this the arched, faintly interrogative eyebrows gave it
a false air of delicacy. The eyes themselves had a spacious clarity
which warned me my enemy would not be without a capable enough mind,
once she regained possession of her wits. Her mouth, no longer
distorted by terror, was the nervous, full-lipped mouth of a once
ardent spirit touched with rebellion.
She was, I could see, no every-day thief of the streets, no ordinary
offender satisfied with mean and petty offenses. There would, I told
myself, always be a largeness about her wrong-doing, a sinister
brilliance in her illicit pursuits. And even while I decided this, I
was forced to admit that it was not precisely terror I was beholding on
her face. It seemed to merge into something more like a sense of shame,
the same speechless horror which I might have met with had I intruded
on her bodily nakedness. I could see that she was even beginning to
resent my stare of curiosity. Then, for the first time, she spoke.
Who are you? she asked. Her voice was low; in it was the quaver of
the frightened woman resolutely steeling herself to courage.
That's a question you're first going to answer for me, was my
calmly deliberate retort.
What are you doing here? she demanded, still confronting me from
the same spot. I remembered the bundle of loot which I had dropped just
outside the door.
I can answer that more easily than you can, I replied, with a
slight head-movement toward the broken desk-top.
Once more her glance went back to the curtained door. Then she
studied me from head to foot, each sartorial detail and accessory of
clothing, hat, gloves, and shoes, as though each must figure in the
resolution of some final judgment.
What do you want? she demanded.
I preferred to leave that question unanswered.
What do you intend to do? she demanded, once more searching my
I resented the way in which she anticipated my own questions. I
could see, from the first, that she was going to be an extraordinarily
adept and circuitous person to handle. I warned myself that I would
have to be ready for every trick and turn.
What do you suppose I'm going to do? I equivocated, looking for
some betraying word to put me on firmer ground. I could see that she
was slowly regaining her self-possession.
You have no right in this house, she had the brazenness to say to
Have you? I quickly retorted. She was silent for a second
No, she admitted, much as she would like to have claimed the
Of course not! And I imagine you realize what your presence here
implies, just as what your discovery here entails?
Yes, she admitted.
And I think you have the intelligence to understand that I'm here
for motives somewhat more disinterested than your own?
What are they? she demanded, letting her combative eyes meet mine.
That, I calmly replied, can wait until you've explained
I've nothing to explain.
There was a newer note in her voice againone of stubbornness. I
could see that the calmness with which I pretended to regard the whole
affair was a source of bewilderment to her.
You've got to explain, was my equally obdurate retort.
Her next pose was one of frigidity.
You are quite mistaken. We have nothing whatever to do with each
Oh, yes we have. And I'm going to prove it.
By putting an end to this play-acting.
That sounds like a threat.
It was meant for one.
What right have you to threaten me?
She looked about as she spoke, almost wearily. Then she sank into
the chair that stood beside the ravaged writing-desk. It was all
diverting enough, but I was beginning to lose patience with her.
I'm tired of all this side-stepping, I told her. An answering look
of anger flashed from her eyes.
I object to your presence here, she had the effrontery to exclaim.
You mean, I suppose, that I'm rather interfering with your night's
Those operations, she answered in a fluttering dignity, are my
Of course they are! I scoffed. They have to be! But you
should have kept them your own affairs. When you drop a bundle of swag
out of a window you shouldn't come so perilously near to knocking a
man's hat off.
A bundle of swag? she echoed, with such a precise imitation of
wonder that I could plainly see she was going to be the astutest of
The loot you intended carrying off, I calmly explained. The stuff
you dropped down beside the house-step, to be ready for your getaway.
Your escape. And it was rather clever.
I dropped nothing, she protested, with a fine pretense of
bewilderment on her face.
Nor let it roll quietly off a front window-ledge? I suggested.
I was near no windowit would be impossible for me to open a
window, she protested. Her words in themselves were a confession.
You seem to know this house pretty well, I remarked.
I ought toit's my own, was her quick retort.
It's your own? I repeated, amazed at the woman's mendacity.
It was my own, she corrected.
I peered quickly about the room. It held three doors, one behind the
woman, opening into the bathroom, a second opening into the hallway,
and a third to the rear, which plainly opened into a clothes-closet.
There had been too much of this useless and foolish argument.
Since your claim to proprietorship is so strong, I said as I
crossed to the hall door, and, after locking it, pocketed the key,
there are certain features of it I want you to explain to me.
What do you mean? she asked, once more on her feet.
I want to know, I said, moving toward the curtained door beside
her, just who or what is in that front room?
The look of terror came back to her white face. She even stood with
her back against the door, as though to keep me from opening it, making
an instinctive gesture for silence as I stood facing her.
I'm going to find out what is in that room, I proclaimed, unmoved
by the agony I saw written on her guilty face.
Oh, believe me, she said, in supplicatory tones, a little above a
whisper, it will do no good. It will only make you sorry you
interfered in this.
But you've made it my duty to interfere.
No; no; you're only blundering into something where you can do no
good, where you have no right.
Then I intend to blunder into that room! And I tore the portière
from her grasp and flung it to one side.
Wait, she whispered, white-faced and panting close beside me.
I'll tell you everything. I'll explain iteverything.
The tragic solemnity of that low-toned relinquishment brought me up
short. It was my turn to be bewildered by an opponent I could not
Sit down, she said, with a weary and almost imperious movement of
the hand as she advanced into the room and again sank into the chair
beside the writing-desk.
Now what is it you want to know? she asked, with only too obvious
equivocation. Her trick to gain time exasperated me.
Don't quibble and temporize that way, I cried. Say what you've
got to, and say it quick.
She directed at me a look which I resented, a look of scorn, of
superiority, of resignation in the face of brutalities which I should
never have subjected her to. Yet, when she spoke again her voice was so
calm as to seem almost colorless.
I said this was my homeand it's true. This was once my room.
Several weeks ago I left it.
Why? I inquired, resenting the pause which was plainly giving her
a chance to phrase ahead of her words.
I quarreled with my husband. I went away. I was angry. II
There's no use explaining what it was about.
You've got to explain what it was about, I insisted.
You couldn't possibly understand. It's impossible to explain, she
went quietly on. I discharged a servant who was not honest. Then he
tried to blackmail me. He lied about me. I had been foolish,
indiscreet, anything you care to call it. But the lie he told was
awful, unbelievable. That my husband should ask me to disprove it was
more than I could endure. We quarreled, miserably, hopelessly. I went
away. I felt it would be humiliating to stay under the same roof with
Wait, I interposed, knowing the weak link was sure to present
itself in time. Where is your husband now?
She glanced toward the curtained door.
He's in that room asleep, she quietly replied.
And knowing him to be asleep you came to clean out the house? I
No, she answered without anger. But when service was begun for an
interlocutory decree I knew I could never come back openly. There were
certain things of my own I wanted very much.
And just how did you get into the house?
The one servant I could trust agreed to throw off the latch after
midnight, to leave the door unlocked for me when I knew I would never
Then why couldn't that trusted servant have secured the things,
these things you came after? Without all this foolish risk of your
forcing your way into a house at midnight?
Her head drooped a little.
I wanted to see my husband, was the quiet-toned response. Just
how, she did not explain. I had to admit to myself that it was very
good acting. But it was not quite convincing; and the case against her
was too palpably clear.
This is a fine cock-and-bull story, I calmly declared. But just
how are you going to make me believe it?
You don't have to believe it, was her impassive answer. I'm only
telling you what you demanded to know.
To know, yesbut how am I to know?
She raised her hand with a movement of listless resignation.
If you go to the top drawer of that dresser you will see my
photograph in a silver frame next to one of my husband. That will show
you at a glance.
For just a moment it flashed through me as I crossed the room that
this might be a move to give her time for some attempted escape. But I
felt, on second thought, that I was master enough of the situation to
run the risk. And here, at least, was a point to which she could be
most definitely pinned down.
The other drawer, she murmured as my hand closed on the fragile
ivory-tinted knob. I moved on to the second drawer and opened it. I had
thrust an interrogative finger down into its haphazard clutter of
knick-knacks, apparently thrown together by a hurried and careless
hand, when from the other end of the room came a quick movement which
seemed to curdle the blood in my veins. It brought me wheeling about,
with a jump that was both grotesque and galvanic.
I was just in time to see the figure that darted out through the
suddenly opened door of the clothes-closet.
I found myself confronted by a man, a thin-lipped, heavy-jawed man
of about thirty-five, with black pinpoint pupils to his eyes. He wore a
small-rimmed derby hat and a double-breasted coat of blue cheviot. But
it was not his clothes that especially interested me. What caught and
held my attention was the ugly, short-barreled revolver which was
gripped in the fingers of his right hand. This revolver, I noticed, was
unmistakably directed at me as he advanced into the room. I could not
decide which was uglier, the blue-metaled gun or the face of the man
Get back against that wall, he commanded. Then throw up your
hands. Get 'em up quick!
I had allowed her to trap me after all! I had even let myself
half-believe that pleasant myth of the slumbering husband in the next
room. And all the while she was guarding this unsavory-looking
confederate who, ten to one, had been slinking about and working his
way into a wall-safe even while I was wasting time with diverting but
And with that gun-barrel blinking at me I had no choice in the
matterI was compelled to assume the impotent and undignified attitude
of a man supplicating the unanswering heavens. The woman turned and
contemplated the newcomer, contemplated him with a fine pretense of
Hobbs, she cried, how did you get here?
You shut up! he retorted over his shoulder.
What are you doing in this house? she repeated, with a sustained
show of amazement.
Oh, I'll get round to you, all right, all right, was his
Hobbs' left hand, in the meanwhile, had lifted my watch from its
pocket and with one quick jerk tore watch and chain away from its
You're a sweet pair, you two! I ejaculated, for that watch was
rather a decent one and I hated to see it ill-treated.
Shut up! said Hobbs, as his hand went down in my breast-pocket in
search of a wallet. I knew, with that gun-barrel pressed close against
my body, that it would be nothing short of suicidal to try to have it
out with him then and there. I had to submit to that odious pawing and
prodding about my body. But if my turn ever came, I told myself, it
would be a sorry day for Hobbsand an equally sorry one for that
smooth-tongued confederate of his.
You're a sweet pair! I repeated, hot to the bone, as that insolent
hand went down into still another pocket.
But it did not stay there. I saw a sudden change creep over the
man's face. He looked up with a quick and bird-like side-movement of
the head. It was not until he wheeled about that I realized the reason
of the movement.
The actual motive behind the thing I could not fathom. The real
significance of the tableau was beyond my reach. But as I looked up I
saw that the woman had crept noiselessly to the hall door, and with a
sudden movement had thrust out her hand and tried to open this door.
But as I had already locked it, and still carried the key in my pocket,
her effort was a useless one. Just why it should enrage her confederate
was more than I could understand. He ignored me for the time being,
crossing the room at a run and flinging the woman in black away from
the door-knob. She, in turn, was making a pretense to resent that
assault. Why she should do this I did not wait to ask. I saw my chance
and took it.
Half-a-dozen quick steps brought me to the bathroom door, one turn
of the knob threw it open, and another step put me through it and
brought the door closed after me. There was, I found, a key in the
lock. Another second of time saw that key turned. A quick pad or two
about the cool marble wall brought my hand in contact with the
The moment the light came on I darted to the inner door and tried
it. But this, to my dismay, was locked, although I could catch sight of
no key in it. I ran back for the key of the first door, tried it, and
found it useless. At any moment, I knew, a shot might come splintering
through those thin panels. And at any moment, should they decide on
that move, the two of them might have their own door into the hallway
forced open and be scampering for the street.
I reached over and wrenched a nickeled towel-bar away from the wall
opposite me. One end of this I deliberately jabbed into the
white-leaded wood between the frame and the jam of the second door. I
was about to pry with all my force, when the sound of yet another voice
came from the room before me. It was a disturbed yet sleepy voice,
muffled, apparently, by a second portière hung on the outside of the
Is that you, Simmonds? demanded this voice.
I continued to pry, for I felt like a rat in a corner, in that bald
little bathroom, and I wanted space about me, even though that meant
fresh danger. The mysteries were now more than I could decipher. I no
longer gave thought to them. The first thing I wanted was liberation,
escape. But my rod-end bent under the pressure to which I subjected it,
and I had to reverse it and try for a fresh hold.
I could hear, as I did so, the sudden sound of feet crossing a
floor, the click of a light-switch, and then the rattle of the
portière-rings on the rod above the door at which I stood.
Who locked this door? demanded the startled voice on the other
side. For answer, I threw my weight on the rod and forced the lock. I
still kept the metal rod in my hand, for a possible weapon, as I
half-stumbled out into the larger room.
Before me I saw a man in pajamas. He was blond and big and his hair
was rumpledthat was all I knew about him, beyond the fact that his
pajamas were a rather foolish tint of baby-blue. We stood there, for a
second or two, staring at each other. We were each plainly afraid of
the other, just as we were each a little reassured, I imagine, at the
sight of the other.
For the love of God, he gasped, wide-eyed, who are you?
Quick, I cried, is this your house?
Of course it's my house, he cried back, retreating as I advanced.
He suddenly side-stepped and planted his thumb on a call-bell.
Good! I said. Get your servants here quick. We'll need them!
Who'll need them? What's wrong? What's up?
I've got two burglars locked in that room.
Yes, and they'll have a nice haul if they get away. Have you got a
Yes, he answered, jerking open a drawer. I saw that his firearm
was an automatic.
Where's the telephone? I demanded, crossing the room to the door
that opened into the hall.
On the floor below, he answered. He pulled on a brown blanket
dressing-gown, drawing the girdle tight at the waist.
You can get to it quicker than I can, I told him. Give me the
gun, and throw on the lights as you go down. Then get the police here
as soon as you can.
What'll you do? he demanded.
I'll guard the door, I answered as I all but pushed him into that
hallway. Then I swung-to the door after me, and locked it from the
outside. Quick, the gun, I said. There was no fear on his face now,
yet it was natural enough that he should hesitate.
What are you? An officer?
There was no time for an explanation.
Plain-clothes man, was my glib enough answer, as I caught the
pistol from his hand. He switched on the hall lights.
He was half-way to the top of the stairs when a woman's scream, high
pitched and horrible, echoed out of the room where I had the two
confederates trapped. It was repeated, shrill and sharp. The face of
the big blond man went as white as chalk.
Who is that! he demanded, with staring eyes, facing the
locked door of the second room. Then he backed off from the door.
I flung a cry of warning at him, but it did not stop his charge. His
great shoulder went against the paneled wood like a battering-ram.
Under the weight of that huge body the entire frame-facing gave way; he
went lunging and staggering from sight into the dimly-lit inner room.
I waited there, with my gun at half-arm, feeling the room would
suddenly erupt its two prisoners. Then, at a cry from the man, I
stepped quickly in after him.
I had fortified myself for the unexpected, but the strangeness of
the scene took my breath away. For there I beheld the man called Hobbs
engaged in the absurd and extraordinary and altogether brutal
occupation of trying to beat in his confederate's head with the butt of
his heavy revolver. He must have struck her more than once, even before
the man in the hairy brown dressing-gown and the blue pajamas could
leap for him and catch the uplifted arm as it was about to strike
The woman, protected by her hat and veil and a great mass of thick
hair, still showed no signs of collapse. But the moment she was free
she sat back, white and panting, in the same high-armed fauteuil
which I myself had occupied a half-hour before. I made a leap for her
companion's fallen revolver, before she could get it, though I noticed
that she now seemed indifferent to both the loss of it and the outcome
of the struggle which was taking place in the center of that pink and
white abode of femininity.
And as I kept one eye on the woman and one on the gun in my hand, I,
too, caught fleeting glimpses of that strange struggle. It seemed more
like a combat between wildcats than a fight between two human beings.
It took place on the floor, for neither man was any longer on his feet,
and it wavered from one side of the room to the other, leaving a swath
of destruction where it went. A table went over, a fragile-limbed chair
was crushed, the great cheval-glass was shattered, the writing-desk
collapsed with a leg snapped off, a shower of toilet articles littered
the rugs, a reading-lamp was overturned and went the way of the other
things. But still the fight went on.
I no longer thought of the woman. All my attention went to the two
men struggling and panting about the floor. The fury of the man in the
shaggy and bear-like dressing-gown was more than I could understand.
The madness of his onslaught seemed incomprehensible. This, I felt, was
the way a tigress might fight for her brood, the way a cave-man might
battle for his threatened mate. Nor did that fight end until the big
blond form towered triumphant above the darker clad figure.
Then I looked back at the woman, startled by her stillness through
it all. She was leaning forward, white, intent, with parted lips. In
her eyes I seemed to see uneasiness and solicitude and desolation, but
above them all slowly flowered a newer look, a look of vague exultation
as she gazed from the defeated man gasping and choking for breath to
the broad back of the shaggy-haired dressing-gown.
I had no chance to dwell on the puzzle of this, for the man
enveloped in the shaggy-haired garment was calling out to me.
Tie him up, he called. Take the curtain-cordsbut tie him
Do you know this man? something in his tone prompted me to ask, as
I struggled with the heavy silk curtain-cords.
I know that, but who's Hobbs?
A servant dismissed a month ago, was the other's answer.
Then possibly you know the woman? I asked, looking up.
Yes, possibly I know the woman, he repeated, standing before her
and staring into her white and desolate face. It took me a moment or
two to finish my task of trussing the wrists of the sullen and sodden
Hobbs. When I looked up the woman was on her feet, several steps nearer
Watch that woman! I cried. She's got a load of your loot on her!
My words seemed merely to puzzle him. There was no answering alarm
on his face.
What do you mean? he inquired. He seemed almost to resent my
effort in his behalf. The woman's stare, too, seemed able to throw him
into something approaching a comatose state, leaving him pale and
helpless, as though her eye had the gift of some hypnotic power. It
angered me to think that some mere accidental outward husk of
respectability could make things so easy for her. Her very air of false
refinement, I felt, would always render her viciousness double-edged in
Search her! I cried. See what she's got under her waist there!
He turned his back on me, deliberately, as though resenting my
determination to dog him into an act that was distasteful to him.
What have you there? he asked her, without advancing any closer.
There was utter silence for a moment or two.
Your letters, she at last answered, scarcely above a whisper.
What are they doing there? he asked.
I wanted them, was all she said.
Why should you want my letters? was his next question.
She did not answer it. The man in the dressing-gown turned and
pointed to the inert figure of Hobbs.
What about him? How did he get here?
He must have followed me in from the street when the door was
unlocked. Or he may have come in before I did, and kept in hiding
Who left the door unlocked?
Because he could trust me!
There was a muffled barb in this retort, a barb which I could not
understand. I could see, however, that it had its effect on the other
man. He stared at the woman with sudden altered mien, with a foolish
drop of the jaw which elongated his face and widened his eyes at the
same moment. Then he wheeled on the sullen Hobbs.
Hobbs, you lied about her! he cried, like a blind man at
last facing the light.
He had his hand on the bound and helpless burglar's throat.
Tell me the truth, or by the living God, I'll kill you! You lied
About what? temporized Hobbs.
You know what!
Hobbs, I noticed, was doing his best to shrink back from the
It wasn't my fault! he equivocated.
But you lied?
Hobbs did not answer, in words. But the man in the dressing-gown
knew the answer, apparently, before he let the inert figure fall away
from his grasp. He turned, in a daze, back to the waiting and watching
woman, the white-faced woman with her soul in her eyes. His face seemed
humbled, suddenly aged with some graying blight of futile contrition.
The two staring figures appeared to sway and waver toward each
other. Before I could understand quite what it all meant the man had
raised his arms and the woman had crept into them.
Oh, Jim, I've been such a fool! I heard her wail. And I could see
that she was going to cry.
I knew, too, that that midnight of blunders had left me nothing to
be proud of, that I had been an idiot from the firstand to make that
idiocy worse, I was now an intruder.
I'll slip down and look after that phoning, I mumbled, so abashed
and humiliated that as I groped wearily out through the door I stumbled
over the Russian-squirrel bundle which I had placed there with my own
hands. It was not until I reached the street that I realized, with a
gulp of relief, how yet another night of threatening misery had been
dissembled and lost in action, very much as the pills of childhood are
dissembled in a spoonful of jelly.
CHAPTER V. THE MAN FROM MEDICINE HAT
I sat in that nocturnal sun-parlor of mine, known to the world as
Madison Square, demanding of the quiet night why sleep should be denied
me, and doing my best to keep from thinking of Mary Lockwood. I sat
there with my gaze fixed idly on a girl in black, who, in turn, stared
idly up at Sagittarius.
Then I lost interest in the black-clad and seemingly cataleptic
star-gazer. For I was soon busy watching a man in a rather odd-looking
velour hat. My eyes followed him from the moment he first turned
eastward out of Fifth Avenue. They were still on him as he veered
irresolutely southward again into the square where I sat.
The pure aimlessness of his movements arrested my attention. The
figure that drifted listlessly in past the Farragut Statue and wandered
on under the park trees in some way reminded me of my own. I, too, knew
only too well what it was to circle doggedly and sullenly about like a
bell-boy paging the corridors of night for that fugitive known as
So I continued to watch him, quietly and closely. I had lost my
interest in the white-faced girl who sat within twenty paces of me,
looking, silent and still, up at the autumn stars.
It was the man's figure, thereafter, that challenged my attention,
for this man marked the only point of movement in what seemed a city of
the dead. It was, I remembered, once more long past midnight, the hour
of suspended life in the emptied canyons of the lamp-strung streets
when the last taxi had hummed the last reveler home, and the first
milk-wagons had not yet rattled up from the East River ferries.
So I sat there listlessly watching the listlessly moving figure with
the wide hat-brim pulled down over its face. There was something still
youthful about the man, for all the despondent droop to the shoulders.
I asked myself idly who or what he could be. I wondered if, like
myself, he was merely haunted by the curse of wakefulness, if the same
bloodhounds of unrest dogged him, too, through the dark hours of the
night. I wondered if he, too, was trying to escape from the grinding
machinery of thought into some outer passivity.
I saw him thread his indeterminate way along the winding park walks.
I saw him glance wearily up at the massive austerity of the
Metropolitan Tower, and then turn and gaze at the faded Diana so
unconcernedly poised above her stolen Sevillian turrets. I saw him look
desolately about the square with its bench-rows filled with huddled and
motionless sleepers. These sleepers, with their fallen heads and
twisted limbs, with their contorted and moveless bodies, made the
half-lit square as horrible as a battlefield. Clouded by the heavy
shadows of the park trees, they seemed like the bodies of dead men,
like broken and sodden things over which had ground the wheels of
carnage. The only murmur or sound of life was the fountain, with its
column of slowly rising and slowly falling water, like the tired
pulse-beat of the tired city.
The man in the velour hat seemed to find something companionable in
this movement, for he slowly drew nearer. He came within three benches
of where I sat. Then he flung himself down on an empty seat. I could
see his white and haggard face as he watched the splashing fountain. I
could see his shadowy and unhappy eyes as he pushed back his hat and
mopped his moist forehead. Then I saw him suddenly bury his head in his
hands and sit there, minute by minute, without moving.
When he made his next movement, it was a startling one. It sent a
tingle of nerves scampering up and down my backbone. For I saw his
right hand go down to his pocket, pause there a moment, and then
suddenly lift again. As it did so my eye caught the white glimmer of
metal. I could see the flash of a revolver as he thrust it up under the
hat-brim, and held the nickeled barrel close against his temple, just
above the lean jaw-bone.
It was so sudden, so unexpected, that I must have closed my eyes in
a sort of involuntary wince. The first coherent thought that came to me
was that I could never reach him in time. Some soberer second thought
was to the effect that even my interference was useless, that he and
his life were his own, that a man once set on self-destruction will not
be kept from it by any outside influence.
Yet even as I looked again at his huddled figure, I heard his little
gasp of something that must have been between fear and defeat. I saw
the arm slowly sink to his side. He was looking straight before him,
his unseeing eyes wide with terror and hazy with indecision.
It was then that I decided to interfere. To do so seemed only my
plain and decent duty. Yet I hesitated for a moment, pondering just how
to phrase my opening speech to him.
Even as I took a sudden, deeper breath of resolution, and was on the
point of crossing to his side, I saw him fling the revolver vehemently
from him. It went glimmering and tumbling along the coppery-green
grass. It lay there, a point of high light against the darkness of the
Then I looked back to the stranger, and saw his empty hands go up to
his face. It was a quiet and yet a tragic gesture of utter misery. Each
palm was pressed in on the corded cheek-bones, with the finger-ends
hard against the eyeballs, as though that futile pressure could crush
away all inner and all outer vision.
Then I turned back toward the fallen revolver. As I did so I noticed
a figure in black step quietly out and pick up the firearm. It was the
white-faced girl who had sat looking up at the stars. Before I fully
realized the meaning of her movement, she slipped the weapon out of
sight, and passed silently on down the winding asphalt walk, between
the rows of sleepers, toward the east. There was something arresting in
the thin young figure, something vaguely purposeful and appealing in
the poise of the half-veiled head.
I vacillated for a moment, undecided as to which to approach. But a
second glance at the man in the velour hat, crouched there in his utter
and impassive misery, caused me to cross over to him.
I put a hand on his flaccid shoulder, and shook it. He did not move
at first, so I shook him again. Then he directed a slow and resentful
glance at me.
I want to have a talk with you, I began, puzzled as to how to
proceed. He did not answer me.
I want to help you if I can, I explained, as I still let my hand
rest on his shoulder.
Oh, go 'way! he ejaculated, in utter listlessness, shaking my hand
from his shoulder.
No, I won't! I quite firmly informed him. He shrank back and moved
away. Then he turned on me with a resentment that was volcanic.
For God's sake leave me alone! he cried.
A sleeper or two on near-by benches sat up and stared at us with
their drowsily indifferent eyes.
Then why are you making a fool of yourself like this? I demanded.
That's my own business, he retorted.
Then you intend to keep it up? I inquired.
No, I don't, he flung back. I can't.
Then will you be so good as to talk to me? His sullen anger seemed
strangely removed from that exaltation which tradition imputes to last
moments. It even took an effort to be patient with him.
No, I won't, was his prompt retort. It dampened all the quixotic
fires in my body. Then he rose to his feet and confronted me. And if
you don't get out of here, I'll kill you!
His threat, in some way, struck me as funny. I laughed out loud.
But I did not waste further time on him.
I was already thinking of the other figure, the equally mysterious
and more appealing figure in black.
I swung round and strode on through the trees just in time to see
that somber and white-faced young woman cross Madison Avenue, and pass
westward between a granite-columned church and the towering obelisk of
a more modern god of commerce. I kept my eyes on this street-end as it
swallowed her up. Then I passed out through the square and under the
clock-dial and into Twenty-fourth Street.
By the time I had reached Fourth Avenue I again caught sight of the
black-clad figure. It was moving eastward on the south side of the
street, as unhurried and impassive as a sleep-walker.
When half-way to Lexington Avenue I saw the woman stop, look slowly
round, and then go slowly up the steps of a red-brick house. She did
not ring, I could see, but let herself in with a pass-key. Once the
door had closed on her, I sauntered toward this house. To go farther at
such an hour was out of the question. But I made a careful note of the
street number, and also of the fact that a slip of paper pasted on the
sandstone door-post announced the fact of Furnished Rooms.
I saw, not only that little was to be gained there, but also that I
had faced my second disappointment. So I promptly swung back to Madison
Square and the fountain where I had left the man in the velour hat. I
ran my eye from bench to bench of sleepers, but he was not among them.
I went over the park, walk by walk, but my search was unrewarded. Then
I circled about into Broadway, widening my radius of inspection. I
shuttled back and forth along the side-streets. I veered up and down
the neighboring avenues. But it was useless. The man in the velour hat
Then, to my surprise, as I paced the midnight streets, a sense of
physical weariness crept over me. I realized that I had walked for
miles. I had forgotten my own troubles and that most kindly of all
narcotics, utter fatigue, crept through me like a drug.
So I went home and went to bed. And for the first time that week I
felt the Angel of Sleep stoop over me of her own free will. For the
first time that week there was no need of the bitter lash of chloral
hydrate to beat back the bloodhounds of wakefulness. I fell into a
sound and unbroken slumber, and when I woke up, Benson was waiting to
announce that my bath was ready.
Two hours later I was ringing the bell of a certain old-fashioned
red-brick apartment-house in East Twenty-fourth Street. I knew little
enough about such places, but this was one obviously uninviting, from
the rusty hand-rail to the unwashed window draperies. Equally
unprepossessing was the corpulent and dead-eyed landlady in her faded
blue house-wrapper; and equally depressing did I find the slatternly
and bared-armed servant who was delegated to lead me up through the
musty-smelling halls. The third-floor front, I was informed, was the
only room in the house empty, though its rear neighbor, which, was a
bargain at two dollars and a half a week, was soon to be vacated.
I took the third-floor front, without so much as one searching look
at its hidden beauties. The lady of the faded blue wrapper emitted her
first spark of life as I handed over my four dollars. The listless
eyes, I could see, were touched with regret at the thought that she had
not asked for more. I tried to explain to her, as she exacted a deposit
for my pass-key, that I was likely to be irregular in my hours and
perhaps a bit peculiar in my habits.
These intimations, however, had no ponderable effect upon her. She
first abashed me by stowing the money away in the depths of her open
corsage, and then perplexed me by declaring that all she set out to do,
since her legs went back on her, was to keep her first two floors
decent. Above that, apparently, deportment could look after itself, the
upper regions beyond her ken could be Olympian in their moral laxities.
As I stood there, smiling over this discovery, a figure in black
rustled down the narrow stairway and edged past us in the half-lit
The light fell full on her face as she opened the door to the
street. It outlined her figure, as thin as that of a medieval saint
from a missal. It was the young woman I had followed from Madison
Of this I was certainfrom the moment the light fell on her
thin-cheeked face, where anxiety seemed to have pointed the soft oval
of the chin into something mask-like in its sharpness. About her, quite
beyond the fact that her eyes were the most unhappy eyes I had ever
seen, hung a muffled air of tragedy, the air of a spirit both
bewildered and baffled. But I could see that she was, or that she had
been, a rather beautiful young woman, though still again the
slenderness of the figure made me think of a saint from a missal.
I was still thinking of her as I followed the sullen and slatternly
servant up the dark stairs. Once in my new quarters, I glanced absently
about at the sulphur-yellow wallpaper and the melancholy antiquities
that masqueraded as furniture. Then I came back to the issue at hand.
Who is that young woman in black who happened to pass us in the
hall? I casually inquired.
Can that! was the apathetic and quite enigmatic retort of
the bare-armed girl. I turned to inquire the meaning of this obvious
Aw, cage the zooin' bug! said my new-found and cynical young
friend. She ain't that kind.
What is she? I asked, as I slipped a bill into the startled and
somewhat incredulous hand of toil. The transformation was immediate.
She ain't nothin'! was the answer. She's just a four-flush, an
also-ran! And unless she squares wit' the madam by Sat'rday she's goin'
to do her washin' in somebody else's bath-tub!
Through this sordid quartz of callousness ran one silver streak of
luck. It was plain that I was to be on the same floor with the girl in
black. And that discovery seemed quite enough.
I waited until the maid was lost in the gloom below-stairs and the
house was quiet again. Then I calmly and quietly stepped out into the
little hall, pushed open the door of the rear room, and slipped inside.
I experienced, as I did so, a distinct and quite pleasurable quickening
of the pulse.
I found myself in a mere cell of a room, with two dormer windows
facing a disorderly vista of chimney-pots and brick walls. On the sill
of one window stood an almost empty milk-bottle. Beside the other
window was a trunk marked with the initials H. W. and the
pretty-nearly obliterated words Medicine Hat.
About the little room brooded an almost forlorn air of neatness. On
one wall was tacked a picture postcard inscribed In the Devil's Pool
at Banff. On another was a ranch scene, an unmounted photograph which
showed a laughing and clear-browed girl on a white-dappled pinto. On
the chintz-covered bureau stood a half-filled carton of soda-biscuits.
Beside this, again, lay an empty candy-box. From the mirror of this
bureau smiled down a face that was familiar to me. It was a
magazine-print of Harriet Walter, the young Broadway star who had
reached success with the production of Broken Ties, the same
Harriet Walter who had been duly announced to marry Percy Adams, the
son of the Traction Magnate. My own den, I remembered, held an
autographed copy of the same picture.
Beyond this, however, the room held little of interest and nothing
of surprise. Acting on a sudden and a possibly foolish impulse, after
one final look at the room and its record of courageous struggles, I
took a bank-note from my waistcoat pocket, folded it, opened the top
drawer of the bureau and dropped the bill into it. Then I stood staring
down into the still open drawer, for before me lay the revolver which
the girl had carried away the night before from Madison Square.
In a few moments I went back to my own room and sat down in the
broken-armed rocking-chair, and tried desperately to find some key to
the mystery. But no light came to me.
I was still puzzled over it when I heard the sound of steps on the
uncarpeted stairway. They were very slow and faltering steps. As I
stood at the half-opened door listening, I felt sure I heard the sound
of something that was half-way between a sob and a gasp. Then came the
steps again, and then the sound of heavy breathing. I heard the rustle
of paper as the door of the back room was pushed open, and then the
quick slam of the door.
This was followed by a quiet and almost inarticulate cry. It was not
a call, and it was not a moan. But what startled me into sudden action
was the noise that followed. It was a sort of soft-pedaled thud, as
though a body had fallen to the floor.
I no longer hesitated. It was clear that something was wrong. I ran
to the closed door, knocked on it, and a moment later swung it open.
As I stepped into the room I could see the girl lying there, her
upturned face as white as chalk, with bluish-gray shadows about the
closed eyes. Beside her on the floor lay a newspaper, a flaring
head-lined afternoon edition.
I stood staring stupidly down at the white face for a moment or two
before it came to me that the girl had merely fallen in a faint. Then,
seeing the slow beat of a pulse in the thin throat, I dropped on one
knee and tore open the neck of her blouse. Then I got water from the
stoneware jug on the wash-stand and sprinkled the placid and colorless
brow. I could see, as I lifted her up on the narrow white bed, how
bloodless and ill-nurtured her body was. The girl was half starved; of
that there was no shadow of doubt.
She came to very slowly. As I leaned over her, waiting for the
heavy-lidded eyes to open, I let my glance wander back to the newspaper
on the floor. I there read that Harriet Walter, the young star of the
Broken Ties Company, had met with a serious accident. It had
occurred while riding down Morningside Avenue in a touring-car driven
by Percy Alward Adams, the son of the well-known Traction Magnate. The
brake had apparently refused to work on Cathedral Hill, and the car had
collided with a pillar of the Elevated Railway at the corner of
One-hundred-and-ninth Street. Adams himself had escaped with a somewhat
lacerated arm, but Miss Walter's injuries were more serious. She had
been taken at once to St. Luke's Hospital, but a few blocks away. She
had not, however, regained consciousness, and practically all hope of
recovery had been abandoned by the doctors.
I was frenziedly wondering what tie could bind these two strangely
diverse young women together when the girl beside me gave signs of
returning life. I was still sousing a ridiculous amount of water on her
face and neck when her eyes suddenly opened. They looked up at me,
dazed and wide with wonder.
What is it? she asked, gazing about the room. Then she looked back
at me again.
I think you must have fallen, I tried to explain. But it's all
right; you mustn't worry.
My feeble effort at reassuring her was not effective. I could see
the perplexed movement of her hands, the unuttered inquiry still in her
eyes. She lay there, staring at me for a long time.
You see, I'm your new neighbor, I told her, and I heard you from
She did not speak. But I saw her lips pucker into a little sob that
shook her whole body. There seemed something indescribably childlike in
the movement. It took a fight to keep up my air of bland optimism.
And now, I declared, I'm going to slip out for a minute and get
you a little wine.
She made one small hand-gesture of protest, but I ignored it. I
dodged in for my hat, descended the stairs to the street, got Benson on
the wire; and instructed him to send the motor-hamper and two bottles
of Burgundy to me at once. Then I called up St. Luke's Hospital. There,
strangely enough, I was refused all information as to Harriet Walter's
condition. It was not even admitted, in fact, that she was at present a
patient at that institution.
The girl, when I got back, was sitting in a rocking-chair by the
window. She seemed neither relieved nor disturbed by my return. Her
eyes were fixed on the blank wall opposite her. Her colorless face
showed only too plainly that this shock from which she had suffered had
left her indifferent to all other currents of life, as though every
further stroke of fate had been rendered insignificant. She did not
even turn her eyes when I carried the hamper into the room and opened
it. She did not look up as I poured the wine and held a glass of it for
her to drink.
She sipped at it absently, brokenly, reminding me of a bird drinking
from a saucer-edge. But I made her take more of it. I persisted, until
I could see a faint and shell-like tinge of color creep into her
Then she looked at me, for the first time, with comprehending and
strangely grateful eyes. She made a move, as though to speak. But as
she did so I could see the quick gush of tears that came to her eyes
and her gesture of hopelessness as she looked down at the newspaper on
Oh, I want to die! she cried brokenly and weakly. I want to die!
Her words both startled and perplexed me. Here, within a few hours'
time, I was encountering the second young person who seemed tired of
life, who was ready and walling to end it.
What has happened? I asked, as I held more of the Burgundy out for
her to drink. Then I picked up the afternoon paper with the flaring
She pointed with an unsteady finger to the paper in my hands.
Do you know her? she asked.
'Yes, I happen to know her, I admitted.
Have you known her long? asked the girl.
Only a couple of years, I answered. Since she first went with
The possible truth flashed over me. They were sisters. That was the
strange tie that bound them together; one the open and flashing and
opulent, and the other the broken and hidden and hopeless.
Do you know Harriet Walter? I asked.
She laughed a little, forlornly, bitterly. The wine, I imagined, had
rather gone to her head.
I am Harriet Walter! was her somewhat startling
She was still shaken and ill, I could see. I took the Burgundy glass
from her hand. I wanted her mind to remain lucid. There was a great
deal for me still to fathom.
And they say she's going to die? she half declared, half inquired,
as her eyes searched my face.
But what will it mean to you? I demanded.
She seemed not to have heard; so I repeated the question.
It means the end, she sobbed, the end of everything!
But why? I insisted.
She covered her face with her hands.
Oh, I can't tell you! she moaned. I can't explain.
But there must be some good and definite reason why this young
woman's death should end everything for you.
The girl looked about her, like a life-prisoner facing the four
blank walls of a cell. Her face was without hope. Nothing but utter
misery, utter despair, was written on it.
Then she spoke, not directly to me, but more as though she were
speaking to herself.
When she dies, I die too!
I demanded to know what this meant. I tried to burrow down to the
root of the mystery. But my efforts were useless. I could wring nothing
more out of the unhappy and tragic-eyed girl. And the one thing she
preferred just then, I realized, was solitude. So I withdrew.
The entire situation, however, proved rather too much for me. The
more I thought it over the more it began to get on my nerves. So I
determined on a prompt right-about-face. I decided to begin at the
other end of the line.
My first move was to phone for the car. Latreille came promptly
enough, but with a look of sophistication about his cynical mouth which
I couldn't help resenting.
St. Luke's Hospital, I told him as I stepped into the car.
At that institution, however, I was again refused all information as
to the condition of Harriet Walter. It was not even admitted, when I
became more insistent, that any such person was in the hospital.
But I'm a friend of this young lady's, I tried to explain. And
I've a right to know of her condition.
The calm-eyed official looked at me quite unmoved.
This young lady seems to have very many friends. And some of them
seem to be very peculiar.
What do you mean by that? I demanded. For answer he pointed to a
figure pacing up and down in the open street.
There's another of these friends who've been insisting on seeing
her, he explained, with a shrug of extenuation.
The uniformed attendant of that carbolized and white-walled temple
of pain must have seen my start as I glanced out at the slowly pacing
figure. For it was that of a young man wearing a velour hat. It was the
youth I had met the night before in Madison Square.
Do you happen to know that man's name? I asked.
He gave it as MalloryJames Mallory, was the answer.
I wasted no more time inside those depressing walls. I was glad to
get out to the street, to the open air and the clear afternoon
sunlight. I had already decided on my next step.
Whether the man in the velour hat recognized me or not, I could not
say. If he did, he gave no sign of it. Yet I could see that he resented
my addressing him, although he showed no surprise as I did so by name.
It was not until I point-blank asked if he had been inquiring about
Harriet Walter that any trace of interest came into his face.
He replied, with considerable ferocity, that he had. One glimpse of
the unsteady fingers and twitching eyelids showed me the tension under
which he was struggling. I felt genuinely sorry for him.
I happen to know Miss Walter, I told him, and if you'll be so
good as to step in my car, I can tell you anything you may want to
Is your name Adams? the white-faced youth suddenly demanded.
It is not, I answered, with considerable alacrity, for his face
was not pleasant to look at.
Then why can you tell me what I want to know? he asked, still
eying me with open hostility. I struggled to keep my temper. It was a
case where one could afford to be indulgent.
If we each have a friend in this lady, it's not unreasonable that
we should be able to be friends ourselves, I told him. So let's clear
the cobwebs by a spin down-town.
Gasoline won't wash my particular cobwebs away, he retorted. There
was something likable about his audacious young face, even under its
cloud of bitterness.
Then why couldn't you dine with me, at a very quiet club of mine?
I suggested. Or, better still, on the veranda of the Clairemont, where
we can talk together.
He hesitated at first, but under my pressure he yielded, and we both
got in the car and swung westward, and then up Riverside to the
Clairemont. There I secured a corner piazza-table, overlooking the
river. And there I exerted a skill of which I had once been proud, in
ordering a dinner which I thought might appeal to the poignantly
unhappy young man who sat across the table from me. I could see that he
was still looking at me, every now and then, with both revolt and
sullen bewilderment written on his lean young face. It would be no easy
matter, I knew, to win his confidence.
I suppose you think I'm crazy, like the rest of them? he suddenly
demanded. I noticed that he had already taken his third drink of wine.
Why should I think that?
I've had enough to make me crazy! he ejaculated, with that abject
self-pity which marks the last milestone on the avenue of hope.
Perhaps I could help you, I suggested. Or perhaps I could advise
What good's advice when you're up against what I'm up against? was
his embittered retort.
He was apparently finding relief in the Pommery. I found a
compensating relief in merely beholding that look of haunted and abject
misery going out of his young eyes.
Then tell me what the trouble is, I said.
He still shook his head. Then he suddenly looked up.
How long have you known Harriet Walter? he asked.
From the time, I told him, after a moment's thought, when she
first appeared for the Fresh Air Fund at the Plaza. That was about two
years agowhen she first went with Frohman.
I've known her for twenty years! was the youth's unexpected
exclamation. We grew up together, out West.
Where out West? I asked.
In Medicine Hatthat's a Canadian prairie town.
But she's younger than you?
Only two years. She's twenty-two; I'm twenty-four. She changed her
name from Wilson to Walter when she went on the stage.
Then you are close friends? I asked, for I could see the wine had
loosened his reticent young tongue.
Friends! he scoffed. I'm the man she promised to marry!
Here, I told myself, was a pretty kettle of fish. I knew the man
before me was not Adams. Yet it was several weeks now since Harriet
Walter's engagement to young Adams had been officially announced. And
there was nothing unstable or predaceous about the Harriet Walter I had
Would you mind telling me just when she promised to marry you? I
asked. Remember, this is not prying. I'm only trying to get behind
She promised me over two years ago, he answered me, quite openly.
Definitely? I insisted.
As definite as pen and ink could make it. Even before she gave in,
before she gave the promise, we'd had a sort of understanding. That was
before I made my British Columbia strike out West. She'd come East to
study for the stage. She always felt she would make a great actress. We
all tried to keep her from it, but she said it was her career. She'd
been having a hard time of it then, those first six months. So I came
through to New York and wanted to take her back, to get her out of all
that sort of thing. But she put me off. She wouldn't give in to being
defeated in her work. She gave me her promise, but asked for a year's
time. When that was up, she'd made her hit. Then, of course, she asked
for one year more. And in the meantime I made my own hitin timber
But hasn't she justified the time you've given her? I inquired,
remembering the sudden fame that had come to her, the name in electrics
over the Broadway theater, the lithographs in the shop windows, the
interviews in the Sunday papers.
Justified! cried the young man across the table from me. After
I'd waited two years, after she'd given me her promise, she's turned
round and promised to marry this man Adams!
And has she never explained?
Explained? She won't see me. She had me put out of her hotel. She
went off to Narragansett. She pretended she doesn't even know me.
This sounded very unlike the Harriet Walter I had known. There had
seemed little that was deliberately venal or treacherous in that
artless-eyed young lady's nature.
And what did you do? I asked.
What could I do? I waited and tried again. I felt that if I could
only see her face to face she'd be able to explain, to make the whole
thing seem less like insanity.
And she wouldn't even see you, meet you?
Not once. Something's set her against me; something's changed her.
She never used to be that sortnever!
And you insist all this is without rhyme or reason?
Without one jot of reason. That's what made it so hopeless. And
last night when I heard of this accident I put my pride in my pocket,
and tried still again. It was the same thing over again. They seemed to
take me for a crank, or paranoeic of some kind, up there at the
hospital. And then I gave up. I felt I'd about reached the end of my
rope. I thought it all over, quite calmly, and decided to end
everything. I walked the streets half the night, then I sat down and
decided to blow my brains out. But I couldn't do it. I was too much of
a coward. I hadn't the courage.
That would have been very foolish, was my inadequate reply, for at
a bound my thoughts went back to the night before and the scene in the
Well, what would you have done? was the prompt and bitter
challenge of the unhappy youth facing me.
I thought for a moment before attempting to answer him.
Why, I temporized, I'd have tried to get down to the root of the
mystery. I'd have made some effort to find out the reason for it; for
everything seems to have a reason, you know.
Again I heard him emit his listless little scoff of misery.
There's no reason, he declared.
There must be, I maintained.
Then show me where or what it is, he challenged.
I will, I said, with sudden conviction. There's a reason for all
this, and I'm going to find it out!
He studied my face with his tired and unhappy young eyes as I sat
there trying to fit the edges of the two broken stories together. It
was not easy: it was like trying to piece together a shattered vase of
And how will you find it out? he was listlessly inquiring.
Instead of answering him, I looked up, fixed my eyes on him and
asked another question.
Tell me this: if there is a reason, do you still care for her?
He resented the question, as I was afraid he would.
What concern is that of yours?
If all this thing's a mistake, it's going to be some concern of
yours, I told him.
He sat there in dead silence for a minute or two.
I've always cared for her, he said, and I knew what his answer was
going to be before he spoke. But it's no use. It's all over. It's over
and done with. There's not even a mistake about it.
There must be. And I'm going to find out where and what it is.
And how are you going to find that out? he reiterated.
Come along with me, I cried a little presumptuously, a little
excitedly, and by ten o'clock to-night I'll have your reason for you!
My flash-in-the-pan enthusiasm was shorter lived than I had
expected. The tingling and wine-like warmth soon disappeared. A
reaction set in, once we were out in the cool night air. And in that
reaction I began to see difficulties, to marshal doubts and misgivings.
The suspicion crept over me that, after all, I might have been
talking to a man with a slightly unbalanced mind. Delusions, such as
his, I knew, were not uncommon. There were plenty of amiable cranks who
carried about some fixed conviction of their one-time intimate
association with the great, the settled belief that they are the
oppressed and unrecognized friends of earth's elect.
Yet this did not altogether fill the bill; it could not explain away
everything. There was still the mystery of the girl in the
Twenty-fourth Street rooming-house. There was still the enigma of two
persons claiming to be Harriet Walter.
On my way down to that rooming-house an idea occurred to me. It
prompted me to step in at my club for a minute or two, leaving Mallory
in the car. Then I dodged back to the reading-room, took down from its
shelf a Who's Who on the Stage, and turned up the name of
There, to my discomfiture, I read that Harriet Walter's family name
was recorded as Kellock, and instead of being a Canadian, and born
and brought up in the western town of Medicine Hat, as young Mallory
had claimed, her birthplace was recorded as Lansing, Michigan. She had
been educated at the Gilder Seminary in Boston, and had later studied
one year at the Wheatley Dramatic School in New York. From there she
had gone on the stage, taking small parts, but soon convincing her
management that she was capable of better things. In little over a year
she had been made a star in the Broken Ties production.
The St. Luke's officials, after all, had not been so far wrong. The
young man in the velour hat was clearly off his trolley.
It was, however, too late to turn back. And there was still the
other end of the mystery to unravel. So I ushered young Mallory up the
musty stairs to my third-floor room, and seated him with a cigar and a
magazine between those four bald and depressing walls with their
sulphur-colored paper. Then I stepped outside, and carefully closed the
door after me. Then I crossed the hall to the girl's room and knocked.
There was no answer, so I opened the door and looked in. The room
was empty. A sense of frustration, of defeat, of helplessness, swept
through me. This was followed by a feeling of alarm, an impression that
I might, after all, be too late.
I crossed the room with a sudden premonition of evil. Then I turned
on the light and pulled open the top drawer of the chintz-covered
bureau. There lay my bank-note. And beside it, I noticed, with a sense
of relief, still lay the revolver.
I took the weapon up and looked it over, hesitating whether or not
to unload it. I still held it in my hand, staring down at it, when I
heard the creak of the door behind me. It was followed by a sudden and
quite audible gasp of fright.
It was the owner of the room herself, I saw, the moment I swung
around. It was not so much terror in her eyes, by this time, as sheer
What are you doing here? she asked, with a quaver of bewilderment.
I'll answer that when you answer a question of mine, I temporized,
as I held the revolver up before her. Where did you get this?
She did not speak for a second or two.
Why are you spying on me like this? she suddenly demanded. She
sank into a chair, pulling nervously at her pair of worn gloves.
You insist on knowing? I asked.
I've a right to know.
Because you are not Harriet Walter, was the answer I sent
bullet-like at her.
She raised her eyes to mine. There was neither anger nor resentment
on her face. All I could see was utter weariness, utter tragedy.
I know, she said. She spoke very quietly. Something in her voice
sent a stab of pity through me.
I'm only trying to help you, I told her. I only want to clear up
this maddening muddle.
You can't, she said very simply. It's too late.
It's not too late! I blindly persisted.
What do you know about it? was her listless and weary retort.
I know more about it than you imagine, was my answer. I know
where this revolver came from, just when and where you picked it up,
and just how near you came to using it.
She covered her face with her hands. Then she dropped them to her
side, with a gesture of hopelessness.
Oh, they'll all know now! she moaned. I knew it would come, some
day. And I haven't the strength to face itI haven't the strength!
I felt, in some way, that the moment was a climactic one.
But how did it begin? I asked more gently, as I gazed down at the
fragile and girlish body huddled together in the chair.
It began two years ago, she went on in her tired and throaty
monotone. It began when I saw I was a failure, when I realized that
all was useless, that I'd made a mistake.
What mistake? I demanded, still in the dark.
The mistake I wasn't brave enough to face. I thought it was the
life I was made for, that they'd never understood at home. Even he
couldn't understand, I thought. Then they let me come. I worked, oh, so
hard! And when I left the school all I could get was a place in the
chorus. I was ashamed to tell them. I pretended I had a part, a real
part. He kept arguing that I ought to give it up. He kept asking me to
come back. I wasn't brave enough to acknowledge defeat. I still thought
my chance would come; I kept asking for more time.
And then? I prompted.
Then I couldn't even stay at the work I had. It became impossible;
I can't tell you why. Then I did anything, from extra work with moving
pictures to reader in the City Library classes. But I still kept going
to the agencies, to the Broadway offices, trying to get a part. And
things dragged on and on. And then I did this, this awful thing.
What awful thing? I asked, trying to bridge the ever-recurring
breaks in her thought. But she ignored the interruption.
We'd studied together in the same classes at the Wheatley School.
And people had said we looked alike. But she was born for that sort of
life, for success. As I went down, step by step, she went up. He wrote
me that I must be getting famous, for he'd seen my picture on a
magazine-cover. It was hers. I pretended it was mine. I pretended I was
doing the things she was doing. I let them believe I'd taken a new
name, a stage name. I sent them papers that told of her success. I
became a cheat, an impostor, a living lieI became Harriet Walter!
At last the light had come. I saw everything in a flash. I suddenly
realized the perplexities and profundities of human life. I felt shaken
by a sudden pity for these two bound and unhappy spirits, at that
moment so close together, yet groping so foolishly and perversely along
their mole-like trails.
I was still thinking of the irony of it all, of the two broken and
lonely young lives even at that moment under the same roof, crushed
under the weight of their unseeing and uncomprehending misery, when the
girl in the chair began to speak again.
It was terrible, she went on, in her passionate resolve to purge
her soul of the whole corroding blight. I didn't dream what it would
lead to, what it would cause. I dreaded every advance she made. It
wasn't jealousy, it was more than that; it was fear, terror. She seemed
to be feeding on me, day by day, month by month. I knew all the time
that the higher she got the lower I had to sink. And now, in a
different way, she's taken everything from me. Taken everything,
without knowing it!
No, you're wrong there, I said. She hasn't taken everything.
What is there left? was her forlorn query.
Lifeall your real life. This has been a sort of nightmare, but
now it's over. Now you can go back and begin over again.
It's too late! She clasped her thin hands hopelessly together.
And there's no one to go to.
There's Mallory, I said, waiting for some start as the name
fell on her ears. But I saw none.
No, she cried, he'd hate and despise me.
But you still care for him? I demanded.
I need him, she sobbingly acknowledged. Yesyes, I always cared
for him. But he'd never understand. He'd never forgive me. He's grown
away from me.
He's waiting for you, I said.
I stood looking at the bowed figure for a moment. Then I slipped out
of the room.
I stepped in through my own door and closed it after me. Young
Mallory, with his watch in his hand, swung about from the window and
Well, it's ten o'clockand nothing's settled!
It is settled, was my answer.
I led him across the quiet hall to the half-lit back room.
I saw his startled and groping motion. Then I heard his cry of
Harrie! and her answering cry of Jamie as the white face, with its
hunger and its happiness, looked up into his.
Then I quietly stepped outside and closed the door, leaving them
alone. From that moment I was an outsider, an intruder. My part was
over and done. But the sight of those two young people, in each other's
arms, made my thoughts turn back to Mary Lockwood and the happiness
which had been lost out of my own life. And I didn't sleep so well that
night as I had hoped to.
CHAPTER VI. THE IRREPROACHABLE BUTLER
Are you waiting for some one, sir?
That question, for all its veneer of respectfulness, was only too
patently a message of dismissal. And I resented it, not only because it
was an impertinence, but more because it had driven out of my drowsy
brain a very beautiful picture of Mary Lockwood as she stooped over an
old Italian table-cover embroidered with gold galloon.
Are you waiting for some one? repeated that newly arrived
all-night waiter, in no way impressed by my silence.
I am, I announced as I inspected him with open disapproval. I was
dreamily wondering why, in the name of common sense, waiters always
dressed in such ridiculous and undecorative neckties.
This particular waiter, however, continued to regard me out of a
fishy and cynical eye. Then he looked at the clock. Then he looked at
my empty wine-cooler, plainly an advertisement of suspended circulation
in the only fluid that seemed vital to him.
Was it a lady? he had the effrontery to inquire.
I could see his eyes roam about the all but empty room. It was the
low-ebb hour when a trolley car is an event along the empty street, the
hour when chairs are piled on café tables, the white corpuscles of the
milk wagons begin to move through the city's sleepy arteries, and those
steel nerves known as telegraph wires keep languidly awake with the
sugary thrills of their night letters.
Yes, it was a lady, I answered. That wall-eyed intruder knew
nothing of the heavenly supper I had stumbled on in that wicked French
restaurant, or of the fine and firm Clos Vougeot that had been
unearthed from its shabby cellar, or of my own peace of mind as I sat
there studying the empty metal cooler and pondering how the mean and
scabby wastes of Champagne could mother an ichor so rich with singing
Erjust what might she look like, sir? my tormentor next asked of
me, blinking about in a loose and largely condoning matter-of-factness
as though in placid search of some plumed and impatient demirep
awaiting her chance to cross the bar of acquaintanceship on the
careless high tide of inebriacy.
She moves very, very quietly, and has a star in her hair, I
replied to that fish-eyed waiter. Her breath is soft and dewy, and her
brow is hooded. And in her hands she carries a spray of poppies.
The waiter looked down at me with that impersonal mild pity with
which it is man's wont to view the harmlessly insane.
Surely, I said with a smothered yawn, surely you have met her?
Surely you have been conscious of those soft and shadowy eyes gazing
into yours as you melted into her arms?
Quite so, sir, uneasily admitted my wall-eyed friend. Then I began
to realize that he was waking me up. I grew fearful lest his
devastating invasion should frighten away the timorous spirit I had
been wooing as assiduously as an angler seeking his first trout. For
one long hour, with a full body and an empty head, I had sat there
stalking sleep as artfully and as arduously as huntsman ever stalked a
deer. And I knew that if I moved from that spot the chase would be
over, for that night at least.
But the odd thing about her, I languidly explained, is that she
evades only those who seek her. She is coy. She denies herself to those
who most passionately demand her. Yet something tells me that she is
hovering near me at this moment, that she is about to bend over me with
those ineffable eyes if only I await the golden moment. And so, my dear
sir, if you will take this as a slight reward for your trouble, and
cover that exceedingly soiled-looking divan in that exceedingly
disreputable-looking alcove with a clean tablecloth, and then draw that
curtain which is apparently designed to convert it into a chambre
particuliere, you will be giving me a chance to consort with an
angel of graciousness more lovely than any meretricious head that ever
soiled its faded plush. And if I am left uninterrupted until you go off
in the morning, your reward will then be doubled.
His puzzled face showed, as he peered down at the bill in his hand,
that if this indeed were madness, there was a not repugnant sort of
method in it.
So he set about in a half dazed fashion draping that none too clean
divan with a table-cloth, making it, in fact, look uncomfortably like a
bier. Then he carried my hat and gloves and overcoat to a chair at the
foot of the divan. Then he took me by the arm, firmly and solicitously.
His face, as I made my way without one stagger or reel into that
shabby little quietude screened off from the rest of the world, was a
study in astonishment. It was plain that I puzzled him. He even
indulged in a second wondering glance back at the divan as he drew the
portières. Then, if I mistake not, he uttered the one explanatory and
I heard him tiptoe in, a few minutes later, and decently cover my
legs with the overcoat from the chair. I did not speak, for bending
over me was a rarer and sweeter Presence, and I wanted no sound or
movement to frighten her away. Just when her hand touched mine I can
not tell. But I fell off into a deep and natural sleep and dreamed I
was being carried through Sicilian orange groves by a wall-eyed waiter
with wings like a butterfly.
Then the scene changed, as scenes have the habit of doing in dreams.
I seemed to be the center of a sub-cellar conference of highwaymen,
presided over by Latreille himself. Then the voices shifted and
changed, receded and advanced. I seemed to be threading that
buffer-state which lies between the two kingdoms of Sleep and
Wakefulness, the buffer-state that has no clear-cut outlines and twists
like a weevil between ever-shifting boundaries.
Where's Sir 'Enery, said a voice from a mountain-top. Then an
answering murmur of voices buzzed about me like bees, only an
intelligible word or two seeming to reinforce the fabric of my
imaginings as iron rods reinforce concrete-walls. And I continued to
lie there in that pleasant borderland torpor, which is neither
wakefulness nor slumber. I seemed to doze on, in no ponderable way
disturbed by the broken hum of talk that flickered and wavered through
Then why can't Sir Henry work on the Belmont job? one of the
voices was asking.
I told you before, Sir Henry's tied up, another voice answered.
What doing? asked the first voice.
He's fixing his plant for the Van Tuyl coup, was the answer.
What Van Tuyl?
Up in Seventy-third Street. He's got 'em hog tied.
And what's more, broke in a third voice, he won't touch a soup
case since he got that safe-wedge in the wrist. It kind o' broke his
nerve for the nitro work.
Aw, you couldn't break that guy's nerve!
Well, he knows he's marked, anyway.
Then came a lull, followed by the scratch of a match and the
mumbling of voices again.
How'd he get through the ropes up there? inquired one of these
Same old way. Butlering. Turk McMeekin doped him up a half-dozen
London recommends. That got him started out in Morristown, with the
Whippeny Club. Then he did the Herresford job. But he's got a peach
with this Van Tuyl gang. They let him lock up every nightsilver and
alland carry the keys to bed with him!
It's up to Sir 'Enery to make 'em dream he's the real thing,
murmured another of the voices.
Sure! answered still another voice that seemed a great distance
Then the mumble became a murmur and the murmur a drone. And the
drone became a sighing of birch tops, and I was stalking Big-Horn
across mountain peaks of café parfait, where a pompous English
butler served pêches Melba on the edge of every second
When I woke up it was broad daylight, and my wall-eyed waiter was
there waiting for his second bill. And I remembered that I ought to
phone Benson so he could have the coffee ready by the time I walked
home through the mellow November air.
It was two hours later that the first memory of those murmuring
midnight voices came back to me. The words I had overheard seemed to
have been buried in my mind like seeds in the ground. Then here and
there a green shoot of suspicion emerged. The more I thought it over,
the more disturbed I became. Yet I warned myself that I could be sure
of nothing. The one tangibility was the repeated word, Van Tuyl. And
there at least was something on which I could focus my attention.
I went to the telephone and called up Beatrice Van Tuyl. Years
before we had played water polo and catboated on the Sound together. I
realized, as I heard that young matron's cheery voice over the
telephone wire, that I would have to pick my steps with care.
I say, Beatrice, are you possibly in need of a butler? I began as
offhandedly as I was able.
Out of a place, Witter dear? was the chuckling inquiry that came
No, I'm not, but I know of a good man, was my mendacious reply.
And I rather thought
My dear Witter, said the voice over the wire, we've a jewel
of a man up here. He's English, you know. And I'm beginning to suspect
he's been with royalty. Jim's always wanted to stick pins in his legs
to see if he really isn't petrified.
What's his name?
Just what it ought to be-the most appropriate name of Wilkins.
How long have you had him?
Oh, weeks and weeks! Only a New York householder could understand
the tone of triumph in that retort.
And you're sure of him in every way?
Of course we're sure of him. He's been a Gibraltar of
Where did you get him from?
From Morristown. He was at the Whippeny Club out there before he
came to us.
The Whippeny Club! I cried, for the name struck like a bullet on
the metal of memory.
Don't you think, the voice over the wire was saying, that you'd
better come up for dinner to-night and inspect the paragon at close
range? And you might talk to us a little, between whiles.
I'd love to, was my very prompt reply.
Then do, said Beatrice Van Tuyl. A little after seven.
And a little after seven I duly rang the Van Tuyls' door-bell and
was duly admitted to that orderly and well-appointed Seventy-third
Street house, so like a thousand other orderly and well-appointed New
York houses hidden behind their unchanging masks of brown and gray.
Yet I could not help feeling the vulnerability of that apparently
well-guarded home. For all its walls of stone and brick, for all the
steel grills that covered its windows and the heavy scroll work that
protected its glass door, it remained a place munificently ripe for
plunder. Its solidity, I felt, was only a mockery. It made me think of
a fortress that had been secretly mined. Its occupants seemed basking
in a false security. The very instruments which went to insure that
security were actually a menace. The very machinery of service which
made possible its cloistral tranquillity held the factor for its
As I surrendered my hat and coat and ascended to that second floor
where I had known so many sedately happy hours, I for once found myself
disquieted by its flower-laden atmosphere. I began to be oppressed by a
new and disturbing sense of responsibility. It would be no light
matter, I began to see, to explode a bomb of dissension in that
principality of almost arrogant aloofness. It would be no joke to
confound that smoothly flowing routine with which urban wealth so
jealously surrounds itself.
I suddenly remembered there was nothing in which I could be
positive, nothing on which I could with certainty rely. And my inward
disquiet was increased, if anything, by the calm and blithely contented
glance Beatrice Van Tuyl leveled at me.
And what's all this mystery about our man Wilkins? she asked me,
with the immediacy of her sex.
Won't you let me answer that question a little later in the
But, my dear Witter, that's hardly fair! she protested, as she
held a lighted match for her husband's cigarette. Do you know, I
actually believe you've spotted some one you want to supplant Wilkins
Or did he spill soup on you some time when we didn't see it?
I imagine he's spilt a bit of soup in his day, I answered,
remembering what I had overheard as to the safe wedge. And as I spoke I
realized that my one hope lay in the possibility of getting a glimpse
of the mark which that wedge had leftif, indeed, my whole sand-chain
of coincidences did not split back into the inconsequentialities of
You can't shake my faith in Wilkins, said the blue-eyed woman in
the blue silk dinner gown, as she leaned back in a protecting-armed and
softly padded library-chair which suddenly became symbolic of her whole
guarded and upholstered life. Jim, tell Witter what a jewel Wilkins
Jim, whose thought was heavy ordnance beside his wife's flying
column of humor, turned the matter solemnly over in his mind.
He's a remarkably good man, admitted the stolid and levitical Jim,
And you've seen him yourself, time and time again, concurred his
But I've never been particularly interested in servants, you know,
was my self-defensive retort.
Then why, in the face of the Immortal Ironies, are you putting my
butler under the microscope? was the return shot that came from the
flying column. The acidulated sweetness of that attack even nettled me
into a right-about-face.
Look here, I suddenly demanded, have either of you missed
anything valuable about here lately?
The two gazed at each other for a moment in perplexed wonder.
Of course not, retorted the woman in the dinner gown. Not a
And you know you have everything intact, all your jewelry, your
plate, your pocketbooks, the trinkets a sneakthief might call it worth
while to round up?
Of course we have. And I can't even resent your bracketing my
pocketbook in with the trinkets.
But are you certain of this? Could you verify it at a moment's
My dear Witter, we wouldn't need to. I mean we're doing it every
day of our lives. It's instinctive; it's as much a habit as keeping
moths out of the closets and cobwebs out of the corners.
What's making you ask all this? demanded the heavy artillery.
Yes, what's suddenly making you into a Holmes's watchman? echoed
the flying brigade.
Still again I saw that it was going to be no easy thing to intimate
to persons you cared for the possibility of their sleeping on a
volcano. Such an intimation has both its dangers and its
responsibilities. My earlier sense of delight in a knowledge
unparticipated in by others was gradually merging into a consciousness
of a disagreeable task that would prove unsavory in both its features
and its finale.
I'm asking all this, I replied, because I have good reason to
believe this paragon you call Wilkins is not only a criminal, but has
come into this house for criminal purposes.
For what criminal purposes?
For the sake of robbing it.
Beatrice Van Tuyl looked at me with her wide-open azure eyes. Then
she suddenly bubbled over with golden and liquid-noted laughter. Oh,
Witter, you're lovely!
What proof have you got of that? demanded Jim.
Of my loveliness? I inquired, for Jim Van Tuyl's solidity was as
provocative as that of the smithy anvil which the idler can not pass
without at least a hammer-tap or two. Yet it was this same solidity, I
knew, that made him the safest of financiers and the shrewdest of
No, he retorted, proofs of the fact that Wilkins is here for
other than honest purposes.
I've no proof, I had to confess.
Then what evidence have you?
I've not even any evidence as yet. But I'm not stirring up this
sort of thing without good reason.
Let's hope not! retorted Jim.
My dear Witter, you're actually getting fussy in your old age,
said the laughing woman. It was only the solemnity of her husband's
face that seemed to sober her. Can't you see it's absurd? We're all
here, safe and sound, and we haven't been robbed.
But what I want to know, went on the heavier artillery, is what
your reasons are. It seems only right we should inquire what you've got
in the shape of evidence.
What I have wouldn't be admitted as evidence, I confessed.
He threw down his cigarette. It meant as much as throwing up his
Then what do you expect us to do?
I don't expect you to do anything. All I ask is that you let me try
to justify this course I've taken, that the three of us dine quietly
together. And unless I'm greatly mistaken, before that dinner is over I
think I can show you that this man
I saw Beatrice Van Tuyl suddenly lift a forefinger to her lip. The
motion for silence brought me up short. A moment later I heard the snap
of a light-switch in the hallway outside and then the click of jade
curtain-rings on their pole. Into the doorway stepped a figure in
black, a calm and slow-moving and altogether self-assured figure.
Dinner is served, intoned this sober personage, with a curate-like
solemnity all his own.
I had no wish to gape at the man, but that first glimpse of mine was
a sharp one, for I knew that it was Wilkins himself that I was
confronting. As I beheld him there in all the glory of his magisterial
assurance I felt an involuntary and ridiculous sinking in the
diaphragm. I asked myself in the name of all the Lares and Penates of
Manhattan, why I had suddenly gone off on a wild-goose chase to bag an
inoffensive butler about whom I had had a midnight nightmare?
Then I looked at the man more closely. He wore the conventional
dress livery of twilled worsted, with an extremely high-winged collar
and an extremely small lawn tie. He seemed a remarkably solid figure of
a man, and his height was not insignificant. Any impression of
fragility, of sedentary bloodlessness, which might have been given out
by his quite pallid face, was sharply contradicted by the muscular
heaviness of his limbs. His hair, a Kyrle-Bellewish gray over the
temples, was cut short. The well-powdered and close-shaven face was
bluish white along the jowls, like a priest's. The poise of the figure,
whether natural or simulated, was one marked for servitude.
Yet I had to admit to myself, as we filed out and down to the
dining-room, that the man was not without his pretended sense of
dignity. He seemed neither arrogant nor obsequious. He hovered midway
between the Scylla of hauteur and the Charybdis of considerate
patience. About the immobile and mask-like face hung that veil of
impersonality which marked him as a butleras a butler to the
finger-tips. When not actually in movement he was as aloofly detached
as a totem-pole. He stood as unobtrusive as a newel-post, as impassive
as some shielding piece of furniture, beside which youth might whisper
its weightiest secret or conspiracy weave its darkest web.
I had to confess, as I watched his deft movements about that
china-strewn oblong of damask which seemed his fit and rightful domain,
that he was in no way wanting in the partthe only thing that puzzled
me was the futility of that part. There was authority, too, in his
merest finger-movement and eye-shift, as from time to time he signaled
to the footman who helped him in his duties. There was grave solicitude
on his face as he awaited the minutest semaphoric nod of the woman in
the blue silk dinner gown. And this was the man, with his stolid air of
exactitude, with his quick-handed movements and his alert and yet
unparticipating eyes, whom I had come into that quiet household to
proclaim a thief!
I watched his hands every course as I sat there talking against
timeand Heaven knows what I talked of! But about those hands there
was nothing to discover. In the first thing of importance I had met
with disappointment. For the cuffs that projected from the edges of the
livery sleeves covered each large-boned wrist. In the actual deportment
of the man there was nothing on which to base a decent suspicion. And
in the meanwhile the dinner progressed, as all such dinners do,
smoothly and quietly, and, to outward appearances, harmoniously and
But as it progressed I grew more and more perplexed. There was
another nauseating moment or two when the thought flashed over me that
the whole thing was indeed a mistake, that what I had seemed to hear in
my restless moments of the night before was only a dream projected into
a period of wakefulness. Equipped with nothing more than an echo from
this dream, I had started off on this mad chase, to run down a man who
had proved and was proving himself the acme of decorous respectability.
But if this thought was a sickening one, it was also a sickly one.
Like all sickly things, too, it tended to die young. It went down
before the crowding actualities of other circumstances which I could
not overlook. Coincidence, repeated often enough, became more than
fortuity. The thing was more than a nightmare. I had heard what I had
heard. There was still some method by which I could verify or
contradict my suspicion. My problem was to find a plan. And the gravity
of my dilemma, I suppose, was in some way reflected in my face.
Well, what are you going to do about it? asked Van Tuyl, with his
heavy matter-of-factness, at a moment when the room happened to be
Don't you see it's a mistake? added his wife, with a self-assuring
glance about the rose-shaded table and then a wider glance about the
Wait, I suddenly said. What were his references?
He gave us a splendid one from the Whippeny Club. We verified that.
Then he had letters, six of them from some very decent people in
London. One of them was a bishop.
Did you verify those?
Across the Atlantic, Witter? It really didn't seem worth while!
And it's lucky for him you didn't!
Because they're forgeries, every one of them!
What ground have you for thinking that? asked the solemn Van Tuyl.
I don't think itI know it. And, I imagine, I can tell you the
name of the man who forged them for him.
Well, what is it?
A worthy by the name of Turk McMeekin.
Van Tuyl sat up with a heavy purpose on his honest and unimaginative
We've had a nice lot of this mystery, Witter, but we've got to get
to the end of it. Tell me what you know, everything, and I'll have him
in here and face him with it. Now, what is there beside the Turk
Not yet! murmured Beatrice Van Tuyl warningly, as Wilkins and his
mask-like face advanced into the room.
I had the feeling, as he served us with one of those delectable ices
which make even the epicureanism of the Cyrenaics tame in retrospect,
that we were deliberately conspiring against our own well-being, that
we were dethroning our own peace of mind. We were sitting there
scheming to undo the agency whose sole function was to minister to our
delights. And I could not help wondering why, if the man was indeed
what I suspected, he chose to follow the most precarious and the most
ill-paid of all professions. I found it hard to persuade myself that
behind that stolid blue-white mask of a face could flicker any wayward
spirit of adventureand yet without that spirit my whole case was a
card house of absurdities.
I noticed that for the first time Beatrice Van Tuyl's own eyes dwelt
with a quick and searching look on her servant's immobile face. Then I
felt her equally searching gaze directed at me. I knew that my failure
to make good would meet with scant forgiveness. She would demand
knowledge, even though it led to the discovery of the volcano's
imminence. And after so much smoke it was plainly my duty to show where
the fire lay.
I seized the conversation by the tail, as it were, and dragged it
back into the avenues of inconsequentiality. We sat there, the three of
us, actually making talk for the sake of a putty-faced servant. I
noticed, though, that as he rounded the table he repeatedly fell under
the quickly questioning gaze of both his master and mistress. I began
to feel like an Iago who had willfully polluted a dovecote of hitherto
unshaken trust. It became harder and harder to keep up my pretense of
artless good humor. Time was flying, and nothing had as yet been found
Now, demanded Van Tuyl, when the room was once more empty, what
are you sure of?
I'm sure of nothing, I had to confess.
Then what do you propose doing? was the somewhat arctic inquiry.
I glanced up at the wall where Ezekiah Van Tuyl, the worthy founder
of the American branch of the family, frowned reprovingly down at me
over his swathing black stock.
I propose, was my answer, having your great grandfather up there
let us know whether I am right or whether I am wrong.
And as Wilkins stepped into the room I rose from the table, walked
over to the heavy-framed portrait, and lifted it from its hook. I held
it there, with a pretense of studying the face for a moment or two.
Then I placed my table napkin on a chair, mounted it, and made an
unsuccessful effort to rehang the portrait.
If you please, Wilkins, I said, still holding the picture flat
against the wall.
A little higher, I told him, as I strained to loop the cord back
over its hook. I was not especially successful at this, because at the
time my eyes were directed toward the hands of the man holding up the
His position was such that the sleeves of his black service coat
were drawn away from the white and heavy-boned wrists. And there,
before my eyes, across the flexor cords of the right wrist was a wide
and ragged scar at least three inches in length.
I returned to my place at the dinner table. Van Tuyl, by this time,
was gazing at me with both resentment and wonder.
Shall we have coffee up-stairs? his wife asked with unruffled
composure. I could see her eye meet her husband's.
Here, please, I interpolated.
We'll have coffee served here, Beatrice Van Tuyl said to her
Very good, madam, he answered.
I wondered, as I watched him cross the room, if he suspected
anything. I also wondered how hare-brained the man and woman seated at
the table thought me.
Listen, I said, the moment we were alone; have you a servant here
you can trust, one you can trust implicitly?
Of course, answered my hostess.
Who is it?
Wilkins, was the answer.
Not counting Wilkins?
Well, I think I can also trust my maid Feliceunless you know her
better than I do.
I could afford to ignore the thrust.
Then I'd advise you to send her up to look over your things at
Why do you say that?
Because now I know this man Wilkins is a criminal of the worst
You know it?
Yes, I know it as well as I know I'm sitting at this table. And I
can prove it.
How? demanded Van Tuyl.
I'll show you how in a very few moments. And, on second thoughts,
I'd have that maid Felice bring what you regard as valuable right to
this dining-roomI mean your jewels and things.
But this sounds so silly, demurred my still reluctant hostess.
It won't sound half so silly as a Tiffany advertisement of a reward
and no questions asked.
Beatrice Van Tuyl intercepted a footman and sent him off for the
maid Felice. A moment later Wilkins was at our side quietly serving the
café noir in tiny gold-lined cups.
This method of mine for identifying the real pearl, as you will
see, I blandly went on, is a very simple one. You merely take a match
end and dip it in clear water. Then you let a drop of water fall on the
pearl. If the stone is an imitation one the water-drop will spread and
lie close to the surface. If the stone is genuine the drop will stand
high and rounded, like a globe of quicksilver, and will shake with the
minute vibrations which pass through any body not in perfect
Before I had completed that speech the maid Felice had stepped into
the room. She was a woman of about thirty, white-skinned, slender of
figure, and decidedly foreign-looking. Her face was a clever one,
though I promptly disliked an affectation of languor with which she
strove to hide a spirit which was only too plainly alert.
I want you to fetch my jewel case from the boudoir safe, her
mistress told her. Bring everything in the box.
I could not see the maid's face, for at that moment I was busy
watching Wilkins. From that worthy, however, came no slightest sign of
disturbance or wonder.
Here, madam? the maid was asking.
Yes, here and at once, please, answered Beatrice Van Tuyl. Then
she turned to me. And since you're such a jewel expert you'll be able
to tell me what's darkening those turquoises of mine.
I dropped a lump of sugar into my coffee and sipped it. Wilkins
opened a dark-wooded buffet humidor before me, and I picked out a
slender-waisted Havana corseted in a band of gold. I suddenly looked up
at the man as he stood at my side holding the blue-flamed little
alcohol lamp for the contact of my waiting cigar end.
Wilkins, how did you get that scar? I asked him, out of a clear
sky. The wrist itself was covered by its cuff and sleeve end, but under
them, I knew, was the telltale mark.
What scar, sir? he asked, his politeness touched with an indulgent
patience which seemed to imply that he was not altogether unused to
facing gentlemen in unaccountably high spirits.
This one! I said, catching his hand in mine and running the cuff
back along the white forearm. Not one trace of either alarm or
resentment could I see on that indecipherable countenance. I almost
began to admire the man. In his way he was superb.
Oh, that, sir! he exclaimed, with an almost offensively condoning
glance at the Van Tuyls, as though inquiring whether or not he should
reply to a question at once so personal and at the same time so out of
Tell him where you got it, Wilkins, said Beatrice Van Tuyl, so
sharply that it practically amounted to a command.
I got it stopping Lord Entristle's brougham, madam, in London,
seven years ago, was the quiet and unhesitating answer.
How? sharply asked the woman.
I was footman for his lordship then, madam, went on the quiet and
patient-noted voice. I had just taken cards in when the horses were
frightened by a tandem bicycle going past. They threw Siddons, the
coachman, off the box as they jumped, and overturned the vehicle. His
lordship was inside. I got the reins as one of the horses went down.
But he kicked me against the broken glass and I threw out one hand, I
fancy, to save myself.
And the coach glass cut your wrist? asked Van Tuyl.
Yes, sir, replied the servant, moving with methodic slowness on
his way about the table. His figure, in its somber badge of livery,
seemed almost a pathetic one. There was no anxiety on his face, no
shadow of fear about the mild and unparticipating eyes. I was suddenly
conscious of my unjust superiority over hima superiority of station,
of birth, of momentary knowledge.
The silence that ensued was not a pleasant one. I felt almost
grateful for the timely entrance of the maid Felice. In her hands she
carried a japanned tin box, about the size of a theatrical makeup box.
This she placed on the table beside her mistress.
Is there anything else, madam? she asked.
That is all, answered Beatrice Van Tuyl as she threw back the lid
of the japanned box. I noticed that although the key stood in it, it
was unlocked. Then my hostess looked up at the waiting butler. And,
Wilkins, you can leave the cigars and liqueur on the table. I'll ring
if I want anything.
The carefully coiffured blonde head was bent low over the box as the
servants stepped out of the room. The delicate fingers probed through
the array of leather-covered cases. I could see by her face, even
before she spoke, that the box's contents were intact.
You see, she said, ladling handful after handful of glittering
jewelry out on the white table-cloth between her coffee-cup and mine,
everything is here. Those are my rings. There's the dog collar.
There's angel Jim's sunburst. Here's the ordinary family junk.
I sat for a moment studying that Oriental array of feminine
adornment. It was plainly an array of evidence to discountenance me. I
felt a distinct sense of relief when the woman in blue suddenly dropped
her eyes from my face to her jewel box again. It was Van Tuyl's
persistent stare that roweled me into final activity.
Then so far, we're in luck! And as from now on I want to be
responsible for what happens, I said, as I reached over and gathered
the glittering mass up in a table napkin, I think it will simplify
things if you, Van Tuyl, take possession of these.
I tied the napkin securely together and handed it to my wondering
host. Then I dropped a silver bon-bon dish and a bunch of hothouse
grapes into the emptied box, locking it and handing the key back to
Beatrice Van Tuyl.
That lady looked neither at me nor the key. Instead, she sat staring
meditatively into space, apparently weighing some question in which the
rest of that company could claim no interest. It was only after her
husband had spoken her name, sharply, that she came back to her
And now what must I do? she asked, with a new note of seriousness.
Have the maid take the box back to where it came from, I told her.
But be so good as to retain the key.
And then what? mocked Van Tuyl.
Then, cut in his wife, with a sudden note of antagonism which I
could not account for, the sooner we send for the police the better.
An answering note of antagonism showed on Van Tuyl's face.
I tell you, Kerfoot, I can't do it, he objected, even as his wife
rang the bell. You've got to show me!
Please be still, Jim, she said, as Wilkins stepped into the room.
She turned an impassive face to the waiting servant. Will you ask
Felice to come here.
None of us spoke until Felice entered the room. Wilkins, I noticed,
followed her in, but passed across the room's full length and went out
by the door in the rear.
Felice, said the woman beside me, very calmly and coolly, I want
you to take this box back to the safe.
Then go to the telephone in the study and ring up police
headquarters. Tell them who you are. Then explain that I want them to
send an officer here, at once.
Yes, madam, answered the attentive-faced maid.
Felice, you had better ask them to send two men, two
Two plain-clothes men, I prompted.
Yes, two plain-clothes men. And explain to them that they are to
arrest the man-servant who opens the door for themat once, and
without any fuss. Is that quite clear?
Yes, madam, quite clear, answered the maid.
Then please hurry.
I looked up at Van Tuyl's audible splutter of indignation.
Excuse me, he cried, but isn't all this getting just a little
highhanded? Aren't we making things into a nice mess for ourselves?
Aren't we moving just a little too fast in this game, calling out the
reserves because you happen to spot a scar on my butler's wrist?
I tell you, Jim, I cried with all the earnestness at my command,
the man's a thief, a criminal with a criminal's record!
Then prove it! demanded Jim.
Call him in and I will.
Van Tuyl made a motion for his wife to touch the bell.
Her slippered toe was still on the rug-covered button when Wilkins
entered, the same austere and self-assured figure.
Wilkins, said Van Tuyl, and there was an outspoken and deliberate
savagery in his voice even as his wife motioned to him in what seemed a
signal for moderation, Wilkins, I regard you as an especially good
servant. Mr. Kerfoot, on the other hand, says he knows you and says you
Yes, sir, said Wilkins with his totem-pole abstraction.
There was something especially maddening in that sustained calmness
And what's more, I suddenly cried, exasperated by that play-acting
rôle and rising and confronting him as he stood there, your name's not
Wilkins, and you never got that wrist scar from a coach door.
Why not, sir? he gently but most respectfully inquired.
Because, I cried, stepping still nearer and watching the immobile
blue-white face, in the gang you work with you're known as Sir Henry,
and you got that cut on the wrist from a wedge when you tried to blow
open a safe door, and the letters of introduction which you brought to
the Whippeny Club were forged by an expert named Turk McMeekin; and I
know what brought you into this house and what your plans for robbing
There was not one move of his body as he stood there. There was not
one twitch of his mask-like face. But on that face, point by point,
came a slow suffusion of something akin to expression. It was not fear.
To call it fear would be doing the man an injustice. It began with the
eyes, and spread from feature to feature, very much, I imagine, as
sentient life must have spread across the countenance of Pygmalion's
slowly awakening marble.
For one fraction of a moment the almost pitiful eyes looked at me
with a quick and imploring glance. Then the mask once more descended
over them. He was himself again. And I felt almost sure that in the
mellowed light about us the other two figures at the table had not seen
that face as I did.
There was, in fact, something almost like shame on Van Tuyl's heavy
face as the calm-voiced servant, utterly ignoring me and my words,
turned to him and asked if he should remove the things.
You haven't answered the gentleman, said Beatrice Van Tuyl, in a
voice a little shrill with excitement.
What is there to answer, madam? he mildly asked. It's all the
young gentleman's foolishness, some foolishness which I can't
But the thing can't stand like this, protested the ponderous Van
There must have been something reassuring to them both in the
methodic calmness with which this calumniated factor in their domestic
Eden moved about once more performing his petty domestic duties.
Then you deny everything he says? insisted the woman.
The servant stopped and looked up in mild reproof.
Of course, madam, he replied, as he slowly removed the liqueur
glasses. I saw my hostess look after him with one of her long and
abstracted glances. She was still peering into his face as he stepped
back to the table. She was, indeed, still gazing at him when the
muffled shrill of an electric bell announced there was a caller at the
Wilkins, she said, almost ruminatively, I want you to answer the
doorthe street door.
Yes, madam, he answered, without hesitation.
The three of us sat in silence, as the slow and methodic steps
crossed the room, stepped out into the hall, and advanced to what at
least one of us knew to be his doom. It was Van Tuyl himself who spoke
up out of the silence.
What's up? he asked. What's he gone for?
The police are there, answered his wife.
Good God! exclaimed the astounded husband, now on his feet. You
don't mean you've sprung that trap on the poor devil? You
Sit down, Jim, broke in his wife with enforced calmness. Sit down
But I won't be made a fool of!
You're not being made a fool of!
But who's arresting this man? Who's got the evidence to justify
what's being done here?
I have, was the woman's answer.
What do you mean?
She was very calm about it.
I mean that Witter was right. My Baroda pearls and the emerald
pendant were not in the safe. They're gone.
They're gone? echoed the incredulous husband.
Listen, I suddenly cried, as Van Tuyl sat digesting his discovery.
We heard the sound of steps, the slam of a door, and the departing hum
of a motor-car. Before I realized what she was doing Beatrice Van
Tuyl's foot was once more on the call bell. A footman answered the
Go to the street door, she commanded, and see who's there.
We waited, listening. The silence lengthened. Something about that
silence impressed me as ominous. We were still intently listening as
the footman stepped back into the room.
It's the chauffeur, sir, he explained.
And what does he want?
He said Felice telephoned for the car a quarter of an hour ago.
Send Felice to me, commanded my hostess.
I don't think I can, ma'am. She's gone in the car with Wilkins.
Yes, ma'am. Markson says he can't make it out, ma'am, Wilkins
driving off that way without so much as a by-your-leave, ma'am.
The three of us rose as one from the table. For a second or two we
stood staring at one another.
Then Van Tuyl suddenly dived for the stairs, with the napkin full of
jewelry in his hand. I, in turn, dived for the street door. But before
I opened it I knew it was too late.
I suddenly stepped back into the hallway, to confront Beatrice Van
How long have you had Felice? I asked, groping impotently about
the hall closet for my hat and coat.
She came two weeks before Wilkins, was the answer.
Then you see what this means? I asked, still groping about for my
What can it mean?
They were working togetherthey were confederates.
Van Tuyl descended the stairs still carrying the table napkin full
of jewelry. His eyes were wide with indignant wonder.
It's gone! he gasped. He's taken your box!
I emerged from the hall closet both a little startled and a little
Yes, and he's taken my hat and coat, I sadly confessed.
CHAPTER VII. THE PANAMA GOLD CHESTS
It is one of life's little ironies, I suppose, that man's surest
escape from misery should be through the contemplation of people more
miserable than himself. Such, however, happens to be the case. And
prompted by this genial cross between a stoic and a cynic philosophy, I
had formed the habit of periodically submerging myself in a bath of
The hopelessness of my fellow-beings, I found, seemed to give me
something to live for. Collision with lives so putrescently abominable
that my own by contrast seemed enviable, had a tendency to make me
forget my troubles. And this developed me into a sort of calamity
chaser. It still carried me, on those nights when sleep seemed beyond
my reach, to many devious and astounding corners of the city, to
unsavory cellars where lemon-steerers and slough-beaters foregathered,
to ill-lit rooms where anarchists nightly ate the fire of their own
ineffectual oratory, to heavy-fumed drinking-places where
pocket-slashers and till-tappers and dummy-chuckers and dips forgot
their more arduous hours.
But more and more often I found my steps unconsciously directed
toward that particular den of subterranean iniquities known as The
Café of Failures. For it was in this new-world Cabaret du Neant
that I had first heard of that engaging butler known to his
confederates as Sir Henry. And I still had hopes of recovering my
Night by night I went back to that dimly lit den of life's discards,
the same as a bewildered beagle goes back to its last trace of aniseed.
I grew inured to its bad air, unobservant of its scorbutic waiters,
undisturbed by its ominous-looking warren of private rooms, and
apathetic before its meretricious blondes.
Yet at no time was I one of the circle about me. At no time was I
anything more than a spectator of their ever-shifting and
ever-mystifying dramas. And this not unnatural secretiveness on their
part, combined with a not unnatural curiosity of my own, finally
compelled me to a method of espionage in which I grew to take some
This method, for all its ingenuity, was simple enough to any one of
even ordinary scientific attainments. When I found, for example, that
the more select of those underworld conferences invariably took place
in one of that tier of wood-partitioned drinking-rooms which lined the
café's east side, I perceived that if I could not invade those rooms in
body I might at least be there in another form. So with the help of my
friend Durkin, the reformed wire-tapper, I acquired a piece of
machinery for the projection of the spirit into unwelcome corners.
This instrument, in fact, was little more than an enlargement of the
ordinary telephone transmitter. It was made by attaching to an oblong
of glass, constituting of course, an insulated base, two carbon
supports, with cavities, and four cross-pieces, also of carbon, with
pointed ends, fitting loosely into the cavities placed along the side
of the two supports. The result was, this carbon being what
electricians call a high resistance and the loose contact-points
where the laterals rested making resistance still higher, that all
vibration, however minute, jarred the points against their supports and
varied resistance in proportion to the vibration itself. This, of
course, produced a changing current in the primary of the induction
coil, and was in turn reproduced, greatly magnified, in the secondary
where with the help of a small watch-case receiver it could be easily
In other words, I acquired a mechanical sound-magnifier, a
microphone, an instrument, of late called the dictaphone, which
translates the lightest tap of a pencil-end into something which
reached the ear with the force of a hammer-blow. And the whole thing,
battery, coil, insulated wire, carbon bars and glass base, could be
carried in its leather case or thrust under my coat as easily as a
folded opera hat.
It was equally easy, I found, to let it hang flat against the side
wall of that rancid little chambre particuliere which stood next
to the room where most of those star-chamber conspiracies seemed to
take place. My method of adjusting the microphone was quite simple.
From the painted wooden partition I lifted down the gilt-framed
picture of a bacchanalian lady whose semi-nudity disseminated the
virtues of a champagne which I knew to be made from the refuse of the
humble apple-evaporator. At the top-most edge of the square of dust
where this picture had stood, I carefully screwed two L-hooks and on
these hooks hung my microphone-base. Then I rehung the picture, leaving
it there to screen my apparatus. My cloth-covered wires, which ran from
this picture to the back of the worn leather couch against the wall, I
very nicely concealed by pinning close under a stretch of gas pipe and
poking in under the edge of the tattered brown linoleum.
Yet it was only on the third evening of my mildly exhilarating
occupation in that stuffy little camera obscura that certain
things occurred to rob my espionage of its impersonal and half-hearted
excitement. I had ordered a bottle of Chianti and gone into that
room to all intents and purposes a diffident and maundering
bon-vivant looking for nothing more than a quiet corner wherein to
Yet for one long hour I had sat in that secret auditorium, with my
watch-case receiver at my ear, while a garrulous quartette of
strike-breakers enlarged on the beatitude of beating up a cop who had
ill-used one of their number.
It must have been a full half hour after they had gone before I
again lifted the phone to my ear. What I heard this time was another
man's voice, alert, eager, a little high-pitched with excitement.
I tell you, Chuck, this thin eager voice was declaring, the
thing's a pipe! I got it worked out like a game o' checkers. But Redney
'nd me can't do a thing unless you stake us to a boat and a batch o'
What kind o' tools? asked a deep and cavernous bass voice. In that
voice I could feel caution and stolidity, even an overtone of
Ten bones'd get the whole outfit, was the other's answer.
But what kind o' tools? insisted the unperturbed bass voice.
There was a second or two of silence.
That's spielin' the whole song, demurred the other.
Well, the whole song's what I want to know, was the calm and
cavernous answer. You'll recall that three weeks ago I staked you boys
for that expresswagon joband I ain't seen nothing from it yet!
Aw, that was a frame-up, protested the first speaker. Some
squealer was layin' for us!
It was a new voice that spoke next, a husky and quavering voice, as
though it came from an alkaline throat not infrequently irrigated with
Tony, we got to let Chuck in on this. We got to!
Why've we got to?
Two men can't work it alone, complained the latest speaker. You
know that. We can't take chancesand Gawd knows there's enough for
three in this haul!
Again there was a brief silence.
You make me sick! suddenly exploded the treble-voiced youth who
had first spoken. You'd think it was me who's been singin'
about keepin' this thing so quiet!
What're you boys beefin' about, anyway? interposed the placid bass
I ain't beefin' about you. I ain't kickin' against lettin' you in.
But what I want to know is how're we goin' to split when you are
in? Who follied this thing up from the first? Who did the dirty work on
it? Who nosed round that pier and measured her off, and got a bead on
the whole lay-out?
Then what'd you take me in for? demanded the worthy called
Redney. Why didn't you go ahead and hog the whole thing, without
havin' me trailin' round?
Cut that out. You know I've got to have help, was the treble-noted
retort. You know it's too big for one guy to handle.
And it's so big you've got to have a boat and outfit, suggested
the bass-voiced man. And I'll bet you and Redney can't raise two bits
But you get me a tub with a kicker in, and two or three
tools, and then you've got the nerve to hold me up for a third
I don't see as I'm holdin' anybody up, retorted the deep-voiced
man. You came to me, and I told you I was ready to talk business. You
said you wanted help. Well, if you want help you've got to pay for it,
same as I pay for those cigars.
I'm willin' to pay for it, answered the high-voiced youth, with a
quietness not altogether divorced from sulkiness.
Then what're we wastin' good time over? inquired the man known as
Redney. This ain't a case o' milkin' coffee-bags from a slip-lighter.
This haul's big enough for three.
Well, what is your haul? demanded the bass voice.
Again there was a silence of several seconds.
Cough it up, prompted Redney. The silence that ensued seemed to
imply that the younger man was slowly and reluctantly arriving at a
change of front. There was a sound of a chair being pushed back, of a
match being struck, of a glass being put down on a table-top.
Chuck, said the treble-voiced youth, with a slow and impressive
solemnity that was strangely in contrast to his earlier speech, Chuck,
we're up against the biggest stunt that was ever pulled off in this
burg of two-bone pikers!
So you've been insinuatin', was the answer that came out of the
silence. But I've been sittin' here half an hour waitin' to get a line
on what you're chewin' about.
Chuck, said the treble voice, you read the papers, don't you?
Now and then, acknowledged the diffident bass voice.
Well, did you see yesterday morning where the steamer Finance
was rammed by the White Star Georgic? Where she went down in the
Lower Bay before she got started on her way south?
I sure did.
Well, did you read about her carryin' six hundred and ten thousand
dollars in goldin gold taken from the Sub-Treasury here and done up
in wooden boxes and consigned for that Panama Construction Comp'ny.
I sure did.
And did your eye fall on the item that all day yesterday the divers
from the wreckin' comp'ny were workin' on that steamer, workin' like
niggers gettin' that gold out of her strong room?
And do you happen to know where that gold is now? was the
oratorical challenge flung at the other man.
Just wait a minute, remarked that other man in his heavy guttural.
Is that your coup?
That's my coup! was the confident retort.
Well, you've picked a lemon, the big man calmly announced.
There's nothin' doin', kiddo, nothin' doin'!
Not on your life, was the tense retort. I know what I'm talkin'
about. And Redney knows.
And I know that gold went south on the steamer Advance, proclaimed the bass voice. I happen to know they re-shipped the
whole bunch o' metal on their second steamer.
Where'd you find that out? demanded the scoffing treble voice.
Not bein' in the Sub-Treasury this season, I had to fall back on
the papers for the news.
And that's where you and the papers is in dead wrong! That's how
they're foolin' you and ev'ry other guy not in the know. I'll tell you
where that gold is. I'll tell you where it lies, to the foot, at this
She's lyin' in the store-room in a pile o' wooden boxes, on that
Panama Comp'ny's pier down at the foot o' Twenty-eight' Street!
You're dreamin', Tony, dreamin'. No sane folks leave gold lyin'
round loose that way. No, sir; that's what they've got a nice stone
Look a' here, Chuck, went on the tense treble voice. Jus' figure
out what day this is. And find out when them wreckers got that gold out
o' the Finance's strong room. And what d'you get? They lightered
them boxes up the North River at one o'clock Saturday afternoon. They
swung in next to the Advance and put a half-a-dozen cases o'
lead paint aboard. Then they tarpaulined them boxes o' gold and swung
into the Panama Comp'ny's slip and unloaded that cargo at two
o'clock Saturday afternoon!
Well, s'pose they did?
Don't you tumble? Saturday afternoon there's no Sub-Treasury open.
And to-day's Sunday, ain't it? And they won't get into that
Sub-Treasury until to-morrow morning. And as sure as I know I'm sittin'
in this chair I know that gold's lyin' out there on that Twenty-eight'
No one in that little room seemed to stir. They seemed to be sitting
in silent tableau. Then I could hear the man with the bass voice slowly
and meditatively intone his low-life expletive.
Well, I'll be damned!
The youngest of the trio spoke again, in a lowered but none the less
In gold, Chuck, pure gold! In fine yellow gold lyin' there waitin'
to be rolled over and looked after! Talk about treasure-huntin'! Talk
about Spanish Mains and pirate ships! My Gawd, Chuck, we don't need to
travel down to no Mosquito Coast to dig up our doubloons! We got 'em
right here at our back door!
Some one struck a match.
But how're we goin' to pick 'em? placidly inquired the man called
Chuck. It was as apparent that he already counted himself one of the
party as it was that their intention had not quite carried him off his
Look here, broke in the more fiery-minded youth known as Tony, and
from the sound and the short interludes of silence he seemed to be
drawing a map on a slip of paper. Here's your pier. And here's your
store-room. And here's where your gold lies. And here's the first door.
And here's the second. We don't need to count on the doors. They've got
a watchman somewhere about here. And they've put two of their special
guards here at the land end of the pier. The store-room itself is
empty. They've got it double-locked, and a closed-circuit alarm system
to cinch the thing. But what t'ell use is all that when we can eat
right straight up into the bowels o' that room without touchin' a lock
or a burglar alarm, without makin' a sound!
How? inquired the bass voice.
Here's your pier bottom. Here's the river slip. We row into that
slip without showin' a light, and with the kicker shut off, naturally.
We slide in under without makin' a sound. Then we get our measurements.
Then we make fast to this pile, and throw out a line to this one, and a
second to this one, to hold us steady against the tide and the ferry
wash. Then we find our right plank. We can do that by pokin' a
flashlight up against 'em where it'll never be seen. Then we take a
brace and bit and run a row of holes across that plank, the two rows
about thirty inches apart, each hole touchin' the other. Don't you see,
with a good sharp extension bit we can cut out that square in half an
hour or so, without makin' any more noise than you'd make scratchin' a
match on your pants leg!
And when you get your square?
Then Redney and me climbs through. Redney'll be the stall. He
watches the door from the inside. You stay in the boat, with an eye
peeled below. I pass you the gold. We cut loose and slip off with the
tide. When we're out o' hearin' we throw on the kicker and go kitin'
down to that Bath Beach joint o' yours where we'll have that six
hundred and ten thousand in gold melted down and weighed out before
they get that store-room door unlocked in the morning!
Not so loud, Tony; not so loud! cautioned the conspirator called
Redney. There was a moment of silence.
In that silence, and without the aid of my microphone, I heard the
sound of steps as they approached my door and came to a stop.
Listen! suddenly whispered one of the men in the other room.
As I sat there, listening as intently as my neighbors, the knob of
my door turned. Then the door itself was impatiently shaken.
That sound brought me to my feet with a start of alarm. Accident had
enmeshed me in a movement that was too gigantic to be overlooked. The
one thing I could not afford, at such a time, was discovery.
Three silent steps took me across the room to my microphone. One
movement lifted that telltale instrument from its hooks, and a second
movement jerked free the wires pinned in close along the gas pipe.
Another movement or two saw my apparatus slipped into its case and the
case dropped down behind the worn leather-couch back. Then I sank into
the chair beside the table, knowing there was nothing to betray me. Yet
as I lounged there over my bottle of Chianti I could feel the
excitement of the moment accelerate my pulse. I made an effort to get
my feelings under control as second by second slipped away and nothing
of importance took place. It was, I decided, my wall-eyed waiter
friend, doubtlessly bearing a message that more lucrative patrons were
desiring my fetid-aired cubby-hole.
Then, of a sudden, I became aware of the fact that voices were
whispering close outside my door. The next moment I heard the crunch of
wood subjected to pressure, and before I could move or realize the full
meaning of that sound, the door had been forced open and three men were
staring in at me.
I looked up at them with a startwith a start, however, which I had
the inspired foresight to translate into a hiccough. That hiccough, in
turn, reminded me that I had a rôle to sustain, a rôle of care-free and
So, opprobrious as the whole farce seemed to me, I pushed my hat
back on my head and blinkingly stared at the three intruders as they
sauntered nonchalantly into the room. Yet as I winked up at them, with
all the sleepy unconcern at my command, I could plainly enough see that
each one of that trio was very much on the alert. It was the youngest
of the three who turned to me.
Kiddo, he said, and he spoke with an oily suavity not at all to my
liking, I kind o' thought I smelt gas leakin' in here.
He had the effrontery to turn and stare about at the four walls of
the room. Then he moved easily across the floor to where the champagne
picture hung. What he saw, or did not see there, I had no means of
determining. For to turn and look after him would be to betray my part.
That leak ain't in this room, admitted the second of the trio, a
swarthy and loose-lipped land pirate with a sweep of carroty bang which
covered his left eyebrow. I knew, even before he spoke, that he was the
man called Redney, just as I knew the first speaker was the youth they
had addressed as Tony. About the third man, who towered above the other
two in his giant-like stature, there was a sense of calm and solidity
that seemed almost pachydermatous. Yet this same solidity in some way
warned me that he might be the most dangerous of them all.
'Sssh all righ'! I loosely condoned, with a sleepy lurch of the
body. How much my acting was convincing to them was a matter of vast
concern to me. The man named Tony, who had continued to study the
wooden partition against which my microphone had hung, turned back to
the table and calmly seated himself beside me. My heart went down like
an elevator with a broken cable when I noticed the nervous sweat which
had come out on his forehead.
Say, Sister, this puts the drinks on us, he declared, with an
airiness which I felt to be as unreal as my own inebriacy. I saw him
motion for the other two to seat themselves.
They did so, a little mystified, each man keeping his eyes fixed on
the youth called Tony. The latter laughed, for no reason that I could
understand, and over his shoulder bawled out the one word, Shimmey!
Shimmey, I remembered, was my friend the wall-eyed waiter. And this
waiter it was who stepped trailingly into the room.
Shimmey, said the voluble youth at my side. We introoded on this
gen'lmun. And we got to square ourselves. So what's it goin' to be?
Nothin'! I protested, with a repugnant wave of the hand.
You mean we ain't good enough for you to drink with? demanded the
youth called Tony. I could see what he wanted. I could feel what was
coming. He was looking for some reason, however tenuous, to start
trouble. Without fail he would find it in time. But my one desire was
to defer that outcome as long as possible. So I grinned back at him,
rather idiotically, I'm afraid.
All righ', I weakly agreed, blinking about at my tormentors.
Bring me a bran'y an' soda.
The other three men looked at the waiter. The waiter, in turn,
looked at them. Then he studied my face. There was something decidedly
unpleasant in his coldly speculative eyes.
Shimmey, d'you understand? This gen'lmun wants a brandy and soda.
The waiter, still studying me, said Sure! Then he turned on his
heel and walked out of the room.
I knew, in my prophetic bones, that there was some form of trouble
brewing in that odoriferous little room. But I was determined to
side-step it, to avoid it, to the last extremity. And I was still
nodding amiably about when the waiter returned with his tray of
Well, here's how, said the youth, and we all lifted our glasses.
That brandy and soda, I knew, would not be the best of its kind. I
also clearly saw that it would be unwise to decline it. So I swallowed
the stuff as a child swallows medicine.
I downed it in a gulp or two, and put the glass back on the table.
Then I proceeded to wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, after the
approved fashion of my environment.
It was fortunate, at that moment, that my hand was well up in front
of my face. For as the truth of the whole thing came home to me, as
sharp and quick as an electric spark, there must have been a second or
two when my rôle slipped away from me.
I had, it is true, inwardly fortified myself against a draught that
would prove highly unpalatable. But the taste which I now detected, the
acrid, unmistakable, over-familiar taste, was too much for my startled
nerves. I hid my sudden body-movement only by means of a simulated
hiccough. The thing I had unmistakably tasted was chloral hydrate. They
had given me knock-out drops.
The idea, of a sudden, struck me as being so ludicrous that I
laughed. The mere thought of any such maneuver was too much for methe
foolish hope that a homeopathic little pill of chloral would put me
under the table, like any shopgirl lured from a dance-hall! They were
trying to drug me. Drug me, who had taken double and triple
doses night after night as I fought for sleep!
They were trying to drug me, me who on my bad nights had even known
the narcotic to be forcibly wrested from my clutch by those who stood
appalled at the quantities that my too-immured system demanded, and
knew only too well that in time it meant madness!
But I remembered, as I saw the three men staring at me, that I still
had a rôle to sustain. I knew it would be unwise to let those sweet
worthies know just how the land lay. I enjoyed an advantage much too
exceptional and much too valuable to be lightly surrendered.
So to all outward signs and appearances I let the drug do its work.
I carefully acted out my pretended lapse into somnolent indifference. I
lost the power to coordinate; my speech grew inarticulate; my shoulders
drooped forward across the table edge. I wilted down like a cut
dock-weed, until my face lay flat against the beer-stained wood.
He's off, murmured the man called Chuck. He rose to his feet as he
Then we got to beat it, declared the youth named Tony, already on
his feet. I could hear him take a deep breath as he stood there. And
the next long nose who gives me heart disease like this is goin' to get
five inches o' cold steel!
He knelt before me as he spoke, pulled back my feet, and ran a knife
edge along the shoe laces. Then he promptly pulled the shoes from my
feet. These shoes, apparently, he kept in his hand. That'll help
anchor 'im, I guess, I heard him remark.
Let's get on the job, suggested the big man, obviously impatient
at the delay. If there's nothin' but five inches o' plank between us
and that gold, let's get busy!
I sat there, with my head on that table top so redolent of the
soured beverages of other days, and listened to them as they moved
across the room. I listened as they passed out and swung the door shut
behind them. I waited there for another minute or two, without moving,
knowing only too well what a second discovery would entail.
My head was still bent over that unclean table top when I heard the
broken-latched door once more pushed slowly open, and steps slowly
cross the floor to where I sat.
Some one, I knew, was staring down at me. I felt four distended
finger-tips push inquisitively at my head, rolling it a little to one
side. Then the figure bending above me shifted its position. A hand
felt cautiously about my body. It strayed lower, until it reached my
I could see nothing of my enemy's face, and nothing of his figure.
All I got a glimpse of was a patch of extremely soiled linen. But that
glimpse was sufficient. It was my friend, the wall-eyed waiter,
resolutely deciding to make hay while the sun shone. And that decided
With one movement I rose from the chair and wheeled about so as to
face him. That quick body-twist spun his own figure half-way around.
My fist caught him on the foreward side of the relaxed jawbone. He
struck the worn leather couch as he fell, and then rolled completely
over, as inert as a sack of bran.
I looked down at him for a moment or two as he lay face upward on
the floor. Then I dropped on one knee beside him, unlaced his well-worn
and square-toed shoes, and calmly but quietly adjusted them to my own
Once out in the street I quickened my steps and rounded the first
corner. Then I hurried on, turning still another, and still another,
making doubly sure I was leaving no chance to be trailed. Then I swung
aboard a cross-town car, alighting again at a corner flashing with the
vulgar brilliance of an all-night drug store.
I went straight to the telephone booth of that drug store, and there
I promptly called up police headquarters. I felt, as I asked for
Lieutenant Belton, a person of some importance. Then I waited while the
precious moments flew by.
Lieutenant Belton, I was finally informed, was at his room in the
Hotel York, on Seventh Avenue. So I rang up the Hotel York, only to be
informed that the lieutenant was not in.
I slammed the receiver down on its hook and ended that foolish
colloquy. I first thought of Patrolman McCooey. Then I thought of
Doyle, and then of Creegan, my old detective friend. Then with a
jaw-grip of determination I caught that receiver up again, ordered a
taxicab, paid for my calls, consulted my watch, and paced up and down
like a caged hyena, waiting for my cab.
Another precious ten minutes slipped away before I got to Creegan's
door in Forty-third Street. Then I punched the bell-button above the
mail-box, and stood there with my finger on it for exactly a minute and
I suddenly remembered that the clicking door latch beside me implied
that my entrance was being automatically solicited. I stepped into the
dimly lighted hall and made my way determinedly up the narrow carpeted
stairs, knowing I would get face to face with Creegan if I had to crawl
through a fanlight and pound in his bedroom door.
But it was Creegan himself who confronted me as I swung about the
banister turn of that shadowy second landing.
You wake those kids up, he solemnly informed me, and I'll kill
Creegan, I cried, and it seemed foolish that I should have to
inveigle and coax him into a crusade which meant infinitely more to him
than to me, I'm going to make you famous!
How soon? he diffidently inquired.
Inside of two hours' time, was my answer.
Don't wake those kids! he commanded, looking back
over his shoulder.
I caught him by the sleeve, and held him there, for some vague
premonition of a sudden withdrawal and a bolted door made me desperate.
And time, I knew, was getting short.
For heaven's sake, listen to me, I said as I held him. And as he
stood there under the singing gas-jet, with his hurriedly lit and
skeptically tilted stogie in one corner of his mouth, I told him in as
few words as I could what had happened that night.
Come in while I get me boots on, he quietly remarked, leading me
into an unlighted hallway and from that into a bedroom about the size
of a ship's cabin. And speak low, he said, with a nod toward the rear
end of the hall. Then as he sat on the edge of the bed pulling on his
shoes he made me recount everything for the second time, stopping me
with an occasional question, fixing me occasionally with a cogitative
But we haven't a minute to lose, I warned him, for the second
time, as he slipped away into a remoter cubby-hole of a room to see, as
he put it, if the kids were keeping covered.
He rejoined me at the stairhead, with the softest of Irish smiles
still on his face. By the time we had reached the street and stepped
into the waiting taxi, that smile had disappeared. He merely smoked
another stogie as we made our way toward the end of Twenty-eighth
At Tenth Avenue, he suddenly decided it was better for us to go on
foot. So he threw away his stogie end, a little ruefully, and led me
down a street as narrow and empty as a river bed. He led me into a part
of New York that I had never before known. It was a district of bald
brick walls, of rough flag and cobble-stone underfoot, of lonely street
lamps, of shipping platforms and unbroken warehouse sides, of storage
yards and milk depots, with railway tracks bisecting streets as empty
as though they were the streets of a dead city. No one appeared before
us. Nothing gave signs of being alive in that area of desolate ugliness
which seemed like the back yard of all the world concentrated in a few
We were almost on West Street itself before I was conscious of the
periodic sound of boat whistles complaining through the night. The air,
I noticed, took on a fresher and cleaner smell. Creegan, without
speaking, drew me in close to a wall-end, at the corner, and together
we stood staring out toward the Hudson.
Directly in front of us, beyond a forest of barrels which stippled
the asphalt, a veritable city of barrels that looked like the stumpage
of a burned-over Douglas-pine woodland, stood the façade of the Panama
Company's pier structure. It looked substantial and solemn enough,
under its sober sheeting of corrugated iron. And two equally solemn
figures, somber and silent in their dark overcoats, stood impassively
on guard before its closed doors.
Come on, Creegan finally whispered, walking quickly south to the
end of Twenty-seventh Street. He suddenly stopped and caught at my arm
to arrest my own steps. We stood there, listening. Out of the silence,
apparently from mid-river, sounded the quick staccato coughing of a
gasoline motor. It sounded for a moment or two, and then it grew
We stood there without moving. Then the figure at my side seemed
stung into sudden madness. Without a word of warning or explanation, my
companion clucked down and went dodging in and out between the huddled
clumps of barrels, threading a circuitous path toward the slip edge. I
saw him drop down on all fours and peer over the string-piece. Then I
saw him draw back, rise to his feet, and run northward toward the pier
door where the two watchmen stood.
What he said to those watchmen I had no means of knowing. One of
them, however, swung about and tattooed on the door with a night-stick
before Creegan could catch at his arm and stop him. Before I could join
them, some one from within had thrown open the door. I saw Creegan and
the first man dive into the chill-aired, high-vaulted building, with
its exotic odors of spice and coffee and mysterious tropical bales. I
heard somebody call out to turn on the lights, and then Creegan's
disgustedly warning voice call back for him to shut up. Then somewhere
in the gloom inside a further colloquy took place, a tangle of voices,
a call for quietness, followed by a sibilant hiss of caution.
Creegan appeared in the doorway again. I could see that he was
motioning for me.
Come on, he whispered. And I tiptoed in after him, under that
echoing vaulted roof where the outline of a wheeled gangway looked
oddly like the skeleton of some great dinosaur, and the pungent spicy
odors took me at one breath two thousand miles southward into the
Take off those shoes, quietly commanded Creegan. And I dropped
beside him on the bare pier planks and slipped my feet out of Shimmey's
ungainly toed shoes.
A man moved aside from a door as we stepped silently up to it.
Creegan turned to whisper a word or two in his ear. Then he opened the
door and led me by the sleeve into the utter darkness within, closing
and locking the door after him.
I was startled by the sudden contact of Creegan's groping fingers. I
realized that he was thrusting a short cylindrical object up against my
Take this, he whispered.
What is it? I demanded in an answering whisper.
It's a flashlight. Press heresee! And throw it on when I say so!
I took the flashlight, pressed as he told me, and saw a feeble glow
of light from its glass-globed end. About this end he had swathed a
cotton pocket handkerchief. More actual illumination would have come
from a tallow candle. But it seemed sufficient for Creegan's purpose. I
could see him peer about, step across to a pile of stout wooden boxes,
count them, test one as to its weight, squint once more searchingly
about the room, and then drop full length on the plank flooring and
press his ear to the wood.
He writhed and crawled about there, from one quarter of the room to
another, every minute or so pressing an ear against the boards under
him, for all the world like a physician sounding a patient's lungs. He
kept returning, I noticed, to one area in the center of the room, not
more than a yard away from the pile of wooden boxes. Then he leaned
forward on his knees, his hands supporting his body in a grotesque
bear-like posture. He continued to kneel there, intently watching the
oak plank directly in front of him.
I saw one hand suddenly move forward and feel along an inch or two
of this plank, come to a stop, and then suddenly raise and wave in the
air. I did not realize, at that moment, that the signal was for me.
Put her out, he whispered. And as I lifted my thumb from the
contact point the room was again plunged into utter darkness. Yet
through that darkness I could hear a distinct sound, a minute yet
unmistakable noise of splintering wood, followed by an even louder
sound, as though an auger were being withdrawn from a hole in the
planking at my feet.
Then up from the floor on which Creegan knelt a thin ray of light
flickered and wavered and disappeared. A rumble of guarded voices crept
to my ears, and again I could detect that faint yet pregnant gnawing
sound as the busy auger once more ate into the oak planking on which we
I suddenly felt Creegan's hand grope against my knee. He rose to his
feet beside me.
It's all right, he whispered, with a calmness which left me a
little ashamed of my own excitement. You stay here until I come back.
I stood there listening to the slight noise of the door as he opened
it and closed it after him. I stood there as I once more heard the
telltale splintering of wood, indicating that the auger had completed
its second hole through the planking. Then came the sound of its
withdrawal, and again the wavering pencil of light as the men under the
pier examined their work and adjusted their auger-end for its next
A new anxiety began to weigh on me. I began to wonder what could be
keeping Creegan so long. I grew terrified at the thought that he might
be too late. Vague contingencies on which I had failed to reckon began
to present themselves to me. I realized that those three desperate men,
once they saw I was again coming between them and their ends, would be
satisfied with no half measure.
Then occurred a movement which nearly brought a cry from my startled
lips. A hand, reaching slowly out through the darkness, came in contact
with my knee, and clutched it. That contact, coming as it did without
warning, without reason, sent a horripilating chill through all my
body. The wonder was that I did not kick out, like a frightened colt,
or start to flail about me with my flashlight. All I did, however, was
to twist and swing away. Yet before I could get to my feet, the hand
had clutched the side of my coat. And as those clutching fingers held
there, I heard a voice whisper out of the darkness:
Here, take this, and the moment I heard it I was able to breathe
again, for I knew it was Creegan. You may need it.
He was holding what I took to be a policeman's night-stick up in
front of me. I took it from him, marveling how he could have re-entered
that room without my hearing him.
There's a light-switch against the wall there, they say, was his
next whispered message to me. Find it. Keep back there and throw it on
if I give the word.
I felt and pawed and padded about the wall for an uncertain moment
or two. Got it? came Creegan's whispering voice across the darkness.
Yes, I whispered back.
He did not speak again, for a newer sound fell on both his ears and
mine. It was a sound of prodding and prying, as though the men below
were jimmying at their loosened square of planking.
I leaned forward, listening, for I could hear the squeak and grate
of the shifting timber block. I did not hear it actually fall away. But
I was suddenly conscious of a breath of cooler air in the room where I
stood and the persistent ripple of water against pile-sides.
Then I heard a treble voice say, A little higher.
The speaker seemed so close that I felt I could have stooped down
and touched his body. I knew, even before I saw the spurt of flame
where he struck a match along the floor, that the man was already
half-way up through the hole. I could see the dirt-covered, claw-like
hand as it held the match, nursing the tiny flame, patiently waiting
for it to grow. It was not until this hand held the flaring match up
before his very face that Creegan moved.
That movement was as simple as it was unexpected. I had no distinct
vision of it, but I knew what it meant. I knew, the moment I heard the
dull and sickening impact of seasoned wood against a human skull-bone.
There was just one blow. But it was so well placed that a second
seemed unnecessary. Then, as far as I could judge, Creegan took hold of
the stunned man and drew him bodily up through the hole in the floor.
A moment later a voice was saying, Here, pull! And I knew that the
second man was on his way up into the room.
What prevented Creegan from repeating his maneuver with the
night-stick I could not tell. But I knew the second attack was not the
clean-cut job of the first, for even as Creegan seized the body
half-way up through the opening, the struggle must have begun.
The consciousness that that struggle was not to be promptly decided,
that a third factor might at any moment appear in the fight, stung me
into the necessity of some sort of blind action on my own part. I
remembered the first man, and that he would surely be armed. I ran out
toward the center of the room, stumbled over the boxes of gold, and
fell sprawling along the floor. Without so much as getting on my feet
again I groped about until I found the prostrate body. It took me only
a moment to feel about that limp mass, discover the revolver, and draw
it from its pocket. I was still on my knees when I heard Creegan call
out through the darkness.
The light! he gasped. Turn on the light!
I swung recklessly about at the note of alarm in his voice and tried
to grope my way toward him. Only some last extremity could have wrung
that call from him. It was only too plain that his position was now a
perilous one. But what that peril was I could not decipher.
Where are you? I gasped, feeling that wherever he lay he needed
help, that the quickest service I could render him would be to reach
The light, you fool! he cried out. The light!
I dodged and groped back to the wall where I felt the light-switch
to be. I had my fingers actually on the switch when an arm like the arm
of a derrick itself swung about through the darkness, and at one stroke
knocked the breath out of my body and flattened me against the wall.
Before I could recover my breath, a second movement spun me half around
and lifted me clear off my feet. By this time the great arm was close
about me, pinning my hands down to my side.
Before I could cry out or make an effort to escape, the great hulk
holding me had shifted his grip, bringing me about directly in front of
him and holding me there with such a powerful grasp that it made
breathing a thing of torture. And as he held me there, he reached out
and turned on the light with his own hand. I knew, even before I
actually saw him, that it was the third man.
I also knew, even before that light came on, what his purpose was.
He was holding me there as a shield in front of him. This much I
realized even before I saw the revolver with which he was menacing the
enemy in front of him. What held my blinking and bewildered eyes was
the fact that Creegan himself, on the far side of the room, was holding
the struggling and twisting body of the man called Redney in precisely
the same position.
But what disheartened me was the discovery that Creegan held nothing
but a night-stick in his left hand. All the strength of his right hand,
I could see, was needed to hold his man. And his revolver was still in
I had the presence of mind to remember my own revolver. And my
predicament made me desperate. That gang had sown their dragon teeth, I
decided, and now they could reap their harvest.
I made a pretense of struggling away from my captor's clutch, but
all the while I was working one elbow back, farther and farther back,
so that a hand could be thrust into my coat pocket. I reached the
pocket without being noticed. My fingers closed about the butt of the
revolver. And still my purpose had not been discovered.
As I lifted that firearm from my pocket I was no longer a reasoning
human being. At the same time I felt this red flash of rage through my
body, I also felt the clutch about my waist relax. The big man behind
me was ejaculating a single word. It was Creegan!
Why that one shout should have the debilitating effect on Creegan
which it did, I had no means of knowing. But I saw the sweat-stained
and blood-marked face of my colleague suddenly change. His eyes stared
stupidly, his jaw fell, and he stood there, panting and open-mouthed,
as though the last drop of courage had been driven out of his body.
I felt that he was giving up, that he was surrendering, even before
I saw him let the man he had been holding fall away from him. But I
remembered the revolver in my hand and the ignominies I had suffered.
And again I felt that wave of something stronger than my own will, and
I knew that my moment had come.
I had the revolver at half-arm, with its muzzle in against the body
crushing mine, when Creegan's voice, sharp and short as a bark,
arrested that impending finger-twitch.
Stop! he cried, and the horror of his voice puzzled me.
Why? I demanded in a new and terrible calm. But I did not lower my
Stop that! he shouted, and his newer note, more of anger than
fear, bewildered me a bit.
But Creegan, as he caught at the coat collar of the man called
Redney, did not answer my repeated question. Instead, he stared at the
man beside me.
Well, I'll be damned! he finally murmured.
What t' hell are you doin' here? cut in the big man as he
pushed my revolver-end away and dropped his own gun into his pocket.
I've been trailin' these guys for five weeksand I want to know why
you're queerin' my job!
Creegan, who had been feeling his front teeth between an
investigatory thumb and forefinger, blinked up at the big man. Then he
turned angrily on me.
Put down that gun! he howled. He took a deep breath. Then he
laughed, mirthlessly, disgustedly. You can't shoot him!
Why can't I?
He's a stool pigeon! A singed cat!
And what's a stool pigeon? I demanded. And what's a singed cat?
Creegan laughed for the second time as he wiped his mouth with the
back of his hand.
He's a Headquarters gink who stays on the fence, and tries to hunt
with the hounds the same time he's runnin' with the haresand gener'ly
goes round queerin' an honest officer's work. And I guess he's queered
ours. So about the only thing for us to do, 's far as I can see, is for
us to crawl off home and go to bed!
CHAPTER VIII. THE DUMMY-CHUCKER
It was unquestionably a momentous night, that night I discharged
Latreille. I had felt the thing coming, for weeks. But I had apparently
been afraid to face it. I had temporized and dallied along, dreading
the ordeal. Twice I had even bowed to tacit blackmail, suavely
disguised as mere advances of salary. Almost daily, too, I had been
subjected to vague insolences which were all the more humiliating
because they remained inarticulate and incontestable. And I realized
that the thing had to come to an end.
I saw that end when Benson reported to me that Latreille had none
too quietly entertained a friend of his in my study, during my absence.
I could have forgiven the loss of the cigars, and the disappearance of
the cognac, but the foot-marks on my treasured old San Domingoan
mahogany console-table and the overturning of my Ch'ien-lung lapis
bottle were things which could not be overlooked.
I saw red, at that, and promptly and unquaveringly sent for
Latreille. And I think I rather surprised that cool-eyed scoundrel, for
I had grown to know life a little better, of late. I had learned to
stand less timorous before its darker sides and its rougher seams. I
could show that designing chauffeur I was no longer in his power by
showing that I was no longer afraid of him. And this latter I sought to
demonstrate by promptly and calmly and unequivocally announcing that he
was from that day and that hour discharged from my service.
You can't do it! he said, staring at me with surprised yet none
the less insolent eyes.
I have done it, I explained. You're discharged, now. And the
sooner you get out the better it will suit me.
And you're ready to take that risk? he demanded, studying me from
under his lowered brows.
Any risks I care to assume in this existence of mine, I coolly
informed him, are matters which concern me alone. Turn your keys and
service-clothes and things in to Benson. And if there's one item
missing, you'll pay for it.
How? he demanded, with a sneer.
By being put where you belong, I told him.
And where's that?
He laughed at this. But he stopped short as he saw me go out to the
door and fling it open. Then he turned and faced me.
I'll make things interesting for you! he announced, slowly and
pregnantly, and with an ugly forward-thrust of his ugly pointed chin.
It was my turn to laugh.
You have made them interesting, I acknowledged. But now
they are getting monotonous.
They won't stay that way, he averred.
I met his eye, without a wince. I could feel my fighting blood
getting hotter and hotter.
You understand English, don't you? I told him. You heard me say
get out, didn't you?
He stared at me, with that black scowl of his, for a full half
minute. Then he turned on his heel and stalked out of the room.
I wasn't sorry to see him go, but I knew, as he went, that he was
carrying away with him something precious. He was carrying away with
him my peace of mind for that whole blessed night.
Sleep, I knew, was out of the question. It would be foolish even to
attempt to court it. I felt the familiar neurasthenic call for open
spaces, the necessity for physical freedom and fresh air. And it was
that, I suppose, which took me wandering off toward the water-front,
where I sat on a string-piece smoking my seventh cigarette and thinking
of Creegan and his singed cat as I watched the light-spangled Hudson.
I had squatted there for a full half-hour, I think, before I became
even vaguely conscious of the other presence so near me. I had no
clear-cut memory of that figure's advent. I had no impression of its
movement about my immediate neighborhood, I feel sure, until my
self-absorbed meditations were broken into by the discovery that the
stranger on the same wharf where I loitered had quietly and
deliberately risen to an erect position. It startled me a little, in
fact, to find that he was standing at one end of the same string-piece
where I sat.
Then something about the figure brought a slow perplexity into my
mind, as I lounged there inhaling the musky harbor-odors, under a sky
that seemed Italian in its serenity, and a soft and silvery moon that
made the shuttling ferries into shadows scaled with Roman gold. This
perplexity grew into bewilderment, for as I studied the lean figure
with its loose-fitting paddock-coat flapping in the wharf-end breeze I
was reminded of something disturbing, of something awesome. The gaunt
form so voluminously draped, the cadaverous face with the startlingly
sunken cheeks, the touch of tragedy in the entire attitude, brought
sharply and suddenly to my mind the thought of a shrouded and
hollow-eyed symbol of Death, needing only the scythe of honored
tradition to translate it into the finished picture.
He stood there for some time, without moving, studying the water
that ran like seamless black velvet under the wharf-end. Then he slowly
took off his coat, folded it and placed it on the string-piece, and on
top of this again placed his hat. Then he laughed audibly. I looked
away, dreading that some spoken triviality might spoil a picture so
appealingly mysterious. When I next peered up at him he seemed engaged
in the absurd occupation of slowly turning inside out the quite empty
pockets of his clothing. Then he once more looked down at the black
Those oily velvet eddies, apparently, were too much for him. I saw
him cover his face with his hands and sway back with a tragically
helpless mutter of I can't do it! And both the gesture and the words
made my mind go back to the man from Medicine Hat.
A thousand crawling little tendrils of curiosity over-ran resentment
at being thus disturbed in my quest for solitude. I continued my overt
watch of the incredibly thin stranger who was still peering down at the
slip-water. I was startled, a minute or two later, to hear him emit a
throat-chuckle that was as defiant as it was disagreeable. Then with an
oddly nervous gesture of repudiation he caught up his hat and coat,
turned on his heel, and passed like a shadow down the quietness of the
I turned and followed him. The tragedy recorded on that pallid face
was above all pretense. He could never be taken for a dummy-chucker;
the thing was genuine. Any man who could squeeze life so dry that he
thought of tossing it away like an orange-skin was worth following. He
seemed a contradiction to everything in the city that surrounded us, in
that mad city where every mortal appeared so intent on living, where
the forlornest wrecks clung so feverishly to life, and where life
itself, on that murmurous and moonlit night, seemed so full of
I followed him back to the city, speculating, as idle minds will, on
who and what he was and by what mischance he had been cast into this
lowest pit of indifferency. More things than his mere apparel assured
me he was not a crust-thrower. I kept close at his heels until we
came to Broadway, startling myself with the sudden wonder if he, too,
were a victim of those relentless hounds of wakefulness that turn night
into a never-ending inquisition.
Then all speculation suddenly ended, for I saw that he had come to a
stop and was gazing perplexedly up and down the light-strewn channel of
Broadway. I noticed his eye waver on a passing figure or two, whom he
seemed about to accost. Then, as though from that passing throng he
beheld something kindred and common in my face, he touched me lightly
on the arm.
I came to a stop, looking him full in the face. There seemed almost
a touch of the supernatural in that encounter, as though two wondering
ghosts stood gazing at each other on the loneliest edges of a No-man's
He did not speak, as I was afraid he might, and send a mallet of
banality crashing down on that crystal of wonderment. He merely waved
one thin hand toward the façade of a mirrored and pillared caravansary
wherein, I knew, it was the wont of the homeless New Yorker to purchase
a three-hour lease on three feet of damask and thereby dream he was
probing the innermost depths of life. His gesture, I saw, was an
invitation. It was also a challenge.
And both the invitation and the challenge I accepted, in silence,
yet by a gesture which could not be mistaken. It was in silence, too,
that I followed him in through the wide doorway and seated myself
opposite him at one of the rose-shaded parallelograms of white linen
that lay about us in lines as thick and straight as tombstones in an
I did not look at him, for a moment or two, dreading as I did the
approaching return to actuality. I let my gaze wander about the
riotous-colored room into which the flood-tide of the after-theater
crowds was now eddying. It held nothing either new or appealing to me.
It was not the first time I had witnessed the stars of stageland
sitting in perigean torpor through their seven-coursed suppers, just as
it was not the first time I had meekly endured the assaulting
vulgarities of onyx pillars and pornographic art for the sake of what I
had found to be the most matchless cooking in America.
It seemed an equally old story to my new friend across the table,
for as I turned away from the surrounding flurry of bare shoulders, as
white and soft as a flurry of gull-wings, I saw that he had already
ordered a meal that was as mysteriously sumptuous as it was startlingly
expensive. He, too, was apparently no stranger to Lobster Square.
I still saw no necessity for breaking the silence, although he had
begun to drink his wine with a febrile recklessness rather amazing to
me. Yet I felt that with each breath of time the bubble of mystery was
growing bigger and bigger. The whole thing was something more than the
dare-devil adventure of a man at the end of his tether. It was more
than the extravagance of sheer hopelessness. It was something which
made me turn for the second time and study his face.
It was a remarkable enough face, remarkable for its thinness, for
its none too appealing pallor, and for a certain tragic furtiveness
which showed its owner to be not altogether at peace with his own soul.
About his figure I had already detected a certain note of distinction,
of nervous briskness, which at once lifted him above the place of the
anemic street-adventurer. There was something almost Heraclitean in the
thin-lipped and satyric mouth. The skin on the sunken cheeks seemed as
tight as the vellum across a snare-drum. From the corner of his eyes,
which were shadowed by a smooth and pallid frontal-bone, radiated a
network of minutely small wrinkles. His hands, I could see, were almost
femininely white, as womanish in their fragility as they were
disquieting in their never-ending restless movements. In actual years,
I concluded, he might have been anywhere between twenty-five and
thirty-five. He was at least younger than I first thought him. Then I
looked once more about the crowded room, for I had no wish to make my
inspection seem inquisitorial. He, too, let his eyes follow mine in
their orbit of exploration. Then, for the first time, he spoke.
They'll suffer for this some day! he suddenly declared, with the
vehemence of a Socialist confronted by the voluptuosities of a
Gomorrah. They'll suffer for it!
For what particular reason? I inquired, following his gaze about
that quite unapprehensive roomful of decorous revelers.
Because one-half of them, he avowed, are harpies, and the other
half are thieves!
Are you a New Yorker? I mildly asked him. I had been wondering if,
under the circumstances, even a voluminous paddock-coat would be
reckoned as adequate payment for a repast so princely. The man had
already proved to me that his pockets were empty.
No, I'm not, he retorted. I'm from God's country.
That doubtlessly irreproachable yet vaguely denominated territory
left me so much in doubt that I had to ask for the second time the
place of his origin.
I come from Virginia, he answered, and if I'd stayed there I
wouldn't be where I am to-night.
As this was an axiom which seemed to transcend criticism I merely
turned back to him and asked: And where are you to-night?
He lifted his glass and emptied it. Then he leaned forward across
the table, staring me in the eyes as he spoke. Do you know the town of
Hanover, down in Virginia?
I had to confess that I did not. As he sat looking at me, with a
shadow of disappointment on his lean face, I again asked him to
particularize his present whereabouts.
I'm on the last inch of the last rope-end, was his answer.
It seems to have its ameliorating condition, I remarked, glancing
about the table.
He emitted a sharp cackle of a laugh.
You'll have to leave me before I order the liqueur. This, with a
hand-sweep about the cluster of dishes, is some music I'll have to
face alone. But what's that, when you're on the last inch of the last
Your position, I ventured, sounds almost like a desperate one.
Desperate! he echoed. It's more than that. It's hopeless!
You have doubtless been visiting Wall Street or possibly buying
mining-stock? was my flippant suggestion. His manner of speech, I was
beginning to feel, was not markedly southern.
No, he cried with quick solemnity. I've been selling it.
But such activities, I assumed, were far removed from the avenues
He stared at me, absently, for a moment or two. Then he moved
restlessly in his chair.
Did you ever hear of a wire-tapper? he demanded.
Quite often, I answered.
Did you ever fall for one of their yarns? Did you ever walk into
one of their nice, gold-plated traps and have them shake you down for
everything you ownedand even for things you didn't own?
Here was a misfortune, I had to confess, which had not yet knocked
at my door.
I came up to this town with thirty thousand dollars, and not quite
a third of it my own. Twenty of it was for a marble quarry we were
going to open up on the Potomac. They sent me north to put through the
deal. It was new to me, all right. I wasn't used to a town where they
have to chain the door-mats down and you daren't speak to your neighbor
without a police-permit. And when a prosperous-looking traveler at my
hotel got talking about horses and races and the string that Keene sent
south last winter, he struck something that was pretty close to me, for
that's what we go in for down homehorse-breeding and stock-farming.
Then he told me how the assistant superintendent of the Western Union,
the man who managed their racing department, was an old friend of his.
He also allowed this friend of his was ready to phone him some early
track-returns, for what he called a big rakeoff. He even took me down
to the Western Union Building, on the corner of Dey and Broadway, and
introduced me to a man he called the assistant superintendent. We met
him in one of the hallshe was in his shirt-sleeves, and looked like a
pretty busy man. He was to hold back the returns until our bets could
be laid. He explained that he himself couldn't figure in the thing, but
that his sister-in-law might possibly handle the returns over her own
That sounds very familiar, I sadly commented.
He seemed to lose interest when he found I had only a few thousand
dollars of my own. He said the killing would be a quarter of a million,
and the risk for holding up the company's despatches would be too great
for him to bother with small bets. But he said he'd try out the plan
that afternoon. So my traveler friend took me up to a pool-room with
racing-sheets and blackboards and half a dozen telegraph keys and twice
as many telephones. It looked like the real thing to me. When the
returns started to come in and we got our flash, our private tip from
the Western Union office, I tried fifty dollars on a three-to-one
And of course you won, was my sympathetic rejoinder, as I sat
listening to the old, sad tale. You always do.
Then I met the woman I spoke about, the woman who called herself
the sister-in-law of the racing-wire manager.
And what was she like? I inquired.
She looked a good deal like any of these women around here, he
said with an eye-sweep over the flurry of gull-wing backs and the
garden of finery that surrounded us. She looked good enough to get
my thirty thousand and put me down and out.
At which he laughed his mirthless and mummy-like laugh.
You see, I had sense enough to get cold feet, overnight. But when I
talked it over with her next day, and I saw her calling up a few of her
Wall Street friends, I kind of forgot my scruples. She got me thinking
crooked again. And that's all. That's where the story ends.
His docility, as I sat thinking of that odious and flamboyant type
of she-harpy, began to irritate me.
But why should it end here? I demanded.
Because I put twenty thousand dollars of other people's money into
a phony game, and lost it.
Well, what of it?
Do you suppose I could go home with that hanging over me?
Supposing you can't. Is that any reason why you should lie down at
this stage of the game?
But I've lost, he averred. Everything's gone!
'All is not lost,' I quoted, feeling very much like Francis the
First after the Battle of Pavia, 'till honor's self is gone!'
But even that's gone, was his listless retort. He looked
up, almost angrily, at my movement of impatience. Well, what would
you do about it? he challenged.
I'd get that money back or I'd get that gang behind the bars, was
the answer I flung out at him. I'd fight them to a finish.
But there's nothing to fight. There's nobody to get hold of. That
Western Union man was only a capper, a come-on. Their poolroom's one of
those dirigible kind that move on when the police appear. Then they'd
claim I was as bad as they were, trying to trick an honest bookmaker
out of his money. And besides, there's nothing left to show I ever
handed them over anything.
Then I'd keep at it until I found something, I declared. How
about the woman?'
She'd be too clever to get caught. And I don't suppose she'd know
me from a piece of cheese.
Do you suppose you could in any way get me in touch with her? I
But she's got police protection. I tried to have her arrested
myself. The officer told me to be on my way, or he'd run me in.
Then you know where she lives? I quickly inquired.
He hesitated for a moment, as though my question had caught him
unawares. Then he mentioned one of the smaller apartment-hotels of
And what's her name?
Again he hesitated before answering.
Oh, she's got a dozen, I suppose. The only one I know is Brunelle,
Vinnie Brunelle. That's the name she answered to up there. But look
hereyou're not going to try to see her, are you?
That I can't tell until to-morrow.
I don't think there'll be any to-morrow, for me, he rejoined, as
his earlier listless look returned to his face. He even peered up a
little startled, as I rose to my feet.
That's nonsense, was my answer. We're going to meet here
to-morrow night to talk things over.
But why? he protested.
Because it strikes me you've got a duty to perform, a very serious
duty. And if I can be of any service to you it will be a very great
pleasure to me. And in the meantime, I might add that I am paying for
this little supper.
There is no activity more explosive than that of the chronic idler.
Once out on Broadway, accordingly, I did not let the grass grow under
my feet. Two minutes at the telephone and ten more in a taxicab brought
me in touch with my old friend Doyle who was working a mulatto
shooting case in lower Seventh Avenue as quietly as a gardener working
What do you know about a woman named Vinnie Brunelle? I demanded.
He studied the pavement. Then he shook his head. The name clearly
meant nothing to him.
Give me something more to work on!
She's a young woman who lives by her wits. She keeps up a very good
front, and now and then does a variety of the wire-tapping game.
I wonder if that wouldn't be the Cassal woman Andrus used as a
come-on for his Mexican mine game? But she claimed Andrus had
And what else? I inquired.
Doyle stood silent, wrapt in thought for a moment or two.
Oh, that's about all. I've heard she's an uncommonly clever woman,
about the cleverest woman in the world. But what are you after?
I want her recordall of it.
That sort of woman never has a record. That's what cleverness is,
my boy, maintaining your reputation at the expense of your character.
You've given birth to an epigram, I complained, but you haven't
helped me out of my dilemma. Whereupon he asked me for a card.
I'm going to give you a line to ShermanCamera-Eye Sherman we used
to call him down at Headquarters. He's with the Bankers' Association
now, but he was with our Identification Bureau so long he knows 'em all
like his own family.
And on the bottom of my card I saw Doyle write: Please tell him
what you can of Vinnie Brunelle.
Of course I couldn't see him to-night?
Doyle looked at his watch.
Yes, you can. You'll get him up at his apartment on Riverside. And
I'll give you odds you'll find the old night-owl playing bezique with
That, in fact, was precisely what I found the man with the
camera-eye doing. He sat there dealing out the cards, at one o'clock in
the morning, with a face as mild and bland as a Venetian cardinal
feeding his pigeons.
My host looked at the card in his fingers, looked at me, and then
looked at the card again.
She got you in trouble? was his laconic query.
I have never met the lady. But a friend of mine has, I'm sorry to
say. And I want to do what I can to help him out.
How much did he lose?
About thirty thousand dollars, he claims.
What was the game?
It appears to have been one of those so-called wire-tapping coups.
Funny how that always gets 'em! ruminated that verger of
long-immured faces. Well, here's what I know about Vinnie. Seven or
eight years ago she was an artist's model. Then a sculptor called
Delisle took her over to Parisshe was still in her teens then. But
she was too brainy to stick to the studio-rat arrangement. She soon
came to the end of her rope there. Then she came homeI've an idea she
tried the stage and couldn't make it go. Then she was a pearl-agent in
London. Then she played a variation of the 'lost-heir' game in what was
called the Southam case, working under an English confidence-man called
Adams. Then she got disgusted with Adams and came back to America. She
had to take what she could get, and for a few weeks was a capper for a
high-grade woman's bucket-shop. When Headquarters closed up the shop
she went south and was in some way involved in the Parra uprising in
the eastern end of Cuba.
My apathetic chronicler paused for a moment or two, studying his
Then she married a Haytian half-cast Jew in the Brazilian coffee
business who'd bought a Spanish title. Then she threw the title and the
coffee-man over and came back to Washington, where she worked the ropes
as a lobbyist for a winter or two. Then she took to going to Europe
every month or so. I won't say she was a steamship gambler. I don't
think she was. But she made friendsand she could play a game of
bridge that'd bring your back hair up on end. Then she worked with a
mining share manipulator named Andrus. She was wise enough to slip from
under before he was sent up the river. And since then they tell me,
she's been doing a more or less respectable game or two with Coke
Whelan, the wire-tapper. And that, I guess, is about all.
Has she ever been arrested that you know of? Would they have her
picture, for instance, down at Headquarters?
The man who had grown old in the study of crime smiled a little.
You can't arrest a woman until you get evidence against her.
Yet you're positive she was involved in a number of crooked
I never called her a crook, protested my host, with an
impersonality that suddenly became as Olympian as it was exasperating.
No one ever proved to me she was a crook.
Well, I'm going to prove it. And I rather imagine I'm going to have
her arrested. Why, I demanded, nettled by his satiric smile, you
don't mean to say that a woman like that's immune?
No, I wouldn't say she was immune, exactly. On the other hand, I
guess she's helped our people in a case or two, when it paid her.
You mean she's really an informer, what they call a welcher?
By no means. She's just clever, that's all. The only time she ever
turned on her own people was when they threw her down, threw her flat.
Then she did a bit of secret service work for Wilkie's office in
Washington that gave her more pull than all your Tammany 'polities'
east of Broadway.
Am I to understand that what you call politics and pull, then, will
let a woman rob a man of thirty thousand dollars and go scot free?
My dear fellow, that type of woman never robs a man. She
doesn't need to. They just blink and hand it over. Then they think of
home and mother, about ten hours after.
But that doesn't sound quite reasonable, I contended.
The older man looked solemnly at his cigar-end before asking his
Have you seen her yet?
No, I haven't, I replied as I rose to go. But I intend to.
He moved his heavy shoulder in a quick half-circular forward thrust.
It might have meant anything. But I did not linger to find out. I was
too impressed with the need of prompt and personal action on my part to
care much for the advice of outsiders.
But as each wakeful hour went by I found myself possessed of an ever
widening curiosity to see this odd and interesting woman who, as Doyle
expressed it, had retained reputation at the expense of character.
It was extremely early the next morning that I presented myself at
Vinnie Brunelle's apartment-hotel. I had not only slept badly; I had
also dreamed of myself as a flagellant monk sent across scorching sands
to beg a barbaric and green-eyed Thais to desist from tapping
telegraph-wires leading into the camp of Alexander the Great.
The absurdity of that opianic nightmare seemed to project itself
into my actual movements of the morning. The exacting white light of
day withered the last tendril of romance from my quixotic crusade. It
was only by assuring myself, not so much that I was espousing the cause
of the fallen, but that I was about to meet a type of woman quite new
to my experience, that I was able to face Miss Brunelle's unbetrayingly
This door was duly answered by a maid, by a surprisingly decorous
maid in white cap and apron. I was conscious of her veiled yet
inquisitorial eye resting on my abashed person for the smallest
fraction of a second. I almost suspected that in that eye might be
detected a trace of something strangely like contempt. But, a little to
my astonishment, I was admitted quite without question.
Miss Brunelle is just back from her morning ride in the park, this
I entered what was plainly a dining-room, a small but well-lighted
chamber. Striped awnings still kept the tempered autumn sun from the
opened windows, where a double row of scarlet geranium-tops stood
nodding in the breeze. At one end of the table in the center of the
room sat a woman, eating her breakfast.
She was younger looking, much younger looking, than I had thought
she would be. Had she not sat there already inundated by the corroding
acids of an earlier prejudice, I would even have admitted that she was
an extremely beautiful woman.
She was in a rose-colored dressing-gown which showed a satin-like
smoothness of skin at the throat and arms. Her eyes, I could see, were
something between a hazel and a green, set wide apart under a Pallas
Athena brow, that might have been called serene, but for some spirit of
rebellion vaguely refracted from the lower part of the face. The
vividness of her color, which even the flaming sweep of her gown could
not altogether discount, made me think of material buoyancies, of
living flesh and blood and a body freshly bathed.
Her gaze was direct, disconcertingly direct. It even made me
question whether or not she was reading my thought as I noted that her
hands were large and white, that her mouth, for all its brooding
discontent, was not without humor, and, strangely enough, that her
fingers, ears, and throat were without a touch of that jewelry which I
had thought peculiar to her kind.
That she possessed some vague yet menacing gift of intimacy I could
only too plainly feel, not so much from the undisturbed ease of her
pose and the negligently open throat and arms as from the direct gaze
of those searching and limpid eyes, which proclaimed that few of the
poppied illusions of life could flower in their neighborhood. This
discomforting sense of mental clarity, in fact, forced me into the
consciousness not so much of being in the presence of a soft and
luxurious body as of standing face to face with a spirit that in its
incongruous way was as austere as it was alert.
You wish to see me? she said, over her coffee-cup. My second
glance showed me that she was eating a breakfast of iced grape-fruit
and chops and scrambled eggs and buttered toast.
Very much, I answered.
About what? she inquired, breaking a square of toast.
About the unfortunate position of a young gentleman who has just
parted company with thirty thousand dollars!
She bent her head, with its loose and heavy coils of dark hair, and
glanced at my card before she spoke again.
And what could I possibly do for him?
There was something neither soothing nor encouraging in her
unruffled calmness. But I did not intend to be disarmed by any
theatrical parade of tranquillity.
You might, I suggested, return the thirty thousand.
There was more languor than active challenge in her glance as she
turned and looked at me.
And I don't think I even know who you are, she murmured.
But I happen to know just who you are, was my prompt and none too
She pushed back her hairit seemed very thick and heavyand
laughed a little.
Who am I? she asked, licking the toast-crumbs from her white
I'll tell you who you are, I retorted with some heat. You're a
figure-model that a sculptor named Delisle took to Paris. You're the
old running-mate of Adams in the Southam heir case. You're the wife of
a Haytian half-caste Jew with a Spanish title. You're the woman who
worked with Andrus, the wildcat mine-swindler who is now doing time in
Sing Sing. And just at present you're the accomplice of a gang headed
by a certain Coke Whelan, a wire-tapper well known to the police.
Her face showed no anger and no resentment as I unburdened myself of
this unsavory pedigree. Her studious eyes, in fact, became almost
And supposing that's all true? she finally asked. What of it?
She sat and looked at me, as cool as a cucumber. I could no longer
deny that as a type she interested me. Her untamed audacities were
something new to my experience. She seemed still in the feral state.
Her mere presence, as she sat there in the lucid morning light, exerted
over me that same spell which keeps children rooted before a
What of it? she quietly repeated.
I'm afraid there's nothing of it, I admitted, except in the one
point where it impinges on my personal interests. I intend to get that
thirty thousand dollars back.
The resolution of my tone seemed only to amuse her.
But why come to me? she asked, turning back to her breakfast.
Supposing I really was a cog in some such machinery as you speak of,
how much would be left on one small cog when so many wheels had to be
I have no great interest in your gang and its methods. All I know
is a tremendous wrong's been done, and I want to see it righted.
From what motive? she asked, with that barbaric immediacy of
approach peculiar to her.
From the most disinterested of motivesI mean from the standpoint
of that rather uncommon thing known as common honesty.
She looked at me, long and intently, before she spoke again. I had
the feeling of being taken up and turned over and inspected through a
lense of implacable clarity.
Do you know this young man who lost his money on what he took for a
I have met him, I answered, a little discomfited at the
recollection of how tenuous that acquaintanceship was.
And have you known him long?
I was compelled to confess to the contrary.
And you understand the case, through and through?
I think I do, was my curt retort.
She turned on me quickly, as though about to break into an answering
flash of anger. But on second thoughts she remained silent.
If life were only as simple as you sentimental charity-workers try
to make it! she complained, studying me with a pitying look which I
began most keenly to resent. She swept the room with a glance of
contempt. If all those hay-tossers who come to this town and have
their money taken away from them were only as lamb-like as you people
imagine they are!
Is this an effort toward the justification of theft? I inquired.
For the first time I saw a touch of deeper color mark her cheek. I had
been conscious of a certain duality in her mental equipment, just as I
could detect a higher and lower plane in her manner of speech.
Not at all, she retorted. I'm not talking of theft. And we may as
well keep to cases. I don't think very much is ever gained by being
impolite, do you?
I was compelled to agree with her, though I could not shake off the
feeling that she had in some dim way scored against me. And this was
the woman I had once feared would try to toy with my coat-buttons.
I'm afraid, she went on with her grave abstraction of tone, that
you'll find me very matter-of-fact. A woman can't see as much of the
world as I have and thenoh! and then beat it back to the Elsie
I resented the drop to the lower plane, as though she had concluded
the upper one to be incomprehensible to me.
Pardon me, madam; it's not my windmills I'm trying to be true to;
it's one of my promises.
The promise was a very foolish one, she mildly protested. Yet for
all that, she added, as an afterthought, you're intelligent. And I
Still again her deep and searching eyes rested on my face. Her next
words seemed more a soliloquy than a speech.
Yet you are doing this just to be true to your windmills. You're
doing it out of nothing more than blind and quixotic generosity.
The fact that my allusion had not been lost on her pleased me a
little more, I think, than did her stare of perplexed commiseration.
Isn't is odd, she said, how we go wrong about things, how we jump
at conclusions and misjudge people? You think, at this very moment,
that I'm the one who sees crooked, that I'm the one who's lost my
perspective on things. And now I'm going to do something I hadn't the
remotest intention of doing when you came into this room.
And what is that?
I'm going to show you how wrong you've been, how wrong you are.
In what? I inquired as she again sat in silence before me.
In everything, she finally answered, as she rose to her feet. I
was at once more conscious of her physical appeal, of her inalienable
bodily buoyancy, as I saw her standing there at her full height. The
deep flow of color in her loosely draped gown gave her an almost
pontifical stateliness. Instinctively I rose as she did. And I could
see by her eyes that the courtesy was neither negligible nor
distasteful to her. She was about to say something; then she stopped
and looked at me for a hesitating moment or two.
One would have thought, from the solemnity of that stare, that she
faced the very Rubicon of her life. But a moment later she laughed
aloud, and with a multitudinous rustling of skirts crossed the room and
opened an inner door.
Through this door, for a moment or two, she completely left my
sight. Then she returned, holding a cabinet photograph in her hand.
Do you know it? she quietly asked as she passed it over to me.
It took but a glance to show me that it was a picture of the man
whose cause I was at that moment espousing, the man I had followed from
the North River pier-end the night before. A second glance showed me
that the photograph had been taken in London; it bore the stamped
inscription: Garet Childs, Regent's Park, N. W.
The woman's sustained attitude of anticipation, of expectation
unfulfilled, puzzled me. I saw nothing remarkable about the picture or
her possession of it.
This, I believe, is the man you're trying to save from the clutches
of a wire-tapper named Whelan, Coke Whelan, as you call him?
I acknowledged that it was.
Now look at the signature written across it, she prompted.
I did as she suggested. Inscribed there I read: Sincerely and more,
Duncan Cory Whelan.
Have I now made the situation comparatively clear to you? she
asked, watching my face as I looked from her to the photograph and then
back to her again.
I must confess, I don't quite grasp it, I admitted, thinking at
the moment how her face in the strong side-light from the windows had
taken on a quite accidental touch of pathos.
It's simply that the man you are trying to save from Coke Whelan is
Coke Whelan himself.
That's impossible! was my exclamation.
It's not impossible, she said a little wearily, because the whole
thing's nothing more than a plant, a frame-up. And you may as well know
it. It can't go on. The whole thing was a plan to trap you.
A plan to trap me?
Yes, a carefully worked-out plan to gather you in. And now, you
see, the machinery is slipping a cog where it wasn't expected to!
I stood there incredulous, dazed, trying to digest the shock.
You mean that the man I met and talked to last night is actually an
accomplice of yours?
Yes, she answered, if you care to put it that way.
But I can't believe it. I won't believe it until you bring
him here and prove it.
She sank into her chair, with a half-listless motion for me to be
Do you know why he's called Coke Whelan? she demanded.
I did not.
That, too, you've got to know. It's because he's a heroin and
cocaine fiend. He's killing himself with the use of drugs. He's making
everything impossible. It's left him irresponsible, as dangerous as any
lunatic would be at large.
She turned and looked at a tiny jeweled watch.
He will be here himself by ten o'clock. And if he heard me saving
what I am at this moment, he would kill me as calmly as he'd sit at a
café table and lie to you.
But what's the good of those lies?
Don't you suppose he knew you were Witter Kerfoot, that among other
things you owned a house, and a car, that you were worth making a try
for? Don't you suppose he found all that out before he laid his ropes
for this wire-tapping story? Can't you see the part I was to
play, to follow his lead and show you how we could never bring his
money back, but that we could face the gang with their own fire. I was
to weaken and show you how we could tap the tapper's own wire, choose
the race that promised the best odds, and induce you to plunge against
the house on what seemed a sure thing?
I sat there doing my best to Fletcherize what seemed a remarkably
big bite of information.
But why are you telling me all this? I still parried, pushing back
from the flattering consciousness that we had a secret in common, that
I had proved worthy an intimacy denied others.
Because I've just decided it's the easiest way out.
What made you decide that?
I've done a lot of thinking since you came into this room. And for
a long time I've been doing a lot of thinking. I don't do things Coke
Whelan's way. I took pity on him, once. But I'm getting tired of trying
to keep him up when he insists on dropping lower, lower and lower every
day. Don't imagine, because you've got certain ideas of me and my life,
that I haven't common sense, that I can't see what this other sort of
thing leads to. I've seen too many of them, and how they all ended. I
may have been mixed up with some strange company in my day, but I want
you to know that I've kept my hands clean!
She had risen by this time and was moving restlessly about the room.
Do you suppose I'd ever be satisfied to be one of those painted
Broadway dolls and let my brain dry up like a lemon on a pantry shelf?
I couldn't if I wanted to. I couldn't, although I can see how easy it
makes everything. I tell you, a woman with a reputation like mine has
got to pay, and keep on paying. She's got to pay twice over for the
decencies of life. She's got to pay twice over for protection. Unless
you're respectable you can't have respectable people about you. You've
got to watch every one in your circle, watch them always, like a hawk.
You've got to watch every step you take, and every man you meetand
sometimes you get tired of it all.
She sat down, in the midst of her febrile torrent of words, and
looked at me out of clouded and questioning eyes. I knew, as I met that
troubled gaze, so touched with weariness and rebellion, that she was
speaking the truth. I could see truth written on her face. I tried to
imagine myself in her place, I tried to see life as she had seen it
during those past years, which no charity could translate into anything
approaching the beautiful. And much as I might have wished it, I could
utter no emptiest phrase of consolation. Our worlds seemed too
hopelessly wide apart for any common view-point.
What are you going to do? I asked, humiliated by the inadequacy of
the question even as I uttered it.
I'm going to get away from it. I'm going to get away where I can
breathe in peace. Oh, believe me, I can be irreproachable without even
an effort. I want to be. I prefer it. I've found how much easier it
makes life. It's not my past I've been afraid of. It's that one
drug-soaked maniac, that poor helpless thing who knows that if I step
away from him he daren't round a street-corner without being arrested.
She stopped suddenly and the color ebbed out of her face. Then I saw
her slowly rise to her feet and look undecidedly about the four corners
of the room. Then she turned to me. Her eyes seemed ridiculously
He's come! she said, in little more than a whisper. He's
The door opened before I could speak. But even before the
mummy-faced man I had left at the café table the night before could
stride into the room, the woman in front of me sank back into her
chair. Over her face came a change, a veil, a quickly coerced and
smiling-lipped blankness that reminded me of a pastoral stage-drop
shutting out some grim and moving tragedy.
The change in the bearing and attitude of the intruder was equally
prompt as his startled eyes fell on me calmly seated within those four
walls. He was not as quick as the woman in catching his cue.
I could plainly detect the interrogative look he flashed at her, the
look which demanded as plain as words: What is this man doing here?
This, said the woman at the table, in her most dulcet and equable
tones, is the altruistic gentleman who objects to your losing thirty
thousand dollars in a race which I had no earthly way of controlling.
Here, I saw, was histrionism without a flaw. Her fellow-actor, I
could also see, was taking more time to adjust himself to his rôle. He
was less finished in his assumption of accusatory indignation. But he
did his best to rise to the occasion.
I've got to get that money back, he cried, leveling a shaking
finger at her. And I'm going to do it without dragging my friends into
She walked over to the windows and closed them before she spoke.
What's the use of going over all that? she continued, and I had
the impression of sitting before a row of foot-lights and watching an
acted drama. You took your risk and lost. I didn't get it. It's not my
fault. You know as well as I do that McGowan and Noyes will never open
up unless you're in a position to make them. It's a case of dog eat
dog, of fighting fire with fire. And I've just been telling it all to
your friend Mr. Kerfoot, who seems to think he's going to have some one
arrested if we don't suddenly do the right thing.
I want my money! cried the man named Whelan. I could see, even as
he delivered his lines, that his mind was floundering and groping
wildly about for solid ground.
And Mr. Kerfoot, continued the tranquil-voiced woman at the table,
says he has a house in Gramercy Square where we can go and have a
conference. I've phoned for a telegraph operator called Downey to be
there, so we can decide on a plan for tapping McGowan's wire.
And what good does that do me? demanded the mummy-faced youth.
Why, that gives Mr. Kerfoot his chance to bet as much as he likes,
to get as much back from McGowan as he wants to, without any risk of
But who handles the money? demanded the wary Whelan.
That's quite immaterial. You can, if you're his friend, or
he can handle it himself. The important thing is to get your plan
settled and your wire tapped. And if Mr. Kerfoot will be so good as to
telephone to his butler I'll dress and be ready in ten minutes.
She leaned forward and swung an equipoise phone-bracket round to my
But I did not lift the receiver from its hook. For at that moment
the door abruptly opened. The maid in the white cap and apron stood
trembling on its threshold.
That's a lie! she was crying, in her shrill and sudden abandon,
and the twin badges of servitude made doubly incongruous her attitude
of fierce revolt. It's a lie, Tony! She's welched on you!
She took three quick steps into the room.
She's only playing you against this guy. I've heard every word of
it. She never phoned for an operator. That's a lie. She's throwing you
down, for good. She's told him who you are and what your game is!
I looked at the other woman. She was now on her feet.
Don't let her fool you this time, Tony, was the passionate cry
from the quivering breast under the incongruous white apron-straps.
Look at how she's treated you! Look at your picture there, that she
cinched her talk with! She never did half what I did for you! And now
you're letting her throw you flat! You're standing there and letting
The woman stopped, and put her hands over her ears. For she saw,
even as I did, the hollow-eyed, mummy-faced youth reach a shaking hand
back to his hip.
You liar! he said, as his hand swung up with the revolver in it.
You lying welcher! he cried, in a thin and throaty voice that was
little more than a cackle.
He took one step toward the woman in the rose-colored dressing-gown.
She was, I could see, much the taller of the two. And she was standing,
now, with her back flat against the wall. She made no attempt to
escape. She was still staring at him out of wide and bewildered eyes
when he fired.
I saw the spit of the plaster and the little shower of mortar that
rained on her bare shoulder from the bullet-hole in the wall.
Then I did a very ordinary and commonplace thing. I stooped quickly
forward to the end of the table and caught up the nickeled coffee-pot
by its ebony handle. The lunatic with the smoking revolver saw my
sudden movement, for as I swung the metal instrument upward he turned
on me and fired for the second time.
I could feel the sting of the powder smoke on my up-thrust wrist. I
knew then that it was useless to try to reach him. I simply brought my
arm forward and let the metal pot fly from my hand. I let it fly
forward, targeting on his white and distorted face.
Where or how it struck I could not tell. All I knew was that he went
down under a scattering geyser of black coffee. He did not fire again.
He did not even move. But as he fell the woman in the cap and apron
dropped on her knees beside him. She knelt there with an inarticulate
cry like that of an animal over its fallen mate, a ludicrous,
mouse-like sound that was almost a squeak. Then she suddenly edged
about and reached out for the fallen revolver.
I saw her through the smoke, but she had the gun in her hand before
I could stop her. She fought over it like a wildcat. The peril of that
combat made me desperate. Her arm was quite thin, and not overly
strong. I first twisted it so the gun-barrel pointed outward. The pain,
as I continued to twist, must have been intense. But I knew it was no
time for half-measures. Just how intense that pain was came home to me
a moment later, when the woman fell forward on her face, in a dead
The other woman had calmly thrown open the windows. She watched me,
almost apathetically, as I got to my feet and stooped in alarm over the
unconscious man in his ridiculous welter of black coffee. Then she
stepped closer to me.
Have you killed him? she asked, with more a touch of childlike
wonder than any actual fear.
No; he's only stunned.
It caught him here on the forehead. He'll be around in a minute or
Once more I could hear the multitudinous rustle as she crossed the
Put him here on my bed, she called from an open door. And as I
carried him in and dropped him in a sodden heap on the white coverlet,
I saw the woman unsheathe her writhing body of its rose-colored
wrapping. From that flurry of warmth her twisting body emerged almost
sepulchrally white. Then she came to a pause, bare-shouldered and
thoughtful before me.
Wait! she said as she crossed the room. I must telephone
Who's McCausland? I asked as she stepped out into the dining-room.
He's a man I know at Headquarters, was her impersonal-noted reply.
For the second time, as she stepped hurriedly back into the room
with me, I was conscious of the satin-like smoothness of her skin, the
baby-like whiteness of her rounded bare arms. Then wholly unabashed by
my presence, she flung open a closet door and tossed a cascade of
perfumed apparel out beside the bed where I stood.
What are you going to do? I demanded, as I saw her white-clad
figure writhe itself into a street dress. There was something
primordial and Adamitic in the very calmness with which she swept
through the flimsy reservations of sex. She was as unconscious of my
predicament as a cave woman might have been. And the next moment she
was crushing lingerie and narrow-toed shoes and toilet articles and
undecipherable garments of folded silk into an English club-bag. Then
she turned to glance at her watch on the dresser.
I'm going! she said at last, as she caught up a second hand-bag of
alligator skin and crammed into it jewel boxes of dark plush and cases
of different colored kid, and still more clothing and lingerie. I'm
going to catch the Nieuw Amsterdam.
Her quick and dextrous hands had pinned on a hat and veil as I stood
in wonder watching her.
Call a taxi, please, she said, as she struggled into her coat.
And a boy for my bags.
I was still at the receiver when she came into the room and looked
down for a moment at the woman moaning and whimpering on the
coffee-stained floor. Then she began resolutely and calmly drawing on
Couldn't we do something for them? I said as I stepped back into
the bedroom for her hand-bag.
What? she demanded, as she leaned over the bed where Whelan's
reviving body twitched and moved.
There must be something.
There's nothing. Oh, believe me, you can't help him. I can't help
him. He's got his own way to go. And it's a terribly short way!
She flung open a bureau drawer and crammed a further article or two
down in her still open chatelaine bag.
Then she opened the outer door for the boy who had come for the
bags. Then she looked at her watch again.
You must not come back, she said to me. They may be here any
Who may? I asked.
The police, she answered as she closed the door.
She did not speak again until we were at the side of the taxicab.
To the Holland American Wharf, she said.
Nor did she speak all the while we purred and hummed and dodged our
way across the city. She did not move until we jolted aboard the
ferry-boat, and the clanging of the landing-float's pawl-and-rachet
told us we were no longer on that shrill and narrow island where the
fever of life burns to the edge of its three laving rivers. It was then
and only then that I noticed the convulsive shaking of her shoulders.
What is it? I asked, helplessly, oppressed by the worlds that
seemed to stand between us.
It's nothing, she said, with her teeth against her lip. But the
next minute she was crying as forlornly and openly as a child.
What is it? I repeated, as inadequately as before, knowing the
uselessness of any debilitating touch of sympathy.
It's so hard, she said, struggling to control her voice.
It's so hard to begin over.
But they say you're the cleverest woman in the world! was the only
consolation I could offer her.
CHAPTER IX. A RIALTO RAIN-STORM
I lifted my face to the sudden pelt of the rain-shower, feeling very
much like a second edition of King Lear as I did so. Not that I had
lost a kingdom, or that I'd ever been turned out of an ungrateful home
circle! But something quite as disturbing, in its own small way, had
I had been snubbed by Mary Lockwood. While I stood watching that
sudden shower empty upper Broadway as quickly as a fusillade of bullets
might have emptied it, I encountered something which quite as promptly
emptied my own heart. It was the cut direct. For as I crouched back
under my dripping portico, like a toad under a rhubarb-leaf, I caught
sight of the only too familiar wine-colored landaulet as it swung about
into Longacre Square. I must have started forward a little, without
being quite conscious of the movement. And through the sheltering
plate-glass of the dripping hood I caught sight of Mary Lockwood
She saw me, at the same time that I saw her. In fact, she turned and
stared at me. I couldn't have escaped her, as I stood there under the
street-lamp. But no slightest sign of recognition came from that coldly
inquiring face. She neither smiled nor bowed nor looked back. And the
wine-colored landaulet swept on, leaving me standing there with my
sodden hat in my hand and a great ache of desolation in my heart.
She must have seen me, I repeated as I turned disconsolately back
and stood watching men and women still ducking under doorways and
dodging into side-streets and elbowing into theater-lobbies. It seemed
during the next few moments as though that territory once known as the
Rialto were a gopher-village and some lupine hunger had invaded it.
Before the searching nuzzles of those rain-guests all pleasure-seekers
promptly vanished. Gaily cloaked and slippered women stampeded away as
though they were made of sugar and they and their gracious curves might
melt into nothing at the first touch of water. Above the sidewalk,
twenty paces from the empty doorway where I loitered, an awning
appeared, springing up like a mushroom from a wet meadow. In toward one
end of this awning circled a chain of limousines and taxicabs,
controlled by an impassive Hercules in dripping oil-skins. And as a
carrier-belt empties grain into a mill-bin, so this unbroken chain
ejected hurrying men and women across the wet curb into the
light-spangled hopper of the theater-foyer. And the thought of that
theater, with its companionable crush of humanity, began to appeal to
my rain-swept spirit.
Yet I stood there, undecided, watching the last of the scattering
crowd, watching the street that still seemed an elongated bull-ring
where a matador or two still dodged the taurine charges of vehicles. I
watched the electric display-signs that ran like liquid ivy about the
shop fronts, and then climbed and fluttered above the roofs, misty and
softened by rain. I watched the ironic heavens pour their unabating
floods down on that congested and overripe core of a city that no water
could wash clean.
Then the desolation of the empty streets seemed to grow unbearable.
The spray that blew in across my dampened knees made me think of
shelter. I saw the lights of the theater no more than twenty paces
away. It was already a warren of crowded life. The thought of even what
diluted companionship it might offer me continued to carry an appeal
that became more and more clamorous.
A moment later I stood before its box-office window, no wider than a
medieval leper-squint, from which cramped and hungry souls buy access
to their modern temples of wonder.
Standing room only, announced the autocrat of the wicket. And I
meekly purchased my admission-ticket, remembering that the head usher
of that particular theater had in the past done me more than one slight
Yet the face of this haughtily obsequious head usher, as his hand
met mine in that free-masonry which is perpetuated by certain
silk-threaded scraps of oblong paper, was troubled.
I haven't a thing left, he whispered.
I peered disconsolately about that sea of heads seeking life through
the clumsy lattice of polite melodrama.
Unless, added the usher at my elbow, you'll take a seat in that
second lower box?
Even through the baize doors behind me I could hear the beat and
patter of the rain. It was a case of any port in a storm.
That will do nicely, I told him and a moment later he was leading
me down a side aisle into the curtained recess of the box entrance.
Yet it was not ordained that I should occupy that box in lonely and
unrivaled splendor. One of its chairs, set close to the brass rail and
plush-covered parapet that barred it off from the more protuberant
stage box, was already occupied by a man in full evening dress. He,
like myself, perhaps, had never before shared a box with other than his
own acquaintances. At any rate, before favoring me with the somewhat
limited breadth of his back, he turned on me one sidelong and
unmistakably resentful stare.
Yet I looked at this neighbor of mine, as I seated myself, with more
interest than I looked at the play-actors across the foot-lights, for I
rather preferred life in the raw to life in the sirups of stage
It startled me a little to find that the man, at the moment, was
equally oblivious of anything taking place on the stage. His eyes, in
fact, seemed fixed on the snowy shoulders of the woman who sat at the
back of the stage box, directly in front of him. As I followed the
direction of his gaze I was further surprised to discover the object on
which it was focused. He was staring, not at the woman herself, but at
a pigeon-blood ruby set in the clasp of some pendant or necklace
encircling her throat.
There was, indeed, some excuse for his staring at it. In the first
place it was an extraordinarily large and vivid stone. But against the
background where it lay, against the snow-white column of the neck
(whitened, perhaps, by a prudent application of rice powder) it stood
out in limpid ruddiness, the most vivid of fire against the purest of
snow. It was a challenge to attention. It caught and held the eye. It
stood there, just below where the hair billowed into its crown of
Venetian gold, as semaphoric as a yard-lamp to a night traveler. And I
wondered, as I sat looking at it, what element beyond curiosity could
coerce the man at my side into studying it so indolently and yet so
About the man himself there seemed little that was exceptional.
Beyond a certain quick and shrewd alertness in his eye-movements as he
looked about at me from time to time with muffled resentment which I
found not at all to my liking, he seemed medium in everything, in
coloring, in stature, in apparel. His face was of the neutral
sallowness of the sedentary New Yorker. His intelligence seemed that of
the preoccupied office-worker who could worm his way into an
ill-fitting dress suit and placidly approve of second-rate melodrama.
He seemed so without interest, in fact, that I was not averse to
directing my glance once more toward the pigeon-blood ruby which glowed
like a live coal against the marble whiteness of the neck in front of
It may have been mere accident, or it may have been that out of our
united gaze arose some vague psychic force which disturbed this young
woman. For as I sat there staring at the shimmering jewel, its wearer
suddenly turned her head and glanced back at me. The next moment I was
conscious of her nod and smile, unmistakably in my direction.
Then I saw who it was. I had been uncouthly staring at the
shoulder-blades of Alice Churchillthey were the Park Avenue
Churchillsand farther back in the box I caught a glimpse of her
brother Benny, who had come north, I knew, from the Nicaraguan coast to
recuperate from an attack of fever.
Yet I gave little thought to either of them, I must confess. At the
same time that I had seen that momentarily flashing smile I had also
discovered that the jeweled clasp on the girl's neck was holding in
place a single string of graduated pearls, of very lovely pearls, the
kind about which the frayed-cuff garret-author and the Sunday yellows
forever love to romance. I was also not unconscious of the quick and
covert glance of the man who sat so close to me.
Then I let my glance wander back to the ruby, apparently content to
study its perfect cutting and its unmatchable coloring. And I knew that
the man beside me was also sharing in that spectacle. I was, in fact,
still staring at it, so unconscious of the movement of the play on the
stage that the dark scene, when every light in the house went out for
a second or two, came to me with a distinct sense of shock.
A murmur of approval went through the house as the returning light
revealed to them a completely metamorphosed stage-setting. What this
setting was I did not know, nor did I look up to see. For as my idly
inquisitive glance once more focused itself on the columnar white neck
that towered above the chair-back a second and greater shock came to
me. Had that neck stood there without a head I could have been scarcely
The pigeon-blood ruby was gone. There was no longer any necklace
there. The column of snow was without its touch of ruddy light. It was
left as disturbingly bare as a target without its bull's-eye. It
reminded me of a marble grate without its central point of fire.
My first definite thought was that I was the witness of a crime as
audacious as it was bewildering. Yet, on second thought, it was simple
enough. The problem of proximity had already been solved. With the
utter darkness had come the opportunity, the opportunity that obviously
had been watched for. With one movement of the hand the necklace had
been quietly and cunningly removed.
My next quick thought was that the thief sat there in my immediate
neighborhood. There could be no other. There was no room for doubt. By
some mysterious and dextrous movement the man beside me had reached
forward and with that delicacy of touch doubtless born of much
experience had unclasped the jewels, all the time shrouded by the utter
darkness. The audacity of the thing was astounding, yet the
completeness with which it had succeeded was even more astounding.
I sat there compelling myself to a calmness which was not easy to
achieve. I struggled to make my scrutiny of this strange companion of
mine as quiet and leisured as possible.
Yet he seemed to feel that he was still under my eye. He seemed to
chafe at that continued survey; for even as I studied him I could see a
fine sweat of embarrassment come out on his face. He did not turn and
look at me directly, but it was plain that he was only too conscious of
my presence. And even before I quite realized what he was about, he
reached quietly over, and taking up his hat and coat, rose to his feet
and slipped out of the box.
That movement on his part swept away my last shred of hesitation.
The sheer precipitancy of his flight was proof enough of his offense.
His obvious effort to escape made me more than ever determined to keep
on his trail.
And keep on his trail I did, from the moment he sidled guiltily out
of that lighted theater foyer into the still drizzling rain of
Broadway. Stronger and ever stronger waves of indignation kept sweeping
through me as I watched him skulk northward, with a furtive glance over
his shoulder as he fled.
He was a good two hundred feet ahead of me when I saw him suddenly
turn and at the risk of a visit to the hospital or the morgue, cross
the street in the middle of the block, dodge desperately between the
surface cars and automobiles, and beat it straight for the Times
Building. I promptly threw decorum away and ran, ran like a rabbit,
until I came to the Forty-second Street entrance to the drug store
through whose revolving doors I had seen my man disappear. I felt
reasonably certain he wouldn't stop to drink an ice-cream soda and he
didn't, for as I hurried past the fountain I caught sight of him
turning into the stairway that leads to the subway station. I dashed
ahead but he was through the gate before I could catch up with him. I
had no time for a ticket as the guards were already slamming shut the
doors of a south-bound local.
Buy me a ticket, I called to the astonished chopper as I tossed
a dollar bill over the arm which he thrust out to stop me. I did not
wait to argue it out, for the car door in front of me was already
beginning to close. I had just time to catapult my body in between that
sliding door and its steel frame. I knew, as I caught my breath again,
that I was on the platform of the car behind the jewel thief.
And I stood there, carefully scrutinizing the line of car doors as
we pulled into the Grand Central Station. I did the same as we passed
Thirty-third Street, and the same again at Twenty-eighth Street. The
man had given no sign that he actually knew I was on his track. He
might or might not have seen me. As to that I had no means of being
certain. But I was certain of the fact that he was making off in a
panic of indeterminate fear, that he was doing his utmost to evade
This came doubly home to me as the train stopped at Twenty-third
Street and I saw him step quickly out of the far end of the car, look
about him, and dart across the station platform and up the stairway two
steps at a time.
I was after him, even more hurriedly. By the time I reached the
street he was swinging up on the step of a cross-town surface car. To
catch that car was out of the question, but I waited a moment and swung
aboard the one that followed it, thirty yards in the rear. Peering
ahead, I could plainly see him as he dropped from his car on the
northeast corner of Sixth Avenue. I could see him as he hurried up the
steps of the Elevated, crossed the platform, and without so much as
buying a ticket, hurried down the southeast flight of steps.
I had closed in on him by this time, so that we were within a
biscuit toss of each other. Yet never once did he look about. He was
now doubling on his tracks, walking rapidly eastward along Twenty-third
Street. I was close behind him as he crossed Broadway, turning south,
and then suddenly tacking about, entered the hallway of the building
that was once the Hotel Bartholdi and promptly directed his steps
toward the side entrance on Twenty-third Street.
Even as he emerged into the open again he must have seen the
antediluvian night-hawk cab waiting there at the curb. What his
directions to the driver were I had no means of knowing. But as that
dripping and water-proofed individual brought his whip lash down on his
steaming horse a door slammed shut in my face. Once more I so far
forgot my dignity as to dodge and run like a rabbit, this time to the
other side of the cab as it swung briskly northward. One twist and pull
threw the cab door open and I tumbled intumbled in to see my
white-faced and frightened jewel thief determinedly and frenziedly
holding down the handle of the opposite door.
His face went ashen as I came sprawling and lurching against him. He
would have leaped bodily from the carriage, which was now swinging up
an all but deserted Fifth Avenue, had I not caught and held him there
with a grimness born of repeated exasperation.
He showed no intention of meekly submitting to that detaining grasp.
Seeing that he was finally cornered, he turned on me and fought like a
rat. His strength, for one of his weight, was surprising. Much more
surprising, however, was his ferocity. And it was a strange struggle,
there in the half light of that musty and many-odored night-hawk cab.
There seemed something subterranean about it, as though it were a
battle at the bottom of a well. And but for one thing, I imagine, it
would not, for me, have been a pleasant encounter. It's a marvelous
thing, however, to know that you have Right on your side. The panoply
of Justice is as fortifying as any chain armor ever made.
And I knew, as we fought like two wharf-rats under a pier-end, that
I was right. I knew that my cause was the cause of law and order. That
knowledge gave me both strength and a boldness which carried me through
even when I saw my writhing and desperate thief groping and grasping
for his hip pocket, even when I saw him draw from it a
magazine-revolver that looked quite ugly enough to stampede a regiment.
And as that sodden-leathered night-hawk went placidly rolling up Fifth
Avenue we twisted and panted and grunted on its floor as though it were
a mail-coach in the Sierras of sixty years ago, fighting for the
possession of that ugly firearm.
How I got it away from him I never quite knew. But when I came to my
senses I had him on the cab floor and my knee on his chest, with his
body bent up like a letter U. I held him there while I went through his
pockets, quietly, deliberately, one by one, with all the care of a
customs inspector going through a suspected smuggler.
I had no time to look over his wallet (which I remembered as being
as big as a brief-bag) or his papers, nor had I time to make sure how
much of the jewelry he wore might be his own. The one thing I wanted
was the pearl necklace with the pigeon-blood ruby. And this necklace I
found, carefully wrapped in a silk handkerchief tucked down in his
right-hand waistcoat pocketwhich, by the way, was provided with a
buttoned flap to make it doubly secure.
I looked over the necklace to make sure there could be no mistake.
Then I again wrapped it up in the silk handkerchief and thrust it well
down in my own waistcoat pocket.
Get up! I told the man on the cab floor.
I noticed, as I removed my knee from his chest, what a sorry
condition his shirt-front was in and how his tie had been twisted
around under his right ear. He lay back against the musty cushions,
breathing hard and staring at me out of eyes that were by no means
You couldn't work it! I said, as I pocketed the revolver and,
having readjusted my own tie, buttoned my overcoat across a sadly
crumpled shirt-front. Then for the first time the thief spoke.
D'you know what this'll cost you? he cried, white to the lips.
That's not worrying me, was my calm retort. I got what I came
He sat forward in his seat with a face that looked foolishly
Don't imagine you can get away with that, he declared. I could
afford to smile at his impotent fury.
Just watch me! I told him. Then I added more soberly, with my hand
on the door-knob, And if you interfere with me after I leave this cab,
if you so much as try to come within ten yards of me to-night, I'll
give you what's coming to you.
I opened the door as I spoke, and dropped easily from the still
moving cab to the pavement. I stood there for a moment, watching its
placid driver as he went on up the avenue. The glass-windowed door
still swung open, swaying back and forth like a hand slowly waving me
Then I looked at my watch, crossed to the University Club, jumped
into a waiting taxi, and dodged back to the theater, somewhat sore in
body but rather well satisfied in mind.
A peculiar feeling of superiority possessed me as I presented my
door-check and was once more ushered back to my empty box. During the
last hour and a half that pit full of languid-eyed people had been
witnessing a tawdry imitation of adventure. They had been swallowing a
capsule of imitation romance, while I, between the time of leaving and
reentering that garishly lighted foyer, had reveled in adventure at
first hand, had taken chances and faced dangers and righted a great
I felt inarticulately proud of myself as I watched the final curtain
come down. This pride became a feeling of elation as I directed my
glance toward Alice Churchill, who had risen in the box in front of
mine, and was again showering on me the warmth of her friendly smile. I
knew I was still destined to be the god from the machine. It was as
plain that she was still unconscious of her loss.
I stopped her and her hollow-cheeked brother on their way out,
surprising them a little, I suppose, by the unlooked-for cordiality of
Can't you two children take a bite with me at Sherry's? I amiably
suggested. I could see brother and sister exchange glances.
Benny oughtn't to be out late, she demurred.
But I've something rather important to talk over, I pleaded.
And Benny would like to get a glimpse of Sherry's again,
interposed the thin-cheeked youth just back from the wilds. And without
more ado I bundled them into a taxi and carried them off with me,
wondering just what would be the best way of bringing up the subject in
I found it much harder, in fact, than I had expected. I was, as time
went on, more and more averse to betraying my position, to descending
mildly from my pinnacle of superiority, to burning my little pin-wheel
of power. I was like a puppy with its first buried bone. I knew what I
carried so carefully wrapped up in my waistcoat pocket. I remembered
how it had come there, and during that quiet supper hour I was
inordinately proud of myself.
I sat looking at the girl with her towering crown of reddish-gold
hair. She, in turn, was gazing at her own foolishly distorted
reflection in the polished bowl of the chafing-dish from which I had
just served her with capon a la reine. She sat there gazing at
her reflected face, gazing at it with a sort of studious yet impersonal
intentness. Then I saw her suddenly lean forward in her chair, still
looking at the grotesque image of herself in the polished silver. I
could not help noticing her quickly altering expression, the
inarticulate gasp of her parted lips, the hand that went suddenly up to
her throat. I saw the fingers feel around the base of the compactly
slender neck, and the momentary look of stupor that once more swept
over her face.
She ate a mouthful of capon, studiously, without speaking. Then she
looked up at us again. It was then that her brother Benny for the first
time noticed her change of color.
What's wrong? he demanded, his thin young face touched suddenly
The girl, when she finally answered him, spoke very quietly. But I
could see what a struggle it was costing her.
Now, Benny, I don't want any fuss, she said, almost under her
breath. I don't want either of you to get excited, for it can't do a
bit of good. But my necklace is gone.
Gone? gasped Benny. It can't be!
It's gone, she repeated, with her vacant eyes on me as her brother
prodded and felt about her skirt, and then even shook out her crumpled
Does this happen to be it? I asked, with all the nonchalance at my
command. And as I spoke I unwrapped the string of pearls with the
pigeon-blood ruby and let them roll on the white damask that lay
She looked at them without moving, her eyes wide with wonder. I
could see the color come back into her face. It was quite reward enough
to witness the relieving warmth return to those widened eyes, to bask
in that lovely and liquid glance of gratitude.
How, she asked a little weakly, as she reached over and took them
up in her fingers, how did you get them?
You lost them in the theater-box during the first act, I told her.
Her brother Benny wiped his forehead.
And it's up to a woman to drop forty thousand dollars and never
know it, he cried.
I watched her as she turned them over in her hands. Then she
suddenly looked up at me, then down at the pearls, then up at me again.
This is not my necklace, were the astonishing words that I
heard fall from her lips. I knew, of course, that she was mistaken.
Oh, yes, it is, I quietly assured her.
She shook her head in negation, still staring at me.
What makes you think so? she asked.
I don't think it, I know it, was my response. Those aren't the
sort of stones that grow on every bush in this town.
She was once more studying the necklace. And once more she shook her
But I am left-handed, she was explaining, as she still looked down
at them, and I had my clasp, here on the ruby at the back, made to
work that way. This clasp is right-handed. Don't you see, it's on the
But you've only got the thing upside down, cried her brother. And
I must confess that a disagreeable feeling began to manifest itself in
the pit of my stomach as he moved closer beside her and tried to
reverse the necklace so that the clasp would stand a left-handed one.
He twisted and turned it fruitlessly for several moments.
Isn't that the limit? he finally murmured, sinking back in his
chair and regarding me with puzzled eyes. The girl, too, was once more
studying my face, as though my movement represented a form of uncouth
jocularity which she could not quite comprehend.
What's the answer, anyway? asked the mystified youth.
But his bewilderment was as nothing compared to mine. I reached over
for the string of pearls with the ruby clasp. I took them and turned
them over and over in my hands, weakly, mutely, as though they
themselves might in some way solve an enigma which seemed inscrutable.
And I had to confess that the whole thing was too much for me. I was
still looking down at that lustrous row of pearls, so appealing to the
eye in their absolute and perfect graduation, when I heard the younger
man at my side call my name aloud.
Kerfoot! he said, not exactly in alarm and not precisely in
anxiety, yet with a newer note that made me look up sharply.
As I did so I was conscious of the figure so close behind me, so
near my chair that even while I had already felt his presence there, I
had for the moment taken him for my scrupulously attentive waiter. But
as I turned about and looked up at this figure I saw that I was
mistaken. My glance fell on a wide-shouldered and rather portly man
with quiet and very deep-set gray eyes. What disturbed me even more
than his presence there at my shoulder was the sense of power, of
unparaded superiority, on that impassive yet undeniably intelligent
I want to see you, he said, with an unemotional matter-of-factness
that in another would have verged on insolence.
About what? I demanded, trying to match his impassivity with my
He nodded toward the necklace in my hand.
About that, he replied.
What about that? I languidly inquired.
The portly man at my shoulder did not answer me. Instead he turned
and nodded toward a second man, a man standing half a dozen paces
behind him, in a damp overcoat and a sadly rumpled shirt-front.
I felt my heart beat faster of a sudden, for it took no second
glance to tell me that this second figure was the jewel thief whom I
had trailed and cornered in the musty-smelling cab.
I felt the larger man's sudden grip on my shoulderand his hand
seemed to have the strength of a viseas the smaller man, still pale
and disheveled, stepped up to the table. His face was not a pleasant
Benny Churchill, whose solicitous eyes bent for a moment on his
sister's startled face, suddenly rose to his feet.
Look here, he said, with a quiet vigor of which I had not dreamed
him capable, there's not going to be any scene here. He turned to the
man at my shoulder. I don't know who you are, but I want you to
remember there's a lady at this table. Remember that, please, or I'll
be compelled to teach you how to!
Sit down! I told him. For heaven's sake, sit down, all of you!
There's nothing to be gained by heroics. And if we've anything to say,
we may as well say it decently.
The two men exchanged glances as I ordered two chairs for them.
Be so good, I continued, motioning them toward these chairs. And
since we have a problem to discuss, there's no reason we can't discuss
it in a semi-civilized manner.
It's not a problem, said the man at my shoulder, with something
disagreeably like a sneer.
Then by all means don't let's make it one, I protested.
The man behind me was the first to drop into the empty seat on my
left. The other man crossed to the farther side of the table, still
watching me closely. Then he felt for the chair and slowly sank into
it; but not once did he take his eyes from my face. I was glad that our
circle had become a compact one, for the five of us were now ranged
sufficiently close about the table to fence off our little white-linen
kingdom of dissension from the rest of the room.
That man's armed, remember! the jewel thief suddenly cried to the
stranger on my left. He spoke both warningly and indignantly. His flash
of anger, in fact, seemed an uncontrollable one.
Where's your gun? said the quiet-eyed man at my side. His own hand
was in his pocket, I noticed, and there was a certain malignant line of
purpose about his mouth which I did not at all like.
Yet I was able to laugh a little as I put the magazine revolver down
on the table; it had memories which were amusing.
The quick motion with which he removed that gun, however, was even
more laughable. Yet my returning sense of humor in no way impressed
Where'd you get that gun? he inquired.
I nodded my head toward the white-faced man opposite me.
I took it away from your friend there, was my answer.
And what else did you take?
There was something impressive about the man's sheer impersonality.
It so kept things down to cases.
This pearl necklace with the ruby clasp, I answered.
Why? demanded my interlocutor.
Because he stole it, was my prompt retort. The big man was silent
for a moment.
From the lady you have the honor of facing, I answered.
Where? was his next question.
I told him. He was again silent for a second or two.
D'you know who this man is? he said, with a curt head-nod toward
his white-faced colleague.
Yes, I answered.
What is he?
He's a jewel thief.
The two men stared at each other. Then the man at my side rubbed his
chin between a meditative thumb and forefinger. He was plainly puzzled.
He began to take on human attributes, and he promptly became a less
interesting and a less impressive figure. He looked at Alice Churchill
and at her brother, and then back at me again.
Then, having once more absently caressed his chin, he swung about
and faced the wondering and silent girl who sat opposite him.
Excuse me, miss, but would you mind answering a question or two?
It was her brother who spoke before she had time to answer.
Wait, he interposed. Just who are you, anyway?
The man, for answer, lifted the lapel of his coat and exhibited a
Well, what does that mean? demanded the quite unimpressed youth.
That I'm an officer.
What kinda detective?
For what? For this place?
No, for the Maiden Lane Protective Association.
Well, what's that got to do with us?
The large-bodied man looked at him a little impatiently.
You'll understand that when the time comes, was his retort. Now,
young lady, he began again, swinging back to the puzzled girl, do you
say you lost a necklace in that theater-box?
The girl nodded.
Yes, I must have, she answered, looking a little frightened.
And you say it was stolen from you?
No, I didn't say that. I had my necklace on when I was in the
boxboth Benny and I know that.
And it disappeared?
I noticed it was gone when I sat down at the table here.
The dominating gentleman turned round to me.
You saw the necklace from the second box? he demanded.
I did, was my answer.
And you saw it disappear? he demanded.
I saw when it disappeared, I retorted.
The jewel thief with the crumpled shirt-front tried to break in at
this juncture, but the bigger man quickly silenced him with an
impatient side swing of the hand.
When was that? he continued.
What difference does it make? I calmly inquired, resenting the
peremptoriness of his interrogations.
He stopped short and looked up at me. Then the first ghost of a
smile, a patient and almost sorrowful smile, came to his lips.
Well, we'll go at it another way. You witnessed this man across the
table take the necklace from the young lady?
It practically amounts to that.
That is, you actually detected him commit this crime?
I don't think I said that.
But you assumed he committed this crime?
Just when was it committed?
During what they call a dark change in the first act.
You mean the necklace was on before that change and gone when the
lights were turned up again?
And the position and actions of this man were suspicious to you?
In what way?
In different ways.
He had crowded suspiciously close to the wearer of the necklace?
And his eyes were glued on it during the early part of that act?
They certainly were.
And you watched him?
With almost as much interest as he watched the necklace.
And after the dark change, as you call it, the lady's neck was
You're sure of this?
And what did this man across the table do?
Having got what he was after, he hurried out of the theater and
made his escapeor tried to make his escape.
It embarrassed him, I suppose, to have you studying him so
He certainly looked embarrassed.
Of course, admitted my interrogator. Then he sighed deeply, almost
contentedly, after which he sat with contemplative and pursed-up lips.
I guess I've got this whole snarl now, he complacently admitted.
All but one kink.
What one kink? demanded Benny Churchill.
The man at my side did not answer him. Instead, he rose to his feet.
I want you to come with me, he had the effrontery to remark, with
a curt head-nod in my direction.
I much prefer staying here, I retorted. And for the second time he
smiled his saddened smile.
Oh, it's nothing objectionable, he explained. Nobody's going to
hurt you. And we'll be back here in ten minutes.
But, oddly enough, I have rooted objections to deserting my
Your guests won't be sorry, I imagine, he replied, as he looked at
his silver turnip of a watch. And we're losing good time.
Please go, said Alice Churchill, emboldened, apparently, by some
instinctive conclusion which she could not, or did not care to,
explain. And she was backed up, I noticed, by a nod from her brother.
I also noticed, as I rose to my feet, that I still held the necklace
in my hand. I was a little puzzled as to just what to do with it.
That, said the sagacious stranger, you'd better leave here. Let
the young lady keep it until we get back. And you, Fessant, he went
on, turning to the belligerent-lipped jewel thief, you stay right here
and make yourself pleasant. And without bein' rude, you might see that
the young lady and her brother stay right here with you.
Then he took me companionably by the arm and led me away.
What's the exact meaning of all this? I inquired as we threaded
our course out to the cab-stand and went dodging westward along
Forty-third Street in a taxi. The rain, I noticed, through the fogged
window, was still falling.
I want you to show me exactly where that man sat in that box, was
his answer. And two minutes in the theater will do it.
And what good, I inquired, is that going to do me?
It may do you a lot of good, he retorted, as he flung open the cab
I feel rather sorry for you if it doesn't, was my answer as I
followed him out. We had drawn up before a desolate-looking stage door
over which burned an even more desolate-looking electric bulb. The man
turned and looked at me with a short ghost of a grunt, more of disgust
You're pretty nifty, aren't you, for a New York edition of Jesse
And without waiting for my answer he began kicking on the
shabby-looking stage door with his foot. He was still kicking there
when the door itself was opened by a man in a gray uniform, obviously
the night watchman.
Hello, Tim! said the one.
Hello, Bud! said the other.
'Bout an hour ago!
Then ensued a moment of silence.
Burnside say anything was turned in?
Didn't hear of it, was the watchman's answer.
My friend here thinks he's left something in a box. Could you let
Sure, was the easy response. I'll throw on the house-lights for
youse. Watch your way!
He preceded us through a maze of painted canvas and what looked like
the backs of gigantic picture-frames. He stepped aside for a moment to
turn on a switch. Then he opened a narrow door covered with sheet-iron,
and we found ourselves facing the box entrances.
My companion motioned me into the second box while he stepped
briskly into that nearer the foot-lights.
Now, the young lady sat there, he said, placing the gilt chair
back against the brass railing. Then he sat down in it, facing the
stage. Having done so, he took off his hat and placed it on the box
floor. Now you show me where that man sat.
I placed the chair against the plush-covered parapet and dropped
Here, I explained, within two feet of where you are.
All right! was his sudden and quite unexpected rejoinder. That's
enough! That'll do!
He reached down and groped about for his hat before rising from the
chair. He brushed it with the sleeve of his coat absently, and then
stepped out of the box.
We'd better be getting back, he called to me from the sheet-iron
Back to what? I demanded, as I followed him out through the
canvas-lined maze again, feeling that he was in some way tricking me,
resenting the foolish mystery which he was flinging about the whole
Back to those guests of yours and some good old-fashioned common
sense, was his retort.
But during the ride back to Sherry's he had nothing further to say
to me. His answers to the questions I put to him were either evasive or
monosyllabic. He even yawned, yawned openly and audibly, as we drew up
at the carriage entrance of that munificently lighted hostelry. He now
seemed nothing more than a commonplace man tired out at the completion
of a commonplace task. He even seemed a trifle impatient at my delay as
I waited to check my hat and coata formality in which he did not join
Now, I can give you people just two minutes, he said, as the five
of us were once more seated at the same table and he once more
consulted his turnip of a watch. And I guess that's more'n we'll
He turned to the wan and tired-eyed girl, who, only too plainly, had
not altogether enjoyed her wait.
You've got the necklace? he asked.
She held up a hand from which the string of graduated pearls
dangled. The man then turned to me.
You took this string of pearls away from this man? he asked, with
a quick nod toward the jewel thief.
I assuredly did, was my answer.
Knowing he had taken them from this young lady earlier in the
Your assumption bears every mark of genius! I assured him.
He turned back to the girl.
Is that your necklace? he curtly demanded.
The girl looked at me with clouded and troubled eyes. We all felt,
in some foolish way, that the moment was a climactic one.
No! she answered, in little more than a whisper.
She nodded her head without speaking. The man turned to me.
Yet you followed this man, assaulted him, and forcibly took that
necklace away from him?
Hold on! I cried, angered by that calmly pedagogic manner of his.
I want you to un
He stopped me with a sharp move of the hand.
Don't go over all that! he said. It's a waste of time. The point
is, that necklace is not your friend's. But I'm going to tell you what
it is. It's a duplicate of it, stone for stone. The lady, I think, will
agree with me on that. Am I right?
The girl nodded.
Then what the devil's this man doing with it? demanded Benny
Churchill, before any of us could speak.
S'pose you wait and find out who this man is!
Well, who is he? I inquired, resolved that no hand, however
artful, was going to pull the wool over my eyes.
This man, said my unperturbed and big-shouldered friend, is the
pearl-matcher for Cohen and Greenhut, the Maiden Lane importers. Wait,
don't interrupt me. Miss Churchill's necklace, I understand, was one of
the finest in this town. His house had an order to duplicate it. He
took the first chance, when the pearls had been matched and strung, to
see that he'd done his job right.
And you mean to tell me, I cried, that he hung over a box-rail
and lifted a string of pearls from a lady's neck just to
Hold on there, my friend, cut in the big-limbed man. He found
this lady was going to be in that box wearin' that necklace.
And having reviewed its chaste beauty, he sneaked out of his own
box and ran like a chased cur!
Hold your horses now! Can't you see that he thought you were the
crook? If you had a bunch of stones like that on you and a stranger
butted in and started trailin' you, wouldn't you do your best to melt
away when you had the chance? demanded the officer. Then he looked at
me again with his wearily uplifted eyebrows. Oh, I guess you were all
right as far as you went, but, like most amateurs, you didn't go quite
It was Benny Churchill who spoke up before I could answer. His
voice, as he spoke, was oddly thin and childlike.
But why in heaven's name should he want to duplicate my sister's
For another woman, with more money than brains, or the know-how, or
whatever you want to call it, was the impassive response.
I saw the girl across the table from me push the necklace away from
her, and leave it lying there in a glimmering heap on the white table.
I promptly and quietly reached out and took possession of it, for I
still had my own ideas of the situation.
That's all very well, I cried, and very interesting. But what I
want to know is: who got the first necklace?
The big-framed man looked once more at his watch. Then he looked a
little wearily at me.
I got 'em!
You've got them? echoed both the girl and her brother. It was
plain that the inconsequentialities of the last hour had been a little
too much for them.
The man thrust a huge hand down in the pocket of his damp and
somewhat unshapely overcoat.
Yes, I got 'em here, he explained as he drew his hand away and
held the glimmering string up to the light. I picked 'em up from the
corner of that box where they slipped off the lady's neck.
He rose placidly and ponderously to his feet.
And I guess that's about all, he added as he squinted through an
uncurtained strip of plate glass and slowly turned up his coat collar,
except that some of us outdoor guys'll sure get webfooted if this rain
CHAPTER X. THE THUMB-TAP CLUE
I was being followed. Of that there was no longer a shadow of doubt.
Move by move and turn by turn, for even longer than I had been openly
aware of it, some one had been quietly shadowing me.
Now, if one thing more than another stirs the blood of the man who
has occasion to walk by night, it is the discovery that his steps are
being dogged. The thought of being watched, of having a possible enemy
behind one, wakens a thrill that is ancestral.
So, instead of continuing my busily aimless circuit about that
high-spiked iron fence which encloses Gramercy Park, I shot off at a
tangent, continuing from its northwest corner in a straight line toward
Fourth Avenue and Broadway.
I had thought myself alone in that midnight abode of quietness. Only
the dread of a second sleepless night had kept me there, goading me on
in my febrile revolutions until weariness should send me stumbling off
my circuit like a six-day rider off his wheel.
Once I was in the house-shadows where Twenty-first Street again
begins I swung about and waited. I stood there, in a sort of quiet
belligerency, watching the figure of the man who had been dogging my
steps. I saw him turn southward in the square, as though my flight were
a matter of indifference to him. Yet the sudden relieving thought that
his movements might have been as aimless as my own was swallowed up by
a second and more interesting discovery.
It was the discovery that the man whom I had accepted as following
me was in turn being followed by yet another man.
I waited until this strange pair had made a full circuit of the
iron-fenced enclosure. Then I turned back into the square, walking
southward until I came opposite my own house door. The second man must
have seen me as I did so. Apparently suspicious of possible espionage,
he loitered with assumed carelessness at the park's southern corner.
The first man, the slighter and younger-looking figure of the two, kept
on his unheeding way, as though he were the ghost-like competitor in
some endless nightmare of a Marathon.
My contemplation of him was interrupted by the advent of a fourth
figure, a figure which seemed to bring something sane and reassuring to
a situation that was momentarily growing more ridiculous. For the
newcomer was McCooey, the patrolman. He swung around to me without
speaking, like a ferry swinging into its slip. Then he stood looking
impassively up at the impassive November stars.
Yuh're out late, he finally commented, with that careless
ponderosity which is the step-child of unquestioned authority.
McCooey, I said, there's a night prowler going around this park
of yours. He's doing it for about the one hundred and tenth time. And I
wish you'd find out what in heaven he means by it.
Been disturbin' yuh? casually asked the law incarnate. Yet he put
the question as an indulgent physician might to a patient. McCooey was
of that type which it is both a joy and a temptation to mystify.
He's assaulted my curiosity, I solemnly complained.
D' yuh mean he's been interferin' wid yuh? demanded my literal
I mean he's invaded my peace of mind.
Then I'll see what he's afther, was the other's answer. And a
moment later he was swinging negligently out across the pavement at a
line which would converge with the path of the nervously pacing
stranger. I could see the two round the corner almost together. I could
see McCooey draw nearer and nearer. I could even see that he had turned
and spoken to the night walker as they went down the square together
past the lights of the Players.
I could see that this night-walker showed neither resentment nor
alarm at being so accosted. And I could also see that the meeting of
the two was a source of much mystification to the third man, the man
who still kept a discreet watch from the street corner on my right.
McCooey swung back to where I stood. He swung back resentfully, like
a retriever who had been sent on a blind trail.
What's he after, anyway? I irritably inquired.
He says he's afther sleep!
After what? I demanded.
McCooey blinked up at a sky suddenly reddened by an East River
gas-flare. Then he took a deep and disinterested breath.
He says he's afther sleep, repeated the patrolman. Unless he gets
her, says he, he's goin to walk into the East River.
What's the matter with the man, anyway? I asked, for that
confession had brought the pacing stranger into something very close
and kindred to me.
'Tis nothin' much, was the big man's answer. Like as not he's
been over-eatin' and havin' a bad night or two.
And with that my friend the patrolman, turning on his heel, pursued
his way through the quiet canyons of the streets where a thousand happy
sleepers knew nothing of his coming and saw nothing of his going.
I stood there, looking after him as he went. Then I crossed to the
northwest corner of that iron-fenced enclosure and waited for that
youth whom the arm of wakefulness was swinging about like a stone in a
I deliberately blocked his way as he tried to edge irritably about
Pardon me, I began. He looked up, like a somnambulist suddenly
awakened. Pardon me, but I think I ought to warn you that you are
Yes; and I think you ought to know it.
Oh, I know it, was his apathetic response. I'm even beginning to
get used to it.
He stepped back and leaned against the iron fence. His face, under
the street-lamps, was a very unhappy looking one. It carried a
woebegone impassivity, the impassivity which implied he was so
submerged in misery that no further blow could be of consequence to
him. And yet, beyond the fixed pallor of that face there was something
appealing, some trace of finer things, some touch which told me that he
and the nocturnal underworld had nothing in common.
But are you getting used to the other thing? I asked.
What other thing? was his slow inquiry. I could see the twin fires
of some dull fever burning in the depths of his cavernous eyes.
Going without sleep, I answered. For the second time he stared at
But I'm going to sleep, he answered. I've got to!
We all have to, I platitudinously remarked. But there are times
when we all don't.
He laughed a curious little mirthless laugh.
Are you ever troubled that way? he asked.
We stood there facing each other, like two kindred ghosts communing
amid the quietness of a catacomb. Then I laughed, but not so bitterly,
I hope, as he had done.
I've walked this square, I told him, a thousand times to your
I've been doing it here for the last three hours, he quietly
And it's done you up, I rejoined. And what we both need is a
quiet smoke and an hour or two with our feet up on something?
That's very good of you, he had the grace to admit, as his gaze
followed mine toward the house door. But there are a number of things
I've got to think out.
He was a decent sort. There was no doubt of that. But it was equally
plain that he was in a bad way about something or other.
Let's think it out together! I had the boldness to suggest.
He laughed mirthlessly, though he was already moving southward along
the square with me as he began to speak again.
There is something I've got to think out alone, he told me. He
spoke, this time without resentment, and I was glad of it. That
unhappy-eyed youth had in some way got a grip, if not on my affection,
at least on my interest. And in our infirmity we had a bond of
sympathy. We were like two refugees pursued by the same bloodhounds and
seeking the same trails of escape. I felt that I was violating no
principle of reticence in taking him by the arm.
But why can't you slip in to my digs, I suggested, for a smoke
and a drop of Bristol Milk?
I was actually wheedling and coaxing him, as a stubborn child is
Milk! he murmured. I never drink milk.
But, my dear man, Bristol Milk isn't the kind that comes from cows.
It's seventy-year old sherry that's been sent on a sea-voyage to
Australia and back. It's something that's oil to the throat and music
to the senses!
He looked at me as though the whole width of a Hudson River flowed
That sounds appealing, he acknowledged. But I'm in a mess that
even Bristol Milk won't wash me out of.
Well, if it's that bad, it's worth forgetting for an hour or two!
I announced. He laughed again, relaxingly. I took a firmer and more
fraternal grip on his arm.
And side by side we went up the steps and through the door into the
quietness of that sober-fronted house which I still called by the empty
name of home.
In five minutes I had a hickory log ablaze in the fireplace, the
library-chairs drawn up, and Criswell, my captive, with his hat and
coat off. At his side stood a plate of biscuits and a glass of Bristol
Milk. But he seemed to find more consolation in sitting back and
peering at the play of the flames. His face was a very tired one. The
skin was clammy and dead-looking; and yet from the depths of that
fatigue flared the familiar ironic white lights of wakefulness. I think
I knew about how he felt.
We sat there without speaking, yet not unconscious of a silent
communion of thought. I knew, however, that Bristol Milk was not in the
habit of leaving a man long tongued-tied. So I turned to refill his
glass. I had noticed that his hands were shaky, just as I had noticed
the telltale twitch to one of his eyelids. But when his uncontrolled
fingers accidently knocked the glass from the edge of the table, it
gave me a bit of a start.
He sat there looking studiously down at the scattered pieces of
It's hell! he suddenly burst out.
What is? I inquired.
Being in this sort of shape! was his vehement response. I did not
permit myself to look at him. Sympathy was not the sort of thing he
needed. Seventy-year-old sherry, I felt, was more to the purpose.
Especially when we haven't any excuse for it, I lazily commented,
passing him a second glass, filling it, and turning to watch the fire.
Warming stuff, that Bristol Milk, he said with a catch of the
breath that was too short to be called a sigh. Then, laughing and
wiping the sweat from his forehead, he went on with an incoherence that
approached that of childhood.
I've got an excuse.
I waited for a moment or two.
What is it?
That man you saw trailing me around the square, for one thing.
Even that isn't altogether an excuse, I maintained.
But it's what he stands for, protested my visitor. He sat staring
into the fire for a minute or two. I sat beside him, again conscious of
some inarticulate and evasive companionship.
How did it begin? I finally asked.
He took a deep breath. Then he closed his eyes. And when he spoke he
did so without opening them.
I don't think I could explain, was his listless answer.
Make a try at it, I urged. Let's ventilate the thing, canalize
it. Let's throw a little light and order into it.
He moved his head up and down, slowly, as though he had some vague
comprehension of the psychology of confession, some knowledge of the
advantages of exteriorating secret offenses. Then he sat very still
But there's no way of ventilating this. There's no way of knocking
a window in it. It'sit's only a blank wall.
Why a blank wall? I inquired.
He turned and looked past me, with unseeing eyes.
Because I can't remember, he said in a voice which made it
seem that he was speaking more to himself than to me. He looked about
him, with a helplessness that was pitiful. I can't remember! he
repeated, with the forlornness of a frightened child.
That's exactly what I wanted to get at, I cried, with a pretense
at confident and careless intimacy. So let's clear away in front of
the blank wall. Let's at least try a kick or two at it.
It's no use, he complained.
Well, let's try, I persisted, with forced cheerfulness. Let's get
at the beginning of things.
How far back do you want me to go? he finally asked. He spoke with
the weary listlessness of a patient confronted by an unwelcome
Let's begin right at the first, I blithely suggested.
He sat looking at his shaking fingers for a moment or two.
There's really nothing much to begin at, he tried to explain.
These things don't seem to begin in a minute, or an hour, or a day.
Of course not, I assented as I waited for him to go on.
The thing I noticed at the time, about the only thing I even
thought of, was that my memory seemed to have a blind spota blind
spot the same as an eye has.
Ill? I asked. Or overworking?
I guess I'd been pounding away pretty hard. I know I had. You see,
I wanted to make good in that office. So I must have been biting off
more than I could chew.
What office? I asked as he came to a stop. He looked up at me with
a stare of dazed perplexity.
Didn't I tell you that? he asked, massaging his frontal bone with
the ends of his unsteady fingers. Why, I mean John Lockwood's office.
John Lockwood? I repeated, with a sudden tightening of the nerves.
Do you mean the railway-investment man, the man who made so many
millions up along the northwest coast?
The youth in the chair nodded. And I made an effort to control my
feelings, for John Lockwood, I knew only too well, was the father of
Mary Lockwood. He, like myself, had exploited the Frozen North, but had
exploited it in a manner very different from mine.
Go on, I said, after quite a long pause.
Lockwood brought me down from the Canadian Northern offices in
Winnipeg. He said he'd give me a chance in the Eastthe chance of my
What were you in his office?
I suppose you'd call it private secretary. But I don't think he
knew what I was himself.
And he let you overwork yourself?
No, I can't say that. It wasn't his fault. You see, his work this
summer kept him out at the coast a good deal of the time. He had an
English mining engineer named Carlton looking over some British
And you carried on the office work while Lockwood was out west?
I did what I could to keep my end of the thing going. But, you see,
it was all so new to me. I hadn't got deep enough into the work to
organize it the way I wanted to. There were a lot of little things that
couldn't be organized.
Well, this man Carlton, for instance, had Lockwood's office look
after his English mail. All his letters had to be sent on to whatever
point he reported from.
When Lockwood was away from the office he deputized me to look
after his mail, sign for the registered letters, re-direct telegrams,
see that everything went through to the right point. It was quite a
heavy mail. Carlton, I guess, was a man of importance, and besides that
he was investing for friends at home. Looking after it, of course, was
simple enough, but
Wait! I interrupted. Has this mail anything to do with our blank
He looked about at me as though he had seen me for the first time,
as though all that while he had been merely thinking aloud.
Why that is the blank wall, he cried.
How? I demanded.
Four weeks ago Lockwood came back from the West. On the same day a
registered letter came to the office for young Carlton. That letter
held twelve Bank of England notes for a hundred pounds each. About six
thousand dollars altogether.
Where did it come from?
From Montreal, from Carlton's own father. He wanted the money
forwarded to his son. The older man was on his way back to England. The
younger Carlton was looking up certain lands his father wanted to
invest in. Young Carlton's movements were rather uncertain, so his
father made sure by sending the letter to our officeto Lockwood's
And you were still acting as poste restante for the Carlton
out in British Columbia?
Yes, we'd been receiving and forwarding his mail.
We also received this registered letter from Montreal. That's where
the blank wall comes in.
We've no record of that letter ever going out of our office.
He looked at me as though he expected me to be more electrified than
I found it possible to be.
Lost, stolen, or strayed? I asked.
That's what I'd give my eye-teeth to know, he solemnly asserted.
But where do you come in?
His answer was given without the slightest shade of emotion.
I signed for the letter.
Then you remember that much?
No, I don't remember it. But when they began to investigate through
the post-office, I knew my own signature when I saw it.
With no chance of mistake, or forgery?
It was my own signature.
And you don't even remember getting the letter?
I've gone back over that day with draghooks. I've thought over it
all night at a stretch, but I can't get one clear idea of what I did.
The force of the situation was at last coming home to me.
And they're holding you responsible for the disappearance of that
Good God, I'm holding myself responsible for it! It's been hanging
over me for nearly a month. And I can't stand much more of it!
Then let's go back to possibilities. Have you ever checked them
I've gone over 'em like a scrutineer over a voter's list. I've
tested 'em all, one by one; but they all end up at the blank wall.
Well, before we go back to these possibilities again, how about the
personal equation? Have you any feeling, any emotional bias, any one
inclination about the thing, no matter how ridiculous it may seem?
He closed his eyes, and appeared to be deep in thought.
I've always felt one thing, he confessed, I've always feltmind
you, I only say feltthat when I signed for that Carlton letter, I
carried it into Lockwood's own room with his own personal mail, and
either gave it to him or left it on his desk.
What makes you feel that?
In the first place, I must have known he'd seen Carlton recently,
and had a clearer idea of his address at the time, than I had. In the
second place, being registered, it must have impressed me as being
And Lockwood himself?
He says I'm mistaken. He holds I never gave him the letter, or he
would have remembered it.
And circumstances seem to back him up in this?
Everything backs him up, was the answer.
Then let's go back to the possibilities. How about theft? Are you
sure every one in the office was reliable?
Every one but me! was his bitter retort.
Then how about its being actually lost inside those four walls?
That's scarcely possible. I've gone through every nook and drawer
and file. I've gone over the place with a fine-tooth comb, time and
time again. I've even gone over my own flat, every pocket and every
corner of every room.
Then you have a home? I asked.
Again there was the telltale neurasthenic delay before his answer
I was married the same week the letter was lost, was his response.
And your wife hasn't been able to help you remember?
She didn't know of it until a week ago. Then she saw I couldn't
sleep, and kept forgetting things, trifling little things that showed I
wasn't coordinating properlysuch as letting a letter go out unsigned
or getting muddled on the safe combination or not remembering whether
I'd eaten or not. She said she thought I was in for typhoid or
something like that. She went right down to Lockwood and practically
accused him of making me overwork. Lockwood had to tell her what had
happened. I suppose it was the way it was thrown at her, all in a heap!
She went home to her own people that afternoon, without seeing me. I
thought it over, and decided there was no use doing anything
untiluntil the mess was cleared up some way or other.
I did not speak for several seconds. The case was not as simple as
it had seemed.
And Lockwood, how does he feel about it? I finally asked.
The way any man'd feel! The acidulated smile that wrinkled his
face was significant. He's having me shadowed!
But he does nothing!
He keeps giving me more time.
Well, doesn't that imply he still somehow believes in you?
He doesn't believe in me, was the slow response.
Then why doesn't he do something? Why doesn't he act?
There was a moment's silence. Because he promised his daughter to
give me another week.
Still again I experienced that odd tightening of the nerves. And I
had to take a grip on myself, before I could continue.
You mean Mary Lockwood personally interested herself in your case?
That would be like Mary Lockwood, I remembered. She would always
want to be something more than just; she would want to be
mercifulwith others. I was the only one guilty of an offense
which could not be overlooked!
But why Mary Lockwood? I asked, for something to say.
She seemed to think I ought to be given a chance. Criswell spoke
with listless heaviness, as though Mary Lockwood's pity, as though any
one's pity, were a thing of repugnance to him.
A matter of thumbs down, I murmured. He looked at me blankly; the
idiom had not reached his intelligence. I crossed to the table and
poured him out another glass of Bristol Milk.
You say you did things to show you weren't coordinating properly,
I went on. Now, going back to possibilities, mightn't there have been
a touch of aphasia? Mightn't you have done something with that letter
and had no memory of what it was?
It's not aphasiait never was that, calmly retorted the
unhappy-eyed young man. You couldn't dignify it with a name like that.
And it never amounted to anything serious. I carried on all my office
work without a hitch, without one mistake. But, as I told you before, I
was working under pressure, and I hadn't been sleeping well. I did the
bigger things without a mistake, but I often found I was doing them
Then let's go back once more to those possibilities. Could the
letter have been misdirected, absent-mindedly? Could it have gone to
one of Carlton's addresses?
Every address has been canvassed. The thing's been verified through
the local post-office, and through the Montreal office. That part of
it's as clear as daylight. A letter came to this office of Lockwood's
addressed to Carlton. It held six thousand dollars in cash. I received
it and signed for it. The man to whom it was addressed never received
it. Neither the money nor the letter was ever seen again. And the last
record of it ends with me. Is it any wonder they've got that
gum-shoe man trailing me about every move I make?
Wait, I cried, still conjecturing along the field of
possibilities. Why mightn't that letter have come in a second envelope
which you removed after its receipt? Why mightn't it have come
addressed to Lockwood or the firm?
The post-office records show differently. It came to Carlton. I
signed for it as an agent of Carlton's. Oh, there's no use going over
all that old ground. I've been over it until I thought I was going
crazy. I've raked and dug through it, these past three weeks, and
nothing's come of it. Nothing can come of it, until Lockwood
gets tired of waiting for me to prove what I can't prove!
But, out of all the affair as it happened, out of that whole day
when the letter came, isn't there one shred or tatter of memory on
which you can try to hang something? Isn't there one thing, no matter
how small or how misty, from which you can begin?
Not one rational thing! I've tried to build a bridge out into that
empty spacethat day always seems like empty space to meI've tried
to build it out like a cantilever, but I can't bolt two ideas together.
I've tried to picture it; I've tried to visualize it; I've tried to
imagine it as I must have lived it. But all I've left is the fool idea
of a man hitting his thumb.
What do you mean by that? I demanded, sitting up with a jolt.
I keep seeing somebody, somebody sitting in front of me, holding a
letter in his right hand and tapping the thumb of his left hand with it
as he talked.
But who is it? Or who was it?
I've tried to imagine it was Lockwood.
Why, you've something right there! I exultantly cried out. That's
valuable. It's something definite, something concrete, something
personal. Let's begin on that.
It's no use, remarked my companion. His voice, as he spoke, was
one of weary unconcern. I thought the way you do, at first. I felt
sure it would lead to something. I kept watching Lockwood, trying to
catch him at the trick.
And? I prompted.
I had no chance of making sure. So I went up to his home, and asked
for Miss Lockwood herself. I tried to explain how much the whole thing
meant to me. I asked her if she's ever noticed her father in the act of
tapping his thumbs.
And had she?
She was very patient. She thought it over, and tried to remember,
but she decided that I was mistaken. His own daughter, she explained,
would have noticed any such mannerism as that. In fact, she ventured to
mention the matter to her father. And when John Lockwood found I'd been
up to his house, that way, hewell, he rather lost his temper about it
all. He accused me of trying to play on his daughter's sympathy, of
trying to hide behind a petticoat. Miss Lockwood herself came and saw
me again, though, and was fine enough to say that she still believed in
me, that she still had faith in me. She said I could always count on
her help. But everything she did only seemed to push me further back
into the dark, the dark that's worse than hell to me!
He leaned far forward in the chair, covering his face with his
unsteady hands. I had no help to give him.
But as I sat there staring at him I began to see what he had gone
through. Yet more disturbing than the consciousness of this was the
thought of what it would eventually lead to, of what it was already
leading to, in that broken wreck of a walking ghost, in that
terror-hounded neurasthenic who had found a hole in his memory and had
kept exploring it, feeling about it as one's tongue-tip keeps fathoming
the cave of a lost tooth.
I went to a doctor, after she left me, the man in the chair was
saying through his gaunt fingers as their tips pressed against his eye
sockets. He told me I had to sleep. He gave me trional and bromides
and things, but I didn't seem able to assimilate them. Then he told me
it was all in my own mind, that I only had to let myself relax. He told
me to lie with my hands down at my sides, and sigh, to sigh just once.
I lay all night as though I was in a coffin waiting for that sigh,
fighting for it, praying for it. But it didn't come.
Of course it didn't, I told him, for I knew the feeling. It never
does, that way. You ought to have taken a couple of weeks in the Maine
woods, or tried fishing up in Temagami, or gone off pounding a golf
ball fifteen miles a day.
Then I stopped and looked at him, for some subsidiary part of my
brain must have been working even while I was talking.
By heaven, I believe that girl was mistaken!
Mistaken? he asked.
Yes, I don't believe any girl really knows her father's little
tricks. I'd like to wager that Lockwood has the habit of tapping his
thumb nail, sometimes, with what he may be holding in his other hand!
My dispirited friend looked up at me, a little disturbed by the
vehemence of my outburst.
But what's that to me now? What good does it do me, even though he
does tap his thumb?
Can't you see that this is exploration work, like digging up a lost
city? Can't you see that we've got to get down to at least one stone,
and follow where that first sign leads?
I did my best to infect him with some trace of my sudden enthusiasm.
I wanted to emotionalize him out of that dead flat monotone of
indifference. I jumped to my feet and brought a declamative hand down
on the corner of my library table.
I tell you it does you a lot of good. It's your life-buoy. It's the
thing that's got to keep you afloat until your feet are on solid ground
I tried to feel that way about it once, was his listless response.
But it doesn't lead to anything. It only makes me decide I dreamed the
I stared down at him as he leaned wearily back in the heavy chair.
Look here, I said. I know you're pretty well done up. I know
you're sick and tired of the whole hopeless situation, that you've
given up trying to think about it. But I want you to act this thing out
for me to-night. I want to try to dramatize that situation down in
Lockwood's office when you signed for the Carlton letter. I want you to
do everything you can to visualize that moment. I want you to get that
cantilever bridge stuck out across the gulf, across the gulf from each
side, until you touch the middle and give us a chance to bolt 'em
I pushed back the chairs, cleared the space on the reading-table,
swung the youth about so that he faced this table, and then took one of
my own letters from the heavy brass stand beside him. My one object now
was to make him go Berserk.
This is your room, I told him. And this is your desk. Remember,
you're in your office, hard at work. Be so good, please, as to keep
I crossed the room to the door as I spoke, intent on my
impersonation. But I could hear him as he laughed his indulgent and
Now, I'm bringing you this mail matter. And here I have a
registered letter addressed to one Carlton. You see it, there? This
letter? It's for Carlton, remember. I want you to take it. And sign for
it, here. Yes, write down your nameactually write it. Now take the
letter. And now think, man, think. What do you do after that?
What is the next thing? What do you feel is the right thing? The only
He looked up at me, wonderingly. Then he looked about the room. Then
he slowly shook his bead from side to side. I had not succeeded in
communicating to him any jot of my own mental energy.
I can't do it, he said, I can't remember. It doesn't seem to
suggest a thing.
But think, man, think! I cried out at him. Use your imagination!
Get into the part! Act it! The thing's there in your head, I tell you.
It's shut up somewhere there, only you haven't hit the right
combination to throw the door open. You can't do a thing in this life,
you've never lived an active moment of this life, without a record of
it being left there. It may be buried, it may be buried so deep you'll
die without digging it up, but it's there, I tell you, if you only go
If I was only sure it was there, hesitated the man at the table.
If I only knew just what direction to go! But this doesn't mean
anything; it doesn't get me anywhere.
You're not in the part, I cried, with what was almost an ecstasy
of impatience. What you've got to do is live, over that day. If you
can't do that you've got to live over at least one part of it.
No; don't think this is all foolishness. It's only going back to a very
old law of association. I'm only trying to do something to bring up
sight, touch, sound. We both know those are things that act quickest in
reviving memory. Can't you seeout of similar conditions I want to
catch at something that will suggest the similar action! There's no
need telling you that my mind and your mind each has a permanent
disposition to do again what it has once done under the same
circumstances. There's no use delving into psychology. It's all such
ordinary every-day common sense.
He sat looking at me a little blankly as I pounded this out at him.
His pallid face, twitching in the light from the fire, was studious,
but only passively so. The infection of my rhapsodic effort had not
reached him. I knew that, even before he spoke.
I can see what you're aiming at, he explained. But no matter how
hard I think, I can't get beyond the blank wall. I'm still in this
library of yours. And this is still a table and nothing like Lockwood's
And that makes it seem rather silly to you?
Yes, it does seem silly, he acknowledged.
Then a sudden idea fell like a hailstone out of the heavens
I know what's the matter, I cried. I know why you're not acting
out the part. It's because you're not on the right stage. You know it's
an empty rehearsalyou haven't been able to let yourself go!
I'm sorry, he said, with the contrition of a child, and with his
repeated hand-gesture of helplessness.
I swung about on him, scarcely hearing the words he was uttering.
We've got to get into that office, I declared. We've got to get
into Lockwood's own office.
He shook his head, without looking up at me.
I've been over that office, every nook and cranny of it! he
But what I want to know is, can we get into it?
At this time of night? he asked, apparently a little frightened at
the mere idea of it.
Yes, now, I declared.
I'd rather not, he finally averred.
But you still carry those office-keys, don't you? I asked.
Yes; I still have my keys. But it wouldn't look right, the way
things are. It would be only too easy for them to misinterpret a
midnight visit of mine to those offices. And they're watching me, every
move I make.
Then let them know you're going to make the move, I maintained.
And then we'll slip down in my car, with no chance of being followed.
He seemed to be turning the matter over in his mind. Then he looked
up, as though a sudden light had clarified the whole situation.
You know Mary Lockwood, don't you? he demanded.
Y-yes, I hesitatingly admitted.
Then wouldn't it be easier for you to call her up on the telephone
and explain just what you propose doing?
It was my turn to sit in a brown study. It would be no easy matter,
I remembered, to make clear to this stranger my reasons for not caring
to converse with Mary Lockwood. I also remembered that the situation
confronting me was something which should transcend mere personal
issues. And I was in a quandary, until I thought of the ever-dependable
I'll have my man call up Lockwood's house, I explained as I rose
to my feet, and announce that we're making an informal visit to those
But what's that visit for?
For the purpose of finding out if John Lockwood really taps his
thumbs or not!
The gray-faced youth stared at me.
But what good will that do? he demanded.
Why, it'll give us the right stage-setting, the right
'props'something to reach out and grope along. It'll mean the same to
your imagination as a brick wall to a bit of ivy. And I stopped and
turned to give my instructions to Benson.
Oh, it's no earthly use! repeated the man who couldn't remember,
in his flat and atonic voice. But instead of answering or arguing with
him I put his hat in his hand and held the portière, waiting for him to
I have often thought that if the decorous and somewhat ponderous
figure of Mr. John Lockwood had invaded his own offices on that
particular night, he would have been persuaded of the fact that he was
confronting two madmen.
For, once we had gained access to those offices and locked the door
behind us, I began over again what I had so inadequately attempted in
my own library.
During the earlier part of my effort to Belascoize a slumbering
mental idea into some approximation to life, I tried to remember my
surroundings and the fact that the hour was the unseemly one of almost
two o'clock in the morning. But as I seated Criswell at his own office
desk and did my utmost to galvanize his tired brain into some semblance
of the rôle I had laid out for it, I think he rather lost track of time
and place. At the end of ten minutes my face was moist with sweat, and
a wave of utter exhaustion swept through me as I saw that, after all my
struggle, nothing in that minutely enacted little drama had struck a
responsive chord in either his imagination or his memory.
You don't get anything? I asked as I dropped back into a chair at
the end of my pantomime. No stage-manager, trying to project his
personality into an unresponding actor, could have struggled more
passionately, more persuasively, more solicitously. But it had been
No, I can't get anything! said the white-faced Criswell. And I
could see that he had honestly tried, that he had strained his very
soul, striving to reach up to the light that was denied him. But the
matter was not one of mere volition. It was beyond his power. It
depended on something external, on something as much outside his
conscious control as though it were an angel that must come and touch
him on the brow. It was simply that the door of Memory remained locked
and barred. We had not hit upon the right combination. But I did not
Now we're going in to try Lockwood's own office, I told him, with
a peremptoriness which made him draw away from me.
II don't think I can go through it again, he faltered. And I
could see the lines of mental fatigue deepen on his ashen face.
Yet I proffered him no sympathy; I allowed him no escape from those
four imprisoning walls. I had already stirred the pool too deeply. I
knew that a relapse into the old impassive hopelessness would now be
I looked about the room. Three sides of it were lined with
book-shelves and every shelf was filled with hundreds of books,
thousands of them altogether, from dull and uninteresting-looking
treatises on railway building and mining engineering to even more
dull-looking consular reports and text-books on matters of finance. The
fourth side of the room held two windows. Between these windows, some
six feet from the wall, stood Lockwood's rosewood desk. It was a
handsome desk, heavily carved, yet like the rest of the furniture, the
acme of simplicity. History, I knew, had been made over that oblong of
rosewood. It had been and would again be an arena of Napoleonic
contention. Yet it stood before me as bare and bald as a prize
I sat down in the carved swivel chair beside this desk, drew my
chair closer to the rosewood, and looked up at Criswell, who, I
believe, would have turned and bolted, had he been given the chance. He
was, I fancy, even beginning to have suspicions as to my sanity. But in
that I saw no objection. It was, I felt, rather an advantage. It would
serve to key his nerves up to a still higher pitchfor I still hoped
against hope that I might lash him into some form of mental calenture
which would drive him into taking the high jump, which would in some
way make him clear the blind wall.
Now, I'm Lockwood, remember, I cried, fixing my eye on him, and
you're Criswell, my private secretary. Have you got that plain?
He did not answer me. He was, apparently, looking weakly about for a
place to sit down.
Have you got that plain? I repeated, this time in a voice that was
Yes, he finally said. I understand.
Then go back into your room there. From that room I want you to
bring me a letter. Not any old letter, but one particular letter. I
want you to bring me the Carlton registered letter which you signed
for. I want you to see it, and feel it, and bring it here.
I threw all the authority of my being into that command. I had to
justify both my course and my intelligence. I had to get my man over
the high jump, or crawl away humiliated and defeated.
I stared at the man, for he was not moving. I tried to cow him into
obedience by the very anger of my look. But it didn't seem to succeed.
Don't you understand, I cried. I want you to bring that
registered letter in to me, here, now!
He looked at me a little blankly. Then he passed his hand over his
But we tried that before, he falteringly complained. We tried
that, and it wouldn't work. I brought the letter in the first time, and
you weren't here.
I sat up as though I had been shot. I could feel a tingle of
something go up and down my backbone. My God, I thought, the man's
actually stumbling on something. The darkness was delivering itself of
Yes, we tried that before, I wheedled. And what happened?
You weren't here, he repeated, in tones of such languid detachment
that one might have thought of him as under the influence of a
But I'm here now, so bring me the letter!
I tried to speak quietly, but I noticed that my voice shook with
suppressed excitement. Whether or not the contagion of my hysteria went
out to him I can not say. But he suddenly walked out of the room, with
the utmost solemnity.
The moment I was alone I did a thing that was both ridiculous and
audacious. Jerking open Lockwood's private drawer, I caught up a
perfecto from a cigar-box I found there. This perfecto I impertinently
and promptly lighted, puffing its aroma about, for it had suddenly come
home to me how powerful an aid to memory certain odors may be, how, for
instance, the mere smell of a Noah's Ark will carry a man forty years
back to a childhood Christmas.
I sat there busily and abstractedly smoking as Criswell came into
the room and quietly stepped up to my desk. In his hand he carried a
letter. He was solemn enough about it, only his eyes, I noticed, were
as empty as though he were giving an exhibition of sleep-walking. He
reminded me of a hungry actor trying to look happy over a
Here's a letter for Carlton, sir, he said to me. Had I better
send it on, or will you look after it?
I pretended to be preoccupied. Lockwood, I felt, would have been
that way, if the scene had indeed ever occurred. Lockwood's own mind
must have been busy, otherwise he would have carried away some definite
memory of what had happened.
I looked up, quickly and irritably. I took the letter from
Criswell's hand, glanced at it, and began absently tapping my left
thumb-tip with it as I peered at the secretarial figure before me.
Criswell's face went blank as he saw the movement. It was now not
even somnambulistic in intelligence. It maddened me to think he was
going to fail me at such a critical moment.
What are you breaking down for? I cried. Why don't you go on?
He was silent, looking ahead of him.
II see blue, he finally said, as though to himself. His
face was clammy with sweat.
What sort of blue? I prompted. Blue cloth? Blue sky? Blue ink?
It's blue, he repeated, ignoring my interruption. And all
his soul seemed writhing and twisting in some terrible travail of
I see blue. And you're making it white. You're covering it up.
You're turning over whitewhitewhite! Oh, what in God's name is it?
My spine was again tingling with a thousand electric needles as I
watched him. He turned to me with a gesture of piteous appeal.
What was it? he implored. Can't you help me get itget it before
it goes! What was it?
It was blue, blue and white, I told him, and as I said it I
realized what madhouse jargon it would have sounded to any outsider.
He sank into a chair, and let his head fall forward on his hands. He
did not speak for several seconds.
And there are two hills covered with snow, he slowly intoned.
My heart sank a little as I heard him. I knew I had overtaxed his
strength. He was wandering off again into irrelevancies. He had missed
the high jump.
That's all right, old man, I tried to console him. There's no use
overdoing this. You sit there for a while and calm down.
As I sank into a chair on the other side of the desk, defeated,
staring wearily about that book-lined room that was housing so
indeterminate a tragedy, the door on my left was thrown open. Through
it stepped a woman in an ivory-tinted dinner gown over which was thrown
a cloth-of-gold cloak.
I sat there blinking up at her, for it was Mary Lockwood herself. It
was not so much her sudden appearance as the words she spoke to the
huddled figure on the other side of the desk that startled me.
You were right, she said, with a self-obliterating intensity of
purpose. Father taps his thumbs. I saw him do it an hour ago!
I sat staring at her as she stood in the center of the room, a tower
of ivory and gold against the dull and mottled colors of the book-lined
wall. I waited for her to speak. Then out of the mottled colors that
confronted my eye, out of the faded yellows and rusty browns, the dull
greens and brighter reds, and the gilt of countless titles, my gaze
rested on a near-by oblong of blue.
I looked at it without quite seeing it. Then it came capriciously
home to me that blue had been the color that Criswell had mentioned.
But after all blue is only blue, I vacuously told myself as I got up
and crossed the room. Then I saw the white streak at the top of the
book, and for no adequate reason my heart suddenly leaped up into my
I snatched at that thing of blue and white, like a man overboard
snatching at a life-line. I jerked it from its resting-place and
crossed to the desk-top with it.
On its blue title page I read: Report of the Commissioner of the
North West Mounted Police, 1898.
The volume, I could see at a glance, was a Canadian Government Blue
Book. It was a volume which I myself had exploited, in my own time, and
for my own ends. But those ends, I remembered as I took up the book and
shook it, belonged now to a world that seemed very foolish and very
far-away. Then, having shaken the volume as a terrier shakes a rat, I
turned it over and looked through it. This I did with a slowly sinking
It held nothing of significance. Yet I took it up and shook it and
riffled through its leaves once more, to make sure. Then between what I
saw to be the eighteenth and nineteenth pages of that section which
bore the title The Report of Inspector Moodie, I came upon a
photographic insert, a tint-block photo-engraving. It carried the
inscription: The Summit of Laurier Pass Looking Westward. What made
me suddenly stop breathing was the fact that this photograph showed two
hills covered with snow.
Criswell! I called out, so sharply that it must have sounded like
a scream to the bewildered woman in the cloth-of-gold cloak.
Yes, he answered in his far-away voice.
Was John Lockwood ever interested in Northern British Columbia? Did
he happen to have any claims or interests or plans that would make him
look up trails in a Police Patrol report?
I don't know, was the wearily indifferent answer.
Think, man! I called out at him. Think!
I can't think, he complained.
Wouldn't he have to look up roads to a new mining-camp in that
district? I persisted.
Yes, I think he did, was the slow response. Then the speaker
looked up at me. His stupor was almost that of intoxication. His
wandering eye peered unsteadily down at the Blue Book as I once more
riffled through its pages, from back to front. I saw his wavering
glance grow steady, his whole face change. I put the book down on the
desk-top, with the picture of Laurier Pass uppermost under the flat
I saw the man's eyes gradually dilate, and his body rise, as though
some unseen hydraulic machinery were slowly and evenly elevating it.
Why, there's the blue! There's the white! he gasped.
Go on! I cried. Go on!
And those are the two hills covered with snow! That's it! I see it!
I see it, now! That's the book John Lockwood was going through when
I handed him the letter!
What letter? I insisted.
Carlton's letter, he proclaimed.
Then where is it? I asked, sick at heart. I looked from Criswell
to the girl in the gold cloak as she crossed the room to the book-shelf
and stooped over the space from which I had so feverishly snatched the
Blue Book. I saw her brush the dust from her fingertips, stoop lower,
and again reach in between the shelves. Then I looked back at Criswell,
for I could hear his voice rise almost to a scream.
I remember! I see it now! And he's got to remember! He's got to
I shook my head, hopelessly, as he flung himself down in the chair,
sobbing out that foolish cry, over and over again.
Yes, he's got to remember, I could hear Mary Lockwood say as she
turned and faced us.
But what will make him? I asked, as her studiously impersonal gaze
This will, she announced as she held out her hand. I saw then, for
the first time, that in this hand she was holding a heavily inscribed
and R-stamped envelope.
What's that? demanded Criswell, staring hard.
It's your lost letter, answered Mary Lockwood. How it fell out, I
don't know. But we do know, now, that father shut this letter up in
that book. And the Lockwoods, I'm afraid, she continued with an odd
little quaver in her voice, will have a very, very great deal to ask
your forgiveness for. I'm sorry, Mr. Criswell, terribly sorry this ever
happened. But I'm glad, terribly glad, that it has turned out the way
There was a moment of quite unbroken silence. Then Criswell turned
It's you I've got to thank for all this, he finally
blustered out, with moist yet happy eyes, as he did his best to wring
my hand off. It's you who'vewho've reinstated me!
We were standing there in a sort of triangle, very awkward and
ill-at-ease, until I found the courage to break the silence.
But I don't seem to have been able to reinstate myself, Criswell,
I said as I turned and met Mary Lockwood's level gaze. She looked at me
out of those intrepid and unequivocating eyes of hers, for a full half
minute. Then she turned slowly away. She didn't speak. But there was
something that looked strangely like unhappiness in her face as she
groped toward the door, which Criswell, I noticed, opened for her.
CHAPTER XI. THE NILE-GREEN ROADSTER
I hope you slept well, sir, said Benson, as I sat down to my
breakfast of iced Casaba and eggs O'Brien, a long month later.
Like a top, thank you, I was able to announce to that anxious-eyed
old retainer of mine.
That sounds like old times, sir, ventured Benson, caressing his
own knuckle-joints very much as though he were shaking hands with
It feels like old times, I briskly acknowledged. And this
morning, Benson, I'd like you to clear out my study and get that
clutter of Shang and Ming bronzes off my writing-desk.
Very good, sir.
And order up a ream or two of that Wistaria Bond I used to use. For
I feel like work again, Benson, and that's a feeling which I don't
think we ought to neglect.
Quite so, sir, acquiesced Benson, with an approving wag of the
head which he made small effort to conceal.
It was the truth that I had spoken to Benson. The drought seemed to
have ended. The old psychasthenic inertia had slipped away. Life, for
some unaccountable reason or other, still again seemed wonderful to me,
touched with some undefined promise of high adventure, crowned once
more with the fugitive wine-glow of romance. Gramercy Square, from my
front windows, looked like something that Maxfield Parrish might have
drawn. A milk-wagon, just beyond the corner, made me suddenly think of
Phaethon and his coursers of the stellar trails. I felt an itching to
get back to my desk, to shake out the wings of creation. I wanted to
write once more. It would never again be about those impossible Alaskan
demigods of the earlier days, but about real men and women, about the
people I had met and known and struggled into an understanding of.
Life, I began to feel, was a game, a great game, a game well worth
watching, doubly well worth trying to interpret.
So when I settled down that day I wrote feverishly and I wrote
joyously. I wrote until my fingers were cramped and my head was empty.
I surrendered to a blithe logorrhea that left me contentedly limp and
lax and in need of an hour or two of open air.
So I sallied forth, humming as I went. It was a sparkling afternoon
of earliest spring, and as I paced the quiet streets I turned
pleasantly over in that half-torpid brain of mine certain ideas as to
the value of dramatic surprise, together with a carefully registered
self-caution as to the author's over-use of the long arm of
Coincidences, I told myself, were things which popped up altogether
too often on the printed page, and occurred altogether too seldom in
actual life. It was a lazy man's way of reaching his end, that trick of
riding the bumpers of Invention, of swinging and dangling from the
over-wrenched arm-socket of Coincidence. It was good enough for the
glib and delusive coggery of the moving-pictures, but
And then I stopped short. I stopped short, confronted by one of
those calamitous street-accidents only too common in any of our
twentieth-century cities where speed and greed have come to weigh life
I scarcely know which I noticed first, the spick-and-span cloverleaf
roadster sparkling in its coat of Nile-green enamel, or the girl who
seemed to step directly in its path as it went humming along the smooth
and polished asphalt. But by one of those miraculously rapid
calculations of which the human mind is quite often capable I realized
that this same softly-humming car was predestined to come more or less
violently into contact with that frail and seemingly hesitating figure.
My first impulse was to turn away, to avoid a spectacle which
instinct told me would be horrible. For still again I felt the beak of
cowardice spearing my vitals. I had the odynephobiac's dread of blood.
It unmanned me; it sickened my soul. And I would at least have covered
my face with my hands, to blot out the scene, had I not suddenly
remembered that other and strangely similar occasion when a car came
into violent collision with a human body. And it had been my car. On
that occasion, I only too well knew, I had proved unpardonably
vacillating and craven. I had run away from the horror I should have
faced like a man. And I had paid for my cowardice, paid for it at the
incredibly extortionate price of my self-respect and my peace of mind.
So this time I compelled myself to face the music. I steeled myself
to stand by, even as the moving car struck the hesitating body and
threw it to the pavement. My heart jumped up into my throat, like a
ball-valve, and I shouted aloud, in mortal terror, for I could see
where the skirted body trailed in under the running-gear of the
Nile-green roadster, dragging along the pavement as the two white hands
clung frantically to the green-painted spring-leaves. But I didn't run
away. Instead of running away, in fact, I did exactly the opposite. I
swung out to the side of the fallen girl, who stiffened in my arms as I
picked her up. Then I spread my overcoat out along the curb, and placed
the inert body on top of it, for in my first unreasoning panic I
assumed that the woman was dead. I could see saliva streaked with blood
drooling from her parted lips. It was horrible. And I had just made
sure that she was still alive, that she was still breathing, when I
became conscious of the fact that a second man, who had run along
beside the car shaking his fist up at its driver, was standing close
beside me. He was an elderly man, a venerable-looking man, a man with
silvery hair and a meek and threadbare aspect. He was wringing his
hands and moaning in his misery as he stared down at the girl stretched
out on my overcoat.
They've killed her! he cried aloud. O God, they've killed her!
Do you know this girl? I demanded as I did my best to loosen the
throat of her shirt-waist.
Yesyes! She's my Babbie. She's my niece. She's all I have, was
his reply. But they've killed her.
Acting that way won't help things! I told him, almost angrily.
Then I looked up, still angrily, to see what had become of the
Nile-green car. It had drawn in close beside the curb, not thirty feet
away. I could see a woman stepping down from the driving-seat. All I
noticed, at first, was that her face seemed very white, and that as she
turned and moved toward us her left hand was pressed tight against her
breast. It struck me, even in that moment of tension, as an
indescribably dramatic gesture.
Then the long arm of the goddess known as Coincidence swung up and
smote me full in the face, as solidly as a blacksmith's hammer smites
an anvil. For the woman I saw walking white-faced yet determined toward
where I knelt at the curb-side was Mary Lockwood herself.
I stood up and faced her in the cruel clarity of the slanting
afternoon sunlight. For only a moment, I noticed, her stricken eyes
rested on the figure of the woman lying along the curb-edge. Then they
rose to my face. In those eyes, as she stared at me, I could read the
question, the awful question, which her lips left unuttered. Yet it was
not fear; it was not cowardice, that I saw written on that tragically
colorless brow. It was more a dumb protest against injustice without
bounds, a passionate and unarticulated pleading for some delivering
sentence which she knew could not be given to her.
No, she's not dead, I said in answer to that unspoken question.
She may not even be seriously hurt. But
I stared down at the telltale saliva streaked with blood. But the
silvery-haired old man at my side put an end to any such efforts at
She's killed, he excitedly proclaimed.
She's no such thing, I just as excitedly retorted.
But you saw what they did to her? he demanded, clutching at my
shoulder. You saw it. They ran her down, like a dog. They've ruined
her; they've broken her body, for life!
I could see Mary Lockwood's hand go out, as though in search for
support. She was breathing almost as quickly, by this time, as the
reviving girl on the curb-edge.
Shut up, I curtly commanded the old man as he started in once more
on his declamations, for the customary city crowd was already beginning
to cluster about us. It isn't talk we want now. We must get this girl
where she can be taken care of.
It was then that Mary Lockwood spoke for the first time. Her voice
was tremulous, but the gloved hand that hung at her side was no longer
Couldn't I take her home? she asked me. To my home?
I was busy pushing back the crowd.
No, I told her, a hospital's best. I'll put her in your car
there. Then you run her over to the Roosevelt. That's even better than
waiting for an ambulance.
I stooped over the injured girl again and felt her pulse. It struck
me as an amazingly strong and steady pulse for any one in such a
predicament. And her respiration, I noticed, was very close to normal.
I examined each side of her face, and inspected her lips and even her
tongue-tip, to see if some cut or abrasion there couldn't account for
that disturbing streak of blood. But I could find neither cut nor
bruise, and by this time the old man was again making himself heard.
You'll take her to no pest-house, he was excitedly proclaiming.
She'll come home with mewhat's left of her. She must come
home with me!
Mary Lockwood stared at him with her tragic and still slightly
Very well, she quietly announced. I'll take her home. I'll take
you both home.
And at this the old man seemed immensely relieved.
Where is it you want to go? I rather impatiently demanded of him.
For I'd decided to get them away from there, for Mary's sake, before
the inevitable patrolman or reporter happened along.
On the other side of Brooklyn, explained the bereft one, with a
vague hand-wave toward the east. I had to push back the crowd again,
before I was able to gather the limp form up from its asphalted
And what's your name? I demanded as the old man came shuffling
along beside us on our way to the waiting car.
Crotty, he announced. Zachary Crotty.
It wasn't until I'd placed the injured girl in the
softly-upholstered car-seat that that name of Crotty, sent like a
torpedo across the open spaces of distraction, exploded against the
hull-plates of memory.
Crotty! The very name of Crotty took my thoughts suddenly winging
back to yet another street-accident, an accident in which I myself had
figured so actively and so unfortunately. For Crotty was the name of
the man, I remembered, who had confirmed my chauffeur Latreille's
verdict as to the victim of that never-to-be-forgotten Hallow-e'en
affair. Crotty was the individual who had brought word to Latreille
that we had really killed a man. And Crotty was not a remarkably common
name. And now, oddly enough, he was figuring in another accident of
almost the same nature.
Something prompted me to reach in and feel the hand of the still
comatose girl. That hand, I noticed, was warm to the touch. Then I
turned and inspected the venerable-looking old man who was now weeping
volubly into a large cotton handkerchief.
You'll have to give us your street and number, I told him, as a
mask to cover that continued inspection of mine.
He did so, between sobs. And as he did so I failed to detect any
trace of actual tears on his face. What was more, I felt sure that the
eye periodically concealed by the noisily-flourished handkerchief was a
chronically roving eye, an unstable eye, an eye that seemed averse to
meeting your own honestly inquiring glance.
That discovery, or perhaps I ought to say that suspicion, caused me
to turn to Mary, who was already in her place in the driving-seat.
Wouldn't it be better if I went with you? I asked her, stung to
the heart by the mute suffering which I could only too plainly see on
her milk-white face.
No, she told me as she motioned for the girl's uncle to climb into
the car. This is something I've got to do myself.
And it's something that'll have to be paid for, and well paid for,
declaimed our silvery-haired old friend as he stowed away his cotton
handkerchief and took up his slightly triumphant position in that
It was not so much this statement, I think, as the crushed and
hopeless look in Mary Lockwood's eyes that prompted me to lean in
across the car-door and meet the gaze of those eyes as they stared so
unseeingly down at me.
I wish you'd let me go with you, I begged, putting my pride in my
What good would that do? she demanded, with a touch of bitterness
in her voice. Her foot, I could see, was already pressing down on the
I might be able to help you, I rather inadequately ventured. Even
as I spoke, however, I caught sight of the blue-clad figure of a
patrolman pushing his way through the crowd along the curb. I imagine
that Mary also caught sight of that figure, for a shadow passed across
her face and the pulse of the engine increased to a drone.
I can't wait, she said in a sort of guilty gasp. This girl needs
help. And she needs it quickly.
Unconsciously my eyes fell to the other girl sitting back so limply
in the padded seat. She was, clearly, coming round again. But as she
drifted past my line of vision with the movement of the car I made a
trivial and yet a slightly perplexing discovery. I noticed that the
relaxed hand posed so impassively along the door-top bore a distinct
yellow stain between the tips of the first and second fingers. That
yellow stain, I knew, was customarily brought about by the use of
cigarettes. It was a mark peculiar to the habitual smoker. Yet the meek
and drab-colored figure that I had lifted into that car-seat could
scarcely be accepted as a consumer of coffin-nails. It left a wrinkle
which the iron of Reason found hard to eradicate.
It left me squinting after that departing roadster, in fact, with
something more than perplexity nibbling at my heart. I was oppressed by
a feeling of undefined conspiracies weaving themselves about the
tragic-eyed girl in the Nile-green car. And a sudden ache to follow
after that girl, to stand between her and certain activities which she
could never comprehend, took possession of me.
Any such pursuit, however, was not as easy as it promised. For I
first had to explain to that inquiring patrolman that the accident had
been a trivial one, that I hadn't even bothered about taking the
license-number of the car, and that I could be found at my home in
Gramercy Square in case any further information might be deemed
necessary. Then, once clear of the neighborhood, I hesitated between
two possible courses. One was to get in touch with Mary's father over
the phone, with John Lockwood. The other was to hurry down to Police
Headquarters and talk things over with my good friend Lieutenant
Belton. But either movement, I remembered, would have stood distasteful
to Mary herself. It meant publicity, and publicity was one thing to be
avoided. So I solved the problem by taking an altogether different
tack. I did what deep down in my heart I had been wanting to do all
along. I hailed a passing taxicab, hopped in, and made straight for
that hinterland district of Brooklyn where Crotty had described his
home as standing.
I didn't drive directly to that home, but dismissed my driver at a
near-by corner and approached the house on foot. There was no longer
any Nile-green car in sight. And the house itself, I noticed, was a
distinctly unattractive-looking one, a shabby one, even a sordid one. I
stood in the shadow of the side-entrance to one of those gilt-lettered
corner-saloons which loom like aromatic oases out of man's most dismal
Saharas, studying that altogether repellent house-front. And as I stood
there making careful note of its minutest characteristics a figure came
briskly down its broken sandstone steps.
What made me catch my breath, however, was the fact that the figure
was that of a man, and the man was Latreille, my ex-chauffeur. And
still again, I remembered, the long arm of Coincidence was reaching out
and plucking me by the sleeve.
But I didn't linger there to meditate over this abstraction, for I
noticed that Latreille, sauntering along the opposite side of the
street, had signaled to two other men leisurely approaching my
caravansary from the near-by corner. One of these, I saw, was the old
man known as Crotty. And it was obvious that within two minutes' time
they would converge somewhere disagreeably close to the spot where I
So I backed discreetly and quietly through the side-entrance of that
many-odored beer-parlor. There I encountered an Hibernian bartender
with an empty tray and an exceptionally evil eye. I detained him,
however, with a fraternal hand on his sleeve.
Sister, I hurriedly explained, I've got a date with a rib here.
Can you put me under cover?
It was patois, I felt sure, which would reach his understanding. But
it wasn't until he beheld the five-spot which I'd slid up on his tray
that the look of world-weary cynicism vanished from his face.
Sure, he said as he promptly and impassively pocketed the bill.
Then without a word or the blink of an eye he pushed in past a room
crowded with round tables on iron pedestals, took the key out of a door
opening in the rear wall, thrust it into my fingers, and offhandedly
motioned me inside.
I stepped in through that door and closed and locked it. Then I
inspected my quarters. They were eloquent enough of sordid and ugly
adventure. They smelt of sour liquor and stale cigar-smoke, with a
vague over-tone of orris and patchouli. On one side of the room was an
imitation Turkish couch, on the other an untidy washstand and a
charred-edged card-table. Half-way between these there was a
speak-easy, a small sliding wall-panel through which liquid
refreshments might be served without any undue interruption to the
privacy of those partaking of the same. This speak-easy, I noticed as I
slid it back the merest trifle, opened on the beer parlor, at the
immediate rear of the bar-room itself, the parlor where the thirsty
guest might sit at one of the little round tables and consume his
suds or his fusel-oil whisky at his leisure. And the whole place
impressed me as the sort of thing that still made civilization a
mockery and suburban recreation a viper that crawled on its belly.
I was, in fact, still peering through my little speak-easy slit in
the wall when I became conscious of the three figures that came sidling
into that empty room with the little round tables. I could see them
distinctly. There was the silvery-haired old Crotty; there was
Latreille; and there was a rather unkempt and furtive-eyed individual
who very promptly and unmistakably impressed me as a drug-addict. And
repugnant as eavesdropping was to me, I couldn't help leaning close to
my speak-easy crevice and listening to that worthy trio as they seated
themselves within six feet of where I stood, Latreille and old Crotty
with their backs to me, the untidy individual whom they addressed as
The Doc sitting facing the wall that shielded me.
Swell kipping! contentedly murmured one of that trio, out of their
momentary silence. And at that I promptly pricked up my ears, for I
knew that swell kipping in the vernacular of the underworld stood for
What'll it be, boys? interrupted a voice which I recognized as the
Bourbon, barked Latreille.
A slug o' square-face, Mickey, companionably announced the old
gentleman known as Crotty.
Deep beer, sighed he who was designated as The Doc. Then came the
sound of a match being struck, the scrape of a chair-leg, and the clump
of a fist on the table-top, followed by a quietly contented laugh.
It's a pipe! announced a solemnly exultant voice. And I knew the
speaker to be my distinguished ex-chauffeur. It's sure one grand
Nothing's a cinch until you get the goods in your jeans, contended
Crotty, with the not unnatural skepticism of age.
But didn't she hand her hundred and ten over to The Doc, just to
cover running-expenses? Ain't that worth rememberin'? And ain't she got
the fear o' Gawd thrown into her? And ain't she comin' back to-night
wit' that wine-jelly and old Port and her own check-book?
This allocution was followed by an appreciative silence.
But it's old Lockwood who's got o' come across, that individual
known as The Doc finally reminded his confrères.
This brought a snort of contempt from Latreille. I tell you again
old Lockwood'll fight you to the drop of the hat. The girl's your meat.
She's your mark. You've got her! And if you've only got the brains to
milk her right she's good for forty thousand. She's weakened already.
She's on the skids. And she's got a pile of her own to pull from!
Forty thousand? echoed the other, with a smack of the lips.
That's thirteen thousand a-piece, amended Latreille largely, with
one over for Car-Step Sadie.
Cut out that name, commanded Crotty.
Well, Babbie then, if that suits you better. And it's a landslide
Ain't she earned it? demanded her silvery-haired old guardian.
Strikes me as being pretty good pay for gettin' bunted over with a
play-car and not even a shin-bruise.
Well, ain't her trainin' worth something, in this work?
Sure it isbut how 'n hell did she get that blood streakin' across
her face so nice and life-like?
The silvery-haired old gentleman chuckled as he put down his glass
That's sure our Babbie's one little grand-stand play! You see, she
keeps the pulp exposed in one o' her back teeth. Then a little suck
with her tongue over it makes it bleed, on a half-minute notice. That's
how she worked the hemorrhage-game with old Bronchial Bill all last
winter, before the beak sent him up the river.
I stood there, leaning against the soiled shelf across which must
have passed so much of the liquid that cheers depressed humanity. But
never before, I feel sure, did anything quite so cheering come through
that sordid little speak-easy. I was no longer afraid of that
malignant-looking trio so contentedly exulting over their ill-gotten
Well, it's a cinch, went on the droning voice, if The Doc'll only
cut out the dope for a couple o' days and your Babbie doesn't get to
buckin' over the footboard!
It ain't Babbie I'm worryin' over, explained old Crotty. That
girl'll do what's expected of her. She's got to. I've wised her up on
that. What's worryin' me more is that cuff-shooter who butted in over
there on the Island.
Still again I could hear Latreille's little snort of open contempt.
Well, you can put that bug out of your head, quietly averred my
ex-chauffeur. You seem to 've forgotten that guy, Zachy. That's the
boob we unloaded the Senator's town car on. And that's the Hindoo I
framed, away back on Hallow-e'en Night. You remember that, don't you?
I leaned closer, with my heart pounding under my midriff and a
singing in my ears. But old Crotty didn't seem to remember.
On Hallow-e'en Night? he ruminated aloud.
Why, the stiff I asked you to stand ready to give the glad word to,
if he happened round for any habeas-corpus song and dance! prompted
the somewhat impatient voice of Latreille. Don't you mind, back on
last Hallow-e'en, how the Big Hill boys stuffed that suit of old
clothes with straw and rags, and then stuck it up in the street? And
how we hit that dummy, and how I made the chicken-hearted pen-wiper
think that he'd killed a man and coyoted off the scene?
I don't know what old Crotty's reply to those questions were. I
wasn't interested in his reply. It wasn't even rage that swept through
me as I stood listening to those only too enraging words.
The first thing that I felt was a sense of relief, a vague yet vast
consciousness of deliverance, like a sleepy lifer with a governor's
pardon being waved in his face. I was no longer afraid for Mary. I was
no longer afraid of life, afraid of myself, afraid of my fellows. My
slate was clean. And above all, I was in no way any longer afraid of
Latreille. I was the chicken-hearted pen-wiperand I hated him
for that wordwho had been framed. I was the over-timorous
victim of their sweet-scented conspiracies. I was the boob who
had been made to shuffle and suffer and sweat. But that time was over
and done with, forever. And the great wave of relief that swept through
me surged back again, this time crested with anger, and then still
again towered and broke in a misty rush of pity for Mary Lockwood. I
thought of her as something soft and feathered in the triple coils of
those three reptilious conspirators, as something clean and timid and
fragile, being slowly slathered over by the fangs which were to fasten
themselves upon her innocence, which were to feed upon her goodness of
heart. And I decided that she would never have to go through what I had
been compelled to go through.
I didn't wait for more. There was, in fact, nothing more to wait
for, so far as I and my world were concerned. I had found out all I
wanted to find out. Yet I had to stand there for a full minute,
coercing myself to calmness. Then I tiptoed across the room to a second
door which stood in the rear wall, unlocked it, and stepped out into
the narrow and none too well-lighted hallway. This led to a washroom
which in turn opened on another narrow passageway. And from this I was
able to circle back into the bar-room itself.
I didn't tarry to make any explanations to the worthy called Mickey,
or to advertise my exit to his even worthier friends. I slipped quietly
and quickly out of that unclean street-corner fester-spot, veered off
across the street where the early spring twilight was already settling
down, and went straight to the house which I knew to be Crotty's.
I didn't even wait to ring. I tried the door, found it unlocked, and
stepped inside. There, no sign of life confronted me. But that didn't
for a moment deter my explorations. I quietly investigated the ground
floor, found it as unprepossessing as its proprietor, and proceeded
noiselessly up the narrow stairway for an examination of the upper
It wasn't until I reached the head of the stairs that I came to a
stop. For there I could hear the muffled but unmistakable sound of
somebody moving about. It took me several minutes to determine the
source of these movements. But once I had made sure of my ground I
advanced to the door at the back of the half-darkened hall and swung it
On the far side of the room into which I stood staring I saw a girl
in house-slippers and a faded rose-colored peignoir thrown over
a none too clean night-dress of soiled linen. In one hand she held a
lighted cigarette. With the other hand she was stirring something in a
small graniteware stew-pan over a gas-heater. Her hair was down and her
shoulders were bare. But all her attention seemed concentrated on that
savory stew, which she sniffed at hungrily, almost childishly, between
puffs on her cigarette. Then she fell to stirring her pot again, with
I had the door shut behind me, in fact, before she so much as
surmised that any one else was in the room with her. And when she
looked up and saw me there her eyes slowly widened and she slowly and
deliberately put her spoon down on the soiled dresser-top beside her.
It wasn't exactly fear that I saw creep into her face. It was more the
craft of the long-harried and case-hardened fugitive.
Bab, I said, addressing her in the language which I imagined would
most forcibly appeal to her. I don't want to butt in on your slough.
But time's precious and I'm going to talk plain.
Shoot! she said after a moment of hesitation followed by another
moment of silent appraisal.
The cops are rounding up The Doc and old Crotty for claim faking.
They're also coming here, Bab, to gather up a girl called Car-Step
Sadie for dummy-chucking under the car of that Lockwood woman and
bleeding her for one hundred and ten bones, and
Those bulls 've got nuttin' on me! broke out the disturbingly
dishabille figure in soiled linen, as she stood staring at me with a
sort of mouse-like hostility in her crafty young eyes.
But they're bringing a police-surgeon along with 'em, I went
glibly on, for they claim, Bab, you've got a hollow tooth you can
start bleeding any time you need to stall on that internal-injury
stuff. And they've dug up a couple of cases that aren't going to sound
any too good over in the District Attorney's office. Now, I'm not here
to give advice. This is merely a rumble. And you can do what you like
about it. But if you're wise, you'll slide while the sliding is good.
She stood once more silently studying me.
What's all this to yuh, anyway? she suddenly demanded.
It's so little, my dear, I airily acknowledged, that you can do
exactly as you like about it. But
Where's The Doc? was her next quick question. Where's Crotty?
I had to think fast.
They've ducked, I asserted, amazed at my own newly-discovered
facility in fictioneering.
Who said they'd ducked?
Do you know Mickey's, over there on the corner? I ventured.
She nodded as she darted across the room and threw aside the faded
peignoir. The movement made my thoughts flash back to another and
earlier scene, to the scene wherein one Vinnie Brunelle had played the
Latreille, I explained to the girl across the room, dropped in at
Mickey's and tipped Crotty and The Doc off, not more than a quarter of
an hour ago.
And they rabbited off wit'out throwin' me a sign? she indignantly
They did, I prevaricated.
She suddenly stopped, swinging about and viewing me with open
Where'd yuh ever know that Latreille guy? she demanded.
Latreille worked with me, for months, I declared, speaking with
more truth, in fact, than I had intended.
Then me for the tall timber! announced that hard-faced little
adventuress as she began to scramble into her clothes.
Don't you want me to get you a taxi? I inquired, backing
discreetly away until I stood in the open door.
Taxi nuttin'! she retorted through the shower of soiled lingerie
mat cascaded about her writhing white shoulders. What d'yuh take me
for, anyway? A ostrich? When I get under cover, I go there me own way,
and not wit' all Brooklyn bawlin' me out!
And she went her own way. She went, indeed, much more expeditiously
than I had anticipated, for in five minutes' time she was dressed and
booted and hatted and scurrying off through the now darkened streets.
Which trail she took and what cover she sought didn't in the least
interest me once I had made sure of the fact she was faring in an
opposite direction to Mickey's thirst-appeasing caravansary. But she
went. She shook the dust of that house off her febrile young heels; and
that was the one thing I desired of her. For that night, I knew, still
held a problem or two for me which would be trying enough without the
presence of the redoubtable Lady Babbie and her sanguinary bicuspid.
Yet once she was clear of that house, I decided to follow her
example. This, however, was not so easy as it had promised to be. For I
had scarcely reached the foot of the stairway when I heard the sound of
voices outside the street door. And I promptly recognized them as
Crotty's and Latreille's.
That discovery sent me groping hurriedly backward into the darkened
hallway. By the time the door opened I had felt my way to a second
flight of steps which obviously led to the basement. I could hear the
voice of the man known as The Doc, for the three men were now
advancing, and advancing none too quietly, into their musty-aired
harborage. But my own flight down those basement stairs was quiet
enough, for I realized now the expediency of slipping away and putting
in a call for help.
It was only after a good deal of groping about, however, that I was
able to reach the door opening on the basement-area, directly under the
street-steps. A huge brass key, fortunately, stood in place there. So
as I passed out I took the trouble to relock that door after me and
pocket the key.
In five minutes I had found a side-street grocery-store with a
sufficiently sequestered telephone. And by means of this telephone I
promptly called up Headquarters and asked for Lieutenant Belton.
He listened to what I had to say with much more interest than I had
Witter, he called back over the wire, I believe you've stumbled
across something big.
Then supposing you stumble over here after it, was my prompt
suggestion. But Belton wasn't to be stampeded into the over-hasty
action of the amateur.
If that isn't that bunch Headquarters has been wanting to interview
for the last three months, I miss my one best bet. But in this
business, Witter, you've got to know. So I'll slip over to the
Bureau and look up mugs and records. If that faint-spiller is Bab
Nadeau, alias Car-Step Sadie, there's no doubt about your man
She is Car-Step Sadie, I told him.
Then we'll be out there with bells on, he calmly announced.
But what do you expect me to do, in the meantime? I somewhat
Just keep 'em guessing, he tranquilly retorted, keep 'em guessing
until we amble over there and take 'em off your hands!
That was easy enough to say, I remembered as I made my way back to
Crotty's broken-faced abode, but the problem of holding that unsavory
trio in subjection didn't impress me as an over-trivial one. Yet I went
back with a new fortitude stiffening my backbone, for I knew that
whatever might happen that night, I now had the Law on my side.
That casual little flicker of confidence, however, was not destined
to sustain me for long. A new complication suddenly confronted me. For
as I guardedly approached the house from which I'd sent Bab Nadeau
scampering off into the night I noticed the Nile-green car already
drawn up close beside the curb. And this car, I further noticed, was
So it was with a perceptibly quickened pulse that I sidled down into
the unclean area, unearthed my brass key, and let myself silently into
the unlighted basement. Then I just as quietly piloted my way in
through the darkness, found the stairway, and ascended to the ground
The moment I reached the hallway I could hear the sound of voices
through a door on my left. I could hear Mary Lockwood's voice, and then
the throaty tones of that opianic old impostor known as The Doc.
... No doubt of the fact at all, my dear young lady. The spine has
been injured, very seriously injured. Whether or not it will result in
paralysis I can't tell until I consult with my colleague, Doctor
Emmanuel Paschall. But we must count on the poor girl being helpless
for life, Crotty, helpless for life!
This was followed by a moment or two of silence. And I could imagine
what that moment or two was costing Mary Lockwood.
But I want to see the girl, she said in a somewhat desperate
voice. I must see her.
All in good time, my dear, all in good time, temporized her bland
old torturer. This was followed by a lower mumble of voices from which
I could glean nothing intelligible. But those three conspirators must
have consulted together, for after a moment of silence I caught the
sound of steps crossing the floor.
He'll just slip up and make sure the patient can be seen, I heard
the suave old rascal intone. And I had merely time to edge back and
dodge about the basement stairhead as the room-door was flung open and
Latreille stepped out in the hall. The door closed again as he vanished
When he returned, he didn't step back into the room, but waited
outside and knocked on the closed door. This brought old Crotty out in
answer to the summons. Just what passed between that worthy trio,
immured in their whispering consultation in that half-lighted hallway,
failed to reach my ears. But this in no way disturbed me, for I knew
well enough that Latreille had at least passed on to them the alarming
news that their much needed patient was no longer under that roof. And
what was more, I knew that this discovery would serve to bring things
to a somewhat speedier climax than we had all anticipated. There was a
sort of covert decisiveness about their movements, in fact, as they
stepped back into the room and swung the door shut behind them. So I
crept closer, listening intently. But it was only patches and shreds of
their talk that I could overhear. I caught enough, however, to know
they were protesting that their patient was too weak to be interviewed.
I could hear Crotty feelingly exclaim that it wasn't kind words which
could help this poor child now, but only something much more
substantial, and much more mundane.
Yes, it's only money that can talk in a case like this, pointedly
concurred The Doc, clearly spurred on to a more open boldness of
advance. And there were further parleyings and arguments and lugubrious
enumerations of possibilities from the man of medicine. I knew well
enough what they were doing. They were conjointly and cunningly
brow-beating and intimidating that solitary girl who, even while she
must have gathered some inkling of their worldliness, comprehended
nothing of the wider plot they were weaving about her. And I further
knew that they were winning their point, for I could hear her stifled
little gasp of final surrender.
Very well, her strained voice said. I'll give you the check.
This pregnant sentence was followed by an equally pregnant silence.
Then came a series of small noises, among which I could distinguish the
scrape of a chair-leg and steps crossing the floor. And I surmised that
Mary was seating herself at a desk or table, to make out and sign the
precious little slip of paper which they were so unctuously conspiring
for. So it was at this precise moment that I decided to interfere.
I opened the door, as quietly as I could, and stepped into the room.
It was Latreille who first saw me. The other two men were too
intently watching the girl at the desk. They were still watching her as
she slowly rose from her chair, with a blue-tinted oblong of paper
between her fingers. And at the same moment that Mary Lockwood stood up
Latreille did the same. He rose slowly, with his eyes fixed on my face,
backing just as slowly away as he continued to stare at me. But that
retreat, I very promptly realized, wasn't prompted by any sense of
Mary, I called out sharply to the girl who still stood staring
down at the slip of blue paper.
She looked up as she heard that call, peering at me with half
incredulous and slightly startled eyes. I don't know whether she was
glad or sorry to see me there. Perhaps it was both. But she neither
moved nor spoke.
Mary, I cried out to her, don't give that up!
I moved toward her, but she in turn moved away from me until she
stood close beside the ever watchful Latreille.
This is something which you don't understand, she said, much more
calmly than I had expected.
But I do, I hotly contended.
It's something which you can't possibly understand, she repeated
in tones which threw a gulf yawning between us.
But it's you who don't, I still tried to tell her. These
three here are claim fakers; nothing but criminals. They're bleeding
you! They're blackmailing you!
A brief but portentous silence fell on that room as the bewildered
girl looked from one face to the other. But it lasted only a moment.
The tableau was suddenly broken by a movement from Latreille. And it
was a quick and cat-like movement. With one sweep of the hand he
reached out and snatched the oblong of blue paper from Mary Lockwood's
fingers. And as I beheld that movement a little alarm-gong somewhere up
at the peak of my brain went off with a clang. Some remote cave-man
ancestor of mine stirred in his grave. I saw red.
With one unreasoned and unreasoning spring I reached Latreille,
crying to the girl as I went: Get out of this house! Get outquick!
That was all I said. It was all I had a chance to say, for Latreille
was suddenly taking up all my attention. That suave brigand, instead of
retreating, caught and held the slip of paper between his teeth and
squared for combat. And combat was what he got.
We struck and countered and clenched and went to the floor together,
still striking blindly at each other's faces as we threshed and rolled
about there. We sent a chair spinning, and a table went over like a
nine-pin. We wheezed and gasped and clumped against the baseboard and
flopped again out into open space. Yet I tore that slip of paper from
between Latreille's teeth, and macerated it between my own, as we
continued to pound and thump and writhe about the dusty floor. And I
think I would have worsted Latreille, if I'd been given half a chance,
for into that onslaught of mine went the pent-up fury of many weeks and
months of self-corroding hate. But that worthy known as The Doc deemed
it wise to take a hand in the struggle. His interference assumed the
form of a blow with a chair-back, a blow which must have stunned me for
a moment or two, for when I was able to think clearly again Latreille
had me pinned down, with one knee on my chest and old Crotty stationed
at the door with a Colt revolver in his hand. The next moment Latreille
forced my wrists down in front of me, jerked a handkerchief from my
pocket, and with it tied my crossed hands close together. Then he
turned and curtly motioned to Crotty.
Here, he commanded. Bring that gun and guard this pin-head! If he
tries anything, let him have it, and have it good!
Slowly and deliberately Latreille rose to his feet. He paused for a
moment to wipe the blood and dust from his face. Then he turned to Mary
Lockwood, who stood with her back against the wall and her tightly
clenched fists pressed close to her sides. She was very white, white to
the lips. But it wasn't fear that held her there. It was a sort of
colorless heat of indignation, a fusing of rage and watchfulness which
she seemed at a loss to express in either word or action.
Now you, barked out Latreille, motioning her to the desk, make
good on that paper. And do it quick!
Mary surveyed him, silently, studiously, deliberately. He was,
apparently, something startlingly new in her career, something which
she seemed unable to fathom. But he'd by no means intimidated her. For,
instead of answering him, she spoke to me.
Witter, she called out, watching her enemy as she spoke. Witter,
what do you want me to do?
I remembered Lieutenant Belton and his message. I remembered my own
helplessness, and the character of the men confronting us. And I
remembered that time was a factor in Mary's favor and mine.
Do what he tells you, I called up to her. And I knew that she had
stepped slowly across to the desk again. Yet what she did there I
failed to understand, for my attention was once more centered on the
old scoundrel covering me with the Colt revolver and repeatedly and
blasphemously threatening to plug me through the heart if I so much as
made one finger-move to get off that floor. So I lay there studying
him. I studied his posture. I studied the position of his weapon. I
studied my own length of limb. I studied the furniture overturned about
the room. And then I once more studied old Crotty.
Then I laughed aloud. As I did so I suddenly twisted my head and
stared toward the door.
Smash it in, Sam! I shouted exultantly, and with all the
strength of my lungs.
It startled them all, as I had intended it should. But it also did
something else which I had expected it to do. It caused Crotty to
glance quickly over his shoulder toward the door in question. And at
the precise moment that he essayed this movement I ventured one of my
I brought my outstretched leg up, in one quick and vicious kick. I
brought my boot-sole in one stinging blow against the stock of the
firearm and the fingers clustered about it. And the result was
practically what I had anticipated. It sent the revolver cascading up
into the air, like a circus-tumbler doing a double-twister over an
elephant's back. There was the bark of an exploding cartridge as it
went. But I had both timed and placed its fall, and before either one
of that startled couple could make a move I had given a quick twist and
roll along the dusty floor and caught up the fallen weapon in my own
pinioned right hand. Another quick wrench and twist freed my bound
wrist, and before even a second shout of warning could escape from any
of them I was on my feet with the revolver balanced in my right hand
and fire in my eye.
Back up, every one o' you, I commanded. For I was hot now, hot as
a hornet. And if one of that worthy trio had ventured a move not in
harmony with my orders I am morally certain that I should have sent a
bullet through him. They too must have been equally assured of my
determination, for side by side they backed away, with their hands
slightly above their heads, like praying Brahmans, until the wall
itself stopped their retreat.
Stand closer, I told them. And they shuffled and side-stepped
shoulder to shoulder, ludicrously, like the rawest of rookies on their
first day of drill. As I stood contemplating them, with disgust on my
face, I was interrupted by the voice of Mary.
Witter, she demanded in a voice throaty with excitement yet not
untouched with some strange exultation which I couldn't take time to
analyze, what shall I do this time?
I couldn't turn and face her, for I still had to keep that unsavory
trio under inspection.
I want you to go down to your car, I told her over my shoulder,
and get in it, and then go straight home. And then
That's absurd, she interrupted.
I want you to do it.
But I don't intend to, she said, ignoring my masterfulness.
I've been too cowardly about this already. It's been quite bad
enough, without leaving you here like that. So be good enough to tell
me what I can do.
I liked her for that, and I was on the point of telling her so, when
down below I heard the quick stamp and clump of feet. And I felt in my
bones that it must be Belton and his men. Then I remembered Mary and
I'll tell you what you can do, I said, pointing toward Latreille.
You can ask this man what it was I ran down in my car last
She was moving forward, with a face quite without fear by this time.
But her brow clouded, at that speech of mine, and she came to a sudden
I don't need to ask him, she slowly acknowledged.
Because I know already.
He told you? I demanded, with a vicious and quite
involuntary jab of my barrel-end into one of Latreille's intercostal
Not directly, replied the ever-truthful Mary. But it was through
him that I found out. I know now it was through him.
I thought so, I snorted. And through him you're now going to find
out that he was a liar and a slanderer. So be good enough to explain to
her, Latreille, that it was a straw-stuffed dummy we ran down, a
street-crowd's scare-crow, and nothing else!
Latreille didn't answer me. He merely stood there with studious and
half-closed eyes, a serpent-like squint of venom on his colorless face.
It was, in fact, old Crotty who broke the silence.
We'll do our talkin', young fellow, when the right time comes. And
when we do, you're goin' to pay for an outrage like this, for an
unprovoked assault on decent citizens!
Well, the time's come right now, I promptly announced, for I had
caught the sound of Belton's quick step on the stairs. And the next
moment the door swung open and that stalwart officer stood staring
intently yet cautiously about the corner of the jamb. He stood there
squinting in, in fact, for several seconds, calmly inspecting each face
and factor of the situation. It wasn't until he stepped in through the
open door, however, that I noticed the ugly-looking service-revolver in
his own right hand.
That's the bunch we want, all right, proclaimed the officer of law
and order as he turned back to the still open door. Come up, boys, and
take 'em down, he called cheerfully and companionably out through the
Mary, at the answering tumult of those quick-thumping feet, crept a
little closer to my side. Alarm, I suppose, had at last seeped through
and crumbled the last of her Lockwood pride. The flash of waiting
firearms, the strange faces, the still stranger experiences of that
night, seemed to have brought about some final and unlooked for
subjugation of her spirit. At least, so I thought.
Couldn't you take me away, Witter? she asked a little weakly and
also a little wistfully. Yet there was something about the very tone of
her voice which sent a thrill through my tired body. And that thrill
gave me boldness enough to reach out a proprietory arm and let the
weight of her body rest against it.
You won't want us, will you, Belton? I demanded, and that
long-legged young officer stared about at us abstractedly, for a moment
or two, before replying. When he turned away he did so to hide what
seemed to be a slowly widening smile.
These are the folks I want, he retorted, with a hand-wave
toward his three prisoners. And without wasting further breath or time
on them I helped Mary out and down to the Nile-green roadster.
No; let me, she said as she noticed my movement to mount to the
driver's seat. But she was silent for several minutes as we threaded
our way out through the quiet and shadowy streets.
Witter, she said at last and with a gulp, you must think I'm
anan awful coward.
I was the coward, I proclaimed out of my sudden misery of
mind. For there were certain things which would be terribly hard to
You? she cried. After what I've just seen? After what you've
saved me from? Oh, how you must despise me!
No, I said with a gulp of my own. That's not the word.
It's not, she absently agreed.
It's not, I repeated, for I love you!
She made no response to that foolish and untimely declaration. All
her attention, in fact, seemed directed toward her driving.
But I was so cowardly in that other thing, she persisted, out of
this second silence. Judging without understanding, condemning
something I was only too ready to do myself!
And it made you hate me?
Nono. I hate myself! And her gesture was one of protest,
But you must have hated me.
Witter, she said, speaking quite low and leaning a little closer
to the wheel as she spoke, as though all her thoughts were on the
shadowy road ahead of her, I never hated younever! I couldn't even
Why? I asked, scarcely knowing I had spoken.
Because I've always loved you, she said in a whisper, big
with bravery. And I heard a silvery little bell begin to ring in my
heart, like a bird in an orchard, heralding spring.
Stop the car! I suddenly commanded, once the real, the glorious
meaning of those six words of Mary's had sunk through to that strange
core of things we call our Soul.
What for? demanded Mary, mechanically releasing the clutch and
throwing the brake-pedal down. She sat staring startled into my face as
we came to a stop. What for? she repeated.
Because we must never run anything down again, I solemnly informed
But I don't see, she began, why
It's because I'm going to kiss you, my beloved, I said as I
reached out for her. And something tells me, Mary, that it's going to
be a terribly long one!