Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“WE TWO WILL MEET AGAIN.”
There may have been times in Alan Warburton’s life – such times come to most fastidious city-bred people – when he doubted the wisdom of Providence in permitting the “street musician” to inherit the earth, and, especially to transport so much of his “heritage,” wheresoever he might go, upon his person. But to-day, for the first time, he fancies that he sees some reason for the existence of the species, and he finds himself looking down almost complacently upon the crouching minstrel who has lawlessly invaded the sanctity of his splendid cabinet.
This strange intruder has brought him at least a respite; and he breathes a sigh of relief even as he asks sternly:
“Fellow, how long have you been hiding in that cabinet?”
But the culprit is once more a mute; again the pathetic look is in his eyes, and with Grip’s hand still clutching his shoulder, he begins a terrified pantomime.
“Bah!” says Mr. Grip, pushing his prisoner away contemptuously, “that won’t wash. You ain’t deaf – not much; nor dumb, neither. Answer me,” giving him a rough shake, “how came you here?”
There is no sign that the fellow hears or understands; he continues to gesticulate wildly.
Mr. Grip releases his hold, and bends upon Alan a look of impatience. In a moment, the organ-grinder bounds to the cabinet and, dragging forth his organ, turns back, displaying it and slinging it across his shoulder with grimaces of triumph.
“That won’t go down, either,” snarls Mr. Grip. “Put that thing on the floor, presto!”
But the minstrel only grins with delight, and throwing himself into an attitude, begins to grind out a doleful air. With an angry growl, Mr. Grip makes a movement toward him. But the organist retreats as he advances, and the doleful tune goes on.
It is a ludicrous picture, and Alan smiles in spite of himself, even while he wishes that Leslie would come now, – now, while he might warn her; now, while Mr. Augustus Grip, in his pursuit of the intruding musician, has put the width of the room between himself and his chosen place of concealment.
But Leslie does not come. And Mr. Grip’s next remark shows that he has not forgotten himself. With a sudden movement, he wrests the organ from the hands of its manipulator, and converting the strap of the instrument into a very serviceable lasso, brings the fellow down upon his knees with a quick, dexterous throw, and holding him firmly thus, says over his shoulder, to Alan:
“This is a fine thing to happen just now! The fellow must be got out of the way, and kept safe until I have time to discover his racket. He’s not such a fool as he looks. Can’t you get in a policeman quietly? We don’t want any servants to gossip over it, or to see me.”
Alan turns his face toward the closet. “Can’t we lock him up again?” he suggests.
“My dear sir,” says Grip coolly, “this fellow is probably a spy.”
“What!” Alan starts, and turns a sharp glance upon the organ-grinder.
Then he seems to recover all his calmness and says quietly, “nonsense; look at that stolid countenance.”
“Umph!” mutters Grip; “too much hair and dirt.” Then turning toward the side window: “I intend to satisfy myself about this fellow later. Get in a policeman somehow; try the window.”
As Alan goes toward the window, the organ-grinder seeming in a state of utter collapse, and making no effort to free himself from the grasp of Mr. Grip, still crouches beside his organ, and begins anew his pleading, terrified pantomine.
“Ah,” says Alan, as the window yields to his touch, “this window must have been the place where he entered.” Then, after a prolonged look up and down the street: “I don’t see an officer anywhere.”
“No; I presume not. Try the other windows.”
“The other windows, Mr. Grip, look out upon the grounds.”
“Perdition! Keep quiet, you fellow. Then shut that window, sir, and come and guard this door; the lady may present herself at any moment.”
Alan turns again, and looks down into the street.
“I think,” he says, quietly, “that we will just drop him back into the street whence he came.”
“You seem to want this fellow to escape,” snarls the detective, casting upon Alan a glance of suspicion. “He shall not escape; I’ll take care of him!”
At this moment the door of the study flies suddenly open, and Millie, breathless and with eyes distended, precipitates herself into the room.
“Mr. Alan,” she pants, without pausing to note the other occupants of the room; “we can’t find Mrs. Warburton; she is not in the house!”
“What!” Alan strides toward her in unfeigned astonishment.
“Ah-h-h!” Mr. Grip turns swiftly, and his single syllable is as full of meaning as is his face of derision, and suspicion confirmed.
“Impossible, Millie,” says Alan sharply; “go to Miss French – ”
“I did, sir, and she is – ”
She pauses abruptly, for there in the doorway is Winnie French, pale and tearful, an open letter in her hand.
“Read that, sir,” she says, going straight up to Alan and extending to him the letter. “See what your cruelty has done. Leslie Warburton is gone!”
This time Grip and Alan both utter the word, both start forward.
For just one moment the hand that clutches the collar of the organ-grinder relaxes its hold, but that moment is enough. With amazing agility, and seemingly by one movement, the prisoner has freed himself and is on his feet. In another second, by a clever wrestler’s man?uvre, he has thrown Mr. Grip headlong upon the floor. And then, before the others can realize his intentions, he has bounded to the open window, and flung himself out, as easily and as carelessly as would a cat.
But Mr. Grip, discomfited for the moment, is not wanting in alertness. He is on his feet before the man has cleared the window. He bounds toward it, and drawing a small revolver, fires after the fugitive – once – twice.
“Stop!” It is Alan Warburton’s voice, stern and ringing. He has seized the pistol arm, and holds it in a grasp that Mr. Grip finds difficult to release.
“Hands off!” cries Grip, now hoarse with rage. “That man’s a spy!”
“No matter; we will have no more shooting.”
“We!” struggling to release his arm from Alan’s firm grasp; “who are you that – ”
“I am master here, sir.”
With an angry hiss, the detective from Scotland Yards throws himself upon Alan, and they engage in a fierce struggle. But Alan Warburton is something more than a ball-room hero; he is an adept in the manly sports, and fully a match for Mr. Grip.
Panting and terrified, Winnie and Millie stand together near the door; and the eyes of the latter damsel wander from the combatants near the window, to something that has fallen close at her feet, and that lies half hidden by the folds of her dress.
But disaster has befallen Mr. Grip. While they wrestle, Alan’s quick eye has detected something that looks like a displacement of Mr. Grip’s cranium, and with a sudden, dexterous, upward movement, he solves the mystery. There is an exclamation of surprise, another of anger, and the two combatants stand apart, both gazing down at the thing lying on the floor between them.
It is a wig of curling auburn hair, and it leaves the head of Mr. Grip quite a different head in shape, in size, in height of forehead, and in general expression!
“So,” sneers Alan, “Mr. Grip, of Scotland Yards, saw fit to visit me in disguise. Is your name as easily altered as your face, sir?”
The discomfited wrestler stoops down, and picking up his wig adjusts it carefully on his head once more; bends again to take up his fallen pistol; lifts his hat from a chair, and returns to the window.
“My name is not Augustus Grip,” he says coolly. “Neither will you find me by inquiring at police headquarters. But you and I will meet again, Mr. Warburton.”
And without unseemly haste, he places his hand upon the window-sill, swings himself over the ledge, resting his feet upon the iron railings, and drops down upon the pavement.
By this time some people have collected outside, attracted by the pistol-shots. Two laggard policemen are hastening down the street. A group of servants are whispering and consulting anxiously in the hall, and cautiously peeping in at the study door.
The coolness of the false Mr. Grip takes him safely past the group of inquiring ones.
“It was a sneak thief,” he explains, as he leaps down among them. “Don’t detain me, friends; I must report this affair at police headquarters.”
A few quick strides take him across the street to where a carriage stands in waiting. He enters it, and in a moment more, Mr. Grip and carriage have whirled out of sight.
“I’d give a hundred dollars to know what that fellow was in hiding for,” he mused, as the carriage rolled swiftly along. “Could he have been put there by Warburton? But no – Confound that Warburton, I’ll humble his pride before we cry quits, or my name is not Van Vernet!”
But Vernet little dreamed that he had that day aimed a bullet at the life of a brother detective; that his disguise had been penetrated and his plans frustrated, by Richard Stanhope!
If Van Vernet had been thwarted, in a measure, Richard Stanhope had been no less baffled.
Each had succeeded partially, and each had beaten a too hasty and altogether unsatisfactory retreat.
Van Vernet had planned well. By keeping himself informed as to the doings at police headquarters, he had been aware of all the efforts there being made in the search for the missing child. He found it quite easy to possess himself of a sheet and envelope bearing the official stamp; and by writing his spurious letter in a most unreadable scrawl, and ending with a signature positively undecipherable, he had guarded himself against dangerous consequences should a charge of forgery, by any mischance, be preferred against him. The disguise was a mere bit of child’s play to Van Vernet, and the rest “went by itself”.
His object in thus entering the Warburton house was, first, to see Alan Warburton; study his face and hear his voice; to satisfy himself, as far as possible, as to the feud, or seeming feud, between Alan and his brother’s wife – for since the day on which he had discovered, and he had taken pains since to confirm this discovery, that the six-foot masker who had personated Archibald Warburton was not Archibald Warburton, but his brother Alan, Van Vernet had harbored many vague suspicions concerning the family and its mysteries. He had also hoped to see Leslie, and to surprise from one or both of them some word, or look, or tone, that would furnish him with a clue, if ever so slight.
Well, he had surprised several things, so he assured himself, but he had not seen Leslie. And the denouement of his visit had rendered it impossible for him ever to reenter that house, in the character of Mr. Augustus Grip.
True, he had learned something. He had heard Winnie’s words: “Leslie is not a child; and you must have said bitterly cruel words before you left her in a dead faint on that library floor last night.” And he had coupled these with those other words uttered by Winnie as she confronted Alan, with that farewell note in her hand: “Read that; see what your cruelty has done.”
Was this girl a plotter, too? If he could have seen that note! And then the organ-grinder – . On the whole, he was not even half satisfied with the result of his expedition, especially when he remembered that organ-grinder, and how he had let his temper escape its leash and rage itself into that cold white heat, his most intense expression of wrath, in which he had openly defied Alan Warburton, and flung his own colors boldly forth.
Another thing puzzled Vernet exceedingly. He had discovered Richard Stanhope at the Warburton masquerade, and had bestowed upon him the character of lover. Was he there in that character? Was he, in any way, mixed up with their family secrets? Where had he spent the remainder of that eventful night? Since the morning when Stanhope had reported to his Chief, after his night of adventure beginning with the masquerade, Vernet had heard no word from that Chief concerning Stanhope’s unaccountable conduct, or the abandoned Raid.
The whole affair was to Vernet, vague, unsatisfactory, mysterious. But the more unsatisfactory, the more mysterious it became, the more doggedly determined became he.
He had not forgotten, nor was he neglecting, the Arthur Pearson murder. He was pursuing that investigation after a manner quite satisfactory – to himself at least.
There are in most cities, and connected with many detective forces, and more individual members of forces, a class of men, mongrels, we might say, – a cross between the lawyer and the detective but actually neither, and sometimes fitted for both. They are called, by those initiated, “private enquirers,” “trackers,” “bloodhounds.”
These gentry are often employed by lawyers, as well as by detectives and the police. They trace out titles, run down witnesses, hunt up pedigrees, unearth long-forgotten family secrets. They are searchers of records, burrowers into the past. Their work is slow, laborious, pains-taking, tedious. But it is not dangerous; the unsafe tracks are left to the detective proper.
Into the careful hands of some of these gentry, Van Vernet had entrusted certain threads from the woof of the “Arthur Pearson murder case,” as they styled it. And these tireless searchers were burrowing away while Vernet was busying himself with other matters, waiting for the time when the “tracker” should find his occupation gone, and the detective’s efforts be called in play.
Vernet had not been aware of the close proximity of his sometime friend and present rival. He had felt sure, from the first, that the pretended mute was other than he seemed; that he was a spy and marplot. But Richard Stanhope’s disguise was perfect, and Vernet had not scrutinized him closely, being in such haste to dispose of him, and expecting to investigate his case later. Then, too, Richard Stanhope was absent; he had not been seen, or heard of, at the Agency for many days.
As for Stanhope, he had not been slow to recognize Van Vernet, and if he had not succeeded in all that he had hoped to accomplish, he had at least discovered Vernet’s exact position. And he had left a slip of paper where, he felt very sure, it would fall into the right hands. For the rest, he came and went like a comet, and was seen no more for many weeks.
Meanwhile, quiet had been restored in Alan Warburton’s study, and Alan himself now sat with a crumpled bit of paper in his hand.
This bit of paper had been given him by Millie, who, acting upon Winnie’s advice, had made to Alan a very meek confession of the part she had unwittingly played in the drama just enacted.
“Of course, sir, he came in when I went to call Miss Winnie,” she had said contritely. “But oh, he did look so sorrowful, and then that curl of hair! I was so sure it was something about Miss Daisy.”
Alan had listened gravely, had glanced at the bit of paper, and then dismissed her with a kind word and a smile, and without a reprimand.
When this unexpected escape had been joyfully reported to Winnie French, that stony-hearted damsel elevated her nose and said:
“Umph! so the man has a grain of something besides pride in him somewhere. Well, I’m glad to hear it.”
To which Millie had replied, warmly:
“Why, Miss Winnie! Think how he fought to protect that poor organ man, who had come to rob him, maybe, though I can’t think it. That was splendid in him, anyhow.”
And this had reminded Winnie that she was not indulging in a soliloquy. So, having charged Millie to say nothing about the events of the afternoon, she dismissed her, and sat sadly down to peruse Leslie’s farewell note once more.
I am going away to-night; I must go. Yesterday I was about to tell you my story; if you had heard it then, you would understand now why I go. Since yesterday, I have decided to keep my burden still strapped to my own shoulders.
In fact, to make you my confidante now would look to others, perhaps to you, like an attempt to justify my acts. One favor I ask, Winnie; when I return, if I do return, let me find you here. Continue to call my house, for it is my house, your home. I have asked your mother to share it with you, and to be in every sense of the word its mistress, until Daisy is found, or I return. Mr. Follingsbee will regulate all business matters. Trust me still, and don’t desert me. Winnie, for time or for eternity, farewell.
Filled with wonder and sorrow, Winnie sat musing over this strange note, when she received a message from Alan: would she come to him in the library; it was a matter of importance.
Rightly guessing that he wished to talk of Leslie, Winnie arose and went slowly down to the library, a gleam of resentment shining through the tears that would fill her eyes.
Not long before she had refused to talk or to listen. But now she must know why Leslie had gone. She was anxious to face Alan Warburton.
His manner, as he came forward to receive her, had undergone a change, and his first words were so startlingly like those last words of Leslie’s, that Winnie’s tongue failed to furnish the prompt sarcasm usually ready to meet whatever he might choose to utter.
He was standing by a large chair as she entered the library, and moving this a trifle forward, he said simply, and with just such a gravely courteous tone as he might use in addressing a stranger:
“Be seated, Miss French.”
Winnie sank into the proffered chair, and he draws back a few paces, and standing thus before her, began:
“Not long since I asked you to listen to me, and then to decide between another and myself. I do not repeat this request, for I cannot stand before you and accuse a woman who is not here to speak in her own defence. Although I did not read that note you proffered me, I have satisfied myself that Mrs. Warburton has gone.”
“Yes,” sighed Winnie.
“She planned her flight, if flight it can be called, very skilfully. Everything in her apartments indicates deliberate preparation. She took no baggage; no one knows how or when she quitted the house. But she left two letters – two besides that written to you. One is addressed to Mr. Follingsbee; the other is for your mother.”
“Yes,” sighed Winnie once more.
“These letters,” continued Alan, “must be delivered at once, and they should not be entrusted to the hands of servants. And now, Miss French, that letter, your letter, which you proffered me in a moment of excitement, I will not ask to see. But tell me, does it give you any idea of her destination? Does it contain anything that I may know?”
A leaden weight seemed fastened upon Winnie’s facile tongue. Something in her throat threatened to choke her. She put her hand in her pocket, slowly drew out Leslie’s letter, and silently proffered it to Alan.
“Do you wish me to read it?”
She nodded, and lifted her hand to brush two big tears from her cheeks with a petulant motion.
A moment he stood looking at her intently, an expression of tenderness creeping into his face. Then he drew back a pace, and his lips settled again into firm lines as he began the perusal of Leslie’s letter.
Having read the missive slowly through for the second time, Alan refolded it and gravely returned it to Winnie.
“Thank you,” he said, in a subdued tone. “I am quite well aware, Miss French, that no word of mine can influence you in the slightest degree. Were this not so, I would beg most earnestly that you would comply, in every respect, with the wishes Mrs. Warburton has expressed.”
While he perused the letter, Winnie had somewhat recovered herself, and she now looked up quickly.
“In every respect? Mr. Warburton, that note says – ‘trust me; do not desert me.’”
“And I say the same. To-day Leslie Warburton needs a true friend as much – as much as ever woman did.”
He was about to say, “as much as I do,” but pride stepped in and stopped the words ere they could pass his lips.
There was silence for a moment, and then he said:
“We must find Leslie if possible, of course, but not until we have seen her lawyer and consulted him. It is growing late, but time is precious. Will you let me take you to your mother’s at once? You can give her Leslie’s letter, and consult together. Meantime, I will drive to see Follingsbee, and call for you on my return. Of course your mother will accompany you; at least I trust so. And, Miss French, let me assure you, here and now, that should you continue to honor this house with your presence, you will not be further annoyed by my importunities. To-night, for the first time, I fully realize that I have no right to ask any woman to share a fate that is, to say the least, under a cloud; or to take upon herself a name that may be at any moment dishonored before the world. Shall I order the carriage? Will you go, Miss French?”
There was something masterful in his stern self-command his ability to think and act with such promptitude and forethought, and it had its effect upon Winnie.
“I will go,” she said, rising and turning toward the door.
“Thank you,” he said, then hastened to open it.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî