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Title: The Wire Tappers
Author: Stringer, Arthur
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.

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       Transcriber’s Notes can be found at the end of this eBook.



                      OTHER BOOKS BY MR. STRINGER

                           THE DOOR OF DREAD
                       THE MAN WHO COULDN’T SLEEP
                         THE HOUSE OF INTRIGUE
                               TWIN TALES
                            THE PRAIRIE WIFE
                           THE PRAIRIE MOTHER
                           THE PRAIRIE CHILD



[Illustration: Quite motionless, waiting over the sounder, bent the
woman]



                                  THE
                              WIRE TAPPERS

                                  _By_
                            ARTHUR STRINGER

                              INDIANAPOLIS
                       THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
                               PUBLISHERS



                         COPYRIGHT, 1906, 1922
                      BY THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY

               _Printed in the United States of America_

                                PRESS OF
                            BRAUNWORTH & CO
                           BOOK MANUFACTURERS
                            BROOKLYN, N. Y.



                           THE WIRE TAPPERS



                               CHAPTER I


The discharged prisoner hung back, blinking out at the strong sunlight
with preoccupied and unhappy eyes. When the way at last seemed clear he
thrust his hands deep in his pockets, and with an assumption of bravado
that seemed incongruous to the stern and thoughtful face, sauntered
toward Sixth Avenue.

At the corner, a crowd of idlers watched two workmen on a scaffolding,
cleaning the stone of Jefferson Market with a sand-blast. It was not
until he had forced his way in on one side of this crowd, and edged
circuitously out on the other, that he felt at ease with the world. It
was like dipping into a stream: it seemed to wash away something scarlet
and flaming. A more resolute touch of self-respect came back to him. The
square shoulders took on some old-time line of natural dignity. He was
of the world again.

He crossed Sixth Avenue with quicker steps, and then, smitten with the
pangs of sudden hunger, pushed his way into an oyster-bar on the next
street corner. With his reawakening to actualities came the question as
to what the next turn of the grim wheels of destiny would bring to him.
For, at heart, he was still sick and shaken and weak. It was his first
offense; and he felt the need of some obliterating stimulation. So, even
though the heavy odors of that transformed bar-room were as nauseating
as the mouldy gaol-smell he had left behind him, he calmly called for
coffee and a dozen raw. He ate the oysters as they were opened, between
gulps of the hot but rancid coffee. He next directed his attention to a
bowl of crackers, moistening them with catchup as he adroitly made away
with them.

It was not until then that he noticed the stranger beside him, looking
at him pointedly. This stranger was corpulent, and friendly enough of
face, but for the blocked squareness of the flaccid jaw and the
indefinite pale green glint of the deep-set, predatory eyes that shifted
from side to side under the fringe of grayish eyebrow, as though the
great neck were too vast a thing to be lightly troubled. He was floridly
dressed, the younger man noticed, with a heavy, chased-gold band on one
fat finger, and a claw-mounted diamond in the stud on his shirt-front.
There was, too, something beefily animal-like in the confident, massive
neck that refused readily to move, and in the square upthrust of the
great shoulder.

The discharged prisoner returned the other’s half-quizzical gaze of
inspection. He did so with a look that was unmistakably belligerent.
For, although they stood side by side, they were of two worlds, and the
prisoner was no longer a prisoner.

The stranger, unabashed, merely smiled, and leaned amiably against the
stool-lined counter.

“What’ll you have, Durkin?” he asked, easily.

The other man still glared at him, in silence. Thereupon the stranger
with the diamond stud thrust his hands deep down in his pockets, and
rocking on his heels, laughed confidently.

“Climb down, my boy, climb down!”

Durkin buttoned up his coat: the gesture was as significant as the
slamming of a door.

“Oh, smoke up, and have something with me!”

“Who _are_ you, anyway?” demanded Durkin, wheeling on him, jealous of
his momentary isolation.

“Me?—Oh, I was just keepin’ an eye on you, over yonder!” The stout man
jerked a thumb vaguely toward Jefferson Market, then turned to the
attendant.

“Slip us a nip o’ that London Dry o’ yours, Terry, with a plate o’ hot
beans and sandwiches. Yes, I was kind o’ lookin’ on, over there. You’re
up against it, aren’t you?”

“What do you mean by that?” asked the other, hungrily watching a leg of
boiled ham, from which the attendant was shaving dolefully thin slices.

“Here, brace up on a swig o’ Terry’s watered bootleg; then we can talk
easier. Hold on, though—it won’t cost us any more to get comfortable, I
guess!”

He ordered the luncheon over to a little round table in a corner of the
room. Durkin could already feel the illicit London Dry singing through
his veins; he was asking himself, wolfishly, if he could not snatch that
proffered meal before taking to flight.

“Now, this isn’t monkey-work with me, it’s business,” announced the
newcomer.

“Indeed?” said Durkin, hesitating, and then taking up a fork.

“Now, first thing, I want to tell you something. That song and dance you
threw up to the Old Boy over on the bench, about your bein’ an electric
inventor in hard luck, caught my eye, first thing. Look here,—straight
off the bat, d’ you want to get a cinch on a good job?”

“I do!” declared Durkin, through a mouthful of beans. “But doing what?”

“Same old thing!” answered the other, offhandedly.

Durkin put down his fork, indignantly.

“What same old thing?” he demanded.

“Operatin’, of course!”

Durkin, in a sudden tremor of alarm, felt that the break would come
before even that steaming plate of beans was eaten. So he fought back
his affronted dignity, and giving no sign of either surprise or wonder,
parried for time.

“I’m tired of operating,” he said, washing a mouthful of his lunch down
with a second glass of Terry’s London Dry. “My arm has been giving out.”

“Well, I want a man, and I want him quick. You’re—er—not very well
fixed just now, are you?”

“I haven’t a penny!” cried the other, passionately, surrendering to some
clutching tide of alcoholic recklessness.

“Well, _my_ hours wouldn’t kill you!” began the older man, fraternally.

“I’m sick of the sight of a key and sounder!”

“You’d rather do the Edison act in a Third Avenue garret, I
s’pose—broodin’ round inventin’ electrical gimcrackery nobody wants and
nobody’s goin’ to buy!”

“But I tell you somebody _will_ want what I’m going to do—and somebody
is going to pay money for it, and a heap of money, too!”

“What’ve you got?” inquired the older man, with the slightest curl of
the lip. The younger man seemed nettled by the touch of contempt in the
other’s voice.

“I’ve got an amplifier and I’ve got a transmitting camera—you needn’t
laugh, for when I get a relay so sensitive that I can sit in a St. Louis
office and send a message to London or Paris, or when I can send a
drawing of a train wreck somewhere outside of San Francisco right
through to New York, or telegraph a photo or a map or a sketch—why,
I’ve got something that men are going to pay for, and pay well!”

“I’ve heard of ’em all before—in the dope page o’ the Sunday papers!”

“But I tell you I’ve got this transmitting camera! All I want is time
and money to work it out, on the business side. Wait a minute, now, and
let me explain. If you’ve operated a key you’ll understand it easily
enough. You know what we call the Tesla currents, and you know what
selenium is. Well, when I first tackled this thing, my problem was to
get some special apparatus for reproducing the shadows and high-lights
on, say, a photograph. I had to have a different flow of current for
light and dark, to carry the impression from the transmitter to the
receiver. Well, I found that selenium did the trick, for a peculiarity
of that mighty peculiar metal is that it offers less resistance to a
current when in the light than in the dark. My next problem was to
control the light in the receiving camera. That’s where the Tesla
currents came in, inducing the rays of vacuum pipes under the high
tension. Do you follow me?”

“Yes, go on!” said the other man, impatiently. But his tone was lost on
the young inventor, who, under the stress of his excitement, was leaning
forward across the little table, gesticulating now and then with long
and slender and strangely expressive fingers.

“Now, if I was telegraphing a photograph of you to Chicago, it would
have to be in the form of a film, wrapped about a glass cylinder in the
transmitter. Light would be thrown on it by means of a convex lens. Now,
I cover the glass pipe with vulcanized rubber, or, say, with sealing
wax, so that no rays get out, except through the one little window where
they’ll fall on the film or the paper moving in front of it. Inside my
cylinder is a lens containing selenium, where the rays fall after
passing through the glass. But, pshaw, what’s all this to you?”

“Go ahead—I’m listenin’!”

“Well, as I was going to tell you, just so much light, or illumination,
I ought to say, is given to the selenium cell as you’d see in the light
and dark spots of the photograph. That, in turn, means a greater or less
resistance offered to the electric current. Its energy is controlled
automatically, of course, passing over the wire from the transmitter to
the receiver, so that while the transmitting film is passing in front of
the selenium at my end of the wire, the sealed tube of Tesla rays at the
Chicago office is being moved before a receptive film at the far end of
the wire. So the transmitted light escapes through the one little
window, and records its impression on the film—and there you are!”

The other man put down his glass, unperturbed.

“Yes, here we are—but if there’s so many millions in this apparatus for
you, what’s the use o’ hollerin’ it out to all Sixth Avenue? It’s fine!
It sounds big! It’s as good as perpetual motion! But coming down to
earth again, how’re you goin’ to get your funds to put all this
pipe-dream through?”

“I’ll get them yet, some way, by hook or crook!” protested the younger
man, in the enthusiasm of his fourth glass of bootlegger’s gin.

“Well, my friend, I’ll tell you one thing, straight out. Stick to me and
you’ll wear diamonds! And until you’re gettin’ the diamonds, what’s
more, you’ll be gettin’ your three square a day!”

It was the lip of the indignant Durkin that curled a little, as he
looked at the glittering stud on the expansive shirt-front and the fat,
bejewelled hand toying with the gin glass. Then he remembered, and
became more humble.

“I’ve got to live!” he confessed, mirthlessly.

“Of course you have! And you’re a fool to go broke in the teeth of a
cinch like this. First thing, though, how’d you ever come to get pinched
by Doogan? Here, take another drink—hot stuff, eh! Now, how’d you ever
come to get you’self pulled that fool way?”

“I had been living like a street cat, for a week. An Eighth Avenue
manufacturing electrician I went to for work, took me up and showed me a
wire on his back roof. He advanced me five dollars to short-circuit it
for him. Doogan’s men caught me at it, and Doogan tried to make me out
an ordinary overhead guerrilla.”

“Lightnin’-slinger, eh?”

“Yes, a lightning-slinger.”

“But I s’pose you notice that he didn’t appear against you?”

“Yes, I saw that! And _that’s_ a part of the business I can’t
understand,” he answered, puzzled by the stranger’s quiet smile.

“Say, Durkin, you didn’t think it was your good looks and your Fifth
Avenue talkin’ got you off, did you?”

The younger man turned on him with half-angry eyes. But the stranger
only continued to chuckle contentedly down in his throat.

“You remind me of a hen who’s just laid an egg!” cried Durkin, in a
sudden flash of anger. The other brushed the insult carelessly aside,
with one deprecatory sweep of his fat hand.

“Why, _I_ had Doogan fixed for you, you lobster!” he went on, as easily
and as familiarly as before. “You’re the sort o’ man I wanted—I saw
that, first crack out o’ the box. And a friend o’ mine named Cottrell
happens to stand pat with Muschenheim. And Muschenheim is Doogan’s
right-hand man, so he put a bee in the Boss’s ear, and everything
was—well, kind o’ dropped!”

The younger man gazed at him in dreamy wonder, trying to grope through
the veil of unreality that seemed falling and draping about him. He was
marvelling, inwardly, how jolting and unlooked for came the sudden ups
and downs of life, when once the traveller is caught up out of the
ordinary grooves of existence,—how sudden and moving the drama, when
once the feral process is under way.

Then he listened, with alert and quickly changing eyes, as the
stranger—to make sure of his man, the discharged prisoner
surmised—tapped with his knife on the edge of his chinaware plate.

Durkin read the Morse easily—“Don’t talk so loud!” it warned him. And
he nodded and wagged his now swimming head, almost childishly, over the
little message. Yet all the time he felt, vaguely, that he was under the
keen eyes of the stranger across the table from him.

“Where’d you work, before you went to the Postal-Union?”

“Up in the woods,” laughed the other carelessly, yet still clear-headed
enough to feel inwardly ashamed of his laughter.

“What woods?”

“Up in Ontario. I was despatcher, and station-agent, and ticket-seller,
and snow-shoveller, and lamp-cleaner, and everything else, for the Grand
Trunk at Komoka, where the Tunnel trains cut off from the main line west
for Chicago,—and where they still keep their heel on the Union, and
work their men like dogs. They paid me forty-two dollars a month—which
was small enough!—but out of that salary they deducted any bad money
taken in through the ticket-window, when my returns were made up. I was
two weeks behind in my board bill when a Port Huron drummer bought a
ticket through to Hamilton with a twenty-dollar counterfeit. It came
back to me, with my next month’s twenty-two dollars, with ‘Counterfeit’
stencilled out in big letters across the face of it. The loss of that
money kind of got on my nerves. I fumed and worried over it until I
spoilt my ‘send,’ and couldn’t sleep, and in some way or other threw an
Oddfellows’ excursion train into a string of gravel empties! My God,
what I went through that night! I knew it, I foresaw it, twenty minutes
before they touched. I pounded the brass between the Junction and Sarnia
until they thought I was crazy, but we had no way of getting at them,
any more than we could get at two comets rushing together. I wired in my
resign. I didn’t even wait to get my clothes. I struck out and walked
across country to St. Thomas, and boarded a Michigan Central for the
Bridge!”

The older man watched the nervous hands go up to the moist forehead and
wipe away the sweat, but the gesture left him unmoved.

“Then how’d you come to leave the Postal-Union?” he asked.

A look of momentary resentment leaped into Durkin’s eyes.

“They blacklisted me!” he confessed. “And just for playing their own
game!”

The other held up a warning finger.

“Not so loud,” he interrupted. “But go on!”

“Of course, when I first came down to New York I went into the P. U.
‘carrying a fly.’ So I was treated fairly enough, in a way. But I had
telegrapher’s paralysis coming on, and I knew I was losing time on my
amplifier, and I _had_ to have money for my new transmitter experiments.
I tried to make it up doing over-time, and used to shoot weird codes
along Continental Press Association’s leased wires until I got so
neurasthenic that the hay-tossers up state would break and ask me to
fill in, and then I used to lose my temper and wonder why I didn’t stab
myself with a flimsy-hook. I knew I had to give it up, but I _did_ want
enough money to carry along my work with!”

He hesitated for a moment, still gazing down at his plate, until his
companion looked at his watch with a brusque “Go on!”

“So I tried another way. When some of the Aqueduct races were going
through, on a repeater next to my key, up to Reedy’s pool-rooms, I just
reached over and held up one side of the repeater. Then, say third horse
won, I strolled to the window and took out my handkerchief three times.
My confederate ’phoned to our man, and when he’d had time to get his
money up I let the result go through. But they discovered the trick, and
called me up on the carpet. And all the rest, you know!”

He shook his head lugubriously; then he laughed aloud with a shrug of
the insouciant shoulder; then he added, regretfully, “I’d have made a
clear five hundred, if they’d only given me another day’s chance!”

“Well, I guess maybe you can even up, with us!” And the stranger shook
his own head, knowingly, and returned the gaze of the younger man, who
was peering at him narrowly, unsteady of eye, but still alertly
suspicious. Even in that shadowy substratum to which he had been
temporarily driven, good grafts, he knew, had to be sought for long and
arduously. And he had no love for that ever-furtive underworld and its
follies. It was a life that rested on cynicism, and no man could be a
cynic and live. That he knew. He nursed no illusions as to the eventual
triumph of evil, in the ever-shifting order of things earthly; and he
remembered, with a sting of apprehension, the joy with which he had
plunged into the thick of that street-corner group of untainted
fellow-men.

“I think I’d rather get at something decent again,” he grumbled, pushing
away his bean-plate, but still waiting, with a teasing sense of anxiety,
for the other to explain more fully.

“I guess we’d all like to shy around the dirty work,—but a dead sure
thing’s good enough now and then.”

“But where’s all the money, in this cinch?” demanded Durkin, a little
impatiently.

“I can’t cackle about that here, but I tell you right now, I’m no piker!
Get into a taxi with me, and then I’ll lay everything out to you as we
drive up to the house. But here, have a smoke,” he added as he got up
and hurried to the door that opened on the side street. Durkin had never
dreamed that tobacco—even pure Havana tobacco—could be so suave and
mellow and fragrant as that cigar.

“Now, you asked me about the money in this deal,” the older man began,
when he had slammed the taxi door and they went scurrying toward Fifth
Avenue. “Well, it’s right here, see!”—and as he spoke he drew a roll of
bills from his capacious trousers-pocket. From an inner coat-pocket that
buttoned with a flap he next took out a pig-skin wallet, and flicked the
ends of his paper wealth before Durkin’s widening eyes. The latter could
see that it was made up of one hundreds, and fifties, and twenties, all
neatly arranged according to denomination. He wondered, dazedly, just
how many thousands it held. It seemed, of a sudden, to put a new and
sobering complexion on things.

“Money talks!” was the older man’s sententious remark, as he restored
the wallet to its pocket.

“Undoubtedly!” said Durkin, leaning back in the cushioned seat.

“Now, if you want to swing in with us, here’s what you get a week.”

The stranger took the smaller roll from his trousers-pocket again, and
drew out four crisp fifty dollar bills. These he placed on the palm of
the other man’s hand, and watched the hesitating fingers slowly close on
them. “And if our _coup_ goes through, you get your ten per cent.
rake-off,—and that ought to run you up from five to seven thousand
dollars, easy!”

Durkin’s fingers closed more tightly on his bills, and he drew in his
gin-laden breath, sharply.

“Who _are_ you, anyway?” he asked, slowly.

“Me? Oh, I’m kind of an outside operator, same as yourself!”

He looked at Durkin steadily, for a moment, and then, seemingly
satisfied, went on in a different tone.

“Did you ever hear of Penfield, the big pool-room man, the gay art
connoisseur, who hob-nobs with a bunch of our Wall Street magnates and
saunters over to Europe a couple o’ times a season? Well, I’ve been a
plunger at Penfield’s now for two months—just long enough to make sure
that he’s as crooked as they make ’em. I’m going to give him a dose of
his own medicine, and hit that gilt-edged gambler for a slice of his
genteel bank-roll—and an uncommon good, generous slice, too!”

“But what’s—er—your special line of business? How are you going to get
at this man Penfield, I mean?”

“Ever hear of the Miami outfit?” asked the other.

“That cut in and hit the Montreal pool-rooms for eighty thousand?—well,
I guess I have, a little!”

Durkin glanced at his companion, in wonder. Then the truth seemed to
dawn on him, in one illuminating, almost bewildering, flash.

“You—you’re not MacNutt?” he cried, reading his answer even while he
asked the question. Half a year before, the Postal-Union offices had
been full of talk of the Miami outfit and MacNutt, buzzing with meagre
news of the cool insolence and audacity of Miami’s lightning-slingers,
who, when they saw they had worked their game to a finish, cut in with
their: “We’ve got your dough, now you can go to——” as they made for
cover and ultimate liberty ten minutes before their hillside cave was
raided, and nothing more than a packing-case, holding three dozen
Brumley dry batteries, a bunch of “KK,” and a couple of Crosby
long-distance telephones, was found.

Durkin looked at the other man once more, almost admiringly,
indeterminately tempted, swayed against his will, in some way, by the
splendor of a vast and unknown hazard. He found a not altogether
miserable consolation, too, in the thought that this possible second dip
into illegitimate activities would be a movement not directed against
organized society, but against one already an enemy of that society. Yet
even this draught of sophistry left its after-taste of disgust.

“You’re pretty confidential,” he said, slowly, looking the other up and
down. “What’s to stop me going to one of Doogan’s men and squealing on
the whole gang of you?”

MacNutt smiled, gently and placidly, and stroked his short beard,
touched here and there with gray. “And what good would all that do you?”
he asked.

“You _are_ a cool specimen!” ejaculated the other.

“Oh, I guess I know men; and I sized you up, first thing, in the
court-room. You’re the sort o’ man I want. You’re not a funker, and
you’ve got brains, and—well, if you don’t come out of this quite a few
thousand to the good, it’s all your own fault!”

Durkin whistled softly. Then he looked meditatively out at the flashing
motor-cars as they threaded their way up the crowded avenue.

“Well, I guess I’m game enough,” he said, hesitatingly, still trying to
sweep from his brain the clouding mental cobweb that it was all nothing
more than a vivid nightmare.

“I guess I’m your man,” he repeated, as they turned off the Avenue, and
drew up in front of a house of staid and respectable brownstone facing,
like so many of the other private houses of New York’s upper Forties. In
fact, the long line of brownstone edifices before him seemed so alike
that one gigantic hand, he thought, might have carved the whole block
from a single slab of that dull and lifeless-looking brownstone rock.

Then, following MacNutt, he jumped out and went quickly up the broad
stone steps.

“So you’re with us, all right?” the older man asked, as his finger
played oddly on the electric button beside the door. Durkin looked at
the blank glass and panels that seemed to bar in so much mystery, and
his last quaver of indecision died away. Yet even then he had a sense of
standing upon some Vesuvian-like lava-crust, beneath which smouldered
unseen volcanic fires and uncounted volcanic dangers.

“Yes, I’m with you, anyway,” he asserted, stoutly. “I’m with you, to the
finish!”



                               CHAPTER II


It was a full minute before the door swung open; and the unlooked-for
wait in some way keyed the younger man’s curiosity up to the snapping
point. As it finally opened, slowly, he had the startled vision of a
young woman, dressed in sober black, looking half timidly out at them,
with her hand still on the knob. As he noticed the wealth of her waving
chestnut hair, and the poise of the head, and the quiet calmness of the
eyes, that appeared almost a violet-blue in contrast to the soft pallor
of her face, Durkin felt that they had made a mistake in the house
number. But, seeing MacNutt step quickly inside, he himself awkwardly
took off his hat. Under the spell of her quiet, almost pensive smile, he
decided that she could be little more than a mere girl, until he noticed
the womanly fullness of her breast and hips and what seemed a languid
weariness about the eyes themselves. He also noted, and in this he felt
a touch of sharp resentment, the sudden telepathic glance that passed
between MacNutt and the woman; a questioning flash on her part, an
answering flash on the other’s. Then she turned to Durkin, with her
quiet, carelessly winning smile, and held out her hand,—and his heart
thumped and pounded more drunkenly than it had done with all MacNutt’s
bootlegger’s gin. Then he heard MacNutt speaking, quietly and evenly, as
though talking of mere things of the moment.

“This is Mr. Jim Durkin; Durkin, this is Miss Frances Candler. You
two’re going to have a lot o’ trouble together, so I guess you’d better
get acquainted right here—might as well make it Frank and Jim, you two,
for you’re going to see a mighty good deal of one another!”

“All right, Jim,” said the woman, girlishly, in a mellow, English
contralto voice. Then she laughed a little, and Durkin noticed the
whiteness of her fine, strong incisors, and straightway forgot them
again, in the delicious possibility that he might hear that soft
laughter often, and under varied circumstances. Then he flushed hot and
cold, as he felt her shaking hands with him once more. Strangely
sobered, he stumbled over rugs and polished squares of parquetry, after
them, up two flights of stairs, listening, still dazed, to MacNutt’s
hurried questions and the woman’s low answers, which sounded muffled and
far away to him, as though some impalpable wall separated them from him.

A man by the name of Mackenzie, Durkin gathered from what he could hear
of their talk, had been probing about the underground cable galleries
for half a day, and had just strung a wire on which much seemed to
depend. They stopped before a heavy oak-panelled door, on which MacNutt
played a six-stroked tattoo. A key turned, and the next moment a
middle-aged man, thin-lipped, and with blue veins showing about his
temples, thrust his head cautiously through the opening. The sweat was
running from his moist and dirt-smeared face; a look of relief came over
his features at the sight of the others. Durkin wondered just why he
should be dressed in the peaked cap and blue suit of a Consolidated Gas
Company inspector.

The room into which they stepped had, obviously, once been a
sewing-room. In one corner still stood the sewing-machine itself, in the
shadow, incongruously enough, of a large safe with combination lock.
Next to this stood a stout work-table, on which rested a box relay and a
Bunnell sounder. Around the latter were clustered a galvanometer, a 1-2
duplex set, a condenser, and a Wheatstone bridge of the Post-Office
pattern, while about the floor lay coils of copper wire, a pair of
lineman’s pliers, and a number of scattered tools. Durkin’s trained eye
saw that the condenser had been in use, to reduce the current from a
tapped electric-light wire; while the next moment his glance fell on a
complete wire-tapping outfit, snugly packed away in an innocent enough
looking suit-case. Then he turned to the two men and the woman, as they
bent anxiously over the littered table, where Mackenzie was once more
struggling with his instrument, talking quickly and tensely as he tested
and worked and listened.

“Great Scott, Mack, it’s easy enough for you to talk, but it was fool’s
luck, pure fool’s luck, I ever got this wire up! First, I had forty feet
of water-pipe, then eighty feet o’ brick wall, then over fifty feet of
cornice, and about twice as much eave-trough, hangin’ on all the time by
my eyelashes, and dog-sick waitin’ to be pinched with the goods on! Hold
on, there—what’s this?”

The sounder had given out a tremulous little quaver; then a feeble click
or two; then was silent once more.

“Lost it again!” said Mackenzie, under his breath.

“Let me look over that relay a minute!” broke in Durkin. It was the type
of box-relay usually used by linemen, with a Morse key attached to the
base-board; and he ran his eye over it quickly. Then, with a deft
movement or two he released the binding of the armature lever screws,
and the next moment the instrument felt the pulse of life, and spoke out
clearly and distinctly. Mackenzie looked up at the newcomer, for the
first time, with an actual and personal interest.

“That’s the trick, all right!” he said, with an admiring shake of the
head.

“Listen,” Durkin cried, gleefully, however, holding up a finger. “That’s
Corcoran, the old slob! He’s sending through the New Orleans returns!”
And he chuckled as he listened with inclined ear.

“That’s Corcoran, same old slob as ever!” And still again he chuckled, a
little contemptuously, with the disdain of the expert for the slovenly
sender. He remembered, with a touch of pride, his own sending three
years before at the Kansas City Telegraphers’ Convention, and the little
cheer that broke from the audience in the great hall as he left the test
table. It was not at his mere speed they had cheered, for he could do
little more than forty-five words a minute, but because, as the chairman
had later said, it was so clean-cut and neat and incisive—“as pure as a
Rocky Mountain trout stream!”

“There they are!” said Mackenzie.

The four silent figures leaned a little closer over the clicking
instrument of insensate brass—leaned intent and motionless, with
quickened breathing and dilated nostrils and strangely altering faces,
as though they were far from a quiet little back sewing-room, and were
indeed beholding vast issues and participating in great efforts.

“We’ve got ’em, at last!” said MacNutt, quietly, mopping his face and
pacing the little room with feverish steps.

“Yes, we’ve got ’em!” echoed Mackenzie, jubilantly.

Frances Candler, the woman, said nothing. But Durkin could feel her
breath playing on the back of his neck; and when he turned to her he
could see by her quick breathing and widened pupils that she, too, had
been reading the wire. And again he wondered, as he looked at her wide
forehead and those warm yet firm lips in which he could see
impulsiveness still waywardly lurking, how she ever came to such a
place. To Durkin—who had heard of woman bookies and sheet-writers and
touts in his day—she seemed so soft, so flower-like, in her pale
womanhood, that she still remained to him one of the mysteries of a
mysterious day.

The woman saw the play of the quicker thought on his face, and the
impetuous warmth in his eyes as he gazed up at her, still half-timidly.
And seeing it, she looked quickly away.

“No goo-gooin’ there, you folks,” broke in MacNutt, brusquely. As he was
turning hurriedly away he looked back for a hesitating moment, from
Durkin to the woman, and from the woman to Durkin again. If he was about
to say anything further on the point to them, he changed his mind before
speaking, and addressed himself once more to Mackenzie.

“Now, Mack, we’ve got to get a move on! Get some of that grime off, and
your clothes on, quick!” Then he turned back to the other two at the
operating table.

“I’ve certainly got a couple o’ good-lookers in you two, all right, all
right!” he said, Durkin thought half mockingly. “But I want you to get
groomed up, Durkin, so’s to do justice to that Fifth Avenue face o’
yours! Better get rigged out complete, before trouble begins, for you’re
goin’ to move among some lot o’ swell people. And you two’ve got to put
on a lot o’ face, to carry this thing through.”

Durkin laughed contentedly, for his eyes had just been following the
line of the woman’s profile.

“Remember,” continued MacNutt, crisply, “I want you two to do the swell
restaurants—in reason, of course, in reason!—and drive round a good
deal, and haunt the Avenue a bit, and push through the Waldorf-Astoria
every day or two, and drop in at Penfield’s lower house whenever you get
word from me. You’d better do the theatres now and then, too—I want you
to be seen, remember,—but always _together_! It may be kind o’ hard,
not bein’ able to pick your friend, Durkin, but Frank knows the ropes,
and how much not to spend, and what to fight shy of, and who to steer
clear of—and I guess she can explain things as you go along.”

He turned back once more, from the doorway.

“Now, remember,—don’t answer that ’phone unless Mack or me gives the
three-four ring! If she rings all night, don’t answer! And ‘Battery
Park,’ mind, means trouble. When you’re tipped off with that, get the
stuff in the safe, if you can, before you break away. That’s all, I
guess, for now!” And he joined the man called Mack in the hall, and
together they hurried downstairs, and let themselves out, leaving Durkin
and his quiet-eyed colleague alone.

He sat and looked at her, dazed, bewildered, still teased by the veil of
unreality which seemed to sway between him and the world about him. It
seemed to him as though he were watching a hurrying, shifting drama from
a distance,—watching it as, in his early days in New York, he used to
watch the Broadway performances from his cramped little gallery seat.

“Am I awake?” he asked weakly.

Then he laughed recklessly, and turned to her once more, abstractedly
rubbing his stubbled chin, and remembering to his sudden shame that he
had gone unshaved for half a week. Now that MacNutt was away he hoped to
see her in her true light. Some mere word or posture, he thought, would
brush the entire enigma away.

“_Am_ I awake?” he repeated, pushing his hand up through his hair. He
was still watching her for some betraying touch of brazenness. He could
be more at ease with her, he felt, when once she had reconciled herself
with her uncouth surroundings, through the accidental but inevitable
touch of vulgarity which was to establish what she really was.

“Yes; it is all very real!” she laughed quietly, but restrainedly. For
the second time he noticed her white, regular teeth, as she hurried
about, straightening up the belittered room.

During his narrow and busy life Durkin had known few women; never before
had he known a woman like this one, with whom destiny had so strangely
ordained that he should talk and drive and idle, work and watch and
plot. He looked once more at her thick, tumbled chestnut hair, at the
soft pallor of her oval cheek, and the well-gowned figure, as she
stooped over a condenser,—wondering within himself how it would all
end, and what was the meaning of it.

“Well, this certainly does beat me!” he said, at last, slowly, yet
contentedly enough.

The young woman looked at him; and he caught a second glimpse of her
wistfully pensive smile, while his heart began to thump, in spite of
himself. He reached out a hesitating hand, as though to touch her.

“What is it?” she asked, in her mellow English contralto.

“I don’t exactly know,” he answered, with his hand before his eyes. “I
wish you’d tell me.”

She came and sat down in a chair before him, pushing back her tumbled
hair with one hand, seeming to be measuring him with her intent gaze.
She appeared in some way not altogether dissatisfied with him; it seemed
almost as if she had taken his face between her two hands, and read it,
feature by feature.

“I hardly know where to begin,” she hesitated. “I mean, I don’t know how
much they’ve explained to you already. Indeed, there’s a great deal I
don’t understand myself. But, of course, you know that we have tapped
Penfield’s private wire.”

He nodded an assenting head toward the little brass sounder.

“And, of course, you are able to judge why. He gets all the race returns
at the club house, and then sends them on by private ’phone to his other
two pool-rooms. He has to do it that way, now that New York is not so
open, and ever since the Postal-Union directors pretended to cut out
their sporting service.”

Durkin knew all this, but he waited for the sake of hearing her voice
and watching the play of her features.

“Every track report, you know, comes into New York by way of the race
department of the Postal-Union on lower Broadway. There, messenger boys
hurry about with the reports to the different wire-operators, who wire
the returns to the company’s different subscribers. Penfield, of course,
is really one of them, though it’s not generally known.”

“And always most astutely denied,” scoffed Durkin.

“Many things are astutely denied, nowadays, when a great deal of money
comes out of them,” she said, wearily.

“But what have you and I to do with all this?” he broke in.

“Quite enough! You see, there’s a delay of fifteen minutes, naturally,
in getting a result to the pool-rooms. That gives us our chance; so, we
hold up the message here, ’phone it at once over to MacNutt’s rooms,
three doors from Penfield’s, and, when he has had time to drop in, as it
were, and place his money, we send through our intercepted message.”

“Then Penfield has no idea who or what MacNutt is?”

“He knows him only as a real estate agent with a passion for plunging, a
great deal of money, and—and—” The girl shrugged a rounded shoulder,
flushed a little, and did not finish.

“And you know him as—?” suggested Durkin.

“That lies outside the area of essential information,” she answered,
with her first show of animation.

“But you?” Durkin persisted. She met his eyes, but she refused to deal
with his cross-questioning. He was still waiting for that betraying sign
which was to conjure away the enigma. Yet he rejoiced, inwardly, at the
thought that it had not come.

“Both you and I shall have to drop in, on certain days, and do what we
can at Penfield’s lower house, while Mackenzie is doing the Madison
Avenue place. We’ve been going there, on and off, for weeks now, getting
ready for—for this!”

“Then MacNutt’s been working on this scheme for a long while?”

“Yes, this house has been rented by the month, furnished, just as you
see it, simply because it stood in about the right place. We have even
lost a few hundred dollars, altogether, in Penfield’s different places.
But, in the end, the three of us are to hit Penfield together, on a
ragged field, when there’s a chance for heavy odds. But, of course, we
can do it only once!”

“And then what?” asked Durkin.

Again the girl shrugged a shoulder.

“Penfield’s patrons are all wealthy men,” she went on, in a sort of
pedagogic explicitness. “The betting, particularly at the upper house,
is always very heavy. A book of a hundred thousand dollars is common
enough; sometimes it goes up to two or three hundred thousand. So, you
see, it all depends on our odds. MacNutt himself hopes to make at least
a hundred thousand. But then he has worked and brooded over it all so
long, I don’t think he sees things quite clearly now!”

It was her first shadow of reflection on their chief, and Durkin caught
up the cue.

“He seems sharp enough still, to leave you and me here, to take all the
risk in a raid,” he protested.

“Yes,” she assented, with the touch of weariness that came into her
voice at times. “He is shrewd and sharp—shrewder and sharper than you
would dare believe.”

“And of course you understand your risk, now, here, from this moment
on?”

“Yes, I quite understand it,” she answered, with unbetraying evenness of
voice.

His fingers were toying nervously with a little magnetic “wire finder.”

“How in heavens did _you_ ever get mixed up with—with—in this sort of
thing?” Durkin at last demanded, exasperated into the immediate
question. He turned on her quickly, as he asked it, and the eyes of the
two met, combatively, for a moment or two. It was the girl who at last
looked away.

“How did _you_?” she asked, quietly enough. She was strangely unlike any
woman bookie he had seen or heard of before.

“Oh, me,—I’m different!” he cried, deprecatively. For some subtle
reason she went pale, and then flushed hot again.

“You’re—you’re not MacNutt’s wife?” he asked her, almost hopelessly.

She moved her head from side to side, slowly, in dissent, and got up and
went to the window, where she gazed out over the house-tops at the
paling afternoon.

“No, I’m not his wife,” she said, in her quiet contralto.

“Then why won’t you tell me how you got mixed up in this sort of thing?”

“It’s all so silly and so commonplace,” she said, without turning to
look at him.

“Yes?” he said, and waited.

She wheeled about and wrung out with a sudden passionate “Oh, what’s the
good of all this! I am here tapping wires, and you are here doing the
same. Neither of us belongs at this sort of work, but—but, we’re here!”

“Can’t you tell me?” he asked, more gently, yet inwardly more dogged.

“Yes, I _shall_ tell you,” she answered him, at last. “It began, really,
six years ago when my mother died, in London, and my father went to
pieces, went pitifully to pieces, and had to give up his profession as a
barrister. I felt sorry for him, and stayed with him, through his months
of drunkenness, and his gradual downfall. He started a little office for
genealogical research—as we called it—digging up pretentious
alliances, and suitable ancestors for idle and wealthy nobodies. This
was bad enough, but little by little it degenerated into a sort of
next-of-kin agency, and wrung its money from the poor, instead of the
rich!”

She paused for a moment, before she went on, gazing at the man before
her in grim and terrible candor, steeled with the purpose to purge her
soul of all she had to say, and have it over and done with.

“But I stayed with father, through it all. I told myself I could live it
down, the squalor, and the meanness, and the deceits, and even the
drunkenness—I stayed with him because I pitied him. Even then he was a
brilliant man. And I would have worked and fought for him to the end,
only, at last, he wanted me to pose as a claimant for an estate then in
chancery. _That_ I would not and could not do. I went to Reading, and
became an invalid’s companion. Then, after father’s death—after his
horrible death—his older brother, at Oxford, offered to give me a home.
He was an old man, a curate with five daughters, and I felt, then, that
it would be unjust. So I answered an advertisement in a London paper,
and came to America to be a governess in a New York family, in the house
of a diamond importer named Ottenheimer. At the end of my first week
there my mistress unjustly suspected me of—Oh, I can’t explain it all
to you here, but she was a vulgar and unscrupulous woman, and said I was
too good-looking to be a governess, and discharged me without even a
reference. I was penniless in two weeks, and would gladly have crept
back to my uncle in Oxford, if I had been able. Then, when I was almost
starving, I was glad enough to become the secretary of an investment
company, with an office in Wall Street. They had trouble with the
Post-Office department in Washington, and then the police raided the
office, for it turned out to be nothing more than a swindling
scheme. . . . And then, oh, I don’t know, I seemed to drift from one
thing to another, until I was the English heiress in a matrimonial
bureau, and a French baroness in some foreign litigation scheme. But all
the time I was only waiting to get enough money to creep back to Oxford.
I kept telling myself that in a few weeks more I should be able to
escape. I kept dreaming of it, until Oxford seemed to grow into a sort
of sanctuary. But things went on and on, and still I waited.”

“And then what?” demanded Durkin, startled at the rising note of
self-hate in her feverish declamation.

“Then, at last, I thought I had escaped into honesty, even in America.
But it was the same as before. I met MacNutt!”

“And then what?” Durkin’s customarily careless shoulders were very
upright.

“Oh, first it was a woman’s get-rich-quick concern in Chicago; then a
turf-investment office in St. Louis; then a matrimonial bureau of our
own, until the police put a stop to it because of the post-office
people; then it was chasing the circuit for a season; and, finally, this
wire-tapping scheme!”

She looked at him, weary-eyed, hiding nothing, smiling hopelessly.

“They write to me, from time to time,” she went on, more quietly, but
none the less tragically. “My uncle’s parish is just outside Oxford, a
quiet little high-walled place full of flowers and birds. But he is
getting very old, and there are six of them, five girls, and Albert, the
youngest. Some day I shall go back and live with them—only, in some
way, I grow more and more afraid to face them. So I search for excuses
to send them money and gifts. They think I’m still a governess here, and
I write lying letters to them, and tell them things out of my own head,
things quite false and untrue! So, you see, I’ve been nothing but
cowardly—and—and wicked, from the first!”

“And is that all?” demanded Durkin, not trusting himself to show one jot
of feeling.

“Yes,” she answered, drearily; “I think that is all.”

“But you’re—you’re too good for all this!” he cried impetuously,
indignantly. “Why don’t you break away from it, at once?”

“I’m going to,—some day! I’ve always waited, though, and everything has
dragged on and on and on, and I’ve been half afraid of MacNutt—he’s the
type of man, you know, who never forgives a person—and half-afraid of
myself. But, some day—”

“Oh, I know what it’s like,” cried Durkin, drawn toward her, strangely
nearer to her, in some intangible way. She read the sudden look on his
face, and blushed under it, almost girlishly, once more.

“I want to rest, and be quiet, and live decently, away from the world,
somewhere,” she said dreamily, as though speaking only to herself.

Durkin walked to the window where she stood, checked himself, strode
back to the relay on the work-table, and looked at the huddled
instruments, absently.

“So do I,” he said, earnestly, with his heels well apart.

“Do you?” she asked. He went over to where she stood.

“Yes, and I mean to,” he declared, determinedly, turning with her to
look at the gathering twilight of the city, and then lapsing into
awkward silence once more.



                              CHAPTER III


More than once, during the feverish, kaleidoscopic days that followed,
Durkin found himself drawing aside to ask if, after all, he were not
living some restless dream in which all things hung tenuous and
insubstantial. The fine linen and luxury of life were so new to him that
in itself it half intoxicated; yet, outside the mere ventral pleasures
of existence, with its good dinners in quiet _cafés_ of gold and glass
and muffling carpets, its visits to rustling, dimly-lighted theatres,
its drives about the open city, its ever-mingled odors of Havana and cut
flowers,—there was the keener and more penetrating happiness of
listening to the soft English voice of what seemed to him a
bewilderingly beautiful woman.

She was that, at least to him; and Durkin was content to let the world
think what it liked. He found work to be done, it is true,—rigorous and
exacting work while it lasted, when the appointed days for holding up
Penfield’s despatches came around. But the danger of it all, for some
reason, never entered his mind, as he sat over his instrument, reading
off the horses to the woman at his side, who, in turn, repeated them
over the telephones, in cipher, to MacNutt and Mackenzie; and then, when
the time allowance had elapsed, cutting in once more and sending on the
intercepted despatches, even imitating to a nicety the slip-shod erratic
volubility of Corcoran’s “blind send.”

Once only did a disturbing incident tend to ruffle the quiet waters of
Durkin’s strange contentment. It was one afternoon when Mackenzie had
been sent in to make a report, and had noticed certain things to which
he did not take kindly, Durkin thought.

“I’m not saying anything,” he blurted out, when they were alone, “but
don’t you let that woman make a fool of you!”

“You shut up about that woman!” retorted Durkin, hotly. Then, imagining
he saw some second and deeper meaning in the other’s words, he caught
him by the lapel of the vest, and held him against the wall.

“You _are_ saying something, you hound! What do you mean by that,
anyway?” he cried, with a white face. The man against the wall could see
that a word would bring the onslaught, but he was used to trouble of
that sort, and many a keener menace. So he only laughed contemptuously,
with his shoulders up, as he pulled the other’s fingers from his throat.

“You damned lobster, you!” he said, going off on the safer tack of
amiable profanity. Then feeling himself free once more, his old bitter
audacity proclaimed itself.

“You fool, you, don’t you know that woman’s been—”

But here the entrance of the girl herself put a stop to his speech. Yet,
troubled in spirit as some currish and unspoken insinuation left him,
Durkin breathed no word to the girl herself of what had taken place,
imperiously as she demanded to know what Mackenzie had been saying.

On the day following, as MacNutt had arranged, the two paid their first
visit to Penfield’s lower house, from which Durkin carried away confused
memories of a square-jawed door-keeper—who passed him readily enough,
at a word from the girl—of well-dressed men and over-dressed women
crowded about a smoke-wreathed, softly lighted room, one side of which
was taken up with a blackboard on which attendants were feverishly
chalking down entries, jockeys, weights and odds, while on the other
side of the room opened the receiving and paying-tellers’ little
windows, through which now and then he saw hurrying clerks; of bettors
excitedly filling in slips which disappeared with their money through
the mysterious pigeon-hole in the wall; of the excited comments as the
announcer called the different phases and facts of the races, crying
dramatically when the horses were at the post, when they were off, when
one horse led, and when another; when the winner passed under the wire;
of the long, wearing wait while the jockeys were weighing in, and of the
posting of the official returns, while the lucky ones—faded beauties
with cigarette-stained fingers, lean and cadaverous-looking “habituals,”
stout and flashy-looking professionals, girlish and innocent-looking
young women, heavy dowagers resplendent in their morning
diamonds,—gathered jubilantly at the window for their money. The vaster
army of the unlucky, on the other hand, dropped forlornly away, or
lingered for still another plunge.

Durkin found it hard, during each of these brief visits, to get used to
the new order of things. Such light-fingered handling of what, to his
eyes, seemed great fortunes, unstrung and bewildered him. He had never
believed the newspaper story that when the District Attorney’s men had
broken open a gambling-house safe a few months before, they had found
deposited there a roll of greenbacks amounting to over three-quarters of
a million dollars. That story now seemed likely enough. Yet, with him,
the loss of even a hundred dollars on a horse, although not his own
money, in some way depressed him for the day. Frances Candler picked her
winners, however, with studious and deliberate skill, and, though they
bet freely, it was not often that their losses, in the end, were heavy.

She had no love for this part of the work; and in this Durkin heartily
agreed with her.

“The more I know of track-racing and its army of hangers-on,” he
declared to her, “the more I hate it, and everything about it! They say
there are over fifty thousand men in the business, altogether—and you
may have noticed how they all—the owners and the bigger men, I
mean—dilate on their purpose of ‘improving the breed of the
thoroughbred’—but to my mind, it’s to improve the breed of rascality!”

He noted her habitual little head-shake as she started to speak.

“Yes, I think more unhappiness, more wrecked lives and characters, more
thieves and criminals, really come from the race-track than from all the
other evils in your country. It’s not the racing itself, and the
spectacular way of your idle rich for wasting their money! No, it’s not
that. It’s the way what you call the smaller fry cluster about it, so
cruelly and mercilessly ‘on the make,’ as they put it, and infect the
rest of the more honest world with their diseased lust for gain without
toil. I have watched them and seen them. It is deadly; it stifles every
last shred of good out of them! And then the stewards and the jockey
clubs themselves try to hide the shameful conditions of things, and
drape and hang their veil of lies and hypocrisy and moral debauchery
over these buzzing clouds of parasites; and so it goes on! For, indeed,
I know them,” she ended, bitterly. “Oh, I know them well!”

Durkin thought of the four great Circuits, Eastern, Southern, Western,
and Pacific slope, of the huge and complicated and mysteriously
half-hidden gambling machinery close beside each great centre of
American population, New York and Washington, Chicago and St. Louis,
Memphis and New Orleans, where duplicity and greed daily congregate,
where horses go round and round in their killing and spectacular
short-speed bursts, and money flashes and passes back and forth, and
portly owners sit back and talk of the royal sport, as they did, Durkin
told himself, in the days of Tyre and Rome. But day by day, with the
waning afternoon, the machinery comes to a stop, the sacrificial
two-year-olds are blanketed and stabled, the grand-stands disgorge their
crowds, and from some lower channel of the dark machine drift the
rail-birds and the tipsters, the bookmakers and touts, the dissolute
lives and the debauched moral sensibilities, the pool-room feeders and
attendants in the thick of the city itself, the idlers and the
criminals.

The thought of it filled him with a sudden emotional craving for honesty
and clean-living and well-being. He rejoiced in the clear sunlight and
the obvious respectability of the Avenue up which they were walking so
briskly—for about Frances Candler, he had always found, there lurked
nothing of the subterranean and morbidly secretive. She joyed in her
wholesome exercise and open air; she always seemed to be pleading for
the simplicities and the sanities of existence. She still stood
tantalizingly unreconciled, in his mind, to the plane of life on which
he had found her.

It was one night after a lucky plunge on a 20 to 1 horse had brought him
in an unexpected fortune of eighteen hundred dollars, that Durkin,
driving past Madison Square through the chilly afternoon of the late
autumn, with a touch of winter already in the air, allowed his thoughts
to wander back to what seemed the thin and empty existence as a
train-despatcher and a Postal-Union operator. As he gazed out on the
closed cars and the women and the lights, and felt the warmth of the
silent girl at his side, he wondered how he had ever endured those old,
colorless days. He marvelled at the hold which the mere spectacular side
of life could get on one. He tried to tell himself that he hated the
ill-gotten wealth that lay so heavy and huge in his pocket at that
moment; and he smothered his last warmth of satisfaction with the phrase
which she had used a few days before: “Their diseased lust for gain
without toil.” Then he tried to think of the life he was leading, with
one figure eliminated; and the blankness of the prospect appalled him.

With a sudden impetuous motion he caught up her hand, where it lay idly
in her lap, and held it close. She tried to draw it away, but could not.

“Everything seems so different, Frank, since I’ve known you!” he said, a
little huskily.

“It’s different with me, too!” she all but whispered, looking away. Her
face, in the waning light, against the gloom of the dark-curtained
taxi-cab, looked pale, and, as he had so often felt, almost flower-like.

“Frank!” he cried in a voice that started her breathing quickly. “Won’t
you—won’t you marry me?”

She looked at him out of what seemed frightened eyes, with an unnatural
and half-startled light on her pale face.

“I love you, Frank, more than I could ever tell you!” he went on,
impetuously. “You could walk over me, you could break me, and do what
you like with me, and I’d be happy!”

“Oh, you don’t know me, you don’t know me!” she cried. “You don’t know
what I’ve been!” And some agony of mind seemed to wrench her whole body.

“I don’t care what you’ve been—I know what you _are_! You’re the woman
I’d give my life for—I’d lay it down, without a thought, for you! And,
good Lord, look at me! Don’t you think I’m bad enough myself—and a
hundred times more weak and vacillating than you! I love you, Frank;
isn’t that enough?”

“No!” she mourned, “it’s not enough!”

“But you’ve got to be loved, you want to be loved, or you wouldn’t have
eyes and a mouth like that! It’s the only thing, now, that can make life
worth while!”

She let him catch her up to his shoulder and hold her there, with her
wet cheek against his; she even said nothing when he bent and kissed her
on the lips, though her face grew colorless at his touch.

“I do love you,” she sighed weakly. “I do love you! I do!” and she clung
to him, childishly, shaken with a sob or two, happy, yet vaguely
troubled.

“Then why can’t we get away from here, somewhere, and be happy?”

“Where?” she asked.

“Anywhere, where there’s daylight and honesty and fair play!”

“There’s MacNutt!” she cried, remembering, opening her drooping eyes to
grim life again. “He’d—he’d—” She did not finish.

“What’s he to us?” Durkin demanded. “He hasn’t bought our _souls_!”

“No, but we have to live—we have to work and pay as we go. And he could
stop everything!”

“Let him interfere,” cried the other, fiercely. “I’ve never been afraid
of him! I’m as good a fighter as he is, by heaven! Just _let_ him
interfere, and he’ll find his filthy money isn’t everything!”

The woman at his side was silent. “I only wish I had a few of his
thousands,” added Durkin, more humbly.

She looked up quickly, with the flash of some new thought shadowed on
her white face.

“Why _shouldn’t_ we?” she cried, half bitterly. “We have gone through
enough for him!”

“And it’s all rottenness, anyway,” assuaged Durkin. “The Postal-Union
directors themselves, who feed MacNutt and all his fry,—they make over
four million a year out of their pool-room service! And one of them is a
pillar of that church we passed, just above the Waldorf!”

“No, it’s not that,” she hesitated. She had long since grown afraid of
that ancient sophistry.

“But why shouldn’t we?” he persisted.

“Then we might go away somewhere,” she was saying dreamily, “away to
England, even! I wonder if you would like England? It always seems so
much of yesterday there, to me. It’s always tomorrow over here. But at
home everything doesn’t seem to live in the future, as we do now. I
wonder if you would like England?”

“I’d like any place, where you were!”

“_He’s_ always been a welcher with the people he uses. He will be a
welcher with you—yes, and with me, some day, I suppose.”

She turned to Durkin with a sudden determination. “Would you risk it,
with me?”

“I’d risk anything for you!” he said, taking her hand once more.

“We have a right to our happiness,” she argued, passionately. “We have
our life, all our life, almost—before us! And I’ve loved you, Jim,” she
confessed, her gloved fingers toying with a button on his sleeve, “from
the first day MacNutt brought you up!”

Then a silence fell over her, and he could see the reflection of some
strange conflict going on in her mind. Although he could perceive the
unhappiness it brought to her, he could in no wise surmise the source of
it, so that when she spoke again, the suddenness of her cry almost
startled him.

“Oh, why didn’t I know you and love you when I was a young and
heart-free girl, singing and laughing about my quiet home? Why couldn’t
love have come to me then, when all my heart and life were as white as
the plain little cambric gown I wore—when I was worthy of it, and could
have received it openly, and been glad of it!”

He could not follow her, but, lover-like, he tried to kiss away her
vague fears and scruples. In this effort, though, he found her lips so
cold and lifeless, that he drew away from her, and looked at her in
wonder.

“_Is_ it too late?” he implored, persistently.



                               CHAPTER IV


For all the calm precision with which Frances Candler had planned and
mapped out a line of prompt action with Durkin, she was shaken and
nervous and unstrung, as she leaned over the sounder, breathlessly
waiting for the rest of the day’s returns to come through on Penfield’s
wire.

Durkin, with two thousand dollars of his own and an additional eight
hundred from her, had already plunged his limit at Penfield’s lower
house, on the strength of her tip over the ’phone. There was still to be
one final hazard, with all he held; and at five o’clock they were to
meet at Hartley’s restaurant, and from there escape to a new world of
freedom and contentment. But the fear of MacNutt still hung over her, as
she waited—fear for certain other things besides their secret revolt on
the very eve of their chief’s gigantic coup. For she knew what MacNutt
could be when he was crossed. So she leaned and waited and watched,
listening with parted lips, wishing it was all over with, torn by a
thousand indefinite fears.

Then, to her sudden terror, Mackenzie called her up sharply.

“Is that you, Frank?” he cried.

“Yes; what is it, Mack?” she asked back, calmly enough, but with quaking
knees.

“Doogan’s men are watching me here—they’ve got on to something or
other. Cut this wire loose from outside, and get your ’phone out of
sight. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t cut in on Penfield’s wire. I’ve
just tipped off MacNutt—he’s off his dip, about it all. Look out for
yourself, old girl!” he added, in a different tone of voice.

She rang off, feverishly, and vowed passionately that she _would_ look
out for herself. Catching up a pair of pliers, she cut the telephone
wire from the open window, leaving two hundred feet of it to dangle
forlornly over the little back house-courts. Then she ran to the door
and locked and bolted it, listening all the while for the wire to speak
out to her.

A minute later MacNutt himself rang up, and asked for Durkin. She made a
movement as though to drop the receiver, and leave her presence
unbetrayed; but the other had already heard her mellow “Hello?” of
inquiry.

“What are _you_ doing there?” he demanded, with a startled unsavory
oath.

She tried to stammer out an adequate excuse, but he repeated his
challenge. There was a moment’s pregnant pause. Then he hissed one ugly
word over the wire to the listening woman. Mackenzie had been hinting to
him of certain things; now, he knew.

He did not wait even to replace the receiver. While she still stood
there, in the little sewing-room, white and dazed, he was in a swaying
taxi, rattling and pounding nearer her, block by block.

He let himself in with his own pass-key, and raced up the long stairs,
his face drawn, and a dull claret tinge. He found the door closed and
bolted; he could hear nothing from within but the muffled clicking of
the sounder as it ticked out the later New Orleans returns.

He paused for a moment, panting, but no answer came to his pound on the
panels. He could spell out, in the dead silence, the names of the horses
going over the wire.

“Open this door, by God, or I’ll kill you!” he cried, in a frenzy,
throwing the weight of his huge body against it in vain.

He seized an old-fashioned walnut arm-chair from the next room, and
forced it, battering-ram fashion, with all his strength, against the oak
panels. They splintered and broke, and under the second blow fell in,
leaving only the heavier cross-pieces intact.

Quite motionless, waiting over the sounder, bent the woman, as though
she had neither seen nor heard. “White Legs————Yukon
Girl————Lord Selwyn”————those alone were the words which the
clicking brass seemed to brand on her very brain. In three seconds she
stood before the telephone, at the other end of which she knew Durkin to
be waiting, alert for the first sound and movement. But she saw the
flash of something in the hand of the man who leaned in through the
broken panel, and she paused, motionless, with a little inarticulate
cry.

“Touch that ’phone, you welcher, and I’ll plug you!” the man was
screaming at her. His lip was hanging loose on one side, and his face,
now almost a bluish purple, was horrible to look at.

“I’ve got to do it, Mack!” she pleaded, raising one hand to her face. He
flung out a volley of foul names at her, and deliberately trained his
revolver on her breast. She pondered, in a flash of thought, just what
chance she would have at that distance.

“Mack, you wouldn’t shoot _me_, after—after everything? Oh, Mack, I’ve
got to send this through! I’ve got to!” she wailed.

“Stop!” he gasped; and she knew there was no hope.

“You wouldn’t shoot me, Mack?” she hurried on, wheedlingly, with the
cunning of the cornered animal; for, even as she spoke, the hand that
hovered about her face shot out and caught up the receiver. Her eyes
were on MacNutt; she saw the finger compress on the trigger, even as her
hand first went up.

“Jim!” she called sharply, with an agony of despair in that one quick
cry. She repeated the call, with her head huddled down in her shoulders,
as though expecting to receive a blow from above. But a reverberation
that shook shreds of plaster from the ceiling drowned her voice.

The receiver fell, and swung at full length. The smoke lifted slowly,
curling softly toward the open window.

MacNutt gazed, stupefied, at the huddled figure on the floor. How long
he looked he scarcely knew, but he was startled from his stupor by the
sound of blows on the street door. Flinging his revolver into the room,
he stumbled down the heavily carpeted stairs, slunk out of a back door,
and, sprawling over the court-fence, fell into a yard strewn with heavy
boxes. Seeing a nearby door, he opened it, audaciously, and found
himself in a noisy auction-room filled with bidders. Pushing hurriedly
through them, he stepped out into the street, unnoticed.

When the wounded woman had made sure that she was alone—she had been
afraid to move where she lay, fearing a second shot—with a little groan
or two she tried to rise to her knees. She felt that there might still
be time, if she could only crawl to the ’phone. But this, she found was
beyond her strength. The left sleeve of her waist, she also saw, was wet
and sodden with blood. She looked at it languidly, wondering if the
wound would leave a scar. Already she could hear footsteps below, and
again and still again she struggled to shake off her languor, and told
herself that she must be ready when Durkin came, that he, at least, must
not be trapped. She, as a mere pool-room stenographer, had little to
fear from the law. But as she tried, with her teeth and her free arm, to
tear a strip from her skirt, the movement, for all her tight-lipped
determination, was too much for her. She had a faint memory of hearing
footsteps swarming about her, and then of ebbing and pulsing down
through endless depths of what seemed to her like eider-downed
emptiness.

When she came to, one of Doogan’s men was leaning over her, with a glass
of water in his hand. She could feel some of it still wet on her chin
and waist-collar. She looked up at him, bewildered, and then from him to
the other four men who stood about her. Then the events of the afternoon
came back to her.

She closed her eyes again, vaguely wondering if some teasing,
indeterminate mishap, which she could not quite remember, had yet come
about. At first, she could not grasp it, as she lay there moaning with
pain, the breeze from the open window blowing on her face. Then the
truth came to her in a flash.

It was Durkin. He was coming back; and they were watching there, waiting
to trap him. Again she told herself that she must keep her head, and be
cool.

Without moving her head, she let her roving eyes take in the five men
about her in the room; three of them, she knew, were plain-clothes men
from the Central Office, the other two were Doogan’s agents. If Durkin
came while they were still there—and now he _could_ not be long!—they
would let him in, and of course say nothing, and there they would have
him, like a rat in a trap.

She grew hysterical, and cried out to them that she was dying, yet
waiting all the time for the sound of Durkin’s step, trying to think how
she might save him. At last, to her sudden joy, she remembered that he
was to bring from her rooms her own handbag, filled with a few things
she had gathered up to take away with her. He would surely carry that
bag in with him when he came; that was her salvation.

She fell to shrieking again that she was dying, demanding shrilly why
her doctor had not come. Through her cries, her alert ears heard the
sound of voices at the street-door. It was Durkin, at last; he had
spoken a word or two with the two plain-clothes men, who, she knew,
would readily enough let him pass.

“Doctor!” she screamed, as she heard his steps on the stair. “Doctor!
I’m dying, doctor! Are you never coming!”

She wondered, in her agony of mind and body, if he would be fool enough
not to understand. _Would_ he be fool enough?

Doogan’s agents and the three plain-clothes men gathered about her
silently, as they saw the intruder hurry in and drop on his knee beside
the woman. “Is it you, doctor?” she wailed, with chattering teeth,
shaking with an on-coming chill.

Durkin, in his dilemma, did not dare to look away from her face. He was
blindly trying to grope his way toward what it all meant. The others
stood above him, listening, waiting for the least word. One of them
moved to the open window, and closed it.

He bent lower, trying to read the dumb agony in the woman’s face. Then
another of the men went to the door, to guard it. Durkin could see the
shoes and trousers-legs of the others, up to the knee. Each pair of
boots, he noticed inconsequently, had a character and outline of their
own. But still his frantic brain could not find the key to the enigma.

Then, out of the chaos and the disorder of the chattering of her teeth,
seemed to come a hint, a whisper. She was sounding the double “i” of the
operator about to “send”—she was trying to catch his attention, to tell
him something, in Morse. He bent still closer, and fumbled artfully with
the sleeve, wet and sodden with her warm blood.

He read the signal, as she lay there with chattering teeth: “All up—Get
away quick—these are police—meet you in London—hotel Cecil—in two
months—hurry.”

“Where—write?” he implored her, by word of mouth, covering the question
by shifting his busily exploring fingers from the wounded left shoulder
to the right.

She closed her eyes. “C-N,” she answered. She repeated it, in the
strange Morse, weakly, and then fainted dead away.

Durkin dropped the sleeve he was carefully turning up. He looked at the
men about him with a sudden towering, almost drunken madness of relief,
a madness which they took for sudden rage.

“You fools, you,” he called at them. “You fools, couldn’t you see
it—this woman’s dying! Here, you, quick—compress this artery with your
thumb—hard, so! You, you—oh, I don’t care _who_ you are—telephone for
my instruments—Doctor Hodgson, No. 29 West Thirtieth!”—luckily he
remembered a throat doctor Frank had once consulted there—“and get me a
sheet off one of the beds, quick!”

He tossed his hat into the hall, jerked up his cuffs, almost believing,
himself, in the part he was acting.

“Water—where’ll I get a water-tap?” he demanded, feverishly, running to
the door. Outside the room, he suddenly kicked his hat to the foot of
the back-stairs. He caught it as it rebounded from the second step, and
bolted noiselessly up the stairway, never turning or looking back until
he had gained the roof. There he crept, cat-like, across half-a-dozen
houses, and slipped down the first fire-escape that offered.

At the third window, which was open, a stalwart Irish house-maid barred
his progress. He told her, hurriedly, he was a fire-escape inspector for
the City Department. Seeing that she doubted his word, he thrust a five
dollar bill in her hand. She looked at it, laughed cynically—and time,
he felt, was worth so much to him!—looked out at him again dubiously,
and then in silence led him through the passage and down to the
street-door.

As he turned hurriedly into Madison Avenue, toward the Grand Central
station, he heard the clang of a bell, and saw an ambulance clatter down
the street. Then, to make sure of it, he repeated her message to
himself: “Hotel Cecil—two months—C-N.”

For a moment or two the “C-N” puzzled him. Then he remembered that only
the day before he had been telling her the episode of the Charleston
earthquake, how every wire was “lost” after the final shock, and how
every operator for hundreds of miles about, during the next day of
line-repairing, kept calling “C-N” until an answer finally came from the
debris of the dead city.

Through some trick of memory, he then knew, she had recalled the Morse
signal for that southern city, in her emergency. There had been no time
for thought, no chance for even momentary deliberation. “Charleston!”
From that day the very name took on a newer and stranger meaning. He
knew that during weeks of loneliness and wandering it would be the one
city toward which his eyes and his heart would turn.



                               CHAPTER V


“Tomorrow for the States—for me England, and Yesterday,”—murmured
Frances Candler as she stood at her window looking down over the tangle
and tumult of the Strand. “For me, England and Yesterday!” she repeated,
and it was not until she had said the lines twice over that she
remembered how she had first copied them into her day-book, during her
early homesick weeks in New York.

It was the lassitude of her week at sea, and the loneliness of her
second week in a London hotel, she told herself, that had brought about
the change. If there were deeper and more dormant reasons, she was
content to let sleeping dogs lie. But she did not deceive herself as to
the meaning of the move. It was more than flight; it was surrender. It
was, indeed, the bitter and desperate remedy for a bitter and desperate
condition. For, inappositely, on the very brink of what seemed the
waiting and widening vista of all her life, she had decided to go back
to Oxford and her uncle’s home.

The steps that led to this determination were no longer clear to her
questioning mind. She was also able, hour by brooding hour, to pile up
against it ever new objections. But she clung to it blindly, with a
forlorn tenacity of spirit that swept aside all momentary issues and all
dread of the future. For out of that seeming defeat, she contended, she
would wring her belated and her inner victory, even while her active
imagination, playing lambently ahead of dragging reality, showed her how
painful would be that return to old conditions and outgrown
surroundings.

For a woman who has known the world to go back to such a roof is always
a sign and a confession of defeat. Yet the sweep of her aggressive young
mind, once made up, flung blindly aside each half-accumulated bar of
indecision.

But was it fair to them?—she suddenly demanded of herself, as she
pictured the scenes and the faces that would confront her, the gentle
and mild-mannered women, the venerable and upright-hearted curate, so
jealous of equity and honor, with his unbending singleness and
narrowness of outlook. And as she asked this question each familiar
figure seemed to stalk grimly from its muffling childhood memories and
confront her, a challenging sentinel at the very threshold of that quiet
little home which she had dreamed as always open to her, as always a
harbor of ultimate refuge.

But now, could she face the unspoken deceit, the daily attrition of it,
month after month and year after year? For clearly she foresaw what her
life would be, from sunrise to sunset, from youth to old age, from the
moment the quiet parsonage gate closed between her and the outer world.
She foresaw it plainly, as distinctly and indelibly as though it had
been set down in black and white before her eyes—the long and narrow
and grimly defined path leading from a narrow and weather-beaten gate to
a still narrower open grave. In summer time, in the quiet grounds behind
the shielding gray walls, there would be the Provence roses to tend and
the border-flowers to cut and trim, the sedate visiting and receiving,
the frugal jam-making, the regular Bible-readings and the family
prayers, the careful mending and remaking, the hemming of the clerical
old-fashioned white cravats, the lonely cawing of the rooks through the
quiet mornings and the long afternoons. And in the winter there would be
the woollen jackets and cough mixtures to distribute throughout the
parish, the stockings to be knit for the workhouse children, the long,
silent games of chess in the mullion-windowed study, the lettering and
numbering of the new books for the parish lending library, the
pathetically threadbare suit of respectable broadcloth to press and
repair, the summer linens and serges to be made over, the discussions of
impending Disestablishment and the Deceased Wife’s Sister Bill, the
languid flow of life within doors and the gentle diversions of life
without, punctuated by long Sundays, in gloomy high-partitioned pews
with faded crimson cushions.

“Oh, it is useless! It is too late, now!” she cried, hopelessly, as she
paced the floor, and the weight of her past life hung heavy upon her.
The roots of it lay too deep, she told herself, to be torn out. She was
already too tainted with the dust of that outer world, too febrile, too
passionately avid of movement and change. The contrast was too great.
They would make it too hard for her, too rigidly exacting. For what did
_they_ know of the dark and complicated and compelling currents of the
real world, lapped in their gentle backwaters of old-world clerical
life, secluded and sheltered and untried! She would still have been one
of them, if her paths had been theirs, if she had only breathed the
quiet air they breathed!

“It is too hard!” she moaned, in her misery. The test of life itself was
so crucial—that was the thought that kept recurring to her—the ordeal
by fire was foredoomed to be so exacting! All their old lessons and
creeds, which she had once chimed so innocently and so cordially, now
seemed to fall empty and enigmatic on her older and wiser heart. They
seemed to solve none of her imminent problems. Their mysticism only
bewildered her. And she sat amid the roar of London, idle and sick at
heart, unhearing and unseeing.

“I will do it!” she at last said aloud. “It will be my punishment!” She
could no longer demand so much of life. She looked on existence, now,
with older and disillusioned eyes. For what she had taken she must stand
ready to pay. It would be her penance and penalty for past
transgressions. And it would have to be borne; it was obligatory. It was
not happiness or well-being that was at stake, she argued, in that new
mood of amendment; it was something vast and undying and eternal within
her, something that came before happiness itself, something she had seen
her defiant and broken and dying father ignore and surrender and suffer
for.

While this new expiatory passion was still warm in her blood, she packed
her boxes, soberly, and then as soberly wrote to Durkin. It was not a
long letter, but she spent much time and thought in its composition. In
it, too, she seemed to cast off her last vestige of hesitation. For she
felt that the very note of impersonality in its unnatural stiffness of
phrasing was a new means of support. It was a support as clumsy and
retarding as a child’s walking-chair, but she was willing enough to
catch at it, whimsically, in those first tottering steps of
renunciation.

“My Dear Jim,” she began, after much hesitation, and with many long and
thoughtful pauses as she wrote, “it will surprise you, I know, but I
have decided to go back to Oxford—to the Oxford I have so often told
you about. Do not think it is only cruelty on my part, or cowardice, or
self-interest. I have thought over everything long and carefully. And it
has led, always led, to one end—that end is: neither you nor I must go
on leading the lives we have been leading! It will hurt me, and it will
hurt you, I believe, to break the ties that time has made. But there is,
today, all the width of the Atlantic between us—and it is there, I
think, that I am the coward. For it is only this that makes it possible
for me to do what I’m doing. With you, I would bend to your will; here
it will be easier. Now, above all things, both you and I must learn not
to look on ourselves as beings apart from the rest of the world. If we
have ever been enemies of society we must learn not to remember it—for
it is this feeling, I know, which holds the key of our undoing. I have
often wondered and looked to see in what ways I reproduced the atavistic
conditions of the primitive woman—for they say that we evil doers are
only echoes out of the past—but I’m going to do it no more. We are both
of us ill-fitted for the things and the deeds we have drifted into. They
make us suffer too much. It is work that should fall to souls dwarfed
and stunted and benumbed. We are not morbid and depraved and blind; we
have intelligence and feeling. We have only been unhappy and unlucky,
let’s say. So now we must fight along and wait for better luck, as you
used to put it. We are not what they call ‘recidivists.’ We are not
abnormal and branded; we must fight away the deadly feeling that we are
detached from the rest of the world, that mankind is organized and
fighting against us, that we are the hunted, and all men the hounds!
What we have done, we have done. But I know that we were both initiated
into wrong-doing so quietly and so insidiously that the current caught
us before we knew it. Yet I feel that I have none of the traits of the
Female Offender, though in my anxiety and crazy search for causes and
excuses I have even taken my cephalic index and tested my chromatic
perception and my tactile sensitiveness and made sure that I responded
normally to a Faraday current! Yes, we are both too normal to succeed
happily in the ways we began. . . . I shall miss you, but I shall always
love you. Oh, Jim, pray for me; as I, daily, shall pray for you! I can’t
write more now. Go back to your work, though it means being hungry and
lonely and unhappy, fight out the problem of your amplifier, and
struggle along with your transmitting camera, until you accomplish
something we can both take pride in and be happy over! Sometime, later,
when I write, I shall be able to explain everything more fully. . . . I
was eleven days in the hospital, and crossed on the _Nieuw Amsterdam_.
There will always be a scar—but a very small one—on my arm. That will
be the only reminder. Good-bye, dear Jim, and God bless and keep you,
always, in the right.”

She read over the letter, slowly, dispassionately, and fought back the
temptation to write further, to fling more of her true feeling into it.
That, at best, would be only a cruel kindness.

As she folded and sealed the letter she felt that she was sealing down
many years of her past youth. She already felt that she had passed over
some mysterious Great Divide, that some vast morainic loop already
walled her back from her former existence. And then, as a sudden,
rushing sense of her isolation swept over her, she broke down, in that
very hour of her ironic triumph, and wept miserably, passionately,
hopelessly.

Her misery clung to her all that day, until, late in the afternoon, she
caught the first glimpse of Oxford from her compartment window. At one
touch it carried her back to the six long years of her girlhood, for she
had been little more than a child when first taken from the dubious care
of her father—and the happiest stretch of her life had been lived
within sound of Oxford’s tranquil bells.

It had been her first plan, when she left the train, to take a carriage
and drive leisurely through the old university town. It would be her one
hour of freedom, before crossing that final Rubicon; it was only, she
protested, a human enough hesitation before the ultimate plunge. Vividly
and minutely she remembered the town, as she had seen it from the
familiar hills, wrapt in sunlight and purplish shadows by day, lying
cool and dark and tranquil under the summer moon by night, steeped in
the silences and the soft mistiness of the river valley, with here and
there a bell tinkling and a roof glimmering through the gloom. She even
used to say she found a strange comfort in the number of these bells and
in the thought of their wakefulness throughout the night. But now,
through some underground circuit of memory, they carried her thoughts
back to the clanging brilliance of Broadway at midnight, to the movement
and tumult and press of light-hearted humanity. And by contrast, they
now seemed to her to toll lugubriously. The quiet city about her seemed
tainted with antiquity, autumnal, overshadowed by the grayness of death.
It almost stifled her. She had forlornly hoped that the calm beauty of
that town of bells and towers would still fall as a welcome balm on her
torn feelings. But she had changed—oh, how she had changed! It was not,
she told herself, the mere fruit of physical exhaustion. Her one desire
on that day, indeed, was to reach that condition of bodily weariness
which would render her indifferent to all mental blows. It was only her
past, whimpering for its own.

She still felt the sheer need of fatigue to purge away that inner
weariness that had settled over her soul, so on second thoughts she
turned homeward, and went on foot, through the paling English afternoon.
Often, as a girl, she had walked in over the neighboring hills; and
there seemed something more in keeping with her return to go back alone,
and quietly. And as she walked she seemed to grow indifferent to even
her own destiny. She felt herself as one gazing down on her own tangled
existence with the cool detachment of a mere spectator. Yet this was the
landscape of her youth, she kept telling herself, where she had first
heard nightingales sing, where she had been happy and hopeful and looked
out toward the unknown world with wide and wondering eyes. But the very
landscape that once lay so large and alluring now seemed cramped and
small and trivial. It seemed like a play-world to her, painted and laid
out and overcrowded, like the too confining stage-scene of a theatre.

The afternoon was already late when the familiar square tower of the
church and the gray walls of the parsonage itself came into view. She
gazed at them, abstracted and exalted, and only once she murmured: “How
different, oh, how different!”

Then she opened the gate of that quiet home, slowly and deliberately,
and stepped inside. The garden was empty.

One great, annihilating sponge-sweep seemed to wipe five long years, and
all their mottled events, from her memory. Then as slowly and
deliberately she once more closed the gate. The act seemed to take on
that dignity attaching to the ceremonial, for with that movement, she
passionately protested to herself, she was closing the door on all her
past.



                               CHAPTER VI


It was one week later that Frances Candler wrote her second letter to
Durkin. She wrote it feverishly, and without effort, impetuous page
after page, until she came to the end. Then she folded and sealed it,
hastily, as though in fear that some reactionary sweep of hesitation
might still come between her and her written purpose.

“I was wrong—I was terribly wrong,” was the way in which she began her
letter. “For as I told you in my cable, _I am coming back_. It is now
all useless, and hopeless, and too late. And I thought, when I was once
away from you, that it would be easy to learn to live without you. But
during these last few weeks, when I have been so absolutely and so
miserably alone, I have needed and cried for you—oh, Jim, how I have
needed you! I have learned, too, how even an inflexible purpose, how
even a relentless sense of duty, may become more sinister than the
blindest selfishness. It was cruel and cowardly in me—for as you once
said, we must now sink or swim together. I forgot that you, too, were
alone, that you, too, needed help and companionship, even more than I.
And I had thought that morality and its geography, that mere flight from
my misdoings meant that they were ended, that here in some quiet spot I
could be rid of all my past, that I could put on a new character like a
new bonnet, that life was a straight and never-ending lane, and not a
blind mole-run forever winding and crossing and turning on itself! I
thought that I could creep away, and forget you, and what I had been,
and what I had lived through, and what had been shown to me. But the
world is not that easy with us. It defeats us where we least expect it;
it turns against us when we most need it. I had always dreamed that my
uncle’s high-walled home at Oxford could be nothing but a place of quiet
and contentment. I had always thought of it as a cloister, into which I
could some day retire, and find unbroken rest and a solemn sort of
happiness. Then came the revelation, the blow that cut the very ground
from under my feet. _They_ had their troubles and their sorrows, as well
as I. Life could hang as dark for them as it hung for me. My cousin
Albert, a mere boy, reading for the Bar in London, had a friend in the
City named Singford. I will try to tell you everything as clearly and as
briefly as possible. Young Singford is rather a black sheep, of an idle
and wealthy family. He involved Albert in a stock-gambling scheme—oh,
such a transparent and childish scheme, poor boy!—and Albert, in
despair, went to his father. He had to have money to cover his losses;
it would be paid back within the month. His father, the soul of
uprightness, borrowed the money from what was, I think, the Diocesan
Mission Fund, in the belief that it would be promptly repaid. Then came
the crash. I found them broken and dazed under it, helpless, hopeless,
bewildered. It was so new to them, so outside their every-day life and
experience! I went straight to London, and hunted up my cousin, who was
actually talking about shooting himself. I found that young Singford,
who had been sent down from Balliol, had blindly plunged with Albert on
some foolish Texas Oil enterprise. I needn’t tell you more, except that
the whole sum was not quite two hundred pounds. But it meant Albert’s
giving up his study, and my uncle’s disgrace. I straightened it out for
the poor boy—it all seemed so easy and natural and commonplace for _my_
practised hand!—and I believe I brought some little peace and comfort
back to that crushed and despairing household. But it all means, of
course, that now I’ll have to go back to America. Still, whatever I may
have to go through, or whatever happens to me, I shall always have the
consolation of knowing that I made that one small sacrifice and did that
one small kindness. But from the first I saw that my sanctuary was no
longer a sanctuary. And when I saw that I should really have to go back,
I was almost glad. The very thought of it seemed to give a new zest to
life. I had been trying to tell myself that my future there would not be
empty and lonely. But all along, in my secret heart of hearts, I knew
better. I could not close my eyes to anticipation; I could not shut
activity out of my life. It seemed suddenly to people all my lonely
future with possibilities, that first thought of going back. And then
there was _you_. Yes, I believe all along that it was you I wanted. I
tried to argue myself away from the feeling that I was deserting you,
but I knew it was true. It was this feeling that saved me, that made me
feel almost elated, when I saw that fate was once more flinging me into
the life from which I had been fighting to escape. You don’t know what
the very word ‘America’ now means to me—it’s like the shrill of a
call-bell, it’s like the double ‘i’ of our operating days, warning us to
be ready! I want to go home; and home, now, is where you are. I can’t
entomb myself yet—I am too young. I want to live, Jim, I want to live!
Those feverish years must have left some virus in my veins, some virus
of recklessness and revolt. And there is so much to do, so many things
are challenging us, waiting for us. I can not be satisfied with
memories, and Yesterday. I want Tomorrow, and You! It may be blind, and
wrong, and wicked—but, oh, Jim, the wires are all down between my head
and my heart!”



                              CHAPTER VII


Durkin sat at the restaurant table, smoking, his watch in his hand. It
was already seven minutes to four. As the seventh minute slipped into
the sixth, and the sixth into the fifth, some first vague sense of
impending disaster stole over him.

“Is this seat taken, sir?”

It was a waiter speaking, with a short, florid man at his heels.

“Yes,” said Durkin, quietly, “I’m expecting a lady—in five minutes.”

The florid man bowed. The waiter said “Yes, sir,” tipped the chair
against the table edge, and went on in search of a seat.

Durkin smoked hard once more, relishing the touch of irony in it all. He
did not, naturally enough, explain that the lady he was expecting had
made the engagement three thousand miles away from the table at which he
sat and at which he was to meet her precisely on the stroke of four.
Such things were theatrical, and unnecessary; besides, one had to allow
for accidents. And once more, with a puzzled brow, he took up his paper
and looked through the _Majestic’s_ passenger list, still involuntarily
cast down by a wayward sense of possible calamity.

He imagined some dark coalition of forces against him, obscurely
depressed, for the moment, by the shadow of some immense, seemingly
impassive, and yet implacable animosity of eternal rule toward the
accidental revolter. The same vague feeling had possessed him that
infelicitously happy day when, after abandoning his operator’s key, he
had become an “overhead guerrilla.” Still later it had come to him, from
time to time, as, dazzled by the splendor of that vast hazard which had
ended in such disastrous triumph, he had revolted against MacNutt, and
preyed on the preyer himself. He had begun to feel, and he had felt,
from that time forward, that he was existing under a series of
conditions other than those of the men about him. He was no longer one
of them. He was out of the fold. He carried the taint of the pariah. He
was, henceforth, however he might try, as Frances Candler had warned
him, to muffle or forget it, a social anomaly.

To the consciousness of this he applied his customary balm, which lay in
the thought that now the older creeds and ethics of life had crumbled
away. The spirit which dominated America today, he felt, was that of the
business man’s code of morals; it was the test, not of right, but of
might, as it flowered in intelligence and craftiness. And that first
dubious victory, of his own, he argued with himself, had been one of
intelligence—should not victory, then, always be with the alerter head
and the warier hand? And this vague and mysterious enemy whose
emissaries, even though relentless, were always so temptingly
dull—would they not always meet and clash, and the battle be to the
strong?

A woman, dressed in black, with a dark veil caught up around the rim of
her hat, pushed her way through the crowded restaurant toward the table
in the corner. She might have passed for a mere girl, but for the heavy
shadows about the weary-looking, violet eyes and the betraying fullness
of her soberly gowned figure. She glanced at the clock, and smiled a
little, with her calm, almost pensive lips, as she placed a pearl-gloved
hand on the back of the tilted chair.

“I am on time, you see,” she said, quietly in her soft contralto, as she
sank into the chair with a contented sigh, and began drawing off her
gloves. “It is precisely four o’clock.”

Outwardly she appeared at ease, well-poised and unruffled. Only the
quick rise and fall of her bosom and the tremulousness of her hands gave
any sign of her inner agitation.

“Why—Frank!” cried Durkin, with eloquent enough inadequacy, his face
paling a little, for all his own assumption of easy fortitude. He
continued to look at her, a sudden lump in his throat choking back the
hundred stampeding words that seemed clamoring to escape. He noticed, as
he had so often noticed before, how rapid and easy were her movements,
and how, through all her softness, she impressed one with a sense of her
great muscular agility.

For one wavering moment she let her eyes lose their studied calmness,
and, inwardly surrendering, gazed at him recklessly, abandonedly, with
her very soul in her face.

“Is it safe here?” she murmured, as she drew her chair up.

He nodded. “As safe as anywhere,” he was on the point of replying, but
did not speak the words.

“Dearest!” she whispered to him, with her eyes still on his face, and
her back to the crowded room.

He tried to seize her ungloved hand in his, but she drew him up with a
sudden monitory “Hsssssh!” Then he, too, remembered, and they took up
their rôle of outward indifference once more.

“I had to come back, you see!” she confessed, with what seemed a shamed
and mournful shake of the head.

“Something told me you would, all along, even after your first letter. I
saw it, as surely as I see you now!”

“Oh, Jim, what I wrote you was true!—it showed me that we can’t bury
our past, in a day, or a week or a month! It’s made me afraid of myself
and taught me how weak I am!”

And again she looked at him, across the quiet but abysmal gulf of her
reawakening despair.

“But there is just where we make ourselves so unhappy—we’re so afraid
about being afraid! Life without some fear—what is it?”

“Oh, I am without defence!” she lamented, indeterminately and
inconsequently. She sighed again, and still again gazed into his face
with her shadowy and unhappy and seemingly hungry eyes. Then, with a
sudden abandoning uptoss of her reckless hands, that seemed to fling
both solemnity and memory from her, she laughingly declared that it was
already too late to cry over spilt milk. Yet the sound of her careless
laughter fell, in some way, more lugubriously on Durkin’s ear than had
all her earlier lamentation.

“But _why_ did you ever write that first letter?” he persisted.

She knew she could not explain, satisfactorily. “It was the result of
being lonesome, let’s say, and perhaps being morbid, after my illness!”

Durkin called the waiter and gave him an order, puffing his cigar with
assumed unconcern, while the woman murmured across the table to him:
“You look quite foreign, with that magnificent Vandyke! And, by the way,
how do you like my English bang?”

“Why, it’s dyed!” said Durkin, for the first time missing the sunny
glint in the familiar crown of chestnut.

“Jim,” said the woman, in lower tones, sobering again, “there’s trouble
ahead, already!”

She drew her chair a little closer, and leaned forward, with her elbows
on the table and her chin in her hands. Durkin lighted another cigar,
and lounged toward her with the same careless pose, his face alert with
new and different interest.

“MacNutt?”

“No, not him, thank heaven!”

“You don’t mean Doogan’s men?”

“Not so loud, dear! No, not Doogan’s men, either. It’s nothing like
that. But tell me, quickly, has anything gone wrong over here?”

“Not a thing—except that you were away!”

“But hasn’t _anything_ happened since I saw you?”

“Nothing worth while—no. It’s been so dull, so deadly dull, I all but
jumped back into the old game and held up a Charleston pool-room or two!
Five whole weeks of—of just waiting for you!”

She caught up her veil, where a part of it dropped down from her
hat-rim, and smiled her wistfully girlish smile at him. Then she glanced
carefully about her; no one seemed within earshot.

“Yes, I know. It seemed just as long to me, dearest. Only, because of
several things, _I_ had to jump into something. That’s what I must tell
you about—but we can’t talk here.”

“Then we’ll have William call a taxi?”

She nodded her assent.

“We can talk there without having some one hanging over our shoulders.”

“Do you know,” she went on, as she watched the waiter push out through
the crowded, many-odored room, “I often think I must have lived through
the ordinary feelings of life. I mean that we have already taken such
chances together, you and I, that now only a big thing can stir me into
interest. I suppose we’ve exhausted all the every-day sensations.”

“Yes, I know the feeling,” said Durkin, through his cigar-smoke. “I
suppose it’s really a sort of drunkenness with us now. I couldn’t go
back to the other things, any more than I could go back to—to stogies.
All this last four weeks of hanging about I have felt like—oh, like a
sailor who has pounded round every strange sea in the world, and has
come home to be told not to go out of his own back yard.”

“That’s how I felt, towards the last, in London, with nothing to do,
nothing to think about, or plan, or live for. I got so I nearly screamed
every time I faced the four dull walls of that hotel room. But, you see
we have both fallen back on the wrong sort of stimulant. After all, what
I wrote you in that letter _was_ true! Neither of us two should ever
have been evil-doers. I am too—too much like other women, I suppose.
And you’re too thin-skinned and introspective—too much of a twentieth
century Hamlet. You should never have tapped a wire; and I should never
have been a welcher and robbed MacNutt. You ought to have gone on being
a nice, respectable young train-despatcher, with a row of geraniums in
front of your station window; and I ought to be a prim little
branch-office telegrapher in one of those big Broadway hotel corridors,
in a little wire cage, between the news-stand and the cigar-counter.
Then we should both have a lot still to look for and to live for.”

She broke off inconsequently, and gazed out through the
lightly-curtained window, to where a street piano was throbbing out the
waltz-tune of _Stumbling_.

“Do you remember our first days together?—the music and theatres and
drives! Oh, what a happy four weeks they were!” And she gazed at him
dreamily, as she hummed the tune of _Stumbling_ in her throaty,
low-noted contralto, ending with a nonchalant little laugh, as she
looked up and said, “But here’s our taxi, at last!”

In the half-light of the taxi-cab, as they turned into Fifth Avenue, and
swung up toward Central Park, she let her tired body rest against his
shoulder, with her arm clinging to him forlornly. There was a minute or
two of silence, and then putting her face up to him, she said, with a
sudden passionate calmness:

“Kiss me!”

He felt the moist warmth of her capitulating lips, the clinging weight
of her inert body, and, deep down within his own consciousness he knew
that, if need be, he could die for her as the purest knight might have
died for some old-world lady of spotless soul and name.

Yet after all, he wondered, as he held her there, were they so
irretrievably bad? Was it not only their game, this life they had
drifted into?—their anodyne, their safeguard against exhausted desires
and the corroding idleness of life?

She must intuitively have felt what was running through his mind, as she
slipped away from him, and drew back into her own corner of the
taxi-cab, with a new look of brooding melancholy in her shadowy eyes.

“If I were ignorant and coarse, and debased, then I could understand it.
But I’m not! I have always wanted to be honest. From the first I have
longed to be decent.”

“You _are_ honest, through and through,” he protested. “You are as
strong and true as steel.”

She shook her head, but he caught her in his arms, and she lay there
half-happy again.

“Oh, Frank, for the twentieth time,” he pleaded, “won’t you marry me?”

“No, no, no; not till we’re honest!” she cried, in alarm. “I wouldn’t
dare to, I couldn’t, until then.”

“But we’re only what we have been. We can’t change it all in a day, can
we—especially when there is so much behind?”

“I want to be decent,” she cried, in a sort of muffled wail. “No, no; I
can’t marry you, Jim, not yet. We may not be honest with other people,
but we _must_ be honest with ourselves!”

One of the policemen directing the street-traffic at Forty-Second Street
glanced in at them, through the misty window, and smiled broadly. It
seemed to remind her of other worlds, for she at once sat up more
decorously.

“Time! Time! we are losing time—and I have so much to tell you.”

“Then give me your hand to hold, while you talk.”

She hesitated for a half-laughing moment, and then surrendered it.

“Now, tell me everything, from the first!”



                              CHAPTER VIII


“It’s the Blue Pear,” she said, hesitatingly, wondering how to
begin—“which, of course, means nothing to you.”

“And just what _is_ it, please?”

“The Blue Pear, Jim, is a diamond. It’s a diamond that you and I, in
some way or another, have got to get back!”

“To get back? Then when did we lose it?”

“_I_ lost it. That’s what I’ve got to tell you.”

“Well, first tell me what it is,” he said, wondering at her seeming
gaiety, not comprehending her nervous rebound from depression to
exhilaration.

“It’s a very odd diamond, and a very big diamond, only tinted with a
pale blue coloring the same as the Hope Diamond is tinged with yellow.
That’s how it came to get its name. But the odd thing about it is that,
when it was cut in Amsterdam, rather than grind away a fifteen-carat
irregularity, it was left in a sort of pear-shape. Even before it was
mounted by Lalique, it sold in Paris for well over six thousand pounds.
Later, in Rio de Janeiro, it brought something like seven thousand
pounds. There it was given to a French actress by a Spanish-American
coffee-king. It was an African stone, in the first place.”

“But what’s all this geography for?” asked Durkin.

“Wait, dear heart, and you’ll understand. The coffee-king quarrelled
with the Paris woman. This woman, though, smuggled the stone back to
France with her. It was sold there, a few months later, for about
one-fourth its market value. Still later it was bought for a little
under six thousand pounds, by the late Earl of Warton, who gave it to
his younger daughter, Lady Margaret Singford, when she married young
Cicely—Sir Charles Cicely, who was wounded the first year of the war,
you remember. Well, Sir Charles didn’t like the setting—it had been
made into a marquise ring of some sort—so he took it to Rene Lalique’s
work-shop in Paris, and had it mounted after his own ideas.”

“But who is Lalique?”

“A French _l’art nouveau_ goldsmith—the Louis Tiffany of the Continent.
But I’ve a lot to tell you, Jim, and only a little time to do it in, so
we shall have to cut out these details. Lalique made a pendant out of
the Blue Pear, hung on a thin gold stem, between little leaves of beaten
gold, with diamond dew-drops on them. Well, four weeks ago the Blue Pear
was stolen from Lady Margaret’s jewel case. No, Jim, thank you, not by
me; but if you’ll wait, I’ll try to explain.

“I hardly know what made me do it—it was _ennui_, and being lonesome, I
suppose. Perhaps it was the money,—a little. But, you see, when Albert,
my innocently wayward young cousin, got mixed up with young Singford, I
found out a thing or two about _that_ less innocent gentleman. It
started me thinking; and thinking, of course, started me acting.”

He nodded, as a sign that he was following her.

“I had detective-agency cards printed, and went straight to the Cicelys.
Lady Margaret wouldn’t see me; she sent down word that the reward of
three hundred pounds was still open, and that there was no new
information. But I saw her at last—I shan’t explain just how. Before
very long I found out something further, and rather remarkable—that
Lady Margaret wanted to drop the case altogether, and was trying to
blind Scotland Yard and the police. And that made me more determined.

“Before the end of the week, I found out that young Singford, Lady
Margaret’s brother, had been mixed up in a row at Monaco, had made a
mess of things, later, at Oxford, and had decided to try ranching in the
Canadian North-West. I had already booked my passage on the _Celtic_,
but the whole thing then meant too much for me, and, when I found young
Singford was sailing that week on the _Majestic_, I succeeded in getting
a berth on that steamer. Jim, as soon as I saw that wretched boy on
deck, I knew that I had guessed right, or almost right. Oh, I know them,
I know them! I suppose it’s because, in the last year or two, I have
come in contact with so many of them. But there he was, as plain as day,
a criminal with stage-fright, a beginner without enough nerve to face
things out. I rather think he may have been a nice boy at one time. And
I know just how easy it is, once you make the first little wrong turn,
to keep on and on and on, until you daren’t turn back, even if you had
the chance to.”

“And you took pity on him?” inquired Durkin, “or did you merely vivisect
him at a distance?”

“Not altogether—but first I must tell you of the second dilemma. Before
we sailed, and the first day out, I thought it best to keep to my cabin.
You can understand why, of course. After all, this is such a little
world, when you know the Central Office might be after you!”

“Or some old business friend?”

“That was precisely what I thought, only a good deal harder, when I was
sat down to dinner, the second day out, and glanced across the table.
You remember my telling you about my first experiences in America, when
I was a shrinking and pink-cheeked young English governess, and never
knew a bold thought or a dishonest act? Do you remember my describing
the woman—it’s always a woman who is hard on another woman!—who
accused me of—of having designs on her husband? Her husband, a
miserable, oily little Hebrew diamond-merchant who twice insulted me on
the stairs of his own house, when I had to swallow it without a word!
Well, it was that woman who sat across the table from me. They had put
me at the Captain’s table—my London gown, you see, looks uncommonly
well. But there was that woman, a little more faded and wizened and
wrinkled, looking at me with those beady old hawk eyes of hers; and I
knew there was trouble ahead.

“A war-correspondent, who had been nice to me, had brought up about
everybody at our table worth while, and introduced them to me, that
night before going down. So, when I saw that yellow face and those hawk
eyes, I knew I had to think hard and fast.”

“‘Are you not the young woman,’ she said, in a sort of _frappé_ of nasal
indignation, ‘are you not the young woman whom I once employed as a
governess and discharged for misconducting herself with—er—with the
other servants?’

“I was so busy trying to be cool that I didn’t bother thinking out an
answer. I did want to say, though, that it was not a servant, but her
own devoted and anointed husband. I kept on talking to the Captain,
deciding to ignore her icily. But that yellow hag deliberately repeated
her question, and I heard the war-correspondent gasp out an indignant
‘My God, madam!’ and saw the Captain’s face growing redder and redder.
So I went on and asked the Captain if intoxication was becoming commoner
on the high seas. Then she began to splutter and tremble. I kept looking
at her as languidly as ever, and a steward had to help her away.

“But she knew that she was right. And she knew that I knew she knew.
Though I had all the men on my side, and the Captain cheerfully saw to
it that she was moved down to the tail end of the Doctor’s table, among
the commercial travellers and the school-ma’ms, I knew well enough that
she was only waiting for her chance.

“It didn’t change the face of things, but it upset me, and made me more
cautious in the way I handled young Singford. In some way, I felt a bit
sorry for the poor chap, I thought a little sympathy might perhaps
soften him, and make him tell me something worth while. But he had too
much good old English backbone for that. And, although he told me I was
the best woman he ever knew, and a little more solemn nonsense like
that, I at last had to go for him very openly. It was a moonlight
night—the sea-air was as soft as summer. We were standing by the rail,
looking out over the water. Then I made the plunge, and very quietly
told him I knew two things, that he had stolen his sister’s diamond
pendant, and that for three days he had been thinking about committing
suicide.

“I watched his hand go up to his breast-pocket—the moon was on his
terrified young face—and I came a little nearer to him, for I was
afraid of something—I tried to tell him there was no use jumping
overboard, and none whatever in throwing the Blue Pear into the
Atlantic. That would only make things past mending, forever. Besides, he
was young, and his life was still before him. I talked to him—well, I
believe I cried over him a little, and finally, without a word, he
reached in under his coat, and there, in the moonlight, handed me the
Blue Pear. I gave him my word of honor it would be taken back to his
sister, and even lent him twenty pounds—and you can imagine how little
I had left!”

Durkin looked up, as though to ask a question, but she silenced him with
her uplifted hand.

“That was the night we came up the Bay. I slipped down to my cabin, and
turned on the electric light. Then I opened the little case, and looked
at my pendant. You know I never liked diamonds, they always seemed so
cold and hard and cruel—well, as though the tears of a million women
had frozen into one drop. But this Blue Pear—oh, Jim, it was
beautiful!”

“It _was_?—Good heavens, you don’t mean—?”

“Shhhh! Not so loud! Yes, that is just it. There I stood trying it in
the light, feasting on it, when a voice said behind me, a voice that
made my hair creep at the roots, ‘A very unsafe stone to smuggle, young
lady!’ And there, just inside my door, stood the yellow hag. She had
stolen down, I suppose, to nose among my luggage a bit. I could have
shaken her—I almost did try it.

“We stood staring at each other; it was the second battle of the kind
between us on board that ship. I realized she had rather the upper hand
in this one. I never saw such envy and greed and cruelty in a human
face, as she ogled that stone.

“It seemed to intoxicate her—she was drunk to get her hands on it—and
she had enough of her own, too. So, once more, I had to think as fast as
I could, for I knew that this time she would be relentless.

“‘No, I shan’t smuggle it,’ I said, in answer to her look.

“‘_You_ pay duty—a thousand, two thousand dollars!’ she gasped at me,
still keeping her eyes on the stone, flashing there in the light. ‘Given
to you,’ she almost hissed, ‘by some loving father whose child you
guided into the paths of wisdom? Oh, I know you, you lying huzzy! It’s
mine!’ she cried, like a baby crying for the moon, ‘it’s mine! You—you
stole it from me!’”

She paused, at the memory of the scene, and Durkin stirred uneasily on
the seat.

“What made the fool say that?” he demanded.

“Why, she meant that she could claim it, and intended to claim it,
insinuating that she would see that it was declared at the wharf, if I
kept it, and arguing that I might as well lose it quietly to _her_, as
to the Treasury officers. I knew in a flash, then, that she didn’t know
what the Blue Pear was. I closed the little gun-metal case with a snap.
Then I put it, Blue Pear and all, in her hand. She turned white, and
asked me what I meant.

“‘I am going to give it to you—for a while, at least,’ I said, as
coolly as I could, making a virtue, of course, of what I knew was going
to be a necessity.

“She looked at me open-mouthed. Then she tore open the case, looked at
the stone, weighed it in her fingers, gasped a little, held it to the
light again, and turned and looked at me still once more.

“‘This pendant _was_ stolen!’ she cried, with sudden conviction. She
looked at the stone again—she couldn’t resist it.

“‘You might call it the Robin’s Egg, when you have it re-cut,’ I told
her.

“She gave a jump—that was what she was thinking of, the shrewd old
wretch. She shoved the case down in her lean old breast.

“‘Then you will smuggle it in for me?’ I asked her.

“‘Yes, I’ll get it through, if I have to swallow it!’

“‘And you will keep it?’ I asked; and I laughed, I don’t know why.

“‘You remember my house?’ she cried, with a start.

“‘Like a book!’ I told her.

“‘But still I’ll keep it!’ she declared.

“It was a challenge, a silly challenge, but I felt at that moment that
this was indeed a plunge back into the old ways of life. But, to go on.
She didn’t seem to realize that keeping the Blue Pear was like trying to
conceal a white elephant, or attempting to hide away a Sierra Nevada
mountain. Then that cruel old avaricious, over-dressed, natural-born
criminal had her turn at laughing, a little hysterically, I think. And,
for a minute or two, I felt that all the world had gone mad, that we
were only two gray gibbering ghosts talking in the enigmas of insanity,
penned up in throbbing cages of white enamelled iron.

“I followed her out of the cabin, and walked up and down alone in the
moonlight, wondering if I had done right. At the wharf, I fully intended
to risk everything and inform on her, then cable to the Cicelys. But she
must have suspected something like that—my stewardess had already told
me there were two Treasury Department detectives on board—and got her
innings first. For I found myself quietly taken in charge, and my
luggage gone over with a microscope—to say nothing of the gentle old
lady who massaged me so apologetically from head to foot, and seemed a
bit put out to find that I had nothing more dutiable than an extra pair
of French gloves.”

“Had you expected this beforehand?” interposed Durkin.

“Yes, the stewardess had told me there was trouble impending—that’s
what made me afraid about the Blue Pear. Just as I got safely through
Customs, though, I caught sight of the yellow hag despatching her maid
and luggage home in a taxi-cab, while she herself sailed away in
another,—I felt so sure she was going straight to her husband’s store,
Isaac Ottenheimer & Company, the jeweller and diamond man on Fifth
Avenue, you know, that I scrambled into a taxi and told the driver to
follow my friend to Ottenheimer’s. When we pulled up there, I drew the
back curtains down and watched through a quarter-inch crack. The woman
came out again, looking very relieved and triumphant. And that’s the
whole story—only,—”

She did not finish the sentence, but looked at Durkin, who was slowly
and dubiously rubbing his hands together, with the old, weary,
half-careless look all gone from his studious face.

He glanced back at the woman beside him admiringly, lost himself in
thought for a moment, and then laughed outright.

“You’re a dare-devil, Frank, if there ever was one!” he cried; then he
suddenly grew serious once more.

“No, it’s not _daring_,” she answered him. “The true name of it is
_cowardice_!”



                               CHAPTER IX


Four hours later, in that shabby little oyster-house often spoken of as
“The Café of Failures,” lying less than a stone’s throw from the
shabbiest corner of Washington Square, Frances Candler met by
appointment a stooped and somewhat sickly-looking workman carrying a
small bag of tools. This strange couple sought out a little table in one
of the odorous alcoves of the oyster-house, and, over an unexpectedly
generous dinner, talked at great length and in low tones, screened from
the rest of the room.

“You say it’s a Brandon & Stark eight-ton vault; but can’t you give me
something more definite than that to work on?” the man was asking of the
girl.

“Only what I’ve told you about its position; I had to watch out for
Ottenheimer every moment I was in that store.”

“I see. But while I think of it, providing we _do_ find the stone there,
do we turn it over again or—?”

“I gave my word of honor, Jim!”

The shadow of a smile on his face died away before her unyielding
solemnity.

“Oh, of course! There’s three hundred pounds on it, anyway, isn’t
there?”

She nodded her head in assent.

“But I think we’ve got our trouble before us, and plenty of it, before
we see that three hundred pounds,” he said, with a shrug.

“The time’s so short—that is the danger. As I was on the point of
telling you, Ottenheimer has an expert diamond-cutter in his shops.”

“And that means he’ll have the apex off our Pear at the first chance,
and, accordingly, it means hurry for us. But tell me the rest.”

“Ottenheimer himself owns, I discovered, the double building his store
is in. He has his basement, of course, his ground floor show-room and
store; and work-rooms, and shipping department, and all that, on the
second story. Above them is a lace importer. On the top floor there is a
chemical fire-apparatus agency. In the south half of the building, with
the hall and stairway between, is an antique furniture store, and above
them a surgical supply company. The third and top floors are taken up by
two women photographers—their reception room on the third floor, their
operating-room, and that sort of thing, on the top floor, with no less
than two sky-lights and a transom opening directly on the roof. I
arranged for a sitting with them. That is the floor we ought to have,
but the building is full. Three doors below, though, there was a top,
back studio to let, and I’ve taken it for a month. There we have a
transom opening on the roof. I looked through, merely to see if I could
hang my washing out sometimes. But barring our roof off from
Ottenheimer’s is an ugly iron fencing.”

“Did you get a chance to notice their wiring?”

“The first thing. We can cut in and loop their telephone from our back
room, with thirty feet of number twelve wire.”

“Then we’ve got to get in on that line, first thing!”

He ruminated in silence for a minute or two.

“Of course you didn’t get a glimpse of the basement, under
Ottenheimer’s?”

“Hardly, Jim. We shall have to leave that to the gas-man!”

And they both laughed a little over the memory of a certain gas-man who
short circuited a private line in the basement of the Stock Exchange
building and through doing so upset one of the heaviest cotton brokerage
businesses in Wall Street.

“Did you notice any of the other wires—power circuits, and that kind of
thing?”

“Yes, I did; but there were too many of them! I know, though, that
Ottenheimer’s wires go south along our roof.”

“Then the sooner we give a quiet ear to that gentleman’s conversations,
the better for us. Have you had any furniture moved in?”

“It goes this evening. By the way, though, what _am_ I just at present?”

Durkin thought for a moment, and then suddenly remembered her
incongruous love for needlework.

“You had better be a hard-working maker of cotillion-favors, don’t you
think? You might have a little show-case put up outside.”

She pondered the matter, drumming on the table with her impatient
fingers. “But how is all this going to put us inside that eight-ton
safe?”

“That’s the trouble we’ve got to face!” he laughed back at her.

“But haven’t you thought of anything, candidly?”

“Yes, I have. I’ve been cudgeling my brains until I feel light-headed.
Now, nitro-glycerine I object to, it’s so abominably crude, and so
disgustingly noisy.”

“And so odiously criminal!” she interpolated.

“Precisely. We’re not exactly yeggmen yet. And it’s brain we’ve got to
cudgel, and not safe-doors! I mean, now that we really are mixed up in
this sort of thing, it’s better to do it with as clean fingers as
possible. Now, once more, speaking as an expert, by lighting a small
piece of sulphur, and using it as a sort of match to start and maintain
combustion, I could turn on a stream of liquid oxygen and burn through
that safe-steel about the same as a carpenter bores through a pine
board. But the trouble is in getting the oxygen. Then, again, if it was
a mere campaign of armour against the intruder, I could win out in quite
a different way. I could take powdered aluminum, mixed with some
metallic superoxide, such as iron-rust, and get what you’d call thermit.
Then I could take this thermit, and ignite it by means of a magnesium
wire, so that it would burn down through three inches of steel like a
handful of live coals through three inches of ice. That is, if we wanted
to be scientific and up-to-date. Or, even a couple of gallons of liquid
air, say, poured on the top of the safe, ought to chill the steel so
that one good blow from a sledge would crack it.”

“But that, again, is only what cracksmen do, in a slightly different
way!”

“But, of course, by tapping an exceptionally strong power-circuit
somewhere in the neighborhood, I could fuse portions of the steel with
electricity, and then cut it away like putty. Yet all that, you see, is
not only mechanical and coarse, and full of drawbacks, but it’s doing
what we don’t want to do. It’s absolutely ruining a valuable
deposit-vault, and might very well be interpreted as and called a
criminal destruction of property. We have no moral and legal right to
smash this gentleman’s safe. But in that safe lies a stone to which he
has neither moral nor legal right, and it’s the stone, and only the
stone, that we want.”

“Then what are we to do?”

“Use these thick heads of ours, as we ought. We must _think_, and not
_pound_ our way into that vault. I mean, Frank, that we have got to get
at that stone as Ottenheimer himself would!”

They looked at each other for a minute of unbroken silence, the one
trying to follow the other’s wider line of thought.

“Well, there is where our test comes in, I suppose,” said Frances,
valiantly, feeling for the first time a little qualm of doubt.

Durkin, who had been plunged in thought, turned to her with a sudden
change of manner.

“You’re a bad lot, Frank!” he said, warmly, catching her frail-looking
hands in his own.

“I know it,” she answered, wistfully, leaning passively on her elbows.
“But some day I am going to change—we’re both going to change!” And she
stroked his studiously bent head with her hand, in a miserably
solicitous, maternal sort of way, and sighed heavily once or twice,
trying in vain to console herself with the question as to why a good
game should be spoilt by a doubtful philosophy.



                               CHAPTER X


Entrenched in her little top-floor studio, behind a show-case of
cotillion-favors, Miss Cecelia Starr sat in her wicker rocker, very
quietly and very contentedly sewing. She felt that it had been an
exceptionably profitable day for her.

Three hairpins and a linen handkerchief held a watch-case receiver close
over her ear, after the style of the metallic ear-bands of a
central-office operator. Leading from this improvised ear-band and
trailing across the floor out into her private room at the back, ran a
green cloth-covered wire. This wire connected again with an
innocent-looking and ordinary desk-battery transmitter, rigged up with a
lever switch, and standing on a little table next to the wall, up which
might be detected the two bimetallic wires which, since ten o’clock that
morning, tapped and bridged the general wire connecting the offices of
Ottenheimer & Company with the outside world.

From time to time the members of that firm went to their telephone,
little dreaming that a young lady, decorously sewing velvet
scissors-cases on a studio top-floor of another building, was quietly
listening to every message that passed in and out of their bustling
place of business. It was a strange medley of talk, some of it
incoherent, some of it dull, some of it amusing. Sometimes the busy
needle was held poised, and a more interested and startled expression
flitted over the shadowy violet eyes of Miss Cecelia Starr. At such
times she vaguely felt that she was a disembodied spirit, listening to
the hum of a far-away world, or, at other times, that she was an old
astrologer, gazing into some mystic and forbidden crystal. Still again,
as she listened, she felt like a veritable eagle, invisible, poised high
in ethereal emptiness, watching hungrily a dim and far-off sign of
earthly life and movement.

Suddenly, from the street door sounded the familiar two-three ring of
Durkin. This door remained open during the day, and she waited for him
to come up. She went to her own door, however, and laughed girlishly as
he stepped into the room, mopping his moist forehead. There was a very
alert, nervous, triumphant expression in his eyes, and once again the
feeling swept over her that it was now crime, and crime alone, that
could stimulate into interest and still satisfy their fagged vitalities.
It was their one and only intoxication, the one thing that could awaken
them from their mental sloth and stir them from life’s shadowy valley of
disillusionment.

Her quick eye had taken note of the fact that he wore a soiled blue
uniform, and the leather-peaked blue cap of a Consolidated Gas Company
employee, and that he carried with him a brass hand-pump. He laughed a
little to himself, put down his pump in one corner of the room, and
allowed his fingers to stray through his mutilated Vandyke, now a short
and straggly growth of sandy whiskers. Then he turned to her with an
unuttered query on his face.

“I was right,” she said quietly, but hurriedly.

“I never really doubted it!”

“Ottenheimer has a private drawer in the vault. It’s in that. His wife
telephoned down very cautiously about it this morning. A little later,
too, Ottenheimer was called up from a Brooklyn drugstore, by a Mrs. Van
Gottschalk, or some such name, who said her husband was still in bed
with the grip, and couldn’t possibly get over until Monday. This man,
you see, is Ottenheimer’s diamond-cutter.”

“Thank heaven, that gives us a little more time!”

“Three days, at least! But what have you done, Jim?”

“Been trying to persuade the janitor of the Ottenheimer Building that I
was sent to pump the water out of his gas-pipes,—but he was just as
sure that I wasn’t. I got down in his cellar, though, and had a good
look about, before I saw it wouldn’t do to push the thing too far. So I
insisted on going up and seeing the owner about that order. There was an
inside stairway, and a queer-looking steel door I wanted to get my
knuckles against. I started up there, but he hauled me back. I found
out, though, that this door is made of one-inch steel armor-plate.
There’s another door leading from the foot of the outer hallway into the
cellar itself. But that’s only covered with soft sheet-iron—more
against fire than anything else. Fifteen minutes will get through that
one, easily. It’s the inner door that is the problem. I tried it with a
knife-point, just one hard little jab. It took the end off my Roger’s
blade.”

“But is this door the only way in?”

“Absolutely; the rear is impossible, bricked-up; and the Avenue itself
is a little too conspicuous. The bolts of this door, as far as I can
make out, slide into heavy steel cups sunk in solid cement, and are
controlled, of course, from inside. Judging from the thickness of these,
and the sound of the door, it would take either a pound of soap and
nitro-glycerine on the one hand, or five hours of hard drilling with
diamond-point drills, on the other, to get through. We’ll say seven
hours, altogether, to get into the building. Then comes the safe, or,
rather, the vault itself. I had a casual glance at that safe this
morning, before I got these duds on—dropped in to purchase an
engagement ring, but was altogether too hard to suit. It’s a ten-tonner,
I believe, and about as burglar-proof as it can be made. Nothing but a
gallon of gun-cotton would make so much as a dent in it. But here again,
explosions are not in my line. We’ve got to use these wits of ours.
We’ve got to get in that safe, and we’ve got to get through that door! I
can’t risk six hours of machine-shop work down there; and I’m still too
respectable to drop into safe-cracking.”

“Well, the combinations of that sort of vault, you know, aren’t often
advertised on the ash-barrels.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean we have got to get it by our own wits, as you say.”

“The janitor, old Campbell, leaves the building about ten-fifteen every
night. He’s also a sort of day-watchman, I find. He’s a pretty
intelligent and trusty old fellow, absolutely unapproachable from our
standpoint. Another thing, too, the place is webbed with Holmes’
burglar-alarm apparatus. It would take another hour or so to get the
right wires cut off and bridged. I hate to feel squeamish at this stage
of the game—but that Ottenheimer safe does look uninviting!”

Frances walked up and down, with the little watch-case receiver and its
handkerchief still crowning her heavy mass of dark hair, like a coronet,
and the green wires trailing behind her, like the outline of a
bridal-veil. She was thinking quickly and desperately. Suddenly she
stopped in the midst of her pacing, and looked hard at Durkin.

“I’ve found it,” she said, in a feverish half-whisper. “We’ve got to do
it!”

Durkin looked at her gloomily, still struggling with his own line of
fruitless thought.

“Here, Jim, quick, take this and listen!” She placed the receiver close
to his ear as she spoke. “Now, that’s Ottenheimer himself at the ’phone.
Can you catch his voice distinctly? Well, do you notice what kind of
voice it is—its timbre, I mean? A plaintive-toned, guttural, suave,
mean, cringing sort of voice! Listen hard. He may not be at the ’phone
again today. Is he still talking?”

“Yes, the old scoundrel. There, he’s finished!”

“What was it about?”

“Just kicking to some one down in Maiden Lane, because Judge Hazel, of
the District Court, has overruled the board of appraisers and imposed a
ten per cent. _ad valorem_ duty on natural pearls coming in.”

“But his voice—Jim, you have got to learn to imitate that voice.”

“And then what?”

“Then cut in, presumably from Ottenheimer’s own house, and casually ask,
say, Phipps, the second salesman, and head of the shipping department,
just what your safe-combination happens to be. It has slipped your
memory, you see?”

“And Phipps, naturally, in such a case, will ring up Central and verify
the call.”

“Not necessarily. At the first call from him we shall cut his wire!”

“Which cuts us off, and gives us away, as soon as a special messenger
can deliver a message and a lineman trace up the trouble.”

“Then why cut him off at all? If that’s too risky, should the worst come
to the worst, we can tell Central it’s a case of crossed wires, bewilder
her a bit, and then shut ourselves off.”

“I believe you’ve almost got it.”

“But can you get anywhere near that voice?”

“Listen, Frank; how’s this?”

He drew in his chin, half-laughingly, and throwing his voice into a
whining yet businesslike guttural, spoke through an imaginary
transmitter to an imaginary Phipps.

“That would never, never do!” cried the other, despairingly. “He’s a
German Jew, if you have noticed—he sounds his w’s like w’s, and not
like v’s, but he makes his _r_’s like w’s.”

“Oh, I have it,” broke in Durkin, from a silent contemplation of his
desk-’phone. “We’ll just release the binding-posts on our transmitter a
little, and, let’s say, keep the electrode-bearing a trifle slack—fix
things up, I mean, so that any voice will sound as tinny as a
phonograph—decompose it, so to speak. Then, if necessary, we can lay it
to the fact that the wires are out of order somewhere!”

“Good, but when—when can we do it?”

Durkin paced the room with his old-time, restless, animal-like stride,
while Frances readjusted her receiver and restlessly took her seat in
the wicker rocker once more.

“This is Friday. That leaves Saturday night the only possible night for
the—er—invasion. Then, you see, we get a whole day for a margin.
First, we’ve got to find out exactly what time Ottenheimer himself
leaves the place, and whether it’s Phipps, or some one else, who closes
up, and just what time he does it.”

“They close at half-past five on Saturdays. Ottenheimer has already made
an engagement for tomorrow, about five at the Astor, with an importer,
to doctor up some invoice or other.”

“We could make that do; though, of course, any one in his office would
be more likely to suspect a call from the Astor, being a public place.
You must find out, definitely, this afternoon, just who it is closes up
tomorrow. Then we must get hold of some little business detail or two,
to fling in at him in case he has any suspicions.”

“That shouldn’t be so very difficult. Though I do wish you could get
something nearer Ottenheimer’s voice!”

“I’ll have a rehearsal or two alone—though, I guess, we can muffle up
that ’phone to suit our purpose. My last trouble now, is to find out how
I’m going to get through those two doors without powder.”

Again he fell to pacing the little room with his abstracted stride,
silently testing contingency after contingency, examining and rejecting
the full gamut of possibilities. Sometimes he stood before the woman
with the receiver, staring at her with vacant and unseeing eyes; at
other times he paced between her and the window. Then he paused before
the little green coils of wire that stretched across the room. He
studied them with involuntary and childish movements of the head and
hands. Then he suddenly stood erect, ran to the back window, and flung
it open.

“My God, I’ve got it!” he cried, running back to where the woman still
sat, listening, “I’ve got it!”

“How?” she asked, catching her breath.

“I’ve got to eat my way through what may be, for all I know, a full inch
of Harveyized steel. I’ve got to burrow and work through it in some way,
haven’t I? It has to be done quickly, too. I’ve got to have power,
strong power.”

He stopped, suddenly, and seemed to be working out the unmastered
details in his own mind, his eyes bent on a little shelf in one corner
of the room.

“Have you ever seen an electric fan? You see this shelf, up here in the
corner! Well, at one time, an electric fan stood there—see, here are
the remnants of the wires. It stood there whirling away at five or six
thousand revolutions to the minute, and with no more power than it takes
to keep an ordinary office-lamp alight. Right at the back of this house
is a wire, a power-circuit, alive with more than two hundred times that
voltage, with power in plenty—a little condensed Niagara of
power—asking to be taken off and made use of!”

“But what use?”

“I can capture and tame and control that power, Frank. I can make it my
slave, and carry it along with me, almost in my pocket, on a mere thread
of copper. I can make it a living, iron-eating otter, with a dozen
fangs—in the shape of quarter-inch drills, gnawing and biting and
eating through that armor-plate door about the same as a rat would gnaw
through a wooden lath. Oh, we’ve got them, Frank! We’ve got them this
time!”

“Not until we know that combination, though,” qualified the
colder-thoughted woman in the wicker rocker, still not quite
understanding how or in what the other had found so potent and so
unexpected an ally. And while he leaned out of the window, studying the
wire-distribution, she discreetly slipped her watch-case receiver over
her head, in case anything of importance should be going through over
the telephone.



                               CHAPTER XI


In the paling afternoon, with a pearl-mist of fine rain thinly shrouding
the city, Frances Candler waited for Durkin impatiently, with her watch
open before her. As the frail steel hand, implacable as fate, sank away
toward the half-hour mark, her own spirits sank with it. It was not
often Durkin was late. Another ten minutes would make him forever too
late. She debated within herself whether or not she should risk her own
voice over the wire to Ottenheimer’s office, while there was yet time,
or wait it out to the last. Then she remembered, to her sudden horror,
that the transmitter still stood in its perfectly-adjusted and normal
condition, that there could be no muffling, incompetent mechanism to
disguise the tones of her voice.

She was still beating despairingly through a tangle of dubious
possibilities when the reassuring two-three ring of the door-bell
sounded out, through the quiet of the lonely twilight, with startling
clearness. A minute later Durkin came panting into the room. He was
clean-shaven, immaculate, and most painfully out-of-breath.

“Is there time?” he gasped, putting down a heavy suit-case and peeling
off his coat as he spoke.

“It’s twenty-one minutes after five. If Phipps is punctual, that gives
you only four minutes.”

By this time Durkin had the suit-case open. In another half-minute he
had the casing off the transmitter. Then a deft turn or two with his
screw-driver, a tentative touch or two on the electrode, and in another
half minute the casing was restored, and he was gently tapping on the
diaphragm of the transmitter, with the receiver at his ear, testing the
sound.

“Just a minute, now, till I cool down, and get my breath! I had endless
trouble getting my drill apparatus—at one time I thought I’d have to
take a dentist’s tooth-driller, or some such thing. But I got what I
wanted—that’s what kept me. Anything new?”

He turned with the receiver still at his ear, and for the first time
looked at her closely. Her face seemed pale, and a little weary-looking,
against her black street-gown; the shadowy wistfulness about her eyes
seemed more marked than ever.

“Yes,” she was laughing back at him, however, “something most prodigious
has happened. I have an order for one dozen cotillion-favors, to be done
in velvet and crimson satin, and delivered next Saturday afternoon!”

Durkin himself laughed shortly, and faced the telephone once more,
asking her how time was.

“You haven’t a second to lose!”

His own face was a little paler than usual as he stood before the
transmitter, while Frances, with her watch in her hand, went on saying
that, if Phipps was punctual, he would be out and away in one minute’s
time.

Durkin took a last look around, said under his breath, “Well, here
goes!” and placed the receiver to his ear.

For a moment the woman, watching him, with half-parted lips, was haunted
by the sudden impression that she had lived through the scene before,
that each move and sound were in some way second-hand to her inner
consciousness, older than time itself, a blurred and dateless photograph
on the plates of memory.

“Hello! Hello! Is that you, Phipps?” she heard him say, and his voice
sounded thin and far-away. There was a pause—it seemed an endless
pause—and he repeated the query, louder.

“This is Ottenheimer. Yes, something wrong with the ’phone. Don’t cable
Teetzel—I say don’t cable Teetzel, about those canary diamonds, until
you see me. Yes, Teetzel. Did you get that? Well,—er—what the devil’s
our safe combination? Yes, yes, Ottenheimer!”

“Slower—slower, Jim!” groaned the girl, behind him.

“Combination’s slipped my mind, Phipps. Yes; after dinner; want to run
down and look over the books. Louder, please; I can’t hear. Yes, that’s
better. To the right three times, to seventy-four—back thirty—on
eighty-two—back one hundred and eight—and on seven. Yes. It’s the
second last figure slipped me. Better close up now. Better close up, I
say. All right,—good-bye!”

The last minute vibration ebbed out of the transmitter’s tingling
diaphragm; but still neither the listening man nor woman moved. They
waited, tense, expectant, tossed between doubt and hope, knowing only
too well that the questioning tinkle of a little polished, nickel bell
would sound the signal of their absolute and irreparable defeat.

Second by second, a minute dragged itself away. Then another, and
another, and still no call came from Ottenheimer’s office, for Central.
The woman moved a little restlessly. The man sighed deeply. Then he
slowly put down the receiver, and mopped his moist face and forehead.

“I think he’s safe,” half-whispered Durkin, with his eyes still on the
transmitter.

“He may suspect any moment though—when he’s had time to think it over,
especially.”

“I rather doubt it. Our voices were nothing but broken squeaks. But if
he does ring up Central, we’ll have to risk it and jump in and claim a
wire’s crossed somewhere.”

Then he repeated the strange formula: “To the right three times, to
seventy-four—back thirty—on eighty-two—back one hundred and
eight—and on seven. Can you get it down, Frank?”

She nodded, as she wrote it in pencil, on a slip of paper. This he
placed in his waistcoat pocket, and mopped his face once more,
laughing—perhaps a little hysterically, as he watched the ’phone and
felt the passing minutes drip relievingly, like the softest of balm, on
his strained nerves.

“And now what?” asked Frances, sharing his relief, as he went to the
window, and breathed the fresh air that blew in through the
low-ceilinged little studio.

“Now,” said Durkin, jubilantly, “now we begin our real work!” He opened
his suit-case and handed her a heavy, cylindrical, steel implement. Into
one end of this odd-looking tool he slipped and clamped a slender,
polished little shaft of grooved steel.

“That’s what nearly lost me everything,” he continued, carefully
unpacking, as he spoke, a condenser, a tangent galvanometer, a pair of
lineman’s-gloves, a Warner pocket battery-gauge, a pair of electrician’s
scissors and pliers, two or three coils of wire, a half-a-dozen pony
glass insulators, and a handful or two of smaller tools.

“Here, you see, is what I set up business with,” he soliloquized, as he
studied the litter they made on the floor. He looked up quickly, as she
drew her little table out from the wall and lifted the transmitter up on
the empty electric-fan shelf. “Er—before I forget it,” he said,
absently, his eyes still on his widely strewn apparatus, “have you got
everything you want away from here?”

She had; though she hated to leave her show-case, she said. Some day she
might like to take up fancy sewing again. “But before we do another
thing,” she insisted, “we ought to have dinner. Breakfast, this morning,
was our last meal, I know!”

And to his utter astonishment, Durkin remembered that he was famished.

It was a hurried and humble little meal they ate together in the failing
light,—a meal of sandwiches washed down with bottled milk. Their
thoughts as they ate, however, were on other things, grappling with
impending problems, wondering when and under what circumstances their
next meal would be eaten, almost glorying in the very uncertainty of
their future, tingling with the consciousness of the trial they were to
undergo, of the hazard they essayed. Then Durkin, as he smoked, laid out
his final plan of action, point by premeditated point.



                              CHAPTER XII


At twenty minutes to eleven, slipping off his shoes, Durkin climbed
cautiously through the transom opening out on the roof. Creeping as
carefully from chimney tier to chimney tier, he found himself face to
face with a roof-fence of sharpened iron rods. He counted down this
fence to the eighteenth rod, then carefully lifted on it. The lead that
sealed it in the lower cross-piece, and into the stone beneath that
again, had been strangely fused away, and the loosened rod slid up
through the top horizontal bar very much like a miniature portcullis.
Squeezing through this narrow opening, he carefully replaced the rod
behind him. With a flattened piece of steel, once used for a furnace
poker, and looking very much like a gigantic tack-drawer, he slowly and
gently forced the bolt that held shut the transom on the Ottenheimer
building. This he replaced, after passing through, paying out with him
as he went, two coils of rubber-coated wire, in appearance not unlike a
large size of incandescent lamp cord.

From the photographer’s studio in which he found himself, nothing but a
draw-bolt kept him from an outside hallway. Making sure that the
building was deserted, and everything safe, he worked his way slowly
down, like a diver, stair by stair, to the basement. Here he made a
careful study of the little tunnel of electric wires at the back of the
lower hall, probing, testing, measuring, and finally, with cool
deliberation, “bridging” the necessary portion of the burglar-alarm
connection, which he knew to be operated on a closed circuit. This
circuit he diverted as a miner diverts a troublesome stream. Then,
holding before him his little two-candle incandescent lamp, scarcely
bigger than his thumb nail, he groped toward the iron covered door that
divided one-half of the building from the other.

Here he directed his thin shaft of light into the crack between the
heavy door and its studding, and his squinting eyes made out the iron
lock-bar that held him out. From his vest pocket, where they stood in a
row like glimmering pencils, he took out one of the slim steel drills,
adjusted it noiselessly in the drill-flange, and snapped shut his
switch. There was the quick spit of a blue spark, and of a sudden, the
inanimate thing of steel throbbed and sang and quivered with mysterious
life. As he glanced down at it, in its fierce revolutions, he realized
that once more he had for an accomplice that old-time silent, and
ever-ready assistant which for years had been a well-tested and faithful
friend. The mere companionship with so familiar a force brought back to
him his waning confidence.

He forced the whirling drill through the door-crack and in against the
bar. It ate through the soft iron as though it had been a bar of cheese.
Eight carefully placed perforations, side by side, had severed the end
of the lockshaft. He shut off the current, confidently, and swung open
the heavy door. The falling piece of iron made a little tinkle of sound
on the cement flooring, then all was silence again. He had at least, he
told himself, captured the enemy’s outposts.

Cautiously he felt his way across the warm cellar, up the steps, and at
last faced his one definite barrier, the door of solid steel, abutted by
even more solid masonry. The builders of that door had done their best
to make it forbidding to men of his turn of mind, Durkin ruminated, as
he felt and sounded and tested despondently over its taciturn painted
surface.

He studied the hinges carefully, through his tiny lamp. They were
impregnable. As he had surmised, his only way was to cut out, inch by
inch, the three heavy steel shafts, or bolt-bars, which slipped and
fitted into steel casings also, apparently, embedded in solid masonry.

Adjusting his drill, he closed the switch once more, and, bracing the
instrument’s head against his breast-bone, watched the slender, humming,
spinning shaft bite and grind and burrow its way into the slowly
yielding bar. From a little pocket-can, every minute or two, he squirted
kerosene in on the drill-tip. The pungent smell of the scorching oil, as
it spread on the heated steel, rose almost suffocatingly to his nostrils
in the furnace-heated warmth of the cellar and for weeks afterwards
remained an indistinct and odious memory to him.

When his first hole was bored, and his little drill raced wildly through
into space, like the screw of a liner on the crest of a wave, he started
a second, close beside the first; then a third, and a fourth, and a
fifth, slowly honeycombing the thick steel with his minute excavations.
Sometimes a drill would snap off short, and he would have to draw a
fresh one from his stock. Sometimes it did not bite sharply, and he
tried another. And still he stood drilling, directing the power of his
silent, insidious, untiring accomplice, whose spirit crooned and burned
and sighed itself out through the wire at his feet.

As he worked, he lost all track of time; after he had started what he
knew to be the last hole, he stopped and looked at his watch, as
casually as he had done often enough after a night of operating the key
in a despatcher’s office. To his horror, he saw that it had stopped,
stunned with a natural enough electrolytic paralysis. It might not yet
be twelve, or it might be four in the morning; time, from the moment he
had taken off his shoes in Frances Candler’s little back room, had been
annihilated to him. He wondered, in sudden alarm, if she were still
maintaining her patrol outside, up and down the block. He wondered, too,
as he drove the little drill home for the last time, and cautiously
pried open the great, heavy door, if she had sent any signal in from the
street front, and he had missed it. He even wondered, quakingly, if
daylight would not overtake them at their work—when his startled eyes,
chancing to fall on a nearby clock-dial, saw that the hour was only
twenty-five minutes to twelve.

Step by step he crept back to the inner offices, followed by the
murmurous ticking of a dozen noisy clocks, declaiming his presence. From
the door in front of where the safe stood, gloomy, ominous,
impregnable-looking, he lifted a seemingly innocent rubber mat. As he
thought, it had been attached to a burglar-alarm apparatus. Dropping on
one knee, he repeated his formula, number by number, each time listening
for the telltale click of the falling ward. Then, turning the nickel
lock-knob, he heard the many-barred lock chuck back into place.

The next moment the ponderous doors were open, and Durkin’s little
thumb-nail electric lamp was exploring the tiers of inner compartments.

He still carried his drill with him; and, once he had found the private
drawer he wanted, the softer iron of the inner fittings offered little
resistance to a brutally impatient one-eighth bit. After two minutes of
feverish work, he was able to insert the point of his furnace poker into
the drawer, and firmly but gently pry it open.

The next moment his blackened and oily fingers were rummaging carelessly
through a fortune or two of unset stones—through little trays of
different tinted diamonds, through crowded little cases of Ceylon pearls
and Uralian emeralds. At last, in a smaller compartment, marked “I.
Ottenheimer,” he found a gun-metal case sealed up in an envelope. The
case itself, however, was securely locked. Durkin hesitated for one half
second; then he forced the lid open with his steel screw-driver.

One look was enough. It held the Blue Pear.

He stooped and carefully brushed up the steel cuttings under his
shoeless feet. As carefully he closed the inner drawers of the safe. His
hand was on the nickel lock-knob once more, to swing the ponderous outer
doors shut, when a sound fell on his ears, a sound that made his very
blood chill and tingle and chill again through all his tense body.

It was Frank’s voice, outside the same building in which he stood, not a
hundred feet away from him, her voice shrilly screaming for help.

His first mad impulse was to rush out to her, blindly. A second
precautionary flash of thought kept him rooted to the spot, where he
stood listening. He could hear confused, sharp voices, and the scuffling
of feet. He heard the quick scream again; then guttural, angry protests.
Some subliminal prompting told Durkin that that scream was not one of
terror, but of warning.

Snapping out his incandescent lamp, he stole cautiously forward through
the row of partitioned, heavily-carpeted little offices, and, without
showing himself, peered toward the shop-front. As he did so, a second
involuntary thrill of apprehension sped up and down his backbone. The
street-door itself was open. Already half way in through that door was a
dark, stoutly-built man. He stood struggling in the arms of a determined
young woman. That woman, Durkin could see, was Frances Candler. And all
the while that she was clinging to him and holding him she was crying
lustily for help.

The next moment Durkin made out the man. It was Ottenheimer, himself.
For some unknown reason, he hastily surmised, the diamond merchant had
intended to drop into his own office. But why, he still asked, was Frank
taking such risks?

Durkin did not try to work the thing out in its minute details. Like a
flash, he darted back to the open safe. He swung the big doors to,
locked them, caught up his drill, and the loose strands of wire, and
then backed quickly out through the steel door, securing it with a deft
twist or two of a piece of his number twelve. The outer cellar door he
as quickly closed after him.

Then he flew upstairs, two steps at a time, rebolted the photographers’
hall door, replaced the transom as he swung up through it, and as
hurriedly refitted the loose iron bar in the roof-fencing.

Three minutes later, a well-dressed gentleman, wearing a black hat and
carrying a large leather suit-case, stopped, with a not unnatural
curiosity, on his way up Fifth Avenue, to inquire the meaning of an
excited little crowd that clustered about two policemen and a woman in
the doorway of Ottenheimer & Company.

He drew up, casually enough, and listened while a short, stout, and very
indignant man spluttered and gesticulated and angrily demanded how any
one should dare to stop him from going into his own store. He was the
owner of the place—there was his own watchman to identify him,—and
somebody would be “broke” for this tomfoolery, he declared, with a shake
of the fist toward the silent sergeant beside him.

The young woman, who chanced to be veiled, explained in her
well-modulated, rich contralto voice that the hour had seemed so
unusual, the store had looked so dark inside, even the burglar-alarm,
she stubbornly insisted, had rung so loudly, that, naturally, it had
made her suspicious. She was sorry if it was a mistake. But now the
officers were there; they could attend to it—if some one would kindly
call a taxi for her.

The sergeant between her and Ottenheimer agreed with her, and stepping
out and stopping an empty motor-cab on its way up the Avenue, turned
back to the still enraged owner of the store and solicitously advised
him to go home and cool down.

“You hold that woman!” demanded Ottenheimer, husky with rage. “You hold
that woman, until I examine these premises!”

The young woman, obviously, and also quite naturally, objected to being
held. There was a moment of puzzled silence, and then a murmur of
disapproval from the crowd, for about the carefully gloved girl in the
black street-gown and plumed hat clung that nameless touch of birth and
bearing which marked her as a person who would be more at home in a
limousine than in a wind-swept doorway.

“The lady, of course, will wait!” quietly but deliberately suggested the
black-hatted man with the suit-case, looking casually in over the
circling crowd of heads.

The sergeant turned, sharply, glaring out his sudden irritability.

“Now, who asked you to butt in on this?” he demanded, as he impatiently
elbowed the pressing crowd further out into a wider circle.

“I merely suggested that the lady wait,” repeated the man in the black
hat, as unperturbed as before.

“Of course, officer, I shall wait, willingly,” said the girl, hurriedly,
in her equally confident, low-noted rich contralto. She drew her skirts
about her, femininely, merely asking that the shop-owner might make his
search as quickly as possible.

Ottenheimer and the doubtful-minded sergeant disappeared into the gloom
of the midnight store. As the whole floor flowered into sudden electric
luminousness, Durkin thanked his stars that he had had sense enough to
leave the lighting wires intact.

“Everything’s all right; you may go, miss,” said the sergeant, two
minutes later. “I guess old Isaac’s had an early nightmare!” And the
dispersing crowd laughed sympathetically.

The woman stepped into the motor-cab, and turned toward Broadway.

Safely round the corner, she picked up the waiting Durkin.

“That was a close one—but we win!” he murmured jubilantly.

“You’ve got it?”

“I’ve got it,” he exulted.

The woman at his side, for some vague reason, could not share in his
joy. Intuitively, in that moment of exhaustion, she felt that their
triumph, at the most, was a mere conspiracy of indifference on the part
of a timeless and relentless destiny. And in the darkness of the
carriage she put her ineffectual arms about Durkin, passionately, as
though such momentary guardianship might shield him for all time to
come.

She shook her abstractedness from her, with a long and fluttering sigh.

“Jim,” she asked him, unexpectedly, “how much money have you?”

He told her, as nearly as he could. “It’s hanged little, you see!” he
added, not understanding the new anxiety that was eating at her
heart,—“but I’ve been thinking of a plan!”

“Oh, what now?” she asked miserably, out of her weariness.

She knew, well enough, the necessity of keeping up, of maintaining both
activity and appearances. She knew that wrong-doing such as theirs, when
without even its mockery of respectability and its ironical touch of
dignity, was loathsome to both the eye and the soul. But she found that
there were moods and times, occurring now more and more frequently, when
she dreaded each return to that subterranean and fear-haunted world. She
dreaded it now, not so much for herself, as for Durkin; and as he
briefly told her of his plan, this feeling grew stronger within her.

“Then if it must be done,” she cried, “let _me_ do the worst part of
it!”

He looked at her, puzzled, not comprehending the source of her
passionate cry, blindly wondering if her over-adventurous life was not
getting a deeper and deeper hold on her. But her next question put him
to shame.

“Jim, if I help you in this, if I do all that has to be done, will you
promise me that you will make it bring you closer to your work on your
amplifier, and your transmitting camera? Can’t you promise to get back
to that decent work once more?”

“I’ll promise, if you’ll make me one promise in return,” said Durkin,
after a moment of silent thought.

“What is it?” she asked.

“Will you let me hold over this Singford stone, for a few weeks?”

“But why?” she asked, aghast.

“To oil the curtain that has to go up on our next act!” he answered,
grimly. “I mean a few hundred, now, would make things so simple again.”

“No,” she protested fiercely, “it must not, it shall not, be done. The
Blue Pear must go back to London tomorrow!”

“It will mean some hard work for us both, then.”

“I can’t help that, Jim. We’ll have to face it together. But this stone
is a thing we can’t trifle with, or equivocate over. I should hate
myself, I should even hate _you_, if I thought it wasn’t to go back to
London, by express, tomorrow morning!”

“Then back it goes!” said the man at her side. He could see, even in the
dim light of the taxi, the rebellious and wounded look that had crept
into her face.

“Whatever it brought me, I couldn’t endure your hate!” he said, taking
her hand in his.



                              CHAPTER XIII


As a result of her midnight conference with Durkin, Frances Candler
learned many things. One of these was the fact that the life into which
she had flung herself was proving a captor that already threatened to
extort a cruelly impossible ransom. Another was the discovery that
Durkin stood even deeper than she did in those conspiratorial quicksands
from which she tore one limb only to be engulfed by another. For all
along, she saw, he had been a quiet observant _intrigant_, conspiring
against a new field of activity toward which she had not even thought to
glance.

For after that hurried midnight talk she knew that the Secretary of
Agriculture, at Washington, from time to time received sealed mail
reports from the South as to the condition of the cotton crop. She also
learned that there had been a series of startling and disastrous “leaks”
from these confidential government reports, and that a private wire now
connected the office of the Department with Savannah and New Orleans.
Durkin had already ascertained that over this wire, on the last day, or
the last “market” day, of each month, until the leakage had been
stopped, would pass those despatches and figures on which the Department
of Agriculture would verify and base its monthly report of the cotton
outlook.

“That system is going to be kept up,” Durkin had explained to her,
“until the Secretary finds out who is stealing the figures and doing the
manipulating on them in the New York Cotton Exchange. At any rate, I
know he’s going to keep this wire in use until the decent brokers stop
bombarding him and the Census Bureau with their telegrams about
collusion and fraud. But here’s the point that interests us. If this
present wire report turns out to be favorable, the feverish way the
market stands now, it means, of course that there’s going to be a pretty
serious break in Cotton Exchange trading. But, on the other hand, if
this short-cut official report carries the news of a shortage, it’s as
plain as day that Curry and all the other New York bears will have a
lever to pry up the price of cotton with, high as it stands already.”

“And what is it we want to know?” she had asked.

“We’ve got to find out which way that report goes—whether it’s good or
bad. I’ll be here in New York, waiting to get your cipher message over a
Postal-Union wire. Whichever way it goes, I’ll govern myself
accordingly, jump into the market with every penny I have, and do
precisely what three hundred highly respectable brokers have been doing
for the last two months. The only thing that makes me hot is that I
haven’t a few thousand, instead of a paltry few hundred, to fling into
it!”

Her instructions were brief, but explicit. While he waited in New York,
ready to act on word from her, she was to hurry to Washington, and from
Washington go on to the somnolent little Virginia town of Leeksville.
This town, Durkin had already made sure, lay on the route of the
Department of Agriculture’s New Orleans wire.

On the main street of the little town through which this wire ran stood
a ramshackle, three-storied wooden hotel. From the top floor of this
hotel every wire that went humming like a harp of haste through that
avenue of quietness was easily accessible. Any person enlightened and
audacious enough to pick it out from among its companions and attach to
it a few feet of “No. 12” and a properly graduated relay would find the
rest of his task astoundingly easy. As Durkin had pointed out, already
knowing what they did, the one great problem lay in getting unsuspected
into the third-floor room of that wooden Leeksville hotel.

With a jointed split-bamboo fishing-pole, neatly done up in a parasol
cover, and with her complete wire-tapping outfit as neatly packed away
in a dress-suit case, Frances Candler ten hours later registered at that
ancient and unsavory-looking hostelry. A weary and bedraggled theatrical
company, which had just made the late “jump” from Fredericksburg,
preceded her, and she made it a point to approach the desk at the heels
of a half-a-dozen noisy chorus girls.

There she asked for a top-floor room.

The over-gallant clerk insisted that she should go anywhere but on the
top floor. There would be no difference in the cost of the rooms, to
her. He would make that, indeed, a personal matter.

“But I prefer the top floor,” she maintained, biting her lip and giving
no other sign of her indignation.

The clerk insisted that the climb would be too much for her; and most of
the floor, he explained, was given over to the servants.

She began to despair.

“But I sleep lightly—and I _must_ have seclusion!”

The perturbed clerk protested that in Leeksville noises were unknown by
day, much less by night. A circle of rotunda idlers now stood behind
her, taking in the scene. A flash of inspiration came to her.

“I’ve _got_ to go up to the top, I tell you!” she cried, impatiently.
“Can’t you see I’ve got asthma!”

And the angry asthmatic woman in the heavy veil was finally surrendered
to the loneliness and discomfort of her southwest corner room on the
barren and carpetless third floor.

There she quietly unpacked her suit-case, jointed her pole of split
bamboo, attached and graduated her relay, and fingered noiselessly
through the tangle of wires beneath her window for that one and
essential thread of metal along which was to flash the departmental
cotton reports, between New Orleans and Washington.

There, hour after hour, she sat and waited and watched; and it was late
in the next morning that, white and worn-out, she detached the
unobserved wire, hurried off her brief despatch in cipher, ordered
breakfast up to her room, and even before undressing fell into a long
and restless slumber.

That day, in her narrow little corn-husk bed, she dreamed that she and
Durkin had tunnelled under the Potomac River and had carried away the
last ounce of gold from the United States Treasury. How many millions
they had taken it was beyond them even to count. But she knew they were
escaping in submarines and were being breathlessly pursued by the entire
North Atlantic fleet. And her one great fear, during all that agonized
and endless pursuit, seemed not that she was destined either to final
capture, or to final suffocation, but that, in some way, she might
become separated from Durkin.



                              CHAPTER XIV


Durkin waited, with the receiver at his ear. Once more the signal-bell
shrilled and cluttered its curtly hurried warning. A vague yet nasal and
half-impatient voice murmured brokenly out of somewhere to some one:
“You’re connected now—go ahead.”

Then came a grating rasp and drone, a metallic click or two, and out of
the stillness there floated in to his waiting ear the space-filtered
music of an anxious “Hello”—flute-like, mellow, far-away.

It seemed to him there, under the stress of his passing mood, that an
incorporeal presence had whispered the word to him. Suddenly, for the
first time in his life, the miracle of it all came home to him, the
mystery and magic of that tenuous instrument, which could guide, and
treasure, and carry in to him through the night the very tone and timbre
of that one familiar voice, flashing it so many miles through star-hung
forest and hill and valley, threading it on through sleeping towns and
turbulent cities, winging it through wind and water unerringly home to
his waiting ear.

“Hello!” the anxious contralto was asking again.

“Hello?” cried Durkin, pent in the little bald speaking-closet, yet his
face illuminated with a wonderful new alertness. “Hello! Is that you,
Frank?”

A ripple of relieved laughter ebbed out of the wire.

“Oh, Jim,” sounded the far-away voice in his ear, sighingly. “It seems
so good!”

“Where are you?”

“In Washington, at the Arlington office.”

He chuckled a little, as though the accomplishment of the miracle, the
annihilation of so many miles of space, was a matter of his own personal
triumph.

“Here we’re talking together through three hundred miles of midnight!”
he boasted to her.

“Yes, I know; but I wish it wasn’t so far! Did you recognize my voice
there?”

“I’d know that voice in—in Hell!” he answered, with a sudden grim but
inadequate earnestness. He had hoped to say something fitting and fine,
but, as always seemed to happen to him in such moments, his imagination
foundered in the turbulence of his emotions.

“You may have to some day, my poor Orpheus!” she was laughing back at
him.

But the allusion was lost on Durkin, and he cut in with a curt, “What’s
happened?”

“I want to come home!” It must have been a good night for ’phoning, he
felt, as he heard those five cogent words, and an inconsequential little
glow suffused him. Not an ohm of their soft wistfulness, not a coulomb
of their quiet significance, had leaked away through all their hundreds
of miles of midnight travel. It almost seemed that he could feel the
intimate warmth of her arms across the million-peopled cities that
separated them; and he projected himself, in fancy, to the heart of the
far-off turbulence where she stood. There, it seemed to him, she
radiated warmth and color and meaning to the barren wastes of life, a
glowing and living ember in all the dead ashes of unconcern. And again
it flashed through him, as the wistful cadence of her voice died down on
the wire, that she was all that he had in life, and that with her,
thereafter, he must rise or sink.

“I want to come home,” she was repeating dolefully.

“You’ve _got_ to come, and come quick!”

“What was that?”

“I say, risk it and come,” he called back to her. “Something has
happened!”

“Something happened? Not bad news, is it?”

“No—but it will open your eyes, when you hear it!”

“Everything at my end has been done, you know.”

“You mean it came out all right?”

“Not quite all right, but I think it will do. Is it safe for me to tell
you something?”

“Yes, anything in reason, I guess.”

“Curry’s men in New Orleans are working against him!”

“Let me add something to that. Green and his men are trying to break
Curry, and Curry all the time is laying a mine under every blessed one
of them!” and Durkin gave vent to a triumphant chuckle, deep down in his
throat.

“Where did you find this out?” the unperturbed and far-away contralto
was demanding.

“You could never guess.”

“Talk faster, or this telephoning will break us!” she warned him.

“Oh, I don’t care—it’s worth the money.”

“Hello—Hello! Oh, all right. Go on!”

“You heard about the fire in the Terminal Room of the Postal-Union?
No—well, some dago with a torch got a little too careless in a P. U.
conduit, and set fire to a cable-splicer’s pot of paraffin down on lower
Broadway, not much more than a hundred yards from Wall Street itself.
Then the flames caught on the burlap and the insulating grease and stuff
round the cables—can you hear me? There was the dickens to pay, and in
about ten minutes they looked more like a cart-load of old excelsior
than the business wires of a few thousand offices!”

“Yes, go on!”

“Well, it stopped nine thousand telephones, and put over two hundred
stock-tickers out of business, and cut off nearly five hundred of the
Postal-Union wires, and left all lower New York without even fire-alarm
service. That’s saying nothing of the out-of-town wires, and the long
distance service,—did you get all that?”

“Perfectly.”

“Well, there’s a lot more to tell, but it will keep—say till Thursday
night. You may be able to imagine just what it is, from what I’ve told
you; but listen: I think I can open your eyes, when you get here!” he
repeated, slowly and significantly.

“All right—even a Great Western wire might have ears, you know!” she
warned him.

“Quite so, but how about your Savannah information? There’s nothing
new?”

“Nothing. But you saw the newspaper stories?”

“The Herald yesterday said the Secretary of Agriculture had demanded
from the Savannah Cotton Exchange the name of a wire-house that
bulletined a government crop report thirty minutes ahead of the official
release.”

“Yes, that’s Dunlap & Company. They are frantic. They still declare
there was no leak, and are fighting it out with the department here at
Washington. In the meantime, luckily for us, they are, of course,
sending out press-statements saying it was all a coincidence between
their firm’s private crop-estimate and the actual government report. I
couldn’t give you much of a margin of time to work on.”

“That thirty minutes just gave me time to get in on the up-town
quotations. I missed the lower office, of course.”

“Hadn’t we better hold this over?”

“Yes; I rather forgot—it’ll wait until you get here.”

“Then Thursday night, at eight, say, at the Grenoble!”

“No, no; make it nine forty-five—I don’t get away until then.”

“What would the Grenoble people say?”

“That’s so—you had better go to the Ralston. It’s free and easy. Yes,
the Ralston,” he repeated. “The Ralston, at nine forty-five, Thursday.
Good-bye!”

A moment later he could hear the frantic signal-bell again.

“Hello! Hello! What is it?”

“Hello, New York! Not through yet,” said the tired and nasal voice of
the operator.

“You forgot something!” It was the contralto voice this time,
reproachful and wounded. Durkin laughed a little as he leaned closer to
the mouth-piece of his transmitter.

“Good-bye, dearest!” he said.

“Good-bye, my beloved own!” answered the wire, across its hundreds of
miles of star-strewn midnight.

Durkin hung up his receiver with a sigh, and stopped at the office to
pay his bill. All that was worth knowing and having, all that life held,
seemed withdrawn and engulfed in space. He felt grimly alone in a city
out of which all reality had ebbed. It seemed to him that somewhere a
half-heard lilt of music had suddenly come to a stop.

A spirit of restless loneliness took possession of him, as he stepped
out into the crowded solitudes of Broadway. His thoughts ran back to the
day that he had first met Frances Candler, when, half unwillingly
joining forces with MacNutt, he had followed that most adroit of
wire-tappers to his up-town house. He remembered his astonishment as the
door swung back to MacNutt’s secret ring, and Frank stood there in the
doorway, looking half timidly out at them, with her hand still on the
knob. How far away it seemed; and yet, as the world went, it could be
counted in months. He had thought her a mere girl at first, and he
recalled how he imagined there had been a mistake in the house number,
as he saw the well-groomed figure in black, with its wealth of waving
chestnut hair, and the brooding violet eyes with their wordless look of
childish weariness. It was only later that he had taken note of the ever
betraying fulness of throat and breast, and the touch of mature
womanhood in the shadows about the wistful eyes. He remembered, point by
point, the slow English voice, with its full-voweled softness of tone,
as she answered MacNutt’s quick questions, the warm mouth and its
suggestion of impulsiveness, the girlishly winning smile with which she
had welcomed him as her partner in that house of underground operating
and unlooked-for adventure, the quick and nervous movements of the
muscular body that always carried with it a sense of steely strength
half-sheathed in softness.

Bit by bit he recalled their tasks and their perils together.

What touched him most, as he paced the odorous, lamp-hung valley of the
Rialto, was the memory of this wistful woman’s sporadic yet passionate
efforts to lead him back to honesty. Each effort, he knew, had been
futile, though for her sake alone he had made not a few unthought of
struggles to be decent and open and aboveboard in at least the smaller
things of life.

But the inebriation of great hazards was in his veins. They had taken
great chances together; and thereafter, he felt, it could be only great
chances that would move and stir and hold them. Now he would never be
content, he knew, to lounge about the quiet little inns of life, with
the memory of those vast adventures of the open in his heart and the
thirst for those vast hazards in his veins.

As he turned, in Longacre Square, to look back at that turbulent valley
of lights below him, he remembered, incongruously enough, that the
midnight Tenderloin was the most thoroughly policed of all portions of
the city—the most guarded of all districts in the world. And what a
name for it, he thought—the Tenderloin, the tenderest and most
delectable, the juiciest and the most sustaining district in all New
York, for the lawless egotist, whether his self-seeking took the form of
pleasure or whether it took the form of profit!

A momentary feeling of repugnance at what was unlovely in life crept
over him, but he solaced himself with the thought that, after all, it
was the goodness in bad people and the badness in good people that held
the mottled fabric together in its tight-meshed union of contradictions.

Then his spirit of loneliness returned to him, and his thoughts went
back to Frances Candler once more. He wondered why it was that her
casual woman’s touch seemed even to dignify and concentrate open crime
itself. He felt that he was unable, now, to move and act without her.
And as he thought of what she had grown to mean to him, of the
sustaining sense of coolness and rest which she brought with her, he
remembered his first restless night in New York, when he had been unable
to sleep, because of the heat in his stifling little bedroom, and had
walked the breathless, unknown streets, until suddenly on his face he
had felt a cool touch of wind, and the old-time balm of grass and trees
and green things had struck into his startled nostrils. It was Central
Park that he had stumbled on, he learned later; and he crept into it and
fell placidly asleep on one of the shadowy benches.

His memory, as he turned to take a last look down the light-hung cañon
of the Rialto, was of the evening that he and his desk-mate, Eddie
Crawford, had first driven down that luminous highway, in a taxi, and
the lights and the movement and the stir of it had gone to his
bewildered young head. For he had leaned out over those titanic tides
and exclaimed, with vague and foolish fierceness: “My God, Eddie, some
day I’m going to get a grip on this town!”



                               CHAPTER XV


It was not until night had settled down over the city that Durkin opened
the back window of his little top-floor room and peered cautiously out.

There was, apparently, nothing amiss. A noise of pounding came to him
from the shipping-room of a lace importer below. A few scattered shafts
of light glimmered from the windows opposite. A hazy half-moon slanted
down over the house-tops.

When Durkin leaned out of the window for the second time he held in his
hand something that looked peculiarly like a fishing-rod. From it
dangled two thin green wires, and with the metal hook on the end of it
he tested and felt carefully up among the slovenly tangle of wires
running out past the overhanging eave.

It was a silly and careless way of doing things, he inwardly decided,
this lazy stringing of wires from house-top to house-top, instead of
keeping them in the tunnels where they belonged. It was not only
violating regulations, but it was putting a premium on
“lightning-slinging.” And he remembered what Frances had once said to
him about criminals in a city like New York, how the careless riot of
wealth seemed to breed them, as any uncleanness breeds bacteria; how, in
a way, each was only a natural and inevitable agent, taking advantage of
organic waste, seizing on the unguarded and the unorderly. She had even
once argued that the criminal could lay claim to a distinct economic
value, enjoining, as he did, continual alertness of attention and
cleanliness of commercial method.

Yet the devil himself, he had somewhere read, could quote Scripture for
his purpose; and his fishing-pole moved restlessly up and down, like a
long finger feeling through answering strings. For each time, almost,
that his hook rested on one of the wires the little Bunnell relay on the
table behind him spoke out feebly. To the trill and clatter of these
metallic pulsations Durkin listened intently, until, determining that he
had looped into the right wire, he made secure his switch and carefully
drew down the window to within an inch of the sill.

Then he gave his studious attention to the little Bunnell relay. Its
action was feeble and spasmodic. It was doing scant justice to what
Durkin easily saw was a master-hand toying with the rubber button at the
far-distant end of the wire. It was not unusually quick operating, but,
as the dots and dashes flew on and on, the interloper for a moment or
two forgot the meaning of the messages in the clear-cut, crisp, and
precise beauty of the sender’s Morse.

“That man,” commented the admiring craftsman in Durkin, “is earning his
eight dollars an hour!”

Then, adjusting his rheostat, he slowly and cautiously graduated his
current, until new life seemed to throb and flow through the busy little
piece of clicking metal. A moment later it was speaking out its weighty
and secret messages, innocently, authoritatively, almost triumphantly,
it seemed to the eavesdropper, bending over the glimmering armature
lever.

A quietly predaceous smile broadened on Durkin’s intent face. He
suddenly smote the table with an impetuous little rap of the knuckles,
as he sat there listening.

“By heaven, this _will_ open her eyes!” he cried, under his breath.

And he repeated the words more abstractedly, as he lifted his telephone
transmitter out on the table and threw open a switch on the wall,
well-concealed by the window curtain.

He then adjusted the watch-case receiver to his ear, and settled quietly
down in his chair. Striking a match, he held it poised six inches away
from the cigar between his teeth. For the sounder had suddenly broken
out into life once more, and strange and momentous things were flashing
in to him over that little thread of steel. The match burned away and
fell from his fingers. He shook himself together with an effort.

Then he snatched up a pencil, and with the watch-case receiver still at
his ear and the Bunnell sounder still busy before him, he hurriedly
wrote notes on the back of an envelope.

He felt like a lean and empty wharf-rat that had tunnelled into a
storehouse of unlimited provision. The very vastness of it amazed and
stupefied him. He had been grubbing about for a penny or two, and here
he had stumbled across a fabulous-figured banknote.

Then, as item by item he was able to piece his scattered shreds of
information together, his mind became clearer and his nerves grew
steadier.

He looked at his watch. It was twenty-six minutes past nine. As he had
expected, and as had happened every night since Curry had installed the
private wire in his Madison Avenue residence, the operator on the
up-town end of the line switched off. The sounder grew still, like a
clock that had run down. The telephone wire still carried its occasional
message in to him, but he knew that he could wait no longer.

It took him but a minute or two to detach his looping wire from the
Curry private line. Then he threw back the switch of his telephone,
concealed his transmitter, and caught up his hat and coat.

Five minutes later he was careering up Fifth Avenue in a taxi-cab. A new
interest, submerged in the sterner tides of life, drifted in on him as
he drew nearer the Ralston and Frances Candler. He began to meditate on
how much he had been missing out of existence of late, and even how
empty all triumph and conquest might be, if unshared by or with another.
Some vague and gently disturbing inkling of just how much a woman could
become to a man, however preoccupied, crept into the quieter backgrounds
of his consciousness. And with a man of his walk in life, uncompanioned,
isolated, migratory, this muffling and softening element was doubly
essential.

He sent his card up to Frances, with an unreasonably beating heart. Word
came down to him, in time, that she was engaged, but that she would see
him in twenty minutes.

“But I must see her, and at once!” he told the impassive clerk.

It would be possible in twenty minutes, was the second message that came
down to him.

Frances engaged—and not able to see him! The very idea of it startled
and enraged him. Who had the right to stand between them?—he demanded
of himself, with irrational fierceness. And out of the very midst of his
soft and consuming eagerness to see her sprang up a mad fire of jealousy
and uncertainty. Who was there, he again demanded of himself,—who was
there that could come in this way between Frances Candler and himself,
at such a time and under such circumstances? After all, her career was
one of open and continuous deception. There was MacNutt! And
Ottenheimer! And a dozen more! She made it her business to deceive and
dupe others, so artfully, so studiously, so laboriously—why would she
not use her tools on him as well? Was she, indeed, as open and candid as
he had taken her to be?—she, with all her soft little feline graces,
and with all that ambiguous and unknown past of hers!

And yet he remembered how she had held out against him, how he, with his
laxer code, had often hurt and wounded every feeling of her sensitive
nature. Even before this he had tried to argue that crime in one phase
of life implied moral weakness in all other phases of that same career.
Yet there she obdurately though pantingly stood, unyielding, stanch,
clean of mind and life, a woman of stern honor—and through it all an
adventuress and a robber! A black-leg with the conscience of a
schoolgirl!—and he laughed inwardly and bitterly at the cheap irony of
it all.

His icy and exacting scrutiny of her, as he stepped into her private
room, sapped all the warmth out of her greeting. She had thrown on a
loose-fitting dressing-gown of pale blue, which showed the white fulness
of her arms and throat and darkened the violet of her brooding and
seemingly unsatisfied eyes. She was more than beautiful, Durkin had told
himself, with a little gulp of anguish. But why had the corroding poison
of criminal inclination been poured into a glass so tinted and fragile
and lovely to the sight! For there, as he looked at her with still angry
and suspicious eyes, he realized, for the first time, just what she was
to him, just how completely and implacably she had subjugated him.

“What is it?” she demanded, with a sudden little flutter of fear,
standing halfway across the room.

“Who was in this room with you?” he demanded.

She studied his face for a moment or two, slowly shaking her head from
side to side. He noticed the tumbled wealth of her glinting chestnut
hair, here and there almost a golden red, and again a gulp of anguish
swelled at his throat. It was no wonder that MacNutt had good use for
her.

“Who has been up here with you?” he repeated miserably, but inexorably.

She seemed to sigh a little, and then her slow English laugh melted out
through the room. It was a quiet and sorrowful little laugh, but it
shattered the tragedy from the overstrained moment.

“You foolish boy!” she said, half-sorrowfully, as she turned to put the
belittered room to rights. “It was the dressmaker I sent for, as soon as
I got here. I haven’t a rag! You know that! And you know how often you
have said that persons in our sort of business ought to dress well.”

The mad wave of doubt that still tumbled him back and forth ebbed
suddenly away, as a woman of forty, short and stolid, stepped briskly
and quietly out of the inner bedroom. She bowed a businesslike good
night to them as she passed out into the hallway, carrying a handbag.

“And this is the way you welcome me back!” reproved Frances, as she drew
away from him and fell to studying his face once more. “Well, we can at
least talk business,” she added bitterly, on the heels of his awkward
silence. “And that, I know, will appeal to you!”

Durkin bowed to the stroke, and even made belated and disjointed efforts
of appeasement. But the petals seemed to have fallen from the shaken
flower; a teasing sense of her aloofness from him oppressed his mind. In
fact, it had always been in the full hue and cry of their adventures
with the grim powers of the law that she had seemed nearest to him.

The thought came to him, with a quick sense of terror, of how he might
suffer at a time or in a situation not so ridiculously transparent as
the present. If, indeed, she ever did give him actual cause for
jealousy, how it would rend and tear those roots which had pierced so
much deeper than he had ever dreamed! And for a passing moment he felt
almost afraid of himself.



                              CHAPTER XVI


“Then it wasn’t so difficult, after all?” commented Durkin, as Frances
ended a description of her three days in Leeksville.

“No, it wasn’t the trouble so much—only, for the first time in my life,
I felt so—so cruelly alone!” She found it hard to explain it to him
adequately. She wondered why it was she should always shrink from
undraping any inner corner of her soul to him, why, at times, she should
stand so reluctant to win any of the more intimate touches of
comradeship from him.

“That’s the drawback,” he remarked, wide of her mood and thought,
“that’s the drawback in doing this sort of thing by oneself!”

“We really ought to hunt in pairs, don’t you think, like timber wolves?”

She turned and looked at him, with a still mocking and yet a warmer
light coming into her eyes. Some propulsion, not of mind, but of body,
seemed to drive her involuntarily toward him—like a ship on a lee
shore, she felt—as she sniffed delicately at his cigar-scented gloves,
so anomalously redolent of virility, of masculinity, of something
compelling and masterful, where they lay in her nervously toying
fingers. She tried to laugh at herself, with chastening scorn; but she
could not.

“And out of it all,” he went on, “when brokerage fees and other things
are counted, we have made just three hundred and sixty-seven dollars!”

“Only that?”

“I had no more than the thirty minutes, you see, for a margin to work
on!”

She pushed back her hair with a languid hand.

“But why cry over spilt milk?” she asked, wearily. Firmer and firmer,
she felt, this mad fever of money-getting was taking hold on him.

“Especially when we seem about to wade knee-deep in cream!”

She made a last effort to fall in with his mood of ruthless aggression.

“Yes; what’s this you were going to open my eyes with?”

The final vestige of his clouded restraint slipped away from Durkin’s
mind.

“I had better start right at the beginning, hadn’t I?” he queried, cigar
in hand, while she nodded comfortably to the silent question as to
whether or not he might smoke.

“I suppose you know that Curry was once a New Orleans cotton broker. It
was a little over two years ago that he first came to New York, with
about a million and a half of his own, and an available three or four
million belonging to a pool that was to back him through thick and thin.
This they did, when he became a member of the Cotton Exchange. Then step
by step he began to plan out his campaign, patiently and laboriously
plotting and scheming and manipulating and increasing his power, until
the newspaper-men dropped into the habit of speaking of him as the
Cotton King, and the old home pool itself got a little afraid of him,
and held a few secret meetings to talk things over.”

“But how did this campaign end?”

“It has not ended. Of just how it will end only two men, outside of
Curry and his confidential old head-broker down on the Exchange floor,
have any inkling.”

“Who is the _other_ man?” asked Frances quietly.

Durkin smiled covertly, with a half-mockingly bowed “Thanks!”

“The other man, of course, not counting myself, is the operator, or,
rather, the private secretary, he keeps at the home end of the wire he
has had put into his house, for carrying on his collateral
manipulations, as it were.”

“I understand,” said Frances.

“And then comes myself,” he added confidently.

The woman settled back in her leather-lined arm-chair, locking her
slender white fingers together above her head. The clustered lights of
the chandelier threw heavy shadows about her quiet eyes, and for the
first time Durkin noticed the tender little hollow just under her
cheek-bones, lending an indescribable touch of tragedy to the old-time
softer oval of her face.

“Now this is what our friend Curry has been doing, in a nutshell. For
months and months he has been the acknowledged bull leader of the
Exchange. Point by point, week by week and day by day, he has managed to
send cotton up. Where it was at first 11 and 12 and perhaps 13 cents, he
has shouldered, say, August cotton up to 16.55, and July up to 17.30 and
May up to 17.20. Day before yesterday July cotton advanced to 17.65 in
New Orleans. Some time, and some time mighty soon—if not tomorrow, then
the next day, or perhaps even the next—every option is going to go
still higher. And this man Curry is the imperial dictator of it all. He
is known to have interests behind him that amount to millions now. And
this is the point I’m coming to: this present week is to see the rocket
go up and burst.”

Durkin was on his feet by this time pacing up and down the room.

“The first, but not the final, climax of all this plotting is
twenty-cent cotton.”

“Has it ever been that before?”

“Never! It has not been above seventeen cents, not since 1873!” declared
Durkin, excitedly. “But here is the important part of it all, the second
climax, as it were. When it strikes nineteen his old home pool are going
to abdicate. They are going to turn traitor on him, I mean, and suddenly
stand from under. Then here is the third and last climax: Curry knows
this fact; he knows they’re making ready to crush him. And when they get
ready he’s going to turn and smash ’em, smash ’em and sling ’em down,
even though he goes with them in the crash. Which he won’t, if he’s the
Curry I take him to be. In other words, Frank, at the right moment he is
going to abdicate from the bull movement absolutely, before it is
publicly realized.”

“It all seems vague and misty to me—but I suppose you know.”

“Know? Why, I’ve been rioting through his holy of holies for two days
now. I’ve been cutting in and reading his own private wire. He firmly
intends to forsake this bull movement, which, apparently, he has spent
so much time and toil in building up. But in reality, out of the crash
that comes with a collapsing market—and it must collapse when he stands
from under!—he is to sit and see a million or two rain down into his
lap.”

“But can he, one solitary man, do all this—I mean do it unmistakably,
inevitably?”

“Yes, he can. I firmly believe that nothing short of a miracle can now
upset his plan. Today he is not only the leader of the cotton pit; he is
both openly and tacitly the supreme dictator of the market—of the
world’s market. Why, last week, when he publicly announced that he was
going down to Lakewood for a couple of days, the market fell back to
12.85 for an hour or two, and he had to jump in and start buying, just
to give a little order to things. Somebody even said that when his wife
and an actress friend of hers visited the Exchange gallery he asked them
if they’d like to see a little panic on the floor. The actress said
she’d love to see cotton go up a few points if he wouldn’t mind. Curry
said all right, to watch out for some real acting. So he started down
into the pit and pulled the strings until his puppets danced to their
hearts’ content.”

Frances nodded her appreciation of the scene’s dramatic values, and
waited for Durkin to continue.

“And one minor result of that was that one hour later a well-known
cotton merchant was found in his chair, with a slowly widening stain of
red on his shirt front, as the evening papers put it. He had shot
himself through the heart—utterly ruined by that last little capricious
rise in our Cotton King’s market.”

“Who, after all, is not much better than a wire-tapper!” exclaimed the
woman, with her mirthless little laugh of scorn.

“There’s a difference—he thinks in big figures and affairs; we, up till
now, have worked and worried and fretted over little things. This man
Curry, too, is a sort of Napoleon. ‘You have to smash the eggs to make
your omelet,’ was all he said when he heard that a big brokerage firm
had closed its one hundred and twenty-five offices because of his bull
operations. Why, this week he’s making his clerks eat and sleep right in
the offices—he’s turned one of the rooms into a sort of dormitory, and
has their meals sent up to them. And outside of all this he’s
manipulating his own underground movement, doing that over his home
wire, after his regular office hours.”

“And this is the wire you have tapped?”

“Yes, that’s the wire that has been giving me my information—or,
rather, little scattered shreds of it. But here, mind, is where the
difficulty comes in. Curry has got to let his partner, Green, down in
New Orleans, in on the last movement of his campaign, so that the two
can strike together. But he is wise, and he isn’t trusting that tip to
any open wire. When the time comes it’s to be a cipher message. It will
read, ‘Helen sails’—then such and such a time on such and such a day.
That message Curry’s confidential operator will send out over the wire,
under the protection of a quadruplex, from his Wall Street office. And
that is the message I have to intercept.”

She was moving her head slowly up and down, gazing at him with unseeing
eyes.

“And you have some plan for doing it?”

“Precisely,” replied Durkin, wheeling nervously back and forth. “This is
where I’ve got to run the gauntlet of the whole Postal-Union system, cut
in on their double-guarded wires, and get away with my information
without being caught.”

“But you can’t do it, Jim. It’s impossible.”

“Oh, but it _is_ possible, quite possible!” he said, halting for a
moment before her. “Here’s where the climax comes to my story—the one I
started to tell you over the ’phone. You see, just at the time of that
little conduit fire the Postal-Union Company was having trouble with the
Electrical Workers’ Union. I happened to be laying in the supplies for
that up-town loop of mine when I found they were offering two dollars an
hour for expert work. I jumped on a Broadway car, and took the plunge.”

“What plunge, Jim?”

“I mean that I applied for work, down there, as a cable-splicer.”

“Wasn’t it dangerous work—for _you_, I mean?”

“Yes, a trifle so, I suppose. But none of the inside men were on the
force. No one knew me there, from Adam. And it was worth it, too!”

“You mean, of course—?”

“I mean that a certain cable-splicer has the entrée to that conduit,
that he has a hand-made chart as to its wire-disposition, and—well,
several other things!”

He waited for some word of appreciative triumph from her. As she
remained silent, he went on again.

“And I mustn’t forget to tell you that I’ve leased a little basement
place not far from Pine Street. I’m going to do commercial printing and
that sort of thing. I’ve got a sign out, and the power all ready, only
my presses are slow in coming!”

“And will be still further delayed, I suppose?”

“Yes, I’m afraid they will.”

Some mysterious touch of his excitement at last communicated itself to
the listening woman, almost against her will. She was as fluctuant, she
told herself, as the aluminum needle of a quadrant electrometer. No, she
was more like the helpless little pith-ball of an electroscope, she
mentally amended, ever dangling back and forth in a melancholy conflict
of repulsion and attraction. Yet, as she comprehended Durkin’s plot,
point by point, she began to realize the vast possibilities that
confronted them, and, as ever before, to fall a victim to the zest of
action, the vital sting of responsibility. Nor did she allow herself to
lose sight of the care and minuteness of the continued artfulness and
finish, so teeming with its secondary æsthetic values, with which he had
reconnoitered his ever-menacing territory and laid his mine. And added
to this, she saw, was the zest of stalking the stalker: it carried with
it an ameliorating tang of dramatic irony, an uncouth touch of poetic
justice.

As often happened with her in moments of excitement, the expanded pupils
of her violet eyes crept over and all but blotted out the iris, until
out of the heavy shadows that hung under her full brow, they glowed
faintly, in certain lights, with an animal-like luminousness. “Those
eyes—they look as though a halo had melted and run down into them!”
Durkin had once cried, half wonderingly, half playfully, as he turned
her face from shadow to light and back to shadow again.

He had looked for some word of disapproval from her, for he could
remember how often, with her continuous scruples, she had taken the
razor-edge off his enthusiasm, when he stood on the brink of adventuring
with something big and momentous. So he studied her face abstractedly,
his own alight with an eager and predaceously alert look which only his
half-whimsical, half-boyish smile held above the plane of sheer vulpine
craftiness.

“Why, this man Curry,” he went on, still standing in front of her, “has
got such a grip on the market that he can simply juggle with it. Before
this boom you or I could buy a bale of cotton on a dollar margin. Today,
most of the brokerage houses insist on a four dollar margin, some of
them demanding a five, and it’s said that a ten dollar margin can still
be looked for.”

“But still, I don’t see how one man can do this, and keep it up!”

“It’s mostly all the natural outcome of his own, individual, long-headed
plot. Beyond that, it’s a mere infection, a mania, an operation of
mob-law, the case of sheep following a sheep. Curry, all along, is
crying out that the demand has outgrown the supply, and that the
commercial world has got to get used to the idea of twenty-cent cotton.
In the old days it used to sell away down around six cents, and ever
since then mills have been increasing their spindles,—in ten years,
Curry’s papers claim, the mills have added more than seventeen million
spindles to swell this tremendous cry for cotton. That’s his argument,
to tide him along until he kicks the post out, and the drop comes. Then
of course, he and the rest of his bull pool have been buying, buying,
buying, always openly and magnificently, yet all the while, selling
quietly and secretly.”

“And they call this legitimate business?” she demanded, with the
familiar tinge of scorn in her voice.

“Yes, they call it high finance. But it’s about as legitimate, on the
whole, as the pea and thimble game I used to watch up at the county
fairs in Canada. In other words, Frank, when we carry on our particular
line of business cleanly and decently, we are a hanged sight more honest
than these Exchange manipulators.”

“But not recognized!” she cut in, for she knew that with this unction of
comparison he was salving a still tender conscience.

“That’s because we are such small fry,” he went on heatedly. “But, by
heavens, when we get this thing going, I guess we’ll rather count a
little!”

“And what is to keep us from getting it going?”

He wheeled on her suddenly.

“One thing, and one hard thing!”

“Well?”

“Within twenty-four hours we have got to have ten thousand dollars!”



                              CHAPTER XVII


“Ten thousand dollars is a great deal of money!” said Frank, easily,
with a languid shrug of her shoulders.

“It _is_ a great deal! But we’re up against a great deal! If we had
twice as much, it would be even better. I have a possible twelve hundred
now, altogether—just a scrawny, miserable twelve hundred! I got most of
it yesterday, through dabbling in this cotton of Curry’s. Tomorrow
morning every cent of it goes down to Robinson & Little, and if the
market is moderately steady, and he takes a two dollar margin, knowing
what I do, it means I double that amount before the day’s trading is
over.”

“Robinson & Little? Who are they? New friends of yours?”

“They are the big Wall Street people. I had to pay two hundred
dollars—in I. O. U. form,—for a letter to that firm. I still have a
suspicion it was forged, too. I’ve been getting acquainted with them,
however, and showing them that I’m all right. When the eleventh hour
comes, and when I have to cut in on Curry’s Postal-Union wire down-town,
we’ll have to tear around to Robinson & Little’s, flop over with the
market, and buy cotton short, on a stop-order. It all depends upon what
margin we may have to put up, whether we make forty thousand dollars, or
a hundred and forty thousand dollars. Curry, you may be sure, will try
to start the thing off as quietly as possible. So a normal market will
bring a more normal margin, and give us something worth while to play
on!”

“Something worth while?” she mused absently. Then she came and stood by
Durkin, and studied his face once more. Some sense of his isolation, of
his unhappy aloofness from his kind, touched and wrung her feeling. She
caught at his arm with a sudden companionable enthusiasm, and joined him
in pacing the room.

“After all, there _would_ be something big, and wide, and sweeping about
this sort of work, wouldn’t there?”

“Yes; it’s a blamed sight better than pool-room piking!” he cried. “It’s
living; it’s doing things!”

“I believe I could plunge in it, and glory in it!” she went on,
consolingly.

“There’s just one drawback—just one nasty little blot on the face of
the fun,” he ventured, catching at the sustaining arm of her enthusiasm.

“And that is—?”

“We’ve got to get this ten thousand dollars just for a day or two!”

“But have you any idea as to how, or where, or when?”

“Yes, I have,” he answered, looking at her steadily. There seemed to be
some covert challenge in his glance, but she faced him unwaveringly.

“Say it out, Jim; I’m not afraid!”

“I mean _you_ must get it! You’ve got to borrow it!”

He began bravely enough, but he hesitated before the startled scorn on
her face.

“You mean I’ve—I’ve got to steal it?”

He held up a protesting hand. Then he went to the half-open door of her
inner room and closed it carefully.

“No; as I said before, we can not and must not steal it. It may be
called theft, of course, but every cent of it will be returned. No, no;
listen to me—I have it all figured out. Only, it has to be done this
very night!”

“Tonight?” she said, with a reproving little cry.

“Yes, tonight! And that is why I’ve been desperate, of course, and have
been looping every telephone wire that runs near my up-town room, hoping
against hope for a chance to pick up something to work on. The only
thing that gave me that chance was Theodore Van Schaick’s house wire.
Now, listen. Two days ago his daughter Lydia came of age. I could tell
you most of the things she got, and how she has been ’phoning gratitude
and thanks and girlish messages out round the city. But among other
things Miss Lydia Van Schaick received from her father, was a small and
neat bundle not long out of the Sub-Treasury. It was made up of one
hundred equally neat little pieces of parchment, and each one of them is
a one-hundred dollar banknote.”

“And I’m to crawl through one of her windows, and burglarize the house
of this amount!”

“No, no, Frank—listen to me a moment. Yesterday, Miss Lydia telephoned
her Uncle Cedric about this money. Not being used to a small fortune in
ready cash, naturally, she feels nervous about having it around, and
wants to put it somewhere. Her level-headed old Uncle Cedric advised her
to take it down tomorrow to the Second National Bank, and open a deposit
account with it. And this Lydia intends to do. Tonight her ten thousand
dollars are laid carefully away in a glove-box, in one of her chiffonier
drawers, in her own private bedroom. So tonight is our only chance!”

“Couldn’t I sand-bag her in the morning, on her way down-town?” demanded
Frances, with mock seriousness. She had learned not to ask too much of
life, and she was struggling to school herself to the thought of this
new rôle.

“No, my dear girl; it can be done so much easier than that. Her mother
and her younger sister are still at Driftwood, their summer place in
Mamaroneck. At four o’clock this afternoon they sent into the city a
certain Miss Annie Seabrooke. She is a St. Luke’s graduate, a
professional nurse who has been looking after old Mrs. Van Schaick. This
lady, apparently, is a good deal of a hypochondriac. The nurse, of
course, has to get things ready for her patient’s return. I have already
met Miss Seabrooke at the Grand Central Station. I have also, at Miss
Lydia’s urgent request, installed her at the Holland House, over night.
This, by the way, is the lady’s bag. I tried to explain to her that the
whole Van Schaick house wants to be given over to Miss Lydia’s
coming-of-age function.”

Frances, already carried down again by her tidal reaction of feeling,
watched him through narrowed and abstracted eyes.

“In this bag, among other things, you’ll find a nurse’s uniform,” Durkin
went on hurriedly, oblivious of her scrutiny. “It will fit a little
loose, I’m afraid—Miss Seabrooke is a big, wide-shouldered Canadian
girl. And in forty or fifty minutes from now you ought to be inside that
uniform and inside the Van Schaick house—if we ever want to carry this
thing through!”

“And then—?” she asked, in her dead and impersonal voice, as though her
thoughts were leagues away.

“Then,” cried Durkin, “then you’ve got to get hold of a glove-box in
Miss Lydia Van Schaick’s chiffonier drawer. By some means or other we’ve
got to get hold of that box, and—”

She stopped him, by holding up a sudden silencing hand. Her face was
white and set; he could see none of the iris of her eyes.

“It’s no use!” she said, evenly and quietly. “It’s no use. I can not and
will not do it!”

Durkin fell back from her, aghast. Then he took her by the arm, and
turned her about so that the light fell on her face. He could see that
her lower lip was trembling.

“You back down—_now_?” he demanded, with a touch of incredulity.

“Yes, I back down!” she answered, letting her eyes meet his.

“Why—” he began, inadequately. “What is it?”

“It’s simply this, Jim,” she answered him—and her voice, now, was high
and thin and unmodulated, constricted, by some inward tension, to a
gramophonic tumult of syllables. “There has got to be a limit,
somewhere. At some point we have got to draw the line. We have been
forgetting a great many things. But I can not and will not be a common
thief—for you—or for anything you can bring to me—or to my life!”

“You say _that_?”

“Yes, I do; and if you cared for me—if you thought of my feelings—if
you thought of my happiness, you would never ask me to do such
things—you would never make me suffer like this!”

He threw up his hands with what was almost a gesture of exasperation.

“But you will _not_ be a common thief—it will not be stealing at all!
Can’t you see that?”

“No, I can not. And you know as well as I know, that when we try to
justify it we do it only by a quibble!”

“But I tell you every penny of that money will go back where it came
from!”

“Then why can’t we go to Lydia Van Schaick and ask her to lend us the
money?”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“No more so than what you propose!”

Durkin, drawing back from her, closed his right fist and with it pounded
angrily on the palm of his left hand.

“If you’re going to back down I _will_ go to Lydia Van Schaick, and I’ll
get her money, too. I’ll go as a second-story man, as a porch-climber!
I’ll go after that money as a common burglar and house-breaker. But I’ll
get it, in the end, or know the reason why!”

“Oh!” she gasped, horrified. “You wouldn’t! You couldn’t!”

“I say I will!” he cried, in a passion.

“Oh, you couldn’t!” she reiterated.

“Couldn’t I?—I’ve got this machinery started, and it’s going to be kept
moving!”

Something in the scene carried her years back, to the times when her
father, emerging from his prolonged orgies, sick and shaken, stormed and
wept for the brandy she struggled to keep away from him—and the
struggle would end only, when in fear of his collapse, she surrendered
the bottle to his quivering fingers.

“My God—I’ve _got_ to have it!” Durkin was crying and storming.

There crept over her the same, slowly eviscerating pity for the defiant
man who now stood before her, so tragically weak in his very protests of
strength.

She turned and caught at his arm, with a sudden inward surrender that
left her dazed and tottering. She struggled in vain to keep down her
tears, once more torn by that old and costly and compromising hunger to
be loved and sustained by him. She could not live in the face of his
anger; she could not endure his hate. And the corroding bitterness, the
gnawing tragedy, of her life lay in the fact that the arm to which she
must turn for support was the very arm that would forever drag and hold
her down.

Yet she was inarticulate, in the face of it all. She could not plead;
she could not explain. She could only break out with a sudden
unreasoning and passionate cry of: “_You are not kind to me!_”

Durkin had already shaken her hand from his arm, and was on the point of
a second outburst. Then he stopped, and the gathering anger and revolt
ebbed out of his face, for at that tearful and passionate cry from her
he knew that the battle between them had come to an end. He knew, with
an exultation in which even pity and cruelty were strangely entangled,
that it was a sign of her inward capitulation, that he had won her over.

“Frank!”

He swung about, suddenly, and with one clasp of his arms let wide the
flood-gates of her strained emotions.

“Good God!” he cried. “You know I hate it, as much as you do! But can’t
you see it’s too late now, to quibble and vacillate? Can’t you see that
I’m getting nothing more out of it than you?”

He pleaded with her, hotly, impetuously. He showed her how he needed
her, how he was helpless without her. He held her, and kissed the tears
from her unhappy eyes—he could see them droop, pitifully, as with a
narcotic, at his first intimate and tender touch. He would have to sway
her now, he felt, not through her judgment, not by open attack, but only
by those more circuitous and subterranean approaches of feminine
feeling. And still he expostulated and pleaded, unnerving and breaking
her will with his cruel kindnesses of word and caress.

“Oh, I’ll do it!” she cried, at last, mopping her stained face. “I’ll do
it, Jim, if I have to!”

“But there’s nothing so terrible in it, Dear Heart,” he assuaged. “We’ve
been through worse things together. And it will be made right again,
every penny of it!”

“Jim,” she said slowly, as she grew calmer once more; “Jim, I want you
to give me your word of honor that it _will_ be made right! I’m—I’m too
cowardly, yet, to do a thing that’s wickedness, through and through.
I’ve got to see some glimmer of right in it, I’ve got to feel that it
will end right, even—”

“But this _will_ end right! It can’t help it. I give you my word of
honor, now, to save you from being what you might seem, that every cent
of this woman’s money goes back to her.”

She was moving her head slowly up and down, as she studied his face.

“Then you must remember, through it all, how much I’m trusting myself to
you,” she said, with a forlornness that brought a lump in his throat, as
she looked about the room with hopeless eyes. “Do you realize how hard
all this is going to be?”

“It’s not easy, I know—but it’s our only chance.”

“_Is_ it our only chance?” she suddenly asked. “Life is full of chances.
I saw one today, if I’d only known.”

She looked at him again, with some new light sifting through all her
tangle of clouds. “Yes,” she went on, more hopefully, “there _might_ be
still another way!”

“Well?” he asked, almost impatiently, as he glanced at his watch.

“It was something that happened when I went into that little
Postal-Union office at Broadway and Thirty-seventh Street.” She was
speaking rapidly now, with a touch of his former fire. “The relays and
everything are in the same room, you know, behind the counter and a wire
screen. I wanted my dressmaker, and while I was sitting at a little
side-desk chewing my pen-handle and trying to boil seventeen words down
to ten, a man came in with a rush message. I could see him out of the
corner of my eye. It was Sunset Bryan, the race-track plunger, and it
occurred to me that it might be worth while to know what he was sending
out.”

“Did he see you, or does he know you?”

“I took good pains that he shouldn’t see me. So I scrawled away on my
blank, and just sat there and read the ticker as the operator took the
despatches off the file and sent them out. Here is the wording of Sunset
Bryan’s message, as well as I can remember it:
‘Duke—of—Kendall—runs—tomorrow—get—wise—and—wire—St.
Louis—and—South!’”

“Well, what of it?” Durkin asked.

“Why, this Bryan is the man who took one hundred and ten thousand
dollars out of the Aqueduct ring in one day. Since the Gravesend Meeting
began, people say he has made nearly half a million. He’s a sort of
race-track Curry. He keeps close figures on every race he plays. He has
one hundred men and more on his pay roll, and makes his calculations
after the most minute investigating and figuring. It stands to reason
that he manipulates a little, though the Pinkerton men, as I suppose you
know, have never been able to get him off the Eastern tracks. Now, Jim,
my firm belief is that there is something ‘cooked up,’ as they say, for
tomorrow afternoon, and if we could only find out what this Duke of
Kendall business is, we might act on it in time.”

She waited for Durkin to speak. He tapped the top of his head,
meditatively, with his right forefinger, pursing his lips as his mind
played over the problem.

“Yes, we might. But how are we to find out what the Duke of Kendall and
his mere running means?”

“I even took the trouble to look up the Duke of Kendall. He is a
MacIntosh horse, the stable companion to Mary J., and ridden by Shirley,
a new jockey.”

She could see that he had little sympathy for her suggestion, and she
herself lost faith in the plan even as she unfolded it.

“My idea was, Jim, that this horse was going to run—is _sure_ to run,
under heavy odds, for what they call ‘a long shot.’”

“But still, how would we be able to make sure?”

“I could go and ask Sunset Bryan himself.”

Durkin threw up his hand with a gesture of angry disapproval.

“That beast! He’s—he’s unspeakable! He’s the worst living animal in
America!”

“I shouldn’t be afraid of him,” she answered, quietly.

“The whole thing comes too late in the game, anyway,” broke in Durkin,
with a second gesture of disgust. Then he added, more gently: “Good
heavens, Frank, I don’t want to see _you_ mixed up with that kind of
cur! It wouldn’t be right and fair! It’s infinitely worse than the thing
I’m suggesting!”

“After all, we are not so different, he and I,” she responded, with
acidulated mildness.

Durkin took her hand in his, with real pain written on his face.

“Don’t talk that way,” he pleaded; “it hurts!”

She smoothed his hair with her free hand, quietly, maternally.

“Then you had rather that I—I borrowed this money from the Van Schaick
house?” she asked him.

“It’s the choice of two evils,” he answered her, out of his unhappiness,
all his older enthusiasm now burnt down into the ashes of indifferency.

“If only I was sure you could keep your promise,” she said, dreamily, as
she studied his face.

“It _will_ go back!” he responded determinedly, shrugging off his
momentary diffidence. “Even though I have to make it, dollar by dollar,
and though it takes me twenty years! But I tell you, Frank, that it will
not be needed. Here we have the chance of a life time. If we only had
the money to start with, the whole business could be carried on openly
and decently—barring, of course,” he added, with his sudden shamefaced
smile, “the little bit of cutting-in I’ll have to do down-town on the
Curry wires!”

“One minute—before we go any farther with this. Supposing we
successfully get this glove-box, and successfully watch Curry, and on
the strength of our knowledge invest this money, and get our returns,
and find ourselves with enough—well, with enough not to starve on—will
you promise me this: that it will be the last?”

“But why should it be the last?”

“You know as well as I do! You know that I want to be honest, to live
straight and aboveboard; but a hundred times more, that I want to see
you honest and aboveboard!”

He studied the tense and passionate mood that flitted across her face,
that seemed to deepen the shadows about her brooding violet eyes.

“I would do anything for you, Frank!” he said, with an inadequate and
yet eloquent little outthrust of the arms.

“Then do this for me! Let us get back to the daylight world again!”

“But would it satisfy us? Would we—?”

“Would we—?” she echoed forlornly. Then she turned suddenly away, to
hide a trace of inconsequential tears.

“We have got to!” she cried out passionately over her shoulder, as she
stooped to the suit-case and deftly opened it. A moment later she was
rummaging hurriedly through its neatly packed contents.

“And I am Mrs. Van Schaick’s trained nurse?” she asked, ruminatively.

“Yes, Miss Annie Seabrooke, remember!”

“But the others—the servants—won’t they know me?”

“You were engaged in Mamaroneck; not one of the city servants has seen
your face.”

“But it will be eleven and after—was my train delayed?”

“No, not delayed; but you took a later train.”

She was silent for a minute or two, as she probed deeper into the
suit-case.

“You haven’t promised!” she murmured, her face still low over the
womanly white linen, and the little cap and apron and uniform which she
was gently shaking out before her.

She rose to her feet and turned to him.

“I promise you—anything!” he cried, in the teeth of all his inner
misgivings. He followed her to the open window.

“Then kiss me!” she said, with a little exhausted sigh of ultimate
surrender, as she sank into his arms and her lonely and hungry body felt
the solace of his strength about and above it. And in that minute they
lost all count of time and place, and for them, with the great
glimmering granite city stretching away at their feet, there was neither
past nor future.



                             CHAPTER XVIII


Frances Candler waited until complete quiet reigned over the house. Then
she noiselessly opened her door and peered up and down the darkened
hallway.

A sudden thought came to her, as she stood there in the silence, and,
slipping back to her room, she took first a hot-water bottle out of her
nurse’s bag, and then a hypodermic syringe from its neat little morocco
case. Miss Annie Seabrooke, she decided, had been making melancholy use
of her knowledge of drugs. That enlightened young lady was, obviously,
addicted to the use of morphine, for beside the syringe-case Frances
found a little bottle bearing its telltale chemical formula: C_{17}
H_{19} NO_{3}.

She removed the screw-top from the graduated “barrel,” and in its place
adjusted the glistening little hollow needle. Then she carefully filled
the graduated tube with its innocent-looking liquid, and, wrapping the
syringe in her pocket-handkerchief, thrust it into the bosom of her
bodice. Many things lay ahead of her, and before the night was out even
this might be of use. She devoutly hoped not—yet the present moment,
she warned herself, was no time for hesitations and compunctious
half-measures.

The hot-water bottle she carried openly in her hand, as she once more
softly opened the door and crept out into the half-lighted hallway.

They had given her a room on the third floor, a concession, she
imagined, to the established dignity of her profession. Most of the
servants slept on the fourth floor. It had, accordingly, been by way of
the front stairs that the bibulous English butler, with more than one
sidelong blink of admiration had brought her up to her quarters for the
night.

She felt that she would like to find the back stairway, the stairway by
which the household servants came and went.

She moved forward softly, listening a second at doorways as she passed.
It crept through her mind at that moment, incongruously enough, how like
her own future lay this silent and unknown house, with its dark
entanglement of possibilities, its network of unknown dangers and
surprises, its staid and unbetraying doors behind which so much or so
little might anywhere dwell.

Then she suddenly stood transfixed, panting a little. For the sound of
approaching footsteps fell on her startled ear.

To turn and run was out of the question, for she had no knowledge of
where or into what she might flee. To hesitate longer would be equally
fatal. Instant action only could save her. As quick as thought she
opened the door on her left, and stepped inside.

“Is it you, Adolph?” a whispered voice asked quietly, out of the gloom.
It was a woman’s voice—she must have been a young woman, Frances
commiseratively felt—a voice that was neither startled nor unhappy.

She stood, then, in one of the servants’ rooms. She pictured to herself
the different faces she had seen below stairs, though in none of them
could she remember any sign or hint of what she had now stumbled upon.
But the pregnancy of that muffled question gave her a flashing
consciousness of the wheels within even those inner wheels in the dark
and complicated mills of life.

“Hsssssh!” said the intruder softly, as she quickly swung to the door,
padding it with her hand.

She stood there, waiting until the steps passed by. They were brisk,
businesslike steps, those of a woman, mingled with the tinkling of a
chain of keys. She surmised that it was the housekeeper, on her last
rounds for the night.

She realized the peril of another minute in the room. The wiring of the
house, she had already noticed, with the quickness of an expert, was
both thorough and modern. Any moment the turning of a bedside button
might flood the room with brilliant light and leave her there, betrayed
beyond redemption.

“Sssssssh!” she said again sharply, as though in warning, and a moment
later dodged out through the door, going as noiselessly as she had come.

But the ground was now dangerous, she felt; and she was glad to escape
to the comparative freedom of a wider hallway, running at right angles
to the one she had just left. This surely led to the back stairs, she
argued, as she groped her way steadily forward. She was even debating
whether it would not be better to risk the fully-lighted front stairs,
rather than lose time as she was doing, when her groping hands came in
contact with the cool wood of the polished balustrade.

Her foot was on the carpeted second step, when she drew back, with a
terrified catch of the breath.

The familiar click of the light-button had thrown the entire hall and
stairway into dazzling light. A man stood at the foot of the stairs, in
his slippered feet, with his hand still on the button. He had not yet
seen her; but it was too late to escape.

It was the bibulous English butler who had shown her to her room. In a
crook of his arm he carried a Sauterne bottle and a nearly empty
champagne magnum, carefully recorked. It was plain, Frances argued, that
he was pilfering a nightcap for himself. That gave her at least a shred
of courage.

She hesitated only the fraction of a second. Then she coldly and briskly
descended the stairs, with her hot-water bottle in her hand.

The butler fell back a step or two at the sudden apparition, blinked at
her unsteadily in the strong light, and made a gigantic effort to draw
himself up.

Her first intention had been to march disdainfully past him; but this,
she remembered, was out of the question. It was already midnight, or
more, and for all his unsteadiness of limb he was, she knew, a shrewd
and capable servant, well trained in his duties.

“Well, miss, what is it?” She could see him putting on his official
attitude, just as he might draw on his serving-coat. The new nurse,
apparently, took cold easily, for she still wore her galoshes.

“Which way do I go to the kitchen?” she demanded curtly.

“The kitchen, miss, is closed.” He was looking at her with his pale and
beady little eyes. “What were you wanting?”

“I must have some hot water,” she answered, swaying her instruments of
deliverance before her.

“There is a bathroom on your floor, miss, two doors to the right of your
own door.” He spoke thickly but peremptorily. Frances could plainly see
that he was not to be juggled with.

“I said hot water, not warm,” she retorted, almost angrily.

“You’ll find an electric heater in the bathroom, miss,” he added, more
respectfully. She tried to wither him with a look, but it was
unavailing. He even preceded her to her own door, turning the lights on
and off as they went.

A moment later, as she stood biting the end of her fingers in mingled
vexation and anxiety, she could hear the sound of running water. She
wondered, dreadingly, if she was never to get rid of the man. As she
waited she let down her hair.

The butler appeared with a steaming pitcher. He entered unsteadily, to
her preoccupied “Come!” He looked at her over his shoulder as he put the
steaming pitcher down, on her dresser.

“A damned fine girl!” he said to himself, as he looked at her for a
second time, and seemed loath to leave. In fact, months afterward, he
dilated to the second cook on the wonder of that chestnut hair, which
now fairly blanketed the girl’s head and shoulders.

“Are you in pain, miss?” he asked anxiously, coming nearer to her. His
attitude was cogent, and yet non-committal.

“No,” she said icily, and then she added, more discreetly, “No—not
much.”

“Just—er—where does it seem to be?” he ventured, brazenly.

She was silent now, distraught with mingled revulsion and anxiety.

“Is it here, miss?” he persisted, with easy and masterful solicitude,
reaching out as though to touch her with his intrepid and insolent hand.
The woman drew back with a shudder, white to the very lips. This was the
penalty, she told herself, for the ways she had fallen into! This was
the possible degradation that even Durkin had been willing to lead her
into!

She fell back from him, and stood against the wall, struggling to calm
herself. For the feeling swept over her that she must scream aloud, to
rend and scatter what seemed the choking mists of a nightmare. Yet her
masterful tormentor, misjudging the source of her emotion, still stood
blinking at her soulfully.

“Isn’t there anything I can do for you?” he wheedled, meltingly, yet
militantly.

It would have been laughable, under other circumstances, Frances tried
to make herself believe—this solicitous tenderness of an unmannerly
English butler, placidly extending to her the gallantries of the
servants’ quarters. Now, she saw only the perils of the situation.

“You can leave this room,” she said, steadily, in answer to his
question. She saw the look of stolid revolt that swept over his face,
and she could have wrung her hands, in the extremity of her fear.

“Won’t you want anything fetched, later?” he still persecuted her.

“Yes, yes,” she cried, desperately; “but not now!”

“When?” he demanded, wagging his head, sagely.

“_The later the better!_” she answered, slowly, with a final and
desperate craftiness, pointing to the door.

A sudden flame of audacious heat crept into the bloated face before her.
He would still have tarried an admiring moment or two, but she returned
his gaze, unfalteringly, for thirty resolute seconds. He wavered,
mumbled something in his throat, flung one final melting leer at her,
and then turned and crept from the room, nursing his two bottles in the
crook of his arm as he went.

“Oh, thank God, thank God!” she cried, with a throaty little sob.

Then a second shudder, as momentarily benumbing as a chill, swept over
her from head to foot. A sudden passion to get out where she could
breathe and move took its place—at whatever ultimate loss—only to get
away from that house of engulfing horrors.

The mood passed, with the passing of her fright, and she shook her tired
nerves together with an effort. Then still once more she groped her way
out through the darkness. Now, however, there was neither trepidation
nor hesitancy in her silent movements, as she flitted through the
hallway and passed like a shadow down the dark stairs.

She paused only once—at the door which she knew was Lydia Van Schaick’s
bedroom. In an oriel window, opposite this door, was a little alcove
fitted up with bookshelves, a highly polished writing-table, and two
low-seated rattan lounging-chairs. On one end of the writing-table stood
a flat silver vase holding a spray of roses; on the other end stood a
desk-telephone transmitter and an oblong folio of green morocco, with
“Telephone Addresses” stamped in gold on its richly tooled cover. All
this Frances noticed with one quick glance, as, nursing the knob in her
cautious fingers, she turned it slowly.

The door was securely locked, from the inside.

One chance remained to her—by way of the little white-tiled bathroom,
which she had caught a glimpse of on her first journey up through the
house. This bathroom, she knew, would open into the girl’s boudoir
itself.

This door was unlocked. A moment later she was inside, and the door was
closed behind her. She groped carefully across the tiled flooring until
her finger-tips came in contact with the second door, which creaked a
little at her touch, for it stood a few inches ajar.

This door she opened, inch by inch, in terror of that tiny hinge-creak.
It was a sleeping-room, she knew, the moment she had crept inside; and
it held a sleeper, for the air seemed laden with its subtle yet quite
immaterial fragrance of warmth—vivified, as it were, with some
intangible exhalation of its sleeping life.

She listened with strained attention, hoping to overhear the quiet and
regular breathing of the sleeper. But no sound reached her ears.

Through the muffled darkness she could dimly make out the open doorway
leading into what must be the girl’s sitting-room. In that room, Frances
felt, would stand the chiffonier.

She felt her way to the foot of the bed. There she stood, strained
second after second, still listening. No sound came from the sleeper.
But, awed, for reasons that lay beyond the reach of her restless
thought, she could feel the presence of the other life there, as
distinctly as though the room had been steeped in noon-day light; and as
she waited and listened there came to her a sense of the mystery of
sleep, a feeling that, after all, this briefest midnight slumber was
only a lighter and younger sister to that endless sleep of death itself.

Step by step, then, she crawled and edged her way into the second vault
of black silence, feeling with outstretched fingers for each piece of
furniture. The mirror-laden chiffonier, some womanly intuition told her,
would stand between the two heavily curtained windows.

Her feelings had not misled her. It was a well-made piece of furniture,
and the top drawer opened noiselessly. This was explored with light and
feverish fingers, as a blind woman might explore it. But it held nothing
but laces and scattered bits of jewelry, and filmy things she could not
name and place.

The second drawer opened less readily, and a key had been left in the
lock. She touched the little leather boxes, deciding that they must be
jewel-cases, and methodic little layers of silk and linen, and a package
or two of papers. Then her fingers fell on something cold, and hard, and
purposeful. It was a woman’s little revolver, obviously, with a jeweled
handle. She explored the trigger-guard and the safety-latch with
studious fingers, and decided that it was a 32-calibre hammerless.

Then her startled hand went up to her lips, and she wheeled noiselessly
about where she stood. It could not have been a sound that she heard. It
was only a presence that had made itself felt, to some sixth sense in
her.

No; it was nothing that she had heard or seen, but she leaned forward
and studied the surrounding gloom intently, from side to side.

Acting under some quick subliminal impulse, she picked the little
hammerless weapon up out of the drawer, with one hand, while her other
hand explored its farther end. This exploring hand felt feverishly along
the edges of what seemed a mother-of-pearl writing-portfolio, and
rummaged quickly and deftly down among laces and silk, until her fingers
came in contact with the glazed surface of a little oblong box.

There could be no two thoughts as to what that box was. It was the
glove-box which held that particular package for which she had already
dared so much.

An awakened and alert sixth sense still warned her of something ominous
and imminent; but there was neither fear nor hesitation in her actions
as she drew out the little oblong box and with quick fingers thrust it,
along with the toy-like hammerless, into the bosom of her dress.

Then she took three stealthy steps forward—and once again caught her
breath sharply.

“_Somebody is in this room!_”

The intruder and thief fell back, step by step, gropingly, until she
touched the chiffonier once more.

“_Somebody is in this room!_”

It was a woman’s voice that broke in on the black silence, a quiet but
sternly challenging voice, tremulous with agitation, yet strident with
the triumph of conviction, and with resolute courage.

“Who is here?”

Frances Candler did not move. She stood there, breathing a little
heavily, watching. For now that sudden challenge neither thrilled nor
agitated her. Consciousness, in some way, refused to react. Her tired
nerves had already been strained to their uttermost; nothing now could
stir her dormant senses.

Then she felt the sudden patter of bare feet on the floor.

Still she waited, wondering what this movement could mean. And, as she
had felt at other times, in moments of dire peril, a sense of detached
and disembodied personality seized her—a feeling that the mind had
slipped its sheath of the body and was standing on watch beyond and
above her. She suddenly heard the sound of a key being withdrawn. It was
from the door leading into the hallway. Then, almost before she realized
what it meant, the bedroom door had been slammed shut, a second key had
rattled and clicked decisively in its lock—and she was a prisoner!

A moment later she caught the sound of the signal-bell in the alcove.

“Central, quickly, give me the Sixty-Seventh Street police station!” It
was the same clear and determined young voice that had spoken from the
doorway.

There was a silence of only a few seconds. Then Frances heard the girl
give her name and house number. This she had to repeat twice,
apparently, to the sleepy sergeant.

“There is a burglar in this house. Send an officer here, please, at
once!”

A chill douche of apprehension seemed to restore Frances to her senses.
She ran across the room and groped feverishly along the wall for the
electric-light button. She could find none. But on the chiffonier was a
drop-globe, and with one quick turn of the wrist the room was flooded
with tinted light.

The prisoner first verified her fears; there was no possible avenue of
escape by way of the windows. These, she saw at once, were out of the
question.

So she stopped in front of the mirror, thinking quickly and lucidly; and
for the second time that night she decided to let down her hair. She
could twist the bank-notes up into a little rope, and pin her thick
braids closely over them, and no one might think to search for them
there. It was a slender thread, but on that thread still hung her only
hope.

She tore open her dress and flung the cover from the precious glove-box,
scattering the gloves about in her feverish search.

The box held nothing. The money was not there. It had been taken and
hidden elsewhere. And she might never have known, until it was too late!

Then methodically and more coolly she made a second search throughout
the now lighted room. But nowhere could she find the package she needed.
And, after all it _was_ too late! And in a sort of tidal wave of
deluging apprehension, she suddenly understood what life from that hour
forward was worth to her.

She set to work to rearrange the chiffonier, inappositely and vacuously.
She even did what she could to put the room once more in order. This
accomplished, she took up her hot-water bottle, and still told herself
that she must not give up. Then she seated herself in a little
white-and-gold rocker, and waited, quietly blazing out through her
jungle of danger each different narrow avenue of expediency.

“Poor Jim!” she murmured, under her breath, with one dry sob.

The hum of voices came to her from the hallway—the servants, obviously,
had been awakened. She could hear the footsteps come to a stop without,
and the shuffling of slippered feet on the hardwood floor. Then came the
drone of excited whisperings, the creak and jar of the doors opening and
closing.

Then, remote and muffled and far-away, sounded the sharp ringing of a
bell. Somebody out in the hallway gasped a relieved, “Thank heaven!”

Frances looked at herself in the mirror, adjusting her hair, and taking
note of the two little circles of scarlet that had deepened and spread
across her feverish cheeks.

Then she sat down once more, and swung the hot-water bottle from her
forefinger, and waited.

She heard the dull thud of the front door closing and a moment later the
sound of quick footsteps on the stairs.

She looked about the comfortable, rose-tinted room, with its gilded
Louis clock, with its womanish signs and tokens, with its nest-like
warmth and softness; she looked about her slowly and comprehensively, as
though she had been taking her last view of life.

Then she rose and went to the door, for the police had arrived.



                              CHAPTER XIX


Durkin was both puzzled and apprehensive. That a taxi should follow his
own at eleven o’clock at night, for some twenty-odd blocks, was a
singular enough coincidence. That it should stop when he stopped, that
it should wait, not a square away, for him to come out of his _café_,
and then shadow him home for another thirteen circuitous blocks, was
more than a coincidence. It was a signal for the utmost discretion.

It was not that Durkin, at this stage of the kaleidoscopic game, was
given to wasting tissue in unnecessary worry. But there had been that
mysterious cigar-light in the hallway. When he had glanced cautiously
down through the darkness, leaning well out over the bannister, he had
distinctly seen the little glow of light. Yet, with the exception of his
own top-floor rooms, the building was given over to business offices,
and by night he had invariably found the corridors empty and unused. No
Holmes watchman, no patrolman, not even a Central Office man, he knew,
indulged in fragrant Carolina Perfectos when covering his beat.

But when he descended quietly to reconnoitre, he saw that no one went
down to the street door. And no one, he could see equally well, remained
on the stairs or in the halls, for he turned on the light, floor by
floor, as he went back to his rooms.

Yet nobody, again, intelligently trying to secrete himself, would thus
flaunt a lighted cigar in the darkness. From the suave and mellow odor
of that cigar, too, Durkin knew that the intruder was something more
than the ordinary house-thief and night-hawk.

As he thought the matter over, comfortably lounging back in a big
arm-chair up in his rooms, he tried to force himself to the pacifying
conclusion that the whole affair was fortuitous. He would keep a
weather-eye open for such casual occurrences, in the future; but he now
had no time to bother with the drifting shadows of uncertainty. He had
already that day faced more material dangers; there were more
substantial perils, he knew, rising up about him.

He flung himself back, with a sigh, after looking at his watch, and
through the upward-threading drifts of his cigar smoke he wondered,
half-reprovingly, what was taking place in the house not two hundred
yards away from him, where Frances was so wakefully watching and
working, while he sat there, idly waiting—since waiting, for once, was
to be part of the game.

He afterward decided that in his sheer weariness of body and mind he
must have dozed off into a light sleep.

It was past midnight when he awoke with a start, a vague sense of
impending evil heavy upon him.

His first thought, on awakening, was that some one had knocked. He
glanced at his watch, as he sprang to open the door. It was on the point
of one.

Frank should have been back an hour ago. Then he _had_ fallen asleep, of
a certainty, he decided, with electric rapidity of thought.

But this was she, come at last, he conjectured. Yet, with that sense of
impending danger still over him, he stepped back and turned off the
lights. Then he quietly and cautiously opened the door.

No one was there. He peered quickly down through the gloom of the
hallways, but still neither sound nor movement greeted him.

His now distraught mind quickly ran the gamut of possibilities. A
baffling, indeterminate impression seized him that somebody, somewhere,
was reaching out to him through the midnight silence, trying to come in
touch with him and speak to him.

He looked at the motionless clapper of his transmitter signal-bell,
where he had discreetly muffled the little gong with a linen
handkerchief. It could not have been the telephone.

Yet he caught up the receiver with a gesture of half-angered impatience.

“. . . in this house—send an officer at once!” were the words that sped
along the wire to his listening ear. An officer at once! Six quick
strokes of conjecture seemed to form the missing link to his chain of
thought.

“My God!” he exclaimed in terror, “that means Frank!”

There had been a hitch somewhere, and in some way. And that was the Van
Schaicks telephoning for the police—yes, decided Durkin, struggling to
keep his clearness of head, it would be first to the Sixty-Seventh
Street station that they would send for help.

He had already learned, or striven to learn, at such work, not only to
think and to act, but to essay his second step of thinking while he
accomplished his first in action.

He rummaged through a suit-case filled with lineman’s tools, and
snatched up a nickel badge similar to that worn by inspectors of the
Consolidated Gas Company. It was taking odds, in one way, such as he had
never before in his career dared to take. But the case, he felt, was
desperate.

Once off the Avenue he ran the greater part of the way round the block,
for he knew that in five minutes, at the outside, the police themselves
would be on the scene. And as he ran he let his alert imagination play
along the difficulties that walled him in, feeling, in ever-shifting
fancy, for the line of least resistance.

He mounted the brownstone steps three at a time, and tore at the
old-fashioned bell. He pushed his way authoritatively up through a
cluster of servants, shivering and chattering and whispering along the
hall.

At a young woman in a crimson quilted dressing-gown, faced with
baby-blue silk, he flashed his foolish little metal shield. She was a
resolute-browed, well-poised girl, looking strangely boyish with her
tumbled hair thrown loosely to one side.

“I’m the plain-clothes man, the detective from the police station!”

He looked at her abstractedly, and curtly shifted his revolver from his
hip-pocket to his side-pocket. This caused a stir among the servants.

“Get those people out of here!” he ordered.

The resolute-browed young woman in the dressing-gown scattered them with
a movement of the hand, and slipped a key into his fingers. Then she
pointed to a doorway.

“This thing was half expected, ma’m, at Headquarters,” said Durkin
hurriedly, as he fitted the key. “It’s a woman, isn’t it?”

The girl with the resolute brow and the tumbled hair could not say.

“But I think I understand,” she went on hurriedly. “I had quite a large
sum of money, several thousand dollars, in my room here!”

Durkin, who had stooped to unlock the door, turned on her quickly.

“And it’s still in this room?” he demanded.

“No; it worried me too much. I was going to keep it, but I took it down
to the bank, this afternoon.”

Then the girl said “Sir!” wonderingly; for Durkin had emitted a quick
mutter of anger. They were doubly defeated. By this time the bedroom
door was open.

“Ah, I thought it would be a woman,” he went on coolly, as he glanced at
Frank’s staring and wide eyes. “And, if I mistake not, Miss Van Schaick,
this is Number 17358, at the Central Office.”

Frances knew his chortle was one of hysteria, but still she looked and
wondered. Once more Durkin flashed his badge as he took her firmly by
one shaking wrist.

“Come with me,” he said, with quiet authority, and step by step he led
her out into the hallway.

“Not a word!” he mumbled, under his breath, as he saw her parted lips
essay to speak.

“It’s really too bad!” broke in the girl in the dressing-gown,
half-relentingly, with an effort to see the prisoner’s now discreetly
downcast face.

“You won’t say so, later,” retorted Durkin, toying to the full with the
ironic situation. “An old offender!” Even the bibulous butler, in the
doorway, shook his head knowingly at this, thereby intimating, as he
later explained, with certain reservations, to the second maid, that he
all along knew as much.

Durkin pushed the gaping servants authoritatively aside.

“Have these people watch the back of the house—every window and door,
till the Inspector and his men come up. I’ll rap for the patrol from the
front.”

Durkin waited for neither reply nor questions, but hurried his charge
down the stairway, across the wide hall, and out through the heavy front
doors.

The audacity, the keen irony, the absurdity of it all, seemed to make
him light-headed, for he broke into a raucous laugh as he stood with her
in the cool and free night air.

But once down on the sidewalk he caught her shaking hand in his, and ran
with her, ran desperately and madly, until the rattle and clatter of a
bell broke on his ear. It was a patrol-wagon rumbling round from the
Avenue on the east. He would have turned back, but at the curb in front
of the Van Schaick mansion already a patrolman stood, rapping for
assistance.

In his dilemma Durkin dropped breathlessly down an area stairs, feeling
the limp weight of the woman on his body as he fell. To Frances herself
it seemed like the effortless fall in a nightmare; she could remember
neither how nor when it ended, only she had the sensation of being
pulled sharply across cold flagstones. Durkin had dragged her in under
the shadow of the heavy brownstone steps, behind a galvanized iron
garbage can, hoping against hope that he had not been noticed, and
silently praying that if indeed the end was to come it might not come in
a setting so sordid and mean and small.

A street cat, lean and gaunt and hungry-looking, slunk like a shadow
down the area-steps. The eyes of the two fugitives watched it intently.
As it slunk and crept from shadow to shadow it suddenly became, to the
worn and depressed Durkin, a symbol of his own career, a homeless and
migratory Hunger, outlawed, pursued, unresting, a ravenous and
unappeased purloiner of a great city’s scraps and tatters.

The soft pressure of Frank’s arm on his own drove the passing thought
from his mind. And they sat together on the stone slabs, silently, hand
in hand, till the patrol-wagon rattled past once more, and the street
noises died down, and hastily opened windows were closed, and footsteps
no longer passed along the street above them.

Then they ventured cautiously out, and, waiting their chance, sauntered
decorously toward the corner. There they boarded a passing car, bound
southward and crowded to the doors with the members of a German musical
club, who sang loudly and boisterously as they went.

It seemed the most celestial of music to Durkin, as he hung on a strap
in their midst, with Frank’s warm body hemmed in close to him, and the
precious weight of it clinging and swaying there from his arm.

Suddenly he looked down at her.

“Where are you going tonight?” he asked.

Their eyes met. The tide of abandonment that had threatened to engulf
him slowly subsided, as he read the quiet pain in her gaze.

“I am going back to the Ralston,” she said, with resolute simplicity.

“But, good heaven, think of the risk!” he still half-heartedly pleaded.
“It’s dangerous, now!”

“My beloved own,” she said, with her habitual slow little head shake,
and with a quietness of tone that carried a tacit reproof with it, “life
has far worse dangers than the Ralston!”

She had felt unconditionally, completely drawn toward him a moment
before, while still warm with her unuttered gratitude. As she thought of
the indignity and the danger from which he had carried her she had
almost burned with the passion for some fit compensation, without any
consideration of self. Now, in her weariness of body and nerve, he had
unconsciously unmasked her own potential weakness to herself, and she
felt repelled from him, besieged and menaced by him, the kindest and yet
the most cruel of all her enemies.



                               CHAPTER XX


As she slowly wakened in response to the call that had been left at the
hotel office, Frances wondered, with the irrelevancy of the mental
machinery’s first slow movements, if Durkin, at that precise moment, was
still sleeping in his own bed and room in his own distant part of the
city. For his awakening, she felt, would be sure to be a gray and
disheartening one. It would be then, and then only, that the true
meaning of their defeat would come home to him. She wondered, too, if he
was looking to her, waiting for her to help him face the old-time,
dreaded monotony of inactive and purposeless life.

“Oh, poor Jim!” she murmured again, under her breath.

She hoped, as she waked more fully to her world of realities, that he at
least was still sleeping, that he at any rate was securing his essential
rest of nerve and body,—for some heavy dregs of her own utter weariness
of the previous night still weighed down her spirits and ached in her
limbs.

She had always boasted that she could sleep like a child. “I make a
rampart of my two pillows, and no worries ever get over it!” Yet she now
felt, as she waited for a lingering last minute or two in her warm bed,
that, if fortune allowed it, she could lie there forever, and still be
unsatisfied, and cry for one hour more.

But she had already made her rigorous plans for the day, and time, she
knew, was precious. After her bath she at once ordered up an ample
breakfast of fruit and eggs and coffee and devilled mutton
chops—remembering, as she religiously devoured her meat, that Durkin
had always declared she was carnivorous, protesting that he could tell
it by those solid, white, English teeth of hers.

Then she dressed herself simply, in a white shirt-waist and a black
broadcloth skirt, with a black-feathered turban-hat draped with a heavy
traveling veil. This simple toilet, however, she made with infinite
care, pausing only long enough to tell herself that today, as never
before, appearances were to count with her. Yet beyond this she brushed
every thought away from her. She kept determinedly preoccupied, moving
feverishly about the room, allowing space for no meditative interludes,
permitting herself never to think of the day and what it was to hold for
her.

Then she hurried from her room, and down into the street, and into a
taxi, and through the clear, cool, wintry sunlight drove straight to the
Guilford, an apartment hotel, where Sunset Bryan, the race-track
plunger, made his home when in New York.

The Guilford was one of those ultra-ornamented, over-upholstered,
gaudily-vulgar upper Broadway hotels, replete with marble and onyx, with
plate glass and gilt and outward imperturbability, where a veneer of
administrative ceremonial covered the decay and sogginess of affluent
license. It was here, Frances only too well knew, that Little Myers, the
jockey, held forth in state; it was here that an unsavory actress or two
made her home; that Upton Banaster, the turf-man, held rooms; that
Penfield himself had once lived; it was here that the “big-ring”
bookmakers, and the more sinister and successful rail-birds and
sheet-writers and touts foregathered; it was here that the initiated
sought and found the court of the most gentlemanly blacklegs in all New
York.

All this she knew, and had known beforehand; but the full purport of it
came home to her only as she descended from her taxi-cab, and passed up
the wide step that led into the sickeningly resplendent lobby.

Then, for the second time in her career, she did a remarkable and an
unexpected thing.

For one moment she stood there, motionless, unconscious of the tides of
life that swept in and out on either side of her. She stood there, like
an Alpine traveller on his fragile little mountain bridge of pendulous
pine and rope, gazing down into the sudden and awful abysses beside her,
which seemed to open up out of the very stone and marble that hemmed her
in. For at one breath all the shrouded panoramic illusions of life
seemed to have melted before her eyes. It left her gaping and panting
into what seemed the mouth of Hell itself. It deluged her with one
implacable desire, with one unreasoning, childlike passion to escape, if
only for the moment, that path which some day, she knew, she must yet
traverse. But escape she must, until some newer strength could come to
her.

She clenched and unclenched her two hands, slowly. Then she as slowly
turned, where she stood, re-entered her taxi-cab, and drove back to her
own rooms once more. There she locked and bolted her door, flung from
her hat and gloves and veil, and fell to pacing her room, staring-eyed
and rigid.

She could not do it! Her heart had failed her. Before that final test
she had succumbed, ignominiously and absolutely. For in one moment of
reverie, as she faced that hostelry of all modern life’s unloveliness,
her own future existence lay before her eyes, as in a painted picture,
from day to day and year to year. It had been branded on her
consciousness as vividly as had that picture of a far different life,
which had come to her behind the ivy-covered walls of her uncle’s
parsonage. It was a continuous today of evil, an endless tomorrow of
irresolution. Day by day she was becoming more firmly linked to that
ignoble and improvident class who fed on the very offal of social
activity. She was becoming more and more a mere drifting derelict upon
the muddy waters of the lower life, mindless and soulless and
purposeless. No; not altogether mindless, she corrected herself, for
with her deeper spiritual degradation, she felt, she was becoming more
and more an introspective and self-torturing dreamer, self-deceiving and
self-blighting—like a veritable starving rat, that has been forced to
turn and nibble ludicrously at its own tail.

Yet why had she faltered and hesitated, at such a moment, she demanded
of herself. This she could not fully answer. She was becoming enigmatic,
even to herself. And already it was too late to draw back—even the
tantalizing dream of withdrawal was now a mockery. For, once, she had
thought that life was a single straight thread; now she knew it to be a
mottled fabric in which the past is woven and bound up with the future,
in which tangled tomorrows and yesterdays make up the huddled cloth. She
writhed, in her agony of mind, at the thought that she had no one to
whom to open her soul. This she had always shrunk from doing before
Durkin (and that, she warned herself, was an ill omen) and there had
been no one else to whom she could go for comradeship and consolation.
Then she began making excuses for herself, feebly, at first, more
passionately as she continued her preoccupied pacing of the floor. She
was only one of many. Women, the most jealously guarded and the most
softly shrouded women had erred. And, after all, much lay in the point
of view. What was criminality from one aspect, was legitimate endeavor
from another. All life, she felt, was growing more feverish, more
competitive, more neuropathic, more potentially and dynamically
criminal. She was a leaf on the current of the time.

And her only redemption now, she told herself, was to continue along
that course in a manner which would lend dignity, perhaps even the
glorified dignity of tragedy itself, to what must otherwise be a squalid
and sordid life. Since she was in the stream, she must strike out for
the depths, not cringe and whimper among the shallows. By daring and
adventuring, audaciously, to the uttermost, that at least could still
lend a sinister radiance to her wrong-doing. That alone could make
excuse for those whimpering and snivelling sensibilities which would not
keep to the kennel of her heart.

Yet it was only the flesh that was weak and faltering, she argued—and
in an abstracted moment she remembered how even a greater evil-doer than
she herself had buoyed her will to endure great trial. “_That which hath
made them drunk hath made me bold_,” she repeated to herself,
inspirationally, as she remembered the small medicine-flask of cognac
which she carried in her toilet bag.

She hated the thought of it, and the taste of it,—but more than all she
hated the future into which she dare no longer look. As she medicined
her cowardice with the liquor she could not help marvelling at the
seeming miracle, for, minute by minute, with each scalding small
draught, her weak-heartedness ebbed away. She knew that later there
would be stern exaction for that strength, but she had her grim work to
do, and beggars can not always be choosers.

Then she gathered up her veil and hat and gloves, and once more made
ready for her day’s enterprise. The pith-ball had passed from its period
of revulsion to its period of attraction.



                              CHAPTER XXI


Frances Candler’s fingers trembled a little at the Guilford office desk
as she took out her card and penciled beneath her name: “Representing
the Morning Journal.”

She knew that Sunset Bryan’s success on the circuit, his midnight
prodigalities, his bewildering lavishness of life, and his projected
departure for New Orleans, had already brought the reporters buzzing
about his apartments. Even as she lifted the blotter to dry the line she
had written with such craven boldness, her eye fell on a well-thumbed
card before her, bearing the inscription:

                         ALBERT ERIC SPAULDING
                            The Sunday Sun.

A moment later she had it in her white-gloved hand, with her own card
discreetly hidden away, and in the most matter-of-fact of voices she was
asking the busy clerk behind the desk if she could see Mr. Bryan.

“Mr. Bryan is a very late riser,” he explained.

“I know that,” she answered coolly, “but he’s expecting me, I think.”

The clerk looked at her, as he stamped the card, and he continued to
look at her, studiously and yet quizzically, as a bell-boy led her back
to the elevator. Sunset Bryan and the type of men he stood for, the
puzzled clerk knew well enough; but this type of woman he did not know.
Sunset, obviously, was branching out.

“You needn’t bother to wait!” she said to the youth who had touched the
electric button beside the great, high-paneled door of the apartment.

She stood there quietly until the boy had turned a corner in the
hallway; then she boldly opened the door and stepped inside.

The big, many-mirrored, crimson-carpeted room was empty, but from an
inner room came the clinking of chopped ice against glass and the hiss
of a seltzer siphon. The race-track king was evidently about to take his
morning pick-me-up. A heavy odor of stale cigar-smoke filled the place.
She wondered what the next step would be.

“Hello, there, Allie, old boy!” the gambler’s off-hand and surprisingly
genial bass voice called out, as he heard the door close sharply behind
Frances.

That must mean, thought the alert but frightened girl, that Albert Eric
Spaulding and the plunger were old friends. Once more the siphon hissed
and spat, and the ice clinked against the thin glass. Here was a
predicament.

“Hello!” answered the woman, at last, steeling herself into a careless
buoyancy of tone ill-suited to the fear-dilated pupils of her eyes.

She heard a muffled but startled “Good God!” echo from the inner room. A
moment later the doorway was blocked by the shadow of a huge figure, and
she knew that she was being peered at by a pair of small, wolfish eyes,
as coldly challenging as they were audacious.

She looked nervously at her gloved hands, at the little handkerchief she
was torturing between her slightly shaking fingers. Her gloves, she
noticed, were stained here and there with perspiration.

If she had not already passed through her chastening ordeal with a
half-drunken English butler, and if the shock of that untoward
experience had not in some way benumbed and hardened her shrinking
womanhood, she felt that she would have screamed aloud and then
incontinently fled—in the very face of those grim and countless
resolutions with which she had bolstered up a drooping courage. It
flashed through her, with the lightning-like rapidity of thought at such
moments, that for all her dubiously honest career she had been strangely
sheltered from the coarser brutalities of life. She had always shrunk
from the unclean and the unlovely. If she had not always been honest,
she had at least always been honorable. Durkin, from the first, had
recognized and respected this inner and better side of her beating so
forlornly and so ineffectually against the bars of actuality; and it was
this half-hidden fineness of fibre in him, she had told herself, that
had always marked him, to her, as different from other men.

But here was a man from whom she could look for no such respect, a
corrupt and evil-liver whom she had already practically taunted and
challenged with her own show of apparent evilness. So she still tortured
her handkerchief and felt the necessity of explaining herself, for the
big gambler’s roving little eyes were still sizing her up,
cold-bloodedly, judicially, terrifyingly.

“You’re all right, little girl,” he said genially, as his six feet of
insolent rotundity came and towered over her. “You’re all right! And a
little dimple in your chin, too.”

A new wave of courage seemed pumping through all of the shrinking girl’s
veins, of a sudden, and she looked up at her enemy unwaveringly, smiling
a little. Whereupon he smilingly and admiringly pinched her ear, and
insisted that she have a “John Collins” with him.

Again she felt the necessity of talking. Unless the stress of action
came to save her she felt that she would faint.

“I’m a Morning Journal reporter,” she began hurriedly.

“The devil you are!” he said with a note of disappointment, his wagging
head still on one side, in undisguised admiration.

“Yes, I’m from the Journal,” she began.

“Then how did you get this card?”

“That’s a mistake in the office—the clerk must have sent you the wrong
one,” she answered glibly.

“Come off! Come off! You good-looking women are all after me!” and he
pinched her ear again.

“I’m a Morning Journal reporter,” she found herself rattling on, as she
stood there quaking in mysterious fear of him, “and we’re going to run a
story about you being the Monte Cristo of modern circuit-followers, and
all that sort of thing. Then we want to know if it was true that you
copped one hundred and sixty thousands dollars on Africander at
Saratoga, and if you would let our photographer get some nice pictures
of your rooms here, and a good one of yourself—oh, yes, you would take
a splendid picture. And then I wanted to know if it is true that your
system is to get two horses that figure up as if they each had a good
square chance and then play the longer of the two and put enough on the
other for a place to cover your losses if the first one should lose. And
our sporting editor has said that you make that a habit, and that often
enough you are able to cash on both, and that you—”

“Say, look here, little girl, what in the devil are you driving at,
anyway?”

“I’m a reporter on the Morning Journal,” she reiterated, vacuously,
foolishly, passing her hand across her forehead with a weak little
gesture of bewilderment. She could feel her courage withering away.
Alcohol, she was learning, was an ally of untimely retreats.

“Well, it’s a shame for a girl like you to get afraid of me this way!
Hold on, now, don’t butt in! It’s not square to use a mouth like that
for talking—I’d rather see it laughing, any day. So just cool down and
tell me, honest and out-and-out, what it is you’re after.”

She flung herself forward and hung on him, in a quite unlooked for
paroxysm of hysteria, apparently reckless of the moment and the menace.

“It’s this,” she sobbed in a sudden mental obsession, the tears of
actual anguish running down her face. “It’s this,” she went on shrilly,
hurriedly. “_I’ve put my money on the Duke of Kendall today—and if he
doesn’t come in, I’m going to kill myself!_”

Sunset Bryan let his arm drop from her shoulder in astonishment. Then he
stepped back a few paces, studying her face as she mopped it with her
moistened handkerchief. She would never drink brandy again, was the idle
and inconsequential thought that sped through her unstable mind. For it
was not she herself that was speaking and acting; it was, she felt, some
irresponsible and newly unleashed spirit within her.

“Why’d you do it?” he demanded.

“Because—because Clara—that’s Clara Shirley, his rider’s sister—told
me the Duke of Kendall was fixed to win on a long shot this afternoon!”

“Now, look here—are you, or are you not, a newspaper woman?”

“No, I’m not,” she shrilled out. “I lied, just to get in to see you!”

“And you’ve put your money on this Duke of Kendall?”

“Every cent I own—every cent! If I lose it—oh—It will kill me to lose
it!”

“But what the devil did you come here for?”

“Because I am desperate! I’ve—I’ve—”

“Now, don’t spoil those lovely eyes by crying this way, honey-girl! What
would I get if I told you something about that race this afternoon?”

“Oh, I’d give you anything!” she cried, almost drunkenly, snatching some
belated hope from the change in his tone.

“Do you mean that?” he demanded suddenly, stepping back and looking at
her from under his shaggy brows.

“No—no, not that,” she gasped quickly, in terror, for then, and then
only, did she catch an inkling of his meaning. She felt that she had
floundered into a quagmire of pollution, and that the more fiercely she
struggled and fought, the more stained with its tainted waters she was
destined to remain.

She was afraid to look up at the crafty, sunburnt, animal-like face
before her, with its wrinkles about the heavy line of the mouth, and its
minutely intersecting crow’s-feet in the corners of the shrewd and
squinting eyes.

She felt that the very air of life was being walled and held away from
her. Still another fierce longing for escape took hold of her, and she
shuddered a little as she fought and battled against it. She seemed
without the strength to speak, and could only shake her head and try not
to shrink away from him.

“Still afraid of me, eh?” he asked, as he lifted her drooping head
brazenly, with his forefinger under her chin. He studied her
tear-stained, colorless face for a minute or two, and then he went on:

“Well, I’m not so rotten as I might be! Here’s a tip for you, little
girl! The Duke of Kendall is goin’ to come in on a long shot and what’s
more, he’s goin’ to run on odds of fifty to one!”

“You’re certain of it?” she gasped.

“Dead sure of it, between you and me! There’s a gang down at the
Rossmore’d cover this floor with gold just to know that tip!”

“Then we _can_ win! It’s _not_ too late!” she broke out fervently,
forgetting where she stood, forgetting the man before her. She was
already reaching up to draw down her veil, with a glance over her
shoulder at the door.

“Am I goin’ to see you again?” he still wheedled.

Again their eyes met. She had to struggle desperately to keep down the
inward horror of it all. And now above all things there must be no
missteps.

“Yes,” she murmured.

“When?” he demanded.

“I’ll come back—tomorrow!”

She already had her hand on the door-handle, when he called to her
sharply.

“Here, wait one minute!”

She paused, in some deadly new fear of him.

“Look here, little girl, I began to follow this business of mine when I
was nineteen years old. I’m forty-three now, and in those twenty-four
years I’ve hauled in a heap of money. Are you listening?”

“Yes,” she murmured.

“And I’ve hauled in something besides money!”

Still she waited.

“What I haven’t made by plunging I’ve made by poker. And I’d never have
come out the long end if I didn’t know a thing or two about faces. I
know a bluff when I see it. Now I want to tell you something.”

“Well?” she faltered.

“You’re not comin’ back tomorrow! You’re not comin’ back at all, my
pink-and-white beauty! I’m tellin’ you this for two reasons. One is that
I don’t want you to carry off the idea that you’ve been breakin’ me all
up, and the other is that I’m not so rotten bad as—well, as Bob
Pinkerton would try to make me out. That’s all.”

“Good-bye!” murmured the humbled woman from the doorway.

“Good-bye, and good luck!” answered Sunset Bryan in his genial bass.



                              CHAPTER XXII


For all the rest of that day Frances Candler hated herself, hated Durkin
for the mean and despicable paths into which he and his plottings had
forced her, hated her sordid and humiliating conquest of the gambler
Bryan and his secret.

But most of all she hated what she saw was happening within herself, the
insidious and yet implacable hardening and narrowing of all her nature,
the accumulating of demeaning and corroding memories, the ripening of a
more and more morose self-contempt into a vague yet sullen malevolence
of thought and wish.

She told herself, forlornly, that she still would not let her better
nature die without a struggle, for all that she had done, and for all
that she had been through. What crushed and disheartened her was the
conviction that this struggle once more, in the end, would prove a
futile one. She was not bad, though, not all bad, like women she had
known! She had always aspired and turned toward what was right and
good—her spirit cried out desolately. It was not that she had gained
anything through all her wrong-doing. From the first, she felt, she had
been the tool in some stronger hand; she had been only the leaf on the
winds of some darker destiny. At first it had been to live, and nothing
more. Now it was to love—only some day to love as she had always hoped
to do; not at once to win the crown, but some day to hope to be able to
win that crown. For this she was surrendering her womanhood, her
integrity of soul, even the last shred of her tattered self-respect.

She would not die in a day, she told herself again, desperately. She
would not surrender everything without a struggle. What remained of her
scattered legions of honor, she passionately promised herself, would
still be gathered together and fostered and guarded.

Above all things, she felt, she needed companionship. Durkin meant much
to her—meant far too much to her, for time and time again he had only
too easily shattered her card-house of good resolutions. She had blindly
submerged herself for him and his efforts. It was not that she stopped
to blame or reprove him; her feeling was more one of pity, of sorrow for
the unstable and unreconciled nature in the fell clutch of circumstance.
Yes, he meant more to her than she dare tell herself. But there were
moods and moments when he proved inadequate, and to allow that sad truth
to go unrecognized was more than blindness. If only she had, or could
have, the friendship of a woman,—that was her oft-recurring
thought,—the companionship of one warm nature quick to understand the
gropings and aspirations of another. With such a friend, she vaguely
felt, things might not yet be so ill with her.

But she knew of none. There was no one, she realized, to whom she could
look for help. And she tried to console herself with the bitter unction
of the claim that with her the world had always been doggedly unkind and
cruel, that with an Æschylean pertinacity, morbidly interpreted as
peculiar to her case, fate, or destiny, or the vague forces for which
those words stood, had hounded and frustrated her at every turn.

This maddening feeling of self-hate and contempt stayed with her all
that day. It made stiflingly hideous and sinister, to her brooding eyes,
the over-furnished woman’s pool-room which had once been Penfield’s own,
where she counted out her money and placed her bet on the Duke of
Kendall. The broken-spirited and hard-faced women who waited about the
operator’s wicket, the barrenness and malignity of their lives, the
vainly muffled squalidness of that office of envenomed Chance, the
abortive lust for gold without labor, the empty and hungry eyes that
waited and watched the figure-covered blackboard, the wolf-like ears
that pricked up at the report of some belated prey in the distance—it
all filled Frances with a new and disheartening hatred of herself and
the life into which she had drifted.

“Oh, God!” she prayed silently, yet passionately, while the little
sounder in the operator’s stall clicked and sang; “Oh, God, may it turn
out that this shall be the last!”

Listlessly she read the messages, as the report for the fifth Aqueduct
event of the afternoon began to flash in and the announcer cried out,
“They’re off!” Dreamily she interpreted the snatches of information as
they came in over the wire: “Scotch Heather leads, with White-Legs
second!” “Scotch Heather still leading at the quarter, and Heart’s
Desire pressing White-Legs close.” “Heart’s Desire leads at the half,
with the Duke of Kendall second.” “White-Legs, the Duke of Kendall, and
Heart’s Desire bunched at the turn.” “Duke of Kendall holds the rail,
with Heart’s Desire and White-Legs locked for second place.” Then, for a
minute or two, silence took possession of the little brass sounder. Then
thrilled out the news: “_The Duke of Kendall wins!_”

Frances quietly waited, amid the hubbub and crowding and commotion,
until the wire report had been duly verified and the full returns
posted.

Then, when the little window of the paying clerk slid open for the
making of settlements, she deposited her ticket, and quietly asked to
have it in hundreds.

Her slip read for two hundred dollars on the Duke of Kendall at odds of
fifty to one.

“I guess this shop shuts up mighty soon, on this kind of runnin’,” said
the paying clerk sourly, after consulting with his chief, and flinging
her money through his little wicket at her. She counted it methodically,
amid the gasps and little envious murmurs of the women at her elbow, and
then hurried from the room.

“Well, you ought to be happier-looking!” snarled a painted woman with
solitaire diamond earrings, as Frances hurried down the half-lighted
stairway to the street.

There the woman who ought to be happy signaled moodily for a taxi-cab,
and drove straight to Durkin’s apartments.

She flung the pile of bills at him, in a heap before his astonished
eyes.

“There it is,” she said, with shaking hands and quivering lips, flashing
at him a look in which he could see hatred, contempt, self-disgust and
infinite unhappiness.

“There it is!” she called out to him, shrilly. “There it is—all you
wanted, at last, and I _hope it will make you happy_!”

She tore the veil she had dragged from her head between her two
distraught hands and flung it from her, and then fell in the other’s
arms and wept on his shoulder like a tired child, convulsively,
bitterly, hopelessly.



                             CHAPTER XXIII


“Helen can not possibly sail tomorrow.”

This was the cipher message which flashed from Samuel Curry to his New
Orleans partner, giving him hurried warning that the final movement in
their cotton coup had been again postponed for at least another
twenty-four hours. Frances Candler, keeping watch on the up-town wires,
had caught the first inkling of this relieving news. After a passionate
hour of talk and pleading from Durkin, and after twelve long hours of
unbroken sleep, much of her spirit of rebelliousness had passed away,
and she had unwillingly and listlessly taken up the threads of what
seemed to her a sadly tangled duty once more.

But with the advent of Curry’s climactic message her old, more intimate
interest in the game gradually awoke. By daylight she had sent word down
to Durkin, who, about that time, was having quite trouble enough of his
own.

For his underground guerrilla work, as it was called, had its risks in
even the remoter parts of the city. But here, in the Wall Street
district, by day the most carefully guarded area of all New York, just
as by night the Tenderloin is the most watched—here, with hundreds
hourly passing to and fro and Central Office men buzzing back and forth,
Durkin knew there were unusual perils, and need for unusual care.

Yet early that morning, under the very eyes of a patrolman, he had
casually and hummingly entered the Postal-Union conduit, by way of the
manhole not sixty yards from Broadway itself. In his hands he carried
his instruments and a bag of tools, and he nodded with businesslike
geniality as the patrolman stepped over toward him.

“Got a guard to stand over this manhole?” demanded the officer.

“Nope!” said Durkin. “Three minutes down here ought to do me!”

“You people are gettin’ too dam’ careless about these things,” rebuked
the officer. “It’s _me_ gets the blame, o’ course, when a horse sticks
his foot in there!”

“Oh, cover the hole, then!” retorted Durkin genially, as he let himself
down.

Once safely in the covered gloom of the conduit, he turned on his light
and studied a hurriedly made chart of the subway wire-disposition. The
leased Curry wires, he very well knew, were already in active service;
and the task before him was not unlike the difficult and dangerous
operation of a surgeon. Having located and cut open his cables, and in
so doing exposed the busy arteries of most of Wall Street’s brokerage
business, he carefully adjusted his rheostat, throwing the resistant
coils into circuit one by one as he turned the graduated pointer. It was
essential that he should remain on a higher resistance than the circuit
into which he was cutting; in other words, he must not bleed his patient
too much, for either a heavy leakage or an accidental short-circuiting,
he knew, would lead to suspicion and an examination, if not a prompt
“throwing it into the quad,” or the reversal to the protection of some
distant and indirect wire.

When his current had been nicely adjusted and his sensitive little
polarized relay had broken into a fit of busy and animated chattering,
he turned his attention to the unused and rusted end of gas-pipe which
careless workmen, months, or even years, before, had hurriedly capped
and left protruding a good quarter-inch into the conduit. On this cap he
adjusted a pair of pocket pipe-tongs. It took all his weight to start
the rusted pipe-head, but once loosened, it was only a minute’s work to
unscrew the bit of metal and expose the waiting ends of the wires which
he had already worked through from the basement end of the pipe. He then
proceeded with great deliberation and caution to make his final
connections, taking infinite care to cover his footsteps as he went,
concealing his wire where possible, and leaving, wherever available, no
slightest trace of interference.

When everything was completed, it was nothing more than an incision made
by a skilled and artful surgeon, a surgeon who had as artfully dressed
the wound, and had left only a slender drainage tube to show how deep
the cutting had been.

Durkin then repacked his tools in his spacious double-handled club bag
of black sea-lion, put out his light, emerged whistling and dirt-soiled
from his manhole, and having rounded the block, slipped into his
basement printing-office and changed his clothes.

What most impressed and amazed Durkin, when once his quadruplex had been
adjusted and pressed into service, was the absolute precision and
thoroughness with which the Curry line of action had been prearranged.
It was as diffusedly spectacular as some great international campaign.
This Machiavellian operator’s private wires were humming with messages,
deputies throughout the country were standing at his beck and call,
emissaries and underlings were waiting to snatch up the crumbs which
fell from his overloaded board, his corps of clerks were toiling away as
feverishly as ever, Chicago and St. Louis and Memphis and New Orleans
were being thrown into a fever of excitement and foreboding, fortunes
were being wrested away in Liverpool, the Lancaster mills were shutting
down, and still cotton was going up, up, point by point; timid clerks
and messenger boys and widows, even, were pouring their pennies and
dollars into the narrowing trench which separated them from twenty cent
cotton and fortune.

Yet only two men knew and understood just how this Napoleon of commerce
was to abandon and leave to its own blind fate this great,
uncomprehending, maddened army of followers. Speculators who had made
their first money in following at his heels were putting not only their
winnings, but all their original capital, and often that of others, on
the “long” side of the great bull movement, waiting, always waiting, for
that ever alluring Fata Morgana of twenty cent cotton. Even warier
spirits, suburban toilers, sober-minded mechanics, humble store-traders,
who had long regarded ’Change as a very Golgotha of extortion and
disaster, had been tainted with the mysterious psychologic infection,
which had raced from city to town and from town to hamlet. Men bowed
before a new faith and a new creed, and that faith and creed lay
compactly in three pregnant words: Twenty Cent Cotton.

Yet this magnetic and spectacular bull leader, Durkin felt, was
infinitely wiser and craftier than any of those he led. Curry, at heart,
knew and saw the utter hopelessness of his cause; he realized that he
was only toying and trifling with a great current that in the end, when
its moment came, would sweep him and his followers away like so many
chips. He faced and foresaw this calamity, and out of the calamity which
no touch of romanticism in his nature veiled to his eyes, he quietly
prepared to reap his harvest.

As these thoughts ran through Durkin’s busy mind, some vague idea of the
power which reposed in his own knowledge of how great the current was to
become, and just what turn it was to take, once more awakened in him. He
had none of that romantic taint, he prided himself, which somewhere or
at some time invariably confused the judgment of the gambler and the
habitual criminal—for they, after all, he often felt, were in one way
essentially poets in spirit, though dreamers grown sour through
stagnation. Yet he could see, in the present case, how gigantic his
opportunities were. Properly equipped, with a very meagre sum, millions
lay before him, inevitably. But the stain of illegitimacy clung to his
methods, and as it was, his returns at best could be only a paltry few
thousands—fifty or sixty or even a hundred thousand at most. With Curry
it would be millions.

Durkin remembered his frugal train-despatching days at the barren little
wooden station at Komoka Junction, where forty dollars a month had
seemed a fortune to him. He lighted a Carolina Perfecto, and inhaled it
slowly and deliberately, demanding to know why he ought not to be
satisfied with himself. In those earlier days he used to eat his dinner
out of a tin pail, carried each morning from his bald and squalid
boarding-house. Today, he remembered, he was to take luncheon with
Frances at the Casa Napoleon, with its exquisite Franco-Spanish cookery,
its tubbed palms, and its general air of exotic well-being.

His luncheon with Frances, however, was not what he had looked for. He
met her in front of the West Ninth Street restaurant as she was stepping
out of her taxi-cab. She seemed unusually pale and worried, though an
honestly happy smile flitted across her lightly veiled face as she
caught sight of him.

In a moment again her manner changed.

“We are being watched,” she said, in a low voice.

“Watched! By whom?”

Their eyes met and he could see the alarm that had taken possession of
her.

“By MacNutt!”

Durkin grew a little paler as he looked down at her.

“He has shadowed us for two days,” she went on in her tense, low, quick
tones. “He followed me out of our own building, and I got away from him
only by leaving my taxi and slipping through a department store.”

“Did he speak to you?”

“No, not a word. I don’t even think he dreams I have seen him. But it is
hard to say how much he has found out. Oh, Jim, he’s slow and sly and
cunning, and he won’t strike until the last minute. But when he does, he
will try to—to smash us both!”

“I’ll kill that man as sure as I’m standing on this curbstone, if he
ever butts in on this game of ours! This isn’t pool-room piking we’re at
now, Frank—this is big and dangerous business!”

He had remembered the cigar-light in the dark passageway, and the
mysterious disappearance, then later the taxi-cab that had strangely
followed his own.

“No, no, Jim; you mustn’t say that!” she was murmuring to him, with a
little shiver. “I’m afraid of him!”

“Well, _I’m_ not,” said Durkin, and he swore softly and wickedly, as he
repeated his threat. “What does _he_ want to come into our lives for,
now? He’s over and done with, long ago!”

“We are never over and done with anything we have been,” she almost
sobbed, half tragically.

Durkin looked at her, a little impatient, and also a little puzzled.

“Frank, what is this man MacNutt to you?”

She was silent.

“What has he ever been to you, then?”

“He is a cruel and cunning and bitterly vindictive man,” she said,
evading the question. “And if he determined to crush a person, he would
do it, although it took him twenty years.”

“Then I certainly _will_ kill him!” declared Durkin, shaken with a
sudden unreasoning sweep of white passion.

It was not until he had half finished his luncheon that his steadiness
of nerve came back to him. Here he had been shadowing the shadower, step
by step and move by move, and all along, even in those moments when he
had taken such delight in covertly and unsuspectingly watching his
quarry, a second shadow had been secretly and cunningly stalking his own
steps!

“It will be a fight to the finish, whatever happens!” he declared
belligerently, still harping on the string of his new unhappiness.



                              CHAPTER XXIV


Durkin, bending restlessly over his relay, and dreamily cogitating on
the newly discovered fact that Morse was a language as harmonious and
mysterious and subtly expressive as music itself, sat up with a sudden
galvanic jerk of the body.

“_Helen sails at one tomorrow!_” thrilled and warbled and sang the
little machine of dots and dashes; and the listening operator knew that
his time had come. He caught up the wires that ran through the gas-pipe
to the conduit, and bracing himself against the basement wall, pulled
with all his strength. They parted suddenly, somewhere near the cables,
and sent him sprawling noisily over the floor.

He hurriedly picked himself up, flung every tool and instrument that
remained in the dingy basement into his capacious club bag, and
carefully coiled and wrapped every foot of telltale wire. As little
evidence as possible, he decided, should remain behind him.

Five minutes later he stepped into Robinson & Little’s brokerage
offices. It was, in fact, just as the senior member of the firm was
slipping off his light covert-cloth overcoat and making ready for a
feverish day’s business.

Ezra Robinson stared a little hard when Durkin told him that he had
thirteen thousand dollars to throw into “short” cotton that morning, and
asked on what margin he would be able to do business.

“Well,” answered the broker, with his curt laugh, “it’s only on the
buying side that we’re demanding five dollars a bale _this_ morning!”

He looked at Durkin sharply. “You’re on the wrong side of the market,
young man!” he warned him.

“Perhaps,” said Durkin easily. “But I’m superstitious!”

The man of business eyed him almost impatiently.

Durkin laughed good-naturedly.

“I mean I had a sort of Joseph’s dream that cotton was going to break
down to sixteen today!”

“Well, you can’t afford to work on dreams. Cotton goes up to nineteen
today, and stays there. Candidly, I’d advise you to keep off the bear
side—for a month or two, anyway!”

But Durkin was not open to dissuasion.

“When May drops down to sixteen or so I’ll be ready to let the ‘shorts’
start to cover!” he argued mildly, as he placed his money, gave his
instructions, and carried away his all-important little slip of paper.

Then he hurried out, and dodged and twisted and ran through those
crowded and sunless cañons of business where only a narrow strip of
earth’s high-arching sky showed overhead. As he turned from William
Street into Hanover Square, through the second tier of half-opened plate
glass windows he could already hear the dull roar of the Cotton Pit. The
grim day’s business, he knew, was already under way.

Four policemen guarded the elevators leading to the spectator’s gallery.
The place was crowded to the doors; no more were to be admitted. Durkin,
however, pushed resolutely through the staggering mass, and elbowed and
twisted his way slowly up the stairs. Here again another row of guards
confronted him. A man at his side was excitedly explaining that the
Weather Bureau had just issued flood warnings, for danger line stages in
the lower Black Warrior of Alabama and the Chattahoochee of Georgia. And
_that_ ought to hold the “bears” back, the man declared, as Durkin
elbowed his way in to the guards.

“No use, mister, we can’t let you in,” said a perspiring officer.

He stood with his back to the closed door. At each entrance a
fellow-officer stood in the same position. The receipts at Bombay, for
the half-week, cried still another excited follower of the market, were
only thirty-eight thousands bales.

“Hey, stand back there! Let ’em out! Here’s a woman fainted!” came the
cry from within, and the doors were swung wide to allow the woman to be
carried through.

Durkin wedged a five-dollar bill down between the guarding policeman’s
fingers.

“There’s your chance. For God’s sake, get me in!”

The doors were already being closed, and the din within again shut off
from the listening crowd in the hallway.

“Here, stand back! Gentleman’s got a ticket!” and without further ado
the big officer cannonaded him into the midst of the gallery mob.

Once there, Durkin edged round by the wall, squeezed himself
unceremoniously out, until, at last, he came to the brass railing
guarding the edge of the spectator’s gallery. Then he took a deep
breath, and gazed down at the sea of commotion that boiled and eddied at
his feet.

It was one mad tumult of contending forces, a maelstrom of opposing
currents. Seldom was there a lull in that hundred-throated delirium,
where, on raised steps about a little circular brass railing, men
shouted and danced and flung up their hands and raced back and forth
through a swarming beehive of cotton-hunger. Some were hatless, some had
thrown coats and vests open, some white as paper, and some red and
perspiring; some were snowing handfuls of torn-up pad sheets over their
comrades, some were penciling madly in call-books, some were feverishly
handing slips to agile youths dodging in and out through the seething
mass. Every now and then a loud-noted signal-bell sounded from one end
of the hall, calling a messenger boy for despatches.

In the momentary little lulls of that human tempest Durkin could catch
the familiar pithy staccato of telegraph keys cluttering and pulsating
with their hurried orders and news. He could see the operators, where
they sat, apathetically pounding the brass, as unmoved as the youth at
the light-crowned, red-lined blackboard, who caught up the different
slips handed to him and methodically chalked down the calls under the
various months.

Then the tumult began afresh once more, and through it all Durkin could
hear the deep, bass, bull-like chest-notes of one trader rising loud
above all the others, answered from time to time by the clear, high,
penetratingly insistent and challenging soprano of another.

Curry once more had cotton on the upward move. It was rumored that the
ginners’ report was to be a sensational one. Despatches from Southern
points had shown advancing prices for spot cotton. A weak point had been
found in the Government report. All unpicked cotton on the flooding
Black Warrior bottoms would never reach a gin. The mills, it had been
whispered about, were still buying freely, eagerly; yet already
purchasers were having more difficulty in getting the commodity than
when, weeks before, it had stood two hundred points lower. And still the
sea of faces fought and howled and seethed, but still the price of
cotton went up.

Durkin searched more carefully through that writhing mass of frenzied
speculators for a glimpse of Curry himself.

He caught sight of him, at last, standing cool and collected and
rosy-faced, a few paces in front of the New Orleans blackboard, at the
edge of the little sea of frantic men that fought and surged and battled
at his side. Spot cotton had already soared to 17.55. The wires were
reporting it at eighteen cents in New Orleans. Hurry orders from
Liverpool were increasing the tension.

Durkin took a second and closer look at the great bull leader. He made
note of the large emerald flashing in his purple cravat, of the gaily
dotted white waistcoat, in the armholes of which were jauntily caught
the careless thumbs, of the black derby hat tilted a trifle down over
the careless, rosy face. This was the man who was so lavishly giving
away houses and jewels and automobiles. This was the man on whom men and
women in all walks of life, in every state and territory of the Union,
were pinning their faith for established twenty cent cotton and the balm
of affluence that it would bring them! This was the man at whose whisper
a hundred thousand spindles had ceased to revolve, and at whose nod, in
cotton towns half a world away, a thousand families either labored or
were idle, had food or went hungry.

A momentary lull came in the storm, a nervous spasm of uncertainty. It
seemed only a sheer caprice, but in sixty seconds the overstrained price
had fallen away again twenty points. Curry, stroking his small mustache,
stepped in closer to the circular brass railing of the Pit, and said a
quiet word or two to his head-broker. His rosy face was expressionless,
and he pulled languidly at his little mustache once more. But his motion
had started the upward tendency again. Both May and July cotton bounded
up, point by point, capriciously, unreasonably, inexorably, as though at
the wafting of a magician’s wand.

When the excitement seemed at its highest, when the shrill-noted chorus
of sellers and buyers was shrieking its loudest, Samuel Curry went out
to eat his luncheon. This was at once noticed and commented on,—for
dozens of eyes, both eager and haggard, watched the leader’s every move
and expression.

The change that swept over the Pit was magical. The tumult subsided. The
shouting men about the brass railing stopped to take breath. The
sallow-faced young man who chalked prices up on the Pit-edge blackboard
rested his tired fingers. Brokers sat about on little camp-stools. For
the first time Durkin could catch the sound of the sustained note of the
telegraph keys clicking busily away. The sunlight fell across the
paper-littered floor. The crowd in the gallery grew less. The operators
were joking and chatting. A messenger boy had fallen asleep on his
bench. The army was waiting for the return of its leader.

Curry re-entered the Pit quietly, with a toothpick in one corner of his
mouth. He stood there for a moment or two, his thumbs in his waistcoat
armholes, rocking comfortably back and forth on his heels, enigmatically
and indolently watching the floor which his reappearance had first
reanimated and then thrown into sudden confusion.

Durkin, in turn, watched the leader closely, breathlessly, waiting for
the beginning of the end. He saw Curry suddenly throw away his toothpick
and signal to a bent and pale-haired floor broker, who shot over to his
leader’s side, exchanged a whispered word or two with him, and then shot
back to the brass railing. There he flung his hands up in the air, with
fingers outthrust, and yelled like a madman:

“Buy July fifty-one! Buy July fifty-two! Buy July
fifty-three—four—five! Buy July fifty-six!”

That single-throated challenge was like a match to waiting ordnance.

With arms still extended and gaunt fingers outstretched he kept it up,
for one moment. Then the explosion came. Already, it seemed he had
imparted his madness to the men who screamed and fought and gesticulated
about him.

“Buy July sixty-three! Buy July sixty-four! Buy July
sixty-five—sixty-seven—sixty-eight!”

The frenzy in the Pit increased. Up, up went July cotton to seventy, to
seventy-one, even to seventy-two. In thirty years and over no such price
had ever been known. Eighty-five million dollars’ worth of cotton bales,
on paper, were deliriously exchanging hands. But, all things must reach
their end. The bow had been bent to the uttermost. The tide had flooded
into its highest point.

A sudden change came over Curry. He flung up his two hands, and brought
them smartly together over his jauntily tilted black derby. This done,
he elbowed and pushed his way hurriedly to the ring-side. The market
hung on his next breath.

“Sell twenty thousand May at sixty!”

A silence; like that which intervenes between the lightning flash and
the thunder-clap, fell in the Pit.

The leader was unloading. It was rumored that five thousand bales more
than the whole crop had been sold. The bubble had been overblown. There
was still time to be on the safe side. And like people fighting in a
fire-panic, they tore and trampled one another down, and blocked the way
to their own deliverance, through the very frenzy of their passion to
escape.

But the downward trend had already begun.

Everybody attempted to unload. Outside orders to follow the movement
promptly poured in. What before had been unrest was soon panic, and then
pandemonium. Men and youths bending over office tickers, women at quiet
home telephones, plungers and “occasionals” watching bulletin-boards,
miles and miles away—all took up the startled cry.

Wire-houses promptly heard of the unloading movement, of the abdication
of the bull king, and a mad stream of selling orders added to the rout
of the day.

Curry had started the current; he let it take its course. Through its
own great volume, he knew, it could easily carry all opposition down
with it. He even ostentatiously drew on his tan-colored gloves, and took
up his overcoat, as he announced, laughingly, that he was out of the
market, and that he was off to Florida for a holiday.

Then a second panic—frenzied, irrational, desperate, self-destroying
panic—took hold of that leaderless mob, trampling out their last hope
with their own feverish feet. Curry had liquidated his entire holdings!
He was going South for the winter! He was carrying out his old threat to
take the bears by the neck! He had caught the pool on the eve of
betraying him!

They had warned him that he would find no mercy if he did not draw in
with his manipulations. He had found treachery used against him, and as
he had promised, he was giving them a dose of their own medicine.

July, in the mad rush, dropped fifty points, then a ruinous one hundred
more, then wilted and withered down another fifty, until it stood 173
points below its highest quotation mark. The rout was absolute and
complete.

Seeing, of a sudden, that the market might even go utterly to pieces,
without hope of redemption, the old-time bull leader, now with a pallor
on his plump face, leaped into the Pit, and tried to hold the runaway
forces within bounds.

But his voice was lost in the din and tumult. He was a mere cork on the
grim tide of disaster. Even his own frantic efforts were in vain. The
_coup_ had been effected. The day had been won and lost!

Durkin did not wait for the gong to sound. He hurried round to Robinson
& Little’s offices, racing past disheveled men as excited as himself.

Neither member of the distraught firm of Robinson & Little was to be
seen. But a senior clerk, with a pale face and a wilted collar, quickly
and nonchalantly counted Durkin out his money, after verifying the slip,
and speaking a brief word or two with his master over the telephone.

When his brokerage commission had been deducted, Durkin was still able
to claim as his own some forty-eight thousand dollars.

It had been a game, for once, worth the candle.

He walked out into the afternoon sunlight, pausing a moment at the
doorway to drink in the clear wintry air of the open street. After all,
it was worth while to be alive in such a world, with all its stir, with
all its—

His line of thought was suddenly disrupted. A tingle of apprehension,
minute but immediate, was speeding up and down his backbone.

“That’s your man,” a voice had said from the shadow of the doorway.

Durkin took the two stones steps as one, and, without turning, hurried
on. His eyes were half-closed as he went, counting his own quick
footfalls and wondering how many of them might safely be taken to mean
escape.

He walked blindly, with no sense of direction, each moment demanding of
himself if it meant defeat or freedom.

At the twentieth step he felt a hand catch at the slack in his coat
sleeve. He jerked a startled and indignant arm forward, but the clutch
was one of steel.

“I guess we want you, Jimmie Durkin,” said a grim but genial and
altogether commonplace voice to him over his averted shoulder.

Then Durkin turned. It was Doogan’s plain-clothes man, O’Reilly. Beside
him stood a second plain-clothes man showing a corner of his Detective
Bureau badge.

“Well?” said Durkin, vacuously.

The men drew in closer, sandwiching him compactly between them. It was a
commonplace enough movement, but it made suddenly and keenly tangible to
his mind the fact that he had lost his freedom.

“For God’s sake, boys, whatever it is, don’t make a scene here!” cried
the prisoner, passionately. “I’ll go easy enough, but don’t make a show
of me.”

“Come on, then, quick!” said the Central Office plain-clothes man,
wheeling him about, and heading for the Old Slip Station.

“Quick as you like,” laughed Durkin, very easily but very warily, as he
calculated the time and distance between him and the sergeant’s desk,
and told himself a second time admonitively that he was indeed under
arrest.



                              CHAPTER XXV


Durkin, with an officer at either elbow, tried to think far ahead and to
think fast. Yet try as he might, his desperate mind could find no
crevice in the blind wall of his predicament. Nothing, at any rate, was
to be lost by talking.

“What’s this for, boys, anyhow?” he asked them, with sadly forced
amiability.

“Different things,” said Doogan’s man O’Reilly, noncommittally.

“But who made the charge—who laid the complaint, I mean?”

“’Tis an old friend of yours!” chuckled O’Reilly, thinking of other
things.

Durkin looked at the man studiously. “Not Robinson?”

“And who’s Robinson?—better try another guess!”

“Nor the Postal-Union people?”

“And what have you been doin’ to _them_?” retorted the officer, as he
gnawed at the corner of his tobacco plug and tucked it away in his vest
pocket again.

“They tried to soak me once, without cause,” lamented Durkin,
indignantly. But his hopes had risen. After all, he felt, it might be
only some old, unhappy far-off thing.

“Who the devil was it, then?”

“Twas MacNutt!” said O’Reilly, watching him. “MacNutt’s turned nice and
good. He’s a stool-pigeon now!”

“MacNutt!” echoed Durkin, and as before, a great rage burned through him
at the sound of the name.

Hope withered out of him, but he gave no sign. He wondered what, or just
how much, MacNutt dare reveal, even though he did stand in with the
Central Office.

It was dark a minute or two for him, as his mind still leaped and groped
at the old blind wall. Then suddenly into the depths of his despair
swayed and stretched a single slender thread of hope.

It was Custom House Charley’s saloon so artfully disguised as a
soda-bar. There the second waiter was Eddie Crawford—the same Eddie
Crawford who had worked with him on the Aqueduct pool-room plot, and had
been discharged with him from the Postal-Union.

It seemed eons and eons ago, that poor little ill-fated plot with Eddie
Crawford!

Eddie had struggled forlornly on as an inspector of saloon
stock-tickers, had presided over a lunch counter, and had even polished
rails and wiped glasses. But now he mixed drinks and dispensed
bootlegger’s gin for Custom House Charley.

If Eddie was there—

“Look here, you two,” cried Durkin decisively, coming to a full stop to
gain time. “I’ve struck it heavy and honest this time, and, as you
people put it, I’ve got the goods on me. I can make it worth five
thousand in spot cash to each of you, just to let this thing drop while
you’ve still got the chance!”

The Central Office man looked at O’Reilly. Durkin saw the look, and
understood it. One of them, at any rate, if it came to a pinch, could be
bought off. But O’Reilly was different. “Look here, you two,” said
Durkin, showing the fringe of his neatly banded packet of notes.

The Central Office man whistled under his breath. But O’Reilly seemed
obdurate.

“Double that, young man, and then double it again, and maybe I’ll talk
to you,” Doogan’s detective said easily, as he started on again with his
prisoner.

“And if I _did_?” demanded Durkin.

“Talk’s cheap, young fellow! You know what they’re doing to us boys,
nowadays, for neglect of duty? Well, I’ve got to get up against more
than talk before I run that risk!”

“By heaven—I can do it, and I _will_!” said Durkin.

O’Reilly wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. The prisoner could
feel the two officers interrogating each other silently behind his back.

“Step in here, then, before you’re spotted with me,” said Durkin. “Come
in, just as though we were three friends buying a soda, and shoot me,
straight off, if I make a move to break away!”

“Oh, you’ll not break away!” said the man with the steel grip,
confidently, still keeping his great handful of loose coat-sleeve. But
he stepped inside, none the less.

Durkin’s heart beat almost normally once more. There stood Eddie
Crawford, leisurely peeling a lemon, with his lips pursed up in a
whistle. One hungry curb-broker was taking a hurried and belated free
lunch from the cheese-and-cracker end of the counter.

Durkin stared at his old friend, with a blank and forbidding face. Then
he drooped one eyelid momentarily. It was only the insignificant little
twitch of a minor muscle, and yet the thought occurred to him how
marvellous it was, that one little quiver of an eyelid could retranslate
a situation, could waken strange fires in one’s blood, and countless
thoughts in one’s head.

“What will you have, gentlemen?” he asked, easily, briskly.

“Scotch highball!” said the officer on his right.

“Give me a gin rickey,” said the officer on his left.

“A silver fizz,” said Durkin, between them.

That, he knew, would take a little longer to mix. Then there came a
moment of silence.

Durkin’s long, thin fingers were drumming anxiously and restlessly on
the polished wood.

The busy waiter, with a nervous little up-jerk of the head, gave these
restlessly tapping fingers a passing glance. Something about them
carried him back many months, to his operating-desk at the Postal-Union.
He listened again. Then he bent down over his glass, for he was mixing
the silver fizz first.

It was the telegrapher’s double “i” that he had heard repeated and
repeated by those carelessly tapping fingers, and then a further phrase
that he knew meant “attention!”

Yet he worked away, impassive, unmoved, while with his slender little
sugar-spoon he signalled back his answer, on the rim of his
mixing-glass.

“Get a move on, boss,” said O’Reilly, impatiently.

“Sure,” said the waiter, abstractedly, quite unruffled, for his ear was
a little out of practice, and he wanted to make sure just what those
finger-nails tapping on the mahogany meant.

And this is what he read:

“Five—hundred—dollars—spot—cash—for—a—knock—out—to—each—of—
these—two!”

“Too—expensive!” answered the sugar-spoon on the tumbler, as it stirred
the mixture. “I—would—have—to—migrate.”

“Then—make—it—a—thousand,” answered the mahogany. “I’m pinched.”

“Done,” said the spoon, as the silver fizz was put down on the bar. Then
came the gin rickey and the highball.

“They’ll—get—it—strong!” drummed the idle bartender on a faucet of
his soda-fountain.

A moment later the three glasses that stood before Durkin and his
guardians were taken up in three waiting hands.

“Well, here’s to you,” cried the prisoner, as he gulped down his
drink—for that melodramatic little silence had weighed on his nerves a
bit. Then he wiped his mouth, slowly and thoughtfully, and waited.

“But here’s a table in the corner,” he said at last, meaningly. “Suppose
I count out that race money that’s coming to you two?”

O’Reilly nodded, the other said “Sure!” and the three men moved over to
the table, and sat down.

Durkin had never seen chloral hydrate take effect, and Eddie Crawford
realized that his friend was foolishly preparing to kill time.

“Here, boss, don’t you go to sleep in here,” called out Eddie, for
already the Central Office man was showing signs of bodily distress.

Even the gaunt and threadbare-looking curb-broker was gazing with
wondering eyes at the two lolling figures. Then, having satisfied both
his hunger and his curiosity, the frugal luncher hurried away.

The hand of steel dropped from Durkin’s coat-sleeve.

“I’m—I’m queer!” murmured O’Reilly, brokenly, as he sagged back in his
chair.

Durkin was watching the whitening faces, the quivering eyelids, the
slowly stiffening limbs.

“My God, Eddie, you haven’t killed them?” he cried, as he turned to hand
over his fee.

Eddie laughed unconcernedly.

“They’ll be dead enough, till we get out of this, anyway!” he said,
already taking off his apron and drawing down a window-curtain in front
of the table in the corner.

“What’s that for?” demanded Durkin, nervously, as the bartender dodged
round to the telephone booth.

“Why, I’ve got to ’phone over t’ the boss t’ get back here and ’tend t’
his business. You don’t suppose _I_ can afford t’ stay in this town now,
with a sucker like O’Reilly after me!”

“But what can they do?” demanded Durkin, as he looked down at the
collapsed figures. “Even when they come back?”

“Oh, they daren’t do much bleating, and go and peach right out, seeing
they were in after graft and we could show ’em up for neglect o’ duty,
all right, all right! But they’d just hound me, on the side, and keep
after me, and make life kind o’ miserable. Besides that, I always wanted
to see St. Louis, anyway!”

The swing doors opened as he spoke, and Custom House Charley himself
hurried in.

“I’ve got to climb out for a few minutes, Chink, with a friend o’ mine
here,” said his assistant, as he pulled on his coat.

He turned back at the swing door.

“You’d better put those two jags out before they get messin’ things up,”
he suggested easily, as he held the door for Durkin.

A moment later the two men were out in the street, swallowed up in the
afternoon crowds swarming to ferries and Elevated stations, as free as
the stenographers and clerks at their elbows.

Durkin wondered, as he hurried on with a glance at the passing faces, if
they, too, had their underground trials and triumphs. He wondered if
they, too, had explored some portion of that secret network of
excitement and daring which ran like turgid sewers under the asphalted
tranquillity of the open city.

There was neither sign nor token, in the faces of the citied throng that
brushed past him, to show that any of life’s more tumultuous emotions
and movements had touched their lives. It was only as he passed a
newsboy with his armful of flaring headlines, and a uniformed officer,
suggestive of the motley harvest of a morning police court, that once
more he fully realized how life still held its tumult and romance,
though it was the order of modern existence that such things should be
hidden and subterranean. It was only now and then, Durkin told himself,
through some sudden little explosion in the press, or through the
steaming manhole of the city magistrate’s court, that these turgid and
often undreamed of sewers showed themselves. . . . After all, he
maintained to himself, life had not so greatly altered.



                              CHAPTER XXVI


Durkin’s first feeling, incongruously enough, once he was out in the
open air, was a ravenous sense of hunger. Through all that busy day his
only meal had been a hasty and half-eaten breakfast.

His second thought was at once both to submerge and sustain himself in
one of those Broadway basement restaurants where men perch on seats and
gulp down meals over a seat-fringed counter.

Then he thought of Frances, of her anxiety, of her long waiting, and he
tried to tell himself, valiantly enough, that another hour would make
little difference, and that they would take their dinner in state and at
their ease, at the Beaux-Arts, or at the Ritz, or perhaps even at the
St. Regis.

The thought of her gave a sudden, warm glow to the gray flatness of
life, born of his hunger and weariness. He pictured her, framed in the
gloom of the open doorway, in answer to his knock, the slender oval of
her face touched with weariness, her shadowy, brooding, violet eyes
grown suddenly alert, even her two warm, woman’s arms open, like a very
nest, to receive and hold him, and her motherly young shoulder to shield
him. He laughed to himself as he remembered the time that he had
described her as the victim of an “ingrowing maternal instinct”—she had
always seemed so ready to nurture and guard and cherish. She was a
woman, he said to himself—with a sudden, strange foreboding of he knew
not what—who ought to have had children. She was one of those deeper
and richer natures, he knew, who would always love Love more than she
could love men.

“What is electricity?” he had asked her one quiet night, touched into
wonder for the familiar miracle, as they bent together over their relay,
while an operator five hundred miles away was talking through the
darkness. “We live and work and make life tenser with it, and do wonders
with it, but, after all, who knows what it is?”

He remembered how the great, shadowy eyes had looked into his face. “And
what is love?” she had sighed. “We live and die for it, we see it work
its terrible wonders; but who can ever tell us what it is?”

Durkin had forgotten both his hunger and his weariness as he mounted the
stairs to his up-town apartment, where, he knew, Frances was waiting for
him. He decided, in his playful reaction of mood, to take her by
surprise. So he slipped his pass-key silently into the door-lock and was
about to fling the door wide when the unexpected sound of voices held
him motionless, with his hand still on the knob.

It was Frank herself speaking.

“Oh, Mack, don’t come between him and me now! It’s all I’ve got to live
for—his love! I need it—I need him!”

“The devil you do!” said a muttered growl.

“Oh, I do! I always wanted the love of an honest man.”

“An honest man!” again scoffed the deep bass of the other’s voice, with
a short little laugh. It was MacNutt who spoke. “An honest man! Then
what were you hanging round Sunset Bryan for?”

“Yes, an honest man,” went on the woman’s voice impetuously; “he is
honest in his love for me, and that is all I care! Leave him to me, and
I’ll give you everything. If it’s money you want, I’ll get you
anything—anything in reason! I can still cheat and lie and steal for
you, if you like—it was you who _taught_ me how to do that!”

Durkin felt that he could stand no more of it; but still he listened,
spellbound, incapable of action or thought.

“I’ve got to have money!” agreed MacNutt quietly. “That’s true enough!”
Then he added insolently, “But I almost feel I’d rather have you!”

“No, no!” moaned the woman, seemingly in mingled horror and fear of him.
“Only wait and I’ll get you what money I have here—every cent of it!
It’s in my pocketbook, here, in the front room!”

Durkin could hear her short, hard breath, and the swish of her skirt as
she fluttered across the bare floor into the other room. He could hear
the other’s easy, half-deprecating, half-mocking laugh; and at the sound
of it all the long-banked, smoldering, self-consuming fires of jealous
rage that burned within him seemed to leap and burst into relieving
flame. An invisible cord seemed to snap before his eyes—it might have
been within his very brain, for all he knew.

“And now I kill him!” This one idea spun through his mind, the one
living wheel in all the deadened machinery of consciousness.

Darting back until he felt the plaster of the narrow hallway behind him,
he flung himself madly forward against the door again. He kicked with
the solid flat of his boot-sole as he came, against the light pine,
painted and grained to look like oak.

It crashed in like so much kindling, and a second later, white to the
very lips, he was in the room, facing MacNutt.

In his hand he held his revolver. It was of blue metal, with the barrel
sawed off short. It had once been carried by a Chinaman, and had figured
in a Mock Duck Street feud, and had been many times in pawnshops, and
had passed through many hands.

As he faced the man he was going to kill it flitted vaguely through
Durkin’s mind that somebody—he could not remember who—had said always
to shoot for the stomach—it was the easiest, and the surest. He also
remembered that his weapon had a rifled barrel, and that the long,
twisting bullet would rend and tear and lacerate as it went.

“Before I kill you,” he heard himself saying, and the quietness of his
voice surprised even his own ears, “before I kill you, I want to know,
once for all, just _what that woman is to you_.”

The other man looked vacantly down at the pistol barrel, within six
inches of his own gross stomach. Then he looked at his enemy’s face. A
twitching nerve trembled and fluttered on one side of his temple. Only
two claret-colored blotches of color remained on his otherwise ashen
face.

“For the love of God, Durkin, don’t be a fool!”

MacNutt’s fingers were working spasmodically, and his breath began to
come wheezily and heavily.

“I’m going to kill you!” repeated Durkin, in the same level monotone.
“_But what is that woman to you?_”

MacNutt was desperately measuring chance and distance. There was not the
shadow of escape through struggle.

“It’s murder!” he gasped, certain that there was no hope.

He could see Durkin’s preparatory jaw-clench.

“You—you wouldn’t get mixed up in cold murder like this!” MacNutt half
pleaded, hurriedly and huskily, with his eyes now on the other man’s.
“Why, you’d swing for it, Durkin! You’d go to the chair!”

Durkin uttered a foul name, impatiently, and closed out the picture with
his shut eyelids as he thrust his right hand forward and down.

He wondered, with lightning-like rapidity of thought, if the blood would
stain his hand.

Then he felt a quick bark, and a sudden great spit of pain shot through
him.

The gun had exploded, he told himself dreamily, as he staggered to the
wall and leaned there weakly, swaying back and forth. But why didn’t
MacNutt go down? he asked himself unconcernedly, as he watched with dull
eyes where a jet of red blood spurted and pumped regularly from
somewhere in his benumbed forearm.

Then he had a thin and far-away vision of Frances, with a smoking
revolver in her hand, drifting out from the other room. He seemed to see
her floating out, like a bird on the wing almost, to where his own
weapon lay, and catch it up, as MacNutt or some vague shadow of him,
leaped to put a heavy foot on it.

A hundred miles away, seemingly, he heard her voice in a thin and high
treble telling MacNutt to go, or she would shoot him there herself, like
a dog.

Succeeding this came a sense of falling, and he found something bound
tightly round his arm, and a new dull and throbbing pain as this
something twisted and twisted and grew still tighter on the benumbed
flesh. Then he felt the weight of a body leaning on his own, where he
lay there, and a hand trying to fondle his face and hair.

“Oh, Jim, Jim!” the thin and far-away voice seemed to be wailing, “oh,
Jim, I had to do it! I had to—to save you from yourself! You would have
killed him. . . . You would have shot him dead. . . . And that would be
the end of everything. . . . Don’t you understand, my beloved own?”

Some heavy gray veil seemed to lift away, and the wounded man opened his
eyes, and moved uneasily.

“It’s only the arm, poor boy . . . but I know it hurts!”

“What is it?” he asked vacantly.

“It’s only the arm, and not a bone broken! See, I’ve stopped the
bleeding, and a week or two of quiet somewhere, and it’ll be all better!
Then—then you’ll sit up and thank God for it!”

He could hear her voice more distinctly now, and could feel her hands
feverishly caressing his face and hair.

“Speak to me, Jim,” she pleaded, passionately. “You’re all I’ve
got—you’re all that’s left to me in the whole wide world!”

He opened his eyes again, and smiled at her; but it was such a wan and
broken smile that a tempest of weeping swept over the woman bending
above him. He could feel her hot tears scalding his face.

Then she suddenly drew herself up, rigid and tense, for the sound of
heavy footsteps smote on her ear. Durkin heard them, too, in his languid
and uncomprehending way; he also heard the authoritative knock that came
from the hall door.

He surmised that Frank had opened the splintered door, for in the dim
sidelight of the hall he could see the flash of metal buttons on the
dark blue uniform, and the outline of a patrolman’s cap.

“Anything wrong up here, lady?” the officer was demanding, a little out
of breath.

“Dear me, no,” answered her voice in meek and plaintive alarm. Then she
laughed a little.

“She is lying—lying—lying,” thought the wounded man, languidly, as he
lay there, bleeding in the darkened room, not twelve paces away from
her, where the room was stained and blotched and pooled with blood.

“H’m! Folks downstairs said they heard a pistol-shot up here somewhere!”

“Yes, I know; that was the transom blew shut,” she answered glibly. “It
nearly frightened the wits out of me, too!” She opened the door wide.
“But won’t you come in, and make sure?”

The officer looked up at the transom, wagged his head three times
sagely, glanced at the lines of the girl’s figure with open and
undisguised admiration, and said it wasn’t worth while. Then he tried to
pierce the veil that still hung from her hat and about her smiling face.
Then he turned and sauntered off down the stairs, tapping the baluster
with his night-stick as he went. Then Durkin tried to struggle to his
feet, was stung with a second fierce stab of pain, fell back drowsily,
and remembered no more.

Frances waited, pantingly, against the doorpost. She listened there for
a second or two, and then crept inside and closed the door after her.

“Thank God!” she gasped fervently, as she tore off her hat and veil once
more. “Thank God!”

Then, being only a woman, and weak and hungry and tired, and tried
beyond her endurance, she took three evading, half-staggering steps
toward Durkin, and fell in a faint over his feet.

The door opened and closed softly; and a figure with an ashen face,
blotched with claret-color, slunk into the silent room. Night had closed
in by this time, so having listened for a reassuring second or two, he
groped slowly across the bare floor. His trembling hand felt a woman’s
skirt. Exploring carefully upward, he felt her limp arm, and her face
and hair.

Then he came to the figure he was in search of. He ripped open the wet
and soggy coat with a deft little pull at the buttons, and thrust a
great hungry hand down into the inside breast pocket. The exploring fat
fingers found what they were in search of, and held the carefully banded
packet up to the uncertain light of the window.

There he tested the edges of the crisp parchment of the bank-notes, and
apparently satisfied, hurriedly thrust them down into his own capacious
hip-pocket.

Then he crept to the broken door and listened for a minute or two. He
opened it cautiously, at last, tip-toed slowly over to the
stair-balustrade, and finally turned back and closed the door.

As the latch of the shattered lock fell rattling on the floor a sigh
quavered through the room. It was a woman’s sigh, wavering and weak and
freighted with weariness, but one of returning consciousness. For, a
minute later, a voice was asking, plaintively and emptily, “Where am I?”



                             CHAPTER XXVII


Often, in looking back on those terrible, phantasmal days that followed,
Frances Candler wondered how she had lived through them.

Certain disjointed pictures of the first night and day remained vividly
in her memory; unimportant and inconsequential episodes haunted her
mind, as graphic and yet as vaguely unrelated as the midday recollection
of a night of broken sleep and dream.

One of these memories was the doctor’s hurried question as to whether or
not she could stand the sight of a little blood. A second memory was
Durkin’s childlike cry of anguish, as she held the bared arm over the
sheet of white oilcloth, pungent-odored with its disinfectant. Still
another memory was that of the rattle of the little blackened bullet on
the floor as it dropped from the jaws of the surgical forceps. A more
vague and yet a more pleasing memory was the thought that had come to
her, when the wound had been washed and dressed and hidden away under
its white bandages, and Durkin himself had been made comfortable on the
narrow couch, that the worst was then over, that the damage had been
repaired, and that a week or two of quiet and careful nursing would make
everything right again.

In this, however, she was sadly mistaken. She had even thought of shyly
slipping away and leaving him to sleep through the night alone, until,
standing over his bed, she beheld the figure that had always seemed so
well-knit and self-reliant and tireless, shaking and trembling in the
clutch of an approaching chill. It seemed to tear her very heartstrings,
as she gave him brandy, and even flung her own coat and skirt over him,
to see him lying there so impotent, so childishly afraid of solitude, so
miserably craven, before this unknown enemy of bodily weakness.

As the night advanced the fever that followed on Durkin’s chill
increased, his thirst became unappeasable, and from the second leather
couch in the back room, where she had flung herself down in utter
weariness of nerve and limb, she could hear him mumbling. Toward morning
she awakened suddenly, from an hour of sound sleep, and found Durkin out
of bed, fighting at his bedroom mantelpiece, protesting, babblingly,
that he had seen a blood-red mouse run under the grate and that at all
hazard it must be got out.

She led him back to bed, and during the five days that his fever burned
through him she never once gave herself up to the luxury of actual
sleep. Often, during the day and night, she would fling herself down on
her couch, in a condition of half-torpor, but at the least word or sound
from him she was astir again.

Then, as his mind grew clearer, and he came to recognize her once more,
her earlier sense of loneliness and half-helpless isolation crept away
from her. She even grew to take a secret pleasure in giving him his
medicine and milk and tablets, in dressing his wound, day by day, in
making his pillow more comfortable, in sending the colored hall-boy out
after fruit and flowers for him, and in all those duties which broke
down the last paling of reserve between them.

And it was a new and unlooked for phase of Frances Candler that Durkin
slowly grew to comprehend. The constraint and the quietness of
everything seemed to have something akin to a spiritualizing effect on
each of them, and it was not long before he waited for her coming and
going with a sort of childish wistfulness. Her tenderness of speech and
touch and look, her brooding thoughtfulness as she sat beside him,
seemed to draw them together more closely than even their old-time most
perilous moments had done.

“We’re going to be decent now, aren’t we, Frank?” he said, quietly and
joyously one morning.

But there were times when his weakness and stagnation of life and
thought gave rise to acute suffering in both of them, times when his
imprisonment and his feebleness chafed and galled him. It was agony for
her to see him in passionate outbursts, to be forced to stand helplessly
by and behold him unmanned and weeping, sometimes when his nervous
irritability was at its worst, wantonly and recklessly blaspheming at
his fate.

This sinfulness of the flesh she set down to the pain which his arm
might be giving him and the unrest which came of many days in bed. As he
grew stronger, she told herself, he would be his old, generous-minded
and manly self once more.

But Durkin gained strength very slowly. A rent-day came around, and
rather than remind him of it Frances slipped out, on a rainy afternoon,
and pawned her rings to get money for the payment.

It was as she was creeping shamefaced out of the pawnshop that she
looked up and caught sight of a passing automobile. It was a flashing
sports-model with a lemon-colored body, and in it, beside a woman with
lemon-colored hair, sat MacNutt, gloved, silk-hatted and happy-looking.

At first she beheld the two with an indeterminate feeling of relief.
Then a hot wave of resentment swept over her, as she watched them drive
away through the fine mist. A consuming sense of the injustice of it all
took possession of her, as her thoughts went back to the day of the
theft, and she remembered what a little and passing thing Durkin’s money
would be to MacNutt, the spender, the prodigal liver, while to her and
to Durkin it had meant so much! She knew, too, that he would soon be
asking about it; and this brought a new misery into her life.

It was, indeed, only a day or two later that he said to her:

“Do you know, I’m glad we didn’t take that girl’s money—the Van Schaick
girl, I mean. It was all our own from the first!”

Frances did not answer.

“She was a decent sort of girl, really, wasn’t she?” he asked again,
once more looking up at her.

“I wish I had a woman like that for a friend,” Frances said, at last.
“Do you know, Jim, it is years and years since I have had a woman
friend. Yes, yes, my beloved own, I know I have you, but that is so
different.”

He nodded his head sorrowfully, and stretched out his hand for hers.

“You’re better than all of ’em!” he said fondly.

They were both silent for several minutes.

“We’re going to be decent now, aren’t we, Frank?” he went on at last,
quietly, joyously.

“Yes, Jim, from now on.”

“I was just thinking, this town has got to know us a little too well by
this time. When we start over we’ll have to migrate, I suppose.” Then he
smiled a little. “We ought to be thankful, Frank, they haven’t got us
both pinned up by the Bertillon system, down at Headquarters!”

“I’d defy Bertillon himself to find you,” she laughed, “underneath that
two weeks’ beard.”

He rubbed his hand over his stubbled chin, absent-mindedly.

“Where shall we go, when we migrate?” he asked, not unhappily.

She gazed with unseeing eyes through the window, out over the house-top.

“I know a little south of England village,” she said, in her soft,
flute-like contralto, “I know a little village, nestling down among
green hills, a little town of gardens and ivy and walls and thatches, in
a country of brooks and hawthorn hedges—a little village where the
nightingales sing at night, and the skylarks sing by day, and the old
men and women have rosy faces, and the girls are shy and soft-spoken—”

“But we’d die of loneliness in that sort of place, wouldn’t we?”

“No, Jim, we should get more out of life than you dream. Then, in the
winter, we could slip over to Paris and the Riviera, or down to Rome—it
can be done cheaply, if one knows how—and before you realized it you
would be used to the quiet and the change, and even learn to like it.”

“Yes,” he said wearily. “I’ve had too much of this wear-and-tear
life—even though it has its thrill now and then. It’s intoxicating
enough, but we’ve both had too much of this drinking wine out of a
skull. Even at the best it’s feasting on a coffin-lid, isn’t it?”

She was still gazing out of the window with unseeing eyes.

“And there is so much to read, and study, and learn,” Durkin himself
went on, more eagerly. “I might get a chance to work out my amplifier
then, as I used to think I would, some day. If I could once get that
sort of relay sensitive enough, and worked out the way I feel it can be
worked out, you would be able to sit in Chicago and talk right through
to London!”

“But how?” she asked.

“I always wanted to get a link between the cable and the ordinary Morse
recorder, and I know it can be done. Then—who knows—I might in time go
Lee De Forest one better, and have my amplifier knock his old-fashioned
electrolytic out of business, for good.”

Then he fell to talking about wireless and transmitters and conductors,
and suddenly broke into a quiet chuckle of laughter.

“I don’t think I ever told you about the fun we had down in that
Broadway conduit. It was after the fire in the Subway and the
Postal-Union terminal rooms. A part of the conduit roof had been cleared
away by the firemen. Well, while we were working down there a big Irish
watering-cart driver thought he’d have some fun with us, and every time
he passed up and down with his cart he’d give us a shower. It got
monotonous, after the fourth time or so, and the boys began to cuss. I
saw that his wagon was strung with metal from one end to the other. I
also knew that water was a good enough conductor. So I just exposed a
live wire of interesting voltage and waited for the water-wagon. The
driver came along as bland and innocent-looking as a baby. Then he
veered over and doused us, the same as ever. Then the water and the wire
got together. That Irishman gave one jump—he went five feet up in the
air, and yelled—oh, how he yelled!—and ran like mad up Broadway, with
a policeman after him, thinking he’d suddenly gone mad, trying to soothe
him and quiet him down!”

And Durkin chuckled again, at the memory of it all. The sparrows
twittered cheerily about the sunlit window-sill. The woman did not know
what line of thought he was following, but she saw him look down at his
bandaged arm and then turn suddenly and say:

“What a scarred and battered-up pair we’d be, if we had to keep at this
sort of business all our lives!”

Then he lay back among the pillows, and closed his eyes.

“I say, Frank,” he spoke up unexpectedly, “where are you taking care of
that—er—of that money?”

Her hands fell into her lap, and she looked at him steadily. Even before
she spoke she could see the apprehension that leaped into his colorless
face.

“No, no; we mustn’t talk more about that today!” she tried to temporize.

“You don’t mean,” he cried, rising on his elbow, “that anything has
happened to it?”

He demanded an answer, and there was no gain-saying him.

“There is no money, Jim!” she said slowly and quietly. And in as few
words as she could she told him of the theft.

It was pitiable, to her, to see him, already weak and broken as he was,
under the crushing weight of this new defeat. She had hoped to save him
from it, for a few more days at least. But now he knew; and he reviled
MacNutt passionately and profanely, and declared that he would yet get
even, and moaned that it was the end of everything, and that all their
fine talk and all their plans had been knocked in the head forever, and
that now they would have to crawl and slink through life living by their
wits again, cheating and gambling and stealing when and where they
could.

All this Frances feared and dreaded and expected; but desperately and
forlornly she tried to buoy up his shattered spirits and bring back to
him some hope for the future.

She told him that he could work, that they could live more humbly, as
they had once done years before, when she had taught little children
music and French, and he was a telegraph agent up at the lonely little
Canadian junction-station of Komoka, with a boarding-house on one side
of him and a mile of gravel-pit on the other.

“And if I have you, Jim, what more do I want in life?” she cried out, as
she turned and left him, that he might not see the misery and the
hopelessness on her own face.

“Oh, why didn’t you let me kill him!” he called out passionately after
her. But she did not turn back, for she hated to see him unmanned and
weeping like a woman.



                             CHAPTER XXVIII


“Surely this is Indian Summer—strayed or stolen!” said Frank one
morning a few days later, as she wheeled Durkin and his big arm-chair
into the sunlight by the open window.

His arm was healing slowly, and his strength was equally slow in coming
back to him. Yet she was not altogether unhappy during those fleeting
days of work and anxiety.

Her darkest moments were those when she saw that Durkin was fretting
over the loss of his ill-gained fortune, burning with his subterranean
fires of hatred for MacNutt, and inwardly vowing that he would yet live
to have his day.

She was still hoping that time, the healer, would in some way attend to
each of his wounds, though that of the spirit, she knew, was the deeper
of the two. Yet from day to day she saw that his resentment lay sourly
embedded in him, like a bullet; her only hope was that what nature could
neither reject nor absorb it would in due time encyst with indifference.
So if she herself became a little infected with his spirit of
depression, she struggled fiercely against it and showed him only the
cheeriest inglenooks of her many-chambered emotions.

“See, it’s almost like spring again!” she cried joyously, as she leaned
over his chair and watched the morning sunlight, misty and golden on the
city house-tops.

The window-curtains swayed and flapped in the humid breeze; the clatter
of feet on the asphalt, the rumble of wheels and the puff and whir of
passing automobiles came up to them from the street below.

“It seems good to be alive!” she murmured pensively, as she slipped down
on the floor and sat in the muffled sunlight, leaning against his knees.
There was neither timidity nor self-consciousness in her attitude, as
she sat there companionably, comfortably, with her thoughts far away.

For a long time Durkin looked down at her great tumbled crown of
chestnut hair, glinting here and there with its touch of reddish gold.
He could see the quiet pulse beating in the curved ivory of her throat.

She grew conscious of his eyes resting on her, in time, and turned her
face solemnly up to him. He held it there, with the oval of her chin
caught in the hollow of his hand.

“Frank, there’s something I’m going to ask you, for the twentieth time!”

She knew what it was even before he spoke. But she did not stop him, for
this new note of quiet tenderness in his voice had taken her by
surprise.

“Frank, can’t you—won’t you marry me, now?”

She shook her head mournfully.

“Isn’t it enough that I’m near you and can help you, and that we can
both still go and come as we want to?”

“No, I get only the little fragments of your life, and I want all of it.
If you can’t do it willingly, of course, it’s as silly for me to demand
it as to try to nail that sunbeam down to the floor there! But tell me,
has there ever been another?”

“No, never, Jim!” she cried. “There was never any one who could make me
so happy—and so miserable,—who could make me so unsatisfied with
myself and with my life!”

He studied her upturned face. In it he imagined he could see all the old
opposition of the dual and strangely contending nature. About the
shadowy eyes seemed to lurk the weariness and the rebelliousness of the
inwardly pure woman who had been driven to face life in its more dubious
phases, the woman who had broken laws and essayed great hazards with
him. Yet about the fresh young mouth remained all the pride and virginal
purity of the woman whose inward life was till virginal and pure. In
this, he felt, lay the bitterest thing of all. She was still a good
woman, but the memory of how, through the dark and devious ways of the
career that seemed to have engulfed her, she had fought and struggled
for that almost incongruous purity of mind and body, remained to him a
tragic and autumnal emblem of what her unknown earlier, April-like
goodness of girlish soul must have been. He sighed as he thought of it,
before he began to speak again, for it gave him the haunting impression
that he had been cheated out of something; that the beauty and rapture
of that Aprilian girlhood should have been his, and yet had eluded him.

“Even though there had been another,” he went on quietly, “I don’t
believe it would count. Isn’t it strange how we all beat and flutter and
break our wings around a beautiful face! One face, just a little softer,
one woman’s eyes, just a little deeper, and one voice, a little
mellower; and dear me, dear me—how this wayward mortal passion of ours
throbs and beats and surges about it! One beautiful face, and it sends
world-history all awry, and brings out armies and changes maps, and
makes men happy or miserable, as it likes!”

“That’s the first time I ever knew you were a poet!” she cried in almost
a coo of pride.

His hand lay heavily on her crown of tumbled gold hair. “Won’t you marry
me?” he asked again, as quietly as before.

“Oh, Jim,” she cried, “I’m afraid of it! I’m afraid of myself, and of
you!”

“But see what we’ve been through together—the heights and the depths.
And we never hated each other, there!”

“But there were times, I know there were times when you might have, if
you were tied to me! We were each free to go and come. But it’s not
that, Jim, I’m so afraid of. It’s the keeping on at what we have been
doing, the danger of not keeping decent, of getting our thoughts and
feelings deadened, of getting our hearts macadamized. That’s why I could
never marry you until we are both honest once more!”

“But if I do try to get decent—I can’t promise to turn angel all at
once, you know!—if I _do_ try to be decent, then will you marry me, and
help me along?”

“I don’t look for miracles,—neither of us can be all good, anyway; it’s
the trying to be good!”

“But we _have_ tried—so often!”

“Who was it said that the Saints were only the sinners who kept on
trying?”

“Wasn’t there a bishop in your family?” he asked, with a quizzical
little upthrust of his mouth corners.

“A bishop?” she asked, all gravity.

“There must have been a bishop, somewhere—you take to preaching so
easily!”

“It’s only to make it easier for you,” she reproved him. Then she added
drearily, “Heaven knows, I’m not self-righteous!”

“Then take me as I am, and you will be making it easier for me!”

“I could, Jim, if I thought you would begin by doing one thing.”

“And that is?”

“Not try to get even with MacNutt.”

She could feel the galvanic movement of uncontrol that sped down his
knees.

“When that damned welcher gives me back what is mine, fair and square
and honest, then he can go his way and I’ll go mine—but not before!”

“But, _was_ it fair and square and honest?”

“About as much so as most of the money people get—and I’m going to have
it!”

“And that means going back to all the old mean, humiliating ways, to the
old, degrading dodges, and the old, incessant dangers!”

“But it’s ours, that money—every cent of it—it’s what we’ve got to
have to start over again with!”

“Then you will scheme and plot and fight for it? And keep on and on and
on, struggling in this big quicksand of wrong-doing, until we are deeper
than ever?”

“Do _you_ forgive MacNutt?”

“No, I do not! I can’t, for your sake. But I would rather lie and scheme
and plot myself than see you do it. A woman is different—I don’t know
how or why it is, but in some way she has a fiercer furnace of
sacrifice. If her wickedness is for another, her very love burns away
all the dross of deceit and selfishness!”

“I hate to hear you talk that way, when you know you’re good and true as
gold, through and through. And I want you to be my wife, Frank, no
matter what it costs or what it means.”

“But will you make this promise?”

“It’s—it’s too hard on _you_! Think of the grind and the monotony and
the skimping! And besides, supposing you saw a chance to get the upper
hand of MacNutt in some way, would you fold your hands and sigh meekly
and let it slip past?”

“I can’t promise that _I_ would! But it’s you I’m afraid of, and that
I’m trying to guard and protect and save from yourself!”

She caught up his free hand and held it closely in her own.

“Listen,” he broke in irrelevantly, “there’s a hurdy-gurdy somewhere
down in the street! Hear it?”

The curtains swayed in the breeze; the street sounds crept to them,
muffled and far away.

“Can’t you promise?” she pleaded.

“I could promise you anything, Frank,” he said after a long pause.
“Yes,” he repeated, “I promise.”

She crept closer to him, and with a little half-stifled, half-hungry cry
held his face down to her own. He could feel the abandon of complete
surrender in the most intimate warmth of her mouth, as it sought and
clung to his own.

When her uplifted arms that had locked about his neck once more fell
away, and the heavy head of dull gold sank capitulatingly down on his
knee, the hurdy-gurdy had passed out of hearing, and the lintel-shadow
had crept down to where they sat.



                              CHAPTER XXIX


On the following afternoon Frances Candler and Durkin were quietly
married.

It was a whim of Durkin’s that the ceremony should take place on
Broadway, “on the old alley,” as he put it, “where I’ve had so many ups
and downs.” So, his arm in a black silk sling, and she in a gown of
sober black velvet, with only a bunch of violets bought from an Italian
boy on a street corner, they rode together in a taxi-cab to the rectory
of Grace Church.

To the silent disappointment of each of them the rector was not at home.
They were told, indeed, that it would be impossible for a marriage
service to be held at the church that afternoon. A little depressed,
inwardly, at this first accidental cross-thread of fate, they at once
made their way up Fifth Avenue to the Church of the Transfiguration.

“The way we ought to do it,” said Frances, as they rode up the
undulating line of the Avenue, “would be to have it all carried on over
a long-distance telephone. We should have had some justice of the peace
in Jersey City ring us up at a certain time, and send the words of the
service over the wire. That would have been more in the picture. Then
you should have twisted up an emergency wedding ring of KK wire, and
slipped it on my finger, and then cut in on a Postal-Union or an
Associated Press wire and announced the happy event to the world!”

She rattled bravely on in this key, for she had noticed, in the strong
sidelight of the taxi-window, that he looked pale and worn and old,
seeming, as he sat there at her side, only a shadow of the buoyant,
resilient, old-time Durkin that she had once known.

The service was read in the chapel, by a hurried and deep-voiced English
curate, who shook hands with them crisply but genially, before
unceremoniously slipping off his surplice. He wished them much
happiness. Then he told them that the full names would have to be signed
in the register, as a report of the service must be sent to the Board of
Health, and that it was customary to give the sexton and his assistant
two dollars each for acting as witnesses.

Frances noticed Durkin’s little wince at the obtrusion of this
unlooked-for sordidness, though he glanced up and smiled at her
reassuringly as he wrote in the register, “James Altman Durkin,” and
waited for her to sign “Frances Edith Candler.”

The service, in some way, had utterly failed to impress Durkin as it
ought. The empty seats of the chapel, with only one pew crowded with a
little line of tittering, whispering schoolgirls, who had wandered in
out of idle curiosity, the hurriedly mumbled words of the curate—he
afterward confessed to them that this was his third service since
luncheon—the unexpected briefness of the ceremony itself, the absence
of those emblems and rituals which from time immemorial had been
associated with marriage in his mind—these had combined to attach to
the scene a teasing sense of unreality.

It was only when the words, “With all my worldly goods I thee endow,”
were repeated that he smiled and looked down at the woman beside him.
She caught his eye and laughed a little, as she turned hurriedly away,
though he could see the tear-drops glistening on her eyelashes.

She held his hand fiercely in her own, as they rode from the little
ivy-covered church, each wondering at the mood of ineloquence weighing
down the other.

“Do you know,” she said, musingly, “I feel as though I had been bought
and sold, that I had been tied up and given to you, that—oh, that I had
been nailed on to you with horseshoe nails! Do you feel any difference?”

“I feel as though I had been cheated out of something—it’s so hard to
express!—that I ought to have found another You when I turned away from
the railing; that I ought to be carrying off a different You
altogether—and yet—yet here you are, the same old adorable You, with
not a particle of change!”

“After all, what is it? Why, Jim dear, we were married, in reality, that
afternoon I opened the door to MacNutt’s ring and saw you standing there
looking in at me as though you had seen a ghost!”

“No, my own, we were joined together and made one a million years ago,
you and I, in some unknown star a million million miles away from this
old earth; and through all those years we have only wandered and drifted
about, looking for each other!”

“Silly!” she said happily, with her slow, English smile.

In the gloom of the taxi-cab, with a sudden impulsive little movement of
the body, she leaned over and kissed him.

“You forgot that,” she said joyously, from the pillow of his shoulder.
“You forgot about that in the chapel!”

They drifted down through what seemed a shadowy and far-away city,
threading their course past phantasmal carriages and spectral crowds
engrossed in their foolish little ghost-like businesses of buying and
selling, of coming and going.

“You’re all I’ve got now,” she murmured again, with irrelevant
dolefulness.

Her head still rested on the hollow of his shoulder. His only answer was
to draw the warmth and clinging weight of her body closer to him.

“And you’ll have to die some day!” she wailed in sudden misery. And
though he laughingly protested that she was screwing him down a little
too early in the game, she reached up with her ineffectual arms and
flung them passionately about him, much as she had done before, as
though such momentary guardianship might shield him from both life and
death itself, for all time to come.



                              CHAPTER XXX


Frances sent Durkin on alone to the Chelsea, where, he had finally
agreed, they were to take rooms for a week at least. There, she argued,
they could live frugally, and there they could escape from the old
atmosphere, from the old memories and associations that hour by hour had
seemed to grow more unlovely in her eyes.

On wisely reckless second thought, she ran into a florist’s and bought
an armful of roses. These she thrust up into the taxi-seat beside him,
explaining that he was to scatter them about their rooms, so that he
could be in the midst of them when she came. Then she stood at the curb,
watching him drive off, demanding of herself whether, after all, some
Indian Summer of happiness were not due to her, wondering whether she
were still asking too much of life.

Then she climbed the stairs to the little top-floor apartment, saying to
herself, compensatingly, that it would be for the last time. She felt
glad to think that she had taken from Durkin’s hands the burden of
packing and shutting up the desolate and dark-memoried little place.

Yet it had taken her longer than she imagined, and she was still
stooping, with oddly mixed emotions, over the crumpled nurse’s dress and
the little hypodermic that she carried away from the Van Schaick house,
when she heard a hurried footfall on the stairs and the click of a
pass-key in the lock. She realized, with a start, that it was Durkin
come back for her, even after she had begged him not to.

She ran over toward the door, and then, either petulantly or for some
stronger intuitive reason—she could never decide which—stopped short,
and waited.

The door opened slowly. As it swung back she saw standing before her the
huge figure of MacNutt.

“_You!_” she gasped, with staring eyes.

“Sure it’s me!” he answered curtly, as he closed the door and locked it
behind him.

“But, how dare you?” and she gasped once more. “What right have you to
break in here?”

She was trembling from head to foot now, recoiling, step by step, as she
saw some grim purpose written on the familiar blocked squareness of his
flaccid jaw and the old glint of anger in the deep-set, predatory eyes.

“Oh, I didn’t need to break in, my lady! I’ve been here before, more
than once. So don’t start doin’ the heavy emotional and makin’ scenes!”

“But—but Durkin _will_ kill you this time, when he sees you!” she
cried.

MacNutt tapped his pocket confidently.

“He’ll never catch me that way twice, I guess!”

“How dare you come here?” she still gasped, bewildered.

“Oh, I dare go anywhere, after you, Frank! And I may as well tell you,
that’s what I came for!”

She still shivered from head to foot. It was not that she was afraid of
him. It was only that, in this new beginning of life, she was afraid of
some unforeseen disaster. And she knew that she would kill herself,
gladly, rather than go with him.

“Now, cool down, little woman,” MacNutt was saying to her in his placid
guttural. “We’ve been through enough scrapes together to know each
other, so there’s no use you gettin’ high-strung and nervous. And I
guess you know I’m no piker, when it comes to anybody I care about. I
never went back on you, Frank, even though you _did_ treat me like a dog
and swing in with that damned welcher Durkin, and try to bleed me for my
last five hundred. I tell you, Frank, I can’t get used to the thought of
not havin’ you ’round!”

She gave forth a little inarticulate cry of hate and abhorrence for him.
She could see that he had been drinking, and that he was shattered, both
in body and nerve.

“Oh, you’ll get over that! I’ve knocked around with women—I’ve been
makin’ and spendin’ money fast enough for anybody this season; but no
one’s just the same as you! You thought I was good enough to work with
once, and I guess I ought to be good enough to travel with now!”

“That’s enough!” she broke in, wrathfully. She had grown calmer by this
time, and her thoughts were returning to her mind now, buzzing and
rapid, like bees in a fallen hive.

“No, it’s not,” he retorted, with an ominous shake of the square jaw and
beefy neck. “And you just wait until I finish. You’ve been playin’
pretty fast and loose with me, Frank Candler, and I’ve been takin’ it
meek and quiet, for I knew you’d soon get tired of this two-cent piker
you’ve been workin’ the wires with!”

She opened her lips to speak, but no sound came from them.

“I tell you, Frank, you’re not the sort of woman that can go half fed
and half dressed, driftin’ ’round dowdy and hungry and homeless, most of
the time! You’re too fine for all that kind o’ thing. A woman like you
has got to have money, and be looked after, and showed around, and let
take things easy—or what’s the use o’ bein’ a beauty, anyway! You know
all that, ’s well as I do!”

“Yes, I know all that!” she said vacantly, wearily, for her racing
thoughts were far away. She was inwardly confessing to herself that they
who live by the sword must die by the sword.

“Then what’s the use o’ crucifyin’ yourself?” cried MacNutt, seeming to
catch hope from her change of tone. “You know as well as I do that I can
hound this Durkin off the face o’ the globe. I can make it so hot for
him here in New York that he daren’t stick his nose within a foot o’ the
Hudson. And I’m goin’ to do it, too! I’m goin’ to do it, unless you want
to come and stop me from doin’ it!”

“Why?” she asked emptily.

“Didn’t you save my life once, Frank, right in this room? Damn it all,
you must have thought a little about me, to do a thing like that!”

“And what did you do for it?” she demanded, with a sudden change of
front. Once again she was all animal, artful and cunning and crafty.
“You played the sneak-thief. You slunk back here and stole his money.
No, no; there’s no good your denying it—you came and stole his honestly
earned money!”

“Honestly earned?” he scoffed.

“No, not honestly earned, perhaps, but made as clean as it could be
made, in this low and mean and underhand business you taught us and
dragged us into! And you came and stole it, when it meant so much to me,
and to him!”

“Yes, I said I’d knock him, and I did knock him! But, good heavens,
what’s his money to a high-roller like me! If that’s all you’re swingin’
your clapper about, you may as well get wise. If it’s the money you’re
achin’ after, you can have it—providin’ you take it the way I’m willin’
to give it to you!”

“I can’t believe you—you know that!”

“You think I’m talkin’ big? Well, look here. Here’s my wad! Yes, look at
it good and hard—there’s enough there to smother you in diamonds, and
let you lord it ’round this town for the rest of your life!”

“You’re drunk,” she cried, once more consumed by a sudden fear of him.

“No, I’m not; but I’m crazy, if you want to put it that way, and you’re
the cause of it! I’m tired o’ plottin’ and schemin’ and gettin’ mixed up
in all kinds o’ dirty work, and I want to take it easy now, and enjoy
life a little!”

She gasped at his words. Were _his_ aspirations, then, quite as high as
hers? Were all the vague ideals she mouthed to Durkin and herself only
the thoughts of any mottled-souled evil-doer?

Then she watched him slowly close the great polished pig-skin wallet,
replace it in his inside breast-pocket, and secure it there with its
safety-button.

Frances gazed at him blankly, with detached and impersonal attention. He
stood to her there the embodiment of what all her old life had been. In
him she saw incarnate all its hideousness, all its degrading coarseness,
all its hopeless vileness and wickedness. And this was what she had
dreamed that at a moment’s notice she could thrust behind her! She had
thought that it could be slipped off, at a turn of the hand, like a
soiled skirt, when the insidious poison of it had crept into her very
bones, when it had corroded and withered and killed that holier
something which should have remained untouched and unsullied in her
inmost heart of hearts. He was her counterpart, her mate, this gross man
with the many-wrinkled, square-set jaw, with the stolid bull-neck, with
his bloated, vulpine face and his subdolous green eyes. This was what
she had fallen to, inch by inch, and day by day. And here he was talking
to her, wisely, as to one of his kind, bargaining for her bruised and
weary body, as though love and honor and womanly devotion were chattels
to be bought and sold in the open market.

The ultimate, inexorable hopelessness, the foredoomed tragedy of her
dwarfed and perverted life came crushingly home to her, as she looked at
him, still confronting her there in his challenging comradeship of crime
and his kinship of old-time dishonor.

“Mack,” she said quietly, but her voice was hard and dry and colorless,
“I could never marry you, now. But under one condition I would be
willing to go with you, wherever you say.”

“And that condition is?”

“It is that you return to Durkin every cent you owe him, and let him go
his way, while we go ours.”

“You mean that, Frank?”

“Yes, I mean it!”

He looked at her colorless face closely. Something in it seemed to
satisfy him.

“But how am I to know you’re going to stick to your bargain?” he still
hesitated. “How am I to be sure you won’t get your price and then give
me the slip?”

“Would Durkin want me, _after that_? Would he take up with me when _you_
had finished with me? Oh, he’s not that make of man!” she scoffed in her
hard, dry voice. There was a little silence; then, “Is that all?” she
asked in her dead voice.

“That’s just as you say,” he answered.

“Very well,” she said between her drawn lips. She stepped quickly to the
back of the room, and lifting the hidden telephone transmitter up on the
table she threw open the window to loop the wire that ran by the
overhanging eave.

“Hold on, there!” cried MacNutt, in alarm. “What’s all this, anyway?”

“I have got to tell Durkin, that’s all. He has got to know, of course,
what we have decided on.”

“Oh, no, you don’t, my beauty! If there’s goin’ to be any telephonin’
out o’ this house, I do it myself!”

“It makes no difference,” she answered, apathetically. “You can tell him
as well as I could.”

She could see some new look of suspicion and rage mounting into his
watchful eyes. “I do the talking this trip,” he cried.

“Then cut in and loop that third wire—no, the fourth, counting the
lighting wire—on the eave there. It is the Van Schaick
house-wire—indeed, it would be much better to cut them off altogether,
after we cut in, or there might be some interference from them with
Central. Now throw open that switch behind the window-curtain there—so.
Now, if you will ring up Central and ask for the Chelsea, they will
connect you directly with Durkin. He is waiting in his room there for
me.”

He looked at her, suspicious and puzzled, the momentary note of triumph
gone out of his voice.

“See here, Frank, I may as well tell you one thing, straight out.
Although I square up with Durkin for what I got out of him, and pass
this money of his over to you, I tell you now, I’m going to smash that
man!”

“Smash him?” she echoed, dismally. “Then you’ve been lying!”

“Yes, smash him! You don’t imagine I’m goin’ to have that piker
shadowin’ and doggin’ me like a flatty all my days! I stand pat now with
Doogan and his men. And in ten days I can have Durkin up against ten
years!”

“That’s a lie,” she contended.

“Well, I can have him so he’ll be glad to get ten years, just to get out
o’ what’s comin’ to him!”

“Then this was all a trap, a plot?” she gasped.

“No, it’s not a trap—it’s only that I wanted to save you out o’ the
mess. I’m wise enough in most things, but about you I’ve always been a
good deal of a fool. It’s my loose screw, all right; sometimes it’s
driven me near crazy. I’m goin’ to have you, I don’t care what it costs
me—I don’t care if I have to pound this Durkin’s brains out with a
lead-pipe!”

“Take me! Take me—but save him!” she pleaded.

“Good God, it’s not just you I want—it’s—it’s your feelin’s, it’s your
love that I’ve got to have!”

“Oh!” she moaned, covering her face with her hands.

“It’s a queer way of makin’ love, eh?—but I mean it! And I want to know
if you’re goin’ to swing in with me and get taken care of, or not?”

“Oh, you fool, you fool!” she cried suddenly, smiting the air with her
vehemently closed fists. “You poor, miserable fool! I loathe and hate
the very sound of your voice! I despise every inch of your brutish,
bloated body! I’d die—I’d kill myself ten times over before I’d so much
as touch you!”

He looked at her gathering storm of rage, first in wonder, and then in a
slow and deadly anger that blanched his face and left only the two
claret-colored blotches on his withered cheeks.

“I’ll give you one last chance,” he said, clenching his flaccid jaw.

“Chance! I don’t want a chance! Now I know how things _must_ go! Now I
know how to act! And before we settle it between us, and if I have
to—to lose everything, I want you to know one thing. I want you to know
that I’m doing it for Durkin! I’m doing it all, everything, for _him_!”

“For Durkin?” he choked, with an oath. “What are you fightin’ for that
washed-out welcher for?”

“Because Durkin is my husband!” she said, in her ashen white
determination, as she stepped quickly to the door and double-locked it.
“And because I would _die_ for him”—she laughed shrilly, horribly, as
she said it—“before I’d see him hurt or unhappy!”

She stood firmly with her back against the door, panting a little, her
jaw fallen loosely down, her eyes luminous with their animal-like fire.

“Then, by God, you _will_!” said MacNutt in his raucous guttural, with
his limbs beginning to shake as he glared at her.

She stood there motionless, trying to think out the first moves in that
grim game for which freedom and love and life itself were the stakes.

“Then, by God, you will!” repeated MacNutt, with the sweat coming out in
beads on his twitching temples.



                              CHAPTER XXXI


Frances Durkin knew the man she had to face. She knew the pagan and
primordial malevolence of the being, the almost demoniacal passions that
could sweep through him. More than once she had seen his obsessions
tremble on the verge of utter madness. She had come to know the rat-like
pertinacity, the morbid, dementating narrowness of mind, that made him
what he was. In his artful and ruthless campaign against Penfield, in
his relentless crushing of old-time confederates, in each and all of his
earlier underground adventures, she had seen the sullen, bulldog, brutal
contumacy of the man.

She expected nothing from him, neither mercy nor quarter. And yet, she
told herself, she was in no way afraid of him. As she had felt before,
time and time again, in moments of great danger, a vague sense of
duality of being took possession of her, as if mind stood detached from
body, to flutter and dodge through the darkness before her, freed from
its sheath of flesh.

She felt that she might kill him now, if the chance came, quite easily
and calmly. Yet she still diffidently half-hoped that the chance would
be denied her. It was not that she would be cowardly about it, but it
seemed to her the darker and more dubious way out of it all.

No; it was _he_ who must do the killing, she told herself, with a sudden
pang of half-delirious abnegation.

That was the utter and ultimate solution of the tangled problem; it
would be over and done with in a minute. She had lived by the sword and
she could die by the sword; from that moment, too, would be counted the
days of MacNutt’s own doom, the release and the deliverance of Durkin!

She seemed to hug this new self-illumination to her, and a smile of
scorn trembled on her lips as he stood over her, in his white and
shaking wrath.

“Oh, I know you, you she-devil!” he suddenly cried out, with an
animal-like snarl from the depths of his flabby throat. “I know what
you’re after! You think you’ll do the cheap-heroine act; you think
you’ll end it by comin’ between him and me this way! You think you’ll
save his puny piker’s heart a last pang or two, don’t you! You think
you’ll cheat me out of that, do you? You think that it’s just between
you and me now, eh, and that you can do your martyr’s act here while
he’s off somewhere else moonin’ about your eyebrows and takin’ it easy!”

And he laughed horribly, quietly. “No!” he cried, with a volley of the
foulest oaths; “no! If I’m goin’ to get the name I’m goin’ to have the
game! I mean to get my money’s worth out o’ this! I’m goin’ to kill you,
you cat, but I’m goin’ to do it in my own way!”

The room, which rang with his hoarse voice, seemed to grow small and
dark and cell-like. The great, gorilla-like figure, in the gray light,
seemed to draw back and go a long way off, and then tower over her once
more.

“You’re going to kill me?” she gasped, as though the thought of it had
come home to her for the first time.

Her more ecstatic moment of recklessness had passed strangely away, and
had left her helpless and craven.

Nothing but terror was written on her face as she cowered back from him
and sidled along the wall, with her fingers groping crazily over its
blind surface, as though some unlooked-for door of release might open to
their touch.

“You cat! You damned cat!” he cried hoarsely, as he leaped toward her
and tried to catch her by the throat. She writhed away from him and
twisted and dodged and fought until she had gained the door between the
front and the back room. Through this, cat-like, she shot sidewise, and
swung to the door with all her strength.

It had been her intention to bolt and lock it, if possible. But he had
been too quick for her. He thrust out a maddened hand to hold it back
from the jamb, and she could hear his little howl of pain as the meeting
timbers bit and locked on the fingers of the huge, fat hand.

As she stood there, panting, with her full weight against the door, she
could see the discoloring finger-tips, and the blood beginning to drip
slowly from the bruised hand. Yet she knew she could not long withstand
the shock of the weight he was flinging against her. So she looked about
the darkening room quickly, desperately. Her first thought was of the
windows. She could fling herself from one of them, and it would all be
over with her in a minute.

Then she caught sight of the nurse’s uniform of striped blue and white
linen flung across the bed, and in a sudden inspirational flash she
remembered the hypodermic. That, at least, would be painless—painless
and sure.

She slipped away from the door, and at the next lunge of his great body
MacNutt fell sprawling into the room. By the time he was on his feet she
had the little hollow-needled instrument in her hand.

But he fell on her, like a terrier on a rat, caught her up, shook and
crushed her in his great ape-like arms.

“Oh, I’ll show you!” he panted and wheezed. “I’ll show you!”

He dragged her writhing and twisting body through the door into the back
room. She fought and struggled and resisted as best she could, catching
at the door-posts and the furniture with her one free hand as she
passed. She would have used her hypodermic and ended it all then and
there, only his great grip pinned her right arm down to her side, and
the needle lay useless between her fingers.

The room was almost in darkness by this time, and a chair was knocked
over in their struggles. But still MacNutt bore her, fighting and
panting, toward the little table between the two windows, where the
telephone transmitter stood.

He pinned and held her down on the edge of the table with his knees and
his bleeding right hand, while with his left hand he caught up the
receiver of the telephone.

“Central, give me the Chelsea, quick—the Chelsea, the Chelsea!”

It was then and then only that the exhausted woman clearly understood
what he meant to do. She started up, with a great cry of horror in her
throat; but he muffled it with his shaking hand, and, biting out an
oath, squeezed the very breath out of her body.

“I want to speak to Durkin,” panted MacNutt into the transmitter, a
moment later. “Durkin, James Durkin—a man with his arm in a sling. He
just took rooms with you today. Yes, Durkin.”

There was another long wait, through which Frances lay there, neither
struggling nor moving, saving her strength for one last effort.

“Yes, yes; Duggan; I guess that’s it!” MacNutt was saying over the wire
to the switchboard operator at the hotel. “Yes, Duggan, with a lame
arm!”

Then he let the receiver swing at the end of its cord and with his freed
hand drew his revolver from his pocket.

The gasping woman felt the crushing pressure released for a moment, and
fought to free her right hand. It came away from his hold with a jerk,
and as her finger slipped into the little metal piston-ring she flung
the freed arm up about his shoulder and clung to him. For a sudden last
thought had come to her, a rotten thread of hope, on which swayed and
hung her last chance of life.

It was through the coat and clothing of the struggling MacNutt that the
little needle was forced, through the skin, and deep into the flesh of
the great, beefy shoulder. She held it there until the barrel was empty,
then it fell on the floor.

“You’d try to stab me, would you!” he cried, madly, uncomprehendingly,
as he struggled in vain to throttle the writhing body, and then raised
his revolver, to beat her on the head. The signal-bell rang sharply, and
he caught up the receiver instead.

“Now!” he gloated insanely, deep in his wheezing throat. “Now! Is that
Durkin speaking? Is that Durkin? Oh, it is! Well, this is MacNutt—I say
your old friend MacNutt!” and he laughed horribly, dementedly.

“You’ve done a good deal of business over the wires, Durkin, in your
day, haven’t you? Well, you listen now, and you’ll hear something doin’!
I say listen now, and you’ll hear something doin’!”

“Jim!” screamed the woman, pinned down on the edge of the table. “Jim!”
she screamed insanely. “_Oh, Jim, save me!_”

She could hear the sharp phonographic burr of her husband’s voice
through the receiver.

“Oh, Jim, he’s killing me!” she wailed.

For MacNutt had taken up the revolver in his trembling left hand and was
forcing the head with all its wealth of tumbled hair closer and closer
up before the transmitter.

It had been too late! She closed her eyes, and in one vivid,
kaleidoscopic picture all her discordant and huddled life stood out
before her.

She felt a momentary shiver speed through the body that pinned her so
close to it, as she waited, and it seemed to her that the gripping knees
relaxed a little. He was speaking now, but brokenly and mumblingly.

“Listen, you welcher, while I—”

She felt the little steel barrel waver and then muzzle down through her
hair until it pressed on her skull. At the touch of it she straightened
her limp body, galvanically, desperately. He staggered back under the
sudden weight.

Then she caught his hand in hers, and with all her strength twisted the
menacing barrel upward. The finger trembling on the trigger suddenly
compressed as she did so. The bullet plowed into the ceiling and brought
down a shower of loosened plaster.

Then he fell, prone on his face, and she stood swaying drunkenly back
and forth, watching him through the drifting smoke. Twice he tried to
raise himself on his hands, and twice he fell back moaning, flat on his
face.

“It’s a lie, Jim, it’s a lie!” she exulted insanely, turning and
springing to the transmitter, and catching up the still swaying
receiver. “Do you hear me, Jim? It’s a lie—I’m here, waiting for you!
_Jim, can’t you hear?_”

But Durkin had fainted away at the other end of the wire, and no
response came to her cries.

She flung herself down upon the collapsed MacNutt, and tore open his
coat and vest. As she did so the polished pig-skin wallet fell out on
the floor.

His heart was still beating, but it would be murder, she felt, to leave
him there without attention. His life was his own. She wanted and would
take only what the written law would allow. She wanted only her own.

She came to a sudden pause, as she looked from the paper wealth between
her fingers to the huge and huddled figure beside her. Some inner and
sentinel voice, from the calmer depths of her nature, was demanding of
her how much of what had thus come into her hand _was_ her own? After
all, how much of that terrible and tainted wealth could truly be called
their own?—was the untimely question this better part of her was crying
out.

She knew that in the end most usurious toll would be exacted for what
she took. Her life had taught her that no lasting foundation of good, no
enduring walls of aspiration, could be built on the engulfing sloughs of
evil. And as she looked at her prostrate enemy once more, and breathed
out a fervent and grateful: “Oh, God, I thank Thee for this
deliverance!” a sudden chastening and abnegative passion prompted her to
thrust back every dollar she had drawn from that capacious wallet.

Then she thought of the future, of the exigent needs of life, of the
necessities of her immediate flight; and her heart sank within her. To
begin life again with a clean slate—that had been her constant wish.
Yet much as she hungered to do so, she dare not leave it all. As with
many another aspiring soul in quieter walks of life, she found herself
grimly but sorrowfully compelled to leave the pure idea sacrificed on
the altar of compromise. All life, she told herself, was made up of
concessions. She could only choose the lesser evil, and through it still
strive to grope a little onward and upward.

So she slowly detached one Treasury note—it was for one thousand
dollars—from the bulky roll, and the rest she restored to its wallet.
It was a contribution to conscience. As she replaced that wallet in the
inner pocket of the prostrate man, her feelings were akin to those of
some primordial worshipper before his primordial Baal or his exacting
Juggernaut. She felt that with that sacrifice she was appeasing her
gods. She consoled herself with the thought that the Master of Destiny
would know and understand—that she had given up the great thing that
she might not sorrow in the little. As yet, He would not expect too much
of her! That minute fraction of what she might have taken, she argued
with herself, appeasingly,—surely that little moiety of what they had
fought and worked for might be theirs.

                 *        *        *        *        *

It was fifteen minutes later that a frightened and pale-faced woman left
word at the corner drugstore that an old gentleman was ill of morphine
poisoning, and asked if the ambulance might be sent for. All that the
clerk could remember, when he was later questioned by the somewhat
bewildered police, was that she had seemed weak and sick, and had asked
for some aromatic spirits of ammonia, and that the side of her face was
swollen and bruised where she lifted her veil. He was of the opinion,
too, that she had been under the drug herself, or had been drinking
heavily, for she walked unsteadily, and he had had to call a taxi for
her and help her into it. What made him believe this, on second
thoughts, was the fact that she had flung herself back in her seat and
said, “Thank God, oh, thank God!” half a dozen times to herself.



                             CHAPTER XXXII


Neither Frances nor Durkin seemed to care to come on deck until the bell
by the forward gangway had rung for the last time, and the officer from
the bridge had given his last warning of: “All visitors ashore!”

Then, as the last line was cast off, and the great vessel wore slowly
out from the crowded pier, a-flutter with hands and handkerchiefs, the
two happy travelers came up from their cabin.

While the liner was swinging round in midstream, and the good-byes and
the cheering died down in the distance, the two stood side by side at
the rail, watching the City, as the mist-crowned, serrated line of the
lower town sky-scrapers drifted past them. The shrouded morning sun was
already high in the East, and through the lifting fog they could see the
River and the widening Bay, glistening and flashing in the muffled
light.

Frances took it as a good omen, and pointed it out, with a flutter of
laughing wistfulness, to her husband. Behind them, she took pains to
show him, the churned water lay all yellow and turgid and draped in fog.

“I hope it holds good,” he said, linking his arm in hers.

“We shall _make_ it hold good,” she answered valiantly, though deep down
in her heart some indefinite premonition of failure still whispered and
stirred. Yet, she tried to tell herself, if they had sinned, surely they
had been purged in fire! Surely it was not too late to shake off the
memory of that old entangled and disordered life they were leaving
behind them!

It was not so much for herself that she feared, as for her husband. He
was a man, and through his wayward manhood, she told herself, swept
tides and currents uncomprehended and uncontrolled by her weaker woman’s
heart. But she would shield him, and watch him, and, if need be, fight
for him and with him.

She looked up at his face with her studious eyes, after a little
ineloquent gesture of final resignation; and he laughed down at her, and
crushed her arm happily against his side. Then he emitted a long and
contented sigh.

“Do you know how I feel?” he said, at last, as they began to pace the
deck, side by side, and the smoke-plumed city, crowned with its halo of
purplish mist, died down behind them.

“I feel as if we were two ghosts, being transported into another life! I
feel exactly as if you and I were disembodied spirits, travelling out
through lonely space, to find a new star!”

“Yes, my beloved, I know!” she said, comprehendingly, with her habitual
little head-shake. Then she, too, gave vent to a sigh, yet a sigh not
touched with the same contentment as Durkin’s.

“Oh, my own, I’m so tired!” she murmured.

He looked down at her, knowingly, but said nothing.

Then she stopped and leaned over the rail, breathing in the buoyant salt
air. He stood close beside her, and did the same.

“It’s fresh and fine and good, isn’t it!” he cried, blinking back
through the strong sunlight where the drifting city smoke still hung
thinly on the skyline in their wake.

She did not answer him, for her thoughts, at the moment, were far away.
He looked at her quietly, where the sea-wind stirred her hair.

“Good-bye, Old World, good-bye!” she murmured at last, softly.

“Why, you’re crying!” he said, as his hand sought hers on the rail.

“Yes,” she answered, “just a little!”

And then, for some unknown reason, with her habitual sense of
guardianship, she let her arm creep about her uncomprehending husband.
From what or against what that shielding gesture was meant to guard him
he could not understand, nor would Frances explain, as, with a little
shamefaced laugh, she wiped away her tears.

“Good-bye, Old World!” he repeated, as he looked back at the widening
skyline, with a challenging finality which seemed to imply that what was
over and done with was for all time over and done with. . . .
“Good-bye!”

“Good-bye!” said the woman. But it was not a challenge. It was a prayer.

                                THE END

                 *        *        *        *        *

Transcriber’s Notes:

Punctuation errors have been corrected without note. Other errors have
been corrected as noted below:

Page 5. The touch of content ==> The touch of contempt

Page 35. it drives about the open ==>  its drives about the open

Page 47. what it it, Mack ==> what is it, Mack

Page 133. Your heard about the fire ==> You heard about the fire

Page 266. strength was was equally slow ==> strength was equally slow

Page 299. swept tides and and currents ==> swept tides and currents





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