Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
And he turned and went thoughtfully on toward his own abode.
HOW STANHOPE CAME BACK
Again we are in the office of the Chief of the detectives; in his private office, where he sits alone, looking bored and uncomfortable.
“Everybody late,” he mutters, “and I hoped Follingsbee would come first.”
He consults his watch, and finds that it is four o’clock. Four o’clock, and his interviews with the lawyer, the Australian, and the Englishman, yet to come.
Ten minutes more of waiting. Then the boy enters to announce Messrs. Parks and Ainsworth.
The Chief rises to receive them, and accepts their excuses in silence.
“We drove about the city,” says Walter Parks, “to pass away a portion of the time. An accident to our vehicle detained us.”
Then the two men sit down and look expectantly at the Chief.
“Mr. Ainsworth,” he says gravely, “I have news for you of Thomas Uliman and his wife; bad news, I regret to say.”
“Bad news!” The Australian’s face pales as he speaks. “Tell it at once, sir.”
“Thomas Uliman and his wife are both dead.”
The Australian bows his head upon his hand and remains silent.
“I can furnish you with dates and addresses that will enable you to make personal investigation. In fact, I am every moment expecting a visit from the gentleman who was Mr. Uliman’s legal adviser.”
“Ah,” sighs the Australian, “he may tell me where to find my little daughter.”
“I have also,” resumes the Chief, “a brief report from Mr. Vernet.”
At these words Walter Parks leans forward.
“May we hear it?” he asks anxiously.
“Mr. Follingsbee, sir,” says the office-boy at the door, in obedience to orders. And then Mr. Follingsbee enters.
“I think,” says the Chief, after performing the ceremony of introduction, “I think that we may waive all other business until Mr. Ainsworth’s anxiety has been, in a measure, relieved.”
“By all means,” acquiesced Walter Parks, suppressing his own feelings and withdrawing his chair a little into the background.
Then John Ainsworth turns to the lawyer an anxious face.
“I am told that you knew Thomas Uliman and his wife,” he begins abruptly.
“The late Thomas Uliman,” corrects the lawyer; “yes, sir.”
“How long have they been dead?”
“More than three years. They died in the same year.”
“Allow me” – the Chief interrupts. “This gentleman, Mr. Follingsbee, is the only brother of the late Mrs. Uliman. He has just been informed of her death.”
“Indeed!” Mr. Follingsbee rises and extends his hand. “I have heard her speak of her brother John,” he says. “She grew to believe that you were dead.”
“And my daughter, my little girl – did she think that, too?”
“Your daughter?” Mr. Follingsbee turns an inquiring look upon the Chief. “Pardon me, I – I don’t understand.”
“My child – I sent my child to her aunt – twenty years ago.”
Follingsbee looks from one face to the other inquiringly, and an expression of apprehension crosses the face of the Chief.
“Mr. Ainsworth’s daughter was less than three years old when she was sent to Mr. Uliman’s care. In searching out the history of this family, I learn that they left an adopted daughter,” the Chief explained.
Mr. Follingsbee coughs nervously.
“They left such a daughter,” he says, hesitatingly, “but – she was an adopted daughter – the child of unknown parents.”
Slowly John Ainsworth rises to his feet, his eyes turning appealingly from one to the other.
“My God!” he exclaims hoarsely, “where then is my child?”
In silence the three who sympathize with this father, look at one another helplessly. And as they sit thus silent, from the outer office comes the sound of a clear, ringing, buoyant laugh.
Instantly the Chief starts forward, but the door flies open in his face, and Richard Stanhope stands upon the threshold.
“Stanhope!” exclaims the Chief; “why, Dick!”
“It’s me,” says Stanhope, seizing the proffered hand and giving it a hearty pressure. “Oh, and here’s Mr. Follingsbee. Glad you are here, sir.”
As he grasps the hand of the lawyer he notes, with a start of surprise the presence of Walter Parks.
“Mr. Parks!” he exclaims, “this is better than I hoped for.”
And then his eyes rest upon John Ainsworth’s disturbed countenance.
“Mr. Stanhope,” the Chief says gravely, “this is Mr. Ainsworth, late of Australia. He is interested in your search almost equally with Mr. Parks.”
The detective starts, and scans the face of the Australian with strange eagerness. Evidently his impressions are satisfactory for his face lights up as he asks:
“Not – not Mr. John Ainsworth, once the friend of Arthur Pearson?”
“The same,” replies Walter Parks, for John Ainsworth seems unable to speak.
“Then,” and he extends his hand to Mr. Ainsworth, “this is indeed a most opportune meeting. My lack of knowledge concerning you, sir, was my one anxiety this morning.”
The four office-chairs being occupied, Stanhope perches himself upon the corner of the desk, saying, as the Chief makes a movement toward the bell:
“Don’t ring, sir; I’m quite at home here.”
And he looks “quite at home;” as cool, careless, and inconsequent as on the day when, in that same room, he had accepted with reluctance his commission for the masquerade.
He had, on leaving Vernet, taken time to wash the stains and pencilings from his face, and to don an easy-fitting business-suit. Stanhope is himself again: a frank, cheery, confidence-inspiring presence.
“It seems to me,” he says, gazing from one to the other, “that there must be a special Providence in this meeting together, at the right time, of the very men I most wish to see. Of course, your presence is not mysterious,” nodding toward his Chief, “and Mr. Follingsbee – ”
“Is here at my request,” interposed the Chief.
“Is he?” queries Stanhope. “I thought he was here at mine.”
“I believe,” says the lawyer, smiling slightly, “that your invitation did come first, Mr. Stanhope.”
“I had a reason for desiring Mr. Follingsbee to be present at this interview,” explains Stanhope. “And as I don’t want to be unnecessarily dramatic, nor to prolong painful anxiety, let me leave my explanations to the last. Mr. Parks, I believe I have found Arthur Pearson’s murderer.”
Walter Parks springs up with a hoarse cry. John Ainsworth leans back in his chair, pale and panting. The Chief clutches at Stanhope’s knee in excited eagerness, and waits breathlessly for his next words.
Only Mr. Follingsbee, who has never heard of Arthur Pearson, remains unmoved.
“Are you sure?” articulates the excited Englishman. “Where is he? Who is he?”
“He is in a good, strong cell by this time, in the city jail.”
“Oh!” gasps John Ainsworth.
“And his name is Franz Krutzer, although for many years he has been known as Papa Francoise.”
“Good heavens!” cries Walter Parks. “Franz Krutzer! why, Stanhope – why, Ainsworth, it was that man’s wife who had the care of your little girl!”
“Precisely,” confirms Stanhope.
John Ainsworth leans forward and extends two trembling hands.
“You know,” he whispers, “what do you know of my child?”
And then as Stanhope hesitates, he cries piteously: “Oh, tell me, is she alive?”
“I have not a doubt of it,” says Stanhope, smiling. “She was alive half an hour ago.”
“And safe and well?”
“And safe and well.”
“Thank God! Oh, thank God!”
A moment he bows his head upon his hands, then lifts it and exclaims eagerly:
“Half an hour, you said; then – she must be near?”
“Yes; she is very near.”
“Take me to her – tell me where to find her – at once.”
“Mr. Ainsworth – ” Stanhope drops from the desk and extends his hand to the anxious father – “your daughter is near and safe, but she has lately passed through a terrible ordeal. She is exhausted in body and mind. More excitement just now might do her serious harm. I beg you to be patient. When you have heard what I am about to tell these gentlemen and yourself, you will feel assured that you have a daughter to be proud of.”
With a sign of assent, the Australian sinks back upon his chair, making a visible effort to control his impatience. And Stanhope resumes his perch upon the desk.
“I must begin,” he said, “with Mr. Follingsbee; and I must recall some things that may seem out of place or unnecessary. It was nearly six weeks ago,” addressing himself to his Chief, “that you gave me a commission from Mr. Follingsbee.”
The Chief nodded; and the lawyer stared as if wondering why that business need be recalled.
“I was to attend a masquerade,” resumes Stanhope, “and to meet there the lady who desired my services. I was to be escorted by Mr. Follingsbee, and I decided to wear, for the sake of convenience, a dress I bought in Europe, and which I had there worn at a masquerade that I attended in company with Van Vernet. After accepting this commission, and receiving my instructions, I put on a rough disguise, and went to a certain locality which we had selected as the place for a Raid that would move the following night. I was to leave the ball at a very early hour, in order to conduct this Raid. And to make sure that none of my birds should slip through my fingers, I went, as I have said, on the night before, to reconnoitre the grounds. In a sort of Thieves’ Tavern, where the worst of criminals assembled, I found a young fellow, evidently an escaped convict, in a hot fight with some of the roughs. I brought him out of the place, and as he seemed dying, I took him to a hospital, and left him in the care of the Sisters. The next day I prepared for the Raid, and the Masquerade.”
He pauses for a moment, and then resumes his history, telling first, how in company with Mr. Follingsbee, he had entered the Warburton Mansion; had been presented to Leslie and learned from her lips that she had a secret to keep; how Van Vernet had discovered his presence there, and the means the latter had taken to detain him, and to secure the leadership of the Raid.
Through the scenes of that night he led his amazed listeners; telling of Leslie’s advent among the Francoise gang; of Alan’s pursuit; the killing of Siebel; and the manner in which he had outwitted Vernet. Then on through the days that followed; relating how, disguised as Franz Francoise, he had appeared before the two old plotters; been accepted by them as the real Franz, and so dwelt among them.
“It was an odd part to play, and oddly suggested,” he said. “It was just after Vernet’s discovery of Alan Warburton’s picture, when I was at a loss how to make my next move, that I went to visit my wounded ex-convict – the one, you will remember, whom I rescued from the Thieves’ Tavern. I found him very low; indeed dying. He was in a stupor when I came, but soon passed into delirium, and his ravings attracted my attention, for he repeated over and over again the name of Krutzer, Franz Krutzer. Now, I had obtained from Mr. Parks here, a list of the names of all who composed that wagon-train, and I remembered the name of Franz Krutzer. And as he raved on, I gathered material enough to arouse my suspicions. He talked of a child whom they wished to keep; of money hoarded and strangely gotten; of beatings because of his eavesdropping. One moment he defied them in wild, boyish bravado, and babbled gleefully of what he had overheard. The next, he writhed in imaginary torture under the lash, vowing that he did not listen; that he would never tell. Then he was frightened by an approaching thunder-storm; he was crouching beneath his blankets, and crying out: ‘Oh, don’t make me go out – don’t; I’m afraid. I won’t! I won’t!’ Then he seemed to have returned from somewhere. ‘Let me in!’ he cried. ‘I’m wet and cold; let me in, quick! Yes, he’s there; up by the big rock. He’s fast asleep and I didn’t wake him.’ Then, ‘where is dad going?’ he said. ‘Oh, I don’t, I don’t; I didn’t have the hammer.’ Then, after more random talk: ‘I won’t tell; don’t beat me. I’ll never tell that I saw him there asleep. Oh, maybe he was dead then!’
“I had not intended to remain, but I did. I never left him until his ravings ceased; until the end came. In his last moments, consciousness returned. For a time he was strong, as the dying sometimes are. He was very grateful to me because I had not taken him back to the prison to die, and he willingly answered a few questions concerning himself and his parents. I had entered him at the hospital under a false name, and under that name he was buried.
“Immediately after his death, I came and announced my readiness to devote myself exclusively to the Arthur Pearson case. And as soon as he was buried, I notified the prison-officials of his death, and asked them to keep my information a secret for a time. I then made minute inquiries into the character and history of Franz Francoise, and learned enough from the penitentiary-officials, and from his imprisoned comrades – some of them, not knowing of his death, were very anxious to have him recaptured – to enable me to personate him as I did.
“When I presented myself to the Francoises, it was with the double purpose of solving the Pearson mystery and finding Daisy Warburton, for I agreed with Mrs. Warburton in thinking that they had stolen the child. I could not then foresee the complications which would arise, nor did I dream of the formidable and fox-like enemy I was to encounter in Mamma Francoise. It had been my intentions to draw them into my net by letting them see that I knew, or remembered, too much about that Marais des Cygnes affair. But a few days of the old woman’s society convinced me that this would be a false move, and so I never once alluded to the days so far gone by. But the girl, Nance, was there, and although they would have concealed it if they could, they were obliged to tell me what I guessed before, that she was dangerous to them. Then I grew blood-thirsty, and professed a dislike for the girl. She was an encumbrance, and I offered to remove her. I took her away one night, and they imagined her at the bottom of the river, when in reality she was in the hands of merciful women, who brought back her senses, and who still have charge of her, until such time as I may want her to testify against Papa. My investigation was progressing slowly, when Mrs. Warburton appeared among us one night, and announced her purpose to remain until they gave back little Daisy. I had not planned for this; and during the night I thought the matter out and resolved in some way to make myself known to her, and to persuade her to return home and leave the rest to me. But in the morning she was in a raving delirium.”
He paused for a moment and then resumed, drawing a graphic picture of Leslie’s life among the Francoises; telling how Mamma had suddenly conceived her famous scheme of marrying Leslie to her son; of Leslie’s illness, and how he had contrived to make Dr. Bayless – who was really a good physician, albeit he had been implicated in some very crooked business – useful, and his abettor; giving a full account of all that had transpired.
“Mrs. Warburton’s condition,” he concluded, “was such that I dared not confide in her, as I had intended. She was too ill and weak to exercise self-control, and we had too much at stake to run any risk. Indeed, I had begun to realize what an enemy we had to deal with, and to fear that we could only succeed by playing our desperate game to the end. In fact, there seemed no alternative. From the moment of Mrs. Warburton’s coming among us, Mamma’s watch was lynx-like. I could not have removed the lady or interposed to save her one moment’s uneasiness, without being myself betrayed. And then our situation would have been worse than ever; Mamma would have revenged herself upon us through the little girl. At every point, that vile old woman was a match for me. When she proposed the marriage, I pretended to withhold my consent until she should tell everything concerning the lady’s prospective fortune. For two long weeks I enacted the part of a blustering, drunken ruffian; cursing, quarrelling, threatening; before I extorted the truth from her. Some papers, that had accidentally fallen into her hands, had informed her that Mrs. Warburton – or the child, Leschen, she called her – was the daughter of one John Ainsworth. These same papers – they were those confided to her by Arthur Pearson – gave a specific account of the fortune John Ainsworth possessed at the time he left the mines.”
Again he paused, and the Australian lifted his head, speaking quickly.
“I comprehend,” he said; “I sent such memoranda in a letter to my sister, and also told her of investments I proposed to make in Australia. I wanted her to understand my business affairs for little Lea’s sake.”
“And through these documents,” resumed Stanhope, “the shrewd old woman traced your Australian career, and knew that your fortune, in the twenty years of your exile, had swollen immensely. When she saw the advertisement of your lawyer, she took alarm. She must act promptly or, perhaps, lose her game. So she stole the little girl, hoping to use her as a means by which to compel Mrs. Warburton to yield up a large slice of her prospective wealth. And had her first plan been carried out, she would not have hesitated to find means to remove from her path the greatest obstacle to her ambition – yourself, Mr. Ainsworth.”
“I see,” said the Australian gravely. “Yes, it is quite probable.”
“The unexpected coming of myself, as Franz Francoise, and of Mrs. Warburton so soon after, caused them, or rather Mamma, to reconstruct her plan, as I have told you. And she reached the height and depth of her cunning by effectually concealing, from first to last, the hiding-place of the little girl. Nothing could wring this secret from her; on that subject she was absolutely dangerous. She never visited the child, so nothing was learned by shadowing her. Indeed, when she brought the child to the house to-day, she eluded the two men whom I had set to watch her, and did it so cleverly that they could not even guess, after her first feint, which way she went. And I was playing my last card without knowing that the child was in the house, when her pitiful prayer betrayed her presence.
“Until then I had not intended to reveal myself; the men were to arrest Papa Francoise, and to try and make terms through him for the ransom of the child. One of my men was disguised as a Priest, and of course we had arranged to make Papa’s arrest cut short the wedding ceremony. Holt, Beale and the others have aided me wonderfully, though they do not yet know what it was all about.”
“They shall be generously rewarded,” breaks in Walter Parks; “every man of them who has in any way assisted you.”
Let the reader imagine all that followed: the praises showered upon Stanhope; the congratulations of each to all; the eager questions of Walter Parks; the desire of John Ainsworth to hear of his daughter’s courage and devotion over and again; the general jubilation of the Chief.
“But,” queried Walter Parks, when question and comment had been exhausted, “are you sure that we have, even now, evidence enough to convict Krutzer, or Francoise, as you call him?”
“He has called himself Francoise from the day he and his worthy wife left the wagon-train,” rejoined Stanhope. “He has never been Krutzer since. As for proof, we shall not lack that; but I think the old villain, if he lives to come to trial, will plead guilty. His wife possesses all the courage; he is cunning enough, but cowardly. He will not be allowed to see or consult with her; and free from her influence, he can be made to confess. Besides, the old woman has been wearing about her person a belt, which, if I am not mistaken, is the one stolen from the body of Arthur Pearson. It is of peculiar workmanship, and evidently very old. It contains papers and money.”
“If it is Pearson’s belt,” interposed Walter Parks, “I can identify it, and so could some others of the party if – ”
“Was a certain Joe Blakesley a member of your band?” asked the Chief quickly.
“And could he identify this belt?”
“Then Vernet has done something; he has found this Blakesley.”
“Where?” asked the Englishman, eagerly.
“Good!” cried Stanhope; “Van shall have the full benefit of his discovery.”
And in the final summing-up, he did have the benefit, not only of this, his one useful exploit, but of all Stanhope’s magnanimity. Through his intercession, Vernet was retained in the service he had abused; but he was never again admitted to the full confidence of his Chief, nor trusted with unlimited power, as of old. The question of supremacy was decided, and to all who knew the true inwardness of their drawn battle Richard Stanhope was “the Star of the force.”
In regard to Papa Francoise, as we will still call him, Stanhope had judged aright.
He was possessed of wondrous cunning, and all his instincts were evil, but he lacked the one element that, sometimes, makes a successful villain: he was an utter coward. Deprived of the stimulus of the old woman’s fierce temper and piercing tongue, he cowered in his cell, and fell an easy victim to his inquisitors. He was wild with terror when confronted by the girl Nance, risen, as it seemed to him, from the grave to denounce him. And when, after Nance had withdrawn, he faced Stanhope and his Chief, Walter Parks and John Ainsworth, he was as wax in their hands.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî