Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Wot’s the row? Anythin’ as I kin help out?”
“Only a little word about our Nance, my boy,” replies Mamma, who has mastered, outwardly, her fit of rage. “The charitable lady wants our Nance.”
“The lady is very kind,” chimes in Papa; “but we can’t spare Nance, poor girl.”
“Can’t we?” queries Franz, aggressively, turning to look at the prostrate girl. “Now, why can’t we spare her? I kin spare her; who’s she, anyhow? Here you, Nance, git up.”
“Now, Franzy,” – begins Mamma.
“S’h-h, my boy,” – whispers Papa, appealingly.
But he roughly repulses Mamma’s extended hand.
“Let up, old woman,” he says, coarsely; and then, pushing her aside, he addresses the Sister:
“I say, what – er – ye want – er – her for, any’ow?”
The Sister turns away, and addresses herself once more to Mamma.
“I cannot understand why that girl may not have proper care,” she says, sternly. “If her intellect has been shattered by the use of liquor, this is not the place for her,” pointing her remark by a glance at Franz and the empty bottle. “Body and soul will both be sacrificed here. I shall not let this matter rest, and if I find that you have no legal authority – ”
But again fury overmasters prudence. Mamma springs toward her with a yell of rage.
“Ah, you cat-o’-the-world,” she cries, “go home with yer pious cant! The gal’s – ”
The words die away in a gurgle; the hand of Franz, roughly pressed against her mouth, has stopped her utterance.
“Oh, get out, old woman!” he exclaims, pushing her away and steadying himself after the effort. “Ye’re gittin’ too familiar, ye air.”
Then seeing that the Sister, convinced of her inability to reason with the unreasonable, had turned to go, he cried out:
“Hold on, mum; if ye want that gal, ye kin have her. I’m runnin’ this.”
“I shall not forget that poor creature,” says the Sister, still addressing Mamma and ignoring Franz; “and if I find that she is not – ”
She leaves the sentence unfinished, for Mamma darts toward her with extended clutches, and is only restrained by Papa’s stoutest efforts, aided by the hand of Franz, which once more comes forcibly in contact with the virago’s mouth, just as it opens to pour forth fresh imprecations.
To linger is worse than folly, and the Sister, casting a pitying glance toward the girl, who is now slowly struggling up, turns away and goes sadly out from the horrible place.
FRANZ FRANCOISE BELLIGERENT
After the departure of the Sister of Mercy, an unnatural silence brooded over the room; a silence, not a stillness, for Mamma Francoise, uttering no word, dragged the unfortunate Nance to one of the pallets, forced the remainder of the warm liquor down her throat, and then pushed her back upon the pallet, where she lay a dirty, moveless, stupid heap of wretched humanity.
Then Mamma seated herself upon the one unoccupied stool, and glared alternately at the two men.
Papa Francoise was evidently both disturbed and alarmed at this visit from the Sister of Mercy, and he seemed intent upon solving some new problem propounded to him by the scene just ended.
Franz leered and lounged, with seeming indifference to all his surroundings.
His recent potations were evidently taking effect, for after a few moments, during which he made very visible efforts to look alert, and interested in the discussion which, as he seemed vaguely to realize, was impending, he brought himself unsteadily to his feet, staggered across the room, and flinging himself upon the unoccupied pallet, muttered some incoherent words and subsided into stillness and slumber.
The eyes of the old woman followed his movements with anxious interest, and when he seemed at last lost to all ordinary sound, she arose and carried her stool across to where Papa, leaning against the table, still meditated.
“Sit down,” she said, in low, peremptory tones, and pushing the stool lately vacated by Franz toward her spouse; “sit down. We’re in a pretty mess, ain’t we?”
Papa seated himself and favored her with a vacant stare.
“Eh!” he said, absently; “what’s to be done?”
Mamma cast a quick look toward her recumbent Prodigal, and leaned forward until her lips touched the old man’s ear.
“Mind this,” she hissed; “he ain’t to know too much. He’s got the devil in him; it won’t do to put ourselves under his thumb.”
“Don’t you worry,” retorted Papa, in the same sharp whisper, “I ain’t anxious to be rode by the two of ye; Franzy’s too much like his ma. It won’t do to let him know everything.”
Mamma gave a derisive sniff, a sort of acknowledgment of the compliment – one of the only kind ever paid her by her worser half, – and then said:
“Franzy’ll be a big help to us, if we can keep him away from the cops. But you an’ me has planned too long to let him step in now an’ take things out of our hands. He’s too reckless; we wouldn’t move fast enough to suit him, an’ – he’d make us trouble.”
“Yes,” assented the old man, “he’d have things his own way, or he’d make us trouble; he always did.”
Mamma arose, stirred the smouldering fire, and resuming her seat, began afresh:
“Now, then, we’ve got to decide about that gal. She can’t go to no hospital?”
“No; she can’t.”
“And she can’t stay with us. It was a big risk before; now that Franzy is back, it’s a bigger risk.”
“That’s so.” Papa wrinkled his brows for a moment and then said: “See here, old woman, Franz’ll be bound ter know something about that gal when he gits his head clear.”
“I s’pose so.”
“Well, s’pose we tell him about her.”
“Ter satisfy him, an’ ter git his help.”
“His help?” muttered Mamma. “That might do.”
Suddenly Papa lifted a warning finger. “Hush,” he whispered; “there’s somebody outside o’ that door.”
A low, firm knock put a period to his sentence. Mamma made a sign which meant caution, and then creeping noiselessly to the door, listened. No sound could be heard from without, and after another moment of waiting she called sharply:
“Open de do’; I’s got a message fo’ yo’.”
The voice, and the unmistakable African dialect, reassured the pair, whose only dread was the police; and to barricade their doors against chance visitors was no part of the Francoise policy.
Mamma glided toward the pallet where lay her returned Prodigal, and bent above him.
His face was turned outward toward the door, and putting two strong hands beneath his shoulders, she applied her strength to the task of rolling him over, drew a ragged blanket well up about him, and left him lying thus, his face to the wall and completely hidden from whoever might enter.
Then she went boldly to the door, and opening it wide, stood face to face with a tall African, black as ebony, and wearing a fine suit of broadcloth, poorly concealed underneath a shabby outer garment. He bowed to Mamma as obsequiously as if she were a duchess, and this garret her drawing-room, and stepping inside, closed the door behind him.
“You will excuse me,” he said, politely, “but my business is private, and some one might come up the stairs.”
“What do you want?”
The incautious words were uttered by Papa Francoise, who, noting the entire absence of his negro accent, arose hastily, his face full of alarm.
The African smiled blandly.
“I assumed my accent in order to reassure you, sir,” he said, coolly. “You might not have admitted me if you had thought me a white man, and I am sent by your patron.”
“By our patron!” Mamma echoed his words in skeptical surprise.
“Yes; I am his servant.”
Papa and Mamma gazed at each other blankly and drew nearer together.
“He has sent you this note,” pursued the nonchalant fellow, keeping his eyes fixed upon Mamma’s face while he drew from his pocket a folded paper. “And I am to take your answer.”
Papa took the proffered note reluctantly, glanced at the superscription, and suddenly changed his manner.
“That is not directed to me,” he cried, sharply. “You have made a mistake.”
“It is directed to Papa Francoise.”
Papa peered closer at the superscription. “Yes; I think that’s it. It’s not my name; it’s not for me.”
“My dear sir, I know you too well. You need not fear me; I am Mr. Warburton’s body servant.”
“Oh!” Mamma uttered the syllable sharply, then suddenly restrained herself, and coming toward the messenger with cat-like tread, she said, coaxingly: “And who may this Mr. War – war, this master of yours be?”
The man looked from one to the other, and then turned his gaze upon the occupants of the two pallets. “Who are these?” he asked, briefly.
Mamma’s answer came very promptly.
“Only two poor people we knew in another part of the city. They have been turned out by their landlord, poor things, and last night they slept in the street.”
A smile crossed the face of the wily African, and he turned toward Papa.
“Read my master’s note, if you please,” he said. “It was written to you.”
Slowly Papa unfolded the note, and his eyes seemed bursting from their sockets as he read.
Name your price, but keep your whereabouts from the police. If you are called upon to identify me, you do not know me.
While Papa reads, the slumbering Franz begins to move and to mutter.
“Give me the file, Jim,” he says, in a low, cautious tone. “Curse the darbies – I – ”
The sudden overturning of a stool, caused by a quick backward movement on the part of Mamma, drowns the rest of this muttered speech.
But the words have caught the ear of the colored gentleman, who moves a pace nearer the sleeper, and seems anxious to hear more.
While Papa still stares at the note in his hand, Mamma stoops and restores the stool to its upright position, making even more noise than in the overturning. And Franz turns, yawns, stretches, and slowly brings himself to a sitting posture.
Something like a frown crosses the dark face of Papa Francoise’s visitor. To bring himself face to face with Papa, and to satisfy himself on certain doubtful points, he has paused for neither food nor rest, but has followed up his discovery of the morning, by an evening’s visit to the new lurking-place of the Francoises, – for the sable gentleman, who would fain win the confidence of Papa in the character of body servant to Alan Warburton, is none other than Van Vernet.
Fertile in construction, daring in execution, he has hoped by a bold stroke to make a most important discovery. Viewing the events of the morning from a perfectly natural standpoint, he has rapidly reached the following conclusion:
If the fugitive Sailor and Alan Warburton are one and the same, then, undoubtedly, the message left by Mamma at the door of the Warburtons was intended for Alan. What was the purport of that message, he may find it difficult to discover, – but may he not be able to surprise from Papa an acknowledgment of his connection with the aristocrat of Warburton place?
To arrest the Francoises was, at present, no part of his plan. This would be to alarm Alan Warburton, and to lessen his own chances for making discoveries. He had found Papa Francoise, and it would be strange if he again escaped from his surveillance.
He had not counted upon the presence of a third, and even a fourth party, in paying his visit to the Francoises. And now, as the recumbent Franz began to move and to mutter, Van Vernet turned toward the pallet a keen and suspicious glance.
But never was there a more manifest combination of drowsiness and drunken stupidity than that displayed upon the face of Franz, as he raised himself upon the pallet and stared stupidly at the ebonied stranger.
Then a look of abject terror crept into his face, and he seemed making a powerful effort to rouse his drunken faculties. Slowly he rose from the pallet, and staggered to his feet, muttering some unintelligible words. Then, after a stealthy glance about the room, he turned and reeled toward the door.
As he approached, Van Vernet, still gazing steadfastly into his face, stepped aside, and at the instant Franz made a lurch in the same direction.
In another moment, – neither Papa nor Mamma could have told how it came about, – the two were upon the floor, Franz Francoise uppermost, his knees upon the breast of his antagonist!
As Van Vernet, who had fallen with one arm underneath him, made his first movement in self-defence, his ears were greeted by a warning hiss, and he felt the pressure of a keen-edged knife against his throat!
IN DURANCE VILE
This onslaught, so swift and unexpected, took Papa and Mamma completely by surprise, and, for the moment, threw even Vernet off his guard.
“Scoundrel!” he exclaimed, while the menacing knife pressed against his throat; “what does this mean?”
For answer, Franz shot a glance toward the two elder Francoises, and said in a hoarse, unnatural whisper:
“Deek the cove;1
Look at him.
[Çàêðûòü] he’s no dark lantern!”
“Eh!” from Papa, in a frightened gasp.
“Done!” from Mamma, in an angry hiss.
And then, as the two started forward, Vernet, realizing that this shrewd ruffian had somehow penetrated his disguise, gathered all his strength and began a fierce struggle for liberty.
As they writhed together upon the floor, Franz shot out another sentence, this time without turning his head.
“A dead act,” he hissed; “we’re copped to rights!”
Which, being rendered into English, meant: “Combine the attack; we are in danger of arrest.”
And then the struggle became a question of three to one.
Vernet fought valiantly, but he lay at last captive under the combined clutch of Papa and Franz, and menaced by the knife which Mamma, having snatched it from the hand of her hopeful son, held above his head.
Instinctively the two elder outlaws obeyed the few words of command that fell from the lips of their returned Prodigal; and in spite of his splendid resistance, Van Vernet was bound hand and foot, a prisoner in the power of the Francoises.
His clothing was torn and disarranged; his wig was all awry; and large patches of his sable complexion had transferred themselves from his countenance to the hands and garments of his captors.
“No dark lantern,” indeed. The natural white shone in spots through its ebony coating, and three people less fiercely in earnest than the Francoises would have gone wild with merriment, so ludicrous was the plight of the hapless detective.
“Now then,” began Franz, in a low gutteral that caused Mamma to start, and Papa to favor him with a stare of surprise; “now then, no tricks, my cornered cop. You may talk, but – ” and he glanced significantly from the knife in Mamma’s hand to the pistol now in his own, – “be careful about raising yer voice; you’ve got pals in the street, maybe. You may pipe to them, but, – ” with a click of the pistol, – “ye’re a dead man before they can lift a hoof!”
Vernet’s eyes blazed with wrath, but he maintained a scornful silence.
The three Francoises, without withdrawing their gaze from their prisoner, consulted in harsh whispers. It was a brief consultation, but it was long enough for Van Vernet to decide upon his course of action.
“Now then, my bogus dark lantern,” began Franz, who had evidently been chosen spokesman for the trio, “what’s yer business here?”
“Why don’t you begin at the beginning?” retorted Vernet, scornfully. “You have not asked who I am.”
“Umph; we’ll find out who ye air – when we want to. We know what ye air, and that’s enough for us just at present.”
“Might I be allowed to ask what you take me for?”
“Yes; a cop,” retorted Franz, decidedly. “Enough said on that score; now, what’s yer lay?”
“I suppose,” began Vernet, mockingly, “that you didn’t hear the little conversation between that nice old gent there and myself?”
“Look here,” said Franz, with an angry gesture, “don’t fool with me. Ef you’ve got any business with me, say so.”
“Don’t bully,” retorted Vernet, contemptuously. “You were not asleep when I entered this room.”
Franz seemed to hesitate and then said: “S’posin’ I wasn’t, wot’s that got to do with it?”
“If you were awake, you know my errand.”
“Look here, Mister Cop, – ” Franz handled his pistol as if strongly tempted to use it, – “we’d better come to an understandin’ pretty quick. I am kinder lookin’ for visits from chaps of your cloth. I come in here tired, and a little muddled maybe, and flop down to get a snooze. Somethin’ wakes me and I get up, to see – you. I’m on the lay for a ’spot,’ an’ I’ve seen too many nigs to be fooled by yer git-up. So I floor ye, an’ – here ye air. Now, what d’ye want with me?”
“My good fellow,” said Vernet, with an inconsequent laugh, “since you have defined your position, I may, perhaps, enable you to comprehend mine. Frankness for candor: First, then, I am not exactly a cop, as the word goes, but I am a – a sort of private enquirer.”
“A detective!” hissed Mamma; while Papa turned livid at the thought the word “detective” always suggested to his mind.
“A detective, if you like,” responded Vernet, coolly. “A private detective, be it understood. My belligerent friend, you may be badly wanted for something, and I hope you’ll be found by the right parties, but you’re not in my line. Just now you would be an elephant on my hands. You might be an ornament to Sing Sing or Auburn, if I had time to properly introduce you there, but I’ve no use for you. My business is with Papa Francoise here.”
Perhaps it was the address itself, or may be the incongruity of the haughty tone and the grotesque face of the speaker, that caused Franz Francoise to give rein to a sudden burst of merriment, the signs of which he seemed unable to suppress although no audible laughter escaped his lips. He turned, at last, toward Papa and gasped, as if fairly strangled with his own mirth:
“This kind and accommodatin’ gent, wot I’ve so misunderstood, has got business with ye, old top.”
Papa came slowly forward, his face expressive of fear rather than curiosity, followed by Mamma, fierce and watchful.
“You – you wanted me?” began Papa, hesitatingly.
“I have business with you, Papa Francoise. I want to talk with you privately, for your interest and mine, ahem.” He looked toward Franz, and seeing the stolidity of this individual, inquired: “Who is that gentleman?”
His enunciation of the last word probably excited the wrath of Franz, for he came a step nearer, with an aggressive sneer.
“My name’s Jimson, Mr. Cop, an’ I’m a friend of the family. Anything else ye want ter know?”
With a shrug of the shoulder, Vernet turned toward Papa once more.
“I’d like to speak with you alone, Papa Francoise,” he said significantly.
The mood of mocking insolence seemed deserting Franz, and a wrathful surliness manifested itself in the tone with which he addressed Papa.
“He’d like ter see ye alone, old Beelzebub, d’ye hear?”
Papa glanced hesitatingly from one to the other. He seemed to fear both the bound detective at his feet and the surly son who stood near him, with the menacing weapon in his hand, and growing rage and suspicion in his countenance.
Mamma’s quick eye noted the look of suspicion and she interposed.
“Ye can speak afore this gentleman, Mr. Cop; he’s a very intimate friend.”
A look of annoyance flashed in the eyes of Van Vernet. He hesitated a moment, and then said slowly:
“Does your intimate friend know anything about the affair that happened at your late residence near Rag alley, Papa Francoise?”
It was probably owing to the fact that the fumes of his recent potations were working still, with a secondary effect, and that from sleepy inertness he was passing to a state of unreasoning disputatiousness, that Franz, evidently by no means relieved at the transfer of Vernet’s attention from himself to Papa, seemed lashed into fury by the manner of the former.
“May be I know about that affair, and may be I don’t,” he retorted angrily. “Look here, coppy, you want to fly kind of light round me; I don’t like yer style.”
“I didn’t come here especially to fascinate you, so I am not inconsolable. I might mention, however, by way of continuing our charming frankness, that your style has not commended itself to me.” And Vernet emphasized his statement by a jerk of his fetters. “Now listen, my friends; I did not come here alone – half a dozen stout fellows are near at hand. If I do not return to them in five minutes more, you will see them here. If I call, you will see them sooner.”
Franz raised the revolver to his eye and squinted along the barrel.
“Why don’t you call, then?” he inquired.
“I don’t want to make a fuss. My errand is a peaceable one. Unbind me; give me ten minutes alone with Papa here, and I leave you, – you have nothing to fear from me.”
Franz shifted his position and seemed to hesitate.
“You can’t keep me, and you dare not kill me,” continued Vernet, noting the impression he had made. “All of you are in hiding from the police, and to kill an officer is conspicuous business – not like cracking the skull of a rag-picker, Papa Francoise. As for you, my lad, you’ve got a sort of State’s-prison air about you. I could almost fancy you a chap I saw behind the bars not long ago, serving out a long sentence.”
He paused to note the effect of his words, and was somewhat surprised to see Franz rest the revolver upon his knee, while he continued to gaze at him curiously.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî