Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
His eyes flashed, but she looked at him steadily. “Do you know who struck that blow?” he asked.
“To tell you would not add to your store of knowledge,” she retorted. “Have you more to say, Mr. Warburton?”
“More? yes. Who are these Francoises? What are they to you?”
Her answer came with slow deliberation. “They call themselves my father and mother.”
“It is true. I was adopted by the Ulimans. My husband and Mr. Follingsbee were aware of this. It seems that I was given to the Ulimans by these people.”
She had aimed this blow at his pride, but that pride was swallowed up by his consternation. As she watched his countenance, the surprise changed to incredulity, the incredulity to contempt. Then he said, dryly:
“Your story is excellent, but too improbable. Will you answer a few more questions?”
“On the night of the masquerade you received here, in your husband’s house, by appointment, a man disguised in woman’s apparel.”
“You admit it? Do you know how I effected my escape that night?”
“I do. A brave man came to your rescue.”
“Precisely; and this ‘brave man’, is the same who was present at the masquerade; is it not so?”
“Who is this man?”
“I decline to answer.”
“What is he to you, then?”
“What he is to all who know him: a brave, true man; a gentleman.”
“Hem! You have an exalted opinion of this – this gentleman.”
“And so should you have, since he saved your life, and what you value more, your reputation. And now listen: this same man has bidden me tell you, has bidden me warn you, that dangers surround you on every hand; that Van Vernet has traced the resemblance between you and the Sailor of that night; that he will hunt you down if possible. Your safety depends upon your success in baffling his efforts to identify you with that Sailor.”
“Your friend is very thoughtful,” he sneered.
She turned toward the door with an air of weariness.
“This is our last interview,” she said coldly; “have you more to say?”
He made a quick stride toward the door, and placing himself before it, let his enforced calmness fall from him like a mantle of snow from a statue of fire, with all his hatred and disgust concentrated in the low, metallic tones in which he addressed her.
“I have only this to say: Your plans, which as yet I only half comprehend, will fail utterly. You fancy, perhaps, that this snare, into which I have fallen, will fetter my hands and prevent me from undoing your work. I cannot give life to the victim whose death lies at your door, the husband who was slain by your sin, but I can rescue your later victim, if her life, too, has not been sacrificed. As for these two wretches, whose parental claim is a figment of your own imagination, and this lover, who is the abettor, possibly the instigator, of your crimes, I shall find him out – ”
“Stop,” she cried wildly, “I command you, stop!”
“Ah, that touches you! I repeat, I shall find him out.
To succeed, you should have concealed his existence as effectually as you have concealed poor little Daisy.”
A death-like pallor overspreads the face of the woman before him. She stretches out her arms imploringly, her form sways as if she were about to fall, and she utters a wailing cry.
“As I have concealed Daisy? Oh, my God; my God! I see! I understand! My weakness, my folly, has done its work. I have killed my husband! I have brought a curse upon little Daisy! I have endangered your life and honor! I conceal our Daisy? Hear me, Heaven; henceforth I am nameless, homeless, friendless, until I have found Daisy Warburton and restored her to you!”
Her voice died in a low wail. She makes a forward movement, and then falls headlong at the feet of her stern accuser. For the second time in all her life, Leslie Warburton has fainted.
One moment Alan Warburton stands looking down upon her, a cynical half smile upon his lips. Then he turns and pulls the bell.
“Mrs. Warburton is in a swoon,” he says to the servant who appears. “Call some one to her assistance.”
And without once glancing backward, he strides from the library.
ALAN “EVOLVES” A PLAN OF ACTION
Kind hands brought Leslie back to life, and to a new sense of pain, for even the hands that love us must sometimes hurt, when they hope to heal.
Every servant of the household loved its fair mistress. And while those who could, bustled to and fro, commanded by Winnie, each eager to minister to so kind a mistress, and those who were superfluous went about with anxious, sympathetic faces, Alan Warburton, the one unpitying soul in all that household, paced his room restlessly, troubled and anxious – not because of Leslie’s illness, but because of the revelation just received from her lips.
Could this thing be true? Had his brother Archibald, a Warburton of the Warburton’s – that family so old, so proud, so pure; that family whose men had always been gentlemen whom the world had delighted to honor; whose women had been queens of society, stately, high-bred, above reproach —could Archibald Warburton have made a mesalliance? And such a mesalliance! The daughter of a pair of street mendicants, social outlaws; an adventuress with no name, no lineage, no heritage save that of shame.
“Of all the notable things of earth
The queerest one is pride of birth.”
For the moment it outweighed his grief for Archibald, his anxiety for Daisy, his very humanity. Later on, he might be Warburton the friend, and the truest of friends; Warburton the lover, and the tenderest, the most chivalrous of lovers; Warburton the champion, as on the night when he rescued Leslie; but now he is only Warburton the aristocrat; the aristocrat, insulted, defied, betrayed; brought into contact with mystery, intrigue, base blood, and in his own household. Could he ever forgive Leslie Warburton? Would he, if he could?
He had accused her as the cause of his brother’s death, as the source of the mystery which overhung the fate of little Daisy; and in his heart of hearts he believed her guilty. And now, her daring, her cool effrontery, had made some hitherto mysterious movements plain. Her father and mother, those wretches who lived in a hovel, and smelled of the gutter! But she had betrayed herself. These people must be found at whatever hazard.
Thus meditating, he paced up and down, up and down. And before he finally ceased his restless journeyings to and fro, he had evolved a theory and a plan of action. A very natural theory it was, and a very magnanimous plan.
Having first catalogued Leslie as an adventuress, he endowed her, in his theory, with all the attributes of the adventuress of the orthodox school – cunning, crafty, avaricious, scheming for a fortune; unscrupulous, of course, and only differing from the average adventuress in that she was the cleverest and the most beautiful, as she had been the most successful of her kind.
“Granted that these two old wretches are her parents,” he reasoned, “the rest explains itself. They incite her to plot for their mutual welfare. She marries Archibald, and even I discern that she does not love him; but he is wealthy, and an invalid. Only one thing stands between her and an eventual fortune, and that is poor little Daisy. Possibly she may have still some tenderness of heart, and for a time Daisy is spared. But after a while, the mysterious goings and comings begin; the arrival of notes by strange messengers; and a new look dawns upon my sister-in-law’s fair face. Then comes the masquerade. A man is here, in this house, by appointment with her. He follows her to the abode of the Francoises and so do I. Who is this man? A gentleman, she tells me. Her lover, doubtless, and all is explained. With Archibald removed, what would stand between her lover and herself? With Daisy removed, she would possess both lover and fortune. And to remove Daisy was to remove Archibald. The shock would suffice. She planned all this deliberately; and on the night of the masquerade the Francoises aided her, and Daisy was stolen.”
Thus reasoned Alan. And then he formed his plans. He would spare Leslie all public disgrace, but she must cease to call herself a Warburton of the Warburtons. She must give up the family name, and go away from the city; far away, where no gossiping tongue could guess at her history, or connect her with the Warburtons. For Daisy’s sake, for his brother’s sake, for the honor of the name, she must go. She might take her fortune, left her by her deceived husband, but she must go.
“I will institute a search for the Francoises,” he muttered. “Everything must be done privately; there must be no scandal. If I require assistance, I can trust Follingsbee. I will see Leslie again, in the morning. I will make terms with her, haughty as she is, and – first of all she shall tell me the truth concerning Daisy.”
He was not unmindful of his own peril, not regardless for his own safety, but he was determined to know the truth concerning the disappearance of Daisy Warburton, and if need be, to face the attendant risk.
“I will write to the Chief of Police again,” he mused. “I must have additional help. But first, before writing, I will see her once more.”
And then he ceased his promenade for a moment, to strike his hands together and stare contemptuously at his image reflected from the mirror directly before him.
“Fool!” he muttered half aloud; “that letter, that scrawl which I gave back to her so stupidly! It contained their address. It would tell me where to find them, if I had it; and I will have it.”
In the anger and astonishment of the moment, he had returned the threatening note to Leslie, mechanically and without once glancing at the directions scrawled at the foot of the sheet.
While Alan paced and pondered, Leslie, having recovered from her swoon, went weakly and wearily to her own room, tenderly escorted by Winnie and the good-hearted, blundering Millie.
When she was comfortably established upon a couch, and the too solicitous Millie had been dismissed, Winnie’s indignation burst out in language exceedingly forcible, and by no means complimentary to Alan Warburton.
But Leslie stopped the flow of her eloquence by a nervous appealing gesture.
“Let us not discuss these things now, dear; I think I have been overtasked. I cannot talk; I must have quiet; I must rest.”
And then Winnie – denouncing herself for a selfish, careless creature with the same unsparing bitterness that, a moment before, she had lavished upon Alan, – assured herself that the curtains produced the proper degree of restful shadow, that the pillows were comfortably adjusted, that all Leslie could require was close at her hand, kissed her softly on either cheek, and tripped from the room.
Left alone, Leslie lay for many moments moveless and silent, but not sleeping. The softly-shaded stillness of the room acted upon her over-wrought nerves like a soothing spell. She had passed the boundaries of uncertainty. She had writhed, and wept, and shuddered under the torturing hands of Doubt and Fear, Terror, and Surprise. She had bowed down before Despair. But all that was past; and now she was calm and tearless, a brave soul that, having abandoned Hope, stands face to face with its Fate.
After a time she moved languidly, and then lifted herself slowly from among the pillows.
“Not to-night,” she murmured, lifting her hand to her head with a sigh of weariness. “I must have rest first.”
But she did not return to her pillows. Instead, she arose slowly, crossed the room, and drawing back the curtains let in, in a glowing flood, the last brightness of the afternoon sunshine. Then seating herself at a dainty writing-desk, she penned three notes, with a hand that moved slowly but with no unsteadiness.
The first was addressed to Mr. Follingsbee; the second to Mrs. French, the mother of Winnie; and the third to Winnie herself.
When the notes were done, she still sat before the desk, watching the fading-out of the golden sunlight with a far away look in her eyes. She sat thus until the last ray had died in the West, and the twilight came creeping on grey and shadowy.
Some one was knocking at the drawing-room door. She arose slowly to admit the visitor. It was Alan’s valet, with a twisted note in his hand.
Leslie took the note, and bidding the servant wait, she returned to the inner room.
As you manifested no hesitation in exhibiting to me the note received by you this morning, you will, I trust, not object to my giving it a second perusal. Please send it me by bearer of this. I will return it promptly.
This is what Leslie read, and when she had finished, she took from her pocket the crumpled note of the Francoises. Over this she bent her head for a moment, murmured something half aloud, as if to impress it on her memory, and went back to the dressing-room with the two papers in her hand.
Going slowly toward the grate, she stirred the smouldering fire until it sent up a bright blaze, and with another glance at the crumpled note, she dropped it upon the glowing coals, and watched it crumble to ashes. Then she turned toward the valet, folding and twisting his master’s note back into its original shape as she advanced.
“Return this to your master,” she said, “and tell him that the paper he asks for has been destroyed.”
As the valet turned away, she closed the door and went back to the grate.
“Alan Warburton has canceled my debt to him with an insult,” she murmured, with a cold smile upon her lips. “From this moment he has no part in my existence.”
ALAN BEGINS HIS GAME
Baffled in this first attempt to obtain the desired information, Alan sets his lips firmly, and plans a new mode of attack. And in the morning he made a second effort.
Going down to his lately-deserted study, shuddering with a little fastidious chill as he made his way across the darkened room and noted the stale atmosphere; frowning, too, when he drew back a heavy curtain and observed that there was dust upon his cabinets, and that motes were swimming in the streak of light that came through the parted curtains he rang his bell and sent for Millie.
She came promptly, courtesying demurely, and seemingly keeping in her mind Leslie’s instructions, “to listen, to obey, and to keep silence.”
“Millie,” said Alan, with just a shade of patronage in his tone, “go to Mrs. Warburton, and ask her if she will receive me for a few moments this morning. Tell her that it is a matter of business.”
Millie dropped another courtesy, and silently departed with her message, proudly conscious that she had, on this occasion at least, deported herself like a proper servant. And Alan returned to the window, where the light streamed in, and the motes drifted lazily up and down in its rays.
This study was situated at the end of a wing, the front windows opening upon a well-kept lawn, but the side window, at which Alan stood, directly overlooking a by-street, quite narrow and lined with rows of shade trees.
For a few moments Alan stood looking down into this quiet street. Then with an impatient movement, he turned his gaze inward. It fell first upon a tall cabinet which stood near the window, and was partially lighted up by it.
Again he noted the dust upon its panels with a frown of discontent, and then he moved toward it, opening one of the doors with a sort of aimless restlessness peculiar to people who wait impatiently, yet delude themselves with the belief that they are models of calm deliberation.
It was a deep cabinet, richly lined with embossed velvet of a glowing crimson hue, and studded with hooks and brazen brackets, which supported a splendid collection of arms that gleamed at you in cold, cruel, brilliant relief from their gorgeous background.
There were highly polished, elegantly finished modern rifles, rare pieces of home and foreign workmanship; there were blood-thirsty duelling pistols; Damascus blades; light, jaunty French foils; Italian stillettoes; German student-swords; and a heavy, piratical-looking cutlass. In the midst of them all, a group of splendid Toledo swords, beautiful in design and workmanship, were suspended.
As his eye rested upon this group, Alan’s face lost its frown of annoyance and took on a look of profound sorrow, while a heavy sigh escaped his lips. They had been gifts from Archibald, years before, when the two had made a foreign tour – Alan’s first and Archibald’s last – together.
Gazing upon these souvenirs, his mind went back to the old days of his student-life, and his brother’s companionship. At the sound of approaching footsteps, he recalled himself with a start, pushed the door of the cabinet from him with a hasty movement which left it half unclosed, and turned toward Millie, who entered as demurely as before, closely followed by a footman, who presented to Alan an official-looking letter.
Taking the missive from the salver, Alan dismissed the man and then turned to the girl.
“Mrs. Warburton says, sir, that she can not leave her room this morning, but hopes to be able to do so this afternoon.”
“Very well, Millie;” – the frown returning to his face – “you may go.” And he muttered: “I suppose that means that she will condescend to receive me this afternoon. Well, I must bide my time.”
He returned to the window, and standing near it, looked curiously at the envelope in his hand. It was addressed in bold, scrawling characters that were, spite of their boldness, almost illegible. Slowly he opened it, and slowly removed the sheet it enclosed.
“What a wretched scrawl!” he muttered. And then, with a glance at the printed letter-head, “Office of the Chief of Police:” “That’s legible, at all events. It’s from – from – hum, strange that a man can’t write his own name – B – B – C – of course, it’s from the Chief of Police.”
Slowly and laboriously, he deciphered the letter.
A. Warburton. etc.
Dear Sir: – We have just secured, for your case, a very valuable man, Mr. Augustus Grip, late of Scotland Yards. He is an able and most successful detective; we hope much from him. Have already instructed him to extent of our ability, and he will wait upon you personally this P. M., between, say, three and four o’clock. You will do well to give Mr. G – full latitude in the case.
Very respectfully, etc.
This much Alan slowly deciphered, and this gave the key to the unreadable signature. It was from the Chief of Police, evidently.
Alan reperused the letter, and slowly returned it to its envelope.
“This comes at the right moment,” he soliloquized. “If this Grip is what he is said to be, he may save me in more ways than one.”
And once more he summoned a servant, and gave these instructions:
“See that this room is thoroughly aired and set in order before three o’clock;” adding, as the servant was turning away: “Show a person who will call here after that hour, into this room, and then bring me his name.”
In the arrival of such a message, at that precise moment, there was, to Alan Warburton, no occasion for surprise. From the first he had communicated with the officers of the law by letter, or by quiet interviews held in his own apartments.
He was fully alive to the fact that, in dealing with the police, he was himself in momentary danger. But having resolved, from the beginning, to make his own safety and welfare secondary to that of little Daisy, he had been strengthened and confirmed in this resolve by his recent interview with Leslie. And now, in his dogged determination to find the Francoises, he vowed to sacrifice, if need be, his entire fortune, and accept any attendant danger, in prosecuting a vigorous search for these old wretches, and the missing child.
His brother’s illness and death had furnished him with a sufficient reason for living secluded, and for receiving such business callers as he chose to admit, in his own apartments. Only this morning he had dispatched a missive to police headquarters, desiring the Chief to secure the services of the best detectives at any cost, and to send to him for instructions or consultation, representing himself as confined to the house by slight indisposition.
He hated a falsehood, but, as he penned this fabrication, he had thrown the moral responsibility of the act upon the already heavily burdened shoulders of his sister-in-law.
And now, as he went slowly from the study, he looked forward anxiously, but not apprehensively, to the two coming interviews: the first, with Leslie; the second, with Mr. Grip, of Scotland Yards.
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