Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“You are frank, sir! But I have observed that, in relating your story, you have been careful to avoid giving either your own name or the name of the murdered man.”
“As I shall continue to do until I state the case to the two detectives, after they have enlisted in my service.”
The Chief ponders for a time and then says:
“Now, hear my proposition: you are justified in believing that, if there is a bottom to this ancient mystery, Vernet and Stanhope, singly or together, are the men to find it. That is my belief also. As for your idea of putting them on their mettle, by offering so magnificent a reward to the man who succeeds, that is not bad – for you and the man who wins. Vernet and Stanhope have, this very day, taken in hand two cases, – working separately, understand. If you will wait in patience until these cases are finished, you shall have the men from this office, – if they will accept the case.”
“Put my proposition before the two men at once. When I know that I shall have their services, I can wait in patience until their duty of the present is done.”
“Then,” said the Chief rising, “the question can soon be settled; Vernet is in the outer office; Stanhope will soon be here. You will find the evening papers upon that desk; try and entertain yourself while I put your case before Vernet.”
Ten minutes later, Van Vernet was standing before his Chief, listening with bent head, compressed lip, and glowing cheek, to the story of the man who was murdered twenty years before, and to the splendid proposal of the tall stranger. When it was all told, and the Chief paused for a reply, the young detective moved a pace nearer and said with decision:
“Tell him that I accept the proposition. A man can’t afford to lose so splendid a chance for friendship’s sake. Besides,” his eyes darkening and his mouth twitching convulsively, “it’s time for Dick and I to find out who is the better man!”
Returning to the inner office, the Chief of the force found his strange patron walking fiercely up and down the room, with a newspaper grasped firmly in his hand, and on his countenance traces of agitation.
“Look!” he cried, approaching and forcing the paper upon the astonished Chief; “see what a moment of waiting has brought me!”
And he pointed to a paragraph beginning:
WANTED. INFORMATION OF ANY SORT CONCERNING one Arthur Pearson, etc. etc.
“An advertisement, I see;” said the Chief. “But I fail to understand why it should thus excite you.”
“A moment ago it was my intention to keep the identity of the murdered man a secret. This,” indicating the paper by a quick gesture, “changes the face of affairs. After twenty years, some one inquires after Arthur Pearson – ”
“Then Arthur Pearson is – ”
“The man who was murdered near the Marais des Cygnes!”
“And the child?”
“I never knew her name until now.
No doubt it is the little girl that was in Pearson’s care.”
“What became of the child?”
“I never knew.”
“And how does this discovery affect your movements?”
“I will tell you; but, first, you saw Vernet?”
“Yes; and he accepts.”
“Good! That notice was inserted either by some friend of Pearson’s, or by the child’s father, John Ainsworth.”
“What do you know of him?”
“Nothing; I never met him. But, as soon as you have seen Stanhope, and I am sure that these two sharp fellows are prepared to hunt down poor Pearson’s assassins, I will meet him, if the notice is his, for I am going to Australia.”
“Yes; I can do no good here. To-morrow morning, business will take me out of the city. When I return, in two days, let me have Stanhope’s answer.”
When Richard Stanhope appeared at the office that night a little later than usual, the story of Arthur Pearson and his mysterious death was related for the third time that day, and the strange and munificent offer of the stranger, for the second time rehearsed by the Chief.
“What do you think of it, my boy? Are you anxious to try for a fortune?”
“No, thank you.”
It was said as coolly as if he were declining a bad cigar.
“There is no need. Van and I have pulled together too long to let a mere matter of money come between us. He would never accept such a proposition.”
The Chief bit his lip and remained silent.
“Or if he did,” went on Stanhope, “he would not work against me. Tell your patron that with Van Vernet I will undertake the case. He may make Van his chief, and I will gladly assist. Without Van as my rival, I will work it alone; but against him, as his rival for honors and lucre, never!”
The Chief slowly arose, and resting his hands upon the shoulders of the younger man, looked in his face with fatherly pride.
“Dick, you’re a splendid fellow, and a shrewd detective,” he said, “but you have a weakness. You study strangers, but you trust your friends with absolute blindness. Van is ambitious.”
“So am I.”
“He loves money.”
“A little too well, I admit.”
“If he should accept this offer?”
“But he won’t.”
“If he should;” persisted the Chief.
“If such a thing were possible, – if, without a friendly consultation, and a fair and square send off, he should take up the cudgel against me, then – ”
Richard Stanhope’s eyes flashed, and his mouth set itself in firm lines.
“Then,” he said, “I would measure my strength against his as a detective; but always as a friend, and never to his injury!”
“And, Dick, if, in the thick of the strife, Van forgets his friendship for you and becomes your enemy?”
“Then, as I am only human, I should be his enemy too. But that will not happen.”
“I hope not; I hope not, my boy. But – Van Vernet has already accepted the stranger’s proposition.”
Stanhope leaped to his feet.
“What!” he cried, “has Van agreed to work against me – without a word to me – and so soon!”
His lips trembled now, and his eyes searched those of his Chief with the eager, inquiring look of a grieved child.
“It is as I say, Stanhope.”
“Then,” and he threw back his head and instantly resumed his usual look of careless indifference, “tell your patron, whoever he may be, that I am his man, for one year, or for twenty!”
“STANHOPE’S FIRST TRICK.”
Van Vernet and Richard Stanhope had been brother detectives during the entire term of their professional career.
Entering the Agency when mere striplings, they had at once formed a friendship that had been strong and lasting. Their very differences of disposition and habits made them the better fellow-workmen, and the role most difficult for one was sure to be found the easier part for the other to play.
They had been a strong combination, and the Chief of the detectives wasted some time in pondering the question: what would be the result, when their skill and courage stood arrayed against each other?
Meantime, Richard Stanhope, wasting no thought upon the matter, hastened from the presence of his Chief to his own quarters.
“It’s my last night,” he muttered, as he inserted his key in the lock, “and I’ll just take one more look at the slums. I don’t want to lose one bird from that flock.”
Half an hour later, there sallied forth from the door where Stanhope had entered, a roughly-dressed, swaggering, villainous-looking fellow, who bore about with him the strongly defined odors of tobacco and bad whiskey.
This individual, armed with a black liquor flask, two revolvers, a blood-thirsty-looking dirk, a pair of brass knuckles, and a quantity of plug tobacco, took his way through the streets, avoiding the more popular and respectable thoroughfares, and gradually approaching that portion of the city almost entirely given over to the worst of the bad, – a network of short streets and narrow alleys, as intricate as the maze, and as dangerous to the unwary as an African jungle.
But the man who now entered these dismal streets walked with the manner of one familiar with their sights and sounds. Moving along with an air of stolid indifference to what was before and about him, he arrived at a rickety building, somewhat larger than those surrounding it, the entrance to which was reached by going down, instead of up, a flight of stone steps. This entrance was feebly illuminated by a lantern hung against the doorway, and by a few stray gleams of light that shone out from the rents in the ragged curtains.
Pushing open the door, our visitor found himself in a large room with sanded floor, a counter or bar, and five or six tables, about which a number of men were lounging, – some at cards, some drinking, and some conversing in the queer jargon called thieves’ slang, and which is as Greek to the unenlightened.
The buzz of conversation almost ceased as the door opened, but was immediately resumed when the new comer came forward toward the light.
“Is that you, Cull?” called the man behind the bar. “You’ve been keepin’ scarce of late.”
The man addressed as “Cull” laughed discordantly.
“I’ve been visitin’ in the country,” he returned, with a knowing wink. “It’s good for my health this time o’ year. How’s business? You’ve got the hull deck on hand, I should say.”
“You better say! Things is boomin’; nearly all of the old uns are in.”
“Well, spread out the drinks, Pap, I’m tolerably flush. Boys, come up, and if I don’t know any of ye we’ll be interduced.”
Almost instantly a dozen men were flocking about the bar, some eager to grasp the hand of the liberal last arrival, and others paying their undivided attention to the bar keeper’s cheerful command:
“Nominate yer dose, gentlemen.”
While the party, glasses in hand, were putting themselves en rapport, the door again opened, and now the hush that fell upon the assembled “gentlemen” was deeper and more lasting.
Evidently, the person who entered was a stranger to all in the Thieves’ Tavern, for such the building was.
He was a young man, with a countenance half fierce, half desperate, wholly depraved. He was haggard, dirty, and ragged, having the look and the gait of a man who has travelled far and is footsore and weary. As he approached the group about the bar it was also evident that he was half intoxicated.
“Good evenin’, sirs,” he said with surly indifference. Then to the man behind the bar: “Mix us a cocktail, old Top, and strong.”
While the bar keeper was deftly shaking up the desired drink, the men before the counter drew further away from the stranger, and some of them began a whispered conversation.
The last arrival eyed them with a sneer of contempt, and said to the bar keeper, as he gulped down his drink: “Your coves act like scared kites. Probably they ain’t used to good society.”
“See here, my friend,” spoke a blustering fellow, advancing toward him, “you made a little mistake. This ’ere ain’t a tramps’ lodgin’ house.”
“Ain’t it?” queried the stranger; “then what the Moses are you doin’ here?”
“You’ll swallow that, my hearty!”
The stranger threw himself into an attitude of defence and glared defiance at his opponent.
“Wax him, Charley!”
“Let’s fire him out!”
“Hold on gentlemen; fair play!”
“I’ll give you one more chance,” said the blusterer. “Ask my pardon and then mizzle instantly, or I’ll have ye cut up in sections as sure as my name’s Rummey Joe.”
The half intoxicated man was no coward. Evidently he was ripe for a quarrel.
“I intend to stop here!” he cried, bringing his fist down upon the counter with a force that made it creak. “I’m goin’ to stay right here till the old Nick comes to fetch me. And I’m goin’ ter send your teeth down your big throat in three minutes.”
There was a chorus of exclamations, a drawing of weapons, and a forward rush. Then sudden silence.
The man who had lately ordered drinks for the crowd, was standing between the combatants, one hand upon the breast of the last comer, the other grasping a pistol levelled just under the nose of Rummey Joe.
“Drop yer fist, boy! Put up that knife, Joe! Let’s understand each other.”
Then addressing the stranger, but keeping an eye upon Rummey Joe, he said:
“See here, my hearty, you don’t quite take in the siteration. This is a sort of club house, not open to the general public. If you want to hang out here, you must show your credentials.”
The stranger hesitated a moment, and then, without so much as a glance at his antagonist, said:
“Your racket is fair enough. I know where I am, and ye’ve all got a right to see my colors. I’ll show ye my hand, and then” – with a baleful glare at Rummey Joe – “I’ll settle with that blackguard.”
Advancing to one of the tables, he deliberately lifted his foot and, resting it upon the table top, rolled up the leg of his trousers, and pulled down a dirty stocking over his low shoe.
“There’s my passport, gentlemen.”
They crowded about him and gazed upon the naked ankle, that bore the imprint of a broad band, sure indication that the limb had recently been decorated with a ball and chain.
“And now,” said the ex-convict, turning fiercely, “I’ll teach you the kind of a tramp I am, Mr. Rummey Joe!”
Before a hand or voice could be raised to prevent it, the two men had grappled, and were struggling fiercely for the mastery.
“Give them a show, boys!” some one said.
The crowd drew back and watched the combat; watched with unconcern until they saw their comrade, Rummey Joe, weakening in the grasp of his antagonist; until knives flashed in the hand of each, and fierce blows were struck on both sides. Then, when Rummey Joe, uttering a shriek of pain, went down underneath the knife of the victor, there was a roar and a rush, and the man who had conquered their favorite was borne down by half a dozen strong arms, menaced by as many sharp, glittering knives.
But again the scene shifted.
An agile form was bounding about among them; blows fell swift as rain; there was a lull in the combat, and when the wildly struggling figures, some scattered upon the floor, some thrown back upon each other, recovered from their consternation, they saw that the convict had struggled up upon one elbow, while, directly astride of his prostrate body, stood the man who had asked for his credentials, fierce contempt in his face, and, in either hand, a heavy six shooter.
“Don’t pull, boys, I’ve got the drop on ye! Cowards, to tackle a single man, six of ye!”
“By Heavens, he’s killed Rummey!”
“No matter; it was a fair fight, and Rummey at the bottom of the blame.”
“All the same he’ll never kill a pal of ours, and live to tell it! Stand off, Cully Devens!”
“No, sir! I am going to take this wounded man out of this without another scratch, if I have to send every mother’s son of you to perdition.”
His voice rang out clear and commanding. In the might of his wrath, he had forgotten the language of Cully Devens and spoken as a man to cowards.
The effect was electrical.
From among the men standing at bay, one sprang forward, crying:
“Boys, here’s a traitor amongst us! Who are ye, ye sneak, that has played yerself fer Cully Devens?”
The lithe body bent slightly forward, a low laugh crossed the lips of the bogus Cully, the brown eyes lighted up, and flashed in the eyes of the men arrayed against him. Then came the answer, coolly, as if the announcement were scarcely worth making:
“Richard Stanhope is my name, and I’ve got a trump here for every trick you can show me. Step up, boys, don’t be bashful!”
“Richard Stanhope is my name, and I’ve got a trump here for every trick you can show me. Step up, boys, don’t be bashful!”
Momentous silence followed this announcement, while the habitues of the Thieves’ Tavern glanced into each others’ faces in consternation.
An ordinary meddler, however much his courage and skill, would have met with summary chastisement; but Dick Stanhope!
Not a man among them but knew the result of an attack upon him. Bullets swift and sure, in the brains or hearts of some; certain vengeance, sooner or later, upon all.
To avoid, on all possible occasions, an open encounter with an officer of the law, is the natural instinct of the crook. Besides, Stanhope was never off his guard; his presence, alone among them, was sure indication that they were in more danger than he.
So reasoned the astonished scoundrels, instantly, instinctively.
“Look here, boys,” Stanhope’s cool voice broke in upon their silence; “I’m here on a little private business which need not concern you, unless you make me trouble. This man,” nodding down at the prostrate ex-convict, “is my game. I’m going to take him out of this, and if you raise a hand to prevent it, or take a step to follow me, you’ll find yourselves detained for a long stretch.”
He threw back his head and gave a long, low whistle.
“Hear that, my good sirs. That’s a note of preparation. One more such will bring you into close quarters. If you are not back at those tables, every man of you, inside of two minutes, I’ll give the second call.”
Some moved with agility, some reluctantly, some sullenly; but they all obeyed him.
“Now, Pap, come out and help me lift this fellow. Are you badly hurt, my man?”
The wounded man groaned and permitted them to lift him to his feet.
“He can walk, I think,” went on Stanhope, in a brisk, business-like way. “Lean on me, my lad.” Then, turning to the bar keeper and thrusting some money into his hand: “Give these fellows another round of drinks, Pap. Boys, enjoy yourselves; ta-ta.”
And without once glancing back at them he half led, half supported, the wounded man out from the bar-room, up the dirty stone steps, and into the dirtier street.
“Boys,” said the bar keeper as he distributed the drinks at Stanhope’s expense, “you done a sensible thing when you let up on Dick Stanhope. He’s got the alley lined with peelers and don’t you forget it.”
For a little way Stanhope led his man in silence. Then the rescued ex-convict made a sudden convulsive movement, gathered himself for a mighty effort, broke from the supporting grasp of the detective, and fled away down the dark street.
Down one block and half across the next he ran manfully. Then he reeled, staggered wildly from side to side, threw up his arms, and fell heavily upon his face.
“I knew you’d bring yourself down,” said Stanhope, coming up behind him. “You should not treat a man as an enemy, sir, until he’s proven himself such.”
He lifted the prostrate man, turning him easily, and rested the fallen head upon his knee.
“Can you swallow a little?” pressing a flask of brandy to the lips of the ex-convict.
The man gasped and feebly swallowed a little of the liquor.
“There,” laying down the flask, “are your wounds bleeding?”
The wounded man groaned, and then whispered feebly:
“I’m done for – I think – are you – an officer?”
“Af – after me?”
“Do – do you – know – ”
“Do I know who you are? Not exactly, but I take you to be one of the convicts who broke jail last week.”
The man made a convulsive movement, and then, battling for breath as he spoke, wailed out:
“Listen – you want to take me back to prison – there is a reward – of course. If you only knew – when I was a boy – on the western prairies – free, free. Then here in the city – driven to beg – to steal to – . Oh! don’t take me back to die in prison! You don’t know the horror of it!”
A look of pitying tenderness lighted the face bent above the dying man.
“Poor fellow!” said Stanhope softly. “I am an officer of the law, but I am also human. If you recover, I must do my duty: if you must die, you shall not die in prison.”
“I shall die,” said the man, in a hoarse whisper; “I know I shall die – die.”
His head pressed more heavily against Stanhope’s knee; he seemed a heavier weight upon his arm. Bending still lower, the detective listened for his breathing, passed his hand over the limp fingers and clammy face. Then he gathered the form, that was more than his own weight, in his muscular arms, and bore it away through the darkness, muttering, as he went:
“That was a splendid stand-off! What would those fellows say, if they knew that Dick Stanhope, single-handed and alone, had walked their alleys in safety, and bluffed their entire gang!”
HOW A MASQUERADE BEGAN
A crush of carriages about a stately doorway; a flitting of gorgeous, mysterious, grotesque and dainty figures through the broad, open portal; a glow of lights; a gleaming of vivid color; a glory of rich blossoms; a crash of music; a bubble of joyous voices; beauty, hilarity, luxury everywhere.
It is the night of the great Warburton masquerade, the event of events in the social world. Archibald Warburton, the invalid millionaire, has opened his splendid doors, for the pleasure of his young and lovely wife, to receive the friendly five hundred who adore her, and have crowned her queen of society.
He will neither receive, nor mingle with his wife’s guests; he is too much an invalid, too confirmed a recluse for that. But his brother, Alan Warburton, younger by ten years, handsomer by all that constitutes manly beauty, will play the host in his stead – and do it royally, too, for Alan is a man of the world, a man of society, a refined, talented, aristocratic young man of leisure. Quite a Lion as well, for he has but recently returned from an extended European tour and is the “newest man” in town. And society dearly loves that which is new, especially when, with the newness, there is combined manly beauty – and wealth.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî