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Title: Never-Fail Blake
Author: Stringer, Arthur, 1874-1950
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Never-Fail Blake" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



E-text pepared by Al Haines



Transcriber's note:

      The printed version of this book had two Chapter V's.
      Rather than renumber all the subsequent chapters in the
      book, I numbered the first "V" to "V (a)" and the second
      one to "V (b)".



Supertales of Modern Mystery

NEVER-FAIL BLAKE

by

ARTHUR STRINGER



[Frontispiece: "Then why can't you marry me?"]



Mckinlay, Stone & Mackenzie
New York
Copyright, 1913, by
The Bobbs-Merrill Company



NEVER-FAIL BLAKE


I

Blake, the Second Deputy, raised his gloomy hound's eyes as the door
opened and a woman stepped in.  Then he dropped them again.

"Hello, Elsie!" he said, without looking at her.

The woman stood a moment staring at him.  Then she advanced
thoughtfully toward his table desk.

"Hello, Jim!" she answered, as she sank into the empty chair at the
desk end.  The rustling of silk suddenly ceased.  An aphrodisiac odor
of ambergris crept through the Deputy-Commissioner's office.

The woman looped up her veil, festooning it about the undulatory roll
of her hat brim.  Blake continued his solemnly preoccupied study of the
desk top.

"You sent for me," the woman finally said.  It was more a reminder than
a question.  And the voice, for all its quietness, carried no sense of
timidity.  The woman's pale face, where the undulating hat brim left
the shadowy eyes still more shadowy, seemed fortified with a calm sense
of power.  It was something more than a dormant consciousness of
beauty, though the knowledge that men would turn back to a face so
wistful as hers, and their judgment could be dulled by a smile so
narcotizing, had not a little to do with the woman's achieved serenity.
There was nothing outwardly sinister about her.  This fact had always
left her doubly dangerous as a law-breaker.

Blake himself, for all his dewlap and his two hundred pounds of
lethargic beefiness, felt a vague and inward stirring as he finally
lifted his head and looked at her.  He looked into the shadowy eyes
under the level brows.  He could see, as he had seen before, that they
were exceptional eyes, with iris rings of deep gray about the
ever-widening and ever-narrowing pupils which varied with varying
thought, as though set too close to the brain that controlled them.  So
dominating was this pupil that sometimes the whole eye looked violet,
and sometimes green, according to the light.

Then his glance strayed to the woman's mouth, where the upper lip
curved outward, from the base of the straight nose, giving her at first
glance the appearance of pouting.  Yet the heavier underlip, soft and
wilful, contradicted this impression of peevishness, deepened it into
one of Ishmael-like rebellion.

Then Blake looked at the woman's hair.  It was abundant and nut-brown,
and artfully and scrupulously interwoven and twisted together.  It
seemed to stand the solitary pride of a life claiming few things of
which to be proud.  Blake remembered how that wealth of nut-brown hair
was daily plaited and treasured and coiled and cared for, the
meticulous attentiveness with which morning by morning its hip-reaching
abundance was braided and twisted and built up about the small head, an
intricate structure of soft wonder which midnight must ever see again
in ruins, just as the next morning would find idly laborious fingers
rebuilding its ephemeral glories.  This rebuilding was done
thoughtfully and calmly, as though it were a religious rite, as though
it were a sacrificial devotion to an ideal in a life tragically forlorn
of beauty.

He remembered, too, the day when he had first seen her.  That was at
the time of "The Sick Millionaire" case, when he had first learned of
her association with Binhart.  She had posed at the Waldorf as a
trained nurse, in that case, and had met him and held him off and
outwitted him at every turn.  Then he had decided on his "plant."  To
effect this he had whisked a young Italian with a lacerated thumb up
from the City Hospital and sent him in to her as an injured
elevator-boy looking for first-aid treatment.  One glimpse of her work
on that thumb showed her to be betrayingly ignorant of both
figure-of-eight and spica bandaging, and Blake, finally satisfied as to
the imposture, carried on his investigation, showed "Doctor Callahan"
to be Connie Binhart, the con-man and bank thief, and sent the two
adventurers scurrying away to shelter.

He remembered, too, how seven months after that first meeting Stimson
of the Central Office had brought her to Headquarters, fresh from
Paris, involved in some undecipherable way in an Aix-les-Bains diamond
robbery.  The despatches had given his office very little to work on,
and she had smiled at his thunderous grillings and defied his noisy
threats.  But as she sat there before him, chic and guarded, with her
girlishly frail body so arrogantly well gowned, she had in some way
touched his lethargic imagination.  She showed herself to be of finer
and keener fiber than the sordid demireps with whom he had to do.
Shimmering and saucy and debonair as a polo pony, she had seemed a
departure from type, something above the meretricious termagants round
whom he so often had to weave his accusatory webs of evidence.

Then, the following autumn, she was still again mysteriously involved
in the Sheldon wire-tapping coup.  This Montreal banker named Sheldon,
from whom nearly two hundred thousand dollars had been wrested, put a
bullet through his head rather than go home disgraced, and she had
straightway been brought down to Blake, for, until the autopsy and the
production of her dupe's letters, Sheldon's death had been looked upon
as a murder.

Blake had locked himself in with the white-faced Miss Elsie Verriner,
alias Chaddy Cravath, alias Charlotte Carruthers, and for three long
hours he had pitted his dynamic brute force against her flashing and
snake-like evasiveness.  He had pounded her with the artillery of his
inhumanities.  He had beleaguered her with explosive brutishness.  He
had bulldozed and harried her into frantic weariness.  He had
third-degreed her into cowering and trembling indignation, into hectic
mental uncertainties.  Then, with the fatigue point well passed, he had
marshaled the last of his own animal strength and essayed the final
blasphemous Vesuvian onslaught that brought about the nervous
breakdown, the ultimate collapse.  She had wept, then, the blubbering,
loose-lipped, abandoned weeping of hysteria.  She had stumbled forward
and caught at his arm and clung to it, as though it were her last
earthly pillar of support.  Her huge plaited ropes of hair had fallen
down, thick brown ropes longer than his own arms, and he, breathing
hard, had sat back and watched them as she wept.

But Blake was neither analytical nor introspective.  How it came about
he never quite knew.  He felt, after his blind and inarticulate
fashion, that this scene of theirs, that this official assault and
surrender, was in some way associated with the climacteric transports
of camp-meeting evangelism, that it involved strange nerve-centers
touched on in rhapsodic religions, that it might even resemble the
final emotional surrender of reluctant love itself to the first
aggressive tides of passion.  What it was based on, what it arose from,
he could not say.  But in the flood-tide of his own tumultuous conquest
he had watched her abandoned weeping and her tumbled brown hair.  And
as he watched, a vague and troubling tingle sped like a fuse-sputter
along his limbs, and fired something dormant and dangerous in the great
hulk of a body which had never before been stirred by its explosion of
emotion.  It was not pity, he knew; for pity was something quite
foreign to his nature.  Yet as she lay back, limp and forlorn against
his shoulder, sobbing weakly out that she wanted to be a good woman,
that she could be honest if they would only give her a chance, he felt
that thus to hold her, to shield her, was something desirable.

She had stared, weary and wide-eyed, as his head had bent closer down
over hers.  She had drooped back, bewildered and unresponsive, as his
heavy lips had closed on hers that were still wet and salty with tears.
When she had left the office, at the end of that strange hour, she had
gone with the promise of his protection.

The sobering light of day, with its cynic relapse to actualities, might
have left that promise a worthless one, had not the prompt evidence of
Sheldon's suicide come to hand.  This made Blake's task easier than he
had expected.  The movement against Elsie Verriner was "smothered" at
Headquarters.  Two days later she met Blake by appointment.  That day,
for the first time in his life, he gave flowers to a woman.

Two weeks later he startled her with the declaration that he wanted to
marry her.  He did n't care about her past.  She 'd been dragged into
the things she 'd done without understanding them, at first, and she 'd
kept on because there 'd been no one to help her away from them.  He
knew he could do it.  She had a fine streak in her, and he wanted to
bring it out!

A little frightened, she tried to explain that she was not the marrying
kind.  Then, brick-red and bull-necked, he tried to tell her in his
groping Celtic way that he wanted children, that she meant a lot to
him, that he was going to try to make her the happiest woman south of
Harlem.

This had brought into her face a quick and dangerous light which he
found hard to explain.  He could see that she was flattered by what he
had said, that his words had made her waywardly happy, that for a
moment, in fact, she had been swept off her feet.

Then dark afterthought interposed.  It crept like a cloud across her
abandoned face.  It brought about a change so prompt that it disturbed
the Second Deputy.

"You 're--you 're not tied up already, are you?" he had hesitatingly
demanded.  "You 're not married?"

"No, I 'm not tied up!" she had promptly and fiercely responded.  "My
life 's my own--my own!"

"Then why can't you marry me?" the practical-minded man had asked.

"I could!" she had retorted, with the same fierceness as before.  Then
she had stood looking at him out of wistful and unhappy eyes.  "I
could--if you only understood, if you could only help me the way I want
to be helped!"

She had clung to his arm with a tragic forlornness that seemed to leave
her very wan and helpless.  And he had found it ineffably sweet to
enfold that warm mass of wan helplessness in his own virile strength.

She asked for time, and he was glad to consent to the delay, so long as
it did not keep him from seeing her.  In matters of the emotions he was
still as uninitiated as a child.  He found himself a little dazed by
the seemingly accidental tenderness, by the promises of devotion, in
which she proved so lavish.  Morning by jocund morning he built up his
airy dreams, as carefully as she built up her nut-brown plaits.  He
grew heavily light-headed with his plans for the future.  When she
pleaded with him never to leave her, never to trust her too much, he
patted her thin cheek and asked when she was going to name the day.
From that finality she still edged away, as though her happiness itself
were only experimental, as though she expected the blue sky above them
to deliver itself of a bolt.

But by this time she had become a habit with him.  He liked her even in
her moodiest moments.  When, one day, she suggested that they go away
together, anywhere so long as it was away, he merely laughed at her
childishness.

It was, in fact, Blake himself who went away.  After nine weeks of
alternating suspense and happiness that seemed nine weeks of
inebriation to him, he was called out of the city to complete the
investigation on a series of iron-workers' dynamite outrages.  Daily he
wrote or wired back to her.  But he was kept away longer than he had
expected.  When he returned to New York she was no longer there.  She
had disappeared as completely as though an asphalted avenue had opened
and swallowed her up.  It was not until the following winter that he
learned she was again with Connie Binhart, in southern Europe.

He had known his one belated love affair.  It had left no scar, he
claimed, because it had made no wound.  Binhart, he consoled himself,
had held the woman in his power: there had been no defeat because there
had been no actual conquest.  And now he could face her without an
eye-blink of conscious embarrassment.  Yet it was good to remember that
Connie Binhart was going to be ground in the wheels of the law, and
ground fine, and ground to a finish.

"What did you want me for, Jim?" the woman was again asking him.  She
spoke with an intimate directness, and yet in her attitude were subtle
reservations, a consciousness of the thin ice on which they both stood.
Each saw, only too plainly, the need for great care, in every step.  In
each lay the power to uncover, at a hand's turn, old mistakes that were
best unremembered.  Yet there was a certain suave audacity about the
woman.  She was not really afraid of Blake, and the Second Deputy had
to recognize that fact.  This self-assurance of hers he attributed to
the recollection that she had once brought about his personal
subjugation, "got his goat," as he had phrased it.  She, woman-like,
would never forget it.

"There 's a man I want.  And Schmittenberg tells me you know where he
is."  Blake, as he spoke, continued to look heavily down at his desk
top.

"Yes?" she answered cautiously, watching herself as carefully as an
actress with a rôle to sustain, a rôle in which she could never quite
letter-perfect.

"It's Connie Binhart," cut out the Second Deputy.

He could see discretion drop like a curtain across her watching face.

"Connie Binhart!" she temporized.  Blake, as his heavy side glance
slewed about to her, prided himself on the fact that he could see
through her pretenses.  At any other time he would have thrown open the
flood-gates of that ever-inundating anger of his and swept away all
such obliquities.

"I guess," he went on with slow patience "we know him best round here
as Charles Blanchard."

"Blanchard?" she echoed.

"Yes, Blanchard, the Blanchard we 've been looking for, for seven
months now, the Blanchard who chloroformed Ezra Newcomb and carried off
a hundred and eighteen thousand dollars."

"Newcomb?" again meditated the woman.

"The Blanchard who shot down the bank detective in Newcomb's room when
the rest of the bank was listening to a German band playing in the side
street, a band hired for the occasion."

"When was that?" demanded the woman.

"That was last October," he answered with a sing-song weariness
suggestive of impatience at such supererogative explanations.

"I was at Monte Carlo all last autumn," was the woman's quick retort.

Blake moved his heavy body, as though to shoulder away any claim as to
her complicity.

"I know that," he acknowledged.  "And you went north to Paris on the
twenty-ninth of November.  And on the third of December you went to
Cherbourg; and on the ninth you landed in New York.  I know all that.
That's not what I 'm after.  I want to know where Connie Binhart is,
now, to-day."

Their glances at last came together.  No move was made; no word was
spoken.  But a contest took place.

"Why ask _me_?" repeated the woman for the second time.  It was only
too plain that she was fencing.

"Because you _know_," was Blake's curt retort.  He let the gray-irised
eyes drink in the full cup of his determination.  Some slowly
accumulating consciousness of his power seemed to intimidate her.  He
could detect a change in her hearing, in her speech itself.

"Jim, I can't tell you," she slowly asserted.  "I can't do it!"

"But I 've got 'o know," he stubbornly maintained.  "And I 'm going to."

She sat studying him for a minute or two.  Her face had lost its
earlier arrogance.  It seemed troubled; almost touched with fear.  She
was not altogether ignorant, he reminded himself, of the resources
which he could command.

"I can't tell you," she repeated.  "I'd rather you let me go."

The Second Deputy's smile, scoffing and melancholy, showed how utterly
he ignored her answer.  He looked at his watch.  Then he looked back at
the woman.  A nervous tug-of-war was taking place between her right and
left hand, with a twisted-up pair of ecru gloves for the cable.

"You know me," he began again in his deliberate and abdominal bass.
"And I know you.  I 've got 'o get this man Binhart.  I 've got 'o!  He
's been out for seven months, now, and they 're going to put it up to
me, to _me_, personally.  Copeland tried to get him without me.  He
fell down on it.  They all fell down on it.  And now they're going to
throw the case back on me.  They think it 'll be my Waterloo."

He laughed.  His laugh was as mirthless as the cackle of a guinea hen.
"But I 'm going to die hard, believe me!  And if I go down, if they
think they can throw me on that, I 'm going to take a few of my friends
along with me."

"Is that a threat?" was the woman's quick inquiry.  Her eyes narrowed
again, for she had long since learned, and learned it to her sorrow,
that every breath he drew was a breath of self-interest.

"No; it's just a plain statement."  He slewed about in his swivel
chair, throwing one thick leg over the other as he did so.  "I hate to
holler Auburn at a girl like you, Elsie; but I 'm going--"

"Auburn?" she repeated very quietly.  Then she raised her eyes to his.
"Can you say a thing like that to me, Jim?"

He shifted a little in his chair.  But he met her gaze without a wince.

"This is business, Elsie, and you can't mix business and--and other
things," he tailed off at last, dropping his eyes.

"I 'm sorry you put it that way," she said.  "I hoped we 'd be better
friends than that!"

"I'm not counting on friendship in this!" he retorted.

"But it might have been better, even in this!" she said.  And the
artful look of pity on her face angered him.

"Well, we 'll begin on something nearer home!" he cried.

He reached down into his pocket and produced a small tinted oblong of
paper.  He held it, face out, between his thumb and forefinger, so that
she could read it.

"This Steinert check 'll do the trick.  Take a closer look at the
signature.  Do you get it?"

"What about it?" she asked, without a tremor.

He restored the check to his wallet and the wallet to his pocket.  She
would find it impossible to outdo him in the matter of impassivity.

"I may or I may not know who forged that check.  I don't _want_ to
know.  And when you tell me where Binhart is, I _won't_ know."

"That check was n't forged," contended the quiet-eyed woman.

"Steinert will swear it was," declared the Second Deputy.

She sat without speaking, apparently in deep study.  Her intent face
showed no fear, no bewilderment, no actual emotion of any kind.

"You 've got 'o face it," said Blake, sitting back and waiting for her
to speak.  His attitude was that of a physician at a bedside, awaiting
the prescribed opiate to produce its prescribed effect.

"Will I be dragged into this case, in any way, if Binhart is rounded
up?" the woman finally asked.

"Not once," he asserted.

"You promise me that?"

"Of course," answered the Second Deputy.

"And you 'll let me alone on--on the other things?" she calmly exacted.

"Yes," he promptly acknowledged.  "I 'll see that you 're let alone."

Again she looked at him with her veiled and judicial eyes.  Then she
dropped her hands into her lap.  The gesture seemed one of resignation.

"Binhart's in Montreal," she said.

Blake, keeping his face well under control, waited for her to go on.

"He 's been in Montreal for weeks now.  You 'll find him at 381 King
Edward Avenue, in Westmount.  He 's there, posing as an expert
accountant."

She saw the quick shadow of doubt, the eye-flash of indecision.  So she
reached quietly down and opened her pocket-book, rummaging through its
contents for a moment or two.  Then she handed Blake a folded envelope.

"You know his writing?" she asked.

"I 've seen enough of it," he retorted, as he examined the typewritten
envelope post-marked "Montreal, Que."  Then he drew out the inner
sheet.  On it, written by pen, he read the message: "Come to 381 King
Edward when the coast is clear," and below this the initials "C. B."

Blake, with the writing still before his eyes, opened a desk drawer and
took out a large reading-glass.  Through the lens of this he again
studied the inscription, word by word.  Then he turned to the office
'phone on his desk.

"Nolan," he said into the receiver, "I want to know if there 's a King
Edward Avenue in Montreal."

He sat there waiting, still regarding the handwriting with stolidly
reproving eyes.  There was no doubt of its authenticity.  He would have
known it at a glance.

"Yes, sir," came the answer over the wire.  "It's one of the newer
avenues in Westmount."

Blake, still wrapped in thought, hung up the receiver.  The woman
facing him did not seem to resent his possible imputation of
dishonesty.  To be suspicious of all with whom he came in contact was
imposed on him by his profession.  He was compelled to watch even his
associates, his operatives and underlings, his friends as well as his
enemies.  Life, with him, was a concerto of skepticisms.

She was able to watch him, without emotion, as he again bent forward,
took up the 'phone receiver, and this time spoke apparently to another
office.

"I want you to wire Teal to get a man out to cover 381 King Edward
Avenue, in Montreal.  Yes, Montreal.  Tell him to get a man out there
inside of an hour, and put a night watch on until I relieve 'em."

Then, breathing heavily, he bent over his desk, wrote a short message
on a form pad and pushed the buzzer-button with his thick finger.  He
carefully folded up the piece of paper as he waited.

"Get that off to Carpenter in Montreal right away," he said to the
attendant who answered his call.  Then he swung about in his chair,
with a throaty grunt of content.  He sat for a moment, staring at the
woman with unseeing eyes.  Then he stood up.  With his hands thrust
deep in his pockets he slowly moved his head back and forth, as though
assenting to some unuttered question.

"Elsie, you 're all right," he acknowledged with his solemn and
unimaginative impassivity.  "You 're all right."

Her quiet gaze, with all its reservations, was a tacit question.  He
was still a little puzzled by her surrender.  He knew she did not
regard him as the great man that he was, that his public career had
made of him.

"You've helped me out of a hole," he acknowledged as he faced her
interrogating eyes with his one-sided smile.  "I 'm mighty glad you 've
done it, Elsie--for your sake as well as mine."

"What hole?" asked the woman, wearily drawing on her gloves.  There was
neither open contempt nor indifference on her face.  Yet something in
her bearing nettled him.  The quietness of her question contrasted
strangely with the gruffness of the Second Deputy's voice as he
answered her.

"Oh, they think I 'm a has-been round here," he snorted.  "They 've got
the idea I 'm out o' date.  And I 'm going to show 'em a thing or two
to wake 'em up."

"How?" asked the woman.

"By doing what their whole kid-glove gang have n't been able to do," he
avowed.  And having delivered himself of that ultimatum, he promptly
relaxed into his old-time impassiveness, like a dog snapping from his
kennel and shrinking back into its shadows.  At the same moment that
Blake's thick forefinger again prodded the buzzer-button at his desk
end the watching woman could see the relapse into official wariness.
It was as though he had put the shutters up in front of his soul.  She
accepted the movement as a signal of dismissal.  She rose from her
chair and quietly lowered and adjusted her veil.  Yet through that
lowered veil she stood looking down at Never-Fail Blake for a moment or
two.  She looked at him with grave yet casual curiosity, as tourists
look at a ruin that has been pointed out to them as historic.

"You did n't give me back Connie Binhart's note," she reminded him as
she paused with her gloved finger-tips resting on the desk edge.

"D' you want it?" he queried with simulated indifference, as he made a
final and lingering study of it.

"I 'd like to keep it," she acknowledged.  When, without meeting her
eyes, he handed it over to her, she folded it and restored it to her
pocket-book, carefully, as though vast things depended on that small
scrap of paper.

Never-Fail Blake, alone in his office and still assailed by the vaguely
disturbing perfumes which she had left behind her, pondered her reasons
for taking back Binhart's scrap of paper.  He wondered if she had at
any time actually cared for Binhart.  He wondered if she was capable of
caring for anybody.  And this problem took his thoughts back to the
time when so much might have depended on its answer.

The Second Deputy dropped his reading-glass in its drawer and slammed
it shut.  It made no difference, he assured himself, one way or the
other.  And in the consolatory moments of a sudden new triumph
Never-Fail Blake let his thoughts wander pleasantly back over that long
life which (and of this he was now comfortably conscious) his next
official move was about to redeem.



II

It was as a Milwaukee newsboy, at the age of twelve, that "Jimmie"
Blake first found himself in any way associated with that arm of
constituted authority known as the police force.  A plain-clothes man,
on that occasion, had given him a two-dollar bill to carry about an
armful of evening papers and at the same time "tail" an itinerant
pickpocket.  The fortifying knowledge, two years later, that the Law
was behind him when he was pushed happy and tingling through a transom
to release the door-lock for a house-detective, was perhaps a
foreshadowing of that pride which later welled up in his bosom at the
phrase that he would always "have United Decency behind him," as the
social purifiers fell into the habit of putting it.

At nineteen, as a "checker" at the Upper Kalumet Collieries, Blake had
learned to remember faces.  Slavic or Magyar, Swedish or Calabrian,
from that daily line of over two hundred he could always pick his face
and correctly call the name.  His post meant a life of indolence and
petty authority.  His earlier work as a steamfitter had been more
profitable.  Yet at that work he had been a menial; it involved no
transom-born thrills, no street-corner tailer's suspense.  As a checker
he was at least the master of other men.

His public career had actually begun as a strike breaker.  The monotony
of night-watchman service, followed by a year as a drummer for an
Eastern firearm firm, and another year as an inspector for a
Pennsylvania powder factory, had infected him with the _wanderlust_ of
his kind.  It was in Chicago, on a raw day of late November, with a
lake wind whipping the street dust into his eyes, that he had seen the
huge canvas sign of a hiring agency's office, slapping in the storm.
This sign had said:

"MEN WANTED."

Being twenty-six and adventurous and out of a job, he had drifted in
with the rest of earth's undesirables and asked for work.

After twenty minutes of private coaching in the mysteries of railway
signals, he had been "passed" by the desk examiner and sent out as one
of the "scab" train crew to move perishable freight, for the Wisconsin
Central was then in the throes of its first great strike.  And he had
gone out as a green brakeman, but he had come back as a hero, with a
_Tribune_ reporter posing him against a furniture car for a two-column
photo.  For the strikers had stoned his train, half killed the "scab"
fireman, stalled him in the yards and cut off two thirds of his cars
and shot out the cab-windows for full measure.  But in the cab with an
Irish engine-driver named O'Hagan, Blake had backed down through the
yards again, picked up his train, crept up over the tender and along
the car tops, recoupled his cars, fought his way back to the engine,
and there, with the ecstatic O'Hagan at his side, had hurled back the
last of the strikers trying to storm his engine steps.  He even fell to
"firing" as the yodeling O'Hagan got his train moving again, and then,
perched on the tender coal, took pot-shots with his brand-new revolver
at a last pair of strikers who were attempting to manipulate the
hand-brakes.

That had been the first train to get out of the yards in seven days.
Through a godlike disregard of signals, it is true, they had run into
an open switch, some twenty-eight miles up the line, but they had moved
their freight and won their point.

Blake, two weeks later, had made himself further valuable to that
hiring agency, not above subornation of perjury, by testifying in a
court of law to the sobriety of a passenger crew who had been carried
drunk from their scab-manned train.  So naïvely dogged was he in his
stand, so quick was he in his retorts, that the agency, when the strike
ended by a compromise ten days later, took him on as one of their own
operatives.

Thus James Blake became a private detective.  He was at first
disappointed in the work.  It seemed, at first, little better than his
old job as watchman and checker.  But the agency, after giving him a
three-week try out at picket work, submitted him to the further test of
a "shadowing" case.  That first assignment of "tailing" kept him
thirty-six hours without sleep, but he stuck to his trail, stuck to it
with the blind pertinacity of a bloodhound, and at the end transcended
mere animalism by buying a tip from a friendly bartender.  Then, when
the moment was ripe, he walked into the designated hop-joint and picked
his man out of an underground bunk as impassively as a grocer takes an
egg crate from a cellar shelf.

After his initial baptism of fire in the Wisconsin Central railway
yards, however, Blake yearned for something more exciting, for
something more sensational.  His hopes rose, when, a month later, he
was put on "track" work.  He was at heart fond of both a good horse and
a good heat.  He liked the open air and the stir and movement and color
of the grand-stand crowds.  He liked the "ponies" with the sunlight on
their satin flanks, the music of the band, the gaily appareled women.
He liked, too, the off-hand deference of the men about him, from
turnstile to betting shed, once his calling was known.  They were all
ready to curry favor with him, touts and rail-birds, dockers and
owners, jockeys and gamblers and bookmakers, placating him with an
occasional "sure-thing" tip from the stables, plying him with cigars
and advice as to how he should place his money.  There was a tacit
understanding, of course, that in return for these courtesies his
vision was not to be too keen nor his manner too aggressive.  When he
was approached by an expert "dip" with the offer of a fat reward for
immunity in working the track crowds, Blake carefully weighed the
matter, pro and con, equivocated, and decided he would gain most by a
"fall."  So he planted a barber's assistant with whom he was friendly,
descended on the pickpocket in the very act of going through that
bay-rum scented youth's pocket, and secured a conviction that brought a
letter of thanks from the club stewards and a word or two of approval
from his head office.

That head office, seeing that they had a man to be reckoned with,
transferred Blake to their Eastern division, with headquarters at New
York, where new men and new faces were at the moment badly needed.

They worked him hard, in that new division, but he never objected.  He
was sober; he was dependable; and he was dogged with the doggedness of
the unimaginative.  He wanted to get on, to make good, to be more than
a mere "operative."  And if his initial assignments gave him little but
"rough-neck" work to do, he did it without audible complaint.  He did
bodyguard service, he handled strike breakers, he rounded up
freight-car thieves, he was given occasionally "spot" and "tailing"
work to do.  Once, after a week of upholstered hotel lounging on a
divorce case he was sent out on night detail to fight river pirates
stealing from the coal-road barges.

In the meantime, being eager and unsatisfied, he studied his city.
Laboriously and patiently he made himself acquainted with the ways of
the underworld.  He saw that all his future depended upon
acquaintanceship with criminals, not only with their faces, but with
their ways and their women and their weaknesses.  So he started a
gallery, a gallery of his own, a large and crowded gallery between
walls no wider than the bones of his own skull.  To this jealously
guarded and ponderously sorted gallery he day by day added some new
face, some new scene, some new name.  Crook by crook he stored them
away there, for future reference.  He got to know the "habituals" and
the "timers," the "gangs" and their "hang outs" and "fences."  He
acquired an array of confidence men and hotel beats and queer shovers
and bank sneaks and wire tappers and drum snuffers.  He made a mental
record of dips and yeggs and till-tappers and keister-crackers, of
panhandlers and dummy chuckers, of sun gazers and schlaum workers.  He
slowly became acquainted with their routes and their rendezvous, their
tricks and ways and records.  But, what was more important, he also
grew into an acquaintanceship with ward politics, with the nameless
Power above him and its enigmatic traditions.  He got to know the
Tammany heelers, the men with "pull," the lads who were to be "pounded"
and the lads who were to be let alone, the men in touch with the
"Senator," and the gangs with the fall money always at hand.

Blake, in those days, was a good "mixer."  He was not an "office" man,
and was never dubbed high-brow.  He was not above his work; no one
accused him of being too refined for his calling.  Through a mind such
as his the Law could best view the criminal, just as a solar eclipse is
best viewed through smoked glass.

He could hobnob with bartenders and red-lighters, pass unnoticed
through a slum, join casually in a stuss game, or loaf unmarked about a
street corner.  He was fond of pool and billiards, and many were the
unconsidered trifles he picked up with a cue in his hand.  His face,
even in those early days, was heavy and inoffensive.  Commonplace
seemed to be the word that fitted him.  He could always mix with and
become one of the crowd.  He would have laughed at any such foolish
phrase as "protective coloration."  Yet seldom, he knew, men turned
back to look at him a second time.  Small-eyed, beefy and well-fed, he
could have passed, under his slightly tilted black boulder, as a truck
driver with a day off.

What others might have denominated as "dirty work" he accepted with
heavy impassivity, consoling himself with the contention that its final
end was cleanness.  And one of his most valuable assets, outside his
stolid heartlessness, was his speaking acquaintanceship with the women
of the underworld.  He remained aloof from them even while he mixed
with them.  He never grew into a "moll-buzzer."  But in his rough way
he cultivated them.  He even helped some of them out of their
troubles--in consideration for "tips" which were to be delivered when
the emergency arose.  They accepted his gruffness as simple-mindedness,
as blunt honesty.  One or two, with their morbid imaginations touched
by his seeming generosities, made wistful amatory advances which he
promptly repelled.  He could afford to have none of them with anything
"on" him.  He saw the need of keeping cool headed and clean handed,
with an eye always to the main issue.

And Blake really regarded himself as clean handed.  Yet deep in his
nature was that obliquity, that adeptness at trickery, that facility in
deceit, which made him the success he was.  He could always meet a
crook on his own ground.  He had no extraneous sensibilities to
eliminate.  He mastered a secret process of opening and reading letters
without detection.  He became an adept at picking a lock.  One of his
earlier successes had depended on the cool dexterity with which he had
exchanged trunk checks in a Wabash baggage car at Black Rock, allowing
the "loft" thief under suspicion to carry off a dummy trunk, while he
came into possession of another's belongings and enough evidence to
secure his victim's conviction.

At another time, when "tailing" on a badger-game case, he equipped
himself as a theatrical "bill-sniper," followed his man about without
arousing suspicion, and made liberal use of his magnetized tack-hammer
in the final mix up when he made his haul.  He did not shirk these mix
ups, for he was endowed with the bravery of the unimaginative.  This
very mental heaviness, holding him down to materialities, kept his
contemplation of contingencies from becoming bewildering.  He enjoyed
the limitations of the men against whom he was pitted.  Yet at times he
had what he called a "coppered hunch."  When, in later years, an
occasional criminal of imagination became his enemy, he was often at a
loss as to how to proceed.  But imaginative criminals, he knew, were
rare, and dilemmas such as these proved infrequent.  Whatever his
shift, or however unsavory his resource, he never regarded himself as
on the same basis as his opponents.  He had Law on his side; he was the
instrument of that great power known as Justice.

As Blake's knowledge of New York and his work increased he was given
less and less of the "rough-neck" work to do.  He proved himself, in
fact, a stolid and painstaking "investigator."  As a divorce-suit
shadower he was equally resourceful and equally successful.  When his
agency took over the bankers' protective work he was advanced to this
new department, where he found himself compelled to a new term of study
and a new circle of alliances.  He went laboriously through records of
forgers and check raisers and counterfeiters.  He took up the study of
all such gentry, sullenly yet methodically, like a backward scholar
mastering a newly imposed branch of knowledge, thumbing frowningly
through official reports, breathing heavily over portrait files and
police records, plodding determinedly through counterfeit-detector
manuals.  For this book work, as he called it, he retained a
deep-seated disgust.

The outcome of his first case, later known as the "Todaro National Ten
Case," confirmed him in this attitude.  Going doggedly over the
counterfeit ten-dollar national bank note that had been given him after
two older operatives had failed in the case, he discovered the word
"Dollars" in small lettering spelt "Ddllers."  Concluding that only a
foreigner would make a mistake of that nature, and knowing the activity
of certain bands of Italians in such counterfeiting efforts, he began
his slow and scrupulous search through the purlieus of the East Side.
About that search was neither movement nor romance.  It was humdrum,
dogged, disheartening labor, with the gradual elimination of
possibilities and the gradual narrowing down of his field.  But across
that ever-narrowing trail the accidental little clue finally fell, and
on the night of the final raid the desired plates were captured and the
notorious and long-sought Todaro rounded up.

So successful was Blake during the following two years that the
Washington authorities, coming in touch with him through the operations
of the Secret Service, were moved to make him an offer.  This offer he
stolidly considered and at last stolidly accepted.  He became an
official with the weight of the Federal authority behind him.  He
became an investigator with the secrets of the Bureau of Printing and
Engraving at his beck.  He found himself a cog in a machinery that
seemed limitless in its ramifications.  He was the agent of a vast and
centralized authority, an authority against which there could be no
opposition.  But he had to school himself to the knowledge that he was
a cog, and nothing more.  And two things were expected of him,
efficiency and silence.

He found a secret pleasure, at first, in the thought of working from
under cover, in the sense of operating always in the dark, unknown and
unseen.  It gave a touch of something Olympian and godlike to his
movements.  But as time went by the small cloud of discontent on his
horizon grew darker, and widened as it blackened.  He was avid of
something more than power.  He thirsted not only for its operation, but
also for its display.  He rebelled against the idea of a continually
submerged personality.  He nursed a keen hunger to leave some record of
what he did or had done.  He objected to it all as a conspiracy of
obliteration, objected to it as an actor would object to playing to an
empty theater.  There was no one to appreciate and applaud.  And an
audience was necessary.  He enjoyed the unctuous salute of the
patrolman on his beat, the deferential door-holding of "office boys,"
the quick attentiveness of minor operatives.  But this was not enough.
He felt the normal demand to assert himself, to be known at his true
worth by both his fellow workers and the world in general.

It was not until the occasion when he had run down a gang of
Williamsburg counterfeiters, however, that his name was conspicuously
in print.  So interesting were the details of this gang's operations,
so typical were their methods, that Wilkie or some official under
Wilkie had handed over to a monthly known as _The Counterfeit Detector_
a full account of the case.  A New York paper has printed a somewhat
distorted and romanticized copy of this, having sent a woman reporter
to interview Blake--while a staff artist made a pencil drawing of the
Secret Service man during the very moments the latter was smilingly
denying them either a statement or a photograph.  Blake knew that
publicity would impair his effectiveness.  Some inner small voice
forewarned him that all outside recognition of his calling would take
away from his value as an agent of the Secret Service.  But his hunger
for his rights as a man was stronger than his discretion as an
official.  He said nothing openly; but he allowed inferences to be
drawn and the artist's pencil to put the finishing touches to the
sketch.

It was here, too, that his slyness, his natural circuitiveness,
operated to save him.  When the inevitable protest came he was able to
prove that he had said nothing and had indignantly refused a
photograph.  He completely cleared himself.  But the hint of an
interesting personality had been betrayed to the public, the name of a
new sleuth had gone on record, and the infection of curiosity spread
like a mulberry rash from newspaper office to newspaper office.  A
representative of the press, every now and then, would drop in on
Blake, or chance to occupy the same smoking compartment with him on a
run between Washington and New York, to ply his suavest and subtlest
arts for the extraction of some final fact with which to cap an
unfinished "story."  Blake, in turn, became equally subtle and suave.
His lips were sealed, but even silence, he found, could be made
illuminative.  Even reticence, on occasion, could be made to serve his
personal ends.  He acquired the trick of surrendering data without any
shadow of actual statement.

These chickens, however, all came home to roost.  Official recognition
was taken of Blake's tendencies, and he was assigned to those cases
where a "leak" would prove least embarrassing to the Department.  He
saw this and resented it.  But in the meantime he had been keeping his
eyes open and storing up in his cabinet of silence every unsavory rumor
and fact that might prove of use in the future.  He found himself, in
due time, the master of an arsenal of political secrets.  And when it
came to a display of power he could merit the attention if not the
respect of a startlingly wide circle of city officials.  When a New
York municipal election brought a party turn over, he chose the moment
as the psychological one for a display of his power, cruising up and
down the coasts of officialdom with his grim facts in tow, for all the
world like a flagship followed by its fleet.

It was deemed expedient for the New York authorities to "take care" of
him.  A berth was made for him in the Central Office, and after a year
of laborious manipulation he found himself Third Deputy Commissioner
and a power in the land.

If he became a figure of note, and fattened on power, he found it no
longer possible to keep as free as he wished from entangling alliances.
He had by this time learned to give and take, to choose the lesser of
two evils, to pay the ordained price for his triumphs.  Occasionally
the forces of evil had to be bribed with a promise of protection.  For
the surrender of dangerous plates, for example, a counterfeiter might
receive immunity, or for the turning of State's evidence a guilty man
might have to go scott free.  At other times, to squeeze confession out
of a crook, a cruelty as refined as that of the Inquisition had to be
adopted.  In one stubborn case the end had been achieved by depriving
the victim of sleep, this Chinese torture being kept up until the
needed nervous collapse.  At another time the midnight cell of a
suspected murderer had been "set" like a stage, with all the
accessories of his crime, including even the cadaver, and when suddenly
awakened the frenzied man had shrieked out his confession.  But, as a
rule, it was by imposing on his prisoner's better instincts, such as
gang-loyalty or pity for a supposedly threatened "rag," that the point
was won.  In resources of this nature Blake became quite
conscienceless, salving his soul with the altogether Jesuitic claim
that illegal means were always justified by the legal end.

By the time he had fought his way up to the office of Second Deputy he
no longer resented being known as a "rough neck" or a "flat foot."  As
an official, he believed in roughness; it was his right; and one touch
of right made away with all wrong, very much as one grain of pepsin
properly disposed might digest a carload of beef.  A crook was a crook.
His natural end was the cell or the chair, and the sooner he got there
the better for all concerned.  So Blake believed in "hammering" his
victims.  He was an advocate of "confrontation."  He had faith in the
old-fashioned "third-degree" dodges.  At these, in his ponderous way,
he became an adept, looking on the nervous system of his subject as a
nut, to be calmly and relentlessly gnawed at until the meat of truth
lay exposed, or to be cracked by the impact of some sudden great shock.
Nor was the Second Deputy above resorting to the use of "plants."
Sometimes he had to call in a "fixer" to manufacture evidence, that the
far-off ends of justice might not be defeated.  He made frequent use of
women of a certain type, women whom he could intimidate as an officer
or buy over as a good fellow.  He had his _aides_ in all walks of life,
in clubs and offices, in pawnshops and saloons, in hotels and steamers
and barber shops, in pool rooms and anarchists' cellars.  He also had
his visiting list, his "fences" and "stool-pigeons" and "shoo-flies."

He preferred the "outdoor" work, both because he was more at home in it
and because it was more spectacular.  He relished the bigger cases.  He
liked to step in where an underling had failed, get his teeth into the
situation, shake the mystery out of it, and then obliterate the
underling with a half hour of blasphemous abuse.  He had scant patience
with what he called the "high-collar cops."  He consistently opposed
the new-fangled methods, such as the _Portrait Parle_, and pin-maps for
recording crime, and the graphic-system boards for marking the
movements of criminals.  All anthropometric nonsense such as
Bertillon's he openly sneered at, just as he scoffed at card indexes
and finger prints and other academic innovations which were
debilitating the force.  He had gathered his own data, at great pains,
he nursed his own personal knowledge as to habitual offenders and their
aliases, their methods, their convictions and records, their associates
and hang outs.  He carried his own gallery under his own hat, and he
was proud of it.  His memory was good, and he claimed always to know
his man.  His intuitions were strong, and if he disliked a captive,
that captive was in some way guilty--and he saw to it that his man did
not escape.  He was relentless, once his professional pride was
involved.  Being without imagination, he was without pity.  It was, at
best, a case of dog eat dog, and the Law, the Law for which he had such
reverence, happened to keep him the upper dog.

Yet he was a comparatively stupid man, an amazingly self-satisfied
toiler who had chanced to specialize on crime.  And even as he became
more and more assured of his personal ability, more and more entrenched
in his tradition of greatness, he was becoming less and less elastic,
less receptive, less adaptive.  Much as he tried to blink the fact, he
was compelled to depend more and more on the office behind him.  His
personal gallery, the gallery under his hat, showed a tendency to
become both obsolete and inadequate.  That endless catacomb of lost
souls grew too intricate for one human mind to compass.  New faces, new
names, new tricks tended to bewilder him.  He had to depend more and
more on the clerical staff and the finger-print bureau records.  His
position became that of a villager with a department store on his
hands, of a country shopkeeper trying to operate an urban emporium.  He
was averse to deputizing his official labors.  He was ignorant of
system and science.  He took on the pathos of a man who is out of his
time, touched with the added poignancy of a passionate incredulity as
to his predicament.  He felt, at times, that there was something wrong,
that the rest of the Department did not look on life and work as he
did.  But he could not decide just where the trouble lay.  And in his
uncertainty he made it a point to entrench himself by means of
"politics."  It became an open secret that he had a pull, that his
position was impregnable.  This in turn tended to coarsen his methods.
It lifted him beyond the domain of competitive effort.  It touched his
carelessness with arrogance.  It also tinged his arrogance with
occasional cruelty.

He redoubled his efforts to sustain the myth which had grown up about
him, the myth of his vast cleverness and personal courage.  He showed a
tendency for the more turbulent centers.  He went among murderers
without a gun.  He dropped into dives, protected by nothing more than
the tradition of his office.  He pushed his way in through thugs,
picked out his man, and told him to come to Headquarters in an hour's
time--and the man usually came.  His appetite for the spectacular
increased.  He preferred to head his own gambling raids, ax in hand.
But more even than his authority he liked to parade his knowledge.  He
liked to be able to say: "This is Sheeny Chi's coup!" or, "That's a job
that only Soup-Can Charlie could do!"  When a police surgeon hit on the
idea of etherizing an obdurate "dummy chucker," to determine if the
prisoner could talk or not, Blake appropriated the suggestion as his
own.  And when the "press boys" trooped in for their daily gist of
news, he asked them, as usual, not to couple his name with the
incident; and they, as usual, made him the hero of the occasion.

For Never-Fail Blake had made it a point to be good to the press boys.
He acquired an ability to "jolly" them without too obvious loss of
dignity.  He took them into his confidences, apparently, and made his
disclosures personal matters, individual favors.  He kept careful note
of their names, their characteristics, their interests.  He cultivated
them, keeping as careful track of them from city to city as he did of
the "big" criminals themselves.  They got into the habit of going to
him for their special stories.  He always exacted secrecy, pretended
reluctance, yet parceled out to one reporter and another those dicta to
which his name could be most appropriately attached.  He even
surrendered a clue or two as to how his own activities and triumphs
might be worked into a given story.  When he perceived that those
worldly wise young men of the press saw through the dodge, he became
more adept, more adroit, more delicate in method.  But the end was the
same.

It was about this time that he invested in his first scrap-book.  Into
this secret granary went every seed of his printed personal history.
Then came the higher records of the magazines, the illustrated articles
written about "Blake, the Hamard of America," as one of them expressed
it, and "Never-Fail Blake," as another put it.  He was very proud of
those magazine articles, he even made ponderous and painstaking efforts
for their repetition, at considerable loss of dignity.  Yet he adopted
the pose of disclaiming responsibility, of disliking such things, of
being ready to oppose them if some effective method could only be
thought out.  He even hinted to those about him at Headquarters that
this seeming garrulity was serving a good end, claiming it to be
harmless pother to "cover" more immediate trails on which he pretended
to be engaged.

But the scrap-books grew in number and size.  It became a task to keep
up with his clippings.  He developed into a personage, as much a
personage as a grand-opera prima donna on tour.  His successes were
talked over in clubs.  His name came to be known to the men in the
street.  His "camera eye" was now and then mentioned by the scientists.
His unblemished record was referred to in an occasional editorial.
When an ex-police reporter came to him, asking him to father a
macaronic volume bearing the title "Criminals of America," Blake not
only added his name to the title page, but advanced three hundred
dollars to assist towards its launching.

The result of all this was a subtle yet unmistakable shifting of
values, an achievement of public glory at the loss of official
confidence.  He excused his waning popularity among his co-workers on
the ground of envy.  It was, he held, merely the inevitable penalty for
supreme success in any field.  But a hint would come, now and then,
that troubled him.  "You think you 're a big gun, Blake," one of his
underworld victims once had the temerity to cry out at him.  "You think
you 're the king of the Hawkshaws!  But if you were on _my_ side of the
fence, you 'd last about as long as a snowball on a crownsheet!"



III

It was not until the advent of Copeland, the new First Deputy, that
Blake began to suspect his own position.  Copeland was an out-and-out
"office" man, anything but a "flat foot."  Weak looking and pallid,
with the sedentary air of a junior desk clerk, vibratingly restless
with no actual promise of being penetrating, he was of that
indeterminate type which never seems to acquire a personality of its
own.  The small and bony and steel-blue face was as neutral as the
spare and reticent figure that sat before a bald table in a bald room
as inexpressive and reticent as its occupant.  Copeland was not only
unknown outside the Department; he was, in a way, unknown in his own
official circles.

And then Blake woke up to the fact that some one on the inside was
working against him, was blocking his moves, was actually using him as
a "blind."  While he was given the "cold" trails, younger men went out
on the "hot" ones.  There were times when the Second Deputy suspected
that his enemy was Copeland.  Not that he could be sure of this, for
Copeland himself gave no inkling of his attitude.  He gave no inkling
of anything, in fact, personal or impersonal.  But more and more Blake
was given the talking parts, the rôle of spokesman to the press.  He
was more and more posted in the background, like artillery, to
intimidate with his remote thunder and cover the advance of more agile
columns.  He was encouraged to tell the public what he knew, but he was
not allowed to know too much.  And, ironically enough, he bitterly
resented this rôle of "mouthpiece" for the Department.

"You call yourself a gun!" a patrolman who had been shaken down for
insubordination broke out at him.  "A gun! why, you 're only a _park_
gun!  That's all you are, a broken-down bluff, an ornamental has-been,
a park gun for kids to play 'round!"

Blake raged at that, impotently, pathetically, like an old lion with
its teeth drawn.  He prowled moodily around, looking for an enemy on
whom to vent his anger.  But he could find no tangible force that
opposed him.  He could see nothing on which to centralize his activity.
Yet something or somebody was working against him.  To fight that
opposition was like fighting a fog.  It was as bad as trying to
shoulder back a shadow.

He had his own "spots" and "finders" on the force.  When he had been
tipped off that the powers above were about to send him out on the
Binhart case, he passed the word along to his underlings, without loss
of time, for he felt that he was about to be put on trial, that they
were making the Binhart capture a test case.  And he had rejoiced
mightily when his dragnet had brought up the unexpected tip that Elsie
Verriner had been in recent communication with Binhart, and with
pressure from the right quarter could be made to talk.

This tip had been a secret one.  Blake, on his part, kept it well
muffled, for he intended that his capture of Binhart should be not only
a personal triumph for the Second Deputy, but a vindication of that
Second Deputy's methods.

So when the Commissioner called him and Copeland into conference, the
day after his talk with Elsie Verriner, Blake prided himself on being
secretly prepared for any advances that might be made.

It was the Commissioner who did the talking.  Copeland, as usual,
lapsed into the background, cracking his dry knuckles and blinking his
pale-blue eyes about the room as the voices of the two larger men
boomed back and forth.

"We 've been going over this Binhart case," began the Commissioner.
"It's seven months now--and nothing done!"

Blake looked sideways at Copeland.  There was muffled and meditative
belligerency in the look.  There was also gratification, for it was the
move he had been expecting.

"I always said McCooey was n't the man to go out on that case," said
the Second Deputy, still watching Copeland.

"Then who _is_ the man?" asked the Commissioner.

Blake took out a cigar, bit the end off, and struck a match.  It was
out of place; but it was a sign of his independence.  He had long since
given up plug and fine-cut and taken to fat Havanas, which he smoked
audibly, in plethoric wheezes.  Good living had left his body stout and
his breathing slightly asthmatic.  He sat looking down at his massive
knees; his oblique study of Copeland, apparently, had yielded him scant
satisfaction.  Copeland, in fact, was making paper fans out of the
official note-paper in front of him.

"What's the matter with Washington and Wilkie?" inquired Blake,
attentively regarding his cigar.

"They 're just where we are--at a standstill," acknowledged the
Commissioner.

"And that's where we 'll stay!" heavily contended the Second Deputy.

The entire situation was an insidiously flattering one to Blake.  Every
one else had failed.  They were compelled to come to him, their final
resource.

"Why?" demanded his superior.

"Because we have n't got a man who can turn the trick!  We have n't got
a man who can go out and round up Binhart inside o' seven years!"

"Then what is your suggestion?"  It was Copeland who spoke, mild and
hesitating.

"D'you want my suggestion?" demanded Blake, warm with the wine-like
knowledge which, he knew, made him master of the situation.

"Of course," was the Commissioner's curt response.

"Well, you 've got to have a man who knows Binhart, who knows him and
his tricks and his hang outs!"

"Well, who does?"

"I do," declared Blake.

The Commissioner indulged in his wintry smile.

"You mean if you were n't tied down to your Second Deputy's chair you
could go out and get him!"

"I could!"

"Within a reasonable length of time?"

"I don't know about the time!  But I could get him, all right."

"If you were still on the outside work?" interposed Copeland.

"I certainly would n't expect to dig him out o' my stamp drawer," was
Blake's heavily facetious retort.

Copeland and the Commissioner looked at each other, for one fraction of
a second.

"You know what _my_ feeling is," resumed the latter, "on this Binhart
case."

"I know what my feeling is," declared Blake.

"What?"

"That the right method would 've got him six months ago, without all
this monkey work!"

"Then why not end the monkey work, as you call it?"

"How?"

"By doing what you say you can do!" was the Commissioner's retort.

"How 'm I going to hold down a chair and hunt a crook at the same time?"

"Then why hold down the chair?  Let the chair take care of itself.  It
could be arranged, you know."

Blake had the stage-juggler's satisfaction of seeing things fall into
his hands exactly as he had manoeuvered they should.  His reluctance
was merely a dissimulation, a stage wait for heightened dramatic effect.

"How 'd you do the arranging?" he calmly inquired.

"I could see the Mayor in the morning.  There will be no Departmental
difficulty."

"Then where 's the trouble?"

"There is none, if you are willing to go out."

"Well, we can't get Binhart here by pink-tea invitations.  Somebody 's
got to go out and _get_ him!"

"The bank raised the reward to eight thousand this week," interposed
the ruminative Copeland.

"Well, it 'll take money to get him," snapped back the Second Deputy,
remembering that he had a nest of his own to feather.

"It will be worth what it costs," admitted the Commissioner.

"Of course," said Copeland, "they 'll have to honor your drafts--in
reason."

"There will be no difficulty on the expense side," quietly interposed
the Commissioner.  "The city wants Binhart.  The whole country wants
Binhart.  And they will be willing to pay for it."

Blake rose heavily to his feet.  His massive bulk was momentarily
stirred by the prospect of the task before him.  For one brief moment
the anticipation of that clamor of approval which would soon be his
stirred his lethargic pulse.  Then his cynic calmness again came back
to him.

"Then what 're we beefing about?" he demanded.  "You want Binhart and I
'll get him for you."

The Commissioner, tapping the top of his desk with his gold-banded
fountain pen, smiled.  It was almost a smile of indulgence.

"You _know_ you will get him?" he inquired.

The inquiry seemed to anger Blake.  He was still dimly conscious of the
operation of forces which he could not fathom.  There were things,
vague and insubstantial, which he could not understand.  But he nursed
to his heavy-breathing bosom the consciousness that he himself was not
without his own undivulged powers, his own private tricks, his own
inner reserves.

"I say I 'll get him!" he calmly proclaimed.  "And I guess that ought
to be enough!"



IV

The unpretentious, brownstone-fronted home of Deputy Copeland was
visited, late that night, by a woman.  She was dressed in black, and
heavily veiled.  She walked with the stoop of a sorrowful and
middle-aged widow.

She came in a taxicab, which she dismissed at the corner.  From the
house steps she looked first eastward and then westward, as though to
make sure she was not being followed.  Then she rang the bell.

She gave no name; yet she was at once admitted.  Her visit, in fact,
seemed to be expected, for without hesitation she was ushered upstairs
and into the library of the First Deputy.

He was waiting for her in a room more intimate, more personal, more
companionably crowded than his office, for the simple reason that it
was not a room of his own fashioning.  He stood in the midst of its
warm hangings, in fact, as cold and neutral as the marble Diana behind
him.  He did not even show, as he closed the door and motioned his
visitor into a chair, that he had been waiting for her.

The woman, still standing, looked carefully about the room, from side
to side, saw that they were alone, made note of the two closed doors,
and then with a sigh lifted her black gloved hands and began to remove
the widow's cap from her head.  She sighed again as she tossed the
black crepe on the dark-wooded table beside her.  As she sank into the
chair the light from the electrolier fell on her shoulders and on the
carefully coiled and banded hair, so laboriously built up into a crown
that glinted nut-brown above the pale face she turned to the man
watching her.

"Well?" she said.  And from under her level brows she stared at
Copeland, serene in her consciousness of power.  It was plain that she
neither liked him nor disliked him.  It was equally plain that he, too,
had his ends remote from her and her being.

"You saw Blake again?" he half asked, half challenged.

"No," she answered.

"Why?"

"I was afraid to."

"Did n't I tell you we 'd take care of your end?"

"I 've had promises like that before.  They were n't always remembered."

"But our office never made you that promise before, Miss Verriner."

The woman let her eyes rest on his impassive face.

"That's true, I admit.  But I must also admit I know Jim Blake.  We 'd
better not come together again, Blake and me, after this week."

She was pulling off her gloves as she spoke.  She suddenly threw them
down on the table.  "There 's just one thing I want to know, and know
for certain.  I want to know if this is a plant to shoot Blake up?"

The First Deputy smiled.  It was not altogether at the mere calmness
with which she could suggest such an atrocity.

"Hardly," he said.

"Then what is it?" she demanded.

He was both patient and painstaking with her.  His tone was almost
paternal in its placativeness.

"It's merely a phase of departmental business," he answered her.  "And
we 're anxious to see Blake round up Connie Binhart."

"That's not true," she answered with neither heat nor resentment, "or
you would never have started him off on this blind lead.  You 'd never
have had me go to him with that King Edward note and had it work out to
fit a street in Montreal.  You 've got a wooden decoy up there in
Canada, and when Blake gets there he 'll be told his man slipped away
the day before.  Then another decoy will bob up, and Blake will go
after that.  And when you 've fooled him two or three times he 'll sail
back to New York and break me for giving him a false tip."

"Did you give it to him?"

"No, he hammered it out of me.  But you knew he was going to do that.
That was part of the plant."

She sat studying her thin white hands for several seconds.  Then she
looked up at the calm-eyed Copeland.

"How are you going to protect me, if Blake comes back?  How are you
going to keep your promise?"

The First Deputy sat back in his chair and crossed his thin legs.

"Blake will not come back," he announced.  She slewed suddenly round on
him again.

"Then it _is_ a plant!" she proclaimed.

"You misunderstand me, Miss Verriner.  Blake will not come back as an
official.  There will be changes in the Department, I imagine; changes
for the better which even he and his Tammany Hall friends can't stop,
by the time he gets back with Binhart."

The woman gave a little hand gesture of impatience.

"But don't you see," she protested, "supposing he gives up Binhart?
Supposing he suspects something and hurries back to hold down his
place?"

"They call him Never-Fail Blake," commented the unmoved and dry-lipped
official.  He met her wide stare with his gently satiric smile.

"I see," she finally said, "you 're not going to shoot him up.  You 're
merely going to wipe him out."

"You are quite wrong there," began the man across the table from her.
"Administration changes may happen, and in--"

"In other words, you 're getting Jim Blake out of the way, off on this
Binhart trail, while you work him out of the Department."

"No competent officer is ever worked out of this Department," parried
the First Deputy.

She sat for a silent and studious moment or two, without looking at
Copeland.  Then she sighed, with mock plaintiveness.  Her wistfulness
seemed to leave her doubly dangerous.

"Mr. Copeland, are n't you afraid some one might find it worth while to
tip Blake off?" she softly inquired.

"What would you gain?" was his pointed and elliptical interrogation.

She leaned forward in the fulcrum of light, and looked at him soberly.

"What is your idea of me?" she asked.

He looked back at the thick-lashed eyes with their iris rings of deep
gray.  There was something alert and yet unparticipating in their
steady gaze.  They held no trace of abashment.  They were no longer
veiled.  There was even something disconcerting in their lucid and
level stare.

"I think you are a very intelligent woman," Copeland finally confessed.

"I think I am, too," she retorted.  "Although I have n't used that
intelligence in the right way.  Don't smile!  I 'm not going to turn
mawkish.  I 'm not good.  I don't know whether I want to be.  But I
know one thing: I 've got to keep busy--I 've got to be active.  I 've
_got_ to be!"

"And?" prompted the First Deputy, as she came to a stop.

"We all know, now, exactly where we 're at.  We all know what we want,
each one of us.  We know what Blake wants.  We know what you want.  And
I want something more than I 'm getting, just as you want something
more than writing reports and rounding up push-cart peddlers.  I want
my end, as much as you want yours."

"And?" again prompted the First Deputy.

"I 've got to the end of my ropes; and I want to swing around.  It's no
reform bee, mind!  It's not what other women like me think it is.  But
I can't go on.  It doesn't lead to anything.  It does n't pay.  I want
to be safe.  I 've _got_ to be safe!"

He looked up suddenly, as though a new truth had just struck home with
him.  For the first time, all that evening, his face was ingenuous.

"I know what's behind me," went on the woman.  "There 's no use digging
that up.  And there 's no use digging up excuses for it.  But there
_are_ excuses--good excuses, or I 'd never have gone through what I
have, because I feel I was n't made for it.  I 'm too big a coward to
face what it leads to.  I can look ahead and see through things.  I can
understand too easily."  She came to a stop, and sat back, with one
white hand on either arm of the chair.  "And I 'm afraid to go on.  I
want to begin over.  And I want to begin on the right side!"

He sat pondering just how much of this he could believe.  But she
disregarded his veiled impassivity.

"I want you to take Picture 3,970 out of the Identification Bureau, the
picture and the Bertillon measurements.  And then I want you to give me
the chance I asked for."

"But that does not rest with me, Miss Verriner!"

"It will rest with you.  I could n't stool with my own people here.
But Wilkie knows my value.  He knows what I can do for the service if I
'm on their side.  He could let me begin with the Ellis Island
spotting.  I could stop that Stockholm white-slave work in two months.
And when you see Wilkie to-morrow you can swing me one way or the
other!"

Copeland, with his chin on his bony breast, looked up to smile into her
intent and staring eyes.

"You are a very clever woman," he said.  "And what is more, you know a
great deal!"

"I know a great deal!" she slowly repeated, and her steady gaze
succeeded in taking the ironic smile out of the corners of his eyes.

"Your knowledge," he said with a deliberation equal to her own, "will
prove of great value to you--as an agent with Wilkie."

"That's as you say!" she quietly amended as she rose to her feet.
There was no actual threat in her words, just as there was no actual
mockery in his.  But each was keenly conscious of the wheels that
revolved within wheels, of the intricacies through which each was
threading a way to certain remote ends.  She picked up her black gloves
from the desk top.  She stood there, waiting.

"You can count on me," he finally said, as he rose from his chair.  "I
'll attend to the picture.  And I 'll say the right thing to Wilkie!"

"Then let's shake hands on it!" she quietly concluded.  And as they
shook hands her gray-irised eyes gazed intently and interrogatively
into his.



V (a)

When Never-Fail Blake alighted from his sleeper in Montreal he found
one of Teal's men awaiting him at Bonaventure Station.  There had been
a hitch or a leak somewhere, this man reported.  Binhart, in some way,
had slipped through their fingers.

All they knew was that the man they were tailing had bought a ticket
for Winnipeg, that he was not in Montreal, and that, beyond the railway
ticket, they had no trace of him.

Blake, at this news, had a moment when he saw red.  He felt, during
that moment, like a drum-major who had "muffed" his baton on parade.
Then recovering himself, he promptly confirmed the Teal operative's
report by telephone, accepted its confirmation as authentic, consulted
a timetable, and made a dash for Windsor Station.  There he caught the
Winnipeg express, took possession of a stateroom and indited carefully
worded telegrams to Trimble in Vancouver, that all out-going Pacific
steamers should be watched, and to Menzler in Chicago, that the
American city might be covered in case of Binhart's doubling southward
on him.  Still another telegram he sent to New York, requesting the
Police Department to send on to him at once a photograph of Binhart.

In Winnipeg, two days later, Blake found himself on a blind trail.
When he had talked with a railway detective on whom he could rely, when
he had visited certain offices and interviewed certain officials, when
he had sought out two or three women acquaintances in the city's
sequestered area, he faced the bewildering discovery that he was still
without an actual clue of the man he was supposed to be shadowing.

It was then that something deep within his nature, something he could
never quite define, whispered its first faint doubt to him.  This doubt
persisted even when late that night a Teal Agency operative wired him
from Calgary, stating that a man answering Binhart's description had
just left the Alberta Hotel for Banff.  To this latter point Blake
promptly wired a fuller description of his man, had an officer posted
to inspect every alighting passenger, and early the next morning
received a telegram, asking for still more particulars.

He peered down at this message, vaguely depressed in spirit, discarding
theory after theory, tossing aside contingency after contingency.  And
up from this gloomy shower slowly emerged one of his "hunches," one of
his vague impressions, coming blindly to the surface very much like an
earthworm crawling forth after a fall of rain.  There was something
wrong.  Of that he felt certain.  He could not place it or define it.
To continue westward would be to depend too much on an uncertainty; it
would involve the risk of wandering too far from the center of things.
He suddenly decided to double on his tracks and swing down to Chicago.
Just why he felt as he did he could not fathom.  But the feeling was
there.  It was an instinctive propulsion, a "hunch."  These hunches
were to him, working in the dark as he was compelled to, very much what
whiskers are to a cat.  They could not be called an infallible guide.
But they at least kept him from colliding with impregnabilities.

Acting on this hunch, as he called it, he caught a Great Northern train
for Minneapolis, transferred to a Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul
express, and without loss of time sped southward.  When, thirty hours
later, he alighted in the heart of Chicago, he found himself in an
environment more to his liking, more adaptable to his ends.  He was not
disheartened by his failure.  He did not believe in luck, in miracles,
or even in coincidence.  But experience had taught him the bewildering
extent of the resources which he might command.  So intricate and so
wide-reaching were the secret wires of his information that he knew he
could wait, like a spider at the center of its web, until the betraying
vibration awakened some far-reaching thread of that web.  In every
corner of the country lurked a non-professional ally, a secluded
tipster, ready to report to Blake when the call for a report came.  The
world, that great detective had found, was indeed a small one.  From
its scattered four corners, into which his subterranean wires of
espionage stretched, would in time come some inkling, some hint, some
discovery.  And at the converging center of those wires Blake was able
to sit and wait, like the central operator at a telephone switchboard,
knowing that the tentacles of attention were creeping and wavering
about dim territories and that in time they would render up their
awaited word.

In the meantime, Blake himself was by no means idle.  It would not be
from official circles, he knew, that his redemption would come.  Time
had already proved that.  For months past every police chief in the
country had held his description of Binhart.  That was a fact which
Binhart himself very well knew; and knowing that, he would continue to
move as he had been moving, with the utmost secrecy, or at least
protected by some adequate disguise.

It would be from the underworld that the echo would come.  And next to
New York, Blake knew, Chicago would make as good a central exchange for
this underworld as could be desired.  Knowing that city of the Middle
West, and knowing it well, he at once "went down the line," making his
rounds stolidly and systematically, first visiting a West Side
faro-room and casually interviewing the "stools" of Custom House Place
and South dark Street, and then dropping in at the Café Acropolis, in
Halsted Street, and lodging houses in even less savory quarters.  He
duly canvassed every likely dive, every "melina," every gambling house
and yegg hang out.  He engaged in leisurely games of pool with
stone-getters and gopher men.  He visited bucket-shops and barrooms,
and dingy little Ghetto cafés.  He "buzzed" tipsters and floaters and
mouthpieces.  He fraternized with till tappers and single-drillers.  He
always made his inquiries after Binhart seem accidental, a case
apparently subsidiary to two or three others which he kept always to
the foreground.

He did not despair over the discovery that no one seemed to know of
Binhart or his movements.  He merely waited his time, and extended new
ramifications into newer territory.  His word still carried its weight
of official authority.  There was still an army of obsequious
underlings compelled to respect his wishes.  It was merely a matter of
time and mathematics.  Then the law of averages would ordain its end;
the needed card would ultimately be turned up, the right dial-twist
would at last complete the right combination.

The first faint glimmer of life, in all those seemingly dead wires,
came from a gambler named Mattie Sherwin, who reported that he had met
Binhart, two weeks before, in the café of the Brown Palace in Denver.
He was traveling under the name of Bannerman, wore his hair in a
pomadour, and had grown a beard.

Blake took the first train out of Chicago for Denver.  In this latter
city an Elks' Convention was supplying blue-bird weather for
underground "haymakers," busy with bunco-steering, "rushing"
street-cars and "lifting leathers."  Before the stampede at the news of
his approach, he picked up Biff Edwards and Lefty Stivers, put on the
screws, and learned nothing.  He went next to Glory McShane, a Market
Street acquaintance indebted for certain old favors, and from her, too,
learned nothing of moment.  He continued the quest in other quarters,
and the results were equally discouraging.

Then began the real detective work about which, Blake knew, newspaper
stories were seldom written.  This work involved a laborious and
monotonous examination of hotel registers, a canvassing of ticket
agencies and cab stands and transfer companies.  It was anything but
story-book sleuthing.  It was a dispiriting tread-mill round, but he
was still sifting doggedly through the tailings of possibilities when a
code-wire came from St. Louis, saying Binhart had been seen the day
before at the Planters' Hotel.

Blake was eastbound on his way to St. Louis one hour after the receipt
of this wire.  And an hour after his arrival in St. Louis he was
engaged in an apparently care free and leisurely game of pool with one
Loony Ryan, an old-time "box man" who was allowed to roam with a
clipped wing in the form of a suspended indictment.  Loony, for the
liberty thus doled out to him, rewarded his benefactors by an
occasional indulgence in the "pigeon-act."

"Draw for lead?" asked Blake, lighting a cigar.

"Sure," said Loony.

Blake pushed his ball to the top cushion, won the draw, and broke.

"Seen anything of Wolf Yonkholm?" he casually inquired, as he turned to
chalk his cue.  But his eye, with one quick sweep, had made sure of
every face in the room.

Loony studied the balls for a second or two.  Wolf was a "dip" with an
international record.

"Last time I saw Wolf he was out at 'Frisco, workin' the Beaches," was
Loony's reply.

Blake ventured an inquiry or two about other worthies of the
underworld.  The players went on with their game, placid, self-immured,
matter-of-fact.

"Where's Angel McGlory these days?" asked Blake, as he reached over to
place a ball.

"What's she been doin'?" demanded Loony, with his cue on the rail.

"She 's traveling with a bank sneak named Blanchard or Binhart,"
explained Blake.  "And I want her."

Loony Ryan made his stroke.

"Hep Roony saw Binhart this mornin', beatin' it for N' Orleans.  But he
was n't travelin' wit' any moll that Hep spoke of."

Blake made his shot, chalked his cue again, and glanced down at his
watch.  His eyes were on the green baize, but his thoughts were
elsewhere.

"I got 'o leave you, Loony," he announced as he put his cue back in the
rack.  He spoke slowly and calmly.  But Loony's quick gaze circled the
room, promptly checking over every face between the four walls.

"What's up?" he demanded.  "Who 'd you spot?"

"Nothing, Loony, nothing!  But this game o' yours blamed near made me
forget an appointment o' mine!"

Twenty minutes after he had left the bewildered Loony Ryan in the pool
parlor he was in a New Orleans sleeper, southward bound.  He knew that
he was getting within striking distance of Binhart, at last.  The zest
of the chase took possession of him.  The trail was no longer a "cold"
one.  He knew which way Binhart was headed.  And he knew he was not
more than a day behind his man.



V (b)

The moment Blake arrived in New Orleans he shut himself in a telephone
booth, called up six somewhat startled acquaintances, learned nothing
to his advantage, and went quickly but quietly to the St. Charles.
There he closeted himself with two dependable "elbows," started his
detectives on a round of the hotels, and himself repaired to the Levee
district, where he held off-handed and ponderously facetious
conversations with certain unsavory characters.  Then came a visit to
certain equally unsavory wharf-rats and a call or two on South Rampart
Street.  But still no inkling of Binhart or his intended movements came
to the detective's ears.

It was not until the next morning, as he stepped into Antoine's, on St.
Louis Street just off the Rue Royal, that anything of importance
occurred.  The moment he entered that bare and cloistral restaurant
where Monsieur Jules could dish up such startling uncloistral dishes,
his eyes fell on Abe Sheiner, a drum snuffer with whom he had had
previous and somewhat painful encounters.  Sheiner, it was plain to
see, was in clover, for he was breakfasting regally, on squares of
toast covered with shrimp and picked crab meat creamed, with a bisque
of cray-fish and _papa-bottes_ in ribbons of bacon, to say nothing of
fruit and _bruilleau_.

Blake insisted on joining his old friend Sheiner, much to the tatter's
secret discomfiture.  It was obvious that the drum snuffer, having made
a recent haul, would be amenable to persuasion.  And, like all yeggs,
he was an upholder of the "moccasin telegraph," a wanderer and a
carrier of stray tidings as to the movements of others along the
undergrooves of the world.  So while Blake breakfasted on shrimp and
crab meat and French artichokes stuffed with caviar and anchovies, he
intimated to the uneasy-minded Sheiner certain knowledge as to a
certain recent coup.  In the face of this charge Sheiner indignantly
claimed that he had only been playing the ponies and having a run of
greenhorn's luck.

"Abe, I 've come down to gather you in," announced the calmly
mendacious detective.  He continued to sip his _bruilleau_ with
fraternal unconcern.

"You got nothing _on_ me, Jim," protested the other, losing his taste
for the delicacies arrayed about him.

"Well, we got 'o go down to Headquarters and talk that over," calmly
persisted Blake.

"What's the use of pounding me, when I 'm on the square again?"
persisted the ex-drum snuffer.

"That's the line o' talk they all hand out.  That's what Connie Binhart
said when we had it out up in St. Louis."

"Did you bump into Binhart in St. Louis?"

"We had a talk, three days ago."

"Then why 'd he blow through this town as though he had a regiment o'
bulls and singed cats behind him!"

Blake's heart went down like an elevator with a broken cable.  But he
gave no outward sign of this inward commotion.

"Because he wants to get down to Colon before the Hamburg-American boat
hits the port," ventured Blake.  "His moll's aboard!"

"But he blew out for 'Frisco this morning," contended the puzzled
Sheiner.  "Shot through as though he 'd just had a rumble!"

"Oh, he _said_ that, but he went south, all right."

"Then he went in an oyster sloop.  There 's nothing sailing from this
port to-day."

"Well, what's Binhart got to do with our trouble anyway?  What I want--"

"But I saw him start," persisted the other.  "He ducked for a day coach
and said he was traveling for his health.  And he sure looked like a
man in a hurry!"

Blake sipped his bruilleau, glanced casually at his watch, and took out
a cigar and lighted it.  He blinked contentedly across the table at the
man he was "buzzing."  The trick had been turned.  The word had been
given.  He knew that Binhart was headed westward again.  He also knew
that Binhart had awakened to the fact that he was being followed, that
his feverish movements were born of a stampeding fear of capture.

Yet Binhart was not a coward.  Flight, in fact, was his only resource.
It was only the low-brow criminal, Blake knew, who ran for a hole and
hid in it until he was dragged out.  The more intellectual type of
offender preferred the open.  And Binhart was of this type.  He was
suave and artful; he was active bodied and experienced in the ways of
the world.  What counted still more, he was well heeled with money.
Just how much he had planted away after the Newcomb coup no one knew.
But no one denied that it was a fortune.  It was ten to one that
Binhart would now try to get out of the country.  He would make his way
to some territory without an extradition treaty.  He would look for a
land where he could live in peace, where his ill-gotten wealth would
make exile endurable.

Blake, as he smoked his cigar and turned these thoughts over in his
mind, could afford to smile.  There would be no peace and no rest for
Connie Binhart; he himself would see to that.  And he would "get" his
man; whether it was in a week's time or a month's time, he would "get"
his man and take him back in triumph to New York.  He would show
Copeland and the Commissioner and the world in general that there was
still a little life in the old dog, that there was still a haul or two
he could make.

So engrossing were these thoughts that Blake scarcely heard the drum
snuffer across the table from him, protesting the innocence of his ways
and the purity of his intentions.  Then for the second time that
morning Blake completely bewildered him, by suddenly accepting those
protestations and agreeing to let everything drop.  It was necessary,
of course, to warn Sheiner, to exact a promise of better living.  But
Blake's interest in the man had already departed.  He dropped him from
his scheme of things, once he had yielded up his data.  He tossed him
aside like a sucked orange, a smoked cigar, a burnt-out match.
Binhart, in all the movements of all the stellar system, was the one
name and the one man that interested him.

Loony Sheiner was still sitting at that table in Antoine's when Blake,
having wired his messages to San Pedro and San Francisco, caught the
first train out of New Orleans.  As he sped across the face of the
world, crawling nearer and nearer the Pacific Coast, no thought of the
magnitude of that journey oppressed him.  His imagination remained
untouched.  He neither fretted nor fumed at the time this travel was
taking.  In spite of the electric fans at each end of his Pullman, it
is true, he suffered greatly from the heat, especially during the ride
across the Arizona Desert.  He accepted it without complaint, stolidly
thanking his lucky stars that men were n't still traveling across
America's deserts by ox-team.  He was glad when he reached the Colorado
River and wound up into California, leaving the alkali and sage brush
and yucca palms of the Mojave well behind him.  He was glad in his
placid way when he reached his hotel in San Francisco and washed the
grit and grime from his heat-nettled body.

But once that body had been bathed and fed, he started on his rounds of
the underworld, seined the entire harbor-front without effect, and then
set out his night-lines as cautiously as a fisherman in forbidden
waters.  He did not overlook the shipping offices and railway stations,
neither did he neglect the hotels and ferries.  Then he quietly lunched
at Martenelli's with the much-honored but most-uncomfortable Wolf
Yonkholm, who promptly suspended his "dip" operations at the Beaches
out of respect to Blake's sudden call.

Nothing of moment, however, was learned from the startled Wolf, and at
Coppa's six hours later, Blake dined with a Chink-smuggler named Goldie
Hopper.  Goldie, after his fifth glass of wine and an adroit decoying
of the talk along the channels which most interested his portly host,
casually announced that an Eastern crook named Blanchard had got away,
the day before, on the Pacific mail steamer _Manchuria_.  He was clean
shaven and traveled as a clergyman.  That struck Goldie as the height
of humor, a bank sneak having the nerve to deck himself out as a
gospel-spieler.

His elucidation of it, however, brought no answering smile from the
diffident-eyed Blake, who confessed that he was rounding up a couple of
nickel-coiners and would be going East in a day or two.

Instead of going East, however, he hurriedly consulted maps and
timetables, found a train that would land him in Portland in twenty-six
hours, and started north.  He could eventually save time, he found, by
hastening on to Seattle and catching a Great Northern steamer from that
port.  When a hot-box held his train up for over half an hour, Blake
stood with his timepiece in his hand, watching the train crew in their
efforts to "freeze the hub."  They continued to lose time, during the
night.  At Seattle, when he reached the Great Northern docks, he found
that his steamer had sailed two hours before he stepped from his
sleeper.

His one remaining resource was a Canadian Pacific steamer from
Victoria.  This, he figured out, would get him to Hong Kong even
earlier than the steamer which he had already missed.  He had a hunch
that Hong Kong was the port he wanted.  Just why, he could not explain.
But he felt sure that Binhart would not drop off at Manila.  Once on
the run, he would keep out of American quarters.  It was a gamble; it
was a rough guess.  But then all life was that.  And Blake had a dogged
and inarticulate faith in his "hunches."

Crossing the Sound, he reached Victoria in time to see the _Empress of
China_ under way, and heading out to sea.  Blake hired a tug and
overtook her.  He reached the steamer's deck by means of a Jacob's
ladder that swung along her side plates like a mason's plumbline along
a factory wall.

Binhart, he told himself, was by this time in mid-Pacific, untold miles
away, heading for that vast and mysterious East into which a man could
so easily disappear.  He was approaching gloomy and tangled waterways
that threaded between islands which could not even be counted.  He was
fleeing towards dark rivers which led off through barbaric and
mysterious silence, into the heart of darkness.  He was drawing nearer
and nearer to those regions of mystery where a white man might be
swallowed up as easily as a rice grain is lost in a shore lagoon.  He
would soon be in those teeming alien cities as under-burrowed as a
gopher village.

But Blake did not despair.  Their whole barbaric East, he told himself,
was only a Chinatown slum on a large scale.  And he had never yet seen
the slum that remained forever impervious to the right dragnet.  He did
not know how or where the end would be.  But he knew there would be an
end.  He still hugged to his bosom the placid conviction that the world
was small, that somewhere along the frontiers of watchfulness the
impact would be recorded and the alarm would be given.  A man of
Binhart's type, with the money Binhart had, would never divorce himself
completely from civilization.  He would always crave a white man's
world; he would always hunger for what that world stood for and
represented.  He would always creep back to it.  He might hide in his
heathen burrow, for a time; but there would be a limit to that exile.
A power stronger than his own will would drive him back to his own
land, back to civilization.  And civilization, to Blake, was merely a
rather large and rambling house equipped with a rather efficient
burglar-alarm system, so that each time it was entered, early or late,
the tell-tale summons would eventually go to the right quarter.  And
when the summons came Blake would be waiting for it.



VI

It was by wireless that Blake made what efforts he could to confirm his
suspicions that Binhart had not dropped off at any port of call between
San Francisco and Hong Kong.  In due time the reply came back to
"Bishop MacKishnie," on board the westbound _Empress of China_ that the
Reverend Caleb Simpson had safely landed from the _Manchuria_ at Hong
Kong, and was about to leave for the mission field in the interior.

The so-called bishop, sitting in the wireless-room of the _Empress of
China_, with a lacerated black cigar between his teeth, received this
much relayed message with mixed feelings.  He proceeded to send out
three Secret Service code-despatches to Shanghai, Amoy and Hong Kong,
which, being picked up by a German cruiser, were worried over and
argued over and finally referred back to an intelligence bureau for
explanation.

But at Yokohama, Blake hurried ashore in a sampan, met an agent who
seemed to be awaiting him, and caught a train for Kobe.  He hurried on,
indifferent to the beauties of the country through which he wound,
unimpressed by the oddities of the civilization with which he found
himself confronted.  His mind, intent on one thing, seemed unable to
react to the stimuli of side-issues.  From Kobe he caught a _Toyo Kisen
Kaisha_ steamer for Nagasaki and Shanghai.  This steamer, he found, lay
over at the former port for thirteen hours, so he shifted again to an
outbound boat headed for Woosung.

It was not until he was on the tender, making the hour-long run from
Woosung up the Whangpoo to Shanghai itself, that he seemed to emerge
from his half-cataleptic indifference to his environment.  He began to
realize that he was at last in the Orient.

As they wound up the river past sharp-nosed and round-hooded sampans,
and archaic Chinese battle-ships and sea-going junks and gunboats
flying their unknown foreign flags, Blake at last began to realize that
he was in a new world.  The very air smelt exotic; the very colors, the
tints of the sails, the hues of clothing, the forms of things, land and
sky itself--all were different.  This depressed him only vaguely.  He
was too intent on the future, on the task before him, to give his
surroundings much thought.

Blake had entirely shaken off this vague uneasiness, in fact, when
twenty minutes after landing he found himself in a red-brick hotel
known as The Astor, and guardedly shaking hands with an incredulously
thin and sallow-faced man of about forty.  Although this man spoke with
an English accent and exile seemed to have foreigneered him in both
appearance and outlook, his knowledge of America was active and
intimate.  He passed over to the detective two despatches in cipher,
handed him a confidential list of Hong Kong addresses, gave him certain
information as to Macao, and an hour later conducted him down the river
to the steamer which started that night for Hong Kong.

As Blake trod that steamer's deck and plowed on through strange seas,
surrounded by strange faces, intent on his strange chase, no sense of
vast adventure entered his soul.  No appreciation of a great hazard
bewildered his emotions.  The kingdom of romance dwells in the heart,
in the heart roomy enough to house it.  And Blake's heart was taken up
with more material things.  He was preoccupied with his new list of
addresses, with his new lines of procedure, with the men he must
interview and the dives and clubs and bazars he must visit.  He had his
day's work to do, and he intended to do it.

The result was that of Hong Kong he carried away no immediate personal
impression, beyond a vague jumble, in the background of consciousness,
of Buddhist temples and British red-jackets, of stately parks and
granite buildings, of mixed nationalities and native theaters, of
anchored warships and a floating city of houseboats.  For it was the
same hour that he landed in this orderly and strangely English city
that the discovery he was drawing close to Binhart again swept clean
the slate of his emotions.  The response had come from a consulate
secretary.  One wire in all his sentinel network had proved a live one.
Binhart was not in Hong Kong, but he had been seen in Macao; he was
known to be still there.  And beyond that there was little that
Never-Fail Blake cared to know.

His one side-movement in Hong Kong was to purchase an American
revolver, for it began to percolate even through his indurated
sensibilities that he was at last in a land where his name might not be
sufficiently respected and his office sufficiently honored.  For the
first time in seven long years he packed a gun, he condescended to go
heeled.  Yet no minutest tingle of excitement spread through his
lethargic body as he examined this gun, carefully loaded it, and stowed
it away in his wallet-pocket.  It meant no more to him than the stowing
away of a sandwich against the emergency of a possible lost meal.



VII

By the time he was on the noon boat that left for Macao, Blake had
quite forgotten about the revolver.  As he steamed southward over
smooth seas, threading a way through boulder-strewn islands and
skirting mountainous cliffs, his movements seemed to take on a sense of
finality.  He stood at the rail, watching the hazy blue islands, the
forests of fishing-boats and high-pooped junks floating lazily at
anchor, the indolent figures which he could catch glimpses of on deck,
the green waters of the China Sea.  He watched them with intent, yet
abstracted, eyes.  Some echo of the witchery of those Eastern waters at
times penetrated his own preoccupied soul.  A vague sense of his
remoteness from his old life at last crept in to him.

He thought of the watching green lights that were flaring up, dusk by
dusk, in the shrill New York night, the lamps of the precinct stations,
the lamps of Headquarters, where the great building was full of moving
feet and shifting faces, where telephones were ringing and detectives
were coming and going, and policemen in uniform were passing up and
down the great stone steps, clean-cut, ruddy-faced, strong-limbed
policemen, talking and laughing as they started out on their night
details.  He could follow them as they went, those confident-striding
"flatties" with their ash night-sticks at their side, soldiers without
bugles or banner, going out to do the goodly tasks of the Law, soldiers
of whom he was once the leader, the pride, the man to whom they pointed
as the Vidoc of America.

And he would go back to them as great as ever.  He would again compel
their admiration.  The newspaper boys would again come filing into his
office and shake hands with him and smoke his cigars and ask how much
he could tell them about his last haul.  And he would recount to them
how he shadowed Binhart half way round the world, and gathered him in,
and brought him back to Justice.

It was three o'clock in the afternoon when Blake's steamer drew near
Macao.  Against a background of dim blue hills he could make out the
green and blue and white of the houses in the Portuguese quarters,
guarded on one side by a lighthouse and on the other by a stolid square
fort.  Swinging around a sharp point, the boat entered the inner
harbor, crowded with Chinese craft and coasters and dingy tramps of the
sea.

Blake seemed in no hurry to disembark.  The sampan into which he
stepped, in fact, did not creep up to the shore until evening.  There,
ignoring the rickshaw coolies who awaited him as he passed an
obnoxiously officious trio of customs officers, he disappeared up one
of the narrow and slippery side streets of the Chinese quarter.

He followed this street for some distance, assailed by the smell of its
mud and rotting sewerage, twisting and turning deeper into the
darkness, past dogs and chattering coolies and oil lamps and
gaming-house doors.  Into one of these gaming houses he turned, passing
through the blackwood sliding door and climbing the narrow stairway to
the floor above.  There, from a small quadrangular gallery, he could
look down on the "well" of the fan-tan lay out below.

He made his way to a seat at the rail, took out a cigar, lighted it,
and let his veiled gaze wander about the place, point by point, until
he had inspected and weighed and appraised every man in the building.
He continued to smoke, listlessly, like a sightseer with time on his
hands and in no mood for movement.  The brim of his black boulder
shadowed his eyes.  His thumbs rested carelessly in the arm-holes of
his waistcoat.  He lounged back torpidly, listening to the drone and
clatter of voices below, lazily inspecting each newcomer, pretending to
drop off into a doze of ennui.  But all the while he was most acutely
awake.

For somewhere in that gathering, he knew, there was a messenger
awaiting him.  Whether he was English or Portuguese, white or yellow,
Blake could not say.  But from some one there some word or signal was
to come.

He peered down at the few white men in the pit below.  He watched the
man at the head of the carved blackwood table, beside his heap of brass
"cash," watched him again and again as he took up his handful of coins,
covered them with a brass hat while the betting began, removed the hat,
and seemed to be dividing the pile, with the wand in his hand, into
fours.  The last number of the last four, apparently, was the object of
the wagers.

Blake could not understand the game.  It puzzled him, just as the
yellow men so stoically playing it puzzled him, just as the entire
country puzzled him.  Yet, obtuse as he was, he felt the gulf of
centuries that divided the two races.  These yellow men about him
seemed as far away from his humanity, as detached from his manner of
life and thought, as were the animals he sometimes stared at through
the bars of the Bronx Zoo cages.

A white man would have to be pretty far gone, Blake decided, to fall
into their ways, to be satisfied with the life of those yellow men.  He
would have to be a terrible failure, or he would have to be hounded by
a terrible fear, to live out his life so far away from his own kind.
And he felt now that Binhart could never do it, that a life sentence
there would be worse than a life sentence to "stir."  So he took
another cigar, lighted it, and sat back watching the faces about him.

For no apparent reason, and at no decipherable sign, one of the yellow
faces across the smoke-filled room detached itself from its fellows.
This face showed no curiosity, no haste.  Blake watched it as it calmly
approached him.  He watched until he felt a finger against his arm.

"You clum b'long me," was the enigmatic message uttered in the
detective's ear.

"Why should I go along with you?" Blake calmly inquired.

"You clum b'long me," reiterated the Chinaman.  The finger again
touched the detective's arm.  "Clismas!"

Blake rose, at once.  He recognized the code word of "Christmas."  This
was the messenger he had been awaiting.

He followed the figure down the narrow stairway, through the sliding
door, out into the many-odored street, foul with refuse, bisected by
its open sewer of filth, took a turning into a still narrower street,
climbed a precipitous hill cobbled with stone, turned still again,
always overshadowed and hemmed in by tall houses close together, with
black-beamed lattice doors through which he could catch glimpses of
gloomy interiors.  He turned again down a wooden-walled hallway that
reminded him of a Mott Street burrow.  When the Chinaman touched him on
the sleeve he came to a stop.

His guide was pointing to a closed door in front of them.

"You sabby?" he demanded.

Blake hesitated.  He had no idea of what was behind that door, but he
gathered from the Chinaman's motion that he was to enter.  Before he
could turn to make further inquiry the Chinaman had slipped away like a
shadow.



VIII

Blake stood regarding the door.  The he lifted his revolver from his
breast pocket and dropped it into his side pocket, with his hand on the
butt.  Then with his left hand he quietly opened the door, pushed it
back, and as quietly stepped into the room.

On the floor, in the center of a square of orange-colored matting, he
saw a white woman sitting.  She was drinking tea out of an egg-shell of
a cup, and after putting down the cup she would carefully massage her
lips with the point of her little finger.  This movement puzzled the
newcomer until he suddenly realized that it was merely to redistribute
the rouge on them.

She was dressed in a silk petticoat of almost lemon yellow and an
azure-colored silk bodice that left her arms and shoulders bare to the
light that played on them from three small oil lamps above her.  Her
feet and ankles were also bare, except for the matting sandals into
which her toes were thrust.  On one thin arm glimmered an
extraordinarily heavy bracelet of gold.  Her skin, which was very
white, was further albificated by a coat of rice powder.  She was
startlingly slight.  Blake, as he watched her, could see the oval
shadows under her collar bones and the almost girlish meagerness of
breast half-covered by the azure silk bodice.

She looked up slowly as Blake stepped into the room.  Her eyes widened,
and she continued to look, with parted lips, as she contemplated the
intruder's heavy figure.  There was no touch of fear on her face.  It
was more curiosity, the wilful, wide-eyed curiosity of the child.  She
even laughed a little as she stared at the intruder.  Her rouged lips
were tinted a carmine so bright that they looked like a wound across
her white face.  That gash of color became almost clown-like as it
crescented upward with its wayward mirth.  Her eyebrows were heavily
penciled and the lids of the eyes elongated by a widening point of blue
paint.  Her bare heel, which she caressed from time to time with
fingers whereon the nails were stained pink with henna, was small and
clean cut, as clean cut, Blake noticed, as the heel of a razor, while
the white calf above it was as thin and flat as a boy's.

"Hello, New York," she said with her foolish and inconsequential little
laugh.  Her voice took on an oddly exotic intonation, as she spoke.
Her teeth were small and white; they reminded Blake of rice, while she
repeated the "New York," bubblingly, as though she were a child with a
newly learned word.

"Hello!" responded the detective, wondering how or where to begin.  She
made him think of a painted marionette, so maintained were her poses,
so unreal was her make up.

"You 're the party who 's on the man hunt," she announced.

"Am I?" equivocated Blake.  She had risen to her feet by this time,
with monkey-like agility, and showed herself to be much taller than he
had imagined.  He noticed a knife scar on her forearm.

"You 're after this man called Binhart," she declared.

"Oh, no, I 'm not," was Blake's sagacious response.  "I don't want
Binhart!"

"Then what do you want?"

"I want the money he 's got."

The little painted face grew serious; then it became veiled.

"How much money has he?"

"That's what I want to find out!"

She squatted ruminatively down on the edge of her divan.  It was low
and wide and covered with orange-colored silk.

"Then you'll have to find Binhart!" was her next announcement.

"Maybe!" acknowledged Blake.

"I can show you where he is!"

"All right," was the unperturbed response.  The blue-painted eyes were
studying him.

"It will be worth four thousand pounds, in English gold," she announced.

Blake took a step or two nearer her.

"Is that the message Ottenheim told you to give me?" he demanded.  His
face was red with anger.

"Then three thousand pounds," she calmly suggested, wriggling her toes
into a fallen sandal.

Blake did not deign to speak.  His inarticulate grunt was one of
disgust.

"Then a thousand, in gold," she coyly intimated.  She twisted about to
pull the strap of her bodice up over her white shoulder-blades.  "Or I
will kill him for you for two thousand pounds in gold!"

Her eyes were as tranquil as a child's.  Blake remembered that he was
in a world not his own.

"Why should I want him killed?" he inquired.  He looked about for some
place to sit.  There was not a chair in the room.

"Because he intends to kill _you_," answered the woman, squatting on
the orange-covered divan.

"I wish he 'd come and try," Blake devoutly retorted.

"He will not come," she told him.  "It will be done from the dark.  _I_
could have done it.  But Ottenheim said no."

"And Ottenheim said you were to work with me in this," declared Blake,
putting two and two together.

The woman shrugged a white shoulder.

"Have you any money?" she asked.  She put the question with the
artlessness of a child.

"Mighty little," retorted Blake, still studying the woman from where he
stood.  He was wondering if Ottenheim had the same hold on her that the
authorities had on Ottenheim, the ex-forger who enjoyed his parole only
on condition that he remain a stool-pigeon of the high seas.  He
pondered what force he could bring to bear on her, what power could
squeeze from those carmine and childish lips the information he must
have.

He knew that he could break that slim body of hers across his knee.
But he also knew that he had no way of crushing out of it the truth he
sought, the truth he must in some way obtain.  The woman still squatted
on the divan, peering down at the knife scar on her arm from time to
time, studying it, as though it were an inscription.

Blake was still watching the woman when the door behind him was slowly
opened; a head was thrust in, and as quietly withdrawn again.  Blake
dropped his right hand to his coat pocket and moved further along the
wall, facing the woman.  There was nothing of which he stood afraid: he
merely wished to be on the safe side.

"Well, what word 'll I take back to Ottenheim?" he demanded.

The woman grew serious.  Then she showed her rice-like row of teeth as
she laughed.

"That means there 's nothing in it for me," she complained with
pouting-lipped moroseness.  Her venality, he began to see, was merely
the instinctive acquisitiveness of the savage, the greed of the petted
child.

"No more than there is for me," Blake acknowledged.  She turned and
caught up a heavily flowered mandarin coat of plaited cream and gold.
She was thrusting one arm into it when a figure drifted into the room
from the matting-hung doorway on Blake's left.  As she saw this figure
she suddenly flung off the coat and stooped to the tea tray in the
middle of the floor.

Blake saw that the newcomer was a Chinaman.  This newcomer, he also
saw, ignored him as though he were a door post, confronting the woman
and assailing her with a quick volley of words, of incomprehensible
words in the native tongue.  She answered with the same clutter and
clack of unknown syllables, growing more and more excited as the
dialogue continued.  Her thin face darkened and changed, her white arms
gyrated, the fires of anger burned in the baby-like eyes.  She seemed
expostulating, arguing, denouncing, and each wordy sally was met by an
equally wordy sally from the Chinaman.  She challenged and rebuked with
her passionately pointed finger; she threatened with angry eyes; she
stormed after the newcomer as he passed like a shadow out of the room;
she met him with a renewed storm when he returned a moment later.

The Chinaman now stood watching her, impassive and immobile, as though
he had taken his stand and intended to stick to it.  Blake studied him
with calm and patient eyes.  That huge-limbed detective in his day had
"pounded" too many Christy Street Chinks to be in any way intimidated
by a queue and a yellow face.  He was not disturbed.  He was merely
puzzled.

Then the woman turned to the mandarin coat, and caught it up, shook it
out, and for one brief moment stood thoughtfully regarding it.  Then
she suddenly turned about on the Chinaman.

Blake, as he stood watching that renewed angry onslaught, paid little
attention to the actual words that she was calling out.  But as he
stood there he began to realize that she was not speaking in Chinese,
but in English.

"Do you hear me, white man?  Do you hear me?" she cried out, over and
over again.  Yet the words seemed foolish, for all the time as she
uttered them, she was facing the placid-eyed Chinaman and gesticulating
in his face.

"Don't you see," Blake at last heard her crying, "he doesn't know what
I'm saying!  He doesn't understand a word of English!"  And then, and
then only, it dawned on Blake that every word the woman was uttering
was intended for his own ears.  She was warning him, and all the while
pretending that her words were the impetuous words of anger.

"Watch this man!" he heard her cry.  "Don't let him know you 're
listening.  But remember what I say, remember it.  And God help you if
you haven't got a gun."

Blake could see her, as in a dream, assailing the Chinaman with her
gestures, advancing on him, threatening him, expostulating with him,
but all in pantomime.  There was something absurd about it, as absurd
as a moving-picture film which carries the wrong text.

"He 'll pretend to take you to the man you want," the woman was
panting.  "That's what he will say.  But it's a lie.  He 'll take you
out to a sampan, to put you aboard Binhart's boat.  But the three of
them will cut your throat, cut your throat, and then drop you
overboard.  He 's to get so much in gold.  Get out of here with him.
Let him think you 're going.  But drop away, somewhere, before you get
to the beach.  And watch them all the way."

Blake stared at the immobile Chinaman, as though to make sure that the
other man had not understood.  He was still staring at that impassive
yellow face, he was still absorbing the shock of his news, when the
outer door opened and a second Chinaman stepped into the room.  The
newcomer cluttered a quick sentence or two to his countryman, and was
still talking when a third figure sidled in.

Those spoken words, whatever they were, seemed to have little effect on
any one in the room except the woman.  She suddenly sprang about and
exploded into an angry shower of denials.

"It's a lie!" she cried in English, storming about the impassive trio.
"You never heard me peach!  You never heard me say a word!  It's a lie!"

Blake strode to the middle of the room, towering above the other
figures, dwarfing them by his great bulk, as assured of his mastery as
he would have been in a Chatham Square gang fight.

"What's the row here?" he thundered, knowing from the past that power
promptly won its own respect.  "What 're you talking about, you two?"
He turned from one intruder to another.  "And you?  And you?  What do
you want, anyway?"

The three contending figures, however, ignored him as though he were a
tobacconist's dummy.  They went on with their exotic cackle, as though
he was no longer in their midst.  They did not so much as turn an eye
in his direction.  And still Blake felt reasonably sure of his position.

It was not until the woman squeaked, like a frightened mouse, and ran
whimpering into the corner of the room, that he realized what was
happening.  He was not familiar with the wrist movement by which the
smallest bodied of the three men was producing a knife from his sleeve.
The woman, however, had understood from the first.

"White man, look out!" she half sobbed from her corner.  "Oh, white
man!" she repeated in a shriller note as the Chinaman, bending low,
scuttled across the room to the corner where she cowered.

Blake saw the knife by this time.  It was thin and long, for all the
world like an icicle, a shaft of cutting steel ground incredibly thin,
so thin, in fact, that at first sight it looked more like a point for
stabbing than a blade for cutting.

The mere glitter of that knife electrified the staring white man into
sudden action.  He swung about and tried to catch at the arm that held
the steel icicle.  He was too late for that, but his fingers closed on
the braided queue.  By means of this queue he brought the Chinaman up
short, swinging him sharply about so that he collided flat faced with
the room wall.

Then, for the first time, Blake grew into a comprehension of what
surrounded him.  He wheeled about, stooped and caught up the
papier-mâché tea-tray from the floor and once more stood with his back
to the wall.  He stood there, on guard, for a second figure with a
second steel icicle was sidling up to him.  He swung viciously out and
brought the tea-tray down on the hand that held this knife, crippling
the fingers and sending the steel spinning across the room.  Then with
his free hand he tugged the revolver from his coat pocket, holding it
by the barrel and bringing the metal butt down on the queue-wound head
of the third man, who had no knife, but was struggling with the woman
for the metal icicle she had caught up from the floor.

Then the five seemed to close in together, and the fight became
general.  It became a mêlée.  With his swinging right arm Blake
battered and pounded with his revolver butt.  With his left hand he
made cutting strokes with the heavy papier-mâché tea-tray, keeping
their steel, by those fierce sweeps, away from his body.  One Chinaman
he sent sprawling, leaving him huddled and motionless against the
orange-covered divan.  The second, stunned by a blow of the tea-tray
across the eyes, could offer no resistance when Blake's smashing right
dealt its blow, the metal gun butt falling like a trip hammer on the
shaved and polished skull.

As the white man swung about he saw the third Chinaman with his hand on
the woman's throat, holding her flat against the wall, placing her
there as a butcher might place a fowl on his block ready for the blow
of his carver.  Blake stared at the movement, panting for breath,
overcome by that momentary indifference wherein a winded athlete
permits without protest an adversary to gain his momentary advantage.
Then will triumphed over the weakness of the body.  But before Blake
could get to the woman's side he saw the Chinaman's loose-sleeved right
hand slowly and deliberately ascend.  As it reached the meridian of its
circular upsweep he could see the woman rise on her toes, rise as
though with some quick effort, yet some effort which Blake could not
understand.

At the same moment that she did so a look of pained expostulation crept
into the staring slant eyes on a level with her own.  The yellow jaw
gaped, filled with blood, and the poised knife fell at his side,
sticking point down in the flooring.  The azure and lemon-yellow that
covered the woman's body flamed into sudden scarlet.  It was only as
the figure with the expostulating yellow face sank to the ground,
crumpling up on itself as it fell, that Blake comprehended.  That quick
sweep of scarlet, effacing the azure and lemon, had come from the
sudden deluge of blood that burst over the woman's body.  She had made
use of the upstroke, Mexican style.  Her knife had cut the full length
of the man's abdominal cavity, clean and straight to the breastbone.
He had been ripped up like a herring.

Blake panted and wheezed, not at the sight of the blood, but at the
exertion to which his flabby muscles had been put.  His body was moist
with sweat.  His asthmatic throat seemed stifling his lungs.  A faint
nausea crept through him, a dim ventral revolt at the thought that such
things could take place so easily, and with so little warning.

His breast still heaved and panted and he was still fighting for breath
when he saw the woman stoop and wipe the knife on one of the fallen
Chinaman's sleeves.

"We 've got to get out of here!" she whimpered, as she caught up the
mandarin coat and flung it over her shoulders, for in the struggle her
body had been bared almost to the waist.  Blake saw the crimson that
dripped on her matting slippers and maculated the cream white of the
mandarin coat.

"But where's Binhart?" he demanded, as he looked stolidly about for his
black boulder.

"Never mind Binhart," she cried, touching the eviscerated body at her
feet with one slipper toe, "or we 'll get what _he_ got!"

"I want that man Binhart!" persisted the detective.

"Not here!  Not here!" she cried, folding the loose folds of the cloak
closer about her body.

She ran to the matting curtain, looked out, and called back, "Quick!
Come quick!"  Then she ran back, slipped the bolt in the outer door and
rejoined the waiting detective.

"Oh, white man!" she gasped, as the matting fell between them and the
room incarnadined by their struggle.  Blake was not sure, but he
thought he heard her giggle, hysterically, in the darkness.  They were
groping their way along a narrow passage.  They slipped through a
second door, closed and locked it after them, and once more groped on
through the darkness.

How many turns they took, Blake could not remember.  She stopped and
whispered to him to go softly, as they came to a stairway, as steep and
dark as a cistern.  Blake, at the top, could smell opium smoke, and
once or twice he thought he heard voices.  The woman stopped him, with
outstretched arms, at the stair head, and together they stood and
listened.

Blake, with nerves taut, waited for some sign from her to go on again.
He thought she was giving it, when he felt a hand caress his side.  He
felt it move upward, exploringly.  At the same time that he heard her
little groan of alarm he knew that the hand was not hers.

He could not tell what the darkness held, but his movement was almost
instinctive.  He swung out with his great arm, countered on the
crouching form in front of him, caught at a writhing shoulder, and
tightening his grip, sent the body catapulting down the stairway at his
side.  He could hear a revolver go off as the body went tumbling and
rolling down--Blake knew that it was a gun not his own.

"Come on, white man!" the girl in front of him was crying, as she
tugged at his coat.  And they went on, now at a run, taking a turn to
the right, making a second descent, and then another to the left.  They
came to still another door, which they locked behind them.  Then they
scrambled up a ladder, and he could hear her quick hands padding about
in the dark.  A moment later she had thrust up a hatch.  He saw it led
to the open air, for the stars were above them.

He felt grateful for that open air, for the coolness, for the sense of
deliverance which came with even that comparative freedom.

"Don't stop!" she whispered.  And he followed her across the slant of
the uneven roof.  He was weak for want of breath.  The girl had to
catch him and hold him for a moment.

"On the next roof you must take off your shoes," she warned him.  "You
can rest then.  But hurry--hurry!"

He gulped down the fresh air as he tore at his shoe laces, thrusting
each shoe in a side pocket as he started after her.  For by this time
she was scrambling across the broken sloping roofs, as quick and agile
as a cat, dropping over ledges, climbing up barriers and across coping
tiles.  Where she was leading him he had no remotest idea.  She
reminded him of a cream-tinted monkey in the maddest of steeplechases.
He was glad when she came to a stop.

The town seemed to lay to their right.  Before them were the scattered
lights of the harbor and the mild crescent of the outer bay.  They
could see the white wheeling finger of some foreign gunboat as its
searchlight played back and forth in the darkness.

She sighed with weariness and dropped cross-legged down on the coping
tiles against which he leaned, regaining his breath.  She squatted
there, cooingly, like a child exhausted with its evening games.

"I 'm dished!" she murmured, as she sat there breathing audibly through
the darkness.  "I 'm dished for this coast!"

He sat down beside her, staring at the search-light.  There seemed
something reassuring, something authoritative and comforting, in the
thought of it watching there in the darkness.

The girl touched him on the knee and then shifted her position on the
coping tiles, without rising to her feet.

"Come here!" she commanded.  And when he was close beside her she
pointed with her thin white arm.  "That's Saint Poalo there--you can
just make it out, up high, see.  And those lights are the Boundary
Gate.  And this sweep of lights below here is the _Praya_.  Now look
where I 'm pointing.  That's the Luiz Camoes lodging-house.  You see
the second window with the light in it?"

"Yes, I see it."

"Well, Binhart 's inside that window."

"You know it?"

"I know it."

"So he 's there?" said Blake, staring at the vague square of light.

"Yes, he's there, all right.  He's posing as a buyer for a tea house,
and calls himself Bradley.  Lee Fu told me; and Lee Fu is always right."

She stood up and pulled the mandarin coat closer about her thin body.
The coolness of the night air had already chilled her.  Then she
squinted carefully about in the darkness.

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I 'm going to get Binhart," was Blake's answer.

He could hear her little childlike murmur of laughter.

"You 're brave, white man," she said, with a hand on his arm.  She was
silent for a moment, before she added; "And I think you 'll get him."

"Of course I 'll get him," retorted Blake, buttoning his coat.  The
fires had been relighted on the cold hearth of his resolution.  It came
to him only as an accidental after-thought that he had met an unknown
woman and had passed through strange adventures with her and was now
about to pass out of her life again, forever.

"What 'll you do?" he asked.

Again he heard the careless little laugh.

"Oh, I 'll slip down through the Quarter and cop some clothes
somewhere.  Then I 'll have a sampan take me out to the German boat.
It 'll start for Canton at daylight."

"And then?" asked Blake, watching the window of the Luiz Camoes
lodging-house below him.

"Then I 'll work my way up to Port Arthur, I suppose.  There 's a navy
man there who 'll help me!"

"Have n't you any money?" Blake put the question a little uneasily.

Again he felt the careless coo of laughter.

"Feel!" she said.  She caught his huge hand between hers and pressed it
against her waist line.  She rubbed his fingers along what he accepted
as a tightly packed coin-belt.  He was relieved to think that he would
not have to offer her money.  Then he peered over the coping tiles to
make sure of his means of descent.

"You had better go first," she said, as she leaned out and looked down
at his side.  "Crawl down this next roof to the end there.  At the
corner, see, is the end of the ladder."

He stooped and slipped his feet into his shoes.  Then he let himself
cautiously down to the adjoining roof, steeper even than the one on
which they had stood.  She bent low over the tiles, so that her face
was very close to his as he found his footing and stood there.

"Good-by, white man," she whispered.

"Good-by!" he whispered back, as he worked his way cautiously and
ponderously along that perilous slope.

She leaned there, watching him as he gained the ladder-end.  He did not
look back as he lowered himself, rung by rung.  All thought of her, in
fact, had passed from his preoccupied mind.  He was once more intent on
his own grim ends.  He was debating with himself just how he was to get
in through that lodging-house window and what his final move would be
for the round up of his enemy.  He had made use of too many "molls" in
his time to waste useless thought on what they might say or do or
desire.  When he had got Binhart, he remembered, he would have to look
about for something to eat, for he was as hungry as a wolf.  And he did
not even hear the girl's second soft whisper of "Good-by."



IX

That stolid practicality which had made Blake a successful operative
asserted itself in the matter of his approach to the Luiz Camoes house,
the house which had been pointed out to him as holding Binhart.

He circled promptly about to the front of that house, pressed a gold
coin in the hand of the half-caste Portuguese servant who opened the
door, and asked to be shown to the room of the English tea merchant.

That servant, had he objected, would have been promptly taken
possession of by the detective, and as promptly put in a condition
where he could do no harm, for Blake felt that he was too near the end
of his trail to be put off by any mere side issue.  But the coin and
the curt explanation that the merchant must be seen at once admitted
Blake to the house.

The servant was leading him down the length of the half-lit hall when
Blake caught him by the sleeve.

"You tell my rickshaw boy to wait!  Quick, before he gets away!"

Blake knew that the last door would be the one leading to Binhart's
room.  The moment he was alone in the hall he tiptoed to this door and
pressed an ear against its panel.  Then with his left hand, he slowly
turned the knob, caressing it with his fingers that it might not click
when the latch was released.  As he had feared, it was locked.

He stood for a second or two, thinking.  Then with the knuckle of one
finger he tapped on the door, lightly, almost timidly.

A man's voice from within, cried out, "Wait a minute!  Wait a minute!"
But Blake, who had been examining the woodwork of the door-frame, did
not choose to wait a minute.  Any such wait, he felt, would involve too
much risk.  In one minute, he knew, a fugitive could either be off and
away, or could at least prepare himself for any one intercepting that
flight.  So Blake took two quick steps back, and brought his massive
shoulder against the door.  It swung back, as though nothing more than
a parlor match had held it shut.  Blake, as he stepped into the room,
dropped his right hand to his coat pocket.

Facing him, at the far side of the room, he saw Binhart.

The fugitive sat in a short-legged reed chair, with a grip-sack open on
his knees.  His coat and vest were off, and the light from the oil lamp
at his side made his linen shirt a blotch of white.

He had thrown his head up, at the sound of the opening door, and he
still sat, leaning forward in the low chair in an attitude of startled
expectancy.  There was no outward and apparent change on his face as
his eyes fell on Blake's figure.  He showed neither fear nor
bewilderment.  His career had equipped him with histrionic powers that
were exceptional.  As a bank-sneak and confidence-man he had long since
learned perfect control of his features, perfect composure even under
the most discomforting circumstances.

"Hello, Connie!" said the detective facing him.  He spoke quietly, and
his attitude seemed one of unconcern.  Yet a careful observer might
have noticed that the pulse of his beefy neck was beating faster than
usual.  And over that great body, under its clothing, were rippling
tremors strangely like those that shake the body of a leashed bulldog
at the sight of a street cat.

"Hello, Jim!" answered Binhart, with equal composure.  He had aged
since Blake had last seen him, aged incredibly.  His face was thin now,
with plum-colored circles under the faded eyes.

He made a move as though to lift down the valise that rested on his
knees.  But Blake stopped him with a sharp movement of his right hand.

"That's all right," he said.  "Don't get up!"

Binhart eyed him.  During that few seconds of silent tableau each man
was appraising, weighing, estimating the strength of the other.

"What do you want, Jim?" asked Binhart, almost querulously.

"I want that gun you 've got up there under your liver pad," was
Blake's impassive answer.

"Is that all?" asked Binhart.  But he made no move to produce the gun.

"Then I want you," calmly announced Blake.

A look of gentle expostulation crept over Binhart's gaunt face.

"You can't do it, Jim," he announced.  "You can't take me away from
here."

"But I'm going to," retorted Blake.

"How?"

"I 'm just going to take you."

He crossed the room as he spoke.

"Give me the gun," he commanded.

Binhart still sat in the low reed chair.  He made no movement in
response to Blake's command.

"What's the good of getting rough-house," he complained.

"Gi' me the gun," repeated Blake.

"Jim, I hate to see you act this way," but as Binhart spoke he slowly
drew the revolver from its flapped pocket.  Blake's revolver barrel was
touching the white shirt-front as the movement was made.  It remained
there until he had possession of Binhart's gun.  Then he backed away,
putting his own revolver back in his pocket.

"Now, get your clothes on," commanded Blake.

"What for?" temporized Binhart.

"You 're coming with me!"

"You can't do it, Jim," persisted the other.  "You could n't get me
down to the waterfront, in this town.  They 'd get you before you were
two hundred yards away from that door."

"I 'll risk it," announced the detective.

"And I 'd fight you myself, every move.  This ain't Manhattan Borough,
you know, Jim; you can't kidnap a white man.  I 'd have you in irons
for abduction the first ship we struck.  And at the first port of call
I 'd have the best law sharps money could get.  You can't do it, Jim.
It ain't law!"

"What t' hell do I care for law," was Blake's retort.  "I want you and
you 're going to come with me."

"Where am I going?"

"Back to New York."

Binhart laughed.  It was a laugh without any mirth in it.

"Jim, you 're foolish.  You could n't get me back to New York alive,
any more than you could take Victoria Peak to New York!"

"All right, then, I 'll take you along the other way, if I ain't going
to take you alive.  I 've followed you a good many thousand miles,
Connie, and a little loose talk ain't going to make me lie down at this
stage of the game."

Binhart sat studying the other man for a moment or two.

"Then how about a little real talk, the kind of talk that money makes?"

"Nothing doing!" declared Blake, folding his arms.

Binhart flickered a glance at him as he thrust his own right hand down
into the hand-bag on his knees.

"I want to show you what you could get out of this," he said, leaning
forward a little as he looked up at Blake.

When his exploring right hand was lifted again above the top of the bag
Blake firmly expected to see papers of some sort between its fingers.
He was astonished to see something metallic, something which glittered
bright in the light from the wall lamp.  The record of this discovery
had scarcely been carried back to his brain, when the silence of the
room seemed to explode into a white sting, a puff of noise that felt
like a whip lash curling about Blake's leg.  It seemed to roll off in a
shifting and drifting cloud of smoke.

It so amazed Blake that he fell back against the wall, trying to
comprehend it, to decipher the source and meaning of it all.  He was
still huddled back against the wall when a second surprise came to him.
It was the discovery that Binhart had caught up a hat and a coat, and
was running away, running out through the door while his captor stared
after him.

It was only then Blake realized that his huddled position was not a
thing of his own volition.  Some impact had thrown him against the wall
like a toppled nine-pin.  The truth came to him, in a sudden flash;
Binhart had shot at him.  There had been a second revolver hidden away
in the hand bag, and Binhart had attempted to make use of it.

A great rage against Binhart swept through him.  A still greater rage
at the thought that his enemy was running away brought Blake lurching
and scrambling to his feet.  He was a little startled to find that it
hurt him to run.  But it hurt him more to think of losing Binhart.

He dove for the door, hurling his great bulk through it, tossing aside
the startled Portuguese servant who stood at the outer entrance.  He
ran frenziedly out into the night, knowing by the staring faces of the
street-corner group that Binhart had made the first turning and was
running towards the water-front.  He could see the fugitive, as he came
to the corner; and like an unpenned bull he swung about and made after
him.  His one thought was to capture his man.  His one obsession was to
haul down Binhart.

Then, as he ran, a small trouble insinuated itself into his mind.  He
could not understand the swishing of his right boot, at every hurrying
stride.  But he did not stop, for he could already smell the odorous
coolness of the waterfront and he knew he must close in on his man
before that forest of floating sampans and native house-boats swallowed
him up.

A lightheadedness crept over him as he came panting down to the water's
edge.  The faces of the coolies about him, as he bargained for a
sampan, seemed far away and misty.  The voices, as the flat-bottomed
little skiff was pushed off in pursuit of the boat which was hurrying
Binhart out into the night, seemed remote and thin, as though coming
from across foggy water.  He was bewildered by a sense of dampness in
his right leg.  He patted it with his hand, inquisitively, and found it
wet.

He stooped down and felt his boot.  It was full of blood.  It was
overrunning with blood.  He remembered then.  Binhart had shot him,
after all.

He could never say whether it was this discovery, or the actual loss of
blood, that filled him with a sudden giddiness.  He fell forward on his
face, on the bottom of the rocking sampan.

He must have been unconscious for some time, for when he awakened he
was dimly aware that he was being carried up the landing-ladder of a
steamer.  He heard English voices about him.  A very youthful-looking
ship's surgeon came and bent over him, cut away his trouser-leg, and
whistled.

"Why, he 's been bleeding like a stuck pig!" he heard a startled voice,
very close to him, suddenly exclaim.  And a few minutes later, after
being moved again, he opened his eyes to find himself in a berth and
the boyish-looking surgeon assuring him it was all right.

"Where's Binhart?" asked Blake.

"That's all right, old chap, you just rest up a bit," said the
placatory youth.

At nine the next morning Blake was taken ashore at Hong Kong.

After eleven days in the English hospital he was on his feet again.  He
was quite strong by that time.  But for several weeks after that his
leg was painfully stiff.



X

Twelve days later Blake began just where he had left off.  He sent out
his feelers, he canvassed the offices from which some echo might come,
he had Macao searched and all westbound steamers which he could reach
by wireless were duly warned.  But more than ever, now, he found, he
had to depend on his own initiative, his own personal efforts.  The
more official the quarters to which he looked for coöperation, the less
response he seemed to elicit.  In some circles, he saw, his story was
even doubted.  It was listened to with indifference; it was dismissed
with shrugs.  There were times when he himself was smiled at, pityingly.

He concluded, after much thought on the matter, that Binhart would
continue to work his way westward.  That the fugitive would strike
inland and try to reach Europe by means of the Trans-Siberian Railway
seemed out of the question.  On that route he would be too easily
traced.  The carefully guarded frontiers of Russia, too, would offer
obstacles which he dare not meet.  He would stick to the ragged and
restless sea-fringes, concluded the detective.  But before acting on
that conclusion he caught a _Toyo Kisen Kaisha_ steamer for Shanghai,
and went over that city from the Bund and the Maloo to the narrowest
street in the native quarter.  In all this second search, however, he
found nothing to reward his efforts.  So he started doggedly southward
again, stopping at Saigon and Bangkok and Singapore.

At each of these ports he went through the same rounds, canvassed the
same set of officials, and made the same inquiries.  Then he would go
to the native quarters, to the gambling houses, to the water-front and
the rickshaw coolies and half-naked Malay wharf-rats, holding the
departmental photograph of Binhart in his hand and inquiring of
stranger after stranger: "You know?  You savvy him?"  And time after
time the curious yellow faces would bend over the picture, the
inscrutable slant eyes would study the face, sometimes silently,
sometimes with a disheartening jabber of heathen tongues.  But not one
trace of Binhart could he pick up.

Then he went on to Penang.  There he went doggedly through the same
manoeuvers, canvassing the same rounds and putting the same questions.
And it was at Penang that a sharp-eyed young water-front coolie
squinted at the well-thumbed photograph, squinted back at Blake, and
shook his head in affirmation.  A tip of a few English shillings
loosened his tongue, but as Blake understood neither Malay nor Chinese
he was in the dark until he led his coolie to a Cook's agent, who in
turn called in the local officers, who in turn consulted with the
booking-agents of the P. & O. Line.  It was then Blake discovered that
Binhart had booked passage under the name of Blaisdell, twelve days
before, for Brindisi.

Blake studied the map, cashed a draft, and waited for the next steamer.
While marking time he purchased copies of "French Self-Taught" and
"Italian Self-Taught," hoping to school himself in a speaking knowledge
of these two tongues.  But the effort was futile.  Pore as he might
over those small volumes, he could glean nothing from their laboriously
pondered pages.  His mind was no longer receptive.  It seemed
indurated, hard-shelled.  He had to acknowledge to his own soul that it
was beyond him.  He was too old a dog to learn new tricks.

The trip to Brindisi seemed an endless one.  He seemed to have lost his
earlier tendency to be a "mixer."  He became more morose, more
self-immured.  He found himself without the desire to make new friends,
and his Celtic ancestry equipped him with a mute and sullen antipathy
for his aggressively English fellow travelers.  He spent much of his
time in the smoking-room, playing solitaire.  When they stopped at
Madras and Bombay he merely emerged from his shell to make sure if no
trace of Binhart were about.  He was no more interested in these
heathen cities of a heathen East than in an ash-pile through which he
might have to rake for a hidden coin.

By the time he reached Brindisi he had recovered his lost weight, and
added to it, by many pounds.  He had also returned to his earlier habit
of chewing "fine-cut."  He gave less thought to his personal
appearance, becoming more and more indifferent as to the impression he
made on those about him.  His face, for all his increase in flesh, lost
its ruddiness.  It was plain that during the last few months he had
aged, that his hound-like eye had grown more haggard, that his always
ponderous step had lost the last of its resilience.

Yet one hour after he had landed at Brindisi his listlessness seemed a
thing of the past.  For there he was able to pick up the trail again,
with clear proof that a man answering to Binhart's description had
sailed for Corfu.  From Corfu the scent was followed northward to
Ragusa, and from Ragusa, on to Trieste, where it was lost again.

Two days of hard work, however, convinced Blake that Binhart had sailed
from Fiume to Naples.  He started southward by train, at once, vaguely
surprised at the length of Italy, vaguely disconcerted by the unknown
tongue and the unknown country which he had to face.

It was not until he arrived at Naples that he seemed to touch solid
ground again.  That city, he felt, stood much nearer home.  In it were
many persons not averse to curry favor with a New York official, and
many persons indirectly in touch with the home Department.  These
persons he assiduously sought out, one by one, and in twelve hours'
time his net had been woven completely about the city.  And, so far as
he could learn, Binhart was still somewhere in that city.

Two days later, when least expecting it, he stepped into the wine-room
of an obscure little pension hotel on the Via Margellina and saw
Binhart before him.  Binhart left the room as the other man stepped
into it.  He left by way of the window, carrying the casement with him.
Blake followed, but the lighter and younger man out-ran him and was
swallowed up by one of the unknown streets of an unknown quarter.  An
hour later Blake had his hired agents raking that quarter from cellar
to garret.  It was not until the evening of the following day that
these agents learned Binhart had made his way to the Marina, bribed a
water-front boatman to row him across the bay, and had been put aboard
a freighter weighing anchor for Marseilles.

For the second time Blake traversed Italy by train, hurrying
self-immured and preoccupied through Rome and Florence and Genoa, and
then on along the Riviera to Marseilles.

In that brawling and turbulent French port, after the usual rounds and
the usual inquiries down in the midst of the harbor-front forestry of
masts, he found a boatman who claimed to have knowledge of Binhart's
whereabouts.  This piratical-looking boatman promptly took Blake
several miles down the coast, parleyed in the _lingua Franca_ of the
Mediterranean, argued in broken English, and insisted on going further.
Blake, scenting imposture, demanded to be put ashore.  This the boatman
refused to do.  It was then and only then that the detective suspected
he was the victim of a "plant," of a carefully planned shanghaing
movement, the object of which, apparently, was to gain time for the
fugitive.

It was only at the point of a revolver that Blake brought the boat
ashore, and there he was promptly arrested and accused of attempted
murder.  He found it expedient to call in the aid of the American
Consul, who, in turn, suggested the retaining of a local advocate.
Everything, it is true, was at last made clear and in the end Blake was
honorably released.

But Binhart, in the meantime, had caught a Lloyd Brazileiro steamer for
Rio de Janeiro, and was once more on the high seas.

Blake, when he learned of this, sat staring about him, like a man
facing news which he could not assimilate.  He shut himself up in his
hotel room, for an hour, communing with his own dark soul.  He emerged
from that self-communion freshly shaved and smoking a cigar.  He found
that he could catch a steamer for Barcelona, and from that port take a
Campania Transatlantic boat for Kingston, Jamaica.

From the American consulate he carried away with him a bundle of New
York newspapers.  When out on the Atlantic he arranged these according
to date and went over them diligently, page by page.  They seemed like
echoes out of another life.  He read listlessly on, going over the
belated news from his old-time home with the melancholy indifference of
the alien, with the poignant impersonality of the exile.  He read of
fires and crimes and calamities, of investigations and elections.  He
read of a rumored Police Department shake up, and he could afford to
smile at the vitality of that hellbender-like report.  Then, as he
turned the worn pages, the smile died from his heavy lips, for his own
name leaped up like a snake from the text and seemed to strike him in
the face.  He spelled through the paragraphs carefully, word by word,
as though it were in a language with which he was only half familiar.
He even went back and read the entire column for a second time.  For
there it told of his removal from the Police Department.  The
Commissioner and Copeland had saved their necks, but Blake was no
longer Second Deputy.  They spoke of him as being somewhere in the
Philippines, on the trail of the bank-robber Binhart.  They went on to
describe him as a sleuth of the older school, as an advocate of the now
obsolete "third-degree" methods, and as a product of the "machine"
which had so long and so flagrantly placed politics before efficiency.

Blake put down the papers, lighted a cigar, sat back, and let the truth
of what he had read percolate into his actual consciousness.  He was
startled, at first, that no great outburst of rage swept through him.
All he felt, in fact, was a slow and dull resentment, a resentment
which he could not articulate.  Yet dull as it was, hour by hour and
day by idle day it grew more virulent.  About him stood nothing against
which this resentment could be marshaled.  His pride lay as helpless as
a whale washed ashore, too massive to turn and face the tides of
treachery that had wrecked it.  All he asked for was time.  Let them
wait, he kept telling himself; let them wait until he got back with
Binhart!  Then they would all eat crow, every last man of them!

For Blake did not intend to give up the trail.  To do so would have
been beyond him.  His mental fangs were already fixed in Binhart.  To
withdraw them was not in his power.  He could no more surrender his
quarry than the python's head, having once closed on the rabbit, could
release its meal.  With Blake, every instinct sloped inward, just as
every python-fang sloped backward.  The actual reason for the chase was
no longer clear to his own vision.  It was something no longer to be
reckoned with.  The only thing that counted was the fact that he had
decided to "get" Binhart, that he was the pursuer and Binhart was the
fugitive.  It had long since resolved itself into a personal issue
between him and his enemy.



XI

Three hours after he had disembarked from his steamer at Rio, Blake was
breakfasting at the Café Britto in the Ovidor.  At the same table with
him sat a lean-jawed and rat-eyed little gambler by the name of Passos.

Two hours after this breakfast Passos might have been seen on the
Avenida Central, in deep talk with a peddler of artificial diamonds.
Still later in the day he held converse with a fellow gambler at the
Paineiras, half-way up Mount Corcovado; and the same afternoon he was
interrogating a certain discredited concession-hunter on the Petropolis
boat.

By evening he was able to return to Blake with the information that
Binhart had duly landed at Rio, had hidden for three days in the
outskirts of the city, and had gone aboard a German cargo-boat bound
for Colon.  Two days later Blake himself was aboard a British freighter
northward bound for Kingston.  Once again he beheld a tropical sun
shimmer on hot brass-work and pitch boil up between bone-white
deck-boards sluiced and resluiced by a half-naked crew.  Once again he
had to face an enervating equatorial heat that vitiated both mind and
body.  But he neither fretted nor complained.  Some fixed inner purpose
seemed to sustain him through every discomfort.  Deep in that soul,
merely filmed with its fixed equatorial calm, burned some dormant and
crusader-like propulsion.  And an existence so centered on one great
issue found scant time to worry over the trivialities of the moment.

After a three-day wait at Jamaica Blake caught an Atlas liner for
Colon.  And at Colon he found himself once more among his own kind.
Scattered up and down the Isthmus he found an occasional Northerner to
whom he was not unknown, engineers and construction men who could talk
of things that were comprehensible to him, gamblers and adventurers who
took him poignantly back to the life he had left so far behind him.
Along that crowded and shifting half-way house for the tropic-loving
American he found more than one passing friend to whom he talked
hungrily and put many wistful questions.  Sometimes it was a rock
contractor tanned the color of a Mexican saddle.  Sometimes it was a
new arrival in Stetson and riding-breeches and unstained leather
leggings.  Sometimes it was a coatless dump-boss blaspheming his
toiling army of spick-a-dees.

Sometimes he talked with graders and car-men and track-layers in
Chinese saloons along Bottle Alley.  Sometimes it was with a
bridge-builder or a lottery capper in the barroom of the Hotel Central,
where he would sit without coat or vest, calmly giving an eye to his
game of "draw" or stolidly "rolling the bones" as he talked--but always
with his ears open for one particular thing, and that thing had to do
with the movements or the whereabouts of Connie Binhart.

One night, as he sat placidly playing his game of "cut-throat" in his
shirt-sleeves, he looked up and saw a russet-faced figure as stolid as
his own.  This figure, he perceived, was discreetly studying him as he
sat under the glare of the light.  Blake went on with his game.  In a
quarter of an hour, however, he got up from the table and bought a
fresh supply of "green" Havana cigars.  Then he sauntered out to where
the russet-faced stranger stood watching the street crowds.

"Pip, what 're you doing down in these parts?" he casually inquired.
He had recognized the man as Pip Tankred, with whom he had come in
contact five long years before.  Pip, on that occasion, was engaged in
loading an East River banana-boat with an odd ton or two of cartridges
designed for Castro's opponents in Venezuela.

"Oh, I 'm freightin' bridge equipment down the West Coast," he solemnly
announced.  "And transshippin' a few cases o' phonograph-records as a
side-line!"

"Have a smoke?" asked Blake.

"Sure," responded the russet-faced bucaneer.  And as they stood smoking
together Blake tenderly and cautiously put out the usual feelers,
plying the familiar questions and meeting with the too-familiar lack of
response.  Like all the rest of them, he soon saw, Pip Tankred knew
nothing of Binhart or his whereabouts.  And with that discovery his
interest in Pip Tankred ceased.

So the next day Blake moved inland, working his interrogative way along
the Big Ditch to Panama.  He even slipped back over the line to San
Cristobel and Ancon, found nothing of moment awaiting him there, and
drifted back into Panamanian territory.  It was not until the end of
the week that the first glimmer of hope came to him.

It came in the form of an incredibly thin gringo in an incredibly
soiled suit of duck.  Blake had been sitting on the wide veranda of the
Hotel Angelini, sipping his "swizzle" and studiously watching the
Saturday evening crowds that passed back and forth through Panama's
bustling railway station.  He had watched the long line of rickety cabs
backed up against the curb, the two honking auto-busses, the shifting
army of pleasure-seekers along the sidewalks, the noisy saloons round
which the crowds eddied like bees about a hive, and he was once more
appraising the groups closer about him, when through that seething and
bustling mass of humanity he saw Dusty McGlade pushing his way, a Dusty
McGlade on whom the rum of Jamaica and the _mezcal_ of Guatemala and
the _anisado_ of Ecuador had combined with the _pulque_ of Mexico to
set their unmistakable seal.

But three minutes later the two men were seated together above their
"swizzles" and Blake was exploring Dusty's faded memories as busily as
a leather-dip might explore an inebriate's pockets.

"Who 're you looking for, Jim?" suddenly and peevishly demanded the man
in the soiled white duck, as though impatient of the other's
indirections.

Blake smoked for a moment or two before answering.

"I 'm looking for a man called Connie Binhart," he finally confessed,
as he continued to study that ruinous figure in front of him.  It
startled him to see what idleness and alcohol and the heat of the
tropics could do to a man once as astute as Dusty McGlade.

"Then why didn't you say so?" complained McGlade, as though impatient
of obliquities that had been altogether too apparent.  He had once been
afraid of this man called Blake, he remembered.  But time had changed
things, as time has the habit of doing.  And most of all, time had
changed Blake himself, had left the old-time Headquarters man oddly
heavy of movement and strangely slow of thought.

"Well, I'm saying it now!" Blake's guttural voice was reminding him.

"Then why did n't you say it an hour ago?" contested McGlade, with his
alcoholic peevish obstinacy.

"Well, let's have it now," placated the patient-eyed Blake.  He waited,
with a show of indifference.  He even overlooked Dusty's curt laugh of
contempt.

"I can tell you all right, all right--but it won't do you much good!"

"Why not?"  And still Blake was bland and patient.

"Because," retorted McGlade, fixing the other man with a lean finger
that was both unclean and unsteady, "_you can't get at him_!"

"You tell me where he is," said Blake, striking a match.  "I 'll attend
to the rest of it!"

McGlade slowly and deliberately drank the last of his swizzle.  Then he
put down his empty glass and stared pensively and pregnantly into it.

"What's there in it for me?" he asked.

Blake, studying him across the small table, Weighed both the man and
the situation.

"Two hundred dollars in American green-backs," he announced as he drew
out his wallet.  He could see McGlade moisten his flaccid lips.  He
could see the faded eyes fasten on the bills as they were counted out.
He knew where the money would go, how little good it would do.  But
that, he knew, was not his funeral.  All he wanted was Binhart.

"Binhart's in Guayaquil," McGlade suddenly announced.

"How d' you know that?" promptly demanded Blake.

"I know the man who sneaked him out from Balboa.  He got sixty dollars
for it.  I can take you to him.  Binhart 'd picked up a medicine-chest
and a bag of instruments from a broken-down doctor at Colon.  He went
aboard a Pacific liner as a doctor himself.

"What liner?"

"He went aboard the _Trunella_.  He thought he 'd get down to Callao.
But they tied the _Trunella_ up at Guayaquil."

"And you say he 's there now?"

"Yes!"

"And aboard the _Trunella_?"

"Sure!  He's got to be aboard the _Trunella_!"

"Then why d' you say I can't get at him?"

"Because Guayaquil and the _Trunella_ and the whole coast down there is
tied up in quarantine.  That whole harbor's rotten with yellow-jack.
It's tied up as tight as a drum.  You could n't get a boat on all the
Pacific to touch that port these days!"

"But there's got to be _something_ going there!" contended Blake.

"They daren't do it!  They couldn't get clearance--they couldn't even
get _pratique_!  Once they got in there they 'd be held and given the
blood-test and picketed with a gunboat for a month!  And what's more,
they 've got that Alfaro revolution on down there!  They 've got
boat-patrols up and down the coast, keeping a lookout for gun-runners!"

Blake, at this last word, raised his ponderous head.

"The boat-patrols wouldn't phase me," he announced.  His thoughts, in
fact, were already far ahead, marshaling themselves about other things.

"You 've a weakness for yellow fever?" inquired the ironic McGlade.

"I guess it 'd take more than a few fever germs to throw me off that
trail," was the detective's abstracted retort.  He was recalling
certain things that the russet-faced Pip Tankred had told him.  And
before everything else he felt that it would be well to get in touch
with that distributor of bridge equipment and phonograph records.

"You don't mean you 're going to try to get into Guayaquil?" demanded
McGlade.

"If Connie Binhart 's down there I 've got to go and get him," was
Never-Fail Blake's answer.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

The following morning Blake, having made sure of his ground, began one
of his old-time "investigations" of that unsuspecting worthy known as
Pip Tankred.

This investigation involved a hurried journey back to Colon, the
expenditure of much money in cable tolls, the examination of records
that were both official and unofficial, the asking of many questions
and the turning up of dimly remembered things on which the dust of time
had long since settled.

It was followed by a return to Panama, a secret trip several miles up
the coast to look over a freighter placidly anchored there, a
dolorous-appearing coast-tramp with unpainted upperworks and a rusty
red hull.  The side-plates of this red hull, Blake observed, were as
pitted and scarred as the face of an Egyptian obelisk.  Her ventilators
were askew and her funnel was scrofulous and many of her rivet-heads
seemed to be eaten away.  But this was not once a source of
apprehension to the studious-eyed detective.

The following evening he encountered Tankred himself, as though by
accident, on the veranda of the Hotel Angelini.  The latter, at Blake's
invitation, sat down for a cocktail and a quiet smoke.

They sat in silence for some time, watching the rain that deluged the
city, the warm devitalizing rain that unedged even the fieriest of
Signer Angelini's stimulants.

"Pip," Blake very quietly announced, "you 're going to sail for
Guayaquil to-morrow!"

"Am I?" queried the unmoved Pip.

"You 're going to start for Guayaquil tomorrow," repeated Blake, "and
you 're going to take me along with you!"

"My friend," retorted Pip, emitting a curling geyser of smoke as long
and thin as a pool-que, "you 're sure laborin' under the
misapprehension this steamer o' mine is a Pacific mailer!  But she
ain't, Blake!"

"I admit that," quietly acknowledged the other man.  "I saw her
yesterday!"

"And she don't carry no passengers--she ain't allowed to," announced
her master.

"But she 's going to carry me," asserted Blake, lighting a fresh cigar.

"What as?" demanded Tankred.  And he fixed Blake with a belligerent eye
as he put the question.

"As an old friend of yours!"

"And then what?" still challenged the other.

"As a man who knows your record, in the next place.  And on the next
count, as the man who 's wise to those phony bills of lading of yours,
and those doped-up clearance papers, and those cases of carbines you
've got down your hold labeled bridge equipment, and that nitro and
giant-caps, and that hundred thousand rounds of smokeless you 're
running down there as phonograph records!"

Tankred continued to smoke.

"You ever stop to wonder," he finally inquired, "if it ain't kind o'
flirtin' with danger knowin' so much about me and my freightin'
business?"

"No, you 're doing the coquetting in this case, I guess!"

"Then I ain't standin' for no rivals--not on this coast!"

The two men, so dissimilar in aspect and yet so alike in their
accidental attitudes of an uncouth belligerency, sat staring at each
other.

"You 're going to take me to Guayaquil," repeated Blake.

"That's where you 're dead wrong," was the calmly insolent rejoinder.
"I ain't even _goin'_ to Guayaquil."

"I say you are."

Tankred's smile translated his earlier deliberateness into open
contempt.

"You seem to forget that this here town you 're heefin' about lies a
good thirty-five miles up the Guayas River.  And if I 'm gun-runnin'
for Alfaro, as you say, I naturally ain't navigatin' streams where they
'd be able to pick me off the bridge-deck with a fishin'-pole!"

"But you 're going to get as close to Guayaquil as you can, and you
know it."

"Do I?" said the man with the up-tilted cigar.

"Look here, Pip," said Blake, leaning closer over the table towards
him.  "I don't give a tinker's dam about Alfaro and his two-cent
revolution.  I 'm not sitting up worrying over him or his junta or how
he gets his ammunition.  But I want to get into Guayaquil, and this is
the only way I can do it!"

For the first time Tankred turned and studied him.

"What d' you want to get into Guayaquil for?" he finally demanded.
Blake knew that nothing was to be gained by beating about the bush.

"There's a man I want down there, and I 'm going down to get him!"

"Who is he?"

"That's my business," retorted Blake.

"And gettin' into Guayaquil's your business!" Tankred snorted back.

"All I 'm going to say is he 's a man from up North--and he 's not in
your line of business, and never was and never will be!"

"How do I know that?"

"You 'll have my word for it!"

Tankred swung round on him.

"D' you realize you 'll have to sneak ashore in a _lancha_ and pass a
double line o' patrol?  And then crawl into a town that's reekin' with
yellow-jack, a town you 're not likely to crawl out of again inside o'
three months?"

"I know all that!" acknowledged Blake.

For the second time Tankred turned and studied the other man.

"And you're still goin' after your gen'leman friend from up North?" he
inquired.

"Pip, I 've got to get that man!"

"You've got 'o?"

"I 've got to, and I 'm going to!"

Tankred threw his cigar-end away and laughed leisurely and quietly.

"Then what're we sittin' here arguin' about, anyway?  If it's settled,
it's settled, ain't it?"

"Yes, I think it's settled!"

Again Tankred laughed.

"But take it from me, my friend, you'll sure see some rough goin' this
next few days!"



XII

As Tankred had intimated, Blake's journey southward from Panama was
anything but comfortable traveling.  The vessel was verminous, the food
was bad, and the heat was oppressive.  It was a heat that took the life
out of the saturated body, a thick and burdening heat that hung like a
heavy gray blanket on a gray sea which no rainfall seemed able to cool.

But Blake uttered no complaint.  By day he smoked under a sodden
awning, rained on by funnel cinders.  By night he stood at the rail.
He stood there, by the hour together, watching with wistful and haggard
eyes the Alpha of Argo and the slowly rising Southern Cross.  Whatever
his thoughts, as he watched those lonely Southern skies, he kept them
to himself.

It was the night after they had swung about and were steaming up the
Gulf of Guayaquil under a clear sky that Tankred stepped down to
Blake's sultry little cabin and wakened him from a sound sleep.

"It's time you were gettin' your clothes on," he announced.

"Getting my clothes on?" queried Blake through the darkness.

"Yes, you can't tell what we 'll bump into, any time now!"

The wakened sleeper heard the other man moving about in the velvety
black gloom.

"What 're you doing there?" was his sharp question as he heard the
squeak and slam of a shutter.

"Closin' this dead-light, of course," explained Tankred.  A moment
later he switched on the electric globe at the bunkhead.  "We 're
gettin' in pretty close now and we 're goin' with our lights doused!"

He stood for a moment, staring down at the sweat-dewed white body on
the bunk, heaving for breath in the closeness of the little cabin.  His
mind was still touched into mystery by the spirit housed in that
uncouth and undulatory flesh.  He was still piqued by the vast sense of
purpose which Blake carried somewhere deep within his seemingly
tepid-willed carcass, like the calcinated pearl at the center of an
oyster.

"You 'd better turn out!" he called back as he stepped into the
engulfing gloom of the gangway.

Blake rolled out of his berth and dressed without haste or excitement.
Already, overhead, he could hear the continuous tramping of feet, with
now and then a quiet-noted order from Tankred himself.  He could hear
other noises along the ship's side, as though a landing-ladder were
being bolted and lowered along the rusty plates.

When he went up on deck he found the boat in utter darkness.  To that
slowly moving mass, for she was now drifting ahead under quarter-speed,
this obliteration of light imparted a sense of stealthiness.  This note
of suspense, of watchfulness, of illicit adventure was reflected in the
very tones of the motley deckhands who brushed past him in the humid
velvety blackness.

As he stood at the rail, staring ahead through this blackness, Blake
could see a light here and there along the horizon.  These lights
increased in number as the boat steamed slowly on.  Then, far away in
the roadstead ahead of them, he made out an entire cluster of lights,
like those of a liner at anchor.  Then he heard the tinkle of a bell
below deck, and he realized that the engines had stopped.

In the lull of the quieted ship's screw he could hear the wash of
distant surf, faint and phantasmal above the material little near-by
boat-noises.  Then came a call, faint and muffled, like the complaining
note of a harbor gull.  A moment later the slow creak of oars crept up
to Blake's straining ears.  Then out of the heart of the darkness that
surrounded him, not fifty feet away, he saw emerge one faint point of
light, rising and falling with a rhythm as sleepy as the slow creak of
the oars.  On each side of it other small lights sprang up.  They were
close beside the ship, by this time, a flotilla of lights, and each
light, Blake finally saw, came from a lantern that stood deep in the
bottom of a boat, a lantern that had been covered with a square of
matting or sail-cloth, until some prearranged signal from the drifting
steamer elicited its answering flicker of light.  Then they swarmed
about the oily water, shifting and swaying on their course like a
cluster of fireflies, alternately dark and luminous in the dip and rise
of the ground-swell.  Within each small aura of radiance the watcher at
the rail could see a dusky and quietly moving figure, the faded blue of
a denim garment, the brown of bare arms, or the sinews of a straining
neck.  Once he caught the whites of a pair of eyes turned up towards
the ship's deck.  He could also see the running and wavering lines of
fire as the oars puddled and backed in the phosphorescent water under
the gloomy steel hull.  Then he heard a low-toned argument in Spanish.
A moment later the flotilla of small boats had fastened to the ship's
side, like a litter of suckling pigs to a sow's breast.  Every light
went out again, every light except a faint glow as a guide to the first
boat at the foot of the landing-ladder.  Along this ladder Blake could
hear barefooted figures padding and grunting as cases and bales were
cautiously carried down and passed from boat to boat.

He swung nervously about as he felt a hand clutch his arm.  He found
Tankred speaking quietly into his ear.

"There 'll be one boat over," that worthy was explaining.  "One
boat--you take that--the last one!  And you 'd better give the
_guinney_ a ten-dollar bill for his trouble!"

"All right!  I 'm ready!" was Blake's low-toned reply as he started to
move forward with the other man.

"Not yet!  Not yet!" was the other's irritable warning, as Blake felt
himself pushed back.  "You stay where you are!  We 've got a
half-hour's hard work ahead of us yet!"

As Blake leaned over the rail again, watching and listening, he began
to realize that the work was indeed hard, that there was some excuse
for Tankred's ill-temper.  Most men, he acknowledged, would feel the
strain, where one misstep or one small mistake might undo the work of
months.  Beyond that, however, Blake found little about which to
concern himself.  Whether it was legal or illegal did not enter his
mind.  That a few thousand tin-sworded soldiers should go armed or
unarmed was to him a matter of indifference.  It was something not of
his world.  It did not impinge on his own jealously guarded circle of
activity, on his own task of bringing a fugitive to justice.  And as
his eyes strained through the gloom at the cluster of lights far ahead
in the roadstead he told himself that it was there that his true goal
lay, for it was there that the _Trunella_ must ride at anchor and
Binhart must be.

Then he looked wonderingly back at the flotilla under the rail, for he
realized that every movement and murmur of life there had come to a
sudden stop.  It was a cessation of all sound, a silence as ominously
complete as that of a summer woodland when a hawk soars overhead.  Even
the small light deep in the bottom of the first _lancha_ tied to the
landing-ladder had been suddenly quenched.

Blake, staring apprehensively out into the gloom, caught the sound of a
soft and feverish throbbing.  His disturbed mind had just registered
the conclusion that this sound must be the throbbing of a passing
marine-engine, when the thought was annihilated by a second and more
startling occurrence.

Out across the blackness in front of him suddenly flashed a white saber
of light.  For one moment it circled and wavered restlessly about,
feeling like a great finger along the gray surface of the water.  Then
it smote full on Blake and the deck where he stood, blinding him with
its glare, picking out every object and every listening figure as
plainly as a calcium picks out a scene on the stage.

Without conscious thought Blake dropped lower behind the ship's rail.
He sank still lower, until he found himself down on his hands and knees
beside a rope coil.  As he did so he heard the call of a challenging
Spanish voice, a murmur of voices, and then a repeated command.

There was no answer to this challenge.  Then came another command and
then silence again.  Then a faint thrill arrowed through Blake's
crouching body, for from somewhere close behind him a gun-shot rang out
and was repeated again and again.  Blake knew, at that sound, that
Tankred or one of his men was firing straight into the dial of the
searchlight, that Tankred himself intended to defy what must surely be
an Ecuadorean gunboat.  The detective was oppressed by the thought that
his own jealously nursed plan might at any moment get a knock on the
head.

At almost the same time the peevishly indignant Blake could hear the
tinkle of the engine-room bell below him and then the thrash of the
screw wings.  The boat began to move forward, dangling the knocking and
rocking flotilla of _lanchas_ and surf-boats at her side, like a
deer-mouse making off with its young.  Then came sharp cries of
protest, in Spanish, and more cries and curses in harbor-English, and a
second engine-room signal and a cessation of the screw thrashings.
This was followed by a shower of carbine-shots and the plaintive whine
of bullets above the upper-works, the crack and thud of lead against
the side-plates.  At the same time Blake heard the scream of a
denim-clad figure that suddenly pitched from the landing-ladder into
the sea.  Then came an answering volley, from somewhere close below
Blake.  He could not tell whether it was from the boat-flotilla or from
the port-holes above it.  But he knew that Tankred and his men were
returning the gunboat's fire.

Blake, by this time, was once more thinking lucidly.  Some of the cases
in those surf-boats, he remembered, held giant-caps and dynamite, and
he knew what was likely to happen if a bullet struck them.  He also
remembered that he was still exposed to the carbine fire from behind
the searchlight.

He stretched out, flat on the deck-boards, and wormed his way slowly
and ludicrously aft.  He did not bring those uncouth vermiculations to
a stop until he was well back in the shelter of a rusty capstan, cut
off from the light by a lifeboat swinging on its davits.  As he
clambered to his feet again he saw this light suddenly go out and then
reappear.  As it did so he could make out a patrol-boat, gray and
low-bodied, slinking forward through the gloom.  He could see that boat
crowded with men, men in uniform, and he could see that each man
carried a carbine.  He could also see that it would surely cut across
the bow of his own steamer.  A moment later he knew that Tankred
himself had seen this, for high above the crack and whine of the
shooting and the tumult of voices he could now hear Tankred's
blasphemous shouts.

"Cut loose those boats!" bellowed the frantic gun-runner.  Then he
repeated the command, apparently in Spanish.  And to this came an
answering babel of cries and expostulations and counter-cries.  But
still the firing from behind the searchlight kept up.  Blake could see
a half-naked seaman with a carpenter's ax skip monkey-like down the
landing-ladder.  He saw the naked arm strike with the ax, the two hands
suddenly catch at the bare throat, and the figure fall back in a huddle
against the red-stained wooden steps.

Blake also saw, to his growing unrest, that the firing was increasing
in volume, that at the front of the ship sharp volley and
counter-volley was making a pandemonium of the very deck on which he
knelt.  For by this time the patrol-boat with the carbineers had
reached the steamer's side and a boarding-ladder had been thrown across
her quarter.  And Blake began to comprehend that he was in the most
undesirable of situations.  He could hear the repeated clang of the
engine-room telegraph and Tankred's frenzied and ineffectual bellow of
"Full steam ahead!  For the love o' Christ, full ahead down there!"

Through all that bedlam Blake remained resentfully cool, angrily
clear-thoughted.  He saw that the steamer did not move forward.  He
concluded the engine-room to be deserted.  And he saw both the futility
and the danger of remaining where he was.

He crawled back to where he remembered the rope-coil lay, dragging the
loose end of it back after him, and then lowering it over the ship's
side until it touched the water.  Then he shifted this rope along the
rail until it swung over the last of the line of surf-boats that bobbed
and thudded against the side-plates of the gently rolling steamer.
About him, all the while, he could hear the shouts of men and the
staccato crack of the rifles.  But he saw to it that his rope was well
tied to the rail-stanchion.  Then he clambered over the rail itself,
and with a double twist of the rope about his great leg let himself
ponderously down over the side.

He swayed there, for a moment, until the roll of the ship brought him
thumping against the rusty plates again.  At the same moment the
shifting surf-boat swung in under him.  Releasing his hold, he went
tumbling down between the cartridge-cases and the boat-thwarts.

This boat, he saw, was still securely tied to its mate, one of the
larger-bodied _lanchas_, and he had nothing with which to sever the
rope.  His first impulse was to reach for his revolver and cut through
the manilla strands by means of a half-dozen quick shots.  But this, he
knew, would too noisily announce his presence there.  So he fell on his
knees and peered and prodded about the boat bottom.  There, to his
surprise, he saw the huddled body of a dead man, face down.  This body
he turned over, running an exploring hand along the belt-line.  As he
had hoped, he found a heavy nine-inch knife there.

He was dodging back to the bow of the surf-boat when a uniformed figure
carrying a rifle came scuttling and shouting down the landing-ladder.
Blake's spirits sank as he saw that figure.  He knew now that his
movement had been seen and understood.  He knew, too, as he saw the
figure come scrambling out over the rocking boats, what capture would
mean.

He had the last strand of the rope severed before the Ecuadorean with
the carbine reached the _lancha_ next to him.  He still felt, once he
was free, that he could use his revolver and get away.  But before
Blake could push off a sinewy brown hand reached out and clutched the
gunwale of the liberated boat.  Blake ignored the clutching hand.  But,
relying on his own sheer strength, he startled the owning of the hand
by suddenly flinging himself forward, seizing the carbine barrel, and
wresting it free.  A second later it disappeared beneath the surface of
the water.

That impassioned brown hand, however, still clung to the boat's
gunwale.  It clung there determinedly, blindly--and Blake knew there
was no time for a struggle.  He brought the heavy-bladed knife down on
the clinging fingers.  It was a stroke like that of a cleaver on a
butcher's block.  In the strong white light that still played on them
he could see the flash of teeth in the man's opened mouth, the upturn
of the staring eye-balls as the severed fingers fell away and he
screamed aloud with pain.

But with one quick motion of his gorilla-like arms Blake pushed his
boat free, telling himself there was still time, warning himself to
keep cool and make the most of every chance.  Yet as he turned to take
up the oars he saw that he had been discovered by the Ecuadoreans on
the freighter's deck, that his flight was not to be as simple as he had
expected.  He saw the lean brown face, picked out by the white light,
as a carbineer swung his short-barreled rifle out over the rail--and
the man in the surf-boat knew by that face what was coming.

His first impulse was to reach into his pocket for his revolver.  But
that, he knew, was already too late, for a second man had joined the
first and a second rifle was already swinging round on him.  His next
thought was to dive over the boat's side.  This thought had scarcely
formulated itself, however, before he heard the bark of the rifle and
saw the puff of smoke.

At the same moment he felt the rip and tug of the bullet through the
loose side-folds of his coat.  And with that rip and tug came a third
thought, over which he did not waver.  He threw up his hands, sharply,
and flung himself headlong across the body of the dead man in the
bottom of the surf-boat.

He fell heavily, with a blow that shook the wind from his body.  But as
he lay there he knew better than to move.  He lay there, scarcely
daring to breathe, dreading that the rise and fall of his breast would
betray his ruse, praying that his boat would veer about so his body
would be in the shadow.  For he knew the two waiting carbines were
still pointed at him.

He lay there, counting the seconds, knowing that he and his slowly
drifting surf-boat were still in the full white fulgor of the wavering
searchlight.  He lay there as a second shot came whistling overhead,
spitting into the water within three feet of him.  Then a third bullet
came, this time tearing through the wood of the boat bottom beside him.
And he still waited, without moving, wondering what the next shot would
do.  He still waited, his passive body horripilating with a vast
indignation at the thought of the injustice of it all, at the thought
that he must lie there and let half-baked dagoes shower his
unprotesting back with lead.  But he lay there, still counting the
seconds, as the boat drifted slowly out on the quietly moving tide.

Then a new discovery disturbed him.  It obliterated his momentary joy
at the thought that they were no longer targeting down at him.  He
could feel the water slowly rising about his prostrate body.  He
realized that the boat in which he lay was filling.  He calmly figured
out that with the body of the dead man and the cartridge-cases about
him it was carrying a dead weight of nearly half a ton.  And through
the bullet hole in its bottom the water was rushing in.

Yet he could do nothing.  He could make no move.  For at the slightest
betrayal of life, he knew, still another volley would come from that
ever-menacing steamer's deck.  He counted the minutes, painfully,
methodically, feeling the water rise higher and higher about his body.
The thought of this rising water and what it meant did not fill him
with panic.  He seemed more the prey of a deep and sullen resentment
that his plans should be so gratuitously interfered with, that his
approach to the _Trunella_ should be so foolishly delayed, that so many
cross-purposes should postpone and imperil his quest of Binhart.

He knew, by the slowly diminishing sounds, that he was drifting further
and further away from Tankred and his crowded fore-deck.  But he was
still within the area of that ever-betraying searchlight.  Some time,
he knew, he must drift beyond it.  But until that moment came he dare
make no move to keep himself afloat.

By slowly turning his head an inch or two he was able to measure the
height of the gunwale above the water.  Then he made note of where an
oar lay, asking himself how long he could keep afloat on a timber so
small, wondering how far he could be from land.  Then he suddenly fell
to questioning if the waters of that coast were shark infested.

He was still debating the problem when he became conscious of a change
about him.  A sudden pall of black fell like balm on his startled face.
The light was no longer there.  He found himself engulfed in a
relieving, fortifying darkness, a darkness that brought him to his feet
in the slowly moving boat.  He was no longer visible to the rest of the
world.  At a breath, almost, he had passed into eclipse.

His first frantic move was to tug and drag the floating body at his
feet to the back of the boat and roll it overboard.  Then he waded
forward and one by one carefully lifted the cases of ammunition and
tumbled them over the side.  One only he saved, a smaller wooden box
which he feverishly pried open with his knife and emptied into the sea.
Then he flung away the top boards, placing the empty box on the seat in
front of him.  Then he fell on his hands and knees, fingering along the
boat bottom until he found the bullet-hole through which the water was
boiling up.

Once he had found it he began tearing at his clothes like a madman, for
the water was now alarmingly high.  These rags and shreds of clothing
he twisted together and forced into the hole, tamping them firmly into
place with his revolver-barrel.

Then he caught up the empty wooden box from the boat seat and began to
bale.  He baled solemnly, as though his very soul were in it.  He was
oblivious of the strange scene silhouetted against the night behind
him, standing out as distinctly as though it were a picture thrown on a
sheet from a magic-lantern slide--a circle of light surrounding a
drifting and rusty-sided ship on which tumult had turned into sudden
silence.  He was oblivious of his own wet clothing and his bruised body
and the dull ache in his leg wound of many months ago.  He was intent
only on the fact that he was lowering the water in his surf-boat, that
he was slowly drifting further and further away from the enemies who
had interfered with his movements, and that under the faint spangle of
lights which he could still see in the offing on his right lay an
anchored liner, and that somewhere on that liner lay a man for whom he
was looking.



XIII

Once assured that his surf-boat would keep afloat, Blake took the oars
and began to row.  But even as he swung the boat lumberingly about he
realized that he could make no headway with such a load, for almost a
foot of water still surged along its bottom.  So he put down the oars
and began to bale again.  He did not stop until the boat was emptied.
Then he carefully replugged the bullet-hole, took up the oars again,
and once more began to row.

He rowed, always keeping his bow towards the far-off spangle of lights
which showed where the _Trunella_ lay at anchor.

He rowed doggedly, determinedly.  He rowed until his arms were tired
and his back ached.  But still he did not stop.  It occurred to him,
suddenly, that there might be a tide running against him, that with all
his labor he might be making no actual headway.  Disturbed by this
thought, he fixed his attention on two almost convergent lights on
shore, rowing with renewed energy as he watched them.  He had the
satisfaction of seeing these two lights slowly come together, and he
knew he was making some progress.

Still another thought came to him as he rowed doggedly on.  And that
was the fear that at any moment, now, the quick equatorial morning
might dawn.  He had no means of judging the time.  To strike a light
was impossible, for his matches were water-soaked.  Even his watch, he
found, had been stopped by its bath in sea-water.  But he felt that
long hours had passed since midnight, that it must be close to the
break of morning.  And the fear of being overtaken by daylight filled
him with a new and more frantic energy.

He rowed feverishly on, until the lights of the _Trunella_ stood high
above him and he could hear the lonely sound of her bells as the watch
was struck.  Then he turned and studied the dark hull of the steamer as
she loomed up closer in front of him.  He could see her only in
outline, at first, picked out here and there by a light.  But there
seemed something disheartening, something intimidating, in her very
quietness, something suggestive of a plague-ship deserted by crew and
passengers alike.  That dark and silent hull at which he stared seemed
to house untold possibilities of evil.

Yet Blake remembered that it also housed Binhart.  And with that
thought in his mind he no longer cared to hesitate.  He rowed in under
the shadowy counter, bumping about the rudder-post.  Then he worked his
way forward, feeling quietly along her side-plates, foot by foot.

He had more than half circled the ship before he came to her
landing-ladder.  The grilled platform at the bottom of this row of
steps stood nearly as high as his shoulders, as though the ladder-end
had been hauled up for the night.

Blake balanced himself on the bow of his surf-boat and tugged and
strained until he gained the ladder-bottom.  He stood there, recovering
his breath, for a moment or two, peering up towards the inhospitable
silence above him.  But still he saw no sign of life.  No word or
challenge was flung down at him.  Then, after a moment's thought, he
lay flat on the grill and deliberately pushed the surf-boat off into
the darkness.  He wanted no more of it.  He knew, now, there could be
no going back.

He climbed cautiously up the slowly swaying steps, standing for a
puzzled moment at the top and peering about him.  Then he crept along
the deserted deck, where a month of utter idleness, apparently, had
left discipline relaxed.  He shied away from the lights, here and
there, that dazzled his eyes after his long hours of darkness.  With an
instinct not unlike that which drives the hiding wharf-rat into the
deepest corner at hand, he made his way down through the body of the
ship.  He shambled and skulked his way down, a hatless and ragged and
uncouth figure, wandering on along gloomy gangways and corridors until
he found himself on the threshold of the engine-room itself.

He was about to back out of this entrance and strike still deeper when
he found himself confronted by an engineer smoking a short brier-root
pipe.  The pale blue eyes of this sandy-headed engineer were wide with
wonder, startled and incredulous wonder, as they stared at the ragged
figure in the doorway.

"Where in the name o' God did _you_ come from?" demanded the man with
the brier-root pipe.

"I came out from Guayaquil," answered Blake, reaching searchingly down
in his wet pocket.  "And I can't go back."

The sandy-headed man backed away.

"From the fever camps?"

Blake could afford to smile at the movement.

"Don't worry--there 's no fever 'round me.  _That 's_ what I 've been
through!"  And he showed the bullet-holes through his tattered
coat-cloth.

"How'd you get here?"

"Rowed out in a surf-boat--and I can't go back!"

The sandy-headed engineer continued to stare at the uncouth figure in
front of him, to stare at it with vague and impersonal wonder.  And in
facing that sandy-headed stranger, Blake knew, he was facing a judge
whose decision was to be of vast moment in his future destiny, whose
word, perhaps, was to decide on the success or failure of much
wandering about the earth.

"I can't go back!" repeated Blake, as he reached out and dropped a
clutter of gold into the palm of the other man.  The pale blue eyes
looked at the gold, looked out along the gangway, and then looked back
at the waiting stranger.

"That Alfaro gang after you?" he inquired.

"They 're _all_ after me!" answered the swaying figure in rags.  They
were talking together, by this time, almost in whispers, like two
conspirators.  The young engineer seemed puzzled.  But a wave of relief
swept through Blake when in the pale blue eyes he saw almost a look of
pity.

"What d' you want me to do?" he finally asked.

Blake, instead of answering that question, asked another.

"When do you move out of here?"

The engineer put the coins in his pocket.

"Before noon to-morrow, thank God!  The _Yorktown_ ought to be here by
morning--she 's to give us our release!"

"Then you'll sail by noon?"

"We 've _got_ to!  They 've tied us up here over a month, without
reason.  They worked that old yellow-jack gag--and not a touch of fever
aboard all that time!"

A great wave of contentment surged through Blake's weary body.  He put
his hand up on the smaller man's shoulder.

"Then you just get me out o' sight until we 're off, and I 'll fix
things so you 'll never be sorry for it!"

The pale-eyed engineer studied the problem.  Then he studied the figure
in front of him.

"There's nothing crooked behind this?"

Blake forced a laugh from his weary lungs.  "I 'll prove that in two
days by wireless--and pay first-class passage to the next port of call!"

"I 'm fourth engineer on board here, and the Old Man would sure fire
me, if--"

"But you needn't even know about me," contended Blake.  "Just let me
crawl in somewhere where I can sleep!"

"You need it, all right, by that face of yours!"

"I sure do," acknowledged the other as he stood awaiting his judge's
decision.

"Then I 'd better get you down to my bunk.  But remember, I can only
stow you there until we get under way--perhaps not that long!"

He stepped cautiously out and looked along the gangway.  "This is your
funeral, mind, when the row comes.  You 've got to face that, yourself!"

"Oh, I 'll face it, all right!" was Blake's calmly contented answer.
"All I want now is about nine hours' sleep!"

"Come on, then," said the fourth engineer.  And Blake followed after as
he started deeper down into the body of the ship.  And already, deep
below him, he could hear the stokers at work in their hole.



XIV

After seven cataleptic hours of unbroken sleep Blake awakened to find
his shoulder being prodded and shaken by the pale-eyed fourth engineer.
The stowaway's tired body, during that sleep, had soaked in renewed
strength as a squeezed sponge soaks up water.  He could afford to blink
with impassive eyes up at the troubled face of the young man wearing
the oil-stained cap.

"What's wrong?" he demanded, awakening to a luxurious comprehension of
where he was and what he had escaped.  Then he sat up in the narrow
berth, for it began to dawn on him that the engines of the _Trunella_
were not in motion.  "Why are n't we under way?"

"They 're having trouble up there, with the _Commandante_.  We can't
get off inside of an hour--and anything's likely to happen in that
time.  That's why I 've got to get you out of here!"

"Where 'll you get me?" asked Blake.  He was on his feet by this time,
arraying himself in his wet and ragged clothing.

"That's what I 've been talking over with the Chief," began the young
engineer.  Blake wheeled about and fixed him with his eye.

"Did you let your Chief in on this?" he demanded, and he found it hard
to keep his anger in check.

"I had to let him in on it," complained the other.  "If it came to a
hue up or a searching party through here, they 'd spot you first thing.
You 're not a passenger; you 're not signed; you're not anything!"

"Well, supposing I 'm not?"

"Then they 'd haul you back and give you a half year in that
_Lazaretto_ o' theirs!"

"Well, what do I have to do to keep from being hauled back?"

"You 'll have to be one o' the workin' crew, until we get off.  The
Chief says that, and I think he's right!"

A vague foreboding filled Blake's soul.  He had imagined that the
ignominy and agony of physical labor was a thing of the past with him.
And he was still sore in every sinew and muscle of his huge body.

"You don't mean stoke-hole work?" he demanded.

The fourth engineer continued to look worried.

"You don't happen to know anything about machinery, do you?" he began.

"Of course I do," retorted Blake, thinking gratefully of his early days
as a steamfitter.

"Then why could n't I put you in a cap and jumper and work you in as
one of the greasers?"

"What do you mean by greasers?"

"That's an oiler in the engine-room.  It--it may not be the coolest
place on earth, in this latitude, but it sure beats the stoke-hole!"

And it was in this way, thirty minutes later, that Blake became a
greaser in the engine-room of the _Trunella_.

Already, far above him, he could hear the rattle and shriek of
winch-engines and the far-off muffled roar of the whistle, rumbling its
triumph of returning life.  Already the great propeller engines
themselves had been tested, after their weeks of idleness, languidly
stretching and moving like an awakening sleeper, slowly swinging their
solemn tons forward through their projected cycles and then as solemnly
back again.

About this vast pyramid-shaped machinery, galleried like a Latin
house-court, tremulous with the breath of life that sang and hissed
through its veins, the new greaser could see his fellow workers with
their dripping oil-cans, groping gallery by gallery up towards the
square of daylight that sifted down into the oil-scented pit where he
stood.  He could see his pale-eyed friend, the fourth engineer, spanner
in hand, clinging to a moving network of steel like a spider to its
tremulous web--and in his breast, for the first time, a latent respect
for that youth awakened.  He could see other greasers wriggling about
between intricate shafts and wheels, crawling cat-like along narrow
steel ledges, mounting steep metal ladders guarded by hot hand rails,
peering into oil boxes, "worrying" the vacuum pump, squatting and
kneeling about iron floors where oil-pits pooled and pump-valves
clacked and electric machines whirred and the antiphonal song of the
mounting steam roared like music in the ears of the listening Blake,
aching as he was for the first relieving throb of the screws.  Stolidly
and calmly the men about him worked, threatened by flailing steel,
hissed at by venomously quiescent powers, beleaguered by mysteriously
moving shafts, surrounded by countless valves and an inexplicable
tangle of pipes, hemmed in by an incomprehensible labyrinth of copper
wires, menaced by the very shimmering joints and rods over which they
could run such carelessly affectionate fingers.

Blake could see the assistant engineers, with their eyes on the
pointers that stood out against two white dials.  He could see the
Chief, the Chief whom he would so soon have to buy over and placate,
moving about nervous and alert.  Then he heard the tinkle of the
telegraph bell, and the repeated gasp of energy as the engineers threw
the levers.  He could hear the vicious hum of the reversing-engines,
and then the great muffled cough of power as the ponderous valve-gear
was thrown into position and the vaster machinery above him was coerced
into a motion that seemed languid yet relentless.

He could see the slow rise and fall of the great cranks.  He could hear
the renewed signals and bells tinkles, the more insistent clack of
pumps, the more resolute rise and fall of the ponderous cranks.  And he
knew that they were at last under way.  He gave no thought to the heat
of the oil-dripping pit in which he stood.  He was oblivious of the
perilous steel that whirred and throbbed about him.  He was unconscious
of the hot hand rails and the greasy foot-ways and the mingling odor of
steam and parching lubricant and ammonia-gas from a leaking "beef
engine."  He quite forgot the fact that his dungaree jumper was wet
with sweat, that his cap was already fouled with oil.  All he knew was
that he and Binhart were at last under way.

He was filled with a new lightness of spirit as he felt the throb of
"full speed ahead" shake the steel hull about which he so contentedly
climbed and crawled.  He found something fortifying in the thought that
this vast hull was swinging out to her appointed sea lanes, that she
was now intent on a way from which no caprice could turn her.  There
seemed something appeasingly ordered and implacable in the mere
revolutions of the engines.  And as those engines settled down to their
labors the intent-eyed men about him fell almost as automatically into
the routines of toil as did the steel mechanism itself.

When at the end of the first four-houred watch a gong sounded and the
next crew filed cluttering in from the half-lighted between-deck
gangways and came sliding down the polished steel stair rails, Blake
felt that his greatest danger was over.

There would still be an occasional palm to grease, he told himself, an
occasional bit of pad money to be paid out.  But he could meet those
emergencies with the fortitude of a man already inured to the exactions
of venal accomplices.

Then a new discovery came to him.  It came as he approached the chief
engineer, with the object in view of throwing a little light on his
presence there.  And as he looked into that officer's coldly indignant
eye he awakened to the fact that he was no longer on land, but afloat
on a tiny world with an autocracy and an authority of its own.  He was
in a tiny world, he saw, where his career and his traditions were not
to be reckoned with, where he ranked no higher than conch-niggers and
beach-combers and _cargadores_.  He was a _dungaree_-clad greaser in an
engine-room, and he was promptly ordered back with the rest of his
crew.  He was not even allowed to talk.

When his watch came round he went on duty again.  He saw the futility
of revolt, until the time was ripe.  He went through his appointed
tasks with the solemn precision of an apprentice.  He did what he was
commanded to do.  Yet sometimes the heat would grow so intense that the
great sweating body would have to shamble to a ventilator and there
drink in long drafts of the cooler air.  The pressure of invisible
hoops about the great heaving chest would then release itself, the
haggard face would regain some touch of color, and the new greaser
would go back to his work again.  One or two of the more observant
toilers about him, experienced in engine-room life, marveled at the
newcomer and the sense of mystery which hung over him.  One or two of
them fell to wondering what inner spirit could stay him through those
four-houred ordeals of heat and labor.

Yet they looked after him with even more inquisitive eyes when, on the
second day out, he was peremptorily summoned to the Captain's room.
What took place in that room no one in the ship ever actually knew.

But the large-bodied stowaway returned below-decks, white of face and
grim of jaw.  He went back to his work in silence, in dogged and
unbroken silence which those about him knew enough to respect.

It was whispered about, it is true, that among other things a large and
ugly-looking revolver had been taken from his clothing, and that he had
been denied the use of the ship's wireless service.  A steward outside
the Captain's door, it was also whispered, had overheard the
shipmaster's angry threat to put the stowaway in irons for the rest of
the voyage and return him to the Ecuadorean authorities.  It was
rumored, too, that late in the afternoon of the same day, when the new
greaser had complained of faintness and was seeking a breath of fresh
air at the foot of a midships deck-ladder, he had chanced to turn and
look up at a man standing on the promenade deck above him.

The two men stood staring at each other for several moments, and for
all the balmy air about him the great body of the stranger just up from
the engine-room had shivered and shaken, as though with a malarial
chill.

What it meant, no one quite knew.  Nor could anything be added to that
rumor, beyond the fact that the first-class passenger, who was known to
be a doctor and who had stared so intently down at the quiet-eyed
greaser, had turned the color of ashes and without a word had slipped
away.  And the bewilderment of the entire situation was further
increased when the _Trunella_ swung in at Callao and the large-bodied
man of mystery was peremptorily and none too gently put ashore.  It was
noted, however, that the first-class passenger who had stared down at
him from the promenade-deck remained aboard the vessel as she started
southward again.  It was further remarked that he seemed more at ease
when Callao was left well behind, although he sat smoking side by side
with the operator in the wireless room until the _Trunella_ had steamed
many miles southward on her long journey towards the Straits of
Magellan.



XV

Seven days after the _Trunella_ swung southward from Callao Never-Fail
Blake, renewed as to habiliments and replenished as to pocket, embarked
on a steamer bound for Rio de Janeiro.

He watched the plunging bow as it crept southward.  He saw the heat and
the gray sea-shimmer left behind him.  He saw the days grow longer and
the nights grow colder.  He saw the Straits passed and the northward
journey again begun.  But he neither fretted nor complained of his fate.

After communicating by wireless with both Montevideo and Buenos Ayres
and verifying certain facts of which he seemed already assured, he
continued on his way to Rio.  And over Rio he once more cast and pursed
up his gently interrogative net, gathering in the discomforting
information that Binhart had already relayed, from that city to a
Lloyd-Brazileiro steamer.  This steamer, he learned, was bound for
Ignitos, ten thousand dreary miles up the Amazon.

Five days later Blake followed in a Clyde-built freighter.  When well
up the river he transferred to a rotten-timbered sidewheeler that had
once done duty on the Mississippi, and still again relayed from river
boat to river boat, move by move falling more and more behind his
quarry.

The days merged into weeks, and the weeks into months.  He suffered
much from the heat, but more from the bad food and the bad water.  For
the first time in his life he found his body shaken with fever and was
compelled to use quinin in great quantities.  The attacks of insects,
of insects that flew, that crawled, that tunneled beneath the skin,
turned life into a torment.  His huge triple-terraced neck became raw
with countless wounds.  But he did not stop by the way.  His eyes
became oblivious of the tangled and overcrowded life about him, of the
hectic orchids and huge butterflies and the flaming birds-of-paradise,
of the echoing aisle ways between interwoven jungle growths, of the
arching aerial roofs of verdure and the shadowy hanging-gardens from
which by day parakeets chattered and monkeys screamed and by night
ghostly armies of fireflies glowed.  He was no longer impressed by that
world of fierce appetites and fierce conflicts.  He seemed to have
attained to a secret inner calm, to an obsessional impassivity across
which the passing calamities of existence only echoed.  He merely
recalled that he had been compelled to eat of disagreeable things and
face undesirable emergencies, to drink of the severed Water-vine, to
partake of monkey-steak and broiled parrot, to sleep in poisonous
swamplands.  His spirit, even with the mournful cry of night birds in
his ears, had been schooled into the acceptance of a loneliness that to
another might have seemed eternal and unendurable.

By the time he had reached the Pacific coast his haggard hound's eyes
were more haggard than ever.  His skin hung loose on his great body, as
though a vampire bat had drained it of its blood.  But to his own
appearance he gave scant thought.  For new life came to him when he
found definite traces of Binhart.  These traces he followed up, one by
one, until he found himself circling back eastward along the valley of
the Magdalena.  And down the Magdalena he went, still sure of his
quarry, following him to Bogota, and on again from Bogota to
Barranquilla, and on to Savanilla, where he embarked on a
Hamburg-American steamer for Limon.

At Limon it was not hard to pick up the lost trail.  But Binhart's
movements, after leaving that port, became a puzzle to the man who had
begun to pride himself on growing into knowledge of his adversary's
inmost nature.  For once Blake found himself uncertain as to the
other's intentions.  The fugitive now seemed possessed with an idea to
get away from the sea, to strike inland at any cost, as though water
had grown a thing of horror to him.  He zigzagged from obscure village
to village, as though determined to keep away from all main-traveled
avenues of traffic.  Yet, move as he might, it was merely a matter of
time and care to follow up the steps of a white man as distinctly
individualized as Binhart.

This white man, it seemed, was at last giving way to the terror that
must have been haunting him for months past.  His movements became
feverish, erratic, irrational.  He traveled in strange directions and
by strange means, by bullock-cart, by burro, by dug-out, sometimes on
foot and sometimes on horseback.  Sometimes he stayed over night at a
rubber-gatherers' camp, sometimes he visited a banana plantation,
bought a fresh horse, and pushed on again.  When he reached the
Province of Alajuela he made use of the narrow cattle passes, pressing
on in a northwesterly direction along the valleys of the San Juan and
the San Carlos River.  A madness seemed to have seized him, a madness
to make his way northward, ever northward.

Over heartbreaking mountainous paths, through miasmic jungles, across
sun-baked plateaus, chilled by night and scorched by day, chafed and
sore, tortured by _niguas_ and _coloradillas_, mosquitoes and
_chigoes_, sleeping in verminous hay-thatched huts of bamboo bound
together with bejuco-vine, mislead by lying natives and stolen from by
peons, Blake day by day and week by week fought his way after his
enemy.  When worn to lightheadedness he drank _guaro_ and great
quantities of black coffee; when ill he ate quinin.

The mere act of pursuit had become automatic with him.  He no longer
remembered why he was seeking out this man.  He no longer remembered
the crime that lay at the root of that flight and pursuit.  It was not
often, in fact, that his thoughts strayed back to his old life.  When
he did think of it, it seemed only something too far away to remember,
something phantasmal, something belonging to another world.  There were
times when all his journeying through steaming swamplands and forests
of teak and satin-wood and over indigo lagoons and mountain-passes of
moonlit desolation seemed utterly and unfathomably foolish.  But he
fought back such moods, as though they were a weakness.  He let nothing
deter him.  He stuck to his trail, instinctively, doggedly,
relentlessly.

It was at Chalavia that a peon named Tico Viquez came to Blake with the
news of a white man lying ill of black-water fever in a native hut.
For so much gold, Tico Viquez intimated, he would lead the señor to the
hut in question.

Blake, who had no gold to spare, covered the startled peon with his
revolver and commanded Viquez to take him to that hut.  There was that
in the white man's face which caused the peon to remember that life was
sweet.  He led the way through a reptilious swamp and into the fringe
of a nispero forest, where they came upon a hut with a roof of
corrugated iron and walls of wattled bamboo.

Blake, with his revolver in his hand and his guide held before him as a
human shield, cautiously approached the door of this hut, for he feared
treachery.  Then, with equal caution, he peered through the narrow
doorway.  He stood there for several moments, without moving.

Then he slipped his revolver back into his pocket and stepped into the
hut.  For there, in one corner of it, lay Binhart.  He lay on a bed
made of bull-hide stretched across a rough-timbered frame.  Yet what
Blake looked down on seemed more a shriveled mummy of Binhart than the
man himself.  A vague trouble took possession of the detective as he
blinked calmly down at the glazed and sunken eyes, the gaunt neck, the
childishly helpless body.  He stood there, waiting until the man on the
sagging bull-skin saw him.

"Hello, Jim!" said the sick man, in little more than a whisper.

"Hello, Connie!" was the other's answer.  He picked up a palmetto frond
and fought away the flies.  The uncleanness of the place turned his
stomach.

"What's up, Connie?" he asked, sitting calmly down beside the narrow
bed.

The sick man moved a hand, weakly, as though it were the yellow flapper
of some wounded amphibian.

"The jig's up!" he said.  The faint mockery of a smile wavered across
the painfully gaunt face.  It reminded the other man of heat-lightning
on a dark skyline.  "You got me, Jim.  But it won't do much good.  I 'm
going to cash in."

"What makes you say that?" argued Blake, studying the lean figure.
There was a look of mild regret on his own sodden and haggard face.
"What's wrong with you, anyway?"

The man on the bed did not answer for some time.  When he spoke, he
spoke without looking at the other man.

"They said it was black-water fever.  Then they said it was
yellow-jack.  But I know it's not.  I think it's typhoid, or swamp
fever.  It's worse than malaria.  I dam' near burn up every night.  I
get out of my head.  I 've done that three nights.  That's why the
niggers won't come near me now!"

Blake leaned forward and fought away the flies again.

"Then it's a good thing I got up with you."

The sick man rolled his eyes in their sockets, so as to bring his enemy
into his line of vision.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because I 'm not going to let you die," was Blake's answer.

"You can't help it, Jim!  The jig 's up!"

"I 'm going to get a litter and get you up out o' this hell-hole of a
swamp," announced Blake.  "I 'm going to have you carried up to the
hills.  Then I 'm going back to Chalavia to get a doctor o' some kind.
Then I 'm going to put you on your feet again!"

Binhart slowly moved his head from side to side.  Then the
heat-lightning smile played about the hollow face again.

"It was some chase, Jim, was n't it?" he said, without looking at his
old-time enemy.

Blake stared down at him with his haggard hound's eyes; there was no
answering smile on his heavy lips, now furzed with their grizzled
growth of hair.  There seemed something ignominious in such an end,
something futile and self-frustrating.  It was unjust.  It left
everything so hideously incomplete.  He revolted against it with a
sullen and senseless rage.

"By God, you 're not going to die!" declared the staring and
sinewy-necked man at the bedside.  "I say you 're not going to die.  I
'm going to get you out o' here alive!"

A sweat of weakness stood out on Binhart's white face.

"Where to?" he asked, as he had asked one before.  And his eyes
remained closed as put the question.

"To the pen," was the answer which rose Blake's lips.  But he did not
utter the words.  Instead, he rose impatiently to his feet.  But the
man on the bed must have sensed that unspoken response, for he opened
his eyes and stared long and mournfully at his heavy-bodied enemy.

"You 'll never get me there!" he said, in little more than a whisper.
"Never!"



XVI

Binhart was moved that night up into the hills.  There he was installed
in a bungalow of an abandoned banana plantation and a doctor was
brought to his bedside.  He was delirious by the time this doctor
arrived, and his ravings through the night were a source of vague worry
to his enemy.  On the second day the sick man showed signs of
improvement.

For three weeks Blake watched over Binhart, saw to his wants, journeyed
to Chalavia for his food and medicines.  When the fever was broken and
Binhart began to gain strength the detective no longer made the trip to
Chalavia in person.  He preferred to remain with the sick man.

He watched that sick man carefully, jealously, hour by hour and day by
day.  A peon servant was paid to keep up the vigil when Blake slept, as
sleep he must.

But the strain was beginning to tell on him.  He walked heavily.  The
asthmatic wheeze of his breathing became more audible.  His earlier
touch of malaria returned to him, and he suffered from intermittent
chills and fever.  The day came when Blake suggested it was about time
for them to move on.

"Where to?" asked Binhart.  Little had passed between the two men, but
during all those silent nights and days each had been secretly yet
assiduously studying the other.

"Back to New York," was Blake's indifferent-noted answer.  Yet this
indifference was a pretense, for no soul had ever hungered more for a
white man's country than did the travel-worn and fever-racked Blake.
But he had his part to play, and he did not intend to shirk it.  They
went about their preparations quietly, like two fellow excursionists
making ready for a journey with which they were already over-familiar.
It was while they sat waiting for the guides and mules that Blake
addressed himself to the prisoner.

"Connie," he said, "I 'm taking you back.  It does n't make much
difference whether I take you back dead or alive.  But I 'm going to
take you back."

The other man said nothing, but his slight head-movement was one of
comprehension.

"So I just wanted to say there's no side-stepping, no four-flushing, at
this end of the trip!"

"I understand," was Binhart's listless response.

"I'm glad you do," Blake went on in his dully monotonous voice.
"Because I got where I can't stand any more breaks."

"All right, Jim," answered Binhart.  They sat staring at each other.
It was not hate that existed between them.  It was something more
dormant, more innate.  It was something that had grown ineradicable; as
fixed as the relationship between the hound and the hare.  Each wore an
air of careless listlessness, yet each watched the other, every move,
every moment.

It was as they made their way slowly down to the coast that Blake put
an unexpected question to Binhart.

"Connie, where in hell did you plant that haul o' yours?"

This thing had been worrying Blake.  Weeks before he had gone through
every nook and corner, every pocket and crevice in Binhart's belongings.

The bank thief laughed a little.  He had been growing stronger, day by
day, and as his spirits had risen Blake's had seemed to recede.

"Oh, I left that up in the States, where it 'd be safe," he answered.

"What 'll you do about it?" Blake casually inquired.

"I can't tell, just yet," was Binhart's retort.

He rode on silent and thoughtful for several minutes.  "Jim," he said
at last, "we 're both about done for.  There 's not much left for
either of us.  We 're going at this thing wrong.  There's a lot o'
money up there, for somebody.  And _you_ ought to get it!"

"What do you mean?" asked Blake.  He resented the bodily weakness that
was making burro-riding a torture.

"I mean it's worth a hundred and fifty thousand dollars to you just to
let me drop out.  I 'd hand you over that much to quit the chase."

"It ain't me that's chasing you, Connie.  It's the Law!" was Blake's
quiet-toned response.  And the other man knew he believed it.

"Well, you quit, and I 'll stand for the Law!"

"But, can't you see, they 'd never stand for you!"

"Oh, yes they would.  I 'd just drop out, and they 'd forget about me.
And you 'd have that pile to enjoy life with!"

Blake thought it over, ponderously, point by point.  For not one
fraction of a second could he countenance the thought of surrendering
Binhart.  Yet he wanted both his prisoner and his prisoner's haul; he
wanted his final accomplishment to be complete.

"But how 'd we ever handle the deal?" prompted the tired-bodied man on
the burro.

"You remember a woman called Elsie Verriner?"

"Yes," acknowledged Blake, with a pang of regret which he could not
fathom, at the mention of the name.

"Well, we could fix it through her."

"Does Elsie Verriner know where that pile is?" the detective inquired.
His withered hulk of a body was warmed by a slow glow of anticipation.
There was a woman, he remembered, whom he could count on swinging to
his own ends.

"No, but she could get it," was Binhart's response.

"And what good would that do _me_?"

"The two of us could go up to New Orleans.  We could slip in there
without any one being the wiser.  She could meet us.  She 'd bring the
stuff with her.  Then, when you had the pile in your hand, I could just
fade off the map."

Blake rode on again in silence.

"All right," he said at last.  "I 'm willing."

"Then how 'll you prove it?  How 'd I know you 'd make good?" demanded
Binhart.

"That's not up to me!  You're the man that's got to make good!" was
Blake's retort.

"But you 'll give me the chance?" half pleaded his prisoner.

"Sure!" replied Blake, as they rode on again.  He was wondering how
many more miles of hell he would have to ride through before he could
rest.  He felt that he would like to sleep for days, for weeks, without
any thought of where to-morrow would find him or the next day would
bring him.

It was late that day as they climbed up out of a steaming valley into
higher ground that Binhart pulled up and studied Blake's face.

"Jim, you look like a sick man to me!" he declared.  He said it without
exultation; but there was a new and less passive timber to his voice.

"I 've been feeling kind o' mean this last day or two," confessed
Blake.  His own once guttural voice was plaintive, as he spoke.  It was
almost a quavering whine.

"Had n't we better lay up for a few days?" suggested Binhart.

"Lay up nothing!" cried Blake, and he clenched that determination by an
outburst of blasphemous anger.  But he secretly took great doses of
quinin and drank much native liquor.  He fought against a mental
lassitude which he could not comprehend.  Never before had that ample
machinery of the body failed him in an emergency.  Never before had he
known an illness that a swallow or two of brandy and a night's rest
could not scatter to the four winds.  It bewildered him to find his
once capable frame rebelling against its tasks.  It left him dazed, as
though he had been confronted by the sudden and gratuitous treachery of
a life-long servant.

He grew more irritable, more fanciful.  He changed guides at the next
native village, fearing that Binhart might have grown too intimate with
the old ones.  He was swayed by an ever-increasing fear of intrigues.
He coerced his flagging will into a feverish watchfulness.  He became
more arbitrary in his movements and exactions.  When the chance came,
he purchased a repeating Lee-Enfield rifle, which he packed across his
sweating back on the trail and slept with under his arm at night.  When
a morning came when he was too weak and ill to get up, he lay back on
his grass couch, with his rifle across his knees, watching Binhart,
always watching Binhart.

He seemed to realize that his power was slipping away, and he brooded
on some plan for holding his prisoner, on any plan, no matter what it
might cost.

He even pretended to sleep, to the end that Binhart might make an
effort to break away--and be brought down with a bullet.  He prayed
that Binhart would try to go, would give him an excuse for the last
move would leave the two of them lying there together.  Even to perish
there side by side, foolishly, uselessly, seemed more desirable than
the thought that Binhart might in the end get away.  He seemed
satisfied that the two of them should lie there, for all time, each
holding the other down, like two embattled stags with their horns
inextricably locked.  And he waited there, nursing his rifle, watching
out of sullenly feverish eyes, marking each movement of the
passive-faced Binhart.

But Binhart, knowing what he knew, was content to wait.

He was content to wait until the fever grew, and the poisons of the
blood narcotized the dulled brain into indifference, and then goaded it
into delirium.  Then, calmly equipping himself for his journey, he
buried the repeating rifle and slipped away in the night, carrying with
him Blake's quinin and revolver and pocket-filter.  He traveled
hurriedly, bearing southeast towards the San Juan.  Four days later he
reached the coast, journeyed by boat to Bluefields, and from that port
passed on into the outer world, where time and distance swallowed him
up, and no sign of his whereabouts was left behind.



XVII

It was six weeks later that a slender-bodied young Nicaraguan known as
Doctor Alfonso Sedeno (his right to that title resulting from four
years of medical study in Paris) escorted into Bluefields the flaccid
and attenuated shadow of Never-Fail Blake.  Doctor Sedeno explained to
the English shipping firm to whom he handed over his patient that the
Señor Americano had been found in a dying condition, ten miles from the
camp of the rubber company for which he acted as surgeon.  The Señor
Americano was apparently a prospector who had been deserted by his
partner.  He had been very ill.  But a few days of complete rest would
restore him.  The sea voyage would also help.  In the meantime, if the
shipping company would arrange for credit from the hotel, the matter
would assuredly be put right, later on, when the necessary despatches
had been returned from New York.

For three weeks of torpor Blake sat in the shadowy hotel, watching the
torrential rains that deluged the coast.  Then, with the help of a
cane, he hobbled from point to point about the town, quaveringly
inquiring for any word of his lost partner.  He wandered listlessly
back and forth, mumbling out a description of the man he sought,
holding up strangers with his tremulous-noted inquiries, peering with
weak and watery eyes into any quarter that might house a fugitive.  But
no hint or word of Binhart was to be gleaned from those wanderings, and
at the end of a week he boarded a fruit steamer bound for Kingston.

His strength came back to him slowly during that voyage, and when he
landed at Kingston he was able to walk without a stick.  At Kingston,
too, his draft on New York was finally honored.  He was able to creep
out to Constant Spring, to buy new clothes, to ride in a carriage when
he chose, to eat a white man's food again.  The shrunken body under the
flaccid skin slowly took on some semblance of its former ponderosity,
the watery eyes slowly lost their dead and vapid stare.

And with increase of strength came a corresponding increase of mental
activity.  All day long he kept turning things over in his tired brain.
Hour by silent hour he would ponder the problem before him.  It was
more rumination than active thought.  Yet up from the stagnating depths
of his brooding would come an occasional bubble of inspiration.

Binhart, he finally concluded, had gone north.  It was the natural
thing to do.  He would go where his haul was hidden away.  Sick of
unrest, he would seek peace.  He would fall a prey to man's consuming
hunger to speak with his own kind again.  Convinced that his enemy was
not at his heels, he would hide away somewhere in his own country.  And
once reasonably assured that this enemy had died as he had left him to
die, Binhart would surely remain in his own land, among his own people.

Blake had no proof of this.  He could not explain why he accepted it as
fact.  He merely wrote it down as one of his hunches.  And with his
old-time faith in the result of that subliminal reasoning, he counted
what remained of his money, paid his bills, and sailed from Kingston
northward as a steerage passenger in a United Fruit steamer bound for
Boston.

As he had expected, he landed at this New England port without
detection, without recognition.  Six hours later he stepped off a train
in New York.

He passed out into the streets of his native city like a ghost emerging
from its tomb.  There seemed something spectral in the very chill of
the thin northern sunlight, after the opulent and oppressive heat of
the tropics.  A gulf of years seemed to lie between him and the
actualities so close to him.  A desolating sense of loneliness kept
driving him into the city's noisier and more crowded drinking-places,
where, under the lash of alcohol, he was able to wear down his hot ache
of deprivation into a dim and dreary regretfulness.  Yet the very faces
about him still remained phantasmal.  The commonplaces of street life
continued to take on an alien aspect.  They seemed vague and far away,
as though viewed through a veil.  He felt that the world had gone on,
and in going on had forgotten him.  Even the scraps of talk, the talk
of his own people, fell on his ear with a strange sound.

He found nothing companionable in that cañon of life and movement known
as Broadway.  He stopped to stare with haggard and wistful eyes at a
theater front buoyed with countless electric bulbs, remembering the
proud moment when he had been cheered in a box there, for in his
curtain-speech the author of the melodrama of crime being presented had
confessed that the inspiration and plot of his play had come from that
great detective, Never-Fail Blake.

He drifted on down past the cafés and restaurants where he had once
dined and supped so well, past the familiar haunts where the appetite
of the spirit for privilege had once been as amply fed as the appetite
of the body for food.  He sought out the darker purlieus of the lower
city, where he had once walked as a king and dictated dead-lines and
distributed patronage.  He drifted into the underworld haunts where his
name had at one time been a terror.  But now, he could see, his
approach no longer resulted in that discreet scurry to cover, that
feverish scuttling away for safety, which marks the blacksnake's
progress through a gopher-village.

When he came to Center Street, at the corner of Broome, he stopped and
blinked up at the great gray building wherein he had once held sway.
He stood, stoop-shouldered and silent, staring at the green lamps, the
green lamps of vigilance that burned as a sign to the sleeping city.

He stood there for some time, unrecognized, unnoticed, watching the
platoons of broad-chested "flatties" as they swung out and off to their
midnight patrols, marking the plainly clad "elbows" as they passed
quietly up and down the great stone steps.  He thought of Copeland, and
the Commissioner, and of his own last hour at Headquarters.  And then
his thoughts went on to Binhart, and the trail that had been lost, and
the task that stood still ahead of him.  And with that memory awakened
the old sullen fires, the old dogged and implacable determination.

In the midst of those reviving fires a new thought was fixed; the
thought that Binhart's career was in some way still involved with that
of Elsie Verriner.  If any one knew of Binhart's whereabouts, he
remembered, it would surely be this woman, this woman on whom, he
contended, he could still hold the iron hand of incrimination.  The
first move would be to find her.  And then, at any cost, the truth must
be wrung from her.

Never-Fail Blake, from the obscure down-town hotel, into which he crept
like a sick hound shunning the light, sent out his call for Elsie
Verriner.  He sent his messages to many and varied quarters, feeling
sure that some groping tentacle of inquiry would eventually come in
touch with her.

Yet the days dragged by, and no answer came back to him.  He chafed
anew at this fresh evidence that his power was a thing of the past,
that his word was no longer law.  He burned with a sullen and
self-consuming anger, an anger that could be neither expressed in
action nor relieved in words.

Then, at the end of a week's time, a note came from Elsie Verriner.  It
was dated and postmarked "Washington," and in it she briefly explained
that she had been engaged in Departmental business, but that she
expected to be in New York on the following Monday.  Blake found
himself unreasonably irritated by a certain crisp assurance about this
note, a certain absence of timorousness, a certain unfamiliar tone of
independence.  But he could afford to wait, he told himself.  His hour
would come, later on.  And when that hour came, he would take a crimp
out of this calm-eyed woman, or the heavens themselves would fall!  And
finding further idleness unbearable, he made his way to a
drinking-place not far from that juncture of First Street and the
Bowery, known as Suicide Corner.  In this new-world _Cabaret de Neant_
he drowned his impatience of soul in a Walpurgis Night of five-cent
beer and fusel-oil whiskey.  But his time would come, he repeated
drunkenly, as he watched with his haggard hound's eyes the meretricious
and tragic merriment of the revelers about him--his time would come!



XVIII

Blake did not look up as he heard the door open and the woman step into
the room.  There was an echo of his old-time theatricalism in that
dissimulation of stolid indifference.  But the old-time stage-setting,
he knew, was no longer there.  Instead of sitting behind an oak desk at
Headquarters, he was staring down at a beer-stained card-table in the
dingy back room of a dingy downtown hotel.

He knew the woman had closed the door and crossed the room to the other
side of the card-table, but still he did not look up at her.  The
silence lengthened until it became acute, epochal, climactic.

"You sent for me?" his visitor finally said.

And as Elsie Verriner uttered the words he was teased by a vague sense
that the scene had happened before, that somewhere before in their
lives it had been duplicated, word by word and move by move.

"Sit down," he said with an effort at the gruffness of assured
authority.  But the young woman did not do as he commanded.  She
remained still standing, and still staring down at the face of the man
in front of her.

So prolonged was this stare that Blake began to be embarrassingly
conscious of it, to fidget under it.  When he looked up he did so
circuitously, pretending to peer beyond the white face and the staring
eyes of the young woman confronting him.  Yet she ultimately coerced
his unsteady gaze, even against his own will.  And as he had expected,
he saw written on her face something akin to horror.

As he, in turn, stared back at her, and in her eyes saw first
incredulity, and then, what stung him more, open pity itself, it came
home to him that he must indeed have altered for the worse, that his
face and figure must have changed.  For the first time it flashed over
him: he was only the wreck of the man he had once been.  Yet at the
core of that wreck burned the old passion for power, the ineradicable
appetite for authority.  He resented the fact that she should feel
sorry for him.  He inwardly resolved to make her suffer for that pity,
to enlighten her as to what life was still left in the battered old
carcass which she could so openly sorrow over.

"Well, I 'm back," he announced in his guttural bass, as though to
bridge a silence that was becoming abysmal.

"Yes, you 're back!" echoed Elsie Verriner.  She spoke absently, as
though her mind were preoccupied with a problem that seemed
inexplicable.

"And a little the worse for wear," he pursued, with his mirthless croak
of a laugh.  Then he flashed up at her a quick look of resentment, a
look which he found himself unable to repress.  "While you're all
dolled up," he said with a snort, as though bent on wounding her,
"dolled up like a lobster palace floater!"

It hurt him more than ever to see that he could not even dethrone that
fixed look of pity from her face, that even his abuse could not thrust
aside her composure.

"I 'm not a lobster palace floater," she quietly replied.  "And you
know it."

"Then what are you?" he demanded.

"I 'm a confidential agent of the Treasury Department," was her
quiet-toned answer.

"Oho!" cried Blake.  "So that's why we 've grown so high and mighty!"

The woman sank into the chair beside which she had been standing.  She
seemed impervious to his mockery.

"What do you want me for?" she asked, and the quick directness of her
question implied not so much that time was being wasted on side issues
as that he was cruelly and unnecessarily demeaning himself in her eyes.

It was then that Blake swung about, as though he, too, were anxious to
sweep aside the trivialities that stood between him and his end, as
though he, too, were conscious of the ignominy of his own position.

"You know where I 've been and what I 've been doing!" he suddenly
cried out.

"I 'm not positive that I do," was the woman's guarded answer.

"That's a lie!" thundered Blake.  "You know as well as I do!"

"What have you been doing?" asked the woman, almost indulgently.

"I 've been trailing Binhart, and you know it!  And what's more, you
know where Binhart is, now, at this moment!"

"What was it you wanted me for?" reiterated the white-faced woman,
without looking at him.

Her evasions did more than anger Blake; they maddened him.  For years
now he had been compelled to face her obliquities, to puzzle over the
enigma of her ultimate character, and he was tired of it all.  He made
no effort to hold his feelings in check.  Even into his voice crept
that grossness which before had seemed something of the body alone.

"I want to know where Binhart is!" he cried, leaning forward so that
his head projected pugnaciously from his shoulders like the head of a
fighting-cock.

"Then you have only wasted time in sending for me," was the woman's
obdurate answer.  Yet beneath her obduracy was some vague note of
commiseration which he could not understand.

"I want that man, and I 'm going to get him," was Blake's impassioned
declaration.  "And before you get out of this room you 're going to
tell me where he is!"

She met his eyes, studiously, deliberately, as though it took a great
effort to do so.  Their glances seemed to close in and lock together.

"Jim!" said the woman, and it startled him to see that there were
actual tears in her eyes.  But he was determined to remain superior to
any of her subterfuges.  His old habit returned to him, the old habit
of "pounding" a prisoner.  He knew that one way to get at the meat of a
nut was to smash the nut.  And in all his universe there seemed only
one issue and one end, and that was to find his trail and get his man.
So he cut her short with his quick volley of abuse.

"I 've got your number, Elsie Verriner, alias Chaddy Cravath," he
thundered out, bringing his great withered fist down on the table top.
"I 've got every trick you ever turned stowed away in cold storage.  I
've got 'em where they 'll keep until the cows come home.  I don't care
whether you 're a secret agent or a Secretary of War.  There 's only
one thing that counts with me now.  And I 'm going to win out.  I 'm
going to win out, in the end, no matter what it costs.  If you try to
block me in this I 'll put you where you belong.  I 'll drag you down
until you squeal like a cornered rat.  I 'll put you so low you 'll
never even stand up again!"

The woman leaned a little forward, staring into his eyes.

"I did n't expect this of you, Jim," she said.  Her voice was tremulous
as she spoke, and still again he could see on her face that odious and
unfathomable pity.

"There 's lots of things were n't expected of me.  But I 'm going to
surprise you all.  I 'm going to get what I 'm after or I 'm going to
put you where I ought to have put you two years ago!"

"Jim," said the woman, white-lipped hut compelling herself to calmness,
"don't go on like this!  Don't!  You're only making it worse, every
minute!"

"Making what worse?" demanded Blake.

"The whole thing.  It was a mistake, from the first.  I could have told
you that.  But you did then what you 're trying to do now.  And see
what you 've lost by it!"

"What have I lost by it?"

"You 've lost everything," she answered, and her voice was thin with
misery.  "Everything--just as they counted on your doing, just as they
expected!"

"As who expected?"

"As Copeland and the others expected when they sent you out on a blind
trail."

"I was n't sent out on a blind trail."

"But you found nothing when you went out.  Surely you remember that."

It seemed like going back to another world to another life, as he sat
there coercing his memory to meet the past, the abysmal and embittered
past which he had grown to hate.

"Are you trying to say this Binhart case was a frame up?" he suddenly
cried out.

"They wanted you out of the way.  It was the only trick they could
think of."

"That's a lie!" declared Blake.

"It's not a lie.  They knew you 'd never give up.  They even
handicapped you--started you wrong, to be sure it would take time, to
be positive of a clear field."

Blake stared at her, almost stupidly.  His mind was groping about,
trying to find some adequate motive for this new line of duplicity.  He
kept warning himself that she was not to be trusted.  Human beings, all
human beings, he had found, moved only by indirection.  He was too old
a bird to have sand thrown in his eyes.

"Why, you welched on Binhart yourself.  You put me on his track.  You
sent me up to Montreal!"

"They made me do that," confessed the unhappy woman.  "He was n't in
Montreal.  He never had been there!"

"You had a letter from him there, telling you to come to 881 King
Edward when the coast was clear."

"That letter was two years old.  It was sent from a room in the King
Edward Hotel.  That was part of their plant."

He sat for a long time thinking it over, point by point.  He became
disturbed by a sense of instability in the things that had once seemed
most enduring, the sickening cataclysmic horror of a man who finds the
very earth under his feet shaken by its earthquake.  His sodden face
appeared to age even as he sat there laboriously reliving the past, the
past that seemed suddenly empty and futile.

"So you sold me out!" he finally said, studying her white face with his
haggard hound's eyes.

"I could n't help it, Jim.  You forced it on me.  You wouldn't give me
the chance to do anything else.  I wanted to help you--but you held me
off.  You put the other thing before my friendship!"

"What do _you_ know about friendship?" cried the gray-faced man.

"We were friends once," answered the woman, ignoring the bitter mockery
in his cry.

He stared at her, untouched by the note of pathos in her voice.  There
was something abstracted about his stare, as though his mind had not
yet adjusted itself to a vast new discovery.  His inner vision seemed
dazzled, just as the eye itself may be dazzled by unexpected light.

"So you sold me out!" he said for a third time.  He did not move, but
under that lava-like shell of diffidence were volcanic and coursing
fires which even he himself could not understand.

"Jim, I would have done anything for you, once," went on the unhappy
woman facing him.  "You could have saved me--from him, from myself.
But you let the chance slip away.  I couldn't go on.  I saw where it
would end.  So I had to save myself.  I had to save myself--in the only
way I could.  Oh, Jim, if you 'd only been kinder!"

She sat with her head bowed, ashamed of her tears, the tears which he
could not understand.  He stared at her great crown of carefully coiled
and plaited hair, shining in the light of the unshaded electric-bulb
above them.  It took him back to other days when he had looked at it
with other eyes.  And a comprehension of all he had lost crept slowly
home to him.  Poignant as was the thought that she had seemed beautiful
to him and he might have once possessed her, this thought was
obliterated by the sudden memory that in her lay centered everything
that had caused his failure.  She had been the weak link in his life,
the life which he had so wanted to crown with success.

"You welcher!" he suddenly gasped, as he continued to stare at her.
His very contemplation of her white face seemed to madden him.  In it
he seemed to find some signal and sign of his own dissolution, of his
lost power, of his outlived authority.  In her seemed to abide the
reason for all that he had endured.  To have attained to a
comprehension of her own feelings was beyond him.  Even the effort to
understand them would have been a contradiction of his whole career.
She only angered him.  And the hot anger that crept through his body
seemed to smoke out of some inner recess of his being a hate that was
as unreasonable as it was animal-like.  All the instincts of existence,
in that moment, reverted to life's one primordial problem, the problem
of the fighting man to whom every other man must be an opponent, the
problem of the feral being, as to whether it should kill or be killed.

Into that unreasoning blind rage flared all the frustration of months,
of years, all the disappointments of all his chase, all the defeat of
all his career.  Even as she sat there in her pink and white frailty
she knew and nursed the secret for which he had girdled the world.  He
felt that he must tear it from her, that he must crush it out of her
body as the pit is squeezed from a cherry.  And the corroding part of
it was that he had been outwitted by a woman, that he was being defied
by a physical weakling, a slender-limbed thing of ribbons and laces
whose back he could bend and break across his great knee.

He lurched forward to his feet.  His great crouching body seemed drawn
towards her by some slow current which he could not control.

"Where's Binhart?" he suddenly gasped, and the explosive tensity of
that wheezing cry caused her to look up, startled.  He swayed toward
her as she did so, swept by some power not his own.  There was
something leonine in his movement, something leonine in his snarl as he
fell on her.  He caught her body in his great arms and shook it.  He
moved without any sense of movement, without any memory of it.

"Where 's Binhart?" he repeated, foolishly, for by this time his great
hand had closed on her throat and all power of speech was beyond her.
He swung her about and bore her back across the table.  She did not
struggle.  She lay there so passive in his clutch that a dull pride
came to him at the thought of his own strength.  This belated sense of
power seemed to intoxicate him.  He was swept by a blind passion to
crush, to obliterate.  It seemed as though the rare and final moment
for the righting of vast wrongs, for the ending of great injustices,
were at hand.  His one surprise was that she did not resist him, that
she did not struggle.

From side to side he twisted and flailed her body about, in his
madness, gloating over her final subserviency to his will, marveling
how well adapted for attack was this soft and slender column of the
neck, on which his throttling fingers had fastened themselves.
Instinctively they had sought out and closed on that slender column,
guided to it by some ancestral propulsion, by some heritage of the
brute.  It was made to get a grip on, a neck like that!  And he grunted
aloud, with wheezing and voluptuous grunts of gratification, as he saw
the white face alter and the wide eyes darken with terror.  He was
making her suffer.  He was no longer enveloped by that mild and
tragically inquiring stare that had so discomforted him.  He was no
longer stung by the thought that she was good to look on, even with her
head pinned down against a beer-stained card-table.  He was converting
her into something useless and broken, into something that could no
longer come between him and his ends.  He was completely and finally
humiliating her.  He was breaking her.  He was converting her into
something corrupt. . . .  Then his pendulous throat choked with a
falsetto gasp of wonder.  _He was killing her_!

Then, as suddenly as it had come, the smoke of that mental explosion
seemed to clear away.  Even as he gaped into the white face so close to
his own he awoke to reason.  The consciousness of how futile, of how
odious, of how maniacal, it all was swept over him.  He had fallen low,
but he had never dreamed that he could fall so low as this.

A reaction of physical nausea left him weak and dizzy.  The flexor
muscles of his fingers relaxed.  An ague of weakness crept through his
limbs.  A vertiginous faintness brought him half tumbling and half
rolling back into his chair, wheezing and moist with sweat.  He sat
there looking about him, like a sheep killer looking up from the ewe it
has captured.

Then his great chest heaved and shook with hysterical sobbing.  When, a
little later, he heard the shaken woman's antiphonal sobs, the
realization of how low he had fallen kept him from looking at her.  A
great shame possessed him.  He stumbled out of the room.  He groped his
way down to the open streets, a haggard and broken man from whom life
had wrung some final hope of honor.



XIX

No catastrophe that was mental in its origin could oppress for long a
man so essentially physical as Blake.  For two desolate hours, it is
true, he wandered about the streets of the city, struggling to medicine
his depression of the mind by sheer weariness of the body.  Then the
habit of a lifetime of activity reasserted itself.  He felt the need of
focusing his resentment on something tangible and material.  And as a
comparative clarity of vision returned to him there also came back
those tendencies of the instinctive fighter, the innate protest against
injustice, the revolt against final surrender, the forlorn claim for at
least a fighting chance.  And with the thought of his official downfall
came the thought of Copeland and what Copeland had done to him.

Out of that ferment of futile protest arose one sudden decision.  Even
before he articulated the decision he found it unconsciously swaying
his movements and directing his steps.  He would go and see Copeland!
He would find that bloodless little shrimp and put him face to face
with a few plain truths.  He would confront that anemic
Deputy-Commissioner and at least let him know what one honest man
thought of him.

Even when Blake stood before Copeland's brownstone-fronted house, the
house that seemed to wear a mask of staid discretion in every drawn
blind and gloomy story, no hesitation came to him.  His naturally
primitive mind foresaw no difficulties in that possible encounter.  He
knew it was late, that it was nearly midnight, but even that did not
deter him.  The recklessness of utter desperation was on him.  His
purpose was something that transcended the mere trivialities of
every-day intercourse.  And he must see him.  To confront Copeland
became essential to his scheme of things.

He went ponderously up the brown stone steps and rang the bell.  He
waited patiently until his ring was answered.  It was some time before
the door swung open.  Inside that door Blake saw a solemn-eyed servant
in a black spiked-tailed service-coat and gray trousers.

"I want to see Mr. Copeland," was Blake's calmly assured announcement.

"Mr. Copeland is not at home," answered the man in the service-coat.
His tone was politely impersonal.  His face, too, was impassive.  But
one quick glance seemed to have appraised the man on the doorstep, to
have judged him, and in some way to have found him undesirable.

"But this is important," said Blake.

"I'm sorry, sir," answered, the impersonal-eyed servant.  Blake made an
effort to keep himself in perfect control.  He knew that his unkempt
figure had not won the good-will of that autocratic hireling.

"I 'm from Police Headquarters," the man on the doorstep explained,
with the easy mendacity that was a heritage of his older days.

He produced the one official card that remained with him, the one worn
and dog-eared and once water-soaked Deputy-Commissioner's card which
still remained in his dog-eared wallet.  "I 've got to see him on
business, Departmental business!"

"Mr. and Mrs. Copeland are at the Metropolitan, sir," explained the
servant.  "At the Opera.  And they are not back yet."

"Then I 'll wait for him," announced Blake, placated by the humbler
note in the voice of the man in the service-coat.

"Very good, sir," announced the servant.  And he led the way upstairs,
switching on the electrics as he went.

Blake found himself in what seemed to be a library.  About this softly
hung room he peered with an acute yet heavy disdain, with an
indeterminate envy which he could not control.  It struck him as being
feminine and over fine, that shadowy room with all its warm hangings
and polished wood.  It stood for a phase of life with which he had no
patience.  And he kept telling himself that it had not been come by
honestly, that on everything about him, from the silver desk ornaments
to the marble bust glimmering out of its shadowy background, he himself
had some secret claim.  He scowled up at a number of signed etchings
and a row of diminutive and heavily framed canvases, scowled up at them
with quick contempt.  Then he peered uncomfortably about at the shelves
of books, mottled streaks of vellum and morocco stippled with gold,
crowded pickets of soft-lettered color which seemed to stand between
him and a world which he had never cared to enter.  It was a foolish
world, that world of book reading, a lackadaisical region of unreality,
a place for women and children, but never meant for a man with a man's
work to do.

His stolidly contemptuous eyes were still peering about the room when
the door opened and closed again.  There was something so
characteristically guarded and secretive in the movement that Blake
knew it was Copeland even before he let his gaze wheel around to the
newcomer.  About the entire figure, in fact, he could detect that
familiar veiled wariness, that enigmatic and self-concealing
cautiousness which had always had the power to touch him into a quick
irritation.

"Mr. Blake, I believe," said Copeland, very quietly.  He was in full
evening dress.  In one hand he held a silk hat and over one arm hung a
black top-coat.  He held himself in perfect control, in too perfect
control, yet his thin face was almost ashen in color, almost the
neutral-tinted gray of a battle-ship's side-plates.  And when he spoke
it was with the impersonal polite unction with which he might have
addressed an utter stranger.

"You wished to see me!" he said, as his gaze fastened itself on Blake's
figure.  The fact that he remained standing imparted a tentativeness to
the situation.  Yet his eyes remained on Blake, studying him with the
cold and mildly abstracted curiosity with which he might view a mummy
in its case.

"I do!" said Blake, without rising from his chair.

"About what?" asked Copeland.  There was an acidulated crispness in his
voice which hinted that time might be a matter of importance to him.

"You know what it's about, all right," was Blake's heavy retort.

"On the contrary," said Copeland, putting down his hat and coat, "I 'm
quite in the dark as to how I can be of service to you."

Both his tone and his words angered Blake, angered him unreasonably.
But he kept warning himself to wait, to hold himself in until the
proper moment arrived.

"I expect no service from you," was Blake's curtly guttural response.
He croaked out his mirthless ghost of a laugh.  "You 've taught me
better than that!"

Copeland, for all his iciness, seemed to resent the thrust.

"We have always something to learn," retorted, meeting Blake's stolid
stare enmity.

"I guess I've learned enough!" said Blake.

"Then I hope it has brought you what you are looking for!"  Copeland,
as he spoke, stepped over to a chair, but he still remained on his feet.

"No, it has n't brought me what I 'm after," said the other man.  "Not
yet!  But it's going to, in the end, Mr. Copeland, or I 'm going to
know the reason why!"

He kept warning himself to be calm, yet he found his voice shaking a
little as he spoke.  The time was not yet ripe for his outbreak.  The
climactic moment was still some distance away.  But he could feel it
emerging from the mist just as a pilot sights the bell-buoy that marks
his changing channel.

"Then might I ask what you are after?" inquired Copeland.  He folded
his arms, as though to fortify himself behind a pretense of
indifferency.

"You know what I 've been after, just as I know what you 've been
after," cried Blake.  "You set out to get my berth, and you got it.
And I set out to get Binhart, to get the man your whole push could n't
round up--and I 'm going to get him!"

"Blake," said Copeland, very quietly, "you are wrong in both instances."

"Am I!"

"You are," was Copeland's answer, and he spoke with a studious patience
which his rival resented even more than his open enmity.  "In the first
place, this Binhart case is a closed issue."

"Not with me!" cried Blake, feeling himself surrendering to the tide
that had been tugging at him so long.  "They may be able to buy off you
cuff-shooters down at Headquarters.  They may grease your palm down
there, until you see it pays to keep your hands off.  They may pull a
rope or two and make you back down.  But nothing this side o' the gates
o' hell is going to make _me_ back down.  I began this man-hunt, and _I
'm going to end it_!"

He took on a dignity in his own eyes.  He felt that in the face of
every obstacle he was still the instrument of an ineluctable and
incorruptible Justice.  Uncouth and buffeted as his withered figure may
have been, it still represented the relentlessness of the Law.

"That man-hunt is out of our hands," he heard Copeland saying.

"But it's not out of _my_ hands!" reiterated the detective.

"Yes, it's out of your hands, too," answered Copeland.  He spoke with a
calm authority, with a finality, that nettled the other man.

"What are you driving at?" he cried out.

"This Binhart hunt is ended," repeated Copeland, and in the eyes
looking down at him Blake saw that same vague pity which had rested in
the gaze of Elsie Verriner.

"By God, it's not ended!" Blake thundered back at him.

"It is ended," quietly contended the other.  "And precisely as you have
put it--Ended by God!"

"It's what?" cried Blake.

"You don't seem to be aware of the fact, Blake, that Binhart is
dead--dead and buried!"

Blake stared up at him.

"Is what?" his lips automatically inquired.

"Binhart died seven weeks ago.  He died in the town of Toluca, out in
Arizona.  He's buried there."

"That's a lie!" cried Blake, sagging forward in his chair.

"We had the Phoenix authorities verify the report in every detail.
There is no shadow of doubt about it."

Still Blake stared up at the other man.

"I don't believe it," he wheezed.

Copeland did not answer him.  He stepped to the end of the desk and
with his scholarly white finger touched a mother-of-pearl bell button.
Utter silence reigned in the room until the servant answered his
summons.

"Bridley, go to my secretary and bring me the portfolio in the second
drawer."

Blake heard and yet did not hear the message.  A fog-like sense of
unreality seemed to drape everything about him.  The earth itself
seemed to crumble away and leave him poised alone in the very emptiness
of space.  Binhart was dead!

He could hear Copeland's voice far away.  He could see the returning
figure of the servant, but it seemed as gray and ghostlike as the
entire room about him.  In his shaking fingers he took the official
papers which Copeland handed over to him.  He could read the words, he
could see the signatures, but they seemed unable to impart any
clear-cut message to his brain.  His dazed eyes wandered over the
newspaper clippings which Copeland thrust into his unsteady fingers.
There, too, was the same calamitous proclamation, as final as though he
had been reading it on a tombstone.  Binhart was dead!  Here were the
proofs of it; here was an authentic copy of the death certificate, the
reports of the police verification; here in his hands were the final
and indisputable proofs.

But he could not quite comprehend it.  He tried to tell himself it was
only that his old-time enemy was playing some new trick on him, a trick
which he could not quite fathom.  Then the totality of it all swept
home to him, swept through his entire startled being as a tidal-wave
sweeps over a coast-shoal.

Blake, in his day, had known desolation, but it had seldom been
desolation of spirit.  It had never been desolation like this.  He
tried to plumb it, to its deepest meaning, but consciousness seemed to
have no line long enough.  He only knew that his world had ended.  He
saw himself as the thing that life had at last left him--a solitary and
unsatisfied man, a man without an aim, without a calling, without
companionship.

"So this ends the music!" he muttered, as he rose weakly to his feet.
And yet it was more than the end of the music, he had to confess to
himself.  It was the collapse of the instruments, the snapping of the
last string.  It was the ultimate end, the end that proclaimed itself
as final as the stabbing thought of his own death itself.

He heard Copeland asking if he would care for a glass of sherry.
Whether he answered that query or not he never knew.  He only knew that
Binhart was dead, and that he himself was groping his way out into the
night, a broken and desolate man.



XX

Several days dragged away before Blake's mental clarity returned to
him.  Then block by unstable block he seemed to rebuild a new world
about him, a new world which was both narrow and empty.  But it at
least gave him something on which to plant his bewildered feet.

That slow return to the substantialities of life was in the nature of a
convalescence.  It came step by languid step; he knew no power to hurry
it.  And as is so often the case with convalescents, he found himself
in a world from which time seemed to have detached him.  Yet as he
emerged from that earlier state of coma, his old-time instincts and
characteristics began to assert themselves.  Some deep-seated inner
spirit of dubiety began to grope about and question and challenge.  His
innate skepticism once more became active.  That tendency to cynical
unbelief which his profession had imposed upon him stubbornly
reasserted itself.  His career had crowned him with a surly
suspiciousness.  And about the one thing that remained vital to that
career, or what was left of it, these wayward suspicions arrayed
themselves like wolves, about a wounded stag.

His unquiet soul felt the need of some final and personal proof of
Binhart's death.  He asked for more data than had been given him.  He
wanted more information than the fact that Binhart, on his flight
north, had fallen ill of pneumonia in New Orleans, had wandered on to
the dry air of Arizona with a "spot" on his lungs, and had there
succumbed to the tubercular invasion for which his earlier sickness had
laid him open.  Blake's slowly awakening and ever-wary mind kept
telling him that after all there might be some possibility of trickery,
that a fugitive with the devilish ingenuity of Binhart would resort to
any means to escape being further harassed by the Law.

Blake even recalled, a few days later, the incident of the Shattuck
jewel-robbery, during the first weeks of his regime as a Deputy
Commissioner.  This diamond-thief named Shattuck had been arrested and
released under heavy bail.  Seven months later Shattuck's attorney had
appeared before the District Attorney's office with a duly executed
certificate of death, officially establishing the fact that his client
had died two weeks before in the city of Baltimore.  On this he had
based a demand for the dismissal of the case.  He had succeeded in
having all action stopped and the affair became, officially, a closed
incident.  Yet two months later Shattuck had been seen alive, and the
following winter had engaged in an Albany hotel robbery which had
earned for him, under an entirely different name, a nine-year sentence
in Sing Sing.

From the memory of that case Never-Fail Blake wrung a thin and ghostly
consolation.  The more he brooded over it the more morosely disquieted
he became.  The thing grew like a upas tree; it spread until it
obsessed all his waking hours and invaded even his dreams.  Then a time
came when he could endure it no more.  He faced the necessity of
purging his soul of all uncertainty.  The whimpering of one of his
unkenneled "hunches" merged into what seemed an actual voice of
inspiration to him.

He gathered together what money he could; he arranged what few matters
still remained to engage his attention, going about the task with that
valedictory solemnity with which the forlornly decrepit execute their
last will and testament.  Then, when everything was prepared, he once
more started out on the trail.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Two weeks later a rough and heavy-bodied man, garbed in the rough
apparel of a mining prospector, made his way into the sun-steeped town
of Toluca.  There he went quietly to the wooden-fronted hotel, hired a
pack-mule and a camp-outfit and made purchase, among other things, of a
pick and shovel.  To certain of the men he met he put inquiries as to
the best trail out to the Buenavista Copper Camp.  Then, as he waited
for the camp-partner who was to follow him into Toluca, he drifted with
amiable and ponderous restlessness about the town, talking with the
telegraph operator and the barber, swapping yarns at the livery-stable
where his pack-mule was lodged, handing out cigars in the
wooden-fronted hotel, casually interviewing the town officials as to
the health of the locality and the death-rate of Toluca, acquainting
himself with the local undertaker and the lonely young doctor, and even
dropping in on the town officials and making inquiries about
main-street building lots and the need of a new hotel.

To all this amiable and erratic garrulity there seemed to be neither
direction nor significance.  But in one thing the town of Toluca
agreed; the ponderous-bodied old new-comer was a bit "queer" in his
head.

A time came, however, when the newcomer announced that he could wait no
longer for his belated camp-partner.  With his pack-mule and a pick and
shovel he set out, late one afternoon, for the Buenavista Camp.  Yet by
nightfall, for some strange reason, any one traveling that lonely trail
might have seen him returning towards Toluca.  He did not enter the
town, however, but skirted the outer fringe of sparsely settled houses
and guardedly made his way to a close-fenced area, in which neither
light nor movement could be detected.  This silent place awakened in
him no trace of either fear or repugnance.  With him he carried his
pick and shovel, and five minutes later the sound of this pick and
shovel might have been heard at work as the ponderous-bodied man
sweated over his midnight labor.  When he had dug for what seemed an
interminable length of time, he tore away a layer of pine boards and
released a double row of screw-heads.  Then he crouched low down in the
rectangular cavern which he had fashioned with his spade, struck a
match, and peered with a narrow-eyed and breathless intentness at what
faced him there.

One glance at that tragic mass of corruption was enough for him.  He
replaced the screw-heads and the pine boards.  He took up his shovel
and began restoring the earth, stolidly tramping it down, from time to
time, with his great weight.

When his task was completed he saw that everything was orderly and as
he had found it.  Then he returned to his tethered packmule and once
more headed for the Buenavista Camp, carrying with him a discovery
which made the night air as intoxicating as wine to his weary body.

Late that night a man might have been heard singing to the stars,
singing in the midst of the wilderness, without rhyme or reason.  And
in the midst of that wilderness he remained for another long day and
another long night, as though solitude were necessary to him, that he
might adjust himself to some new order of things, that he might digest
some victory which had been too much for his shattered nerves.

On the third day, as he limped placidly back into the town of Toluca,
his soul was torn between a great peace and a great hunger.  He hugged
to his breast the fact that somewhere in the world ahead of him a man
once known as Binhart still moved and lived.  He kept telling himself
that somewhere about the face of the globe that restless spirit whom he
sought still wandered.

Day by patient day, through the drought and heat and alkali of an
Arizona summer, he sought some clue, some inkling, of the direction
which that wanderer had taken.  But about Binhart and his movements,
Toluca and Phoenix and all Arizona itself seemed to know nothing.

Nothing, Blake saw in the end, remained to be discovered there.  So in
time the heavy-bodied man with the haggard hound's eyes took his leave,
passing out into the world which in turn swallowed him up as completely
as it had swallowed up his unknown enemy.



XXI

Three of the busiest portions of New York, varying with the various
hours of the day, may safely be said to lie in that neighborhood where
Nassau Street debouches into Park Row, and also near that point where
Twenty-third Street intercepts Fourth Avenue, and still again not far
from where Broadway and Fifth Avenue meet at the southeast corner of
Madison Square.

About these three points, at certain hours of the day and on certain
days of the week, an observant stranger might have noticed the
strangely grotesque figure of an old cement seller.  So often had this
old street-peddler duly appeared at his stand, from month to month,
that the hurrying public seemed to have become inured to the
grotesqueness of his appearance.  Seldom, indeed, did a face turn to
inspect him as he blinked out at the lighted street like a Pribiloff
seal blinking into an Arctic sun.  Yet it was only by a second or even
a third glance that the more inquisitive might have detected anything
arresting in that forlornly ruminative figure with the pendulous and
withered throat and cheek-flaps.

To the casual observer he was merely a picturesque old street-peddler,
standing like a time-stained statue beside a carefully arrayed exhibit
of his wares.  This exhibit, which invariably proved more interesting
than his own person, consisted of a frame of gas-piping in the form of
an inverted U.  From the top bar of this iron frame swung two heavy
pieces of leather cemented together.  Next to this coalesced leather
dangled a large Z made up of three pieces of plate glass stuck together
at the ends, and amply demonstrating the adhesive power of the
cementing mixture to be purchased there.

Next to the glass Z again were two rows of chipped and serrated plates
and saucers, plates and saucers of all kinds and colors, with holes
drilled in their edges, and held together like a suspended chain-gang
by small brass links.  At some time in its career each one of these
cups and saucers had been broken across or even shattered into
fragments.  Later, it had been ingeniously and patiently glued
together.  And there it and its valiant brothers in misfortune swung
together in a double row, with a cobblestone dangling from the bottom
plate, reminding the passing world of remedial beneficences it might
too readily forget, attesting to the fact that life's worst fractures
might in some way still be made whole.

Yet so impassively, so stolidly statuesque, did this figure stand
beside the gas-pipe that to all intents he might have been cemented to
the pavement with his own glue.  He seldom moved, once his frame had
been set up and his wares laid out.  When he did move it was only to
re-awaken the equally plethoric motion of his slowly oscillating links
of cemented glass and chinaware.  Sometimes, it is true, he disposed of
a phial of his cement, producing his bottle and receiving payment with
the absorbed impassivity of an automaton.

Huge as his figure must once have been, it now seemed, like his
gibbeted plates, all battered and chipped and over-written with the
marks of time.  Like his plates, too, he carried some valiant sense of
being still intact, still stubbornly united, still oblivious of every
old-time fracture, still bound up into personal compactness by some
power which defied the blows of destiny.

In all seasons, winter and summer, apparently, he wore a long and
loose-fitting overcoat.  This overcoat must once have been black, but
it had faded to a green so conspicuous that it made him seem like a
bronze figure touched with the mellowing _patina_ of time.

It was in the incredibly voluminous pockets of this overcoat that the
old peddler carried his stock in trade, paper-wrapped bottles of
different sizes, and the nickels and dimes and quarters of his daily
trafficking.  And as the streams of life purled past him, like water
past a stone, he seemed to ask nothing of the world on which he looked
out with such deep-set and impassive eyes.  He seemed content with his
lot.  He seemed to have achieved a Nirvana-like indifferency towards
all his kind.

Yet there were times, as he waited beside his stand, as lethargic as a
lobster in a fish-peddler's window, when his flaccid, exploring fingers
dug deeper into one of those capacious side-pockets and there came in
contact with two oddly shaped wristlets of polished steel.  At such
times his intent eyes would film, as the eyes of a caged eagle
sometimes do.  Sometimes, too, he would smile with the half-pensive
Castilian smile of an uncouth and corpulent Cervantes.

But as a rule his face was expressionless.  About the entire moss-green
figure seemed something faded and futile, like a street-lamp left
burning after sunrise.  At other times, as the patrolman on the beat
sauntered by in his authoritative blue stippled with its metal buttons,
the old peddler's watching eyes would wander wistfully after the
nonchalant figure.  At such times a meditative and melancholy
intentness would fix itself on the faded old face, and the stooping old
shoulders would even unconsciously heave with a sigh.

As a rule, however, the great green-clad figure with its fringe of
white hair--the fringe that stood blithely out from the faded hat brim
like the halo of some medieval saint on a missal--did not permit his
gaze to wander so far afield.

For, idle as that figure seemed, the brain behind it was forever
active, forever vigilant and alert.  The deep-set eyes under their lids
that hung as loose as old parchment were always fixed on the life that
flowed past them.  No face, as those eyes opened and closed like the
gills of a dying fish, escaped their inspection.  Every man who came
within their range of vision was duly examined and adjudicated.  Every
human atom of that forever ebbing and flowing tide of life had to pass
through an invisible screen of inspection, had in some intangible way
to justify itself as it proceeded on its unknown movement towards an
unknown end.  And on the loose-skinned and haggard face, had it been
studied closely enough, could have been seen a vague and wistful note
of expectancy, a guarded and muffled sense of anticipation.

Yet to-day, as on all other days, nobody stopped to study the old
cement-seller's face.  The pink-cheeked young patrolman, swinging back
on his beat, tattooed with his ash night-stick on the gas-pipe frame
and peered indifferently down at the battered and gibbeted crockery.

"Hello, Batty," he said as he set the exhibit oscillating with a push
of the knee.  "How 's business?"

"Pretty good," answered the patient and guttural voice.  But the eyes
that seemed as calm as a cow's eyes did not look at the patrolman as he
spoke.

He had nothing to fear.  He knew that he had his license.  He knew that
under the faded green of his overcoat was an oval-shaped
street-peddler's badge.  He also knew, which the patrolman did not,
that under the lapel of his inner coat was a badge of another shape and
design, the badge which season by season the indulgent new head of the
Detective Bureau extended to him with his further privilege of a
special officer's license.  For this empty honor "Batty" Blake--for as
"Batty" he was known to nearly all the cities of America--did an
occasional bit of "stooling" for the Central Office, a tip as to a
stray yeggman's return, a hint as to a "peterman's" activities in the
shopping crowds, a whisper that a till tapper had failed to respect the
Department's dead-lines.

Yet nobody took Batty Blake seriously.  It was said, indeed, that once,
in the old regime, he had been a big man in the Department.  But that
Department had known many changes, and where life is unduly active,
memory is apt to be unduly short.

The patrolman tapping on the gas-pipe arch with his idle night-stick
merely knew that Batty was placid and inoffensive, that he never
obstructed traffic and always carried a license-badge.  He knew that in
damp weather Batty limped and confessed that his leg pained him a bit,
from an old hurt he 'd had in the East.  And he had heard somewhere
that Batty was a sort of Wandering Jew, patroling the whole length of
the continent with his broken plates and his gas-pipe frame and his
glue-bottles, migrating restlessly from city to city, striking out as
far west as San Francisco, swinging round by Denver and New Orleans and
then working his way northward again up to St. Louis and Chicago and
Pittsburgh.

Remembering these things the idle young "flatty" turned and looked at
the green-coated and sunken-shouldered figure, touched into some rough
pity by the wordless pathos of an existence which seemed without aim or
reason.

"Batty, how long 're yuh going to peddle glue, anyway?" he suddenly
asked.

The glue-peddler, watching the crowds that drifted by him, did not
answer.  He did not even look about at his interrogator.

"D' yuh _have_ to do this?" asked the wide-shouldered youth in uniform.

"No," was the peddler's mild yet guttural response.

The other prodded with his night-stick against the capacious overcoat
pockets.  Then he laughed.

"I'll bet yuh 've got about forty dollars stowed away in there," he
mocked.  "Yuh have now, have n't yuh?"

"I don' know!" listlessly answered the sunken-shouldered figure.

"Then what 're yuh sellin' this stuff for, if it ain't for money?"
persisted the vaguely piqued youth.

"I don' know!" was the apathetic answer.

"Then who does?" inquired the indolent young officer, as he stood
humming and rocking on his heels and swinging his stick by its
wrist-thong.

The man known as Batty may or may not have been about to answer him.
His lips moved, but no sound came from them.  His attention,
apparently, was suddenly directed elsewhere.  For approaching him from
the east his eyes had made out the familiar figure of old McCooey, the
oldest plain-clothes man who still came out from Headquarters to "pound
the pavement."

And at almost the same time, approaching him from the west, he had
caught sight of another figure.

It was that of a dapper and thin-faced man who might have been anywhere
from forty to sixty years of age.  He walked, however, with a quick and
nervous step.  Yet the most remarkable thing about him seemed to be his
eyes.  They were wide-set and protuberant, like a bird's, as though
years of being hunted had equipped him with the animal-like faculty of
determining without actually looking back just who might be following
him.

Those alert and wide-set eyes, in fact, must have sighted McCooey at
the same time that he fell under the vision of the old cement seller.
For the dapper figure wheeled quietly and quickly about and stooped
down at the very side of the humming patrolman.  He stooped and
examined one of the peddler's many-fractured china plates.  He squinted
down at it as though it were a thing of intense interest to him.

As he stooped there the humming patrolman was the witness of a
remarkable and inexplicable occurrence.  From the throat of the
huge-shouldered peddler, not two paces away from him, he heard come a
hoarse and brutish cry, a cry strangely like the bawl and groan of a
branded range-cow.  At the same moment the gigantic green-draped figure
exploded into sudden activity.  He seemed to catapult out at the
stooping dapper figure, bearing it to the sidewalk with the sheer
weight of his unprovoked assault.

There the struggle continued.  There the two strangely diverse bodies
twisted and panted and writhed.  There the startlingly agile dapper
figure struggled to throw off his captor.  The arch of gas-pipe went
over.  Glue-bottles showered amid the shattered glass and crockery.
But that once placid-eyed old cement seller struck to the unoffending
man he had so promptly and so gratuitously attacked, stuck to him as
though he had been glued there with his own cement.  And before the
patrolman could tug the combatants apart, or even wedge an arm into the
fight, the exulting green-coated figure had his enemy on his back along
the curb, and, reaching down into his capacious pocket, drew out two
oddly shaped steel wristlets.  Forcing up his captive's arm, he
promptly snapped one steel wring on his own wrist, and one on the wrist
of the still prostrate man.

"What 're yuh tryin' to do?" demanded the amazed officer, still tugging
at the great figure holding down the smaller man.  In the encounter
between those two embattled enemies had lurked an intensity of passion
which he could not understand, which seemed strangely akin to insanity
itself.

It was only when McCooey pushed his way in through the crowd and put a
hand on his shoulder that the old cement seller slowly rose to his
feet.  He was still panting and blowing.  But as he lifted his face up
to the sky his body rumbled with a Jove-like sound that was not
altogether a cough of lungs overtaxed nor altogether a laugh of triumph.

"I got him!" he gasped.

About his once placid old eyes, which the hardened tear-ducts no longer
seemed able to drain of their moisture, was a look of exultation that
made the gathering street-crowd take him for a panhandler gone mad with
hunger.

"Yuh got _who_?" cried the indignant young officer, wheeling the bigger
man about on his feet.  As the cement seller, responding to that tug,
pivoted about, it was noticeable that the man to whom his wrist was
locked by the band of steel duly duplicated the movement.  He moved
when the other moved; he drew aside when the other drew aside, as
though they were now two parts of one organism.

"I got him!" calmly repeated the old street-peddler.

"Yuh got _who_?" demanded the still puzzled young patrolman, oblivious
of the quiescent light in the bewildered eyes of McCooey, close beside
him.

"Binhart!" answered Never-Fail Blake, with a sob.  "_I 've got
Binhart_!"





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