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The Man Who Made Good by Arthur Stringer

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 of quietness.

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 New York.

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.

II

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 piping.

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 the parcel.

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 terrified.

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 galvanized barrel.

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 paper-screened enigma.

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 worthless.

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 association.

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 interrogation mark.

III

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 knock.

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 minute."

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 bell.

"But I thought you kept electric supplies here," objected
Trotter.

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 to-morrow."

"All right," was Trotter's indifferent answer, as he turned languidly away. He went up the steps with equal languor, humming as he went.

IV

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 for you."

"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 dollars!"

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 cool again.

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 door.

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 preoccupied steps.

V

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 wealth.

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 body.

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 helpless.

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 closed door.

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.

VI

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."

"That's interesting!"

"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 desk.

"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?"

"No!"

"Yet you know it IS to be done?"

"Yes!"

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 turkey bones?"

"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 parcel."

"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 editor.

"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, please."

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, aren't you?"

"I've got to have something behind me before I can tackle a job like this."

"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!"

VII

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 curiosity.

"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!"

"Do I?"

"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!"

"What story?"

"The Advance story! I've got your man Trotter here now. He——"

"Ah, Trotter!" exclaimed Pyott. He was at last beginning to see light.

"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 in?"

"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 private room."

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 deplorable——"

"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.

VIII

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 wrote.

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 forever reveled.

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 quill-less belly.

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 cold-fingered hand.

"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 innocent youth.

"What proofs?"

"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 YOURS!"

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 firstborn!