Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
While he pondered, Leslie came softly back, and stood before him.
“It is as bad as you feared,” she said, tremulously. “Van Vernet was received in this very room, the servant tells me. He saw the picture, examined it closely, and asked the name of the original.”
“Then,” said Stanhope, rising, “the picture need not be removed. It has done all the mischief it can. To remove it now would only make a suspicion a certainty. Listen, madam, and as soon as possible report what I tell you to Alan Warburton. A short time ago, Mamma Francoise and one of her tools left the note I hold, at your basement-door. Van Vernet, who was watching near here, saw them and followed them.”
“He has seen that picture. Tell your brother-in-law that Van Vernet has seen it and, doubtless, has traced the resemblance between it and the fugitive Sailor; tell him that Vernet is now on the track of the Francoises, who, if found, will be used to convict him of murder.”
“But – Alan is not guilty.”
“Are you sure of that?”
“I – I – ” She faltered and was silent.
“Mrs. Warburton,” he asked, slowly, “do you know who struck that blow?”
She trembled violently, and her face turned ashen white.
“I can’t tell! I don’t know!” she cried wildly. “It was a moment of confusion, but – it was not – oh, no, no, it was not Alan!”
Not a little surprised at this incoherent outburst, Stanhope looked her keenly in the face, a new thought taking possession of his mind.
Could it be that she, in the desperation of the moment, in her struggle for safety, had stricken that cruel blow? Such things had been. Women as frail, in the strength born of desperation, had wielded still more savage weapons with fatal effect.
The question, who killed Josef Siebel? was becoming a riddle.
“Let that subject drop,” said Stanhope, withdrawing his eyes from her face. “Tell your brother-in-law of his danger, but do not make use of my name. He knows nothing about me. For yourself, obey no summons like this you have just received. You need not make use of my newspaper-telegraph now. What I saw this morning, showed me the necessity for instant action. There is one thing more: tell Alan Warburton that now, with Vernet’s eye upon him, there will be no safety in flight. Let him remain here, but tell him, above all, to shun interviews with strangers, be their errand what it will. Let no one approach him whom he does not know to be a friend. After your husband’s funeral, you too had better observe this same caution. Admit no strangers to your presence.”
“But you – ”
“I shall not apply for admittance; I am going away. Before you see me again, I trust your troubles will have ended.”
“And little Daisy?”
“We shall find her, I hope. Mrs. Warburton, time presses; remember my instructions and my warning. Good-morning.”
He moved toward the door, turned again, and said:
“One thing more; see that you and your household avoid any movement that might seem, to a watcher, suspicious.
Vernet keeps this house under surveillance, night and day. He is a foe to fear. Once more, good-by.”
It was long past noon when Van Vernet, weary but triumphant, reappeared upon the fashionable street where stood the Warburton mansion.
He had been successful beyond his utmost expectations. Not only had he succeeded in tracking the two women to their hiding-place, for it could scarcely be called their home, but he had also satisfied himself that the elder woman was indeed and in truth Mamma Francoise; and that Papa Francoise was also sheltered by the tumble-down roof under which the old woman and her companion had passed from his sight.
Vernet was tired with his long promenade at the heels of the two sham beggars, and he resolved to give the mansion a brief reconnoitring glance and then to turn the watch over to a subordinate.
Accordingly he sauntered down the street, noting as he walked the unchanged aspect of the shut-up house. He was still a few paces away, when a vehicle came swiftly down the street, rolling on noiseless wheels.
It was an undertaker’s van, and it came to a halt before the door of the Warburton mansion. Two men were seated upon the van, and as one of them dismounted and ascended the stately steps, the other, getting down in more leisurely fashion, opened the door in the end of the vehicle, disclosing to the view of Vernet, who by this time was near enough to see, a magnificent casket.
In another moment, the man who had gone to announce their arrival came down the steps, accompanied by a servant, and together the three carefully drew the casket from the van.
Vernet’s quick eye detected the fact that it was heavy, and his quicker brain caught at an opportunity. Stepping to the side of the man who seemed to hold the heaviest weight, he proffered his assistance. It was promptly accepted, and, together, the four lifted the splendid casket, and carried it into the wide hall.
What is it that causes Van Vernet’s eyes to gleam, and his lips to twitch with some new, strange excitement, as they put the casket down? His gaze rests upon it as if fascinated.
Archibald Warburton, the man in the black and scarlet domino, the man who had employed him to watch the movements of Leslie Warburton, was six-foot tall. And this casket – it was made for a much shorter, a much smaller man!
If this were intended for Archibald Warburton, who, then, was the six-foot masker?
With eyes aglow, and firmly-compressed lips, Van Vernet cast a last glance at the casket and the name, Archibald Warburton, on the plate. Then turning away, he followed the two undertakers from the house.
At the foot of the steps he paused, and looked up at the closed windows with the face of a man who saw long-looked-for daylight through a cloud of mist.
“Ah, Alan Warburton,” he muttered, “I have you now!”
THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL
In every city where splendor abounds and wealth rolls in carriages, can be found, also, squalor and wretchedness. If the rich have their avenues, and the good and virtuous their sanctuaries, so have the poor their by-ways and alleys, and the vicious their haunts. In a great city there is room for all, and a place for everything.
Papa and Mamma Francoise had left their abiding-place in the slums for a refuge even more secure.
Van Vernet had followed the two women to a narrow street, long since left behind by the march of progress; a street where the huts and tumble-down frame buildings had once been reputable dwellings and stores, scattered promiscuously along on either side of a thoroughfare that had once been clean, and inhabited by modest industry. But that was many years ago: it had long been given over to dirt and disorder without, and to rags, poverty, rats and filth within. Here dwelt many foreigners, and the sound of numerous tongues speaking in many languages, might always be heard.
On this street, in the upper rooms of a rickety two-story house, Papa and Mamma Francoise had set up their household gods after their flight from the scene of Josef Siebel’s murder; the lower floor being inhabited by a family of Italians, who possessed an unlimited number of children and a limited knowledge of English.
It is evening, the evening of the day that has witnessed Van Vernet’s most recent discovery, and Papa and Mamma are at home.
The room is even more squalid than that recently occupied by them, for, besides a three-legged table, two rickety chairs, a horribly-dilapidated stove and two dirty, ragged pallets at opposite sides of the room, furniture there is none.
Perched upon one of the two rickety chairs, his thin legs extended underneath the table and his elbows resting upon it, sits Papa Francoise, lost in the contemplation of a broken glass containing a small quantity of the worst whiskey; and near him, Mamma squats upon the floor before the rusty stove, in which a brisk fire is burning, stirring vigorously at a strong-smelling decoction which is simmering over the coals.
“Come, old woman,” growls Papa, with a self-assertion probably borrowed from the broken glass under his eye, “get that stuff brewed before the gal comes in. And then try and answer my question: what’s to be done with her?”
Mamma Francoise stirs the liquid more vigorously, and takes a careful sip from the iron spoon.
“Ah,” she murmurs, “that’s the stuff. It’s a pity to spoil it.”
She rises slowly, and drawing a bottle from her pocket, pours into the basin a few drops of brown liquid, stirs it again, and then removing the decoction from the fire, pours it into a battered cup, which she sets upon the floor at a distance from the stove.
If one may judge from Mamma’s abstinence, the liquor has been spoiled, for she does not taste it again.
Having thus completed her task, she turns toward one of the pallets, and seating herself thereon lifts her eyes toward Papa.
“What’s to be done with the girl?” she repeats. “That’s the question I’ve asked you often enough, and I never got an answer yet.”
Papa withdraws his gaze from her face, and fixes it once more upon the broken tumbler.
“She ain’t no good to us,” resumes Mamma, “and we can’t have her tied to us always.”
“Nor we can’t turn her adrift,” says Papa, significantly.
“No; we can’t turn her adrift,” replies Mamma. “We can’t afford to keep her, and we can’t afford to let her go.”
“Consequently – ” says Papa.
And then they look at one another in silence.
“We may have to get out of this place at a minute’s warning,” resumes Mamma, after a time, “and how can we expect to dodge the cops with that gal tied to us? You and I can alter our looks, but we can’t alter hers.”
“No,” says Papa, shaking his head, “we can’t alter hers – not now.”
“And if we could, we can’t alter her actions.”
“No; we can’t alter her actions,” agrees Papa, with a cunning leer, “except to make ’em worse.”
And he casts a suggestive glance toward the tin cup on the floor.
“It won’t do,” said Mamma, noting the direction of his glance; “it won’t do to increase the drams. If she got worse, we couldn’t manage her at all. It won’t do to give her any more.”
“And it won’t do to give her any less. Old woman, we’ve just got back to the place we started from.”
Mamma Francoise rests her chin in her ample palm and ponders.
“I think I can see a way,” she begins. Then, at the sound of an uncertain footstep on the rickety stairs, she stops to listen. “That’s her,” she says, a frown darkening her face. “She’s got to be kept off the street.”
She goes to the door, opens it with an angry movement, and peers out into the dark hall.
“Nance, you torment!”
But the head that appears above the stair-railing is not the head of a female, and it is a masculine voice that says, in an undertone:
“Sh-h! Old woman, let me in, and don’t make a fuss.”
The woman starts back and is about to close the door, when something in the appearance of the man arrests her attention.
As he halts at the top of the stairway, the light from the door reveals to her a shock of close-curling, carroty-red hair.
In another moment he stands with a hand on either door-post.
“How are ye’ old uns?” he says, with a grin. “Governor, how are ye?” And then, with a leer, and a lurch which betrays the fact that he is half intoxicated, he adds, in a voice indicative of stupid astonishment: “Why, I’m blowed, the blessed old fakers don’t know their own young un!”
“Franzy!” Mamma Francoise starts forward, a look of mingled doubt and anxiety upon her face. “Franzy! No, it can’t be Franzy!”
“Why can’t it be? Ain’t ten years in limbo enough? Or ain’t I growed as handsome as ye expected to see me?” Then coming into the room, and peering closely into the faces of the two: “I’m blessed if I don’t resemble the rest of the family, anyhow.”
The two Francoises drew close together, and scrutinized the new-comer keenly, doubtfully, with suspicion.
Ten years ago, their son, Franzy, then a beardless boy of seventeen, and a worthy child of his parents, had reluctantly turned his back upon the outer world and assumed a prison garb, to serve out a twenty years’ sentence for the crime of manslaughter.
Ten years had elapsed and this man, just such a man as their boy must have become, stands before them and claims them for his parents.
There is little trace of the old Franz, save the carroty hair, the color of the eyes, the devil-may-care manner, and the reckless speech. And after a prolonged gaze, Papa says, still hesitatingly:
“Franzy! is it really Franzy?”
The new claimant to parental affection flings out his hand with a fierce gesture, and a horrible oath breaks from his lips.
“Is it really Franzy?” he cries, derisively. “Who else do ye think would be likely to claim yer kinship? I’ve put in ten years in the stripes, an’ I’m about as proud of ye as I was of my ball and chain. I’ve taken the trouble ter hunt ye up, with the police hot on my trail; maybe ye don’t want ter own the son as might a-been a decent man but for yer teachin’. Well, I ain’t partikeler; I’ll take myself out of yer quarters.”
He turns about with a firm, resentful movement, and Mamma Francoise springs forward with a look of conviction on her hard face.
“Anybody’d know ye after that blow out,” she says with a grin. “Ye’re the same old sixpence, Franzy; let’s have a look at ye.”
She lays a hand upon his arm, and he turns back half reluctantly.
“Wot’s struck ye?” he asks, resentfully. “Maybe it’s occurred to ye that I may have got a bit o’ money about me. If that’s yer lay, ye’re left. An’ I may as well tell ye that if ye can’t help a fellow to a little of the necessary, there’s no good o’ my stoppin’ here.”
And shaking her hand from his arm, this affectionate Prodigal strides past her, and peers eagerly into the broken glass upon the table.
“Empty, of course,” he mutters; “I might a-known it.”
Then his eyes fix upon the tin cup containing Mamma’s choice brew. Striding forward, he seizes it, smells its contents, and with a grunt of satisfaction raises it to his lips.
In an instant Mamma Francoise springs forward, and seizing the cup with both hands, holds it away from his mouth.
“Stop, Franz! you mustn’t drink that.”
A string of oaths rolls from his lips, and he wrests the cup from her hand, spilling half its contents in the act.
“Stop, Franzy!” calls Papa, excitedly; “that stuff won’t be good for you.”
And hurrying to one of the pallets he draws from under it a bottle, which, together with the broken tumbler, he presents to the angry young man.
“Here, Franzy, drink this.”
But the Prodigal shakes off his father’s persuasive touch, and again seizes upon the cup of warm liquor.
“Franzy!” cries Papa, in a tremor of fear, “drop that; it’s doctored.”
The Prodigal moves a step backward, and slowly lowers the cup.
“Oh!” he ejaculates, musingly, “it’s doctored! Wot are ye up to, old uns? If it’s a doctored dose, I don’t want it – not yet. Come, sit down and let’s talk matters over.”
Taking the bottle from the old man’s hand, he goes back to the table, seats himself on the chair recently occupied by the elder Francoise, motioning that worthy to occupy the only remaining chair. And courtesy being an unknown quality among the Francoises, the three are soon grouped about the table, Mamma accommodating herself as best she can.
“Franzy,” says Mamma, after refreshing herself from the bottle, which goes from hand to hand; “before you worry any more about that medicine, an’ who it’s for, tell us how came yer out?”
“How came I out? Easy enough. There was three of us; we worked for it five months ahead, and one of us had a pal outside. Pass up the bottle, old top, while I explain.”
Having refreshed himself from the bottle, he begins his story, interluding it with innumerable oaths, and allotting to himself a full share of the daring and dangerous feats accompanying the escape.
“It’s plain that ye ain’t read the papers,” he concludes. “Ye’d know all about it, if ye had.”
FRANZY FRANCOISE’S GALLANTRY
While this reunited family, warmed to cordiality by the contents of the aforementioned bottle, exchanged confidences, the evening wore on.
Franz had related the story of his escape and his subsequent adventures, and finished by telling them how, by the merest accident, he had espied Mamma and Nance upon their return from the Warburton mansion; and how, at the risk of being detained by a too-zealous “cop,” he had followed them, and so discovered their present abode.
In exchange for this interesting story, Papa had briefly sketched the outline of the career run by himself and Mamma during the ten years of their son’s absence, up to the time of their retreat from the scene of the Siebel tragedy.
“We were doing a good business,” sighed Papa, dolefully, “a very good business, in that house. But one night there were two or three there with – goods, and while the old woman and I were attending to business, the others got into a fuss – ah. We had no hand in it, the old woman and me, but there was a man killed, and it wasn’t safe to stay there, Franzy.”
“Umph!” muttered the hopeful son; “who did the killin’?”
Papa glanced uneasily at the old woman, and then replied:
“We don’t know, Franzy. The fight began when we were out of the room, and – we don’t know.”
“That’s a pity; wasn’t there any reward?”
“Yes, boy,” said Mamma, eagerly; “a big reward. An’ if we could tell who did the thing, we would be rich.”
“Somebody got arrested, of course?”
“N – no, Franzy; nobody’s been arrested – not yet.”
“Oh, they’re a-lookin’ fer somebody on suspicion? I say, old top, if nobody knows who struck the blow, seems to me ye’re runnin’ a little risk yerself. S’pose they should run yer to earth, eh?”
“We’ve been careful, Franzy.”
“S’pose ye have – look here, old un, don’t ye see yer chance?”
“How! If I was you, I’d clear my own skirts, and git that reward.”
“I’d know who did the killin’.”
And he leaned forward, took the bottle from Mamma’s reluctant hand, and drained it to the last drop, while Papa and Mamma looked into each other’s eyes, some new thought sending a flush of excitement to the face of each.
“Ah, Franzy,” murmured Mamma, casting upon him a look of pride, such as a tiger might bestow upon her cub, “ye’ll be a blessin’ to yer old mother yet!”
Then she turns her head and listens, while Franz, casting a wistful look at the now empty bottle, rises to his feet the movement betraying the fact that he is physically intoxicated, although his head as yet seems so clear.
Again footsteps approach, and Mamma hastens to the door, listens a moment, opens it cautiously, and peers out.
“It’s that gal,” she mutters, setting the door wide open. “Come in, you Nance! Where have you been, making yourself a nuisance?”
Then she falls back a pace, staring stupidly at the strangely-assorted couple who stand in the doorway.
A girl, a woman, young or old you can hardly tell which; with a face scarcely human, so bleared are the eyes, so sodden, besotted and maudlin the entire countenance; clad in foul rags and smeared with dirt, she reels as she advances, and clings to the supporting arm of a black-robed Sister of Mercy, who towers above her tall and slender, and who looks upon them all with sweet, brave eyes, and speaks with sorrowful dignity:
“My duty called me into your street, madam, and I found this poor creature surrounded by boisterous children, and striving to free herself from them. They tell me that this is her home; is she your daughter?”
A look of anger gleams in Mamma’s eyes, but she suppresses her wrath and answers:
“No; she’s not our daughter, but she’s a fine trouble to us, just the same. Nance, let go the lady, and git out of the way.”
With a whine of fear, the girl drops the arm of the Sister, and turns away. But her new-found friend restrains her, and with a hand resting upon her arm, again addresses Mamma:
“They tell me that this girl’s mind has been destroyed by liquor, and that still you permit her to drink. This cannot be overlooked. She is not your child, you say; may I not take her to our hospital?”
These are charitable words, but they bring Papa Francoise suddenly to his feet, and cause Mamma’s true nature to assert itself.
Springing forward with a cry of rage, she seizes the arm of the girl, Nance, drags her from the Sister’s side, and pushes her toward the nearest pallet with such violence that the reeling girl falls to the floor, where she lies trembling with fear and whimpering piteously.
“This comes of letting you wander around, eh?” hisses Mamma, with a fierce glance at the prostrate girl. Then turning to the Sister of Mercy, she cries: “That gal is my charge, and I’m able to take care of her. Your hospital prayers wouldn’t do her any good.”
As she speaks, Papa moves stealthily forward and touches her elbow.
“Hold your tongue, you old fool,” he whispers sharply.
Then to the Sister he says, with fawning obsequiousness:
“You see, lady, the poor girl is my wife’s niece, and she was born with a drunkard’s appetite. We have to give her drink, but we couldn’t hear of sending the poor child to a hospital; oh, no!”
Since the entrance of the Sister and Nance, Franz has apparently been engaged in steadying both his legs and his intellect. He now comes forward with a lurch, and inquires with tipsy gravity:ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî