Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival DetectivesŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
When she had passed out, he returned to his old position, and once more glanced down at the piece of paper which all the while he had retained in his hand. It was the note flung at Millieís feet by the fleeing organ-grinder, and it contained these words:
If Alan Warburton will call on Mr. Follingsbee as soon as possible, he will find there a communication from a friend. It is important that he should receive this at once.
No name, no date, no signature, but it explains why Millie escaped without a reprimand.
LESLIE GOES ďHOME.Ē
While Alan and Winnie, protected by their temporary armistice, were hurrying toward the modest abode of Mrs. French, each intent upon solving as soon as possible the riddle of Leslieís flight, the Francoises were holding high council in the kitchen of their most recent habitation.
In all the lists of professional criminals, there were not two who had been, from their very earliest adventure, more successful in evading the police than Papa and Mamma Francoise.
Papa, although in the face of actual, present danger he was the greater coward of the two, possessed a rare talent for scheming, and laying cunning plans to baffle the too curious. And Mammaís executive ability was very strong, of its kind. In the face of danger, Mammaís furious temper and animal courage stood them in good stead. When a new scheme was on foot, Papa took the lead.
As for Franz, he, as we have seen, had not been so successful in evading the representatives of law and order. And he had returned, having escaped from durance vile, bringing with him a strangely developed stock of his Motherís fierceness and his Fatherís cunning.
It was a part of Papaís policy to be, at all times, provided with a ďretreat.Ē Not content with an abiding-place for the present, the pair had always, somewhere within an easy distance from their present abode, a second haven, fitted with the commonest necessaries of life, but seldom anything more, and always ready to receive them. Hence, in fleeing from the scene of the Siebel affray, they had gone to the attic which stood ready to shelter them, where they had been traced by Vernet, and followed by Franz. And on the night when they had left Van Vernet to a fiery death, they had flown straight to another ready refuge.
This time it was a cottage, old and shabby, but in a respectable quarter on the remotest outskirts of the city. This cottage, like the B Ė street tenement, stood quite isolated from its neighbors, for it was one of Papaís fine points to choose ever a solitary location, or else lose himself in a locality where humanity swarmed thickest, and where each was too eager in his own struggle for existence to be anxious or curious about the affairs of his neighbors.
This cottage, then, was shabby enough, but not so shabby as their former dwelling, either within or without. Neither did Papa and Mamma present quite so uncanny an appearance as before.
They were somewhat cleaner, a trifle better clad, and somewhat changed in their general aspect, for here they were presuming themselves to be ďpoor but honestĒ working people, like their neighbors.
In this pretence they were ably supported by Franz, when he was sober. And drunkenness not being strictly confined to the wealthier classes, he cast no discredit upon the honesty of his parents by being frequently drunk.
Papa and Mamma were regaling themselves with a late supper, consisting principally of beer and ďDutch bread,Ē and as usual, when t?te-?-t?te, they were engaged in a lively discussion.
ďI donít like the way that boy goes on,Ē remarks Mamma, as she cuts for herself a slice of the bread.
Papa sets down his empty beer glass, and tilts back his chair.
ďDonít ye?Ē he queries carelessly.
ďNo, I donít,Ē retorts Mamma with increasing energy. ďHeís getting too reckless, and he swigs too much.Ē
ďThatís a fact,Ē murmurs Papa, glancing affectionately at the beer pitcher.
ďHeíd ought ter lay low for a good while yet,Ē goes on Mamma, ďinstead of prowling off at all hours of the day and night. Why, heís gone moreín heís here.Ē
Papa Francoise brought his chair back into regular position with a slow movement, and leaning his two elbows upon the table, leered across at Mamma.
ďLook here, old un,Ē he said slowly, ďthat fellowís just knocked off eight or ten years in limbo, and donít you sípose he prizes his liberty? If he canít keep clear oí cops and beaks after his experience, he ainít no son of mine. Donít you worry about our Franzy; heís got more brains than you aní me put together. Iím blest if I know how he come by such a stock. Iím beginning to take pride in the lad.Ē
ďWell,Ē rejoins Mamma viciously, ďhe ainít much like you; if he was, there wouldnít be so much to be proud of.Ē
ďThatís a fact,Ē assented Papa cheerfully. ďHe ainít like me; he sort oí generally resembles both of us. And Iím blest if he ainít better lookiní than we two together.Ē
ďFranzyís changed,Ē sighs Mamma; ďhe ainít the same boy he uste to be. If it waínít fer his drinkiní and sweariní, I wouldnít hardly know him.Ē
ďCourse not; nor ye didnít know him till he interduced himself. No more did I. When a feller gets sent up fer fifteen years, and spends ten out of the fifteen tryiní to contrive a way to get back to his old Pappy and Mammy, itís apt to change him some. Franzyís improved, he is. Heís cut some eye-teeth. Ah, what a help heíd be, if I could only git past these snags and back to my old business!Ē
ďYes,Ē sighed Mamma, and then suddenly suspended her speech as a lively, and not unmusical, whistle sounded near at hand.
ďThatís him,Ē she said, pushing back her chair and rising. ďHe seems to be cominí good-natured.Ē And she hastened to admit the Prodigal, who, if he had returned in good spirits, had not brought them all on the outside, for as he entered the room with a cheerful smirk and unsteady step, Papa murmured aside:
ďOur dear boyís drunk agin.Ē
Unmindful of Mammaís anxious questions concerning his whereabouts, Franzy took the chair she had just vacated, and began a survey of the table.
ďBeer!Ē he said contemptuously. ďI wouldnít drink beer, not Ė Ē
ďNot when you have drank too much fire-water already, Franzy,Ē supplemented Papa, with a grin, at the same time drawing the pitcher nearer to himself. ďNo, my boy, I wouldnít if Ė if I were you.Ē
Franz utters a half maudlin laugh, and turns to the old woman.
ďIs this all yer eatables?Ē he asks thickly. ďBring us somethiní else.Ē
ďYes,Ē chimes in Papa, ďFranzyís used ter first-class fare, old un; bring him something good.Ē
Mamma moves about, placing before her Prodigal the best food at hand, and presently the three are gathered about the table again, a very social family group.
But by-and-by Mammaís quick ear catches a sound outside.
ďSome oneís coming,Ē she says in a sharp whisper. ďI wonder Ė Ē
She stops short and goes to a window, followed by Franz, who peers curiously over her shoulder.
ďItís a woman,Ē he says, a moment later.
ďHush, Franzy,Ē says Mamma sharply. And then she goes quickly to the door.
It is a woman who enters; a woman draped in black. She throws back her shrouding veil and the pure pale face of Leslie Warburton is revealed.
Franz Francoise utters a sharp ejaculation, and then as Papaís hand presses upon his arm, he relapses into silence and draws back step by step.
ďAh!Ē cries Mamma, starting with extended hands to seize upon the new-comer; ďah! itís our own dear girl!Ē
But Leslie repulses the proffered embrace, and moves aside.
ďWait,Ē she says coldly; ďwait.Ē And she looks inquiringly at Franz. ďYou do not know how and why I come.Ē
ďNo matter why you come, dear child,Ē Ė it is Papa, speaking in his oiliest accents Ė ďwe are glad to see you; very glad.Ē
Again Leslieís eyes rest upon Franz, and Mamma says:
ďOh, speak out, my dear. This is our boy, Franz; your brother, my child.Ē
ďYes,Ē Papa chimes in blithely, ďhow beautiful this is; how delightful!Ē
Leslie favors Franz with a steady look, and turns to Mamma.
ďThen I am not your only child,Ē she says, with a proud curl of the lip.
And Mamma, seeing the look on her face, regrets, for the once, the presence of her beloved Prodigal.
But Franz has quite recovered himself, and moving a trifle nearer the group by the door, he mutters, seemingly for his own benefit, ďwell, this letís me out!Ē
Hearing which, Mamma glances from Franz to Leslie, and spreading out her two bony palms in a sort of ďbless-you-my-childrenĒ gesture, says theatrically:
ďAh-h, you were too young to remember each other; at least you were too young to remember Franzy. But he donít forget you; do you, Franzy, my boy? You donít forget Leschen Ė little Leschen?Ē
ďDonít I though?Ē mutters Franz under his breath, and then he moves forward with an unsteady lurch, saying aloud: ďEh? oh, Leschen: little Leschen. Why in course I Ė I remember.Ē
ďAh!Ē cries Mamma with enthusiasm, ďmanyís the time youíve rocked her, when she wasnít two years old.Ē
ďFranzy was allers good íbout sech things,Ē chimes in Papa.
ďUmph!Ē grunts Franz, turning to Papa, ďwhereís she been?Ē
ďMy boy,Ē replies Papa impressively, ďLeschenís been living like a lady ever since she was adopted away from us. Of course you canít remember each other much, but ye ort to be civil to yer sister.Ē
ďThatís a fact,Ē assents Franz, coming quite close to Leslie. ďSay, Leschen, donít ye be afraid oí me; I kin see that ye donít like my looks much. Say, canít ye remember me at all?Ē
A full moment Leslie scans him from head to foot, with a look of proud disdain. Then turning towards Mamma, she says bitterly:
ďI am more fortunate than I hoped to be.Ē
ďAinít ye, now?Ē chimes in Franz cheerfully. ďSay, ye look awful peaked.Ē And he hastens to fetch a chair, his feet almost tripping in the act. ďThere,Ē he says, placing it beside her, ďsit down, do, aní tell us the news.Ē
She sinks wearily upon the proffered seat, and again turns her face toward Mamma.
ďYes,Ē she says coldly, ďlet me tell my news, since this is a family gathering. You have deplored my loss so often that I have returned. I have come to live with you.Ē
The consternation that sits upon two of three faces turned toward her, is indeed ludicrous, and Franz Francoise utters an audible chuckle. Then the elders find their tongues.
ďAh,Ē groans Papa, ďsheís jokiní at the poor old folks.Ē
ďAh,Ē sighs Mamma, ďthereís no such luck for poor people.Ē
ďReassure yourselves,Ē says Leslie calmly. ďI have given you all my money; my husband is dead; my little step-daughter has been stolen, or worse, and I have been accused of the crime.Ē
She pauses to note the effect of her words, but strangely enough, Franz Francoise is the only one who gives the least sign of surprise.
ďI am disinherited,Ē continues Leslie, ďcast out from my home, friendless and penniless. You have claimed me as your child, and I have come to you.Ē
Still she is closely studying the faces of the elder Francoises, and she does not note the intent eyes that are, in turn, studying her own countenance: the eyes of Franz Francoise.
The two old plotters look at each other, and then turn away. Rage, chagrin, baffled expectation, speak in the looks they interchange. Franz is the first to relapse into indifference and stolidity.
ďBut, my girl,Ē Papa begins, excitedly, ďthis canít be! You are a widow Ė ah, yes, poor child, we know that. But, my dear, a widow has rights. The law, my child, the law Ė Ē
ďYou mistake,Ē says Leslie coldly, ďthe law will do nothing for me.Ē
ďBut it must,Ē argues Papa. ďThey canít keep you out oí your rights. The law Ė Ē
Leslie rises and turns to face him, cutting short his speech by a gesture.
ďThere is a higher law than that made by man,Ē she says sternly; ďthe law that God has implanted in heart and conscience. That law bids me renounce all claims to my husbandís wealth. Understand this: I am penniless. There is but one thing that could induce me to claim and use what the law will give me.Ē
ďAnd what is that?Ē asks Papa, in a wheedling tone, while Mamma catches her breath to listen.
ďThat,Ē says Leslie slowly, ďis the restoration of little Daisy Warburton.Ē
AN AFFECTIONATE FAMILY
A sudden silence has fallen upon the group, and as Leslieís clear, sad eyes rest upon first one face and then the other, Papa begins to fidget nervously.
ďOh, yes,Ē he sighs, ďwe heard about that.Ē
And then Mamma comes nearer, saying in a cat-like, purring tone: ďThe poor little dear! And you canít find her?Ē
As she speaks, Franz Francoise shifts his position carelessly, placing himself where he can note the expressions of the two old faces.
But Leslieís enforced calmness is fast deserting her.
ďWoman!Ē she cries passionately, ďdrop your mask of hypocrisy! Let us understand each other. I believe that you were in my house on the night of that wretched masquerade. I have reasons for so believing. Ah, I recall many words that have fallen from your lips, now that it is too late; words that condemn you. You believed that with Daisy removed, I would become my husbandís sole heiress; and you knew that at best his life would be short. The more the money in my possession, the more you could extort from me. But I can thwart you here, and I will. You never reckoned upon my throwing away my claim to wealth, for you were never human; you never loved anything but money, or you would have pity on that poor little child. Give me back little Daisy, and every dollar I can claim shall become yours!Ē
Oh, the greed, the avarice, that shines from Mammaís eyes! But Papa makes her a sign, and she remains silent, while he says, with his best imitation of gentleness:
ďBut, my child; but, Leschen, how can we find the little girl?Ē
Leslie turns upon him a look of contempt, and then a swift spasm of fear crosses her face.
ďOh,Ē she cries, clasping her hands wildly, ďsurely, surely you have not killed her!Ē
And now Mamma has resumed her mask. ďMy child,Ē she says, coming close to Leslie, ďyouíre excited. We donít know where to find that child. What can we do?Ē
Back to Leslieís face comes that look of set calm, and she sinks upon the chair she had lately occupied.
ďDo your worst!Ē she says between tightly clenched teeth. ďYou know that I do not, that I never shall, believe you. You say you are my mother,Ē flashing two blazing eyes upon Mamma, ďtake care of your child, then. Make of me a rag-picker, if you like. Henceforth I am nothing, nobody, save the daughter of the Francoises!Ē
Again, for a moment, the faces that regard her present a study. And this time it is Franz who is the first to speak, Coming forward somewhat unsteadily, he doffs his ragged old cap, and extends to her a hand not overclean.
ďPartner, shake!Ē he says in tones of marked admiration. ďYeíre clean grit! If yeíre my sister, Iím proud of ye. If ye ainít, and ye ípear to think ye ainít, then itís my loss, aní,Ē with a leer at the old pair, ďyer gain. Anyhow, Iím yer second in this young-un business. Ye kin stay right here, ef ye want ter, and, by thunder, ef the old uns have got yer little gal, ye shall have her back agin Ė ye hear me! Ainít ye goiní ter shake? I wish yer would. Iím a rough feller, Missy; Iíve allers been a hard case, and Iíve just got over a penitentiary stretch Ė yeíll hear oí that soon enough, ef ye stay here. The old un likes to remind me of it when she ainít amiable. Never mind that; maybe I ainít all bad. Anyway, Iím goiní to stand by ye, and donít ye feel oneasy.Ē
Again he extends his hand, and Leslie looks at it, and then up into his face.
ďOh, if I could trust you!Ē she murmurs. ďIf you would help me!Ē
ďI kin;Ē says Franz promptly, ďaní I will!Ē
Again she hesitates, looking upon the uncouth figure and the unwashed hand. Then she lifts her eyes to his face.
Two eyes are looking into her own, eagerly, intently, full of pitying anxiety.
She rises slowly, looks again into the eager eyes, and extends her hand.
ďGracious!Ē he exclaims, as he releases it, ďhow nervous yer are: must be awful tired.Ē
ďTired, yes. I have walked all the way.Ē
ďAní say, no jokiní now, have ye come ter live with us?Ē
ďI have,Ē she replies firmly; ďunless,Ē turning a contemptuous glance toward Mamma and Papa, ďmy parents refuse me a shelter.Ē
It is probable that these overtures from Franz would have been promptly interrupted, had not Papa and Mamma, seeing the necessity of exchanging a few words, improved this opportunity to understand each other, and as they exchanged hasty whispers, any vagueness or hiatus in their speech was fully supplied by meaning glances. And now quite up in her role, Mamma again advances.
ďMy child,Ē she begins, in a dolorous voice, ďwhen ye know us better, yeíll think better of yer poor old folks. As fer Franz here, heís been drinkiní a little to-night, but heís a good-hearted boy; donít mind him.Ē
ďNo,Ē interrupts Franz, with a maudlin chuckle; ďdonít mind me.Ē
ďItís a poor home yer come to, Leschen,Ē continues Mamma, ďand a poor bed I can give ye. But we want to be good to ye, dear, aní if yeíre really goiní to stay with us, weíll try aní make ye as comfortable as we can.Ē
Leslieís head droops lower and lower; she pays no heed to the old womanís words.
ďPoor child, she is tired out.Ē
Saying this, Mamma takes the candle from the table, and goes from the room quickly, thus leaving the three in darkness.
In another moment, the voice of Franz breaks out:
ďAinít there another glim somewhere?Ē
By the time Mamma returns, a feeble light is sputtering upon the table, and Franz is awkwardly trying to force upon Leslie some refreshments from the choice supply left from their late repast. But she refuses all, and wearily follows Mamma from the room.
ďGit yer rest now,Ē says Franz as she goes; ďto-morrow weíll talk over this young-un business.Ē
But when the morrow comes, and for many days after, Leslie Warburton is oblivious to all things earthly.
THE PRODIGAL BECOMES OBSTINATE
When the door had closed behind Leslie and the old woman, Franz Francoise dropped his chin upon his breast, and leaning his broad shoulders against the door-frame, stood thinking, or half asleep, it would have been difficult to guess which; while Papa began a slow, cat-like promenade up and down the room, paying no heed to Franz or his occupation, and thinking, beyond a doubt.
After a little, Franz, arousing himself with a yawn, staggered to the nearest chair, and dropped once more into a listless attitude. In another moment, Mamma re?ntered the room.
As she passed him, Franz laid a detaining hand upon her arm, and leering up into her face, whispered thickly:
ďI say, old un, ye seem ter be troubled with gals. Donít ye want me to git rid oí this one fer ye?Ē
A moment the old woman pauses, and looks down at her Prodigal in silence. Then she brings her hideous face close to his and whispers:
ďMy boy, that other un, ef weíd a-kept her, ud a-done us hurt. This un, ef we kin keep her, will make all our fortunes.Ē
ďHonor bright?Ē drawls Franz, looking up at her sleepily, and suppressing a yawn.
ďHonor bright, my boy.Ē
ďThen,Ē and he rises and stretches out his arms, ďweíd better keep her.Ē
Mamma favors him with a nod and a grin of approval, and then goes over to where Papa has halted and stands eyeing the whisperers.
The household belongings here are, as we have said, somewhat more respectable and extensive than those of the former nests occupied by these birds of passage. There were several chairs; a quantity of crockery and cooking utensils; some decent curtains at the windows; and a couch, somewhat the worse for wear and not remarkable for cleanliness, in this room.
Toward this couch Franz moves with a shuffling gait, and flinging himself heavily down upon it, he settles himself to enjoy a quiet nap, paying no heed to Papa and Mamma, who, standing near together, are watching him furtively. It is some time before Franz becomes lost in dreamland. He fidgets and mumbles for so many minutes that Mamma becomes impatient. But he is quiet at last.
And then the two old plotters, withdrawing themselves to the remotest corner of the room, enter into a conversation or discussion, which, judging from their rapid gesticulations, their facial expression, and the occasional sharp hiss, which is all that could have been heard by the occupant of the couch were he ever so broad awake, must be a question of considerable importance, and one that admits of two opinions.
For more than an hour this warm discussion continues. Then it seems to have reached an amicable adjustment, for they both wear a look of relief, and conversation flags. Presently Mamma turns her face toward the couch.
ďI wonder ef he is asleep,Ē she whispers. ďSomehow, that boy bothers me.Ē
ďThereís nothiní ails him,Ē replies the old man, in the same guarded whisper, ďonly what he come honestly by. Heís lookiní out fer number one, same as we are; aní he wonít trust all his secrets to nobodyís keepiní, no moreín we wonít. Heís our own boy Ė only heís a leetle too sharp fer my likiní. Howsíever, heís a lad to be proud of, aní it wonít do to fall out with him.ĒŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ