The Man Who Made Good by Arthur
AUTHOR OF "THE SILVER POPPY," "PHANTOM HOUSE," ETC.
Trotter opened his door and listened. Then he tiptoed out to the
stairhead. The coast seemed clear. The house lay beneath him as
still as a well. It was nothing more than a three-tiered cavern
So he crept back to his own room and closed and locked the door
after him. It was a top-floor rear, where a hip-roof gave his
back wall the rake of a Baltimore buckeye, and a dismantled
electric call-bell bore ignominious testimony to the fact that
his skyey abode had once been a servant's quarters.
But the room was quiet, and, what counted more, it was cheap. The
thought of ever being put out of it terrified the frugal-minded
Trotter. For seven weary months he had wandered about New York's
skyline, looking for just the right corner, as peevish as a
cow-bird looking for a copse nest.
Yet Mrs. Teetzel's laws were adamantine. Her rule was as
Procrustean as her thin-lashed eyes were inquisitive. She daily
inspected both her lavishly distributed lambrequins and her
"gentleman roomers'" mail, with an occasional discreet excursion
into their unlocked trunks. Cooking in a bedroom was as illicit
as private laundry work in the second-floor bathtub. A young
Toronto poet who had learned the trick of buttering an envelope
and in it neatly shirring an egg over a gas jet was first
reminded that he was four weeks behind in his rent and then sadly
yet firmly ejected from the top-floor skylight room.
So Trotter, once back in his own quarters, moved about with a
caution not untouched with apprehension. Mrs. Teetzel, he knew
had a tread that was noiseless. She also had the habit of
appearing, in curl-papers, at uncouth moments, as unheralded as
an apparition from the other world. And Trotter's conscience was
not clear. For months past he had kept secreted in his trunk one
of those single-holed gas heaters known as a "hot plate." This he
surreptitiously attached to the gas jet, and secretly thereon
made coffee and cooked his matutinal hard-boiled egg. There was a
thrill of excitement about it, a tang of outlawry, a touch of
danger. It took on the romance of a vast hazard. And it also
rather suited his purse, since that particular newspaper office
which he had journeyed to New York both to augment and to uplift
showed no undue haste in receiving him.
His third and last assault on the Advance office, in fact, had
amounted to an unequivocal ejection. Three short questions from
the shirt-sleeved autocrat of that benzine-odored bedlam had led
to Trotter's undoing. He wasn't expected to know much about
newspaper work, but before he came bothering people he ought at
least to know a shadow of something about the city he was living
in! And the one-time class orator of the University of Michigan
was calmly and pointedly advised to go and cut his eyeteeth on
the coral of adversity. He was disgustedly told to go out and
make good, instead of coming round and bothering busy people.
And Trotter went meekly out. But he had not made good.
He drifted hungrily about the great new city, the city that
seemed written in a cipher to which he could find no key. He even
guardedly shadowed the resentful-eyed Advance reporters on their
morning assignments, to get some chance inkling of the magic by
which the trick was turned. He wandered about the river front and
the ship wharves and the East Side street markets. He nosed
inquisitively and audaciously about anarchists' cellars and
lodging-houses; he found saloons where for a nickel very
palatable lamb stew could be purchased; he located those
swing-door corners where the most munificent free lunches were on
display; he dipped into halls where Socialistic fire-eaters
nightly stilettoed modern civilization; he invaded ginmills where
strange and barbaric sailors foregathered and talked. From all
this he was not learning Journalism. He was, however, learning
But now he had struck luck—sudden and unlooked for—in the
humble creation of "rhyme-ads" for a Sixth Avenue furniture
store. So, having his Bohemian young head somewhat turned by his
first check of twenty dollars, he had promptly celebrated his
return to affluence by as promptly spending a goodly portion of
that wealth. He had bidden a cadaverous animal painter named
Mershon and two equally hungry-eyed Michiganders yclept Albright
to his room with the rakish back wall, where the feast had been a
regal if somewhat subdued one.
And now Trotter looked about the room, thoughtfully, and decided
it was time to act. All record of this past orgy would have to be
wiped out. The window, he knew, was impossible, for already there
had been divers complaints as to the mysterious showers of
eggshell which day by day fell into the area below.
So Trotter laid several newspapers together. On these outspread
newspapers he placed four empty beer bottles, a sardine can, odds
and ends of biscuit and zwieback, a well-scraped wooden butter
tray, and—what had troubled and haunted him most, from the
moment of its purchase in a Sixth Avenue delicatessen store—the
lugubrious and clean-picked carcass of a roast turkey.
It had been a fine turkey, and done to a turn. But all along
Trotter had been wondering just how he was going to get rid of
those telltale bones. At the merriest moments of the feast the
question of the corner in which they could be secreted or the
aperture out of which they could be thrust had hung over him like
a veritable sword of Damocles.
But now he knew there was only one way to solve the problem. And
that was to wrap the remains carefully together, tie them up, and
make his escape down through the quiet house into the midnight
street. There the ever-damnatory parcel could be casually dropped
into a near-by ash barrel or tossed into a refuse can, and he
could aimlessly round the block, like a sedentary gentleman
enjoying his belated airing.
Trotter crept down through the quiet house with all the
trepidation of a sneak-thief. His one dread was the apparition of
Mrs. Teetzel; she would naturally surmise he was making away with
the bedroom stoneware, or the door knobs, or even the lead
He felt freer when he had once gained the street. But no peace of
mind could be his, he knew, until he had utterly discarded those
carefully wrapped turkey bones. It would be easy enough to toss
them into an areaway, if the worst came to the worst.
He looked up and down the street for a garbage can. But there was
none in sight. So he walked toward the avenue corner, with his
parcel under his arm. There he turned south, and at the next
corner swung about west again. But the right chance to get rid of
his turkey bones had not come. He glanced uneasily about. He
suddenly remembered that the police had the habit of holding up
belated parcel carriers and inspecting what they carried. So he
quickened his steps. But all the while he was covertly on the
lookout for his dumping spot.
A moment later he saw a patrolman on the street corner ahead of
him. He dreaded the thought of passing those scrutinizing eyes.
He eventually decided it would be too risky. So he doubled on his
own tracks, rabbit-like, crossing the street and turning north at
the next corner. He had had enough of the whole thing. It was
getting to be more than a joke. He would shilly-shally no longer,
even though he had to toss the cursed thing up on a house step.
He let the parcel slip lower down on his arm, with one finger
crooked through the string that tied it together. He was about to
fling it into the gloom of a brownstone step shadow when the door
above opened and a housemaid in cap and apron thrust a
plaintively meowing cat from the portico into the street. Trotter
quickened his steps, tingling, abashed, shaken with an inordinate
and ridiculous sense of guilt. He felt that he wanted to keep out
of the light, that he ought to skulk in the shadows until he was
free of the weight on his arm. He hurried on until he became
desperate, determined to end the farce at any hazard. So, as he
passed a building where a house front was being converted into a
low-windowed shop face, he dropped the paper package into an
abandoned mortar box.
He was startled, a moment later, by a voice calling sharply after
him: "Hi, yuh! You've dropped y'ur bundle!"
Trotter turned guiltily about. It was a night watchman. He
stepped slowly out to the mortar box as he spoke, and picked up
There was nothing for Trotter to do but go back and take it. He
mumbled something—he scarcely remembered whether it was a word
of explanation or of thanks. But he felt the eye of the night
watchman boring through him like a gimlet, and he was glad to
edge off and be on his way again.
By this time Trotter could feel the sweat of embarrassment on his
tingling body. He began to dramatize ridiculous contingencies. He
pictured himself as haled into night court, as cross-examined by
domineering and incredulous magistrates, who would send him to
the Island as a suspicious person. He began to be haunted by the
impression that he was being followed. The parcel became a weight
to him, a disheartening and dragging weight. He was now sure he
was being followed. He squinted back over his shoulders, only to
catch sight of a nocturnal "bill-sniper" placarding vulnerable
areas with his lithographed laudations of a vaudeville dancing
woman. A child murderer burdened with the body of his victim
could not have been more ill at ease, more timorous, more
A sudden idea came to him as he passed a Chinese laundry in which
lights still burned and irons still thumped on an ironing board.
It was an audacious one, but it pointed toward deliverance.
His plan was to enter the laundry and pass over his parcel, as
though it were his week's washing. He would be gone before they
had discovered its contents. He merely needed to be offhand and
nonchalant. More than once he had seen dilapidated actors
carrying a limited wardrobe to the laundry at equally small hours
of the night. And the sloe-eyed iron-thumpers would never again
get sight of him!
But it took a moment or two to key himself up to the right pitch.
He stepped in beside one of the granite column bases of the First
National Trust, to give an extra tug to his still lagging
courage. He leaned for a moment against the huge steel grillwork
that covered the wide bank window behind him, looking eastward
along the side street to where he could see the oblong of light
from the laundry front.
A wave of exasperation swept through him at the thought of his
own white-livered irresolution. He was about to step forward to
face the end of his dilemma when an unlooked-for movement
occurred between him and the illuminated laundry front.
It was the movement of a shadowy figure which seemed, at first
sight, to erupt from the earth itself. It was several moments, in
fact, before Trotter realized that the figure had come up from
the basement of the building which stood immediately at the rear
of the bank, the building which also contained the laundry. But
this was not the thing that held Trotter's attention. The
discovery which was causing his eyes to follow every step of the
stranger was the fact that this second man ALSO CARRIED A LARGE
PAPER PARCEL UNDER HIS ARM.
He turned eastward without looking back. Yet there was something
circumspect in his footfall, something suspicious in the very
casualness of his movements. Trotter leaned out and looked after
him, nonplused by the coincidence, wondering if this second man's
mission was the same as his own. He was almost glad to see
somebody in the same boat.
Then curiosity overcame him. He turned and followed the other
man. He walked eastward, keeping as well in to the house shadows
as he could. He saw the man cross the wider traffic-way that ran
north and south, look quickly up and down the deserted street and
then, as he gained the shadow of the next house wall, veer close
in to an iron paling. Then there was a movement which Trotter
could not quite make out.
It was not until he crossed the street that he saw what the
movement meant. It was not until he caught sight of a galvanized
ash barrel standing beside the basement step and the stranger
ahead of him walking empty-handed away, that Trotter realized the
completeness of the coincidence.
The other man, without so much as stopping for a second, had
quietly dropped his paper-wrapped parcel on the top of the
At no time did Trotter feel that there was anything momentous in
the movement. But it aroused his curiosity. It challenged
investigation. It set off his inquisitive young soul into
spreading pyrotechnics of imagination. And he realized, as he
walked up to the barrel, that his earlier sense of timidity had
disappeared. He quite calmly lifted the parcel from the barrel
top. Then he quite calmly dropped the other parcel in its place.
He was a little astonished, as he started on again, at the
pregnant weight of this new parcel. But he did not stop to
investigate. He did not care to gulp and lose the mystery at one
swallow. He scurried off with it, chucklingly, like a barnyard
hen with a corncob, to peck at it in solitude. He swung south and
then west again, to his own street. He went up his own steps,
through his own door, and up to his own top-floor room with the
rakish back wall. There he cautiously lighted the gas, drew the
blinds, and locked himself in. Next, he dragged a chair over to
the bedside, sat down on it, and carefully untied the parcel
string. Then, with somewhat accelerated pulse, he unwrapped the
A little puff of ironic disappointment escaped his pursed-up
lips. For at one glance he could see that it held no mystery. The
only mystery about it all was that he had been theatrical enough
to imagine it could prove anything that was not sordid and
For lying on the paper before him was nothing more than a litter
of mortar and wall plaster, interspersed with stone chips. It was
nothing more than the sweepings a brick-layer had left behind
him, a pile of worthless rubbish, a bundle of refuse, another
white elephant on his hands.
Trotter stirred the heap of dust and lime, impassively,
disdainfully. There was nothing more than an occasional brick
corner, an occasional piece of wall plaster. The only other thing
was one larger fragment of stone. Trotter looked at it
indolently. It was merely a piece of granite—an ounce or two of
stone with one highly polished end, a bit of refuse which a
hurrying mason might have used to "rubble" a wall crevice. And he
had been fool enough to cart it up four flights of stairs!
He turned the piece of stone over in his hands. It was of
porphyritic granite, with distinct crystals of feldspar embedded
in a fine grained matrix. Trotter's brow wrinkled in vague
thought as he peered down at it. He was trying to think what it
reminded him of, what possible link it made in a chain of lost
Then he remembered. It was toward the pillars of the First
National Trust Building that his mind was trying to grope. They
were of the same stuff, highly polished porphyritic granite, the
pride and wonder of the avenue along which they made a burnished
and flashing peristyle.
Trotter rubbed his chin, meditatively, and once more examined the
stone. Then he took a sudden deeper breath, and, leaning
hurriedly forward, raked through the parcel with his fingers. He
found nothing of note.
But as he sat there, stupidly staring at the fragment of granite,
his crouching body, with his feet tucked in under the chair
rungs, was startlingly like that familiar figure known as an
It was nine o'clock the next morning when Trotter, carrying a
parcel of laundry, walked casually past the First National Trust
Building and turned the corner. He also made note, as he stepped
into the open-fronted Chinese laundry, of this incongruous
side-street neighbor, its squalid meanness cheek by jowl with the
lordly magnificence of the many-columned bank structure.
On a narrow-fronted ground floor was the crowded little laundry
with its red-lettered sign, its uncurtained windows, its shelves
of red-tagged parcels, and its ever-present odor of borax. Below
this was a basement, a cellar as narrow and dark as a cistern. A
flight of perilously inclined steps led to the door of this
basement. This door, in turn, was glass-fronted, but protected by
a heavy woven-wire grating. On it was a sign which read:
"J. HEENEY. PLUMBING,
WIRING AND ELECTRIC SUPPLIES."
It was this basement which so inordinately interested Trotter. He
essayed several mild inquiries, in handing his frugal parcel of
washing over the Chinaman's counter, as to the occupant of the
cellar below. About "J. Heeney," however, he discovered nothing
beyond the fact that he had occupied the cellar for several
months. Trotter did not want to arouse unnecessary suspicion by
overinterrogating "J. Heeney's" neighbors.
So he went mildly back to his top-floor room, and sat down and
tried to study things out. As he sat there wrapped in thought,
his idly wandering gaze rested on the electric bell above the
door. He looked at it for several seconds. Then he stood on a
chair and twisted away the bell's wiring. Using his pocket knife
as a screwdriver, he released the bell from the door lintel. Then
he cleaned and polished it. This done, he removed the clapper,
wrapped the bell up in a piece of newspaper, and made his
unhesitating way back to the cellar beneath the Chinese laundry.
He was very much awake as he went slowly down the narrow steps.
He wanted nothing to escape his notice.
He found the wire-screened door at the bottom locked. But he
could get a clear enough view of the interior, even through the
dirty glass. The entire space within was not more than ten feet
wide and eight feet deep. It held a litter of plumber's tools, a
few lengths of gas piping, a row of batteries, a blowpipe, a
small hand-forge, a couple of porcelain washbowls, a deal table
and chair and what seemed to be an electric transformer in a
sadly battered case.
Across the back of the shop ran a wooden partition, plainly
shutting off the main part of the cellar. In this partition,
Trotter's careful scrutiny discovered, stood a narrow door. He
ached to know what lay behind that door and that partition. But
he had to be content with the shallower shop front. So he was not
hurried in his inspection of it. It was not until he had fixed
the details of the entire place in his mind that he ventured to
There was no answer to his knock. Yet it was plain that some one
was inside, for he could see the key in the lock, through the
dirty glass. Who that person was he intended to find out.
He was rattling the wire fretwork, impatiently, loudly, when the
partition door swung open.
Through this door stepped a short and extremely broad-shouldered
man. There was no trace of annoyance on his face. In fact, much
to Trotter's vague disappointment, he was smiling, smiling easily
and broadly. He wore a workman's jumper, stained with oil and
iron rust, and in his hand he carried a large pair of pipe tongs.
But these did not interest Trotter. What caught his eye was the
fact that the man's boots were white with lime dust.
"Hold on, sister; hold on!" said the man, with a laugh, for
Trotter was still rattling the door. The owner stepped across his
shop and turned the key in the lock.
"Hard to hear when I'm in doin' my lathe work," he explained, as
he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. All the while, as
he swung back the door, his eyes were closely studying the eyes
of the other man. Trotter noticed the row of matches stuck in the
soiled hatband, and the cotton bag of "Durham" that swung from
his sweat-stained belt.
"What can I do for you, sister?" was his companionable greeting.
Trotter unwrapped his electric bell.
"Can you give me a clapper for this?" he asked.
The other man took the bell in his hand. Trotter could see
powdered lime under his nails.
"I guess I can fix you out," said the shop owner. "Wait a
He turned to the door in the partition, and disappeared from
sight, closing the door after him.
Trotter's first decision had been to take the key from the outer
door lock. But some sixth sense made him hesitate, prompted him
to turn and look at the inner door.
His stare was rewarded by the discovery of a hole in this door,
about five feet from the floor. It was a lookout; he felt sure he
was being watched. So he thrust his hands into his pockets, gazed
carelessly about the shop, and waited.
The man reappeared, shaking his head.
"Nothing doing," he said. He was not able to fit a clapper to the
"But I thought you kept electric supplies here," objected
The other man smiled. His good nature was impregnable.
"Oh, I can get it, if you've got to have it. Come back about ten
"All right," was Trotter's indifferent answer, as he turned
languidly away. He went up the steps with equal languor, humming
as he went.
Trotter kept guarded watch on "J. Heeney's" plumbing
establishment. He watched it like a hungry cat watching a rat
hole. And it was three hours later that he had the satisfaction
of seeing the plumber ascend to the street and walk hurriedly
westward. Trotter could see that he carried a kit of tools under
his arm. But to follow him in open daylight was too great a risk.
Instead of that, he went down the narrow steps, and through the
dusty glass examined the doorlock.
Fifteen minutes later he went down another flight of basement
steps, this time to the cellar of a Sixth Avenue locksmith.
"I've got a closet door locked shut on me," he explained. "And I
want a key to get it open."
The locksmith looked him up and dow.n He seemed respectable
enough, this mild-eyed youth with the locked closet.
But the locksmith knew the tricks of his trade.
"Then I'll take a bunch of `blanks' over with me and open her up
"I'd rather get her open by myself."
"It will cost you a dollar," was the locksmith's ultimatum.
"It's worth a dollar," agreed Trotter. "But how'll we do it?"
"I'll dip a skeleton blank in hot wax and lampblack. Then you put
the key in the lock and turn it as far as you can. That'll show
the ward marks, where they bite the wax. Then bring me the key
and I'll cut it. Maybe it'll take two cuttings. That'll be two
Trotter paid a quarter deposit and took the key, made a
circuitous way to the plumber's cellar, descended the steps,
knocked, got no answer, and quietly inserted the key in the lock,
turning it as far as it would go.
Instead of going back to the locksmith, he bought a ten-cent
file, and with his own hand cut away the blank according to the
ward marks. Once more he made his way to the door of the empty
shop and fitted his key. It turned part way round in the lock,
but did not throw back the bar. He recoated the key flange with
the black wax by holding it to a lighted match and letting it
He at once saw where his cutting had been imperfect. A few
strokes of his file remedied this. He once more fitted the key to
the lock, and found that he was free to pass in and out of the
Yet he deferred forcing an entrance, at the moment, hungrily as
he studied the inner partition door through the iron-grated
glass. He knew what such a movement meant. He could not count on
Heeney's continued absence. Above all, at this, the beginning of
things, he wanted to avoid any untimely mis-step. So he made his
way to the street, shuttling cautiously back and forth across the
avenue, aimless of demeanor, diffident of step, yet ever and
always on the lookout. From half a block away he saw Heeney
return to his cellar. From an even remoter stand, two hours
later, he perceived the plumber emerge, like a rabbit out of its
warren. He also perceived that the rapidly disappearing man
carried a large paper parcel under his arm.
As before, this parcel was carried for three blocks and then
adroitly deposited on the top of an ash barrel.
Trotter, once Heeney had skulked about the next corner, quietly
crossed the street and sauntered past the parcel-crowned barrel,
with his open pocketknife in his hand. One sweep of the knife
blade slit the paper wrapper, and without so much as stopping on
his way Trotter was able to catch up a handful of the litter it
held. This litter, as before, was made up of ground mortar and
plaster and stone chips. But this time, amid the lime and dust,
he could detect the glitter of minute particles of steel.
He tested the larger fragments of these with his knife point.
They were very hard, harder even than his tempered blade steel,
diamond-like in their durity. He concluded, as he sat on the edge
of his bed that night, rubbing them between his fingers, that
they could be nothing but particles of keenly-tempered chromium
steel. And chromium steel, he knew, was not used in gas pipes. It
was foolish to think of it as a subject for lathe work. It was
equally absurd to accept it as an everyday element in any
plumber's everyday work. Trotter was not ignorant of the fact
that steel of this character was used almost exclusively in the
construction of high grade safes and bank vaults.
He stood up, suddenly, and crossed the room to his little
bookshelf. From this shelf he took down a much-thumbed "World
Almanac," a paper-bound volume which for months past had been
serving as his only guide to New York. He turned to the pages
headed "Banks in Manhattan and Bronx." It took but a minute's
search to secure the names of the president and cashier of the
First National Trust Company. But when he further read that its
capital was three million five hundred thousand, and that its
total resources amounted to forty-seven million three hundred
thousand dollars, his breath came in shorter gasps of excitement.
He began to realize the colossal wealth which lay guarded behind
the great porphyritic granite pillars. He also began to realize
some new and as yet undefined responsibility. The mere thought of
the magnitude of the movement in which he was being made a
deliberate and yet disinterested factor brought him once more to
his feet, pacing his little den of a room with thoughtful and
Early the next morning Trotter was back at the bank corner, like
a guard at his sentry-box. He kept watch there, with that
pertinacious alertness peculiar to the idler, until he had the
satisfaction of witnessing Heeney's early departure from the
cellar, with a tool kit under his arm.
Five minutes later Trotter was descending the stairs that led to
the plumber's shop. Once there, he took out his key, fitted it to
the lock, opened the door, stepped quietly inside, and locked the
outer door after him. Before venturing to open the inner door he
pressed an ear flat against the wooden partition and stood there
listening. The silence was unbroken.
He stepped to the side of the shop and caught up a plumber's
thick-bodied tallow candle. Then he softly opened the second
door, stepped inside, and as softly closed the door after him.
He found himself in perfect darkness. But he stood there,
waiting, before venturing to move forward, before daring to
strike a light. He knew, as he peered about the blackness that
engulfed him, that he was now facing more than an indeterminate
responsibility. He was confronting actual and immediate danger.
Even as he stood there, sniffing at the air, so heavy with its
smell of damp lime and its undecipherable underground gases, a
sudden fuller consciousness of undefined and yet colossal peril
sent a telegraphing tingle of nerves up and down his body.
The only thing that broke the silence was the faint sound of
footsteps on the laundry floor above him, together with the
steady thump of irons on the ironing table. There was something
fortifying, something consoling, in those neighborly and
sedentary little noises.
Trotter struck a match and lighted his candle. He waited without
moving for the flame to grow. Then he thrust the candle up before
him. As he did so, his hand came in contact with the rough
surface of what at first he took to be a stone wall. But as he
looked closer he saw that it was not masonry. It was nothing more
nor less than a carefully piled mass of stone and brick. Each
fragment had been carefully placed on top of its fellow, each
interstice had been carefully filled with rubble.
The pile extended from floor to ceiling. It filled the entire
cellar. It left only space enough for a man to pass inward from
the opened door. It was nothing more than the dump of a mine, the
rock and brick from a tunnel, not flung loosely about, but
scrupulously stowed away.
Holding the candle in front of him, Trotter bent low and groped
his way in through the narrow passage. Everything was as orderly
and hidden as the approach to a wild animal's lair. Everything
was eloquent of a keen secretiveness. No betraying litter met his
eye. Each move had been calmly and cautiously made. Each step of
a complicated campaign had been quietly engineered. Trotter could
even decipher a series of electric wires festooned from the
little tunnel's top. He could see where the passage had gone
around obstacles, where it had curled about a dishearteningly
heavy buttress base, where it had dipped lower to underrun a
cement vault bed, where it had sheered off from the tin-foiled
surface of a "closed-curcuit" protective system, and where it had
dipped and twisted about to advance squarely into a second blind
wall at right angles to the first.
A portion of this wall had been torn away. With equal care an
inner coating of cement had been chiseled off, exposing to view
an unbroken dark surface.
As Trotter held the candle closer, he could see this dark surface
marked off with chalk lines, sometimes with crosses, sometimes
with figures he could not decipher. On it, too, he could see a
solitary depression, as round and bright as a silver coin, as
though a diamond drill had been testing the barrier.
He knew, even before he touched the chill surface with his hand,
that it was a wall of solid steel, that it was the steel of the
bank vault itself, the one deep-hidden and masonry-embedded area
which stood without its ever-vigilant closed-circuit sentry. And
he knew that Heeney had grubbed and eaten and burrowed his way,
like a woodchuck, to the very heart of the First National Trust's
It was only then that the stupendousness of the whole thing came
home to Trotter. It was only then that he realized the almost
superhuman cunning and pertinacity in this guileless-eyed cellar
plotter called Heeney. He could see the hours of patient labor it
had involved, the days and days of mole-like tunneling, the weeks
and weeks of gnome-like burrowing and carrying and twisting and
loosening and piling, the months of ant-like industry which one
blow of the Law's heel would make as nothing.
It rather bewildered Trotter. It filled him with an
ever-increasing passion to get away from the place, to escape
while he still had a chance. It turned the gaseous underground
tunnel into a stifling pit, making his breath come in short and
wheezing gasps. It brought a tiny-beaded sweat out on his chilled
Then he stopped breathing altogether. He wheeled about and
suddenly brought his thumb and forefinger together on the candle
flame, pinching it out as one might pinch the life out of a moth.
For on his straining ears fell the sound of a door slammed shut.
There was no mistake, no illusion about it. Some one had entered
the shop. Then came the sound of a second door. This time it was
being opened. And it was the door leading into the tunnel.
Trotter could see the momentary efflorescence of pale light at
the bend in the passage before him. And he realized that he was
unarmed. He had not even a crowbar, not even a chisel or wrench,
with which to defend himself. He knew he stood there trapped and
He shrank back, instinctively, without being conscious of the
movement. He heard the sound of steps, shuffling and short. Then
came an audible grunt, a grunt of relief. This was followed by
the thump of a heavy weight dropped to the brick floor. Then came
the sound of steps again, still shuffling and short.
Trotter leaned forward, listening, waiting, with every nerve
strained. He concentrated every sense on the blur of light along
the tunnel wall before him.
As he peered forward, scarcely daring to breathe, he was
conscious of the fact that the light had suddenly withered. It
vanished from the refracting tunnel sides, as though wiped away
by an obliterating black sponge. Even before the truth of the
thing had come home to him, he heard the sound of a quietly
Heeney had gone. He had merely crept into his tunnel mouth,
dropped some tools, and then quietly crept out again.
It was not until he heard the slam of the outer door, a moment or
two later, that Trotter felt sure of his deliverance. It was not
until he knew his enemy was up the steps that he let his aching
lungs gulp in the fetid tunnel air.
Then he crept forward cautiously, obsessed by one impulse, the
impulse of escape, the passion to reach the open, to find air and
light and space once more about him. He did nothing more than
feel hurriedly over the bundle that lay in his path. It seemed an
instrument of steel tied up in a cloth. He could feel strand
after strand of wires, ductile and cloth-covered wires. He could
also decipher a disk through which ran a piece of metal, like a
blade through a sword guard. He felt sure it was an electrode of
some sort, a tool to convert stolen electricity into a weapon of
offense and assault. But he neither waited to strike a light nor
stooped to puzzle over the bundle.
He paused for a minute to listen at the closed partition door.
The only sound that came to his ears was the shuffle of feet and
the thump from the ironing board above him. Yet when he opened
this partition door he did so noiselessly, cautiously, slowly,
inch by inch. Still screened in shadow, he studied the shop, the
steps, the wire-blurred window, the street above him. Then he
took a deep breath, crossed to the shop door, unlocked it,
stepped outside, relocked it after him, and, pocketing the key,
climbed the steps to the sidewalk.
His face, as he came out to the light, was almost colorless. His
eyes were wide and staring with wonder. He kept telling himself
that he must walk slowly, that he must in no way betray himself,
that he must appear indifferent and offhand and inconspicuous to
every one he chanced to pass. He felt the necessity of guarding
himself, for he was now a person of importance. He was an
emissary of destiny, an agent entrusted with a vast issue.
The streets through which he passed no longer frowned down at him
from their inhospitable skylines. He was no longer an unattached
and meaningless unit in the life that throbbed and roared all
about him. He meant something to it. He was part of it. He was
its guardian. And it would acknowledge him, in the end, or he
would know the reason why.
Trotter sat peering mildly about him as that Gargantuan organism
known as a newspaper office labored and shrieked in the birth of
an afternoon edition. Subterranean Hoe presses roared and hummed,
telegraph keys clicked and cluttered, typewriters tapped and
clattered like a dozen highholders on a hollow elm, telephone
bells shrilled, shouting pressmen came and went, unkempt copy
boys trailed back and forth with their festoons of limp galley
proof, and Hubbart, with close-set eyes and a forehead like a
bisected ostrich egg, sat at the City Desk, calmly presiding over
an otherwise frenzied accouchement.
It interested Trotter. It interested him very much. But it no
longer filled him with mingled fear and revolt. He was, indeed,
no longer envious, just as he was no longer nervous. He was as
calm as a Nihilist with a bomb in his pocket.
Looking up, he saw that the office boy was holding the rail gate
open for him to enter. But he was conscious of no spirit of
elation as he stepped through the gate and passed on into that
glass-fronted cage where Pyott, the managing editor, sat like a
switchman in his many-levered tower.
Trotter saw, seated at a desk before him, a thin-featured,
thin-haired man of forty, with the crumpled-up eye-corners
peculiar to the face that masks a circuitous and secretive mind.
It was a face full of that weary concern, that alert
indifferency, which is companion to the spirit of repeated
compromise. It was far from an open face: it seemed to betray
only two things, tiredness and satiric intelligence.
The man at the desk did not even look up. He merely flung a
barbed "Well?" over his shoulder. It reminded Trotter of the
preoccupied tail swish of a horse worried by a black-fly. The
side flick of one casual monosyllable was plainly all he was
worth. Trotter calmly sat down.
"I've been waiting for six months for a job on this paper," he
began, quite seriously, quite deliberately. The man at the desk
went on writing. The pen did not even stop.
"Yes?" This second monosyllable was neither an answer nor a
question. It was merely an intimation that nothing of arresting
moment had as yet been uttered.
"So I've come straight to you!"
"Yes!" This third exclamation was plainly a challenge to come to
the issue in hand.
"I've been thrown down three——"
"Excuse me," the man at the desk had his hand on a desk 'phone
standard, "but you'd better see our city editor."
Trotter laughed a little. "I've seen the city editor four times.
It's no use. He only throws me out."
For the first time Pyott, the managing editor, looked up. Then he
swung about in his swivel chair and stared at the youth, the
somewhat narrow-chested and calm-eyed youth who had the
effrontery to sit down without being asked. The calm-eyed youth
seemed in no way daunted by the ordeal.
"What do you want?" was Pyott's quick and curt demand.
"I want a job."
The editor's face darkened. Trotter could see that he had angered
him. He could see a lean hand shoot out and a lean finger push
down on the button that sounded a buzzer in the outer office.
"There's no use doing that till you've heard what I've got to
say," announced Trotter.
"Why not?" snapped the man, with a finger still on the button.
"Because your man Hubbart out there told me not to stick my nose
in here till I'd made good—till I'd got a big story. And now
I've got it. And I'm going to give you the biggest scoop you've
printed in five years."
"I'd never have had the nerve to face you if it wasn't."
A boy appeared through the door. The editor swung back to his
"Show this gentleman the way downstairs," he said, without anger,
without resentment, without interest.
Trotter stood up and stared at him. "You mean you're not going to
take this beat when I've got it right here to hand out to you?"
he cried in his startled and high-pitched voice. "You're not
going to give me my chance?"
"What chance? What beat are you talking about?"
"A beat that involves the theft of millions of dollars!"
"And what's going to happen to your millions of dollars?"
Trotter sat down in the chair again. "It's going to be stolen,
every cent of it."
The man at the desk smiled. It was a very faint and mirthless
smile. "You said that before, I think. But who's taking it?"
"One of the most accomplished crooks in all America."
"And from where?" was the next indulgent interrogation.
"From one of the richest banks in this city."
Trotter's calm and deliberate tones were beginning to nettle the
other man a little.
"Then it hasn't actually been done?"
"Yet you know it IS to be done?"
Pyott was smiling by this time, quite broadly. "Would you kindly
tell me just how you know all this? Just what first opened up the
road to your somewhat startling knowledge?"
"Some turkey bones!"
"Ah, I see! Some turkey bones!" He nodded approvingly,
indulgently. "And what were you doing with these particular
"Putting them in a garbage can."
"Ah! You were putting some turkey bones in a garbage can. And as
you were about to do this?"
"I caught sight of another man also trying to get rid of a
"Turkey bones, of course."
A butterball's bosom was no more impervious to slough water than
the rapt-eyed youth to the older man's irony.
"When I opened his parcel I found it held mortar and stone and
some steel cuttings."
"And this led you to infer?"
"This led me to follow him. He had a basement, I found, directly
in the rear of a bank building."
"What bank building?"
"That's my story."
"And I trust the locality agreed with him."
"Extremely well," was Trotter's mild-toned reply. "In fact, it
was essential for him to be side by side with that particular
bank building, where he could quietly tunnel his way through its
back wall and burrow under its floors and eat a passage right
through to its vaults."
The man at the desk sighed and looked at the obsessed youth with
a smile too impersonal to be called pitying. "Vaults! That's a
matter for the police. This is a newspaper office."
"But can't you see the story in it? Can't you see what it means
when you're the only people who're in on it?"
"You'll have to show me your Eskimo!" remarked the unperturbed
"That's what I'm here for!" cried the exasperated youth.
Still again the man at the desk eyed his visitor for a minute of
silence. Then he reached for his telephone. "I want Kendrick and
Gilman for some city work. Send 'em in to me. Yes, right away,
Pyott swung about to his visitor once more. "I'm giving you our
two best men. They'll do what you tell them to do."
"But that'll make it THEIR story!" objected Trotter. "I want to
land this myself. I want it to be mine."
"Then what am I to do?"
Trotter scarcely knew. But he had not forgotten the thing he had
waited and hungered for this many a month. "Put me on your staff,
first, so I can be acting for somebody."
Still again the editor smiled. "You're set on being one of us,
"I've got to have something behind me before I can tackle a job
"All right," was the wearily indulgent answer, "call yourself one
of us. Now what else do you want?"
"I guess you'd better give me one of your workmen for a lookout,"
suggested the narrow-chested youth.
"Why a workman? Why not Kendrick or Gilman?"
"All I want is a husky man to see I'm not interfered with from
outside," replied the new and jealous god of the press world.
"Then I'll land the story myself."
The managing editor's finger end was once more on the buzzer.
"I'll give you Tiernan of the job room. He's Irish, and weighs
two hundred. Is there anything else?"
"I s'pose I'll need a gun," ruminated the mild-eyed youth. "But
I'm willing to buy that with my own money."
It was not the purchase of the gun that was troubling him. It was
the thought that he had never in all his life so much as
discharged a revolver. He would not even know how to load it. But
then Tiernan would doubtless be able to show him.
A telephone bell was shrilling at the editor's elbow.
"Is that all?" demanded the impatient man of affairs as he turned
to the 'phone. He called a cryptic sentence or two into the
transmitter and slapped the receiver back on its hook.
"Yes, I guess that's all," answered the wide-eyed boy, with his
hat in his hand.
"Then go and make good," said the man at the desk as Tiernan
swung in through the office door. "Go and get your story!"
In a newspaper office, where one impression so quickly and
inevitably obliterates another, sensation is startling only in
the fact of its ephemerality. For two busy hours wave after wave
of the world's turbulence had beaten on the shoreline of the
Advance staff's attention. Every one knew, from Pyott down, that
the day was a "big" one. And since it is seldom the ever-arriving
guests of sensation which disturb a newspaper office but rather
the secondary thought of bestowing them in their right chamber
and bed and fitting them with their right "heading" night-caps,
the ordeal of the Advance's day had reached its second and most
exacting crisis. So when Pyott, the managing editor, was called
up on the wire by Obed Tyrer, the President of the First National
Trust, the call from that quarter carried with it no responsive
"Can you come up here right away?" demanded the banker, in a
voice of that coerced tranquillity into which the trained mind
translates itself when face to face with undue excitement.
"No; I can't! "
"Why can't you?"
"Well, among other things, I've got the trifling matter of a
paper to put to press. What's wrong?"
"You know what's wrong!"
"And you and your men let this go through, two whole weeks of it,
for the sake of your little yellow-journal scarehead!"
"Look here, Tyrer, I'm a busy man. Tell me what you're talking
about, or ring off."
"I'm talking about the lunacy of a one-cent journalist who's
willing to risk even his own funds for the sake of an afternoon
beat! I tell you, Pyott, the whole story's got to be stopped!"
"The Advance story! I've got your man Trotter here now. He——"
"Ah, Trotter!" exclaimed Pyott. He was at last beginning to see
"I've got him and your job-room man named Tiernan up here, but I
can't do anything with Trotter. He's mad, mad as a March hare.
Says he's got to get his story down to you for to-day's issue."
"So you've got Trotter there! What else have you got?"
"Will you hold things up till I run down and talk it over? Will
you promise me that much?"
Pyott laughed. "Then young Trotter got his story, after all?"
"Got his story? Of course he got it. And in another four hours
that safe-cracker would have drilled right into our vitals. I
tell you we can't imperil our institution this way. We can't let
that stuff get out. We can't do it!"
"Nobody's going to break your nice new bank, Obed! You run down
here in a taxi and we'll try to straighten things out."
"But what'll I do with Trotter? How're we ever going to hold him
"Where's your safe-cracker man?"
"We've got him right here! Burns is sending over an A. B. P. A.
man to take care of him."
"D'you mean he's hurt?"
"No, no! We've identified him as Missouri Horton of the Scott
Gang—he got a Sing Sing life sentence for yegg work in Yonkers.
But Burns tells me he had enough money buried away to buy Tammany
influence and get paroled. Can't you see what that means?"
"Which way? To your office or to mine?"
"To us! They've got him now, for life! They can get him back to
Sing Sing and keep the whole cursed thing under cover!"
There was a moment's silence before the cogitating Pyott spoke
again. "And you say you've got Trotter right there with you?"
"Yes, but he's acting like a madman, in the Vice-President's
Again there was a moment's silence. "Then give him ink and
paper—give him lots of it. Tell him I've said for him to write
the story THERE. Tell him to sling himself, that I want every
detail, every fact, and ten solid columns of it!"
"What are you driving at?"
"I'm driving at this: keep him busy, man! Don't you see? Keep him
writing there until the thing's worked out of his system. Then
I'll tame him down, later. Meanwhile, you'd better clean house up
there so you can officially contradict the whole story if the
yellows happen to get after you."
"But nothing can get out, I tell you, unless you PUT it out!"
"Then what are you worrying about?"
"Young Trotter says he's got to send his stuff in. He's not
satisfied with the mere idea of writing it."
"Then give him one of your men, two of your men, for carriers.
Tell him to keep sending his copy down in relays, as he writes
it. But don't let him get away."
"Oh, I'll hold him here if I have to nail him to the floor. I
tell you, a thing like this would shake public confidence. It'd
be worse than a fireproof hotel going up in flames. It would mean
an alarming and immediate depreciation in our credit, a
"Of course it would. Come down as soon as you can and tell me all
that. I'll have more time then."
Pyott hung up the receiver. He poised for one brief and immobile
moment, deep in thought, before he swung about to the three
exigent figures making signs for his attention. Then the
thin-featured, many-wrinkled, weary-eyed face relaxed in an
almost honest and unequivocal smile.
Trotter, shut in the Vice-President's private office, paid little
attention to his surroundings. He did not even know that the desk
on which he wrote was of mahogany. He did not notice the imported
Daghestan under his feet. He was unconscious of the orchids in
the low desk-vase of French silver. He was oblivious of the onyx
and marble elegance that surrounded him.
All he knew was that he had paper and ink in plenty and the
Greatest Story of the Age to write. All he knew was that time was
precious, that two trusted messengers stood before him to deliver
his copy, that presses in the lower part of the city waited like
hungry animals to gulp down his story, and that before nightfall
a million eyes would widen and half a million hearts would beat a
little faster at the words that he was about to write.
He pushed back the silver and cut-glass desk ornaments, the heavy
gold-framed portrait of a young girl standing beside an
opulent-bosomed woman in an opera cloak, the foolish vase of
orchids. He made space for himself and his work. And then he
He wrote with all the rhapsodic passion of a god creating a new
world. He began with a preamble that would have broken a
copy-reader's heart. He followed it up with atmospheric
discursiveness that would have worn away an editor's blue pencil.
He told how Steam and Steel were supposed to have crushed the
Spirit of Romance out of the age. He pointed out how the modern
city of stone and concrete seemed no longer to house that wayward
and retrospective spirit in which the heart of the poet has
Then he sought to demonstrate how true Romance can never die, how
Wonder is all about even the Wall Street clerk and the
five-o'clock commuter. He put forward the claim that modern New
York was as potentially picturesque, as alluringly labyrinthine,
as olden Bagdad itself. He argued that the Thousand and One Tales
were nightly recurring in our very midst, only we had neither the
eyes nor the leisure to observe them. He told of the strange
underworlds hidden from the casual eye, of subterranean rivers of
life which Respectability never sees. He showed how it was only
the face of life that had changed. He intimated that Stevenson
had unearthed romance enough in an up-to-date London, that Hugo
and Balzac had found it in Paris, and he eloquently proclaimed
that even to-day it was to be stumbled across in our city of
homes on the Hudson.
It was a very rhythmical piece of fine writing, and he had his
coat off and was working in his shirt sleeves before he had
advanced six pages into it. Then he veered about to the story
itself. He enlarged on the amount of wealth harbored by a
national bank. He explained how this vast wealth was hoarded and
protected, the massive walls, the steel vaults, the steam flood
pipes, the ever-watching attendants, the tangle of articulate
wires that a touch would make garrulous, the time locks, the
floors of cement and railway iron, the contact mats which
reported the slightest footfall of the trespasser.
Then he told how an idea had come to the mind of an idle yegg
named "Missouri" Horton. He told how this wary and cunning and
romantic-spirited outlaw had planned his attack, how he had hired
the cellar next to the granite-walled citadel of opulence, how he
had learned the location of the vaults, how he had figured out
the thickness of the masonry, how he had slowly and quietly
prepared for his lonely and Promethean attack.
Trotter's sallow young face grew chalkier as he wrote, though he
was unconscious of either effort or weariness. They brought him
luncheon, in due time, on a napkin-covered tray. He lifted the
napkin peevishly, took a disdainful look at the food, gulped down
a cup of black coffee, and pushed the mess away from him. He had
serious work in hand.
He wrote on, unconscious of time. His mind seemed to sway,
hypnotically, with the reverberations of his own rhetoric. He
tossed in a classical allusion or two; here and there he left an
Old Testament phrase to coruscate along the fringe of his text;
he even called back one of his copy carriers, to revise an
unelaborated figure of speech.
Then he told how the tunnel was begun, how brick by brick and
stone by stone a passage was grubbed through every obstacle. He
expatiated on the infinite patience of such a man as Horton, how
Monte Cristo paled beside him, how vast difficulties had to be
overcome, how every stone had to be stowed carefully away in the
back of the cellar, how in time the mortar and cement had to be
ground to a powder and carried secretly away. He told how the
tunnel was pushed forward, foot by foot; how the bank was
attacked in its one and only vital spot, precisely as a porcupine
curled defensively up in the snow is seized by the fisher-marten,
not through open attack, but by artfully tunneling up under the
Then he retailed how the vast business of this great banking
institution went tranquilly and ponderously on, how millions were
handled and changed and stowed away while all the time the
unknown enemy was inch by inch crawling nearer.
When a note came up from the Advance office signed by the
managing editor—the managing editor who had never been known to
praise one of his men in all his twelve-year regime—Trotter took
it as a matter of course. "Your story is great," this note had
read. "Keep it up." Trotter merely gave the scrawl a second
hurried glance. It did not excite him; it did not intoxicate. He
was already drunk with the wine of creation, as delirious as a
whirling dervish. And he knew he still had work to do.
A white-whiskered gentleman wearing a pearl-buttoned white
waistcoat stepped quietly up to the office door and peered
guardedly in over his glasses. Then he tip-toed away unseen, with
a condoning smile on his astute and thin-nosed old face. Trotter
had no thought or memory of his surroundings. It was his Story;
the Story of his life. He sat there, entangled and locked
together with it, unconscious of what it was doing to him,
oblivious of how, like a blood-sucking vampire, it was draining
the vigor of his youth from him.
He was now in the very vortex of his story. He told how he had
posted Tiernan at the head of the steps leading down into the
plumber's shop. He cunningly enlarged on the huge Irishman's
bewilderment, his incredulity, his blasphemously reiterated
demand to know what it was all about. He told how he himself had
silently entered the shop, how he had crept through to the second
door, how he had waited for a moment to take out his revolver. He
described the hot and reeking air of the tunnel as he crept into
its mouth. He pictured the sudden glare of light at the shaft end
where Horton stood burning away an outer vault wall with an
electrode. He told how the heat and the fumes of that little
underground hell bewildered him, how he stood gaping at the
scene, watching the white-hot tongue of fire hissing and licking
at its last barrier of steel. He did not neglect to paint how the
hardened metal, under the electrolyzing current eroding its
surface, became as chalk, decomposing into a charry mass which
one blow of a hammer might penetrate.
He told how he crept up on the man, step by step, with his
revolver in his hand. He told how he could see the safe-breaker's
face shining with sweat, how he could smell scorching clothing,
how his eyes began to ache with the light-glare until he threw up
a forearm to protect them. He explained how it had been his
intention to creep up on the criminal and seize him bodily, and
how he was defeated in this by a sudden and unlooked-for movement
on the part of his unsuspecting enemy.
Horton had quickly swung about—he was, in fact, groping along
the passage floor for a two-quart tin pail partly filled with tap
water. The glare had blinded him, for the time being, and he was
in reality feeling for a drink. But the Advance reporter had
thought the movement meant that his presence was discovered. And
the two men had come together.
Trotter told of the fight there, hand to hand, in the choking
tunnel with its tangle of deadly currents. He recounted how the
other man's strength had been greater than his own, how he felt
his breath going, how he saw himself being forced closer and
closer back on the glaring electrode. He confessed that he had
been excited and foolish enough to lose the revolver. He
mentioned his indignation when he saw that the other man was
actually trying to use his teeth. He described how for the first
time it came home to him that he would be killed there, that
Tiernan could not possibly hear his cries, that his heart could
not possibly continue to beat without fresh air.
Then he had grown desperate. He had apparently gone mad. He had
started to use his own teeth. He had set his jaw on the yeggman's
hand as it groped for his throat. He had caught the index finger
of the other blackened hand and levered it savagely backward,
backward until the bone broke and it hung limp on the tortured
tendon. He had sent the relaxed head skidding against the tunnel
wall, once, twice, three times, until the sweat-stained arms fell
away and left him free.
He had sat there for many minutes, stupidly staring at the
unconscious man. Then he had found the revolver at his feet, and,
being too weak to get up he had still sat there, contentedly
firing a volley of bullets against the steel vault wall until the
bank officials were alarmed and an armed guard was sent scurrying
about to investigate. And with the timely arrival of Tiernan and
that armed guard came an end to the most audacious and staggering
criminal coup of the century!
It was all very beautiful, the very finest of fine writing.
Trotter poured his ardent and exultant young soul into it. And
when his last page had been written and sent away, he sat back in
the wide-armed, morocco-upholstered bank-room chair, white with
weariness, the fires of creation burnt out to the last ember.
But one thing sustained and consoled him. He knew, as he whisked
down to the Advance office in the Vice-President's French touring
car, that his work was done. He also knew that it was well done.
It did not even startle him when Pyott himself held out a
"Good business!" was his chief's sardonic commendation.
"Then I've made good?" asked the weary youth, without enthusiasm.
"You've made your TEN-STRIKE!" was the answer. "You're on the
city staff at twenty dollars a week."
"When do I have to go over my proofs?" asked the tired-eyed and
"My story proofs!"
Pyott forced his eyes to meet those of the pale-faced boy looking
up at him. The managing editor did so without an outward flinch.
He was more or less used to such things.
"You've made good, my boy!" He casually turned away before he
spoke the next sentence. "BUT WE'VE HAD TO KILL THAT STORY OF
Trotter did not move. He did not even gulp. He merely closed his
tired eyes and at the same time let his lower lip fall a trifle
away from the upper, as his breath came brokenly between them.
Then he sat down. For they had done more than kill his story.
They had killed the spirit of Youth in him. There would be other
battles, he knew, and perhaps other victories—but never again
that fine, careless rapture of Youth! For they had killed his