Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Vernet had made, or intended to make, a sharp home thrust. In searching out the history of the Francoises, he had stumbled upon the fact that they had a son in prison; and the mutterings of Franz, while he lay upon the pallet, coupled with the fact that Franz and Papa wore upon their heads locks of the same fiery hue, had awakened in his mind a strong suspicion.
“Maybe ye might take a fancy ter think I’m that same feller,” suggested Franz, after a moment’s silence. “What then?”
“Then,” replied Vernet, “every moment that you detain me here increases your own danger.”
“Humph!” grunted Franz, as he rose and crossing to Mamma’s side, began with her a whispered conversation.
Vernet watched them curiously for a moment, and then turned his face toward Papa.
“Look here, Francoise,” he began, somewhat sternly, considering his position; “I’ve been looking for you ever since you left the old place, and I’m disposed to be friendly. Now, I may as well tell you that there is a rumor afloat, to the effect that your son, who was ‘sent up’ years ago, has lately broke jail, and that you harbor him. That does not concern me, however. This insolent fellow, if he is or is not your son, may go, so far as I am concerned, and no harm shall come to him or you through me. What I want of you, is a bit of information.”
From the moment of his capture, Vernet had believed himself equal to the situation. Even now he scarcely felt that these people would dare to do him bodily injury. As may readily be surmised, his talk of confederates near at hand was all fiction. He had sought out Papa Francoise hoping to win from him something that would criminate Alan Warburton, and to use him as a tool. To arrest Papa might frustrate his own schemes, and, in the double game he was playing, Van Vernet was too wise to call upon the police for assistance or protection.
“You want – information?” queried Papa; “what about?”
Vernet hesitated, and then said slowly:
“I want to know all that you can tell me about the Sailor who killed Josef Siebel.”
Papa gasped, stammered, and turned his face toward Franz, who now came forward, saying fiercely:
“Look here, my fly cop, afore ye ask any more important questions, just answer a few.”
“Take care, jail bird!” cried Vernet, enraged at his persistent interference, “or I may give the police a chance to ask you a question too many!”
“Ye’ve got to git out of my clutches first,” hissed Franz Francoise, “and yer chances fer that are slim!”
As the young ruffian bent close to him, Vernet, for the first time, fully realized his danger. But his cry for help was smothered by the hands of his captor, and in another moment he was gagged by the expeditious fingers of the old woman, and his head and face closely muffled in a dirty cloth from the nearest pallet.
“There,” said Mamma, rising from her knees with a grin of triumph, “we’ve got him fast. Open the door, old man, he’s going into the closet for – ”
“For a little while,” put in Franz, significantly.
Into a rear room, across this, and into the dark hole, which Mamma had dignified by the name of closet, they carried their luckless prisoner, bound beyond hope of self-deliverance, gagged almost to suffocation, his eyes blinded to any ray of light, his ears muffled to any sound that might penetrate his dungeon.
FRANZ FRANCOISE’S GENERALSHIP
When the three had returned to the outer room, Papa turned anxiously toward his hopeful son.
“Franz, my boy,” he began, in a quavering voice, “if there should be cops outside – ”
“Ye’re the same whinin’ old coward, ain’t ye?” commented Franz, as he favored his father with a contemptuous glance.
“I’ve seen a good many bad eggs, but blow me if I ever seed one like ye! Why, in the name o’ blazes, air ye more afraid of a cop than you’d be o’ the hangman?”
The mention of this last-named public benefactor, caused Papa to shiver violently, and Mamma bent upon him a look of scorn.
“Don’t be an idiot, Francoise,” she said, sharply. “We’ve got somethin’ to do besides shakin’ an’ shiverin’?”
“Time enough ter shiver when the hangman gits ye,” added Franz, reassuringly. “But ye needn’t fret about cops – I ain’t no baby; there ain’t no backers outside.”
“But, Franzy, – ” began Papa.
“Shet up; I’m runnin’ this. If there’d a-been any help outside, we wouldn’t a-had it so easy, you old fool! That cove in there ain’t no coward; he’d a taken the chances with us, and blowed his horn when we first tackled him, if there’d been help handy.”
“Ah, what a brain the boy has got!” murmured Mamma, with rapturous pride.
“Look a-here,” said Franz, after a moment’s consideration, “I’m satisfied that there ain’t no cops about; but to set yer mind at rest, old un, so that you kin use it ter help git to the bottom of this business, I’ll go and take a look around, and I’ll be back in jest five minutes.” And he made a quick stride toward the door.
“Now, Franzy, – ” began Mamma, coaxingly.
But he waved her back, saying: “Shut up, old woman; I’m runnin’ this,” and went swiftly out.
When the sound of his retreating footsteps was lost to their ears, Papa and Mamma drew close together, and looked into each others’ faces – he anxiously, she with a leer of shrewd significance.
“Old man,” she said, impressively, “that boy’ll be the makin’ of us – if we don’t let him git us down.”
“He’s got your cunnin’ an’ mine together, and he’s got all the grit you lack.”
“But he’ll want to run us. An’ when he knows all we know, he’d put his foot on us if we git in his way.”
“Yes,” assented the old man, with a cunning wink, “he’s like his ma – considerable.”
“On account o’ this here cop business,” went on Mamma, ignoring the thrust, “he’ll have to be told a little about that Siebel affair. But about the rest – not a word. We kin run the other business without his assistance. Franzy’s a fine boy, an’ I’m proud of him, but ’twon’t do, as I told you afore, to give him too much power. I know the lad.”
“Yes,” insinuated Papa, with a dry cough, “I reckon you do.”
“Ye kin see by the way he took the lead to-night, that he won’t play no second part. We’ll have to tell him about Siebel – ”
“An’ about Nance.”
“It’s the same thing; an’ ye’ll see what he does when we give him an idea about it.”
“I know what he’ll do;” with a crafty wink. “I’ll tell him all about Nance.”
“Yes,” muttered the old woman, “ye’re good at lyin’, and all the sneakin’ dodges.”
And she turned upon her heel, and went over to the pallet where Nance, undisturbed by the events transpiring around her, still lay as she had fallen in her drunken stupor.
“There’s another thing,” said Mamma, apparently satisfied with her survey of the unconscious girl, and returning to Papa as she spoke. “We’ve got to git out of here, of course, as soon as we’ve settled that spy in there.”
“We’d a-had to git out anyhow,” muttered Papa, “on account of that charity minx. Yes, we will; an’ we hain’t heard from her. You’ll have to visit her agin.”
“I s’pose so. An’ when I do – that cop’s comin’ has given me an idea – I’ll bring her to time.”
Mamma leaned toward him, and touched his shoulder with her bony forefinger.
“Just as that cop ’ud have brought you to time, if it hadn’t been for Franzy’s comin’.”
Over Papa’s wizened face a look of startled intelligence slowly spread itself.
“Old woman,” he ejaculated, “Satan himself wouldn’t a-thought of that! The devil will be proud of ye, someday. But Franzy mustn’t see the gal.”
“I’ll manage that,” said Mamma. “It’s risky, but it’s the only way; I’ll manage it.”
They had heard no sound, although as they talked they also listened, but while the last words yet lingered on the old woman’s lips, the door suddenly opened and Franz entered.
“There’s no danger,” he said, closing the door and securing it carefully. “Ye kin breathe easy, old top; we’re a good deal safer jest now than our ‘dark lantern’ in there,” and he nodded toward the inner room.
“Then,” put in Mamma, “while we’re safe, we’d better make him safe.”
“Don’t git in a hurry, old un; we want a better understandin’ afore we tackle his case. Come, old rook, git up here, an’ let’s take our bearings.”
He perched himself upon the rickety table, and Papa and Mamma drew the stools up close and seated themselves thereon.
“Now then,” began Franz, “who did yon nipped cove come here to see, you or me, old un? He ’pears to know a little about us both.”
“Yes,” assented Papa, “so he does.”
“What he knows about me, I reckon he told,” resumed Franz. “Now, what’s the killin’ affair mentioned?”
Papa seemed to ponder a moment, and then lifted his eyes to his son’s face with a look of bland ingenuousness.
“It’s a kind of delicate affair, my boy,” he began, in a tone of confidential frankness, “but ’twon’t do for us to have secrets from each other – will it, old woman?”
“No,” said Mamma; “Franzy’s our right hand now. You ort to tell him all about it.”
“Oh, git along,” burst in Franz. “Give us the racket, an’ cut it mighty short – time enough for pertikelers later.”
“Quite right, my boy,” said Papa, briskly. “Well, here it is: I – I’m wanted, for a witness, in a – a murder case.”
“Oh,” groaned Franz, in tones of exaggerated grief, “my heart is broke!”
“You needn’t laugh, Franzy,” remonstrated Papa, aggrieved. “It’s the business I was tellin’ you about – at the other place, you know.”
“Well, see here, old un, my head’s been considerable mixed to-night; seems to me ye did tell me a yarn, but tell it agin.”
“Why, there’s not much of it. We was doing well; I bought rags an’ – an’ things.”
“Rags an’ things – oh, yes!”
“An’ we was very comfortable. But one night – ” and Papa turned his eyes toward Mamma, as if expecting her to confirm all that he said – “one night, when there was a number there, a fight broke out. We was in another room, the old woman an’ me, – ”
“Yes,” interjected Mamma, “we was.”
“An’ we ran in, an’ tried to stop the fight.”
Mamma nodded approvingly.
“But we wasn’t strong enough. Before we could see who did it, a man was killed. And in a minute we heard the police coming. Before they got there, we had all left, and they found no one but the dead man to arrest. Ever since, they’ve been tryin’ to find out who did the killin’.”
“Um!” grunted Franz, “and did you tell me they had arrested somebody?”
“No, my boy. They caught one fellow, a sailor, but he got away.”
“Oh, he got away. How many was there, at the time of the killin’?”
“There were three in the room, besides the man that was killed, and there was the old woman and me in the next room.”
“You forgit,” interrupts Mamma, “there was Nance.”
“Oh, yes,” rejoined Papa, as if grateful for the correction, “there was Nance.”
Franz glanced over his shoulder at the sleeping girl, and then asked sharply: “And what was Nance doin’.”
“Nance was layin’ on a pile o’ rags in a corner,” broke in Mamma, “an’ I had to drag her out.”
Franz gave utterance to something between a grunt and a chuckle.
“So you dragged her out, did ye? ’Tain’t exactly in your line neither, doin’ that sort o’ thing. Ye must a-thought that gal worth savin’.”
“She ain’t worth savin’ now,” broke in Papa, hastily. “She’s a stone around our necks.”
“That’s a fact,” said Mamma. “An’ it’s all in consequence of that white-faced charity tramp’s meddlin’ we’ve got to get out of here, an’ we’ll be tracked wherever we go by that drunken gal’s bein’ along.”
“Well, ye ain’t obliged ter take her, are ye?” queried Franz, as if this part of the subject rather bored him. “Your keepin’ her looks all rot to me. She ain’t good for nothin’ that I kin see, only to spoil good whiskey.”
Papa and Mamma exchanged glances, and then Papa said:
“Jest so, my boy; she spoils good whiskey, but she’s safer so than without it. We kin afford to keep her better than we kin afford to turn her loose.”
“D’ye mean ter say,” queried Franz, “that if that gal knew anything, she’d know too much?”
“That’s about it, my boy.”
Franz gave vent to a low whistle. “So,” he said; “an’ that’s why ye keep her full o’ drugged liquor, eh? I’ll lay a pipe that’s the old woman’s scheme. Have I hit the mark, say?”
“Yes, my boy.”
“Then what the dickens are ye mincin’ about? Why don’t ye settle the gal afore we pad?”
“Easy, my boy, easy,” remonstrates Papa.
“Just wot I say, Franz,” puts in Mamma. “When we leave here, it won’t be safe for us to take her – nor for you, either.”
“Safe!” cried Franz, springing from the table with excited manner; “safe! It ’ud be ruination! Afore to-morrow we must be out o’ this. I ain’t goin’ to run no chances. If ’twas safe to turn her loose, I’d say do it. I don’t believe in extinguishin’ anybody when ’tain’t necessary; but when ’tis, why – ” He finishes the sentence with a significant gesture.
“But, Franz – ” begins Mamma, making a feint at remonstrance.
“You shet up!” he exclaims; “I’m runnin’ this. The gal’s been tried an’ condemned – jest leave her to me, an’ pass on to the next pint. Have ye got a hen-roost handy?”
“D’ye think we’re in our dotage, Franzy,” said Papa plaintively, “that ye ask us such a question? Did ye ever know us to be without two perches?”
“Well, is it safe, then?”
“If we kin git there without bein’ tracked, it’s safe enough.”
“Well,” said Franz, “we kin do that ef we git an early start, afore our prisoner is missed. As soon as it’s still enough, an’ late enough, we’ll mizzle.”
“Wot’s yer plan, Franzy?”
“Easy as a, b, c. You an’ the old woman lead the way, ter make sure that there won’t be nobody ter bother me, when I come after with the gal.”
“With the gal?”
“Yes; ye don’t want ter leave a dead gal here, do ye? Ye might be wanted agin, fer a witness.”
Papa winced and was silent.
“But, Franz, – ” expostulated Mamma.
“You shet up! I’m no chicken.” And Franz drew his dirk and ran his finger along the keen edge. “Here’s my plan: You two give me the bearings of the new hen-roost, an’ then start out, keepin’ a little ahead, an’ goin’ toward the drink. I’ll rouse up the gal an’ boost her along, keepin’ close enough to ye to have ye on hand, to prove that I’m takin’ home my drunken sister if any one asks questions. When we get near the drink, you’ll be likely to miss me.”
“An’ after a while I may overtake ye, somewhere about hen-roost, alone!”
“Oh,” said Mamma, “you’ll finish the job in the drink?”
“I’ll finish with the drink but I’ll begin with this.” And he poised the naked dagger above Mamma’s head with a gesture full of significance.
“But the other,” said Papa, with nervous eagerness; “what shall we do with him?”
“The other,” replied Franz, slowly putting away his knife, “we will leave here.”
“What!” screamed Mamma.
“But – ” objected Papa.
“Are ye a pack o’ fools after all?” snarled Franz. “A dead cop’ll make us more trouble than a livin’ one. Ye kin kill ten ordinary mortals an’ be safer than if ye kill one cop. Kill ten men, they detail a squad to hunt ye up mebby. Kill one peeler, an’ you’ve got the whole police force agin ye. No, sir; we bring him out o’ that closet, and leave him ter take his chances. Before morning, we’ll be where he can’t track us; and somebody’ll let him loose by to-morrow. He’ll have plenty o’ time to meditate, and mebby it’ll do him good.”
There was a look of dissatisfaction in Mamma’s eyes; and Papa’s assent was feeble. But already this strong-willed ruffian had gained an ascendency over them, and his promptitude in taking Nance so completely off their hands, assured them that it would not be well to cross him.
Nevertheless, as they made their preparations for a midnight flitting, Papa and Mamma, unseen by Franz, exchanged more than one significant glance.
It was past midnight when the muffled figures of Papa and Mamma Francoise emerged stealthily from the tenement house, and took their way toward the river. Now and then they looked anxiously back, and constantly kept watch to the right and left.
A little way behind them, two other figures followed; the man half supporting, half dragging, a reeling, stupefied girl, and urging her along by alternate coaxing and threats.
Franz and Nance, poor Nance, going – whither?
Keeping the same path, and always the same brief space between them, the four moved onward until they were almost at the river. Then, in obedience to a low whistle, Papa and Mamma turned, passed the other two, and retraced their steps swiftly and silently.
When they had gone by, Franz Francoise turned and looked after them until their figures had vanished in the darkness.
Then he seized the arm of his companion, and hurried her around the nearest corner and on through the gloom; on till the river was full in sight.
Meanwhile Van Vernet, having been brought out from his closet-prison, lay upon the floor of the inner room at the lately-deserted Francoise abode, still bound, and gagged almost to suffocation, while, to make his isolation yet more impressive, Mamma had tied a dirty rag tightly about his eyes.
Left in doubt as to the fate that awaited him – unable to move, to see, or to use his voice, – Van Vernet lay as helplessly ensnared as if he were the veriest dullard and bungler, instead of the shrewdest and most daring member of the force.
They had transferred him from the closet to his present position in profound silence. He knew that they were moving about stealthily – he could guess, from the fact that but one door had been opened, and from the short distance they had borne him, that he was in the inner instead of the outer room – he had heard them moving about in the next room, and had caught the murmur of their voices as they engaged in what seemed a sharp dispute, carried on in guarded tones – then slower movements, sharp whispers, and finally retreating footsteps, and the careful opening and closing of a door.
After this, only silence.
Surrounded by the silence and darkness, Van Vernet could only think. What were their intentions? Where had they gone? Would they come back?
Bound and helpless as he was, and menaced by what form of danger he knew not, his heart still beat regularly, his head was cool, his brain clear.
“They dare not kill me,” he thought, “for they can’t bury me handily, and are too far from the river. They’d have to leave my body here and decamp, and they’re too shrewd thus to fasten the crime upon themselves. I wish I knew their plans.”
By and by, as the silence continued, he began to struggle; not with his bonds, for he knew that to be useless, but in an effort to propel himself about the room.
Slowly, with cautious feeling of his way, by bringing his head or feet first into contact with the new space to be explored, he made the circuit of the room; rolling from side to side across the dusty floor, bringing himself up sharply against the walls on either side, in the hope of finding anything – a hook, a nail, a projecting bit of wood – against which he might rub his head, hoping thus to remove the bandage from his eyes, perhaps the gag from his mouth.
But his efforts were without reward. The room was bare. Not a box, not a bit of wood, not a projecting hook or nail; only a few scattering rags which, as he rolled among them, baptized him with a cloud of dust and reminded him, by their offensive odor, of the foul cellar in Papa Francoise’s deserted K – street abode.
There was nothing in the room to help him. It was useless to try to liberate himself. And he lay supine once more, cursing the Fate that had led him into such a trap; and cursing more than all the officious, presumptuous meddler, the jail-bird and ruffian, who had thus entrapped him, Van Vernet.
“If I escape,” he assured himself, “and I will escape, I’ll hunt that man down! I’ll put him behind the bars again if, to do it, I have to renounce the prospect of a double fortune! But I won’t renounce it,” thought this hopeful prisoner. “When I find them again, and I will find them, I’ll first capture this convict son, and then use him to extort the truth from those old pirates – the truth concerning their connection with Alan Warburton, aristocrat. And when I have that truth, the high and mighty Warburton will learn what it costs him to send a black servant to dictate to Van Vernet!”
Easily conceived, this pretty scheme for the future, but its execution depends upon the liberation of Van Vernet and, just now, that seems an improbable thing.
Moments pass away. They seem like hours to the helpless prisoner; they have fitted themselves into one long hour before the silence is broken.
Then he hears, for all his shut-up faculties seemed to have merged themselves into hearing, a slight, a very slight sound in the outer room. The door has opened, some one is entering. More muffled sounds, and Vernet knows that some one is creeping toward the inner room. Slowly, with the least possible noise, that door also opens. He hears low whispering, and then realizes that two persons approach him. Are they foes or friends? Oh, for the use of his eyes – for the power to speak!
Presently hands touch him. Ah, they are about to liberate him; but why so silent?
They are dexterous, swift-moving hands; but his fetters remain, while the swift hands work on.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî