Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival DetectivesŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
ďNobody wants to fall out with him,Ē retorts Mamma. ďHeís going to be the makiní of us, only Ė mind this Ė he ainít to know too much, unless we want him to be our master. Look at the scamp, a-layiní there! Iím goiní to see ef he is asleep.Ē
She takes the candle from the table, snuffs the wick into a brighter blaze, and moves softly toward the couch. The Prodigalís face is turned upward. Mamma scans it closely, and then brings the candle very near to the closed eyes, waving it to and fro rapidly.
There is no slow awakening here. The two hands of the sleeper, which have rested in seeming carelessness loosely at his sides, move swiftly and simultaneously with his body. And Mammaís only consciousness is that of more meteors than could by any possibility emanate from one candle, and a sudden shock to her whole frame. She is sitting upon the floor, clutching wildly at the candle, while Franz, a dangerous-looking revolver in either hand, is glaring fiercely about him.
And all this in scarce ten seconds!
ďWotís up?Ē queries Franz shortly, ďwot the dickens Ė Ē
Papa comes forward, chuckling softly, but keeping cautiously out of range of the two weapons. And Mamma begins to scramble to her feet.
ďHullo!Ē says Franz, as he seems to notice Mammaís position for the first time; ďwot ails you?Ē
Papa is so amused that he giggles audibly; he was never heard to laugh an honest laugh.
ďGit up, old lady,Ē commands Franz, withdrawing his eyes from Mamma; and he stands as at first, until she has risen.
Then he glances sharply about the room, and asks impatiently: ďCome, now, what have ye been up to?Ē
ďYe see, Franzy,Ē begins Mamma in a conciliating tone, ďI went ter take a look at ye Ė Ē
ďOh, ye did!Ē
ďWith the candle in my hand.Ē
ďJest so; aní to get a good look, ye stuck it pretty close to my eyes. Wanted to see ef I was asleep, or playiní possum, eh? Wall,Ē replacing one revolver in a hip-pocket, and trifling carelessly with the other, while he seats himself upon the couch, ďwhat did ye find out?Ē
Though his tone was one of quiet mockery, there was an angry gleam in his eyes, and neither Papa nor Mamma ventured a reply.
ďIíll tell ye what ye discovered, aní it may be a good lesson fer ye,Ē he goes on in a low tone that was full of fierce intensity. ďYe have discovered that Franz Francoise asleep, and the same feller awake, are pretty much alike. Itís jest as onsafe to trifle with one as with the other. Iíve slept nearly ten years oí my life with every nerve in me waitiní fer a sign to wake quick and active. Iíve taught myself to go to sleep always with the same idea runniní in my head. Aní since I got out oí that pen down there, Iím always armed, and Iím always ready. The brush of a flyíll wake me, and itíll take me just five seconds to shoot. So when ye experiment íround me agin, ye want to fly kinder light. And, old woman, ye may thank yer stars that ye was so close ter me that ye didnít come in for nothiní moreín a tumble.Ē
He sits quite still for a few moments, and then rising slowly, goes over and seats himself on the edge of the table near which Papa stands.
ďWhen I stowed myself away over there,Ē resumes Franz, ďI was more or less muddled.
But Iím straight enough now, aní my headís clear. Iíve just reckelected about that galís cominí, aní Ė I say, old woman, can she hear us if she happens to be awake?Ē
ďNo,Ē replies Mamma, ďshe canít Ė not unless we talk louder than weíre likely to.Ē
ďThen haul up yer stool. Weíre goiní ter settle about her.Ē
The look which Mamma casts toward her worser half says, as plainly as looks can speak: ďItís coming.Ē And then she compresses her lips, and draws a chair near the table, while Papa occupies another, and Franz looks down upon the pair from his more elevated perch.
ďNow, then,Ē begins Franz, ďWhoís that íere gal?Ē
No answer from the two on the witness-stand. They exchange glances, and remain mute.
ďNext,Ē goes on Franz, as if quite content with their silence, ďwotís all this talk about child-stealiní?Ē
Still no answer. Franz remains tranquil as before, and by way of diversion probably, squints along the shining barrel of his six shooter, and snaps the trigger playfully.
ďHave ye got that galís young un?Ē he asks, still seeming to find the revolver an object of interest, ďor hainít ye?Ē Down comes the dangerous weapon upon the knee of its owner, and quite by accident, of course, it has Papaís head directly in range.
Seeing which, that worthy moves quickly aside with an exclamation of remonstrance. But Mamma is made of other stuff. She leans forward and leers up into the face of her Prodigal.
ďIt seems ter me, youngster,Ē she sneers, ďthat galís took a strong hold on yer sympathies. Ainít ye gettiní terrible curious?Ē
ďMaybe,Ē retorts Franz, returning her gaze with interest; ďaní maybe, now, ítainít so much sympathy as ye may suppose. I donít think sympathy runs in this íere family. The pintís right here, and this is a good time to settle it. You twoís hung onter me ter stay by yer, aní strike together fer luck, but Iím blessed ef Iím goiní ter strike in ther dark. Iím goiní ter see ter the bottom oí things, er let íem alone. Aní afore we drop this, I want these íere questions answered: Who is that gal, aní why does she talk about beiní your gal? Who is the young-un she talks of, aní have you got it? Iím goiní ter know yer lay afore I move.Ē
ďFranz,Ē breaks in Papa deprecatingly, ďjest give yer mother a chance. Maybe ye wonít ride sich a high horse when ye hear her plans fer yer good.Ē
And then, as if she has just received her cue, Mamma breaks in:
ďAh-h, Franz,Ē she says contemptuously, ďIím disappinted in ye! Wot were ye thinkiní on, ter go aní weaken afore a slip of a gal like that, talkiní such chicken talk, aní goiní back on yer old mother!Ē
ďI thought ye said yeíd got ter hang onto that gal, aní sheíd make all our fortinís,Ē comments Franz.
ďAní so I did.Ē
ďWell,Ē and he favors her with a knowing leer, ďif thatís a fact, somebody needs ter git inter her good books, aní she donít ípear to take much stock in you two.Ē
He points this sentence with a wink at Papa. And this gentleman, seeming to see his sonís gallantry in a new light, indulges in one of his giggles. Even Mamma grins visibly as she leans forward and pats him on his knee.
ďAh, you sly dog, ah-h! Look what luckís throwed in our way, my boy! Yeíre bound ter be rich, if ye jest listen to yer mother.Ē
ďItíll take a power oí listeniní unless yer git down ter business. Aní now, once more, wot does the gal mean by talkiní about a child thatís stole?Ē
ďNever mind the young un, boy,Ē replies Mamma, her face hardening again; ďhow do ye like the gal?Ē
ďLike the gal? Wotís that got ter do with it?Ē
ďListen, Franz,Ē and Mamma bends forward with uplifted forefinger; ďIíll explain all that needs explaininí by an by. Sípose it should turn out as that gal, thatís come here and throwed herself into our hands, should fall heir to Ė well, to a pile oí money. What would you be williní to do ter git the heft of it?Ē
ďMost anything,Ē replies Franz coolly, and letting his eyes drop to the weapon in his hand. ďI shouldnít Ďweaken,í nor play Ďchicken,í old un. But Iíd want ter see the fortiní ahead.Ē
ďHear the boy!Ē chuckles Mamma in delight. ďBut we donít want none oí that,Ē nodding toward the revolver. ďItís a live gal ye want.Ē Then leaning forward, she whispers sharply: ďYou have got ter marry the gal!Ē
Franz stares at his mother for full ten seconds. Then slowly lowering first one leg and next the other, he stands upon his feet, and embracing himself with both arms, he indulges in what appears to be a violent fit of noiseless laughter.
ďMarry the gal!Ē he articulates between these spasms. ďOh, gimmini! wonít she be delighted!Ē
ďDelighted or not,Ē snarls Mamma, considerably annoyed by this levity on the part of her Prodigal, ďsheíll be brought to consent.Ē
But the spasm has passed. Franz resumes his position on the table, and looks at Mamma, this time with the utmost gravity, while he says:
ďLook here, old woman, thatís a gal as canít be drove. Ye canít force her ter marry yer hanísome son. Aní ye canít force yer hanísome son ter marry her Ė not unless he sees some strong inducements. Aní then, ye donít expect ter make a prisoner oí that gal, do yer? That racketís played out, ícept in the theatres. I donít know what sent her here, but Iím pretty sure sheíll be satisfied with a short visit.Ē
ďFranz,Ē remonstrates Mamma, ďlisten to me. That gal, the minit we step foríard aní prove her identity, is goiní to come into a fortiní as big as a silver mine. And we shanít prove her identity Ė till sheís married ter you.Ē
Suddenly the manner of the Prodigal, which has presented thus far a mixture of incredulity and indifference, changes to fierce anger. Again he comes down upon his feet, this time with a quick spring that causes Papa to start and tremble once more.
ďNow, you listen,Ē he says sharply. ďThe quicker yer stop this fool business, the better itíll be fer yer plans. Whoís that gal, I say? How did she git inter yer clutches? Whatís this fortiní, and whereís it cominí from? When yeíve answered these íere questions, ye kin talk ter me; not afore.Ē
ďJest trust us fer that, Franzy,Ē says Papa softly.
ďNot any! Then hereís another thing: how are ye goiní ter git that galís consent?Ē
ďTrust us fer that, too,Ē says Mamma, in a tone betokening rising anger. ďWe know how ter manage her.Ē
ďAní that means that yeíve got her young un! Now look here, both on ye. Do you take me fer a stool-pigeon, to go into such a deal with my eyes blinded? Satisfy me about the gal, aní her right to a fortiní, aní let me in to the young un deal, aní Iím with ye. I donít go it blind.Ē
And now it is Mammaís turn. She bounds up, confronting her Prodigal, with wrath blazing in her wicked eyes.
Papa turns away and groans dismally: ďOh, Lord, theyíre goiní to quarrel!Ē
ďLook here, Franz Francoise,Ē begins Mamma, in a shrill half whisper, ďye donít want ter go too fur! I ainít a-goiní ter put all the power inter yer hands. If this business ainít worth somethiní to me, it shanít be to you. I kin soon satisfy ye on one pint: the gal ainít my gal, but she came honest into my hands. Iím williní ter tell ye all about the gal, aní her fortune, but ye kin let out the young-un business. Thatís my affair, and Iíll attend to it in my own way. Now, then, if Iíll tell ye about the gal, prove that thereís money in it, and git her consent, will ye marry her aní Ė Ē
ďWhack up with ye afterwards?Ē drawls Franz, all trace of anger having disappeared from his face and manner. ďOld woman, Iíll put it in my pipe aní smoke it. Ye kin consider this confab ended.Ē
Turning upon his heel he goes back to the couch, drops down upon it with a yawn, and composes himself to sleep.
MR. FOLLINGSBEEíS VICTORY
When Alan Warburton reached the residence of Mr. Follingsbee, he found that legal gentleman sitting alone in his cosy library, very much, so Alan thought, as if expecting him. And the first words that the lawyer uttered confirmed this opinion.
Rising quickly, Mr. Follingsbee came forward to meet his guest, saying briskly:
ďAh, Warburton, good evening. Iíve been expecting you; sit down, sit down.Ē
As Alan placed his hat upon the table beside him, and took the seat indicated, he said, with a well-bred stare of surprise:
ďYou expected me, Mr. Follingsbee? Then possibly you know my errand?Ē
ďWell, yes; in part, at least.Ē The lawyer took up a folded note, and passed it across the table to his visitor, saying: ďIt was left in my care about two hours ago.Ē
Alan glanced up at him quickly, and then turned his attention to the perusal of the note. It ran thus:
The time has come, or will soon come, when Mrs. W Ė will find it necessary to confide her troubles to Mr. Follingsbee. The time is also near when you will have to fight Van Vernet face to face. You will do well to trust your case to Mr. Follingsbee, relying upon him in every particular. You will have to meet strategy with strategy, if you would outwit Vernet.
Alan perused this slowly, noting that the handwriting was identical with that of the scrap left by the ďorgan-grinder,Ē and then he refolded it, saying:
ďI am the bearer of a missive for you, Mr. Follingsbee; but first, let me ask if I may know who sent me this message?Ē
ďIt was left in my hands,Ē replied the lawyer, smiling slightly, ďby Ė by a person with ragged garments, and a dirty face. He appeared to be a deaf mute, and looked like Ė Ē
ďLike an organ-grinder minus his organ?Ē finished Alan.
ďI trust that this will explain itself,Ē said Alan, drawing forth from an inner pocket Leslieís letter, and giving it into the lawyerís hand. ďRead it, Mr. Follingsbee. This day has been steeped in mystery; let us clear away such clouds as we can.Ē
ďFrom Leslie!Ē Mr. Follingsbee said, elevating his eyebrows. ďThis is an unexpected part of the programme.Ē
ďIndeed? And yet this,†Ė Ē and Alan tapped the note he had just received, with one long, white forefinger,†Ė ďthis foretells it.Ē
ďAh!Ē Only this monosyllable; then Mr. Follingsbee broke the seal of Leslieís letter and began its perusal, his face growing graver and more troubled as he read.
It was a long letter, and he read it slowly, turning back a page sometimes to re-read a certain passage. Finally he laid the letter upon his knee, and sat quite still, with his hands working together nervously and his brow wrinkled in thought. At last he lifted his eyes toward Alan.
ďDo you know what this letter contains?Ē he asked slowly.
ďI know that my sister-in-law has left her home,Ē Alan replied gravely; ďnothing more.Ē
ďNothing; really. She left three letters: one for Mrs. French, another for Miss French, and the third for yourself.Ē
ďAnd youÖ She left you some message?Ē
ďNot a word, verbal or written.Ē
ďStrange,Ē mused the lawyer, taking up his letter and again glancing through its pages. ďI canít understand it. Mr. Warburton Ė pardon the question Ė was there any difference, any misunderstanding, between you and Leslie?Ē
ďDoes not the letter itself explain?Ē
ďThat is what puzzles me. The letter tells her own story Ė a story that I knew before, in part at least; a sad story, proving to me that the girl has been made to suffer bitterly; but it does not, from first to last, mention your name.Ē
Alan sat silent for a moment. Then he turned his face toward the lawyer, as if acting upon some resolve.
ďYesterday,Ē he began quietly, ďI held an interview with my sister-in-law. It was not an amicable interview; we have been on unfriendly terms since Ė since the night of the masquerade.Ē
ďSince the masquerade?Ē
ďDuring that interview,Ē continued Alan, ďMrs. Warburton gave me the brief outline of what seemed to me a very improbable story.Ē
ďAh!Ē There was a new shade in the lawyerís voice.
ďAnd I am wondering,Ē Alan goes on, ďif your letter contains that same story.Ē
ďPossibly,Ē said Mr. Follingsbee dryly.
ďThis note which you have given me, and which bears no signature, seems to indicate as much. Are you acquainted with its contents, sir?Ē
ďI am not.Ē There is a growing crispness in the lawyerís tone, which Alan is not slow to note.
ďThen oblige me by reading it.Ē
Mr. Follingsbee took the note and read it slowly.
ďDonít you think,Ē he said, looking up from its perusal, ďthat we had better begin by understanding each other?Ē
ďVery good: this note was left with me by Ė by such a man as I described to you.Ē
ďBy a man in disguise?Ē
ďJust so. This Ė this man in disguise, came to me in your behalf.Ē
ďIn my behalf!Ē exclaimed Alan, in amazement.
ďIn your behalf. He told me you were in danger, and that the man you had most cause to fear was a certain detective: Van Vernet.Ē
Alan Warburton stirred uneasily in his chair, and the old haughty look came slowly into his face.
ďHe said,Ē went on the lawyer slowly, ďthat because of your pride, and your obstinacy, you were involving not only yourself but others, in a net that might, if your present course continued, ruin you utterly, and bring upon your cherished family honor a disagreeable blot, if not absolute disgrace. He did not give me an idea of the nature of the difference between yourself and this Vernet, but he laid out a very pretty plan by which to baffle him. And he said, as he went away: ĎIf Alan Warburton, under all his pride and obstinate clinging to a wrong idea, possesses the sound judgment that I believe him to have Ė and itís a pity he has not made better use of it,†Ė he will confide in you, and act upon your advice, if not upon mine. Let him do this and we will baffle Vernet, and his precious secret will not be dragged to the light. Let him continue in his present course, and Van Vernet will have his hand upon him within a week; the affair of this afternoon should convince him of this.íĒ
During this remarkable speech, Alanís face had taken on a variety of expressions. At the closing sentence he gave a quick start, and then sat perfectly still, with his profile toward his companion. After a time he turned his face toward the lawyer; and that personage, looking anxiously for a reply or comment, could read upon the handsome countenance only calm resolve and perfect self-control.
ďMr. Follingsbee,Ē he began gravely, ďdo you understand this allusion to the events of the afternoon?Ē
ďI do not.Ē
ďAnd yet you have confidence in this disguised stranger?Ē
ďHave I alluded to him as a stranger, sir?Ē
Alan passed his hand across his brow, and said slowly:
ďHe is not a stranger to you and, evidently, he knows me remarkably well; I might say too well.Ē
ďAhem! You would be likely to recall your words, if you did.Ē
ďMr. Follingsbee, who is this man?Ē
ďI am not at liberty to speak his name.Ē
ďWhat is he, then?Ē
ďFirst of all, a gentleman; a man whose championship does you honor, for it proves that he believes in you, in spite of this Van Vernet.Ē
ďWas it not a strange freak for this gentleman, disguised just as he afterward came to you, to enter my study window, and conceal himself in my cabinet?Ē
Mr. Follingsbee looked up with lively interest. ďDid he do that?Ē he asked quickly.
ďHe did that.Ē
ďWell,Ē said Mr. Follingsbee slowly, ďI should say that it was quite like him. He did not talk of his own exploits when he came to me; I fancy his time was limited.Ē
ďProbably; now, Mr. Follingsbee, I think I see things, some things, in a clearer light. This organ-grinder of mine, this gentleman of yours, this anonymous friend, is a detective!Ē
ďUmph!Ē mutters the lawyer, half to himself, ďwe are beginning to use our wits.Ē Then in a louder tone: ďAh, so we are no longer lawyer and witness?Ē
ďNo,Ē with a quiet smile; ďwe are two lawyers. Let us remain such.Ē
ďWith all my heart,Ē cries Mr. Follingsbee, extending his hand; ďlet us remain such.Ē
Alan takes the proffered hand, and begins again.
ďThis champion of mine, then, is a detective; you admit that?Ē
ďWell Ė yes.Ē
ďIn espousing my cause, he is making active war upon Van Vernet?Ē
ďSo it appears.Ē
ďThen it is safe to say that aside from the interest he has seen fit to take in Ė in my family and family affairs, he has some personal issue with Mr. Vernet.Ē
ďThen,†Ė how fast we progress Ė our detective friend must be a remarkably clever fellow, or our chances are very slender. Mr. Vernet is called one of the ablest detectives on the city force.Ē
ďMr. Follingsbee, have you faith in the ability of this champion-detective to cope with such a man as Vernet?Ē
ďWell,Ē says the elder gentleman slowly, ďif you play your part, Iíll vouch for my friend. He is at least a match for Vernet.Ē
ďThen I think it would not be a difficult matter to identify him.Ē
ďDonít waste your time,Ē interrupts Mr. Follingsbee quickly; ďI have told you all that I am at liberty to tell.Ē
ďAs you please; but before I begin my story, I must be sure that it is the story. Yesterday, as I told you, I had an interview with my sister-in-law.Ē
ďI had observed some things that puzzled me, and Ė does that letter of Leslieís contain any statements concerning her early life?Ē He breaks off abruptly.
ďIt does; many statements.Ē
ďDo you know anything of her early history?Ē
ďIs she the daughter of Thomas Uliman?Ē
ďHis adopted daughter; yes.Ē
ďAnd are her parents living?Ē
ďTwo people who claim to be her parents are in this city. I may as well say to you now, Mr. Warburton, that Leslie never knew herself to be an adopted child until shortly before her marriage; that she discovered it by accident, and came straight to me with the news, which I had known all along. Then she told the truth to your brother, and knowing the height, depth, and absurdity of the Warburton pride, offered to release him from his engagement. He refused this release and bade her never mention the subject again.Ē
He paused a moment, and seeing that Alan was regarding him with steadfast earnestness, resumed:
ďI supposed that the end of the affair, and from that day to this have never heard a word on the subject from Leslie, or from any one, until you brought me this letter. And now, as I have gone thus far into the matter, let me tell you what I have learned from this letter Ė not as Leslie has written it, but briefly as possible. Shortly before her marriage, two people, asserting themselves to be the two who gave Leslie to the Ulimans, came and claimed her as their child. They were so repulsive, clamorous, and so evidently greedy for money, that Leslie could not, would not, credit their story. Here she made her first mistake. She bribed these old wretches with a good slice of her little fortune, instead of turning them and their claim over to me. They promised to go away, of course, and never trouble her again, and also of course, they did not keep their word. As soon as she was married to your brother, they became bolder; and she was more than ever in their power. She dared not confide in her husband; first, because of his pride, which was only a little less than yours, and next, because she feared the effect of such a revelation upon a constitution so frail, and a mind so sensitive. It was too late, she thought, to come to me; and so it went on. They drained her private purse to the last dollar; they compelled her to come at their summons at any time, and she had to creep from her home like a guilty thing to carry hush-money to these wretches. And so things continued until, in order to satisfy their greed, she must begin to fee them with her husbandís money. Think of that, sir,Ē casting an ironical glance at his vis-a-vis; ďfeeing those common clods with the Warburton gold.ĒŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ