Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“And your child: you have never heard of her since?”
“Never. I was always a poor correspondent, but I wrote many letters to my sister, to her husband, and to Pearson. They were not answered. The Ulimans were rising people, and they had left their old residence, no doubt. So I reasoned, and I worked on. After a time I was sick – a long tedious illness. When I recovered, and asked for letters, they told me that during my illness some had arrived, and had been lost or mislaid. Then I assured myself that these were from Pearson and my sister; that my little one was safe; and I settled down to my new life. Every year I planned a return, and every year I waited until the next, in order to take with me a larger fortune for little Lea. I became selfishly absorbed in money-getting. Then, as years went by, and I knew my girl was budding into womanhood, I longed anew for tidings of her. I wrote again, and again; and then I set my lawyer at the task. He wrote, and he advertised; and at last I settled my affairs out there and started for the United States. An advertisement, asking news of Pearson or Lea Ainsworth, was sent to a city paper only a week before I sailed, and it was this that caught the eye of Mr. Parks here.”
Again the Chief and Walter Parks exchanged glances, and John Ainsworth rose slowly to his feet.
“Sir,” he said in a husky voice, “Mr. Parks has offered a fortune to the man who discovers the slayer of Arthur Pearson. I offer no less for the recovery of my child.”
The Chief shook his head.
“That search,” he said, “like the other, must cover twenty years.”
“To begin,” said the Australian, “we must find the Ulimans.”
“The Ulimans; my sister was the wife of Thomas Uliman.”
“Oh!” said the Chief, and then he leaned forward and touched the bell.
“Send Sanford in,” he said to the boy who appeared in the doorway.
In another moment Sanford stood before them.
“Sanford,” said his Chief, “Thomas Uliman and wife, residents here twenty years ago, are to be found. Have the records searched, and if necessary take other steps. Stop: what was the calling of this Thomas Uliman?”
“Merchant,” said John Ainsworth.
Sanford started suddenly, and lifted one hand to his mouth.
“I wonder – ” he began, and then checked himself, bowed, and turned toward the door. “Had this gentleman a middle name?” he asked, with his hand upon the latch.
“Yes; it was R., I believe; Thomas R. Uliman,” replied the Australian.
Sanford bowed again and went out quietly. Then Mr. Ainsworth turned toward the Chief.
“You have a system?” he queried.
“Yes; a very simple and effectual one. We keep the census reports, the directories, and a death record. When these fail, we have other resources; but we usually get at least a clue from these books. This part of the work is simple enough. By to-morrow I think we can give you some information about Thomas Uliman.”
There was a moment’s silence, then Walter Parks leaned forward:
“Have you anything to tell me concerning my two detectives?” he asked.
“Stanhope and Vernet? Well, not much; but I expect a report from Vernet at any moment.
We will have that also to-morrow.”
A CHIEF’S PERPLEXITIES
On Wednesday, the day following that which witnessed the arrival of Walter Parks and John Ainsworth, Mr. Follingsbee, seated at a late breakfast, perused a letter, which, judging from the manner of its reception, must have contained something unusual and interesting.
He read it, re-read it, and read it again. Then pushing back his chair, and leaving his repast half finished, he hurried from the breakfast-room, and up stairs, straight to that cosey room which, for many days, had been occupied by a guest never visible below. This guest had also recently turned away from a dainty breakfast, the fragments of which yet remained upon the small table at his elbow, and he was now perusing the morning paper with the bored look of a man who reads only to kill time.
He glanced up as the lawyer entered, but did not rise.
“Well,” began his visitor, “at last I have something to wake you up with: orders to march.”
He held in his hand the open letter, and standing directly in front of the other, read out its contents with the tone and manner of a man pronouncing his own vindication after a long-suffering silence:
At last you may release your voluntary prisoner. It is best that he return at once to W – place. Let him go quietly and without fear. By afternoon there may be other arrivals, whom he will be glad to welcome. For yourself, be at the Chief’s office this day at 4. P.M.
The reader paused and looked triumphantly at his audience of one.
“So,” commented this audience, “his name is Stanhope.”
Mr. Follingsbee started and then laughed.
“I don’t think he cared to keep his identity from you longer,” he said, “otherwise he would not have signed his name. I think this means that the play is about to end” – tapping the letter lightly with his two fingers. “You have heard of Dick Stanhope, I take it?”
“Stanhope, the detective? Yes; and I am somewhat puzzled. I have always heard of Stanhope in connection with Van Vernet.”
“Umph! so has everybody. They’re on opposite sides of this case, however. Well, shall you follow Mr. Stanhope’s advice?”
“I shall, although his advice reads much like a command. I shall take him at his word, and go at once.”
“This very hour, if your carriage is at my disposal.”
“That, of course.”
“I feel like a puppet in invisible hands” – rising and moving nervously about – “but, having pledged myself to accept the guidance of this eccentric detective, I will do my part.”
“Well,” said the lawyer dryly, “you seem in a desperate hurry. Be sure you don’t overdo it.”
“I won’t; I’ll go home and wait for what is to happen in the afternoon.”
Half an hour thereafter, a carriage drew up at the side entrance of the Warburton mansion, and a gentleman leaped out, ran lightly up the steps, opened the door with a latch-key held ready in his hand, and disappeared within. The carriage rolled away the moment its occupant had alighted.
In another moment, a man, who had been lounging on the opposite side of the street, faced about slowly, and sauntered along until he reached the street corner. Turning here he quickened his pace, increasing his speed as he went, until his rapid walk became a swift run just as he turned the second corner.
At ten o’clock of this same morning, the Chief of the detectives is sitting again in his sanctum, his brow knit and frowning, his hands tapping nervously upon the arms of his easy chair, his whole mind absorbed in intensest thought. Usually he meets the problems that come to him with imperturbable calm, and looks them down and through; but to-day the thought that he faces is so disagreeable, so perplexing, so baffling, – and it will not be looked down, nor thought down.
Up to the date of this present perplexity, he has found himself equal to all the emergencies of his profession. Living in a domain of Mysteries, he has been himself King of them all; has held in his hand the clue to each. His men may have worked in the dark, or with only a fragment of light, a glimmer of the truth, to guide them. But he, their Chief, has overlooked their work, seeing beyond their range of vision, and through it, to the end.
Always this had been the case until – yes, he would acknowledge the truth – until this all-demanding Englishman had swooped down upon him with his old, old mystery, and taken from the Agency, for his own eccentric uses, its two best men. Always, until Van Vernet and Richard Stanhope had arrayed themselves as antagonists, in seeking a solution of the same problem.
Following up the train of thought suggested by the re-reading of his diary, the Chief has been suddenly confronted with some unpleasant suspicions and possibilities.
He has pondered everything pertaining to the mystery surrounding Vernet’s improper use of his business letter-heads, and his visit to the Warburton mansion in the guise of Augustus Grip. And he has vainly tried to trace the connection between these man?uvres and some of Stanhope’s inconsistencies.
In the search, he has made a discovery: Alan Warburton, the uncle of the lost child for whom his men have been vainly searching, and Leslie Warburton, the widow of the late Archibald Warburton, have both sailed for Europe. Business connected with the search has been transacted through Mr. Follingsbee; and this voyage across the sea, at so inopportune a time, has been treated by the lawyer with singular reticence, not to say secrecy.
What could have caused these two to make such a journey at such a time? Why did Van Vernet enter their house in disguise? Who were the two that had sailed to Europe by proxy? What was this mystery which, he instinctively felt, had taken root on the night of the fruitless Raid?
“It was young Warburton who had secured Vernet’s services, and afterwards dismissed him in such summary fashion. It was Mr. Follingsbee who had engaged Stanhope, for that self-same night, for a masquerade. If I could question Stanhope,” he muttered. “Oh! I need not wait for that; I’ll interview Follingsbee.”
He dashed off a note, asking the lawyer to wait upon him that afternoon, and having dispatched it, was about to resume the study of his new problem, when Sanford entered with a memorandum in his hand.
“Beale has come in,” he said in a low tone. “He has been the rounds, and gives a full report of Vernet’s movements.”
“Has Beale been out alone?”
“Not since the first two hours; he has three men out now.”
“Phew! Well, read your minutes, Sanford; I see you have taken them down from word of mouth.”
“Yes, it was the shortest way. Vernet is watching three localities.”
“Beale shadowed him, first, to the residence of Mr. Follingsbee, the lawyer.”
“Umph!” The Chief started, then checked himself, and sank back in his chair.
“Here,” continued Sanford, “he had a man on guard. They exchanged a few words, and Vernet went away, the shadower staying near the lawyer’s house. From there Vernet went direct to Warburton Place.”
The Chief bit his lips and stirred uneasily.
“Here he had another shadower. They also conferred together. Then Vernet took a carriage and went East to the suburbs; out to the very edge of the city, where the houses are scattering and inhabited by poor laborers. At the end of K. street, he left his carriage, and went on foot to a little saloon, the farthest out of any in that vicinity. There he had a long talk with a fellow who seemed to be personating a bricklayer. He left the saloon and went back to his carriage, seemingly in high spirits, and the bricklayer departed in the opposite direction.”
“Away from the city?”
“Yes; toward the furthermost houses.”
The Chief bent his head and meditated.
“This happened, when?” he asked.
“And Beale; what did he do?”
“Set three men to watch three men. One at Follingsbee’s, one at Warburton Place, and one at the foot of K. street.”
“Good; and these shadowers of Vernet’s – could Beale identify either of them?”
“No; he is sure they do not belong to us, and were never among our men.”
“Very well. Beale has done famously. Let him keep a strict watch until further orders.”
Once more the Chief knits his brow and ponders. The mystery grows deeper, and he finds in it ample food for meditation.
But he is doomed to interruption. This time it is Vernet’s report.
He eyes it askance, and lays it upon the desk beside him. Just now it is less interesting, less important, than his own thoughts.
But again his door opens. He lifts his head with a trace of annoyance. It is George, the office boy. He comes forward and proffers a note to his Chief.
The latter takes it slowly, looks languidly at the superscription, then breaks the seal.
One glance, and the expression of annoyance and languor is gone; the eyes brighten, and the whole man is alive with interest.
And yet the note contains only these two lines:
Send three good men, in plain clothes, to the last saloon at the foot of K. street, 2 P. M. sharp.
“Oh!” ejaculates the Chief, “Dick at last! Something is going to happen.”
And then he calls the office boy back.
“Go to this address,” he says, hastily writing upon a card; “ask for Mr. Parks, and say to him that I am obliged to beg himself and friend to put off their interview with me until this afternoon, say three o’clock.”
When the boy had departed, he turned to the desk and took up Vernet’s report. As he opened it, he frowned and muttered:
“Vernet’s doing some queer work. If it were any one else, I should say he was in a muddle. As it is, I shall not feel sure that all is right until I know what his man?uvres mean. I’ll have no more interviews until I have seen Follingsbee, and studied this matter out.”
THE LAST MOMENT
At two P. M. of the same day, the day that witnessed Alan Warburton’s return to his own, and the Chief’s perplexity, there is an ominous stillness brooding about the Francoise dwelling.
In the outer room, Papa Francoise is alone, and, if one may judge from his restlessness, not much relishing his solitude.
The room is cleaner than usual. All about it an awkward attempt at tidiness is visible. Papa, too, is less unkempt than common, seeming to have made a stout effort at old-time respectability. But he cannot assume a virtuous and respectable calm, a comfortable repose.
He goes to the window and peers anxiously into the street. Sometimes he opens the outer door, and thrusts his head half out to gaze along the thoroughfare cityward. And then he goes across the room, and opens the door of a big dingy closet: looks within, closes the door quietly, and tiptoes back to the window.
There is nothing remarkable in that closet. It is dark and dirty. A few shabby garments are hanging on the wall, and a pallet occupies the floor, looking as if it had been carelessly flung there and not yet prepared for its occupant.
Papa seems to note this. Stooping down, he smoothens out the ragged blanket and straightens the dirty mattress, cocking his head on one side to note the improvement thus made. Then he goes back to the window, and again looks out. With every passing moment he grows more and more disquieted.
In the inner room, Leslie Warburton sits alone. Her arms are crossed upon the rough table beside her; her head is bowed upon her arms; her attitude betokens weariness and dejection. By and by she lifts her face, and it is very pale, very sad, very weary. But above all, it is very calm.
Since the day when Stanhope’s message brought her new hope, she has played her part bravely. Weak in body, harassed in mind, filled with constantly-increasing loathing for the people who are her only companions, utterly unable to guess at the meaning of Stanhope’s message – she has battled with illness, and fought off despair, fully realizing that in him was her last hope, her only chance for succor; and fully resolved to cling to this last hope, and to aid her helper in the only way she could – by doing his bidding.
“Seem to submit,” he said. She had submitted. “Let them play their game to the very last.” She had made no resistance.
And now the end had come. She had obeyed in all things. And to-day the Francoises were jubilant. To-day Leslie Warburton, by her own consent, was to marry Franz Francoise.
It was the last day, the last hour; and Leslie’s strength and courage are sorely tried.
“Trust all to me,” he had said. “When the right time comes, I will be at hand.”
Leslie arose, and paced slowly up and down her narrow room, feeling her heart almost stop its beating. Had she not trusted to him? trusted blindly; and now – had not the right time come? Was it not the only time? And where was Stanhope? “If he should fail me!” she moaned, “if he should fail me after all!”
And her heart leaps suddenly; its tumultuous throbbings nearly suffocate her. She sits down again and her breath comes hard and fast.
“If he should fail me,” she says again, “then – that would be the end.”
For she has made a fearful resolve. She would play her part, as it was the only way. She would not fail in the task he had assigned her, and if, at the last, he failed, then – before she became the wife of Franz Francoise, she would die!
And Daisy – what, then, would become of her?
Leslie puts back the thought with a passionate moan. She must not think now.
Mamma has sworn to produce the child within the hour that sees Leslie the wife of Franz. And Leslie has vowed, when the child’s hand is in hers, to sign a paper which Mamma shall place before her – anything; she cares not what.
She has agreed to all this, suffered her martyrdom, sustained by the promise: “At the right time I shall be at hand. I will not fail you.”
And the last moments are passing.
She can hear Papa shuffling about the outer room, and she knows that Franz has gone to bring the Priest. The right time is very near; but Stanhope —
She has not seen Mamma since morning. She has not heard her rasping voice, nor her heavy step in the outer room. But the minutes are going fast; Franz will be back soon.
And Stanhope – O, God, where is Stanhope?
Again she bows her head upon her arms and utters a low moan.
“Oh, if he should fail me! If he should fail me!”
In the outer room, Papa’s restlessness increases. He vibrates constantly now between the window and the door.
The curtain is drawn up to the low ceiling; the entire window is bare and stares out upon the street like a watchful eye.
And now Papa turns suddenly from the door, closes it, and hastens to the window; looks out once again to reassure himself, and then, rising on tiptoe, draws down the dark curtain. He measures the window with a glance, lowering the curtain slowly and stopping it half way down.
It is a signal, prearranged by Mamma, and it tells that approaching personage that the way is clear, that Franz is absent.
Another moment of waiting and he hears shuffling footsteps, and the sound of receding wheels. Then he opens the door, opens it wide this time, and admits Mamma.
Mamma, and something else. This something she carries in her arms. It is carefully wrapped in a huge shawl, and is quite silent and moveless.
“You are sure it’s all right?” whispers Papa nervously, as in obedience to a movement of Mamma’s head he opens the closet-door.
Mamma lays down her still burden, covers it carefully with the ragged blanket, closes the door of the closet, and then turns to face Papa.
“Yes,” she says, in a hoarse whisper; “my part of the business is right enough. Ye needn’t be uneasy about that. I told ye I wouldn’t bring her into the house while Franz was here; and as for my being followed, I ain’t afraid; I’ve doubled on my track too often. If any one started to follow me, they’re watching the wrong door this minute. How long has Franz been away?”
“Not half an hour.”
“How’s she been behaving?”
“Quiet; very quiet.”
Mamma seats herself, removes her hideous bonnet, and draws a heavy breath.
“Well, I’ve done my part,” she says grimly. “Now, let Franzy do his’n.”
She goes to a shelf, takes therefrom a bottle of ink and a rusty pen.
“I wish,” – she begins, then pauses and slowly draws a folded paper from her pocket; “I wish we could git this signed first.”
Papa coughs slightly, and turns an anxious look toward the door.
“I’m afraid it wouldn’t be safe,” he says. Then he starts and turns toward the closet. “You’re sure she won’t wake up?” he whispers.
Mamma turns upon him angrily.
“D’ye s’pose I’d run any risk now?” she hisses. “She’s got a powerful dose of Nance’s quietin’ stuff. Don’t you be afeared about her. All we want is to git this business over, and that little paper signed.”
“I’m dreadful uneasy,” sighs Papa. “I wish I was sure how this thing would come out.”
“Wall, I kin tell ye. When the gal gits hold of her little one, she’ll turn her back on us all. Married or not, she’ll never own Franzy. And I don’t s’pose the boy’ll care much; it’s the money he’s after. She’ll give him that fast enough, and he’ll always know where to look for more. As for us, this marrying makes us safe. She’d die before she’d have it known, and she can’t make us any trouble without its coming out. She’ll be glad to take her young un, and let us alone. Don’t you see that even after she’s got the young un, we shall have her in a tighter grip than ever, once she’s married to Franzy? As fer the paper she’s to sign, it won’t hold good in law, but it will hold with her. And she won’t go to a lawyer with it; be sure of that.”
“Hark!” ejaculates Papa.
And in another instant, there is a stumbling step outside, and a heavy thump upon the door.
“It’s Franz,” whispers Mamma. And she hastens to admit her Prodigal.
As he enters, Mamma’s sharp eye notes his flushed face and exaggerated swagger, and she greets him with an indignant sniff.
“Couldn’t ye keep sober jist once?” she grumbles, as he pauses before her. “Where’s the Preach?”
“Oh, I’m sober enough,” grins Franz. “And the Preach is coming. He’s bringin’ a witness.”
Papa and Mamma exchange swift glances. Franz, sober, is not the most agreeable and dutiful of sons; Franz, in liquor, is liable to sudden violent outbreaks, if not delicately handled.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî