Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Papa makes a signal which Mamma interprets: “Don’t irritate him.” And the two continue to eye him anxiously as he crosses the room and attempts to open the door of the inner apartment.
“Locked!” he mutters, and turns toward Mamma. “Out with your key, old un,” he says quite amiably; “the Preach ’ull be here in five minutes, and what ye’ve got to say, all round, had better be said afore he comes. Open this.”
“The boy’s right enough,” mutters Papa. “Open the door, old woman.”
Silently Mamma obeys, and Franz is the first to enter the room. He goes straight over to the table where Leslie sits, scarcely stirring at their entrance, and he looks down at her intently.
“See here, Leschen,” he says, “don’t think that this lockin’ ye in is my doin’s, or that it’s goin’ to be continued. It’s the old woman as is takin’ such precious care of ye.”
Mamma is at his elbow, glancing sharply at him, while she places upon the table pen, ink, and a folded paper.
“We’ve kept our word, gal,” she says harshly, “and we know that after to-day ye may take some queer fancies. Now, this paper is ter signify that we have acted fairly by ye, and ter bind ye not ter make us any trouble hereafter.”
Leslie’s eyes rove slowly from one to the other. She feels that the end has come, and with the last remnant of her courage she keeps back the despairing cry that rises to her lips.
As she gazes, Franz Francoise makes a sudden movement as if to snatch up the paper, then as suddenly withdraws his hand.
“Wot’s in that paper?” he asks, turning to Mamma.
“Ye know well enough,” retorts the old woman tartly. “We’ve promised her the gal, and she’s promised not to inform agin us. We’re goin’ to stick to our bargain, and we want her to stick to hers.”
And she pushes the pen and ink toward Leslie. But the latter does not heed the motion.
“Oh,” she cries, half rising and clasping her hands in intense appeal, “is it true? Is she indeed so near me? Shall I have her back?”
“Yes, yes.” Mamma grows impatient, “Sign this and then – ”
Franz leans forward and puts one finger upon the folded paper.
“Once agin,” says he sharply, “what’s that?”
“It’s a simple little paper, Franzy,” breaks in Papa reassuringly, “jest to ’stablish our innocence, in case your new wife should happen to forgit her promise. It’s nothing that’ll affect you.”
“Umph,” grunts Franz, eyeing the pair suspiciously, “that’s it, is it.” Then, turning to Leslie: “Read that paper, gal.”
But Papa puts out his hand.
“It’s only a little form, my dear boy.”
“Wal,” with growing aggressiveness, “let her read the little form.”
“It’s only a waste o’ time,” breaks in Mamma impatiently, “an’ the sooner it’s signed, the sooner she’ll – ”
“Only a waste of time.” The words awaken Leslie’s almost benumbed senses. Time; that is just what this discussion is gaining for her, for Stanhope! Since their entrance, she has not opened her lips; now she interrupts Mamma’s discourse.
“Let me read the paper,” she says.
By a quick movement, Papa extracts the paper from beneath the finger of his Prodigal, and holding it tightly, steps back from the table.
“It’s wasting time,” he says, “an’ it’s only a little form.”
Then Leslie draws herself up to her fullest height, and stepping back from the table says:
“I will sign no paper that I have not read.”
With a sudden movement Franz springs upon Papa, wrests the paper from his grasp, and passes it over Mamma’s shoulder to Leslie.
Then he turns fiercely upon the pair.
“If ye could read, Franz Francoise,” shrieks Mamma, in a burst of incautious rage, “ye’d never a-done that thing!”
“Kerrect!” retorts Franz, with a malicious grin, “I’d a-read it myself. Not bein’ able to do that, I’d sooner take her word fer it than your’n.”
Again Papa comes forward and lays a hand upon the arm of his son.
“Franzy,” he says deprecatingly, “ye don’t know what ye are doin’.”
“Don’t I?” sneers Franz. “Wal I’m goin’ ter find out shortly.”
A sudden exclamation from Leslie causes him to turn quickly. She is gazing at the paper with a bewildered face.
“What is it?” he asked peremptorily.
“This paper,” exclaims Leslie, “would bind me to make over one third of any property I am or may become possessed of to those two and – ”
“What!” Again Franz makes a movement as if about to seize the paper, then, dropping his hand, he repeats: “To those two?” pointing to Papa and Mamma; “and don’t it make no mention o’ me?”
“Now Franz – ” remonstrates Mamma.
“You shut up! Say, gal, does that document leave me out?”
Leslie’s eyes scan the page. “It does not name you,” she falters.
“Oh, it don’t! Wal,” stepping to her side and taking the paper from her, “wal, then, we won’t sign it.”
As he crumples it in his hand, Leslie moves toward Mamma Francoise, seeming in one moment to have mastered all her fears.
“This paper,” she says, turning her clear eyes upon Mamma, “confirms what I have suspected, ever since you proposed this marriage with your son, as the price of little Daisy’s deliverance. You know the secret of my birth and believe me to be an heiress. You stole little Daisy to compel me to this,” – pointing at the paper in the hand of Franz – “and since your son has returned, you would strengthen your own position while you enrich him. It was a clever plot, but overdone. Give me the pen, give me the paper. Rather than leave little Daisy longer at your mercy, I would resign to you an hundred fortunes were they mine.”
She moves toward the table, but Franz is before her.
“Oh, no!” he says, quietly; “I guess not! I don’t seem to cut much of a figure in that little transaction on paper, but I’m blessed if I don’t hold my own in this business. Ye can’t sign that paper; not yet.”
Leslie turns from him and again addresses Mamma.
“Listen to me,” she says. “I know your scheme now, and I know how to deal with you. I never meant to marry this man. I never will. You want money; give me back little Daisy, and I will sign this paper, or any other you may frame. And I will swear never to complain against you, never to molest you, never to reveal the secret of these awful weeks. There let it end: I will never marry your son!”
With a sudden motion, Mamma turns upon Franz, and attempts to snatch the paper from his hand.
“Give me that paper, boy!” she fairly hisses.
But he repulses her savagely, and thrusts the paper into his breast.
“Take care, old woman!” he exclaims hotly. “I ain’t your son for nothing; what do ye take me for?”
His words are interrupted by a loud knock on the door.
“Do ye hear that?” he hisses. “Now, that parson’s coming in to finish this marryin’ business, or I’m goin’ right out of here, and the gal along with me, if I have to cut my way straight through ye! The gal can sign the paper if she likes, but she’ll sign it Leschen Francoise, or she’ll never sign it at all!”
And before they can guess his intentions, he has caught Leslie up and fairly carried her to the outer room. In a flutter of fear and rage, Mamma follows, and Papa hovers in the open doorway.
“Franz Francoise!” shrieks Mamma, the tiger now fairly awake in her eyes.
But he pays no heed to her rage. He releases his hold upon Leslie, and flings open the door.
“I don’t know as we will have any funeral, after all,” he says cheerfully, to the two who enter. “There’s a kind of a hitch in the arrangements.”
The new-comers, the foremost in the garb of a Priest, and the other evidently a very humble citizen, stop near the open door and glance curiously around. And then a third citizen appears, and fairly fills up the doorway.
Even as they enter, Mamma, stealing close to Leslie, whispers in her ear:
“If ye ever want to see yer gal agin, marry him.”
Leslie Warburton looks into the wolfish face beside her; looks across at Franz, and then at the three new-comers. What stolid faces! She sees no hope there. And then, as Mamma’s words repeat themselves in her ear, she leans against the rickety closet-door and utters a despairing moan.
“Quick!” whispers Mamma, “it’s yer last chance!”
AT THE RIGHT TIME
“Ye see,” explains Franz, glancing toward Leslie, “the lady’s kind o’ hesitatin’. We’ll give her a minute or two ter make up her mind.” And he goes over and takes his stand beside her.
In the moment of silence that follows, Leslie can hear her heart beat, then —
What is it that breaks that strange stillness, that startles so differently every occupant of that dingy room?
Only a voice, sweet, clear, pitiful; a child’s voice, uplifted in prayer:
“Dear God, please take care of a little girl whose Mamma has gone to Heaven —”
The rest is drowned in the shriek which bursts from Leslie’s lips; in the sudden bound made by Mamma; and the quick counter movement of Franz.
Then Leslie’s hands are beating wildly against the closet-door. Mamma, forcibly hurled back by Franz, is sprawling upon the floor, and the escaped convict is pressing against the rickety timbers.
As they yield to his onslaught, he stoops down, catches up the little crouching figure within, and turns to Leslie, who receives it with outstretched arms.
“Oh, Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!”
Sobbing wildly, she is down upon her knees, the little one tightly clasped to her bosom.
“Oh, Daisy, my darling!”
“Git out!” commands Franz, as Mamma, scrambling up, approaches with glaring eyes. “Stand back, old un. This is a new deal.”
And he places himself as a barricade before Leslie and the child, waving back the infuriated old woman with a gesture of menace.
And then heavy feet come trampling across the threshold. Men in police uniform fill up the doorway, and the foremost of them says, as he approaches the Prodigal:
“Franz Francoise, I arrest you in the name of the law!”
The priest and his two witnesses start perceptibly, and turn their faces toward Franz. Papa and Mamma slink back toward the inner room. Leslie lifts her head and looks wonderingly at the new-comers.
Only Franz remains undisturbed. With a swift movement, he whisks out a pair of revolvers and presents them, muzzle foremost, to the speaker.
“Not just yet!” he says coolly; “I ain’t quite ready. Ye’ve interrupted me, and ye’ll have to wait.”
One of his hands is slightly uplifted and, for just an instant, his head turns toward the inner room.
The two witnesses, making way for the police, lounge nearer to Papa and Mamma.
“You had better not resist, Franz Francoise,” says the leader once more. “You can’t escape us now.”
“No; I s’pose not,” assents Franz. “Oh, I know I’m cornered, but wait.”
He moves aside and looks down upon Leslie.
“This lady,” he says quietly, “and her little gal, are here by accident, and they ain’t to be mixed up in this business o’ mine. Look here, Mr. Preach – ”
The Priest comes forward, and glances at him inquiringly.
“Ye can’t afford to lose yer time altogether, I s’pose, and I’ll give ye a new contract. Ye see this lady and the little gal are being scared by these cops. I want you to take ’em away. The lady’ll tell ye where to go, and don’t ye leave ’em till ye’ve seen ’em safe home.”
Without a word of comment, the Priest moves toward Leslie.
At the same instant, and with a howl of rage, Mamma rushes forward.
“Stop her!” says Franz; and one of the two witnesses lays a strong hand upon Mamma’s shoulder.
Then the Prodigal turns to Leslie, who, with the child in her arms, has risen to her feet.
“Go,” he says gently; “you are free and safe. Go at once. That old woman will harm you if she can.”
With a start and a sudden bounding of her pulses, Leslie looks into the face of the Prodigal, only an instant, for he turns it away. And all bewildered, pallid and trembling, she yields to the gentle force by which the Priest compels her to move, mechanically, almost blindly, from the room.
The officers step back to let her pass. And as she reaches the outer air, she has a shadowy vision of Franz Francoise, with pistols in hand, standing at bay; of Mamma struggling in the grasp of the humble citizen, and uttering yells of impotent rage.
She feels the cool air upon her brow, and clasps the child closer in her arms, believing herself to be moving in a dream. Then the voice of the Priest assures her.
“Give me the child, Mrs. Warburton,” he says respectfully, “and lean on my arm. We have a carriage near.”
When Leslie had disappeared beyond the doorway, Franz Francoise throws down his pistols.
“Now then, boys,” he says quietly, “you can come and take me.”
With a yell of rage, Mamma hurls herself upon her captor.
“Let me go!” she shrieks. “Ah, ye brute, let me get at him! Let me kill the sneakin’ coward! Ah,” kicking viciously, and gnashing her teeth as she struggles to reach the Prodigal, “that I should have to own such a chicken-hearted son!”
The leader of the officers, handcuffs in hand, has approached Franz, and the others are closing about him.
As Mamma utters her fierce anathema, he turns upon her suddenly, making at the same time a swift gesture of impatience.
“Gray,” he says sternly, “bring out that old man.”
It is not the voice of Franz Francoise; it is not his manner. And as the man addressed as Gray lays a hand upon Papa Francoise, the old woman catches her breath with a hissing sound, and stares blankly.
Struggling and whimpering, Papa is dragged from the inner room, and when he stands before the group, the Prodigal says:
“Now, Harvey, make the proper use of your handcuffs. Put them on this precious pair.”
The leader of the arresting party starts forward, and stares at the speaker, who makes a sudden movement and then faces the officers, holding in his hand a carroty wig and moustache!
Papa’s face is ashen. Mamma writhes and gurgles, staring wildly at this sudden transformation. The officers instinctively group themselves together, and the handcuffs fall from the leader’s grasp, clanking dolefully as they strike the bare floor.
“Stanhope!” gasps the officer, starting forward, and then drawing back.
And the two aids instinctively echo the word:
Then the man who has so long masqueraded as Franz Francoise flings aside the carroty wig and fixes a stern eye upon Mamma Francoise.
“Woman,” he says slowly; “let me set your mind at rest. You need never again call me your son. Franz Francoise is dead, and before he died he told me his story, and yours, as he knew it. If for weeks I have lived among you in his likeness, you know now why it was necessary. Oh, you are a clever pair! Almost too clever, but you are outwitted. Harvey,” turning once more to the officer, “you shall not go back without a prisoner; you shall have two. Put your bracelets on this rascally pair; and see them safely in separate cells. Holt and Drake will go with you.”
The two humble citizens glance up, and confirm by a look their leader’s assurance.
“Drake! Holt!” The man addressed as Harvey utters the names mechanically. Drake and Holt are two efficient detectives, and Harvey knows them as such. “Mr. Stanhope, I – I cannot understand.”
“And I cannot explain now.” He is actively assisting Drake to put the manacles on Mamma’s wrists. “Old woman, it will be policy for you to keep quiet; or do you want me to gag you?”
“One thing, Harvey; you were sent here by Van Vernet. I know that much. Now, tell me why did not Van make this attempt himself? Don’t hesitate. Van has well-nigh led you and these fellows into a scrape; he has certainly made trouble for himself. Where is he now?”
A moment Harvey hesitates. Then he says:
“I don’t know where he is, but he has gone to make another arrest.”
“A sailor; the fellow who killed the Jew, Siebel.”
Richard Stanhope swings himself around and points to Papa Francoise, as with the finger of fate.
“The man who killed the Jew, Siebel, is there!” he says sternly.
Then snatching up the wig, he readjusts it upon his head, saying, as he does it:
“Drake, Holt, look after these people; and Harvey, you may do well to ignore Vernet’s instructions for the present. He has done mischief enough already. I must prevent this last blunder.”
The carroty moustache has once more resumed its place. “Holt, you understand?”
As the detective is once more transformed into Franz Francoise, Mamma becomes fairly livid. She makes a final frantic effort to free herself and howls out:
“Let me go; what have I done? for what am I arrested? Let me go, you impostor!”
“You will learn in good time, woman,” retorts Stanhope. “You may have to answer to several small charges: blackmail, abduction, theft, murder.”
He goes to the door; then turns and looks back at the handcuffed pair:
“Holt,” he says impressively, “watch that woman closely, and search them both at the Jail. You will find upon the woman a belt, which you will take charge of until I come.”
Mamma Francoise yells with rage. She writhes, she curses; her fear and fury are horrible to behold. As Richard Stanhope crosses the threshold, her curses are shrieked after him, and her captors shudder as they listen.
Papa is abject enough. He has been shivering, quaking, cowardly, from the first; but Stanhope’s last words have crushed him utterly. His knees refuse to support him, his eyes stare glassily, his jaw drops weakly.
And as they bear them away, the one helpless from fear, the other resisting with tiger-like fierceness, a distant clock strikes one, two, three!
WHAT HAPPENED AT WARBURTON PLACE
There is unusual stir and life in the Warburton Mansion, for Alan Warburton has returned, as suddenly and strangely as he went away.
He has made Mrs. French and Winnie such explanations as he could, and has promised them one more full and complete when he shall be able, himself, to understand, in all its details, the mystery which surrounds him.
After listening to the little that Alan has to tell – of course that part of his story which concerns Leslie is entirely ignored, as being another’s secret rather than his – Mrs. French and Winnie are more than ever mystified, and they hold a long consultation in their private sitting-room.
Acting upon Alan’s suggestion – he refuses to issue an order – Mrs. French has bidden the servants throw open the closed drawing-rooms, and give to the house a more cheerful aspect.
Wonderingly, the servants go about their task, and at noon all is done. Warburton Place stands open to the sunlight, a cheerful, tasteful, luxurious home once more.
“I don’t see what it’s all about,” Winnie French says petulantly. “One would think Alan were giving himself an ovation.”
They lunched together, Alan, Mrs. French and Winnie. It was a silent meal, and very unsatisfactory to Alan. When they rose from the table, Mrs. French desired a few words with him, and Winnie favored him with a chilling salute and withdrew.
When she had gone, Mrs. French came straight to the point. She was a serious, practical woman, and she wasted no words.
They had discussed the situation, her daughter and herself, and they had decided. Winnie was feeling more and more the embarrassment of their present position. They had complied with the wishes expressed in Leslie’s farewell note, as well as by himself and Mr. Follingsbee. But this strangeness and air of mystery by which they were surrounded was wearing upon Winnie. She went out so seldom, and she grieved and pined for Leslie and the little one so constantly, that Mrs. French had decided to send her away.
She had talked of this before, but Winnie had been reluctant to go. To-day, however, she had admitted that she wished to go; that she needed and must have the change.
It was not their intention to withdraw their confidence from Leslie, or from him, or to desert their friends. Mrs. French would stay at her post, but Winnie, for a time at least, should go away. Her relatives in the country were anxious to receive her, and Winnie was ready and impatient to set out.
And what could Alan say? While his heart rebelled against this decision, his reason endorsed it, and his pride held all protestation in check.
He offered a few courteous commonplaces in a constrained and embarrassed manner.
He was aware that their unhappy complications must place himself and his sister-in-law in an unfavorable light. He realized that they had already overtaxed the friendship and endurance of Mrs. French and her daughter. In his present situation, he dared not remonstrate against this decision; he was already too deeply their debtor. He should regret the departure of Miss French, and he should be deeply grateful to Mrs. French for the sacrifice she must make in remaining.
All the same, he felt an inward pang as he left Mrs. French, and went slowly down to the drawing-room. Winnie had gone in that direction, and he was now in search of her, for, in spite of her scorn and his own pride, he felt that he must speak with her once more before she went away. She had decided to go this day, the day of his home-coming. That meant simply that she was leaving because of him.
Winnie was seated in a cavernous chair, looking extremely comfortable, and, apparently, occupied with a late magazine. She glanced up as Alan entered, then hastily resumed her reading.
Seeing her so deeply absorbed, he crossed the room, and looked out upon the street for a moment, then slowly turned his back upon the window and began a steady march up and down the drawing-room, keeping to the end farthest from that occupied by Winnie, and casting upon her, when his march brought her within view, long, earnest glances.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî