Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
So two long, dreary days passed away, with no tidings from the lost and no hope for the dying.
During these two days, Van Vernet and Richard Stanhope were not idle.
The struggle between them had commenced on the night of the masquerade, and now there would be no turning back until the one became victor, the other vanquished.
Having fully convinced himself that Vernet had deliberately ignored all their past friendship, and taken up the cudgel against him, for reward and honor, Stanhope resolved at least to vindicate himself; while Vernet, dominated by his ambition, had for his watchword, “success! success!”
Fully convinced that behind that which was visible at the Francoise hovel, lay a mystery, Vernet resolved upon fathoming that mystery, and he set to work with rare vigor.
Having first aroused the interest of the authorities in the case, Vernet caused three rewards to be offered. One for the apprehension of the murderer of the man who had been identified as one Josef Siebel, professional rag-picker, and of Jewish extraction, having a sister who ran a thieving “old clo’” business, and a brother who kept a disreputable pawn shop.
The second and third rewards were for the arrest of, or information concerning, the fellow calling himself “Silly Charlie,” and the parties who had occupied the hovel up to the night of the murder.
These last “rewards” were accompanied by such descriptions of Papa and Mamma Francoise as Vernet could obtain at second-hand, and by more accurate descriptions of the Sailor, and Silly Charlie.
Rightly judging that sooner or later Papa Francoise, or some of his confederates, would attempt to remove the concealed booty from the deserted hovel, – which, upon being searched, furnished conclusive proof that buying rags at a bargain was not Papa’s sole occupation, – Van Vernet set a constant watch upon the house, hoping thus to discover the new hiding-place of the two Francoise’s. Having accomplished thus much, he next turned his attention to his affairs with the aristocrat of Warburton Place.
This matter he now looked upon as of secondary importance, and on the second day of Archibald Warburton’s illness he turned his steps toward the mansion, intent upon bringing his “simple bit of shadowing” to a summary termination.
He had gathered no new information concerning Mrs. Warburton and her mysterious movements, nevertheless he knew how to utilize scant items, and the time had come when he proposed to make Richard Stanhope’s presence at the masquerade play a more conspicuous part in the investigation which he was supposed to be vigorously conducting.
The silence and gloom that hung over the mansion was too marked to pass unnoticed by so keen an observer.
Wondering as to the cause, Vernet pulled the bell, and boldly handed his professional card to the serious-faced footman who opened the door.
In obedience to instructions, the servant glanced at the card, and reading thereon the name and profession of the applicant, promptly admitted him, naturally supposing him to be connected with the search for little Daisy.
“Tell your master,” said Vernet, as he was ushered into the library, “tell your master that I must see him at once.
My business is urgent, and my time limited.”
The servant turned upon him a look of surprise.
“Do you mean Mr. Archibald Warburton, sir?”
“Then it will be impossible. Mr. Warburton has been dangerously sick since yesterday. The shock – Mr. Alan receives all who have business.”
Mentally wondering what the servant could mean, for in the intensity of his interest in his new search, he had not informed himself as to the late happenings that usually attract the attention of all connected with the police, and was not aware of the disappearance of Archibald Warburton’s little daughter, Vernet said briefly, and as if he perfectly understood it all:
“Nevertheless, you may deliver my message.”
Somewhat overawed by the presence of this representative of justice, the servant went as bidden, and in another moment stood before Alan Warburton, presenting the card of the detective and delivering his message.
Alan Warburton started at sight of the name upon the card, and involuntarily turned his gaze toward the mirror. The face reflected there was not the face we saw unmasked, for a moment, at the masquerade. The brown moustache and glossy beard, the abundant waving hair, were gone. To the wonder and disapproval of all in the house, Alan had appeared among them, on the morning following the masquerade, with smooth-shaven face and close-cropped hair, looking like a boy-graduate rather than the distinguished man of the world he had appeared on the previous day.
Van Vernet had seen his bearded face but once, and there was little cause to fear a recognition; nevertheless, recalling Stanhope’s warning, Alan chose the better part of valor, and said calmly:
“Tell the person that Mr. Warburton is so ill that his life is despaired of, and that he is quite incapable of transacting business. He cannot see him at present.”
Wondering somewhat at this cavalier message, the servant retraced his steps, and Alan returned to the sick-room, murmuring as he went:
“It seems the only way. I dare not trust my voice in conversation with that man. For our honor’s sake, my dying brother must be my representative still.”
And then, as his eye rested upon Leslie, sitting by the bedside pale and weary, a thrill of aversion swept over him as he thought:
“But for her, and her wretched intrigue, I should have no cause to deceive, and no man’s scrutiny to fear.”
Alas for us who have secrets to keep; we should be “as wise as serpents,” and as farseeing as veritable seers.
While Alan Warburton, above stairs, was congratulating himself, believing that he had neglected nothing of prudence or precaution, Van Vernet, below stairs, was grasping a clue by which Alan Warburton might yet be undone.
Reentering the library, the servant found Vernet, his cheeks flushed, his eyes ablaze with excitement, standing before an easel which upheld a life-sized portrait – a new portrait, recently finished and just sent home, and as like the original, as he had appeared on yesterday, as a picture could be like life.
When the servant had delivered his message, and without paying the slightest heed to its purport, Vernet demanded, almost fiercely:
“Who is the original of that portrait?”
“That, sir,” said the servant, “is Mr. Alan Warburton.”
A PROMISE TO THE DYING
Paying no further heed to the servant, and much to the surprise of that functionary, Van Vernet turned his gaze back upon the picture, and looked long and intently, shifting his position once or twice to obtain a different view. Then taking up his hat, he silently left the house, a look of mingled elation and perplexity upon his face.
“It’s the same!” he thought, as he hurried away; “it’s the same face, or a most wonderful resemblance. Allow for the difference made by the glazed cap, the tattoo marks and the rough dress, and it’s the very same face! It seems incredible, but I know that such impossibilities often exist. What is there in common between Mr. Alan Warburton, aristocrat, and a nameless sailor, with scars upon his face and blood upon his hands? The same face, certainly, and – perhaps the same delicate hands and dainty feet. It may be only a resemblance, but I’ll see this Alan Warburton, and I’ll solve the mystery of that Francoise hovel yet.”
While Van Vernet thus soliloquizes over his startling discovery, we will follow the footsteps of Richard Stanhope.
He is walking away from the more bustling portion of the city, and turning into a quiet, home-like street, pauses before a long, trim-looking building, turns a moment to gaze about him in quest of possible observers, and then enters.
It is a hospital, watched over by an order of noble women, and affording every relief and comfort to the suffering ones within its walls.
Passing the offices and long wards, he goes on until he has reached a private room in the rear of the building. Here coolness and quiet reign, and a calm-faced woman is sitting beside a cot, upon which a sick man tosses and mutters feverishly. It is the ex-convict who was rescued from the Thieves’ Tavern by Stanhope, only a few nights ago.
“How is your patient?” queries the detective, approaching the bed and gazing down upon the man whom he has befriended.
“He has not long to live,” replies the nurse. “I am glad you are here, sir. In his lucid moments he asks for you constantly. His delirium will pass soon, I think, and he will have a quiet interval. I hope you will remain.”
“I will stay as long as possible,” Stanhope says, seating himself by the bed. “But I have not much time to spare to-night.”
The dying man is living his childhood over again. He mutters of rolling prairies, waving trees, sweeping storms, and pealing thunder. He laughs at the review of some pleasing scene, and then cries out in terror as some vision of horror comes before his memory.
And while he mutters, Richard Stanhope listens – at first idly, then curiously, and at last with eager intensity, bending forward to catch every word.
Finally he rises, and crossing the room deposits his hat upon a table, and removes his light outer coat.
“I shall stay,” he says briefly. “How long will he live?”
“He cannot last until morning, the surgeon says.”
“I will stay until the end.”
He resumes his seat and his listening attitude. It is sunset when his watch begins; the evening passes away, and still the patient mutters and moans.
It is almost midnight when his mutterings cease, and he falls into a slumber that looks like death.
At last there comes an end to the solemn stillness of the room. The dying man murmurs brokenly, opens his eyes with the light of reason in them once more, and recognizes his benefactor.
“You see – I was – right,” he whispers, a wan smile upon his face; “I am going to die.”
He labors a moment for breath, and then says:
“You have been so good – will – will you do one thing – more?”
“If I can.”
“I want my – mother to know – I am dead. She was not always good – but she was – my mother.”
“Tell me her name, and where to find her?”
The voice of the dying man sinks lower. Stanhope bends to catch the whispered reply, and then asks:
“Can you answer a few questions that I am anxious to put to you?”
“Y – yes.”
“Now that you know yourself dying, are you willing to tell me anything I may wish to know?”
“You are the – only man – who was ever – merciful to me,” said the dying man. “I will tell you – anything.”
Turning to the nurse, Stanhope makes a sign which she understands, and, nodding a reply, she goes softly from the room.
When Richard Stanhope and the dying man are left alone, the detective bends his head close to the pillows, and the questions asked, and the answers given, are few and brief.
Suddenly the form upon the bed becomes convulsed, the eyes roll wildly and then fix themselves upon Stanhope’s face.
“You promise,” gasps the death-stricken man, “you will tell them – ”
The writhing form becomes limp and lifeless, the eyes take on a glassy stare, and there is a last fluttering breath.
Richard Stanhope closes the staring eyes, and speaks his answer in the ears of the dead.
“I will tell them, poor fellow, at the right time, but – before my duty to the dead, comes a duty to the living!”
A BUSINESS CALL
It was grey dawn when Stanhope left the hospital and turned his face homeward, and then it was not to sleep, but to pass the two hours that preceded his breakfast-time in profound meditation.
Seated in a lounging-chair, with a fragrant cigar between his lips, he looked the most care-free fellow in the world. But his active brain was absorbed in the study of a profound problem, and he was quite oblivious to all save that problem’s solution.
Whatever the result of his meditation, he ate his breakfast with a keen relish, and a countenance of serene content, and then set off for a morning call upon Mr. Follingsbee.
He found that legal gentleman preparing to walk down to his office; and after an interchange of salutations, the two turned their faces townward together.
“Well, Stanhope,” said the lawyer, linking his arm in that of the detective with friendly familiarity, “how do you prosper?”
“Very well; but I must have an interview with Mrs. Warburton this morning.”
“Phew! and you want me to manage it?”
The lawyer considered a moment.
“You know that the Warburtons are overwhelmed with calamity?” he said.
Stanhope glanced sharply from under his lashes, and then asked carelessly:
“Of what nature?”
“Archibald Warburton lies dying; his little daughter has been stolen.”
“What!” The detective started, then mastering his surprise, said quietly: “Tell me about it.”
Briefly the lawyer related the story as he knew it, and then utter silence fell between them, while Richard Stanhope lost himself in meditation. At last he said:
“It’s a strange state of affairs, but it makes an immediate interview with the lady doubly necessary. Will you arrange it at once?”
“You are clever at a disguise: can you make yourself look like a gentleman of my cloth?”
“Easily,” replied Stanhope, with a laugh.
“Then I’ll send Leslie – Mrs. Warburton, a note at once, and announce the coming of myself and a friend, on a matter of business.”
An hour later, a carriage stopped before the Warburton doorway, and two gentlemen alighted.
The first was Mr. Follingsbee, who carried in his hand a packet of legal-looking papers. The other was a trim, prim, middle-aged gentleman, tightly buttoned-up in a spotless frock coat, and looking preternaturally grave and severe.
They entered the house together, and the servant took up to Leslie the cards of Mr. Follingsbee and “S. Richards, attorney.”
With pale, anxious face, heavy eyes, and slow, dragging steps, Leslie appeared before them, and extended her hand to Mr. Follingsbee, while she cast a glance of anxious inquiry toward the seeming stranger.
“How is Archibald?” asked the lawyer, briskly.
“Sinking; failing every moment,” replied Leslie, sadly.
“And there is no news of the little one?”
“Not a word.”
There was a sob in her throat, and Mr. Follingsbee, who hated a scene, turned abruptly toward his companion, saying:
“Ours is a business call, Leslie, and as the business is Mr. Stanhope’s not mine, I will retire to the library while it is being transacted.”
And without regarding her stare of surprise, he walked coolly from the room, leaving Leslie and the disguised detective face to face.
“Is it possible!” she said, after a moment’s silence; “is this Mr. Stanhope!”
The middle-aged gentleman smiled and came toward her.
“It is I, Mrs. Warburton. An interview with you seemed to me quite necessary, and I considered this the safest disguise, and Mr. Follingsbee’s company the surest protection.”
She bowed her head and looked inquiringly into his face.
“Mrs. Warburton, are you still desirous to discover the identity of the person who has been a spy upon you?” he asked gravely.
“I know – ” she checked herself and turned a shade paler. “I mean I – ” again she paused. What should she say to this man whose eyes seemed looking into her very soul? What did he know?
“Let me speak for you, madam,” he said, coming close to her side, his look and manner full of respect, his voice low and gentle. “You do not need my information; you have, yourself, discovered the man.”
Then, seeing the look of distress and indecision upon her face, he continued:
“On the night of our first interview, I pledged my word to respect any secret of yours which I might discover. At the same time I warned you that such discovery was more than possible. If, in saying what it becomes my duty to say, I touch upon a subject offensive to you, or upon which you are sensitive, pardon me. Under other circumstances I might have said: Mrs. Warburton, it is your brother-in-law who has constituted himself your shadow. But the events that followed that masquerade have made what would have been a simple discovery, a most complicated affair. Can we be sure of no interruption while you listen?”
She sank into a chair, with a weary sigh.
“There will be no interruption. Miss French and my brother-in-law are watching in the sick-room; the servants are all at their posts. Be seated, Mr. Stanhope.”
He drew a chair near that which she occupied, and plunged at once into his unpleasant narrative, talking fast, and in low, guarded tones.
Beginning with a description of the Raid as it was planned, he told how he had been detained at the masquerade – how he had discovered the presence of Vernet, and suspected his agency in the matter – how, without any thought other than to be present at the Raid, to note Vernet’s generalship, and satisfy himself, if possible, as to the exact meaning of his unfriendly conduct, he, Stanhope, had assumed the disguise of “Silly Charlie”, had encountered Vernet and been seized upon by that gentleman as a suitable guide, – and how, while convoying his false friend through the dark alleys, they were startled by a cry for help.
As she listened, Leslie’s face took on a look of terror, and she buried it in her hands.
“I need not dwell upon what followed,” concluded Stanhope. “Not knowing what was occurring, I managed to enter first at the door. I heard Alan Warburton bid you fly for your husband’s sake. I saw your face as he forced you through the door, and then I contrived to throw Vernet off his feet before he, too, should catch a glimpse of you.”
Leslie shuddered, and as he paused, she asked, from behind her hands:
“And then – oh, tell me what happened after that!”
“Your brother-in-law closed and barred the door, and turned upon us like a lion at bay, risking his own safety to insure your retreat. What! has he not told you?”
“He has told me nothing.”
“There is little more to tell. I knew him for your brother-in-law, because, here at the masquerade, I was a witness to a little scene in which he threw off his mask and domino. It was when he met and frightened the little girl, and then reproved the servant.”
“I recognized him at once, and fearing lest, by arresting him, we might do harm to you, or bring to light the secret I had promised to help you keep, I connived at his escape.”
She lifted her head suddenly.
“Arrest!” she exclaimed; “why should you arrest him?”
Stanhope fixed his eyes upon her face; then sinking his voice still lower, he said:
“Something had occurred before we came upon the scene; what that something was, you probably know. What we found in that room, after your flitting, was Alan Warburton, standing against the door with a table before him as a breast-work, in his hand a blood-stained bar of iron, and almost at his feet, a dead body.”
“It was the body of a dead rag-picker. Before you left that room, a fatal blow was struck.”
“Yes – I – I don’t know – I can’t tell – it was all confused.”
She sank back in her chair, her face fairly livid, her eyes looking unutterable horror.
“Some one had committed a murder,” went on Stanhope, keeping his eyes fixed upon her pallid face; “and the instrument that dealt the blow was in your brother-in-law’s hand. To arrest him would have been to compromise you, and I had promised you safety and protection.”
She bent forward, looking eagerly into his face.
“And you rescued him?” she said, eagerly.
“You could scarcely call it that. He resisted grandly, and was brave enough to effect his own rescue. I guided him away from that unsafe locality, and warned him of the danger which menaced him.”
“And is that danger now past?”
“Is it past!” He took from his pocket a folded placard, opened it, and put it into her hands.
It was the handbill containing the description of the escaped Sailor, and offering a reward for his capture.
With a cry of remorse and terror, Leslie Warburton flung it from her, and rose to her feet.
“My God!” she cried, wringing her hands wildly, “my cowardice, my folly, has brought this upon him, upon us all!”
Then turning toward the detective, a sudden resolve replacing the terror in her eye, a resolute ring in her voice, she said:
“Listen; you have proved yourself worthy of all confidence; you shall hear all I have to tell; you shall judge between my enemies and me.”
“But, madam – ”
“Wait; I want your advice, too, your aid, perhaps. Mr. Follingsbee also shall hear me.”
She started toward the library, but the detective put out a detaining hand.
“Stop!” he said, firmly. “If what you are about to say includes anything concerning Alan Warburton, or the story of that night, we must have no confidants while his liberty and life are menaced. His identity with that missing Sailor must never be known, even by Mr. Follingsbee.”
She breathed a shuddering sigh, and returned to her seat.
“You are right,” she said hurriedly; “and until you shall advise me otherwise, I will tell my story to none but you.”
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